Daily Devotions

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******** SCROLL DOWN FOR TODAY’S DEVOTION (NEW ENTRIES ARE IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER BY WEEKS):

WEEK BEGINNING JULY 13, 2020–TIME AFTER PENTECOST

IntroductionPlease read this short introduction before you read Monday’s devotion.

new beginnings

The time has come for me to say, “Goodbye to the Saint Peter family”.  Instead of ‘goodbye’, I prefer to look at this as new beginnings–new beginnings for Saint Peter and also new beginnings for me.  While we have come to the end of our journey together in mission and ministry, the journey of faith formation and dwelling in the Word of God has no ending–it is eternal.  It never ends.  I will miss our interactions in worship, mission, and study, as we all move on to new journeys in ministry and faith formation.

Sunday, July 26, 2020 will be my last Sunday with you at Saint Peter.  It has been a privilege and pleasure to serve in the pastoral role here at Saint Peter.  I want to thank each and every one of you for being so loving and supportive during my year with you.  There have been so many highlights that there are too many to list here.  This will be the last entry of Daily Devotions.  As Elizabeth Parks arrives from Luther Seminary as the next Intern Pastor the second week of August, I am sure that she will have her own creative ideas about sharing the Word of God and Bible Study and Devotions.  Stay tuned to her new creative approaches for Dwelling in the Word with you.

For all of us, this is the start of new journeys–new approaches to mission and ministry–new adventures!!!

start

In our last week of Devotions, I wanted to focus on Scriptures about ‘farewells’ and ‘goodbyes’.  Sometimes it is difficult to put our thoughts into words and harness our emotions when we have to say ‘farewell’ or goodbye’.  But the Scriptures never fail us when we are looking for the right words to say!

farewell

Monday, July 13, 2020

ascension

Scripture for Dwelling: Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:6-11,

Food for Thought: There was probably not a more dramatic farewell than when Jesus said his final blessings to his disciples and ascended back into the heavens to be with the Father.  Jesus had earnestly prepared the disciples for that day.  He had prepared them for his death and resurrection; but their human limitations kept them from really understanding his death and resurrection until it had happened and they had sufficient time to process what had happened.  It took Jesus’ help, after his resurrection, to help them understand and process these miraculous happenings.  Now Jesus was leaving them with no estimated time for his return.  This really was a “goodbye”.  Of course, we know that Jesus will “come again to judge the living and the dead”.  We confess that in the Apostles Creed.  But even in our confession of Christ’s return, we are clear that “no one knows the day or hour for Christ’s return”.  We also know that Jesus promised his disciples that while he was saying, “goodbye” to them, he would not leave them alone.  He promised that he and the Father would send the Holy Spirit to be their Advocate and companion going forward.

The powerful part of Jesus’ departure at his Ascension in both the Luke and Acts accounts (recall Luke and Acts were most likely written by the same person) of the Ascension is the call of the disciples to be witnesses”–“WITNESSES TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH!

Jesus did not leave his most-trusted disciples with any notion that they should sit around and mourn his departure.  He left them with clear marching orders!  Those marching orders are the call to mission and ministry–yes, even to the ends of the earth!  We, too, are called in that same way to be Christ’s disciples in mission and ministry–on the ground–in our community/world today.  I pray that we, the body of Christ in the world–as Saint Peter or any other church that we may become part of, will emphatically:

  • ‘step in’ to Christ’s call to mission/witness,
  • step up to Christ’s call to mission/witness,
  • step out in Christ’s call to mission/witness,
  • step aware of the pitfalls, challenges, and dangers of engaging in Christ’s mission and witness
  • step assured that God is with us every step of the way God’s mission. It is never our mission, but God’s!

witnesseswitnesses 2

Pray 1Pray 2 Prayer for the Week: God of Life–God of all Creation, how sweet it is to kneel before you today in praise and thanksgiving.  We are nothing without you.  Lord, in a world that is fluctuating as a result of pandemic and racial divide, come to the aid of your people.  Lord, in a world whose people are suffering in mind, body, and spirit, come to the aid of your people.  In a world that is starving for peace, understanding, wholeness, and life, come to the aid of your people.  Only through you is there peace, understanding, wholeness, and life.  Guide our steps as we respond to your call and guidance.  Guide our hearts as we reach out to others who are less fortunate than we are.  Guide our spirits as we reach out to you in the relationship that we hold above all other relationships.  Praise you, God.  Thank you, God.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

last words

Scripture for Dwelling: Revelation 22:1-21

Food for Thought: This is the last chapter of the Bible.  The chapter ends with a Benediction.  That Benediction is:

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.  Amen!

Let’s take a brief look at the rest of the chapter–what leads up to the Benediction…

In verses 1 through 3, we come full circle–back to the BEGINNING.  In these verses, we hear, “the angel showed me the river of the water of life”.  This paints an image that brings readers back to the image of the Garden of Eden from Genesis Chapters 2 and 3.  John’s vision is of God’s creation unspoiled by human sin.

garden 1

In verse 13 God proclaims, “I am Alpha and Omega”.  John sums up the entire series of visions with this declaration.  Many have tried to use the book of Revelation to determine the exact schedule of events of the end of the world.  However, if Jesus Christ is the beginning (See John 1:1-2) and the end, then the end of the world is not a place or time or a battle.  The end is Jesus Christ.  Whatever happens in the future, the Lamb will be there at the end of time, making all things new and living among God’s people.

LutherLuther seal   Why do we pray “Come, Lord Jesus”?  In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains, “your kingdom come,” the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “God’s kingdom comes on its own without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come to us”.  When we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!” we proclaim that we want to be part of God’s kingdom now and for all time.  See verse 20 in this chapter of Revelation.

garden 2

Pray 1Pray 2 Prayer for the Week: God of Life–God of all Creation, how sweet it is to kneel before you today in praise and thanksgiving.  We are nothing without you.  Lord, in a world that is fluctuating as a result of pandemic and racial divide, come to the aid of your people.  Lord, in a world whose people are suffering in mind, body, and spirit, come to the aid of your people.  In a world that is starving for peace, understanding, wholeness, and life, come to the aid of your people.  Only through you is there peace, understanding, wholeness, and life.  Guide our steps as we respond to your call and guidance.  Guide our hearts as we reach out to others who are less fortunate than we are.  Guide our spirits as we reach out to you in the relationship that we hold above all other relationships.  Praise you, God.  Thank you, God.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Luke 2:21-35

Food for Thought: We usually go to Luke 2 for the Christmas story.  You know how much I love Christmas, but our focus today is not on the actual Christmas story, but on Jesus’ (and his parents’) encounter with Simeon in the Temple.  Yes, this is definitely a beginning!  Jesus is presented at the temple and Jesus’ name is formalized–the very name that was foretold by the Angel at the Annunciation to Mary.  Now, there is also a departure in this passage as Simeon responds, “Lord, let your servant DEPART in peace, according to your Word.  I have seen with my eyes your salvation–a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory to your people Israel.”

Lord, let you servant depart in peace

God had promised Simeon, a devout and righteous old man, that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah.  Our passage today describes that meeting between the Messiah and the long-waiting Simeon.

Simeon holds the blessed child–the MESSIAH…

Simeon and Jesus

Luke is the only gospel that tells about the day of John’s (John the Baptist) circumcision and reports that Jesus was too circumcised.  Circumcision is a present-day Jewish practice that dates back to ancient times.  In 163 CE, an oppressive ruler names Antiochus IV Epiphanes banned circumcision.  Those who continued the practice could be put to death.  From that time on, circumcision became not just a religious ritual but an act of oppressive political resistance and defiant FAITHFULNESS.  In Luke, Jesus and John both belong to families of devout Jews who are careful to mark their children as Jews.

In verses 22 through 38, we understand the importance of Jewish women participating in the ritual washings to return to normal life after encountering the holy mystery of childbirth (See Leviticus 12).  First-born sons were dedicated to God.  Luke is the only gospel that includes these events, including the encounter with Simeon.

In verse 32, Simeon’s words proclaim that Jesus, the Messiah, “will reveal God’s glory” –not only to Jews, but to non-Jews as well (Gentiles).  (Other references Isaiah 42:6; 49:6, and 52:10).  Jesus has come to proclaim his message of love and salvation to ALL PEOPLE–NO ONE IS LEFT OUT!

Pray 1Pray 2  Prayer for the Week: God of Life–God of all Creation, how sweet it is to kneel before you today in praise and thanksgiving.  We are nothing without you.  Lord, in a world that is fluctuating as a result of pandemic and racial divide, come to the aid of your people.  Lord, in a world whose people are suffering in mind, body, and spirit, come to the aid of your people.  In a world that is starving for peace, understanding, wholeness, and life, come to the aid of your people.  Only through you is there peace, understanding, wholeness, and life.  Guide our steps as we respond to your call and guidance.  Guide our hearts as we reach out to others who are less fortunate than we are.  Guide our spirits as we reach out to you in the relationship that we hold above all other relationships.  Praise you, God.  Thank you, God.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

fish and loaves

Scripture for Dwelling: Mark 6:30-52

feeding 5000

Food for Thought: This is the Second Gospel’s account of the feeding of the multitude.  In Mark’s Gospel, that is the feeding of Five Thousand.  In these first part of Scripture for today, we have the dramatic account of Jesus taking two fish and five loaves and feeding “those who had numbered five thousand men”.  This began a series of miraculous events.  After feeding the five thousand, Jesus dismissed the crowd.  He “made his disciples get into [the] boat and go ahead [of him] to the other side.  Then, Jesus (and this is our FAREWELL MOMENT) said ‘farewell’ to them and went up on the mountain to pray.

Let’s note two important things in this miraculous account of feeding a multitude with nearly no resources to do that:

  • In verse 31, Jesus invites them to come away “to a deserted place” so they could rest. They were busy disciples–always coming and going and responding to Jesus’ actions and responding to the needs of the people.  This is an important verse.  Here–Jesus gives us the example that we all need time to REST and recover from the business and busy-ness of mission.  We have all heard it many times, “if you don’t take care of yourself, how can you possibly take care of the needs of others?”
  • In verse 46, once Jesus had said “farewell” to his disciples, he went up on the mountain to pray.

Jesus prays on mountain

This, again, is a powerful example of Jesus showing us that no matter how great the needs of the many and how engaged we may be in the action of mission, there is not only ‘time’ for prayer, but prayer is a necessity in mission.  There are always times to ‘break away’–to ‘disengage’ in action and re-engage in the solace and nurture of prayer.  It soothes our weary spirits and it prepares us for what is to come.  For Jesus, that preparation that day was another miraculous example of his Divinity when he met his disciples already on the boat by WALKING ON WATER.

Jesus walks on water

Pray 1 Pray 2  Prayer for the Week: God of Life–God of all Creation, how sweet it is to kneel before you today in praise and thanksgiving.  We are nothing without you.  Lord, in a world that is fluctuating as a result of pandemic and racial divide, come to the aid of your people.  Lord, in a world whose people are suffering in mind, body, and spirit, come to the aid of your people.  In a world that is starving for peace, understanding, wholeness, and life, come to the aid of your people.  Only through you is there peace, understanding, wholeness, and life.  Guide our steps as we respond to your call and guidance.  Guide our hearts as we reach out to others who are less fortunate than we are.  Guide our spirits as we reach out to you in the relationship that we hold above all other relationships.  Praise you, God.  Thank you, God.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Cross 1

Scripture for Dwelling: Mark 15:33-41

cross 2

Food for Thought: Our passage today is Mark’s account of the death of Jesus on the cross.  This was a farewell that was traumatic for the already grief-stricken disciples and followers of Christ.  It was a VERY temporary ‘farewell’.  Yes, the human Jesus died on that Cross.  Yes, the human Jesus was buried in that stone-cold tomb.  Now, emphatically YES!!!!–the Divine Jesus broke the chains of death and said, “Hello.  I am alive!”  Jesus conquered sin and death so that we may live.  WE ARE SAVED by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, by the Scriptures alone, and to the glory of God alone.  Alleluia!

broken chainsfive solas

Pray 1Pray 2  Prayer for the Week: God of Life–God of all Creation, how sweet it is to kneel before you today in praise and thanksgiving.  We are nothing without you.  Lord, in a world that is fluctuating as a result of pandemic and racial divide, come to the aid of your people.  Lord, in a world whose people are suffering in mind, body, and spirit, come to the aid of your people.  In a world that is starving for peace, understanding, wholeness, and life, come to the aid of your people.  Only through you is there peace, understanding, wholeness, and life.  Guide our steps as we respond to your call and guidance.  Guide our hearts as we reach out to others who are less fortunate than we are.  Guide our spirits as we reach out to you in the relationship that we hold above all other relationships.  Praise you, God.  Thank you, God.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Food for Thought: Let’s get ready for our Service of the Word tomorrow morning.  I will be gone tomorrow.  Jennifer Coles, our Assisting Minister, will lead our Service of the Word.  Our Scriptures for tomorrow tell a story.  It presents an age-old question: where is there evil in the world?  In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus suggests that both, weeds and wheat, grow together until the harvest.  With Paul, we long for the day when all creation will be set free from bondage and suffering.  Having both weeds and wheat within us, we humbly place our hope in the promises of God, and from the Lord’s table we go forth to bear the fruit of justice and mercy.  Here are some thoughts on each of our Scriptures for tomorrow:

The Passage in Isaiah: There are no other gods besides God: the world of the Lord does not fail to come to pass.  We can trust in God, through whom Israel–and we–are redeemed.

alpha and omega

The Psalm: The Antiphon for our Psalm tomorrow is from Psalm 86:11: “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth.”

psalm teach me your ways

The Passage in Romans: For Paul, true spirituality means that we experience the reality of the Spirit, which enables us to pray as God’s children, keeps us in solidarity with creation, and gives us unseen hope that God will liberate us and creation from bondage to death and decay.

scale

The Gospel Passage in Matthew: Jesus tells a parable about the coexistence of good and evil in this world.  God’s judgment will remove all evildoers and causes of sin, but not until the end of human history.

weeds among wheat 1

Pray 1Pray 2  Prayer for the Week: God of Life–God of all Creation, how sweet it is to kneel before you today in praise and thanksgiving.  We are nothing without you.  Lord, in a world that is fluctuating as a result of pandemic and racial divide, come to the aid of your people.  Lord, in a world whose people are suffering in mind, body, and spirit, come to the aid of your people.  In a world that is starving for peace, understanding, wholeness, and life, come to the aid of your people.  Only through you is there peace, understanding, wholeness, and life.  Guide our steps as we respond to your call and guidance.  Guide our hearts as we reach out to others who are less fortunate than we are.  Guide our spirits as we reach out to you in the relationship that we hold above all other relationships.  Praise you, God.  Thank you, God.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

SENDING BLESSING:

Final BlessingNumbers Blessing

…and may the blessing of God Almighty–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be with you all–now and forever!  Amen!

blessing 2

…and now… may you be blessed to be a blessing…

blessed to be a blessing

 

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WEEK BEGINNING JULY 6, 2020–TIME AFTER PENTECOST

IntroductionPlease read this short introduction before you read Monday’s devotion.

opening

I hope this journey through the Psalms has been meaningful for you and that you have developed a new love for and appreciation of the Psalms.  I always think what Martin Luther would say if the house was burning down.  Luther would say, “Don’t worry if you can’t rescue the whole Bible.  If you can get the Psalms, we will have everything we need!”

One reason for the powerful role that the Psalter has played in synagogue, church, and in life, is that it addresses such a wide span of human emotions, life experiences, and personal situations.  The themes of the Psalter range from singing God’s praise to crying in despair, from calling for the oppressor’s destruction to confessing personal sin, from teaching about God to questioning God’s way.  We have seen the main themes emerge:

  • Pleas for help
  • Praising testimony
  • Trust in the middle of a crisis
  • Thanksgiving–following delivery from crisis
  • Thanksgiving–period!
  • Instruction on walking in God’s ways

No one psalm touches all of the themes of the Psalter, but the story of the shaping of the Psalter is the powerful story of the shaping of human survival–individually and as a people.

wwer

We all face many good times in life; however, we all face many challenging and not-so-good times in life also.  The Psalter helps us navigate both those dynamics–Celebration and Help when we need it!  Psalms helps us understand and appreciate that whether we are in the good times of celebration or the bad times of challenges and sorrow, OUR GOD IS WITH US ALL THE WAY–HALLELUJAH!

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Monday, July 6, 2020

4

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 100

5

Food for Thought: Psalm 100 is a hymn of praise.  We sing this hymn often in worship:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,

Praise him all creatures here below,

Praise him above ye heavenly hosts,

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Amen.

The hymn tune for this hymn, which we Lutherans call “The Doxology”, is “Old Hundredth”.  In the Anglican Tradition, the words are:

All people that on earth do dwell,

Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;

Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell;

Come ye before him and rejoice.

In verse 1, when we “make a joyful noise to the Lord”, we understand praise to be joyful and filled with gladness, because it is a response to what God has done for us.

In verse 3, we are reminded to “know that the Lord is God”.  To “know” God goes beyond what we can know with our minds is to know that God is God and we are not and to understand that God, in God’s Omnipotence is a good and loving and salvific God.  It also means to obey and follow God.  To “know” God is to internalize in your whole body that God is your Lord!

dialogue   What has happened in your life to help you want to know God, and not just know some things about God?

The gates and courts that we read in verse 4 refer to the Temple buildings.  On Sunday, July 5th, we also entered [again] our temple/sanctuary for in-person worship.

The Temple:

temple

Our Temple/Sanctuary:

sp

pray  Prayer for the Week: Almighty and Eternal God, we thank you and we praise you.  We give you thanks for all the blessings that you give so freely to us.  We give you thanks for life and breath.  Lord, our world remains in turmoil with pandemic, racial divides, political unrest, and concerns about law enforcement.  Lord, help us turn to you for prayer and guidance.  Help us turn to you for the peace, healing, and wholeness that will lead to solutions on all these critical concerns.  As we begin re-opening our church, Lord, give us wisdom and prudence to do it safely so that no one is put in harm’s way.  As we begin to look to the future on the new horizon of your mission and ministry in the world, Lord, give us guidance and inspiration to move with eyes and hearts wide open as we follow in the paths that you have already carved for us.  Bless the people of Saint Peter Lutheran Church and all our ministries.  Bless your church in the world.  We lift our prayers as we look to you for your will to prevail in our world of uncertainty.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 108

6

Food for Thought: Psalm 108 is constructed of portions of two psalms found in Book Two of the Psalter: Psalm 57:7-11 (which we see reflected in 108:1-5), and Psalm 60:5-12 (which we see reflected in 108:6-13).  We, therefore, might characterize Psalm 108 as a hybrid or a joining together of two separate psalmic compositions.  We further observe that both Psalm 57 and Psalm 60 are two of the thirteen psalms in the Psalter who superscriptions recall specific historical events in the life of David:

  • Psalm 57: when David was fleeing from Saul in the cave.
  • Psalm 60: when David fought Aram-naharaim and Aram-sobah and Joab returned and killed twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.

In verses 1 through 4, “Awake, O harp and lyre!  I will awake the dawn”, is a metaphor of a solid heart that expresses the psalmist’s confidence in God.  Often in prayers for help, the psalmist calls on God to awake and the morning is a metaphor for God’s help arriving,  Here, because God’s help has come, the psalmist poetically calls on music to awake and promises to awaken the dawn with song.

In verse 7, “God has promised in his sanctuary”: The basis of the prayer is God’s promise.  The people base their hope in God, whose character is to keep promises, rather than on their own character or deeds.

7

pray  Prayer for the Week: Almighty and Eternal God, we thank you and we praise you.  We give you thanks for all the blessings that you give so freely to us.  We give you thanks for life and breath.  Lord, our world remains in turmoil with pandemic, racial divides, political unrest, and concerns about law enforcement.  Lord, help us turn to you for prayer and guidance.  Help us turn to you for the peace, healing, and wholeness that will lead to solutions on all these critical concerns.  As we begin re-opening our church, Lord, give us wisdom and prudence to do it safely so that no one is put in harm’s way.  As we begin to look to the future on the new horizon of your mission and ministry in the world, Lord, give us guidance and inspiration to move with eyes and hearts wide open as we follow in the paths that you have already carved for us.  Bless the people of Saint Peter Lutheran Church and all our ministries.  Bless your church in the world.  We lift our prayers as we look to you for your will to prevail in our world of uncertainty.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

8

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 116

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Food for Thought: Psalm 116 is the sixth psalm in a group of psalms in Book Five of the Psalter that are known as the hal lû yāh psalms.  It is the fourth psalm in the collection of the “Egyptian Hallel” psalms, which are recited at the Passover meal on the eighth day of Passover.  Psalm 116 is read at the end of the meal while drinking the fourth cup of celebratory wine.

Psalm 116 is a song of thanksgiving following a grave illness or a similar crisis.  In verses 1 through 3, “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice”: The psalmist praises God for rescue from a severe crisis.

“I called on the name of the Lord”: In the depths of the crisis, turning to God in prayer was the key moment that turned things around.

In verse 13, “I will lift up the cup of salvation”: The cup of salvation probably refers to a meal of celebration (as described above at a time like Passover), in which a person rescued from crisis could thank God and be welcomed back into the community.  The community welcomes someone back by listening to the person praise God and acknowledging that GOD WAS THE RESCUER!

dialogue   Has there been a time when a personal crisis kept you or someone you know from attending worship?  What happened to make it possible to return to worship?

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pray  Prayer for the Week: Almighty and Eternal God, we thank you and we praise you.  We give you thanks for all the blessings that you give so freely to us.  We give you thanks for life and breath.  Lord, our world remains in turmoil with pandemic, racial divides, political unrest, and concerns about law enforcement.  Lord, help us turn to you for prayer and guidance.  Help us turn to you for the peace, healing, and wholeness that will lead to solutions on all these critical concerns.  As we begin re-opening our church, Lord, give us wisdom and prudence to do it safely so that no one is put in harm’s way.  As we begin to look to the future on the new horizon of your mission and ministry in the world, Lord, give us guidance and inspiration to move with eyes and hearts wide open as we follow in the paths that you have already carved for us.  Bless the people of Saint Peter Lutheran Church and all our ministries.  Bless your church in the world.  We lift our prayers as we look to you for your will to prevail in our world of uncertainty.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

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Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 121

Food for Thought: Psalm 121 is one of the songs that pilgrims sang as they made their way to Jerusalem to celebrate a number of annual festivals, including Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles.  The psalm’s pervasive theme is God’s guarding of the worshipper.  Its most quoted phrase is from verse 2b, “the maker of heavens and earth”, which was incorporated into the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121 is categorized as an individual hymn of thanksgiving.  Two voices are represented in the psalm–an individual singer, who states firm trust in the Lord, and a respondent who assures the singer that the Lord will indeed guard the singer.  The word guard or “keep” (samar) occurs six times in the eight verses of Psalm 121 and can be considered like a theme for the psalm.  This term means “to watch over”, as a guard protects a city at night.  This is a very fitting image for the Lord’s guidance, for the Lord protects us through this life and into the next.

This is a very common reading at funerals and services of the celebration of life.

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This psalm is technically considered a liturgy and a trust psalm that promises protection for a journey.  In verses 1 and 2, “…from where will my help come?  My help comes from the Lord”: The psalm starts with a question, and the rest of the psalm gives the answer: Saving help does not come from the hills, but from the Lord, who is Creator of the hills, heaven, and earth.

1314

dialogue   When have you needed God’s protection?  At what time of life do you think we need God’s protection the most?

pray  Prayer for the Week: Almighty and Eternal God, we thank you and we praise you.  We give you thanks for all the blessings that you give so freely to us.  We give you thanks for life and breath.  Lord, our world remains in turmoil with pandemic, racial divides, political unrest, and concerns about law enforcement.  Lord, help us turn to you for prayer and guidance.  Help us turn to you for the peace, healing, and wholeness that will lead to solutions on all these critical concerns.  As we begin re-opening our church, Lord, give us wisdom and prudence to do it safely so that no one is put in harm’s way.  As we begin to look to the future on the new horizon of your mission and ministry in the world, Lord, give us guidance and inspiration to move with eyes and hearts wide open as we follow in the paths that you have already carved for us.  Bless the people of Saint Peter Lutheran Church and all our ministries.  Bless your church in the world.  We lift our prayers as we look to you for your will to prevail in our world of uncertainty.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Friday, July 10, 2020

150

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 150–LET EVERY BREATHING THING PRAISE THE LORD

Food for Thought: Psalm 150 is the last of the five “Final Hallel” psalms that close the Hebrew Psalter.  It begins and ends with “Praise the Lord” (hal lû yāh).  In Psalm 150, the verb “praise” (hālal) occurs thirteen times and forms a resounding doxological close to the Psalter.

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In verses 1 through 6, “Praise the Lord! … Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!”: In this extended call to praise, “everything the breathes” is called to PRAISE THE LORD!

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dialogue                                                                                    All of life is about praising God.  What are some ways you will praise God?

pray  Prayer for the Week: Almighty and Eternal God, we thank you and we praise you.  We give you thanks for all the blessings that you give so freely to us.  We give you thanks for life and breath.  Lord, our world remains in turmoil with pandemic, racial divides, political unrest, and concerns about law enforcement.  Lord, help us turn to you for prayer and guidance.  Help us turn to you for the peace, healing, and wholeness that will lead to solutions on all these critical concerns.  As we begin re-opening our church, Lord, give us wisdom and prudence to do it safely so that no one is put in harm’s way.  As we begin to look to the future on the new horizon of your mission and ministry in the world, Lord, give us guidance and inspiration to move with eyes and hearts wide open as we follow in the paths that you have already carved for us.  Bless the people of Saint Peter Lutheran Church and all our ministries.  Bless your church in the world.  We lift our prayers as we look to you for your will to prevail in our world of uncertainty.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65 [1-8] 9-13; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Food for Thought: God’s word is like the rain that waters the earth and brings forth vegetation.  It is also like the sower who scatters seed indiscriminately.  Our lives are like seeds in the earth.  Even from what appears to be little, dormant, or dead, God promises a harvest at the Lord’s table where we are fed with the bread of life, that we may bear fruit in the world.

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Here are a few thoughts on our Scriptures for tomorrow morning:

The Passage in Isaiah: God’s word to Israel’s exiles is as sure and effective as never-failing precipitation.  Their return to the Holy Land in a new exodus is cheered on by singing mountains and by trees that clap their hands.

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The Psalm: The antiphon for our Psalm tomorrow is Psalm 65:11, “Your paths overflow with plenty.”

19

The Passage in Romans: There is no condemnation for those who live in Christ.  God sent Christ to accomplish what the law was unable to do: condemn sin and free us from its death-dealing ways.  The Spirit now empowers proper actions and values in our lives and gives us the promise of resurrected life.

20

21

The Gospel Passage in Matthew: In Matthew’s gospel, both Jesus and his disciples “sow the seed” of God’s word by proclaiming the good news that “the kingdom of heaven is near.”  Now, in a memorable parable, Jesus explains why this good news produces different results in those who hear it.

2223

pray  Prayer for the Week: Almighty and Eternal God, we thank you and we praise you.  We give you thanks for all the blessings that you give so freely to us.  We give you thanks for life and breath.  Lord, our world remains in turmoil with pandemic, racial divides, political unrest, and concerns about law enforcement.  Lord, help us turn to you for prayer and guidance.  Help us turn to you for the peace, healing, and wholeness that will lead to solutions on all these critical concerns.  As we begin re-opening our church, Lord, give us wisdom and prudence to do it safely so that no one is put in harm’s way.  As we begin to look to the future on the new horizon of your mission and ministry in the world, Lord, give us guidance and inspiration to move with eyes and hearts wide open as we follow in the paths that you have already carved for us.  Bless the people of Saint Peter Lutheran Church and all our ministries.  Bless your church in the world.  We lift our prayers as we look to you for your will to prevail in our world of uncertainty.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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WEEK BEGINNING JUNE 29, 2020–TIME AFTER PENTECOST

IntroductionPlease read this short introduction before you read Monday’s devotion.

aaa 1

This is turning out to be such a rich journey through the Psalms, that I thought we would continue in the Psalms again next week for one additional week.  No doubt we live in a trouble world, where it seems like “the enemies” are vast and mighty.  The Psalms help us navigate the trying times that we face as God’s people–as Christ’s disciples–as agents of the Holy Spirit.  They give us the promise and confidence that we are never alone as God’s people.  God is with us–protecting us–guiding us–giving life to us!

I believe it is easy to see from our journey, that most psalms have a specific setting or context for which they were written.  However, I believe that it is equally easy for us to see how the ancient songs, poems, and writings are just as relevant to us today as they were in their original contexts.  That is the beauty of the Word of God–it continues to live and speak–generation after generation.

dialogue   I hope you are dwelling in our selected psalms each week and asking yourself, “how is this psalm speaking to us today? to me today?  What is the most significant AHA moment that you have discovered in our journey through the Psalms?  Are you willing to share that AHA moment with others in a personal testimony?

Most individual psalms involve the praise of God—for God’s power and beneficence, for God’s creation of the world, and for God’s past acts of deliverance for Israel. The psalms envision a world in which everyone and everything will praise God, and God in turn will hear their prayers and respond. The writer(s) of psalms wrestle(s) with when God “hides God’s face” and refuses to respond.  That deals with the relationship between God and prayer which is the underlying assumption of the Book of Psalms.

Some psalms are called “maskil” (maschil in Hebrew) because in addition to praise they impart wisdom. Most notable of these is Psalm 142 which is sometimes called the “Maskil of David”.  Others include Psalm 32 and Psalm 78.  The term derives from maskil meaning “enlightened” or “wise”.

Praying the psalms

Monday, June 29, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 56

trust in you

Food for Thought: Psalm 56 is an individual prayer for help, but that cry for help is embedded in a prayer that speaks of great trust in God’s care.  This is also true in Psalms 54 through 59 and also in Psalms 61 through 63.  Psalm 56 is more heavily weighted in its focus on trust in God than on the cries for help.

This psalm uses “military” language in several places:

  • Verse 1: “for people TRAMPLE on me”
  • Verse 2: “my enemies TRAMPLE on me”
  • Verse 6: “they STIR UP STRIFE, they LURK, they WATCH….” and “in WRATH cast down”

The use of this kind of “military” language leads some scholars to believe this prayer is a “national lamentation”.  This use of “military” language also leads some scholars to see a connection in Psalm 56 with David’s problem with the Philistine king in Gath.  You can find that account of that in 1 Samuel 21:10 through 22:1.  The exact trouble, however, is not specified and so could apply to any circumstance where the person praying feels surrounded and pursued by those wishing harm.

Notice that there is another (as we have previously discussed) refrain or antiphon in the Psalm.  It is used two times, in verse 4 and again in verses 10 through 11–“In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust”.  This refrain identifies the main reason for trusting God and that is God’s word.  This is often translated in the Psalms as “God’s promise”.  The psalmist can trust because God has promised to remain faithful.

In verse 3, we hear “when I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”  Because there are real reasons to fear, the psalmist’s trust in God offers real hope and comfort.

In verse 8, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my fears in your bottle”.  The image of God keeping a record of how many times a person tosses and turns at night, saving each tear in a bottle shows the permanence of the relationship between God and God’s children and the importance God places on each individual.

tossings ane tears

“You have delivered … my feet from falling, so that I may walk before God”, is written in verse 13.  The image of feet not stumbling but walking before God is a response to what God has done for us.  Because God has freely called and forgiven us, we love God and walk in God’s light.

praise 1

Pray   Prayer for the Week: Eternal God, Heavenly Father, all praise and glory be to you.  We come to give you thanksgiving for life, blessings–grace and salvation.  In these shifting times in our world, give us strength and courage to face new realities as we strive for safety and good health.  In these shifting times in our world, give us strength and courage to face the realities of racial divide and systematic racism in our country.  In these shifting times in our church, give us your Spirit and power to reach out to a world in need in the ways that you see fit.  God, we are your clay jars in this world–yours is the mission.  Help us navigate the new realities of this changing world as we embark on new avenues of your mission and the ministries of Saint Peter Lutheran Church.  Bless your children as we cling to your promises and your Holy Word.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

hear my cry

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 61: In the Shelter of God’s Wings

Under shelter of eagles wings

Food for Thought: Psalm 61 is often classified as a prayer for help, and it certainly begins as one in verses 1 through 3.  Yet on the whole, the psalm speaks more about the safety found in God’s care than in the trouble that caused the distress.  This psalm is also part of the psalms of trust that surround Psalm 60, and all these psalms tell of great trust in God in times of struggle, including Psalms 54 through 59 and Psalms 61 through 63.  This psalm clearly moves from a place of cries lifted in fear to petitions given from within the safety of God’s wings.

In verse 2, “From the end of the earth I call to you” gives the impression that the psalmist may have been stranded far from the temple.  However, it is most likely that this is a metaphor for feeling distant from God.  Because Gods help has not arrived yet, the psalmist poetically describes the situation as being at the end of the earth.

In verses 2b through 5, the psalmist askes for guidance back to God’s presence in the temple, here described as a rock or refuge, tent, and heritage (a term for the land as a whole).  The temple symbolizes the active presence of God that the psalmist desires.

The prayer for the king in verses 6 through 7 reflects the reality that the health of a people’s government directly affects the people.  God’s steadfast love and faithfulness watch over the king.  This emphasizes that God’s character and actions are inseparable.

sing praise

Pray  Prayer for the Week: Eternal God, Heavenly Father, all praise and glory be to you.  We come to give you thanksgiving for life, blessings–grace and salvation.  In these shifting times in our world, give us strength and courage to face new realities as we strive for safety and good health.  In these shifting times in our world, give us strength and courage to face the realities of racial divide and systematic racism in our country.  In these shifting times in our church, give us your Spirit and power to reach out to a world in need in the ways that you see fit.  God, we are your clay jars in this world–yours is the mission.  Help us navigate the new realities of this changing world as we embark on new avenues of your mission and the ministries of Saint Peter Lutheran Church.  Bless your children as we cling to your promises and your Holy Word.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 62

my rock and salvation

Food for Thought: Psalm 62 is an instructional psalm.  Psalm 62 is a testimony addressed to God’s people in verses 1 through 10 with an address to God in verses 11 through 12.  It also shares themes of God as rock and refuge.  While there are two sections of this psalm that uncover the way humans act, these two sections are surrounded (beginning, middle, and ending) with three sections that declare trust alone in God.

This psalm, again, has a refrain that is repeated.  The refrain is “For God alone my soul waits in silence”.  This refrain emphasizes trust in God.  Because God is the only one able to deliver, the psalmist hopes and trusts only in God and is confident of God’s protection.

In verse 3, “you batter your victim” indicates that the wicked and others of weak character prey on the weak (a leaning wall or tottering fence) at the same time as they dream of bringing down the strong.

In verses 8 through 9, the psalmist pauses in the middle of a deep crisis to instruct others to trust in God (“Trust in him at all times, O people.”)  Those who experience crisis often gain fresh insights into God’s ways–insights that can be shared with others.  Those who are successful and unsuccessful, according to earthly measures, are all equal in the sight of the Lord.

There is a word of heed in verse 10, “…if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.”  To trust in God alone means to refuse to trust in other things, such as wealth.

trust

dialogue  Who are what do you trust the most?  Why?

PrayPrayer for the Week: Eternal God, Heavenly Father, all praise and glory be to you.  We come to give you thanksgiving for life, blessings–grace and salvation.  In these shifting times in our world, give us strength and courage to face new realities as we strive for safety and good health.  In these shifting times in our world, give us strength and courage to face the realities of racial divide and systematic racism in our country.  In these shifting times in our church, give us your Spirit and power to reach out to a world in need in the ways that you see fit.  God, we are your clay jars in this world–yours is the mission.  Help us navigate the new realities of this changing world as we embark on new avenues of your mission and the ministries of Saint Peter Lutheran Church.  Bless your children as we cling to your promises and your Holy Word.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

plea for justice

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 82

defend the fatherless

Food for Thought: Psalm 82 is a liturgy that becomes a community prayer for help, asking God to judge the earth.

In verse 1, the divine council refers to the heavenly assembly of beings (such as angels) that surround the one true God.  The Bible describes God as discussing and deliberating with these beings (See Genesis 1:26; 1 Kings 22:19-23; and Isaiah 6:6-8) but makes it clear that only the Lord is God.

dialogue   What role, if any, do angels play in your faith?  …have played in your faith?

We hear the question and the response to it in verses 1 through 8, “how long will you judge unjustly?”  This liturgy portrays God as judging other heavenly beings and condemning them to die like humans, because they have not acted justly, as God desires.  Part of the message here is that human rulers must also act justly, or God will end their rule.  The psalm ends with a cry for God to establish justice through all the earth….

arise o God

Pray  Prayer for the Week: Eternal God, Heavenly Father, all praise and glory be to you.  We come to give you thanksgiving for life, blessings–grace and salvation.  In these shifting times in our world, give us strength and courage to face new realities as we strive for safety and good health.  In these shifting times in our world, give us strength and courage to face the realities of racial divide and systematic racism in our country.  In these shifting times in our church, give us your Spirit and power to reach out to a world in need in the ways that you see fit.  God, we are your clay jars in this world–yours is the mission.  Help us navigate the new realities of this changing world as we embark on new avenues of your mission and the ministries of Saint Peter Lutheran Church.  Bless your children as we cling to your promises and your Holy Word.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 84

Psalm 84 heading

Food for Thought: In ancient Israel, visit to the temple in Jerusalem was a yearly occurrence at best.  As a result, it was a special event, one worthy of song and celebration.  Psalm 84 is a song believed to have been sung by those traveling to Jerusalem to participate in the great festival.  The song is also one that praises Zion the place of the temple in Jerusalem.  The praise of God’s house both opens and closes the song.  As I journeyed through the psalms, I thought this one would be most appropriate for us today.  On Sunday, we will, also, make the journey back to our Sanctuary where we have not been able to go during the pandemic.  It will be a joyous day to return to our beautiful Temple–House of God–“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts.”  This is not just talking about the physical place that we know as God’s House.  This is the place of God’s presence that prompts this song.  In verse 1, “your dwelling place” is the temple in Jerusalem.  The Israelites believed that God dwells in heaven (Psalm 115:3) and is also present everywhere (Psalm 139:7-10).  The temple was seen as the closest point of contact between the heavenly and earthly realms–the place where the two realms overlap, and where God “dwells”.

Luther seal  How do Lutherans understand God “dwelling” in physical, concrete things?  Lutherans believe that God’s grace, favor, and blessing flow out to us through the “means of grace” –earthly things like the water in Baptism and the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  The temple in Jerusalem worked in a similar way for the Israelites.  Through this earthly channel, God’s grace, favor, and blessing flowed out for Israel and for the entire world (See Isaiah 2:1-4).

In verse 3, “even the sparrow finds a home”.  This hospitality and spiritual rest offered by God is symbolized in this image.  Even a vulnerable and insignificant bird is welcome in God’s house…

sparrow finds next

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere”, verse 10.  God’s courts would be the outer, open-air part of the temple buildings, the only part of the temple where most people were allowed.  The term “doorkeeper” means something like “one who waits outside”.  The least of God’s blessings are greater than the best that one can receive from the wicked.  See you in God’s house on Sunday AM!!!

Pray  Prayer for the Week: Eternal God, Heavenly Father, all praise and glory be to you.  We come to give you thanksgiving for life, blessings–grace and salvation.  In these shifting times in our world, give us strength and courage to face new realities as we strive for safety and good health.  In these shifting times in our world, give us strength and courage to face the realities of racial divide and systematic racism in our country.  In these shifting times in our church, give us your Spirit and power to reach out to a world in need in the ways that you see fit.  God, we are your clay jars in this world–yours is the mission.  Help us navigate the new realities of this changing world as we embark on new avenues of your mission and the ministries of Saint Peter Lutheran Church.  Bless your children as we cling to your promises and your Holy Word.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Fourth of July   Happy Fourth of July!  Today is a celebration for the birthday and freedoms of our country.  Tomorrow is a celebration for Saint Peter Lutheran Church.  Tomorrow we will begin in-person worship services according to Re-opening/Minimizing Risk Plan for Worship Services and activities at Saint Peter.  We will not be reading all the readings from the lectionary tomorrow during the service.  We are planning to have 45-minutes services for now and we will not be able to include everything in the service that we are used to.  But…. the good news is that we can still dwell in these Scriptures as part of our Devotions.

Scripture for Dwelling: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145: 8-14; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Yoke is easy and burden is light

Food for Thought: Let’s get ready for our in-person worship service tomorrow morning!!!!!

Here are a few words about each of the Scriptures for tomorrow:

The passage from Zechariah: The coming messianic king will inaugurate an era of disarmament and prosperity.  Because of God’s covenant with Israel, the people are designated as “prisoners of hope”.

The Psalm: The antiphon for the Psalm tomorrow is from Psalm 145:8, “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion.”

The passage from Romans: Life captive to sin is a catch-22 existence in which we know good but do not do it, and we do things that we know to be wrong.  Through Jesus Christ, God has set us free from such a futile existence.

The Gospel passage from Matthew: Jesus chides people who find fault with both his ministry and that of John the Baptist.  He thanks God that wisdom and intelligence are not needed to receive what God has to offer.

After you read the Scriptures for tomorrow, contemplate these images, and see how they may be speaking to the Scriptures and to you…

childrencome to me all ye who are havey ladenI will give you restREST comeJesus

come weary and burdened

Pray  Prayer for the Week: Eternal God, Heavenly Father, all praise and glory be to you.  We come to give you thanksgiving for life, blessings–grace and salvation.  In these shifting times in our world, give us strength and courage to face new realities as we strive for safety and good health.  In these shifting times in our world, give us strength and courage to face the realities of racial divide and systematic racism in our country.  In these shifting times in our church, give us your Spirit and power to reach out to a world in need in the ways that you see fit.  God, we are your clay jars in this world–yours is the mission.  Help us navigate the new realities of this changing world as we embark on new avenues of your mission and the ministries of Saint Peter Lutheran Church.  Bless your children as we cling to your promises and your Holy Word.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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WEEK BEGINNING JUNE 22, 2020–TIME AFTER PENTECOST

IntroductionPlease read this short introduction before you read Monday’s devotion.

Psalm Heading

Some people want to acknowledge the psalms, or read the psalms, or ‘reserve’ the psalms as a collection of poems and songs that have some historical perspective.  Yes–there is certainly a historical perspective, but the Book of Psalms is a comprehensive cross-section of the Word of God that Martin Luther called the mini-Bible.  He affirmed that it was the Bible in short and that it had ‘all the ingredients’ of the rest of the Bible and that if we had no other book of the Bible, that the Psaltery would give us a complete guide to love, forgiveness, praise, salvation, prayer, etc. etc.

The Book of Psalms is the living Word of God and when we read it or experience it only as a historical account, then we are missing the POWER and WISDOM of the Psaltery.

There are so many prayers that can be pulled right out of the Book of Psalms.  Here are a couple:

Prayer Proclaiming that God is “Better than life”!  (found in Psalm 63):

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.

Better than life

Here is a prayer from Psalm 3: Arise, Lord:

Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side. Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God!

Sunrise

Monday, June 22, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 30

Mourning to Joy

Food for Thought: Psalm 30 is a classic example of a type of praise psalm known as a psalm of thanksgiving.  The psalm reflects a situation in which a sufferer has passed through a dark period of crisis and now finds themself in the bright light of safety.  For this, they credit the Lord for salvation.

In verses 1 through 5, the psalmist praises God for rescue from a near-death crisis.  In verse 5, we hear “God’s anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime”.  God’s faithfulness and love are far more enduring than God’s anger, which only exists to bring about changes in sinful human behavior.  In verses 6 through 10, the psalmist says, “To you, O Lord, I cried.”  Here the psalmist tells about the past crisis and rescue.  The crisis is introduced by quoting the arrogant attitude that caused the trouble in the first place, as seen in the words, “I shall never be moved”.  Then the rescue is acknowledged by quoting the prayer that God answered, “Hear, Lord, and be gracious.”

In verses 11 through 12, we see mourning turned into dancing.  That metaphor of exchanging the attitudes and clothes of repentance for those of joy symbolizes the Lord’s transforming GRACE.

Mourning to dancing

Dialogue  The psalmist now dances and cannot remain silent.  When has your joy in the Lord overflowed like this?

Joy Comes in the Morning

Pray  Prayer for the Week:  Let’s pray this prayer from Psalm 139 as we join together to pray.  Holy God, you have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely. You surround my life with your presence, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.  Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand — when I awake, I am still with you.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 32

Psalm 32

Food for Thought: Psalm 32 bursts on the scene with a surprising declaration: Happy is the one whose transgression is lifted.  Technically, it is a thanksgiving song, but it is really a celebration of the forgiveness and restoration that only God can provide.  As a liturgical piece, it goes beyond the assurance of pardon into a celebration of RESTORATION.

The opening section of praise takes the form a “happy are those…” statements, celebrating the joy of forgiveness.

In verses 3 through 5, there is an acknowledgement of sin.  In a past crisis, the psalmist at first “kept silence” and did not confess or acknowledge sin.  This may have happened during an illness–many at this time assumed illness was the results of ‘some’ sin.  Then, the psalmist confessed sin, received forgiveness, and was restored.

You forgive the iniquity of my sin

Luther seal  How important is it to confess our sins and receive forgiveness?  Confession and forgiveness are necessary and ongoing gifts in our relationships with God and with one another.  Martin Luther taught that part of the Christian life is “daily sorrow for sin,” knowing that, in baptism, God promises forgiveness of sins.  When we remember this promise, “daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God”.

Dialogue  How can confession and forgiveness be gifts to your relationship with God or another person?

In verses 6 through 11, the ‘theme’ is BE GLAD IN THE LORD.  The psalmist praises God and offers instruction to the community.  Because the purpose of praise is to offer testimony about God, praise and instruction are very similar.  The horse and mule most likely refer to the psalmist’s previously stubborn silence (ref. verse 3).

I will instruct thee

  Pray Prayer for the Week:  Let’s pray this prayer from Psalm 139 as we join together to pray.  Holy God, you have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely. You surround my life with your presence, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.  Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand — when I awake, I am still with you.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Psalm 45 harp

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 45

Food for Thought: Psalm 45 is classified as a “royal psalm.”  It most likely was composed as a wedding song for the marriage of a king of Judah or Israel.  In verse 1, there is a reference to “the king”.  In ancient Israel, government and religion were united.  The king was seen as a channel for God to bless the people with military security, fairness, equity, and righteousness.  The king was also a channel for God to connect with the people and keep the promises of land, descendants, and identity.  Israel’s human kings did not live up to God’s standards, and the kingdom eventually failed.  This and other royal psalms were preserved as a promise that God would one day send the perfect king.

In verse 2, we see a reference to “God, your God, has anointed you”.  The Hebrew word meshiach (Muh-SHEE-ack) refers to the anointed king.  Anointing involved pouring oil on a person’s head to designate him as king.  When rule by kings failed, people believed God would keep God’s promise by sending the Messiah.

The King will desire your beauty

In verses 10 through 15, the psalmist addresses a daughter: “Hear, O daughter”.  These ‘words’ are for the king’s bride, who was most likely a foreign king’s daughter.

The Royal Daughter

Pray  Prayer for the Week:  Let’s pray this prayer from Psalm 139 as we join together to pray.  Holy God, you have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely. You surround my life with your presence, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.  Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand — when I awake, I am still with you.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength

A Mighty Fortress is Our God (Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott)

Fortress

Food for Thought: Psalm 46 is a community hymn which is more specifically classified as a “psalm of confidence” or a “song of Zion”.  While the psalm never specifically mentions the city of Jerusalem or uses the word “Zion”, its content and structure suggest that it was sung liturgically by the community of Israelites–perhaps at a time of threat to the security of Jerusalem sometime in a pre-exilic period–as a confirmation that God was enthroned in Jerusalem and would protect the people of God from all threats.  It is also, interesting, for us Lutherans, that the text inspired Martin Luther to write the magnificent hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is our God”.  This psalm has three stanzas:

  1. Verses 1 through 3
  2. Verses 4 through 6
  3. Verses 8 through 10

Yes!  How observant you are!  Indeed verses 7 and 11 are missing from the stanzas.  That is because verses 7 and 11 are a REFRAIN.  So, after stanza 2 and stanza 3, we have this refrain, or chorus, or or antiphon (echoing words), as we see in the image below:

God is our refuge

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 46:11: “Be still and know that I am God!”  That verse grounds me during any time of turmoil.  It settles any distractions I have before worship.  It gives me peace!

Be still and know

With this psalm that inspired Martin Luther to write our Lutheran Anthem “A Mighty Fortress”, let’s contemplate music in the life of the church.

Luther seal  What role does music play in Lutheran Tradition?  For you in your personal worship?  Music and singing are vital parts of the Lutheran Tradition.  Besides “A Mighty Fortress”, Martin Luther wrote MANY other hymns.  We are emerging from this time of Covid-19 and it is strongly suggested that we limit or even eliminate singing from our worship.  In times like these, I think we feel and understand the importance of music in our worship.  AT SAINT PETER, as we come back together for in-person worship, we are going to sing–on limited basis, masked, using our indoor voices–BUT WE ARE GOING TO SING!!!

Dialogue  What songs or hymns of comfort either inspire you or cheer you?

 Below are typical instruments that would have been used when the psalms were used in their original context:

Instruments

Pray  Prayer for the Week:  Let’s pray this prayer from Psalm 139 as we join together to pray.  Holy God, you have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely. You surround my life with your presence, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.  Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand — when I awake, I am still with you.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 51

David peers down at Bathsheba:

David peers upon Bathsheba

Food for Thought: Psalm 51 is often used in Lent.  It is also one of my favorite psalms.  It is a prayer for help and penitential psalm.  Psalm 51 is the first psalm in Book Two of the Psalter and has the superscription of David.  As an individual lament, it begins a series of fifteen psalms of David, eight of which are designated (according to their superscriptions) in specific events in the life of David.  Psalm 51’s superscription is: To the leader.  A Davidic psalm, when the prophet Nathan entered to him, just as he had entered to Bathsheba.

In verses 1 and 2, the psalmist references “my transgressions”, “my iniquity”, and “my sin”.  The psalmist uses these three descriptions for the same thing, emphasizing the magnitude of personal sin.  The request for forgiveness is based solely on God’s mercy and character, not on anything the psalmist can do.

In verse 4, we read, “Against you, you alone, have I sinned”.  Sin often harms other humans (See 2 Samuel 11), but this emphasizes that God is deeply affected when humans harm one another.

Please pay close attention to verse 5, “I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me”.  This does not mean that sin is passed on to people through their DNA, but that all humans enter into a fallen world and share in the fallen condition of sin.  We are human; we are broken; we are weak; we are sinners.  But, we have God’s grace and forgiveness.

In verses 7 through 9, we read, “Purge me with hyssop”.  This may be a reference to a cleansing ceremony like the one described in Leviticus 14:2-9.  The sinner cannot cleanse himself; only God can do that.

We see a very famous passage in verses 10 through 12, “Create in me a clean heart, O God”.  The psalmist asks for forgiveness, using the image of being re-created with a new heart and a new spirit.  Being forgiven is like being created afresh by the Creator.  It is a joyful experience.

Create in me a clean heart, O God

Dialogue When has forgiving or being forgiven brought you joy?

Pray Prayer for the Week:  Let’s pray this prayer from Psalm 139 as we join together to pray.  Holy God, you have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely. You surround my life with your presence, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.  Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand — when I awake, I am still with you.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

Food for Thought: Here we are again…. Time to get ready for our service tomorrow morning.  The welcome of baptism is for all God’s children.  This baptismal gift sets us free from the power of sin and death.  In today’s gospel, Christ promises that the disciple who gives a cup of cold water to the little ones serves Christ himself.  From worship, we are sent on our baptismal mission: to serve the little ones of this world and to be a sign of God’s merciful welcome.  Here are a few thoughts on each passage for tomorrow morning.

The Passage from Jeremiah: Through a symbolic action, Jeremiah insisted that Judah and all the surrounding nations should submit to the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 27).  Hananiah contradicted the word of Jeremiah, who in reply insisted that Hananiah’s rosy prediction should not be believed until it came true.  God confirmed the word of Jeremiah and sentenced the false prophet Hananiah to death (verses 16-17).

The Psalm: The antiphon for the psalm is ‘Your love, O Lord, forever will I sing’ (Psalm 89:1).

The Passage from Romans: Sin is an enslaving power which motivates us to live self-serving, disobedient lives.  Sin’s final payoff is death.  We, however, have been set free from sin’s slavery to live obediently under God’s grace, whose end is the free gift of eternal life.

The Gospel Passage in Matthew: When Jesus sends his disciples out as missionaries, he warns them of persecution and hardships they will face.  He also promises to reward any who aid his followers and support their ministry.

The following images seem to “speak” to our Gospel for tomorrow–a picture is worth 1,000 words:

Gospel 1Gospel 2Gospel 3

A cup of cold water from the faithful disciple:

Cold Water

Cup of cold water

Pray  Prayer for the Week:  Let’s pray this prayer from Psalm 139 as we join together to pray.  Holy God, you have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely. You surround my life with your presence, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.  Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand — when I awake, I am still with you.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

WEEK BEGINNING JUNE 15, 2020–TIME AFTER PENTECOST

IntroductionPlease read this short introduction before you read Monday’s devotion.

Psalm Intro 1

Thank you for journeying with me through the Book of Acts.  Now, I thought we could take three weeks and walk through fifteen of the Psalms.

The titles “Psalms” and “Psalter” come from the Septuagint, the pre-Christian Greek translation of the Old Testament, where they originally referred to stringed instruments (such as harp, lyre and lute), and then to songs sung with their accompaniment. The traditional Hebrew title is tehillim, which means “praises, even though many of the psalms are tephillot, which means “prayers”. In fact, one of the first collections included in the book was titled “the prayers of David son of Jesse“.

Many people believe the David wrote all the Psalms.  In truth, the Psalms conceal their origins.  It is sometimes hard to swallow, but here goes: most of the books of the entire Bible are anonymous.  While they are certainly inspired by God, God did not write them, nor do we honestly know who wrote the individual books, in most cases.  It seems that human beings both love a good mystery and have a need to put a name on an anonymous work.  This is true both of the Psalter in general, as well as the individual psalms.

Almost all the Psalms bear the superscription of David.  This causes some level of confusion–making people think that David actually penned the psalm.  In general, the superscriptions are not part of the original text of the psalms; but are later editorial additions.  Most of the words of the superscriptions indicate:

  1. The sub-collection to which the psalm belongs,
  2. The directions for liturgical/musical performance of the psalm,
  3. The psalm’s genre,
  4. Historical information about the psalm.

 

There are various kinds of psalms, including:

  • Prayer for Help (for both individuals and for a community)
  • Psalms of Trust
  • Psalms of Praise
  • Songs of Thanksgiving
  • Instructional Psalms
  • Royal Psalms
  • Liturgies

About a third of the psalms are poetry–they are songs, prayers, liturgies, and words of instruction that take on poetic form.  They express their intended meanings through poetry.

The Psalter is divided into five books:

  • Book One: Psalms 1-41
  • Book Two: Psalms 42-72
  • Book Three: Psalms 73-89
  • Book Four: Psalms 90-106
  • Book Five: Psalms 107-150

Each of these books end with a doxology (Praise to God).

Martin Luther understood how central the psalms are to the life of faith.  He wrote the following about the Psalter:

“… [The Psalter] might well be called a little Bible.  In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible.  It is really a fine… handbook.  In fact, I have a notion that the Holy Spirit wanted to take the trouble himself to compile a short Bible and book of examples of all Christendom or all saints, so that anyone who could not read the whole Bible would have [anyway] almost an entire summary of it, comprised in one little book.”

At the core of the theology of the Psalter is the conviction that the gravitational center of life–of genuine human understanding, trust, hope, service, morality, adoration–is GOD (Yahweh, the Lord).  Also, the history of the world and the whole creation–heaven and earth is centered on GOD (Yahweh, the Lord).

Martin Luther:

Luther

On October 31, 1517, Luther posted his historic Ninety-five Theses, launching his defiant protest against the corruption and grave abuses of the church in Rome. This decisive act became the hinge upon which history turned.  At the very core of this Protestant movement were the Psalms, which continued to play a defining role throughout Luther’s life and ministry. While being hidden by supporters in Wartburg Castle, Luther translated the Bible into the German language. Included in this work were the Psalms, which Luther referred to as ‘the Bible in miniature’.  In future years, Luther would repeatedly turn to the Psalms for solace and strength. With the continent of Europe in upheaval, he found great comfort in the soul-lifting truths of the Psalms. Specifically, in 1527, Luther faced one of the greatest difficulties of his life as the Black Plague swept across Germany and much of the European continent. During this time, Luther’s son almost died, and his own body was failing under the mounting pressure. In the midst of this personal conflict, Luther found himself contemplating the promises of Psalm 46, an encouraging psalm of trust in the invincibility of the Lord.  Based on this, he wrote his most famous hymn–our Lutheran Hymn–A Mighty Fortress is Our God–Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott (Luther’s manuscript):

Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott

Monday, June 15, 2020

Psalm 1 1

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 1

Two Roads

Food for Thought: The Hebrew Psalter begins with an instructional psalm that maps the future as a choice between one of two different paths.  The image above is a good visualization that there are two clear paths that we can take.  However, this psalm is not characterizing the paths by their terrain or geography, but by the character of the people who tread them.  The wicked, sinners, scoffers walk down one path.  Their eventual destination is unhappiness, lack of peace, and judgment.  The people who take the other path are the righteous.  They bring with them the Word of the Lord.  Their end is happiness, peace, and fulfillment.  The Lord will watch over them. They have the protection of the Lord.  The verb in the Hebrew text is yada and is often translated as “watch over” to convey the providential nature of God’s care.

In verse 1, the word ‘happy’ does not refer to an emotion, but to the public reputation of those who live a desirable life.  The ‘wicked’, ‘sinners’, and ‘scoffers’ are those who actively oppose God’s will and refuse to follow God’s instruction.

In verse 2, we see a reference to the law of the Lord.  The Hebrew word torah, which can be translated as “instruction”, does not carry the negative connotations of the word “law”.  The term refers to the Bible’s instruction in the way of faith and to the Bible as a whole, which is God’s Word.

Luther Seal  What is God’s law?  Martin Luther taught that God’s law is good and has two uses.  The first use teaches us how to live in this world.  The second use reminds us that nobody is perfect and that we all need God’s forgiveness (Psalm. 1:2)

Question  Those who delight in God’s law are like trees that provide fruit (Psalm 1:3).  Why is a tree that is fruitful a good image for the life of faith?

In verse 5, “the judgment” does not refer to the final judgment at Christ’s second coming, but to times of crisis when past actions catch up with people.  “The righteous” actively seek to love God and follow God’s will.  They are not sinless, but are committed to God, God’s world, and God’s people.

Tree planted by living waters

Prayers  Prayer for the Week:   Holy God of Love–Holy God of Strength, we praise you and we thank you for who you are and for all the blessings of life.  We stand in the middle of a broken world.  We are broken by pandemic and isolation.  We are broken by divisions among people in race, politics, social issues, and nearly every other way people can agree or disagree.  Come to us.  Wrap us in your mercy–your compassion–your love–your grace.  Heal us as a people in this world.  Renew our spirits as a people and as your church.  As we emerge from pandemic and deep divisions, give us hearts of understanding and compromise and openness to put ourselves in the shoes of others.  Help us live the teachings of Jesus–to love you with our whole heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Help us realize and embrace others–whoever they are and whatever differences we may see in them.  Give us renewed purpose in your mission in this world and guide our steps as we follow the lead of your Holy Spirit in the mission and ministry that you have called us to.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 3

Salvation belongs to the Lord

Food for Thought: Psalm1 and Psalm 2 form a two-part introduction to the Psalter.  Then, Psalm 3 through Psalm 41 are a part of the psalms that are psalms with the Davidic superscription.  This part of the psalms is less a book of praises and more a book of prayers for God’s help.

Psalm 3 is that kind of prayer.  It contains several of the usual elements of the prayer for help, including:

  • The complaint
  • The confession of trust
  • The petition for help
  • The ending benediction

In our NRSV, we see the word selah three times in this psalm. It is unclear what this means in this context; however, it likely involved some kind of direction for someone who is leading worship.

In verse 4, we read about the ‘cry to the Lord’ and ‘the Lord answering the cry’.  The psalmist or writer believe that God hears prayers and answers the faithful when they cry out.  The temple in Jerusalem is God’s holy hill.

Shield

Question  What are the times in your life that you experienced God’s love so powerfully that you felt you didn’t need to fear anything?

In verses 7 and 8, we hear the cry to the Lord to “deliver me”.  The psalmist asks for rescue from threatening situations.  Deliverance is one of the hallmarks of God’s reign.

Prayers Prayer for the Week: Holy God of Love–Holy God of Strength, we praise you and we thank you for who you are and for all the blessings of life.  We stand in the middle of a broken world.  We are broken by pandemic and isolation.  We are broken by divisions among people in race, politics, social issues, and nearly every other way people can agree or disagree.  Come to us.  Wrap us in your mercy–your compassion–your love–your grace.  Heal us as a people in this world.  Renew our spirits as a people and as your church.  As we emerge from pandemic and deep divisions, give us hearts of understanding and compromise and openness to put ourselves in the shoes of others.  Help us live the teachings of Jesus–to love you with our whole heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Help us realize and embrace others–whoever they are and whatever differences we may see in them.  Give us renewed purpose in your mission in this world and guide our steps as we follow the lead of your Holy Spirit in the mission and ministry that you have called us to.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 16

Keep Me Safe Psalm 16

Food for Thought: Psalm 16 is a song of trust and confession of faith.  Although the opening phrase almost appears to the kind of appeal that many prayers begin with, however, this opening verse really functions here as a confession of trust rather than as a literal appeal.  The sense of trust and confession continues through the poem.

In verse 2, we see the words, “I say”.  This is a declaration of faith that emphasizes the difference between the psalmist (as the writer of this psalm) and the enemies.

In verses 3 and 4, there is a reference to “those who choose another god”.  The translation of these verses is uncertain; but it is clear that the psalmist is surrounded by people who worship false gods in disturbing and dangerous ways.

In verses 5 and 6, the psalmist says, “I have a goodly heritage”.  The psalmist is a priest who delights in his calling.  “Cup” symbolizes ritual acts of thanksgiving.  Portion, lot, and boundary lines refer to God’s distribution of the land among the people.  The priestly tribe of Levi was given no land.  The Lord and offerings to the Lord were their portion.

In verses 7 through 11, the psalmist uses bodily images to indicate his love for and trust in God (my heart is glad…my body also rests secure).

I keep my eyes always on the Lord

This psalmist proclaims that there is wholeness in God–joy, completeness, peace.

Fullness of joy

Prayers Prayer for the Week: Holy God of Love–Holy God of Strength, we praise you and we thank you for who you are and for all the blessings of life.  We stand in the middle of a broken world.  We are broken by pandemic and isolation.  We are broken by divisions among people in race, politics, social issues, and nearly every other way people can agree or disagree.  Come to us.  Wrap us in your mercy–your compassion–your love–your grace.  Heal us as a people in this world.  Renew our spirits as a people and as your church.  As we emerge from pandemic and deep divisions, give us hearts of understanding and compromise and openness to put ourselves in the shoes of others.  Help us live the teachings of Jesus–to love you with our whole heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Help us realize and embrace others–whoever they are and whatever differences we may see in them.  Give us renewed purpose in your mission in this world and guide our steps as we follow the lead of your Holy Spirit in the mission and ministry that you have called us to.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 18

Food for Thought: I wanted to include a Royal Psalm.  Royal (messianic) psalms deal with the king as God’s anointed or chosen one. Many are prayers for the wisdom of the king, his long life, or success in battle. Some are prophetic in nature in that they also point to the ideal future king, the Messiah, or the King of kings.

Psalm 18 is a royal song of thanksgiving.  This classification is evident both from the psalm’s content and from the fact that the psalm (or a nearly identical poem occurs in 2 Samuel 22.  The poem is introduced, both in 2 Samuel 22:1 and in the superscription to Psalm 18, as a royal song of thanksgiving: “Of David, who spoke the words of this song to the Lord, on the day the Lord delivered him from the palm of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.”

In verses 1 through 3, the psalmist calls upon the Lord to offer praise because of what God has done:

Rock Strength

In verses 4 through 6, we understand that the psalmist was wrapped up in the ‘cord of death’, meaning that he almost died.

In verses 7 through 19, we read that “the earth reeled and rocked”.  The image of a thunderstorm depicts God’s coming to earth.  God’s coming disturbs the normal rhythms of earth, and nature’s powerful forces are hints of God’s power.  The psalmist experienced God’s saving help as similar to this–that is, powerful disruption to the ‘cords of death’.

He reached down from on high

Question  When have you experienced God’s saving help?  What was that like?

Prayers Prayer for the Week: Holy God of Love–Holy God of Strength, we praise you and we thank you for who you are and for all the blessings of life.  We stand in the middle of a broken world.  We are broken by pandemic and isolation.  We are broken by divisions among people in race, politics, social issues, and nearly every other way people can agree or disagree.  Come to us.  Wrap us in your mercy–your compassion–your love–your grace.  Heal us as a people in this world.  Renew our spirits as a people and as your church.  As we emerge from pandemic and deep divisions, give us hearts of understanding and compromise and openness to put ourselves in the shoes of others.  Help us live the teachings of Jesus–to love you with our whole heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Help us realize and embrace others–whoever they are and whatever differences we may see in them.  Give us renewed purpose in your mission in this world and guide our steps as we follow the lead of your Holy Spirit in the mission and ministry that you have called us to.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Psalm 23

Food for Thought: This is probably our best-known and most beloved psalm.  It is so familiar, I hesitated to include it in our devotions, but I believe when we dig a bit, there are new ways to see this beautiful psalm.

Psalm 23 is a trust psalm.  In verse 1, the psalmist begins, “The Lord is my shepherd”.  The shepherd is an image of the king (see 1 Kings 22:17-18; Jeremiah 23:1; Ezekiel 34:1-2).  God is pictured here as the shepherd king who cares for faithful followers.

Lord is my shepherd

Shall not want” is better translated as “shall not be in need”.

I shall not want

In verse 3, he leads me beside still waters:

He leads me beside still waters

He restores my soul:

restores my soul

He leads me “in right paths for his name’s sake”.  The phrase “right paths” has a double meaning–“safe paths” and also “morally right ways”.  “For his name’s sake”…God revealed the name “The Lord” (in Hebrew Yahweh or YHWH) in Exodus 3:13-15.  God gave the people this name as part of the relationship established with them, so that they could call upon God in troubled times and praise God.  God’s name was understood to dwell in the temple, making it the place above all others where the people could call on God’s name in prayer and praise.

for his name's sake
Yes, I may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but you are with me.  In verse 4, we understand that there are many reasons to fear, but the psalmist has confidence to hold firm in faith because God is present.

valley of the shadow of death

In verse 4, the rod and staff are images for God’s guidance.  A rod defends the sheep from predators, and a staff keeps the sheep from straying.

rod and staff

In verse 5, “You prepare a table” …. The feast is an image for God’s actions.  God gives honor by feasting and welcoming the psalmist while enemies are present.

table before me

In verse 6, we understand that there is a PURSUIT of some kind to follow… These words “shall follow” can also be translated as “shall pursue”.  In many psalms, enemies pursue the psalmist.  Here, in Psalm 23, God’s goodness and mercy also PURSUE the psalmist.  In other words, God’s goodness and mercy ACTIVELY CHASE DOWN and “capture” the psalmist.  Now–that is a loving God!!!  Alleluia!

I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever

Prayers Prayer for the Week: Holy God of Love–Holy God of Strength, we praise you and we thank you for who you are and for all the blessings of life.  We stand in the middle of a broken world.  We are broken by pandemic and isolation.  We are broken by divisions among people in race, politics, social issues, and nearly every other way people can agree or disagree.  Come to us.  Wrap us in your mercy–your compassion–your love–your grace.  Heal us as a people in this world.  Renew our spirits as a people and as your church.  As we emerge from pandemic and deep divisions, give us hearts of understanding and compromise and openness to put ourselves in the shoes of others.  Help us live the teachings of Jesus–to love you with our whole heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Help us realize and embrace others–whoever they are and whatever differences we may see in them.  Give us renewed purpose in your mission in this world and guide our steps as we follow the lead of your Holy Spirit in the mission and ministry that you have called us to.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15] 16-18; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

Food for Thought: AT 5:44 PM today, we experience the Summer Solstice.  This is the longest day of the year–THE DAY WITH THE MOST LIGHT!!!  CHRIST BE OUR LIGHT–IN ALL WE DO!  Tomorrow morning, we will join in worship.  Let’s get ready for our service.  God does not promise that the path of being a faithful disciple will be easy.  Jeremiah feels the pain of rejection from those who do not want to hear what he has to say.  Jesus declares that his words may bring stark division.  Even so, we need not be afraid for God accounts for each hair on our heads.  Though we may experience rejection, frustration, division, and death, God’s grace and love make us a new creation each day.  Marked with the cross and filled with holy food, we are sent from worship to witness to Christ in the world.  That is a great thing to always keep in mind–we are called from WORSHIP TO WITNESS!!!  ACTION!!!  Now here are a few thoughts on each Scripture for tomorrow:

The Passage in Jeremiah: Jeremiah accuses God of forcing him into a ministry that only brings him contempt and persecution.  Yet Jeremiah is confident that God will be a strong protector against his enemies and commits his life into God’s hands.

The Psalm: The Antiphon for our Psalm tomorrow is: “Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind” (Psalm 69:16).

The Passage in Romans: In baptism we were incorporated into the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection.  We have been made new in Christ through his death and resurrection to live freed from sin.

The Gospel Passage in Matthew: Jesus warns his disciples that their ministry in his name will meet opposition.  However, he assures them that they need not fear for the truth will come to light.  Life is found in Christ.

Below are images that ‘walk us through’ our Scriptures for tomorrow:

His word was in my heart

Psalm 69Free from sindead to sin alive in GodDo not be afraidI sing because Im happy

Prayers Prayer for the Week: Holy God of Love–Holy God of Strength, we praise you and we thank you for who you are and for all the blessings of life.  We stand in the middle of a broken world.  We are broken by pandemic and isolation.  We are broken by divisions among people in race, politics, social issues, and nearly every other way people can agree or disagree.  Come to us.  Wrap us in your mercy–your compassion–your love–your grace.  Heal us as a people in this world.  Renew our spirits as a people and as your church.  As we emerge from pandemic and deep divisions, give us hearts of understanding and compromise and openness to put ourselves in the shoes of others.  Help us live the teachings of Jesus–to love you with our whole heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Help us realize and embrace others–whoever they are and whatever differences we may see in them.  Give us renewed purpose in your mission in this world and guide our steps as we follow the lead of your Holy Spirit in the mission and ministry that you have called us to.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________WEEK BEGINNING JUNE 8, 2020–TIME AFTER PENTECOST

IntroductionPlease read this short introduction before you read Monday’s devotion.

Welcome to Summer.  Now, as a church, we enter that long season called Time after Pentecost.  This season is sometimes called “ordinary time”, but in reality, there is NOTHING ORDINARY about it!  There is never anything ORDINARY about God’s Word and God’s mission in the world.  And for us….. as we emerge from this Covid-19 era, we are charting new territories in ministry and mission, which by essence make it EXTRAORDINARY!!!

I said in our Sunday sermon on the Day of Pentecost that I deeply believe that God has called us for such a time as this.  We ARE the church—God’s church and, as we emerge from this time of pandemic and separation, let us unify ourselves in the following ways:

  • As the body of Christ in this world—empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  • As God’s church for the SAKE OF THE WORLD—united in God’s mission.
  • In prayerful discernment of where the Holy Spirit is leading us as Saint Peter Lutheran Church.
  • In our ‘new normal’ of worship—embracing our reunion in safety and respect for all—yet living into the fullness and vibrancy of worship that God invites us into and empowers us to engage in.

You are called

As we continue to contemplate the happenings and people of the early church in Acts in our devotions for this week, let us live into that story as an extension of ‘their’ story—because the truth is—IT IS OUR STORY—JUST FURTHER DOWN THE ROAD!  It is so very clear in the Gospel and the follow up in Acts that Jesus teaches us and prepares us and empowers us to GO—TO GO INTO THE WORLD AND PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL MESSAGE OF RESURRECTION AND SALVATION AND LOVE!!!  Then Jesus, glorified and ascended to God the Father, with the Father, sends us the Holy Spirit to give us the energy—the peace and power to follow Christ’s sending.

In itself, following the sending of Christ can be a daunting action—even in ‘normal’ times, much less as we emerge from a global pandemic.  BUT…… we have the strength of God on our side.  We have the FIRE of the Holy Spirit blazing in our favor—as we work together to respond to God’s will and God’s path of mission and ministry.

believe you are calledHoly Spirit

Monday, June 8, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 25:1-27

Paul stands before King Agrippa:

Paul before Agrippa

Food for Thought: In the first twelve verses, the new governor wants to wrap Paul’s case up as soon as possible.  While first listening to the accusations brought by the Jews, and anxious to ingratiate himself with them, he then opens the way for Paul to give his fourth defense speech, which ends with his appeal to the Caesar.

Recall the conspiracy against Paul from last week (in Acts 23:12-15).  That same kind of sentiment against Paul surfaces as there were plans to ambush and kill on the way back to Jerusalem.

Paul maintains his innocence; but is really put through the ringer of this legal circus precipitated by the Jewish opposition of Paul.  In verses 13 through 27, Paul has appeared before Jewish authorities, a governor, and now a king.  This was prophesied in Acts 9:15-16 and in Luke 12:11-12).  As Jesus was brought before Herod Antipas (Luke 23:6-12), so Paul comes before Herod Agrippa II.  Agrippa II was the last of the Herodian kings.  He became king of Iturea and Trachonitis, and parts of Galilee and Perea in 52 of the Common Era.  His sister was married to Felix (remember Felix from last week.)  In verse 11, Paul “appeals to the emperor”.  Roman citizens had the right to have their case heard by Caesar or his designated representative.  This, of course, was the highest court in the empire.  The appeal meant that Paul would have to be transported to Rome, where the Caesar was located as the head of the Roman Empire.

I appeal to Caesar

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Holy God—Lord of all, we thank you and praise you for all the blessings of life.  Send your Holy Spirit to energize us as your church, to lift us up to heights unknown in ministry and mission, and to unleash—through us—the power of your church in the world.  We have some anxiety as we emerge from this pandemic.  Give us peace and wholeness as we begin a new journey for your church in this age post pandemic.  Work in us and through us as your children—your followers in the world.  Work in us and through us as Saint Peter Lutheran Church in Spokane.  Lord, our tattered world from this virus is suffering yet again with violence and mayhem in protest of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  Send your peace to the people to calm this destructive wave which has overtaken our country.  Send your justice to roll down like waters and your righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 26:1-32

Food for Thought: In this passage today, Paul continues to defend himself.  Both the previous governor, Felix (Acts 23:29), and the present governor, Festus (Acts 25:24-25), found Paul to be innocent.  In this speech in today’s passage, Paul again tells his personal story and urges Agrippa to believe in Jesus Christ.  This is another example of a PERSONAL TESTIMONY (as we discussed earlier) and we see how Paul uses his testimony as the foundation for his defense as well as in witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

It seems like a technicality in verse 32, where Agrippa tells Festus that Paul “could have been” set free, but on the technicality that Paul invoked this right to go before Caesar, the legal saga continues…. This shows that Paul’s legal defense had been effective through his testimony and personal appeals.

Agrippa tells Festus, “This man could have been set free IF he had not appealed to the emperor.”

Agrippa tells Festus

Paul passionately defends himself before Agrippa:

Paul defends before Agrippa

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Together we have met, together we are bound; while we are in different places, we are God’s people and we are joined by the Holy Spirit. Together we will live in God’s light and sing God’s praises.  Let us pray.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Map of Paul’s journey to Rome to appeal before the Caesar:

map

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 27:1-12

Paul boards the ship for the journey to Rome:

Boarding boat

Food for Thought: In this passage, Paul embarks on this journey to Rome to gain his innocence and his freedom.  This journey would normally have taken about two weeks.  However, in our short passage today, we see that the ‘elements’ were not kind to them on the journey.  The wind and the waves caused them much difficulty in their travels.  That led to delays in the journey that would have taken only two weeks in normal circumstances.  Paul finally declares to the Centurion and those in charge, “Sirs, I can see that the voyage will be with danger and much heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also in our lives.”  They were about to enter “rough waters”!!!

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Together we have met, together we are bound; while we are in different places, we are God’s people and we are joined by the Holy Spirit. Together we will live in God’s light and sing God’s praises.  Let us pray.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 27:13-44

“But soon a violent wind, call the northeaster, rushed down…” Verse 14:

rough waters

Food for Thought: Paul was in danger—PERIOD!  First, he was in danger from the Jewish authorities that felt threatened by him.  Now, in our passage today, Paul faces the danger of a winter storm.  Even in the storm, Paul is central to the action.  He expounds a message of hope for his fellow prisoners.  We all remember the story of Jesus calming the storm.  This story serves to assure us, as Christian children of God, that we can count on God’s salvation even in the bleakest of circumstances.

The Angel reassures Paul, “Do not be afraid…God has granted safety to all those who are traveling with you.”:

angel appears to Paul

Yes, indeed we experience the shipwreck in verses 39 through 44, but “all were brought to safety”.  Speaking of safety, Paul was spared again from death when the Centurion overruled the plan to kill all the prisoners so they would not attempt to escape….

Kill the prisoners so they cannot escape

The shipwreck:

washed up

question 1  In what ways have you experienced God’s help in times of danger?

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Together we have met, together we are bound; while we are in different places, we are God’s people and we are joined by the Holy Spirit. Together we will live in God’s light and sing God’s praises.  Let us pray.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 28:1-31

Food for Thought: Today we come to the end of our journey through Acts.

In verses 1 through 10, we see Paul’s ‘adventures’ in Malta, after they had reached safety from the shipwreck.  The natives in Malta showed unusual kindness to the survivors.  See the map above to locate Malta.  Since it had begun to rain and it was very cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all around it.

come warm by the fire

In verse 3, we hear about the “viper, driven out of the fire, [fastening] itself to [Paul’s] hand… Paul had been faced with serious threats to his life over and over and over and now again….. I have three words–GOD IS FAITHFUL.

the viper

Three months later (verse 11), they set sail [again] for Rome.  Paul arrives in Rome in the spring of 61 CE.  This serves as a transition to Paul’s final preaching in Rome.

In verses 17 through 38, we see the final episode that completes the plan that was set in Acts 1:8, that Jesus’ followers would be witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”  How people respond to the gospel message is a mixed bag.  Some believe, while others do not.  The quotation from Isaiah 6:9-10 gives the key to interpretation.  As Jesus, using this same text, explained to his disciples (Luke 8:10), some will never be disposed to hear God’s word.  To some readers the ending of Acts seems abrupt.  Some believe that Luke was prevented from finishing the story or that he intended to write a third volume.  The story is brought to a fitting conclusion with a note of triumph as Paul continues witnessing to the reign of God at the heart of the Roman Empire.

question 2 What happens to Paul?  In the last verse of Acts, we hear that Paul continued to preach “with all BOLDNESS and without HINDRANCE”!  However, what that looks like in reality is not clear.  We hear in verse 30 that Paul lived for two more years.  Paul was still under house arrest.  The writer does not tell what happens to Paul.  Paul may have been executed in Rome, but it is still more likely that he was ultimately released.  Some believe that Paul returned to the churches he started in Asia.  Others believe that he went to preach in Spain.

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Together we have met, together we are bound; while we are in different places, we are God’s people and we are joined by the Holy Spirit. Together we will live in God’s light and sing God’s praises.  Let us pray.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Exodus 19:2-8a; Psalm 100; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8 [9-23]

Food for Thought: We have entered that long period of Pentecost as we enter the summer.  Let’s ready for our worship tomorrow morning.  Moses tells the Israelites that they are called to be a priestly kingdom and a holy people.  Jesus sends out the disciples as laborers of the harvest.  In baptism, we too are anointed for ministry, sharing God’s compassion with our needy world.  From the Lord’s table, we go forth to proclaim the Good News, to heal the sick, and to share our bread with the hungry.  Here are a few thoughts about each of our passages for tomorrow’s service.

The Passage from Exodus: As Sinai assured Israel, “You shall be my treasured possession” and commissioned them to serve as mediating priests for the nations.  The people commit themselves completely to God’s will.

The Psalm: The antiphon for our Psalm tomorrow is: “We are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture”.  (Psalm 100:3)

The Passage from Romans: We are no longer God’s enemies but have peace with God because we were brought into a right relationship with God through Christ’s death.

Our Gospel Reading from Matthew: The mission of Jesus’ followers is to continue the mission of Jesus himself.  Here, he instructs his first disciples as to how they might proclaim the gospel through their words and deeds.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few…

harvest is plentiful

What is the harvest?

harvest 2

Jesus sends the Twelve out for mission:

sending the twelve

freely givekingdom is coming soon

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Together we have met, together we are bound; while we are in different places, we are God’s people and we are joined by the Holy Spirit. Together we will live in God’s light and sing God’s praises.  Let us pray.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

WEEK BEGINNING JUNE 1, 2020–TIME AFTER PENTECOST

IntroductionPlease read this short introduction before you read Monday’s devotion.

Opener

I hope you are enjoying and benefiting from our walk through the Book of Acts as much as I believe I am.  The time I spend in study in Acts for these devotions is time that literally stands still.  Even with all the distractions of a pandemic, my study time is absolute communion with the Word and with our God who inspires these Holy Scriptures.

Are you seeing any clear “themes” in Acts?  Why do you think that the writer decided to write the Book of Acts?  We believe that Acts was written by the same writer as the Gospel of Luke.  Why would that writer take on his story, yes, HISTORY, of the early church?

The Book of Acts is more than a historical chronicle of milestones, events, and colorful characters of the early church.  The writer of the Book of Acts seems to sense that there is a need for this kind of writing and to further sense that Jesus’ coming again was not going to happen as soon as Jesus’ contemporaries hoped it would.

The Book of Acts is a collection of dramatic and inspiring stories about some of the most faithful followers of Jesus that have ever been chronicled.  It is a powerful story of the beginnings and expansion of the early church under the leadership of those faithful followers of Jesus.

Acts is a book of ACTION.  Yes—ACTION!!!  In this book we do not read about a church that is passive or held back in a holding pattern.  We see a church on the MOVE!  We see a church that is growing and expanding.  We see a church that is becoming robust—resilient—despite resistance and persecution—forming its foundation that holds TO THIS DAY!  While there is much decay of organized religion and of the church today in certain parts of the world—serious decline in Europe and North America—the fact is, the church is triumphant and overall across the world—the church is ALIVE AND WELL!!!  There are parts of the Global South—Latin and South America, parts of Africa, and parts of China, where Christianity is seeing extraordinary growth!

I believe that we, the church today, are at a fork in our road in North America.  It is time to give our churches and faith formation a jump-start after some years of steady decline in our country.  In Acts, churches were seen as living expressions and embodiments of God’s salvation.  Acts provides a blueprint for us TO THIS DAY!!!

One of my professors at Luther Seminary, Dr. Matthew Skinner puts it this way, “Acts was written to remind Christian audiences where they came from and why they exist, so they could [can] understand their purpose and carry out that purpose for the long haul”!!!  Amen, Brother!!!

Number 2

Monday, June 1, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 21:1-26

Food for Thought:

Luther seal Paul is going to live the words that we hear here from Martin Luther below.  Although Paul understands the risk and implications of going back to Jerusalem, he walks in faith and not in fear.  He knows (eyes wide open) that he is going to suffer, but in verse 14, he proclaims, “The Lord’s will be done”.

Martin Luther 1

In our passage today, we see Paul faced with an uncertain future.  The Prophet Agabus (in verses 10-11) foretells and demonstrates with Paul’s own belt, how he will be bound in his hands and his feet when he goes back to Jerusalem.  Paul marches on to Jerusalem and face the kind of “tomorrow” that Martin Luther is talking about in the quote below.  Paul moved forward despite the warnings and obvious danger.

Martin Luther 2

Paul makes the definitive proclamation of his faith in verse 13 when he says, “For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

dialogue How resilient or robust is your faith?  Are you willing to make sacrifices for the Lord Jesus?  What or how are you willing to sacrifice for the Lord Jesus and your faith?  The questions are not meant to make us feel inadequate or guilty; they are simply to help us get a barometer on the depth of our commitment to the Lord Jesus.  Yes, we are saved by grace.  Period!  However, we are called to FULLY “live in” our FAITH in the Lord Jesus and to “live out” our FAITH in the Lord Jesus.

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Precious Lord, take our hands and lead us in the ways you would have us go.  We bow before you to lift our praise and our thanksgiving for life and all the blessings you so freely give us.  As we face new directions in your mission and in the church as we emerge from quarantine, give us strength and courage to face the opportunities and challenges that we will certainly encounter.  God, give us clarity in your mission.  Give us clarity in the directions you would have us move, as Saint Peter Lutheran Church, and as your greater Church in the world.  When our spirits are dimmed by gloom and despair, lift us up with your Spirit and renew our spirits in you and through you.  Give us hearts to love you more than anything and to love our neighbors as ourselves—in all we do in our lives.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 21:27-40

Paul is arrested at the Temple in Jerusalem:

Paul arrested

Food for Thought:

In verses 28-29, we read about Paul being cited for ‘actually’ bringing Greeks into the temple.  There is no evidence that Paul violates the temple law prohibiting Gentiles from entering the temple, except the area called the Court of the Gentiles.  Breaking this rule could result in the death of the Gentile.

The temple in Paul’s day—note the Court of the Gentiles:

Temple

Paul, the prisoner:

Paul in prison

Paul was held in the barracks in Antonia Fortress (verse 34):

Antonia Fortress

In verse 39, we hear Paul declare that he is a Jew.  Paul claims to be a Jew and criticizes the Jews also.  Paul turned the corner to fully accept the Good News of Jesus Christ, Salvation, and Resurrection.  He criticizes Jews that cannot turn that corner that he turned.  I don’t think I would see this as religious bigotry, but I see it as Paul’s unwavering PASSION that comes out in his conviction to the gospel of Jesus Christ!  Paul is all-or-none kind of Christian!!!

dialogue Are you an all-or-none kind of Christian?  If yes, PRAISE GOD!  If you are sometimes not an all-or-none kind of Christian, where do you tend to make compromises?

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Bound tightly by the Holy Spirit, joined together as the body of Christ in this world, and always to the glory of God the Father, we bow together to pray our Prayer for the Week.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 22:1-30

Food for Thought: In this passage, Paul appeals to the people as a fellow Jew.  He even addressed them in Hebrew.  The writer wants to show how faithful Paul is to his Jewish faith, including speaking the language of the Jews.  It almost reads like a resume in verse 3 as Paul outlines his credentials and identity as a respected Jewish leader.

Normally when Paul speaks or preaches, he uses a predictable order for his presentation including an explanation, proclamation of the gospel, and then a call to repentance. In this passage, Paul makes a personal appeal to the people as he tells about his life and coming to faith in Jesus Christ.  We see this in verses 3-21.  This is a testimony as we would call it.  At Luther Seminary, we refer to this as a Call Story.

When we consider our own Call Story and our own place in the church and in our faith journey, we should recall the words of Martin Luther that calls us all as ministers in the priesthood of all believers.

Luther seal Martin Luther said, “There is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests…between religious and secular, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status.  They are all of the spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops, and pope.  But they do not all have the same work to do.”  This levels the playing field as we consider that we are all called into continuing the ministry of Jesus Christ as the priesthood of all believers.

dialogue What is your Call Story?  How have you or how will you share this Call Story with others as your testimony to your belief in Jesus Christ?

Here are a couple of “technical points” in this passage:

  • In verse 24, Paul was “examined by flogging”. It was customary to flog a prisoner to get information or a confession.  This seems a bit like “water boarding” in our day.  Flogging involved beating the prisoner with a braided whip which often had pieces of bone or metal attached to it so as to create maximum pain and carnage.
  • In verse 28, Paul again declares that he was “born a citizen”. How Paul became a Roman citizen is not known.  His father may have purchased citizenship.

We all play a part, as Christ’s ministers:

we are the church

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Bound tightly by the Holy Spirit, joined together as the body of Christ in this world, and always to the glory of God the Father, we bow together to pray our Prayer for the Week.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 23:1-35

Food for Thought: In this passage, we see Paul, falsely accused, and batted around from one court to the next.  A plot to kill him is revealed and his nephew helps communicate his impending danger to the High Priest, but the nephew’s claims are all but ‘dismissed’.  Paul ends up standing before Felix in Caesarea, after being aided to get out of danger and to get out of Jerusalem.  He then stands before Felix in Caesarea, who commits to ‘hear his case’ when his accusers arrive.  Paul is still kept in prison.

Paul before Felix, the Governor:

Felix the Governor

We see a little “technicality” in verse 3, where there is a reference to a “whitewashed wall”.  The phrase indicates a hypocrite, someone who appears good on the outside, but really is not.

The plot to kill Paul was pretty substantial!   In verse 12, we hear that the conspirators were “bound by an oath”.  These individuals were likely Zealots, an extremist group of that day.  They later led the revolt against Rome.

The plotting Zealots:

Plotting Zealots

It was not out of sympathy for Paul that he was “rescued” and “transferred” to Governor Felix.  It was because he was a Roman citizen.  In verses 23-24, we see the “calvary” being assembled, including the “soldiers, horsemen, and spearmen.  The “tribune”—a Roman official—wants to make sure that Paul will be safe and treated fairly because he is a Roman citizen.

Paul is sent out at night, with 470 men:

Paul protected

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Bound tightly by the Holy Spirit, joined together as the body of Christ in this world, and always to the glory of God the Father, we bow together to pray our Prayer for the Week.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 24:1-27

Food for Thought: In this passage, the Apostle Paul remains “detained” (see what “detained” means later in this posting!):

Paul in Prayer

In verse 1, we hear that Ananias, the high priest, travels to oversee the trial of Paul.  This shows how important this trial and Paul’s outcome is to the Jewish leaders.  They want Paul “out of their hair”!

In verse 14, we see another reference to the “Way”.  This is also referenced with commitment to “God of our ancestors”.  Paul admits being a Jew who believes in Jesus Christ.  Believing Jews are called the “sect of the Nazarenes” in verse 5.

In verse 22, we read that the Governor Felix was “well informed about the Way”.  This trial is not the first time the governor has dealt with the growing Christian community.  I don’t know about you, but this whole story [again] shows me just how challenging it was for the early church and its leaders to ‘survive’ resistance, persecution, misunderstanding, skepticism, politics, traditions, resistance to changed….. and I could go on and on…..

No dollar bill In verse 26, there is talk about Governor Felix “hoping that money would be given [to him] [by Paul]”.  Felix apparently thinks that Paul has “money”.  Perhaps he thinks this because of the gits that Paul delivered in Jerusalem.  In fact, Paul is both UNABLE and UNWILLING to offer a bribe to Felix.

Yes, Paul remains “detained”.  In verse 23, we learn that Paul has “liberties” during his incarceration.  Paul is actually under house arrest.  This probably is true because he is a Roman citizen and has not been convicted of any crime.  BUT…. Paul is NOT off the hook yet!

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Bound tightly by the Holy Spirit, joined together as the body of Christ in this world, and always to the glory of God the Father, we bow together to pray our Prayer for the Week.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Food for Thought: Tomorrow is Sunday of the Holy Trinity—The First Sunday after Pentecost.  Though the word trinity is not found in the scriptures, today’s second reading includes the apostolic greeting that begins the liturgy.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  In the gospel, Jesus sends his disciples forth to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  More than a doctrine, the Trinity expresses the heart of our faith: we have experienced the God of creation made known in Jesus Christ and with us always through the Holy Spirit.  We celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity in word and sacrament, as we profess the creed, and as we are sent into the world to bear witness to our faith.  Please join us tomorrow for the Virtual Service of the Word.  Presiding Bishop of the ELCA Elizabeth Eaton will give the sermon tomorrow.  Here are a few thoughts about each of the scriptures for tomorrow:

The Passage in Genesis: At the beginning of time, God the Creator, God the powerful Word, and God the life-giving Spirit form the earth and all its inhabitants.  God sees that all this created work is good and then rests on the seventh day.

Creation

The Psalm: The Antiphon for Psalm 8 [tomorrow] is how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1)

The Passage in 2 Corinthians: Paul closes a challenging letter to the Corinthians with an appeal to Christian fellowship ground in the triune harmony of Christ’s grace, God’s love, and the Spirit’s partnership.

The Gospel Reading in Matthew: After his resurrection, Jesus summons his remaining disciples and commissions them to baptize and teach all nations in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

There is much profound and beautiful art relating to the Trinity.

There are many images similar to the one below.  These images with three faces on one person have always spoken to me.  I always think of the words of Holy, Holy, Holy: “God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity”.  This painting is in the Museum of Art of Salzburg, Austria.  It was painted by an anonymous artist:

Trinity 1

Here is one by Botticelli.  The Holy Spirit is often represented by a dove:

Trinity 2

 A life in the Trinitarian God—Perichoresis—the dance of the Holy Trinity, as you heard in the sermon on May 17, 2020:

Trinity 3

God the Father, Jesus Christ—The Springs of Living Water, and the Holy Spirit represented by a Dove:

Trinity 4

Blessed Trinity:

Trinity 6

One more—by Rossetti:

Trinity 7

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Bound tightly by the Holy Spirit, joined together as the body of Christ in this world, and always to the glory of God the Father, we bow together to pray our Prayer for the Week.

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WEEK BEGINNING MAY 25, 2020–LAST WEEK OF EASTER BEFORE PENTECOST

IntroductionPlease read this short introduction before you read Monday’s devotion.

Hold the bus!!!  Hold the bus!!!

Stop sign

It would be so easy to STOP!  Huh?  It would be so easy to ‘throw in the towel’ on ministry and mission as we contemplate re-emerging from this time of pandemic and isolation.  It would be so easy to get caught up in what we have lost and how different things are in the new-normal that the need and CALL for the church into mission and ministry is eclipsed by the human struggle of adjustment to a new way of life and (at least for now) a new way to be the church—to be the church engaged in mission and ministry—EVANGELISM in response to Jesus’ own COMMISSION in Matthew 28.

BUT NO!!!  Now, more than ever, is the time to face the facts that things are different, and things are going to be different for the foreseeable future.  Now, more than ever, is the time to face that God’s mission—God’s presence in the world—God’s unending grace, compassion, love, and mercy do not take a hiatus during pandemics or any other challenges of the human condition.

So…… WHAT DO WE DO?  WHERE DO WE START AS THE RE-EMERGED CHURCH ON THE OTHER SIDE OF PANDEMIC?  The answers are not clear at this point.  We, the collection of believers that are identified as Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church in the City of Spokane, all have ideas, input, and (very importantly) we ALL have God’s ear in prayer and meditation.  Let’s come together as the church—as God’s people responding to our all-powerful God—and prayerfully discern the new and exciting directions where God is leading us.  Be sure of this—GOD IS WAY OUT FRONT OF ALL OF US AND WAY OUT FRONT OF COVID-19.  We will never catch up with God, but we can faithfully follow God’s path for the future in THE CHURCH and in our church!

Let’s spend more time in ACTS—learning from what the apostles—Paul, Silas, Timothy, and all experienced in their clear challenges to following the mission of God.  There is LIGHT and HOPE and ASSURANCE—when we, God’s children DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’!!!  Alleluia!

ACTS of the Apostles—THEN AND NOW!!!

Acts arrow

God is on a mission

Monday, May 25, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 18:1-28

Never give up

Food for Thought: Evangelism is NOT easy!  Period!  It takes courage, conviction, COURAGE, CONVICTION, and the power of the Holy Spirit to step out and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world that is ‘outside’ the safety of the four walls of the church.  We know that is true as we contemplate how to engage with and for our community of Hillyard here in Spokane.  We can certainly see the challenges that Paul was facing in our passage today.  But the bottom line is proclaimed in verses 9-10: “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.”  This verse contains another one of our “I AM” statements.  GOD, the GREAT “I AM” is WITH US in EVANGELISM and in everything that we face, encounter, or discover in this world.

I am with you

In verses 18:1-2, we encounter Aquila…Priscilla…as Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.

Priscilla and Aquila and Paul:

Priscilla and Aquila and Paul

Priscilla and Aquila are probably Jews who believe in Jesus.  They left Rome because Claudius, the emperor, had ordered the Jews to leave.  A Roman historian, Suetonius, reports that the Jews were causing disturbances in Rome, probably because of the conflict between Jews who believe in Jesus and those who did not.

Jesus had ‘prepared’ his first disciples, that they, and the disciples to come after them, would indeed face opposition and persecution—maybe even persecution to death.  This is the price that many followers of Jesus Christ have paid through the centuries.  In verse 13-14, Paul is being accused of going against the law.  The Jews are accusing Paul of treason.  (Refer back to Acts 17:7, where acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor is referenced.  Acting against Caesar’s laws would indeed have been considered treason and could be punished )by death.

Dialogue How much are you willing to risk for your commitment to Jesus Christ and the gospel?  What does persecution look like in Washington in 2020?  Do you ever feel like you are being persecuted for your faith?

 

Prayer Prayer for the Week:  God of all time and all places, how excellent is your name in all the world.  We praise you and we thank you.  Restoring God, we lift the current condition of our world into your restoring hands.  There is so much uncertainty and anxiety in our world.  As things begin to open again, we are nervous to plunge back into life outside our quarantines.  God, restore the order of this world and help us navigate a safe return to life on the outside and worship back in our churches.  Healing God, so many people remain infected with this Covid-19.  Strengthen and guide our healthcare workers to bring comfort and your healing to those who are suffering.  Give your peace to families across the world who have lost loved ones.    Creative God, empower and guide the scientists who are working on immunizations and vaccines for Covid-19.  In your Omnipotence, we implore you to come to our aid at this time of great need in this world.  God of love and God of mission, amidst the disorder and pandemic, help us never lose sight of your mission and your church.  Bring us to the other side of this disruption and guide us as your church to serve you in mission and ministry in the world around us—church for the sake of the world.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 19:1-20

Tyrannus’ Lecture Hall as we read in verse 9:

Tyrannus Lecture Hall

Paul in Ephesus:

Paul in Ephesus 1

Food for Thought:

Come Holy Spirit

In Ephesus, the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.  In verse 6, we understand that the coming of the Spirit shows that these people are ‘accepted’ by God.  They receive the same gifts as those in Caesarea (as we read in Acts 10:44-46) and in Jerusalem (as we read in Acts 2:4).

Facing resistance, as we read in verse 9, Paul leaves the synagogue, where he usually teaches, due to the strong opposition.  He begins to teach in a public building (as seen above) where Gentiles would be welcome, the place where the philosopher Tyrannus taught.

I love verse 11.  Here Paul is the vessel as “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.”

Paul holds a healing handkerchief:

Pauls holds a handkerchief

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Separated by space, BUT gathered as ONE, we kneel to pray TOGETHER our Prayer for the Week.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 19:21-41

The Theater in Ephesus:

The Theater in Ephesus

Food for Thought: In Paul’s day, commerce and money were a driving force in culture and society.  In our day, 2020, commerce and money are a driving force in culture and society.  In Paul’s day, the drive for commerce and money, profitability, and wealth resulted in (literally) the crafting of IDOLS and false gods.  Now, Paul clearly taught and preached against any kind of idols or false gods.  Paul’s message (verse 26) was cutting into the commerce, money, and wealth of the artisans that made these idols.  Paul had gotten ‘cross-wise’ with these artisans.  The uprising of these artisans caused a riot of sorts—much confusion among the people, who rushed together to the Theater.

Dialogue What organizations, movements, businesses, etc. create ‘idolatrous’ offerings to us today?  How do these ‘infiltrate’ our lives and how do we navigate the many opportunities we have in these regards?  How do we, Christians, respond to those many opportunities (temptations/lures) to engage in idols and paths to idolatrous movements in current times?

In reference to verse 24, Demetrius was a silversmith and likely a leader in the guild of silversmiths.  He had a good deal of influence over the other artisans and used his influence to stir up a riot against “the Way” (reference verse 23).  Artemis is the Greek name for the goddess Diana.  The temple of Artemis in Ephesus was famous, and many came to visit it and to purchase the wares of the silversmiths and artisans (personal idols and trinkets in praise to the Deity of Diana).

The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus:

The Temple of Artemis

One last thought as we read in verse 32, that “most of [the people who flocked into the Theater as part of this riot] did not know why they had come together”.

Dialogue How easily are we persuaded by popular opinion or media or popular culture or even political movements to ‘be present’ at the riot when we are not even sure why were a ‘there’?  What are those influential movements that sometimes take us down the wrong path?  How do you respond?

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Separated by space, BUT gathered as ONE, we kneel to pray TOGETHER our Prayer for the Week.

 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 20:1-24

Paul looked ‘above’ for his guidance and inspiration and COURAGE!!!

Paul looking above for guidance

Food for Thought: In verse 20, Paul says, “I did not shrink from doing anything helpful proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus.”  I believe we can safely say that Paul was indeed BOLD in mission and ministry and his commitment to the Good News of Resurrection and Jesus Christ.  As we contemplate our future engagement in God’s mission in our world, Paul remains a stellar model for boldness and commitment to the Word!

Luther Seal What is the “theology of the cross”?  Lutherans teach that discipleship—following Jesus—often calls a person to make a sacrifice or “bear a cross,” especially for the sake of others.  Paul did this for the sake of the believers of the early church.  Some [others] taught then and many [others] each today, that coming to faith brings success fulfillment, wealth, riches, and other rewards.  Martin Luther called this the “theology of the cross” and warned that trusting such a message leads to disappointment and despair when success and wealth do not come.  The “theology of the cross” calls us to follow Jesus, to be “little Christs” to our neighbors in need, and to be ready to bear a cross as we live out our faith life.  (verses 22-23).

Dialogue When have you been a “little Christ”                           to a person in need?

Theology of the Cross vs. Theology of Glory/Self—’Do the math’:

Theology of the Cross

In the cross alone I glory—not in myself or my accomplishments, or wealth, or ………..

The Cross

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Separated by space, BUT gathered as ONE, we kneel to pray TOGETHER our Prayer for the Week.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 20:25-38

Paul, the tentmaker:

Paul the Tentmaker

Food for Thought: We read in verse 34 about Paul “supporting himself”.  Paul often worked as a tentmaker as he traveled and taught.  Tents in Paul’s day were made of leather or cloth.  This was a good way for Paul to making a living and to support his ministry.

Paul is unapologetic in this passage today (as we saw in yesterday’s passage) in proclaiming to the people the whole purpose of God through Jesus Christ.  Paul is bidding his fellow Christians in Ephesus farewell as he tells them that none of them will ever see his face again.  He knows that this “is goodbye”.  He know the persecution that he is about to face when he returns to Jerusalem, but he continue on his journey to Jerusalem with courage and conviction.  Indeed, he does not shrink in any way!!!

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Separated by space, BUT gathered as ONE, we kneel to pray TOGETHER our Prayer for the Week.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 7:37-39

Food for Thought: Tomorrow is a High Festival Day!  It is the Day of Pentecost—the Coming of the Holy Spirit!!!

Come Holy Spirit Come

Let’s prepare for our worship together tomorrow:

Pentecost derives its name from the Jewish festival celebrating the harvest and the giving of the law on Mount Sinai fifty days after Passover.  Fifty days after Easter, we celebrate the Holy Spirit as God’s presence within and among us.  In Acts the Spirit arrives in a rushing wind and flame, bringing God’s presence to all people.  Paul reminds us that though we each have different capacities; we are unified in the Spirit that equips us with these gifts.  Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples, empowering them to forgive sin.  We celebrate that we too are given the breath of the Holy Spirit and sent out to proclaim God’s redeeming love to all the world.

Here are a few thoughts about each passage:

The Passage in Acts: Here Luke portrays the Holy Spirit being poured out upon the disciples before the gathered and astonished people assembled in Jerusalem for the festival.  Filled with the Spirit, the disciples were able to witness to the power of Christ’s resurrection.

The Psalm: The Antiphon for our Psalm is: Send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.

The passage in 1 Corinthians: Paul is helping the Corinthians understand the relationship between our God-given unity and Spirit-created diversity.  The Spirit creates the unity of faith and gives all Christians diverse gifts for the common benefit of all.  We need one another’s diverse spiritual gifts because the same Spirit has given them to each person for the common good.

The Gospel Reading in John:  Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as living water, quenching the thirst of all who come to him and filling the hearts of believers until they overflow.

There is much beautiful art for Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit:

Come Holy Spirit 2

Pentecost Flames

dove of the Holy Spirit

Dove the Holy Spirit 2

Living Waters

Empowered by the Holy Spirit

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Separated by space, BUT gathered as ONE, we kneel to pray TOGETHER our Prayer for the Week.

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WEEK OF MAY 18, 2020–SIXTH WEEK OF EASTER

IntroductionPlease read this short introduction before you read Monday’s devotion.

There are so many characters in Acts that help us understand the story and the message.  Here is a handy list of Key People in the Book of Acts (some from last week and several from this week):

James, the son of Zebedee (Son of Thunder), as we see in Acts 12:2: James, with his brother John is called by Jesus as a disciple.  In the Gospel of Mark (10:35-45), James and his brother ask Jesus for places of honor in the kingdom (at their mother’s request).  Herod Agrippa ordered James’ beheading.

Rhoda, Mary’s maid, as we see in Acts 12:12-17: Rhoda is the maid of Mary, John Mark’s mother.  Rhoda hears Peter, who was miraculously freed from prison, knocking at her door.  She recognizes his voice and runs to tell the others, “Peter is at the door!”  They think she is crazy until they open the gate and see Peter for themselves.

Peter knocking on Rhoda’s door:

Rhoda

Silas, an Apostle in Acts, as we see in Acts 15:22-18:5).  He is one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church and is also mentioned in Paul’s letters.  Silas is Paul’s companion on the second missionary trip to Macedonia.

Paul and Silas (in jail!):

Paul and Silas in Jail 1

Timothy, an emissary of Paul, as we read in Acts 16:1-5: Timothy is already an apostle when Paul meets him and invites him to join the mission in progress.  Paul sends Timothy to churches as his representative.

Paul walks with his young protégé, Timothy:

Paul and Timothy 1

Lydia, a merchant of purple cloth, as we read in Acts 16:14-15.  She is a merchant of purple-dyed cloth from the city of Thyatira.  Acts describes her as a “worshipper of God”, whose heart God opens to hear Paul.  She and her household are baptized.

Paul taught Lydia about Jesus and she and her household were baptized:

Paul and Lydia 1

Monday, May 18, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 14:1-28

Paul preaching

Food for Thought: In verses 1-7, we see both Jews and Greeks becoming believers.  This section identifies many of the key groups in the stories of Acts: Jews who believe in Jesus and Jews who do not believe; Gentiles who believe in Jesus and Gentiles who do not.  In the first century a person could be a Jew and a believer in Jesus at the same time.

In verse 4, Paul and Barnabas are called “apostles”.  Here, the word means not only Jesus’ original twelve disciples, but all those sent on a mission to preach and teach the good news about Jesus Christ.

dialogue Contemplate these questions: Who can be an apostle today?  What might an apostle do in our community?

In verse 12, Barnabas is called Zeus and Paul is called Hermes.  Zeus, the chief Greek god, was honored with a temple in the city of Lystra.  Hermes, the messenger of the Greek gods, was said to bring messages to humankind.  In verses 15-17, Paul responds to the peoples’ misunderstanding, when he tells them that “we are mortals just like you”.  This speech by Paul is primarily directed at a Gentile audience and the main topic is prohibitions of idolatry.

In verse 14, “they tore their clothes”.  This action is an expression of great sorrow an anguish.

In verse 23, we understand that the elders are to oversee the church and arrange for worship and teaching.  Paul and Barnabas may feel a need to appoint elders because these new churches have many Gentile members.

Image below—Paul sees this man, who has never been able to walk, and cries out, “Stand upright on your feet!”:

Man who cannot walk with Paul

The man sprang up and began to walk:

Man leaps to life and can walk

prayer Prayer for the Week: Holy and Ever-living God, we bow before you in praise and thanksgiving.  Lord, we need you.  In our human frailty, we are weak without you; we are nothing without you.  Help us envision your church and your mission as we face changing times in the landscape of living in this world.  When we feel like we are hitting dead ends in the mission and ministry of the church, give us clarity and creativity to find new and exciting ways to show our love to you and to others and to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.  When we feel weary and weathered in mission and ministry (and maybe even life in general), send the power of your Holy Spirit to lift us up to new energies and a fresh passion to carry on the Commission that Christ gave us.  Lord, you know the challenges we are facing in this world of pandemic.  Give your healing and wholeness to this world and empower us to navigate your mission in this world with new and heightened commitment as we face our new normal.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 15:1-21; Romans 3:21-31; Galatians 3:26-29

Food for Thought: Today we are reading verses 1-21 and tomorrow we will read the rest of this chapter.  In verses 1-35, the apostles and the elders met together.  This chapter tells of an important conflict in the early church.  Some devout Jews are teaching that Gentiles who become Christian must also accept and obey all of the Old Testament laws, including circumcision.  The resolution of the conflict makes it clear that Gentiles may come into the fellowship of believers without keeping the rules and customs of the Jewish community (we see this in the passages in Romans and Galatians).  This decision did not end this conflict.  Some believing Jews, who assume that the Jewish law applies to believing Gentiles, are called Judaizers.  They continue to oppose Paul and others who are reaching out to the Gentiles.

God knows peoples hearts

In verse 5, Peter stood up.  Peter is a leader in the church and the first apostle sent to the Gentiles, as we read in Acts 10 last week.

In verse 8, we see the Gentiles being given the Holy Spirit.  The coming of the Holy Spirit is hard proof that God accepts the Gentiles.

In verse 10, we see the word YOKE.  This refers to the burden of keeping the law (See Galatians 5:1).  More specifically, it probably refers here to circumcision.

Verse 11, “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will”.  The belief that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace is at the heart of the preaching of the gospel.

grace

Luther seal What would Martin Luther say?  The Law says, “do this”, and it is never done.  Grace says, “believe in this”, and everything is already done.  Martin Luther said in his Heidelberg Disputations in 1518: “Grace means that the Lord gives us forgiveness, love, and life with God forever, as free gifts.  Since God has given us all this through Jesus Christ, we don’t have to do anything to earn God’s favor (see Ephesians 2:8-9).  This grace drives us to worship God and share grace with our neighbor in word and deed (verse 11 in our Chapter today!)”.

prayer Prayer for the Week: No amount of social distancing can keep us apart as we are firmly connected as the body of Christ in this world through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s pray our prayer for this week together.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 15:22-41

Food for Thought: There is still a struggle between Jews and Gentiles.  In verse 29 (today), we see the word “abstain” regarding food practices.  For groups of believers that include both Jews and Gentiles, this is a sensitive matter.  Gentile believers are expected to follow Jewish food laws in order to allow table fellowship with Jewish believers.  Those who eat food sacrificed to idols are seen as worshiping those idols.  Eating blood (including that of strangled animals) is forbidden by Jewish law (reference Leviticus 17:10-12) and would be offensive to Jews who believe in Jesus.

In verse 32, Judas and Silas are referred to as “prophets”.  This was one of the offices or positions in the early church and included speaking for God, offering instruction and encouragement.

Now, we are embarking on the Second Missionary Journey of Paul.

Here is a map of that Second Missionary Journey, starting in Antioch:

Pauls second missionary journey

In our passage today, in verse 15:39, Paul and Barnabas part ways.  Even though Barnabas is mentioned in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:6), he never again travels with Paul.  Paul joins Silas to begin his Second Missionary Journey which runs from 15:40—18:23.

A general outline of the Second Missionary Journey:

summary of pauls second missionary journey

prayer Prayer for the Week: No amount of social distancing can keep us apart as we are firmly connected as the body of Christ in this world through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s pray our prayer for this week together.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 16:1-40

church grows 1

church grows 2            Food for Thought: In verse 1, we meet a disciple named Timothy, who was probably pretty young.  His mother was a faithful believer and his father was probably not a Christian.  In verse 3, Paul had Timothy circumcised according to the Jewish law.  This was a strategic move so that Timothy could work more effectively with the Jews that they would encounter in the mission.  It was known that Timothy’s father was Greek, so this circumcision was another way to solidify Timothy’s identity as a faithful believer embracing the Jewish laws and practices and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.  It is challenging to reconcile this action with Paul’s very own words about circumcision in Galatians 5:1-6.  Perhaps this was done as a defense against accusations by believing Jews that Paul had abandoned the Jewish law.

In verse 13, we read about a “place of prayer”.  Apparently, there were so few Jews in Philippi that there was no synagogue.  They follow the custom of finding a quiet place by water for prayer.

quiet prayer

We meet Lydia in verses 14-15.  Lydia is a Gentile and a devout seeker after God.  She is able to offer hospitality to Paul and the others, so she is probably fairly wealthy.  God opens her heart, and the Spirit brings her to faith in Jesus.

Paul and Silas are stripped, beaten, and thrown into prison for getting on the wrong side of the customs that are not lawful “for us as Romans” (verse 21).  Religions that did not have Roman approval were considered ‘illegal’.  Judaism was recognized, but Christianity was not.

Paul and Silas in prison:

Paul and Silas in Jail 2

dialogue Ponder this: How do you hope you would respond if you were imprisoned because of your faith?  What might prepare you for this?

God is faithful to God’s own—Paul and Silas.  Through a series of extraordinary events, Paul and Silas are freed from prison.  These extraordinary events begin with an earthquake:

Earthquake

After they are freed, Paul is interested in establishing his innocence, not only for his own sake, but for the sake of the church at Philippi.  In verse 39, “they came and apologized to them.”  Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.  Romans citizens were entitled to special treatment by the authorities.  They were protected from imprisonment without conviction, from torture, and from public humiliation.  Paul and Silas experienced all of the above.

prayer Prayer for the Week: No amount of social distancing can keep us apart as we are firmly connected as the body of Christ in this world through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s pray our prayer for this week together.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 17:1-34

Paul in Athens

Food for Thought: Today, we ask ourselves, how do we connect better with our community to bring young families and children and youth back into church….???….  There have been struggles with evangelism and ‘connecting’ since the early church.  We see a clear example in our passage today, as Paul has lukewarm effectiveness and ‘connection’ in Athens.  For perspective, Athens is in the province of Achaia, and it is the most important city in Ancient Greece.  It was THE center for art, culture, and philosophy.  It boasted a leading university in Paul’s day.  But Paul’s evangelism here has only modest success.  Paul finally leaves Athens because of lack of receptivity, not because disturbances incited his opponents.  (1 Thessalonians 3:1 gives a snapshot perspective on how it felt for them to ‘have’ to leave Athens!)

Paul shows his education and attempts to make a more solid ‘connection’ in Athens by drawing from the styles and words of some of the most known and respected Greek philosophers and poets.  An example of this is in verse 28, as you see the following image (reference 6th-century BCE poet Epimenides):

In him we live we move we exist

Paul challenges both the Stoics, who think that God is a sort of force in all nature, and the Epicureans, who think that all times, places, and events are simply ‘by chance’.  We see this in verses 17:24-27.

It was a hard pill to swallow for many of the Greeks in contemplating the resurrection of the dead (verses 31-32).  Many Greeks accepted the immortality of the soul but not the resurrection of the dead.  Here, in verse 31, at the end of his speech, Paul does mention Jesus, but does not actually call his name, but refers to Jesus as the one whom God has raised from the dead.

Paul preaching in Athens:

Paul preaching in athens 2

prayer Prayer for the Week: No amount of social distancing can keep us apart as we are firmly connected as the body of Christ in this world through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s pray our prayer for this week together.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10 and 32-35; 1 Peter 12-14 and 5:6-11, John 17:1-11

Food for Thought: Yes indeed!  It is that time again…… time to prepare for our service tomorrow morning.  Bishop Kristen Kuempel will be our guest preacher in the morning.  We will still have a link for our Service of the Word and the Prayers for Saint Peter.  There will still be two links for the Virtual Service.  Let’s look at our readings for tomorrow morning.  Jesus has risen!  Alleluia!  But now—Jesus has also ascended to the Father.  In these days between Ascension and Pentecost, we gather with the disciples in the upper room, waiting for the Spirit to transform the church around the world.  In today’s gospel, Jesus prays for his followers and for their mission in his name.  Amid religious, social, and economic divisions, we seek unity that Jesus had with his Father.  Made one in baptism, we go forth to live our faith in the world, eager for the unity that God intends for the whole human family.  Here are a few thoughts about each reading for tomorrow morning:

The Passage in Acts:  Today’s reading in Acts is part of the introduction to the narrative of the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost.  These verses tell of the risen Lord’s conversation with his disciples on the eve of his Ascension, in which he promises that they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Psalm: The Antiphon for our Psalm is: Sing to God, who rides upon the clouds (Psalm 68:4).

The Passage in 1 Peter: Our faith in Christ does not make us immune from the scorn of others.  Nevertheless, we are to resist designs of evil when we experience disparagement from others because we trust that God’s grace will strengthen and guide us.

The Gospel Reading in John: On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus prays to his heavenly Father, asking that those who continue his work in this world live in unity.

Jesus promises the Holy Spirit

This is eternal life

Jesus prays for his people

and I have been glorified in them

Unity John 17

prayer Prayer for the Week: No amount of social distancing can keep us apart as we are firmly connected as the body of Christ in this world through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s pray our prayer for this week together.

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WEEK OF MAY 11, 2020–FIFTH WEEK OF EASTER

IntroductionPlease read this short introduction before you read Monday’s devotion.

As we make our way through the Acts of the Apostles, what are the things that jump out at you?  Who are the people that are making an impression on you?  What do you see as a compelling reason that the Acts of the Apostles is a foundational piece of the New Testament?

I am sure that the answers vary across our group.  However, I am sure that we would agree that the book of Acts is a portrait of a church—THE CHURCH—on the move!   ACTION!!!  The first disciples of Christ are ‘moving and shaking’ as they follow Jesus’ Commission.  Yes, as we talked about last week, there were (ARE) bumps in the road when the church—THE CHURCH—is moving and shaking, BUT OUR FOUNDATION WILL NOT BE SHAKEN!!!

It seems that one of the compelling reasons that Acts was written and included in the Canon is for the very nature of ACTION that is undeniable in the book.  Yes—ACTION—that very thing we just highlighted.  It shows us a church on the move in that day and invites us into that ACTION—to be a church—THE CHURCH—on the move TODAY!

As we confess in all three of our Creeds (as the Lutheran Church), we believe that Christ WILL COME AGAIN!  However, we are called—not to sit around and wait for Christ to get here—but to live as Christ’s Church—THE CHURCH—in the mission that we have been called to and called for as Christ’s disciples TO THIS DAY!  After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the first disciples were compelled to live their lives in commitment to Christ’s mission and to share the powerful stories of Jesus’ life of preaching and teaching and healing and driving out demons and even—resurrecting the dead.   This is the Good News of Jesus’ love and salvation AT WORK!  Of course, we, as confessing Lutherans, are always sensitive to calling any action of faith or action by faith as “works”.  Hear me now—we are not talking about works FOR salvation.  We are talking about works to share the GOOD NEWS OF SALVATION.  We are talking about works to live in to our calling and purpose as Christians in this world.

Acts reminds us why we even exist—as the church.  Our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton helps us understand why we do exist as the church—as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—with the following four fundamental thoughts of who we are:

We are church

We are Lutheran plus

WE are church together

We are church for the sake of the world

Monday, May 11, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 10:1-44

Here is a Biblical Map that shows Caesarea, where Cornelius was located, and Joppa, where Peter was at the time when Cornelius sent for him.  The distance between the two is about 24 miles.

Map caesarea and joppa

Food for Thought:  In verses 1-2, Cornelius is identified as a centurion and a devout man who feared God.  A centurion was a Roman military officer in charge of about one hundred men.  Cornelius, as a “God-fearer” is a Gentile who was associated with a Jewish synagogue.  “God-fearers” respected Jewish teachings such as the Sabbath observance and (very likely) followed the Jewish food laws.  We also note in verse 3 that Cornelius had this vision at “about three o’clock”.  This signifies that he is following the Jewish custom of observing the three o’clock hour as the traditional hour of prayer.

The Angel appears to Cornelius:

Cornelius and the Angel

In Verse 9, we read that Peter had gone up on the roof to pray.  Many houses in that day had flat roofs and an outside stairway to reach them.  The rooftops were often used as places of relaxation and prayer.  Below is an example of what that rooftop may have looked like:

Flat roof with outside stairs

Peter has a vision before his visit by Cornelius’ men:

Peters vision with the animals and the sheet

In verse 12, we read that there were all kinds of animals in this large sheet.  These included animals considered ritually clean and ritually unclean.  We can find the reference about the law regarding clean and unclean animals in Leviticus 11 in the Old Testament.  Peter later realizes, in verses 15 and 28, that these visions indicate that divisions between Jews and Gentiles are being overcome.

In verse 23, Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.  Jewish customs prohibited Jews from table fellowship with Gentiles who were not sensitive to Jewish food laws and or those who participated in community events that may have included worship of idols.  Peter, however, welcomes the men sent by Cornelius.  This clearly shows Peter’s willingness to reach out and accept Gentiles.

Peter visits Cornelius:

Peter visits Cornelius

Luther crest What would Martin Luther say here?  First, let’s ask: What is Christian freedom?  In his writing, The Freedom of a Christian in 1520, Luther wrote: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.  A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all”.  JESUS CHRIST IS A CHRISTIAN’S ONLY LORD—A LORD WHO COMMANDS US TO LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR AS WE LOVE OURSELVES (ACTS 10).

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Mighty God—Holy God—God of All Life—We love you and we praise you.  We give you thanksgiving for your unending grace in every part of existence.  God, we know that you see the fractured world that we live in now—especially as a result of this Covid-19 Coronavirus.  God, continue to give your healing touch and wholeness to this fractured world.  Empower the health care professionals, the essential workers, the re-emerging businesses, and the elected officials who are working to mitigate this crisis.  Keep them, and us, all safe.  Heal those suffering from this virus.  Comfort those who have lost loved ones.  Guide the researchers who are working on vaccines and treatments.  Help us see your Light in the midst of this crisis.  Lord, help us, your church, imagine the church on the other side of this crisis, as we wade through the muddy waters of this sea of uncertainty and fear.  Empower us with creativity and commitment to re-create your church-post Covid-19 as a vibrant presence in this world for those who are seeking peace and wholeness and salvation.  Let us never forget that this is your mission and that you are well ahead of us in the directions where your church is headed in coming months and years and decades and beyond.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 11:1-30

Food for Thought: In verses 1-18, the apostles, who were in Judea, heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the Word of God.  Peter reports to them about the Gentiles’ conversions, however, he was heavily criticized for eating and mixing with the Gentiles.  Peter tells how the Spirit is working in the world and leading many Gentiles to faith.  This helps the Jews who do believe in Jesus Christ to begin to drop their objections and begin to accept Gentiles into the fellowship of believers.

In verse 22, Barnabas is sent to Antioch.  You can see Antioch on the map below:

May with Antioch

Barnabas was apparently sent to check on the new church in Antioch.  That “checkup” practice on new churches seems to be the practice of the church leaders in Jerusalem as they realized that these churches were viable and operating.

We use the term “Christians” so often today; it seems like a reflex.  However, the word “Christian(s)” was never used in Jesus’ lifetime.  In verse 26, we see the first use of the term “Christians” to describe believers in Jesus Christ.  It is not clear whether the name was first used by the enemies of the church or by the believers themselves.

will they know we are Christians

dialogue What does it mean to you to be called a Christian?

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Kneeling as one—the body of Christ in the world, let’s pray together our Prayer of the Week.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 12:1-25

Food for Thought: In verse 2, we learn that James, the brother of John was killed for his faith.  This is James, one of the first disciples of Christ, who was with Christ during significant events of his ministry on earth.  This is yet another account of martyrdom of the early followers of Jesus.

James—the Martyr:

James the Martyr

Peter was also arrested and kept in prison…. BUT, as we read in verses 6-19, the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.  This kind of miraculous escape from prison, Peter’s in this case, is a repeated theme through Acts.

Peter is miraculously freed from prison:

Chains are broken on Peters arms

The last word……in verses 19-23, we see Herod (this is Herod Agrippa, who was the grandson of Herod the Great, who ruled when Jesus was born), acting out-of-control against “Christians”.  God has the last word with Herod Agrippa in verse 23.  Herod’s resistance was no match for the momentum of the Holy Spirit in God’s mission in the world.

Bye-bye Herod Agrippa:

Herod dies

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Kneeling as one—the body of Christ in the world, let’s pray together our Prayer of the Week.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 13:1-12

Food for Thought: Beginning with Acts 13:1, we start to see ‘missionaries’ being sent out by the Holy Spirit.  13:1 to 14:28 describe the first missionary trip of Paul.  In verse 1, we read that the emerging church in Antioch has some prophets and teachers.  Niger is the Greek word for “black”, which likely means that Simeon had dark skin.  Lucius came from Cyrene and Manaen had served Herod Antipas.  This diversity among these prophets gives us an example of how the gospel was spreading.

Map of Paul’s First Missionary Trip:

map of Pauls first mission

In verse 5, we read that the proclaiming of the word of God is primarily done in and around the synagogues.  Jews had scattered to many countries and often established new communities and build new synagogues—places for learning and worship.  In Paul’s mission work, he encounters both Jews and God-fearing Gentiles.

In verse 9, it is noted that Saul is also known as Paul, which means “little” in Greek.  From this point in the book of Acts, Saul is referred to as Paul.  Perhaps using his Greek name helps Paul to be better received in Greek-speaking areas.

Paul—at work:

paul at work

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Kneeling as one—the body of Christ in the world, let’s pray together our Prayer of the Week.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 13: 13-52

Food for Thought: Paul and Barnabas’ mission continues…… They begin to preach and teach in Antioch.

The mission continues in Antioch:

MIssion in Antioch

In verses 16-41, Paul stands up and begins to speak.  His sermon is shaped to reach the Jews.  He quotes the Hebrew Bible several times (note verses 33-35 and 41).

It is important to note that, in verse 45, “Jews” refers to the Jews who rejected what Paul was teaching about Jesus.  It does NOT mean all Jews.

In verses 46-47, Paul feels an obligation to speak first to the Jews, because Paul loves his people and because Jesus had come from Jewish roots.  Paul quotes Isaiah 49:6 to convince the audience that there ought to be a mission to Gentiles.

In verse 50, we hear about the Jews who do not accept Jesus as Messiah.  These Jews consider Paul to be a false teacher and a threat.  They begin to harass Paul during his missionary journeys.

In verse 51, we read that they “shook off the dust on their feet”.  This was a way of showing that they acknowledged rejection.  Recall Jesus telling some of the earliest followers that he sent into the mission field to shake the dust off their feet when they were rejected (Luke 10:11 is one reference for that!).

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Kneeling as one—the body of Christ in the world, let’s pray together our Prayer of the Week.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Food for Thought: It is hard to believe, but here we are at the end of another week!  Let’s get ready for our Virtual Worship Service tomorrow morning!  Jesus never abandons his followers.  Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ comes to abide with his disciples OF EVERY GENERATION!  That means us also!!!  As the Day of Pentecost gets closer, we are reminded that the risen Christ dwells in us as the Spirit of Truth.  We receive this Spirit in baptism and pray that in our gathering around the Lord’s table, the Spirit will transform us to be the body of the risen Christ in the world.  Here are a few words about each of the Scripture passages for tomorrow morning:

The Passage from Acts:  In Athens, Paul faces the challenge of proclaiming the gospel to Greeks who know nothing about either Jewish or Christian traditions.  He proclaims that the “unknown god” whom they worship is the true Lord of heaven and earth who will judge the world with justice through Jesus, whom God has raised from the dead.

The Psalm:  Bless our God, you people; let the sound of praise be heard.

The Passage from 1Peter: The author of 1Peter encourages Christians to remain faithful even in the face of defamation and persecution.  In baptism, we are made clean to act in accordance with what is right.

The Gospel Passage in John: In final words to his disciples on the night of his arrest, Jesus encourages obedience to his commandments and speaks of the Spirit, who will be with them FOREVER!!!

If you love me....

Jesus promises the Holy Spirit

Image of Jesus promising the Holy Spirit to his disciples…..

Jesus promising the Spirit to his disciples

Come, Holy Spirit

Truth come down

Prayer Prayer for the Week: Kneeling as one—the body of Christ in the world, let’s pray together our Prayer of the Week.

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WEEK OF MAY 4, 2020-FOURTH WEEK OF EASTER

IntroductionPlease read this short introduction before you read Monday’s devotion.

Jesus Christ experienced “them”.  The apostles later experienced “them”.  We experience “them” today.  What are “THEY”?????

They are ‘bumps in the road’ and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Bumps ahead

In the early days of the church and its mission, the same persecution that Christ, himself, experienced (even unto death on a cross), was experienced by the apostles.  We see that throughout our studies for this week.  The resistance and persecution came from the threatened leaders (religious and otherwise) in the Jewish community and at the Temple.  The apostles showed strong resolve to continue Jesus’ ministry despite the opposition.

We face much opposition and persecution of the Good News and of the church today.  It may not look exactly like what the apostles saw in their day, but the resistance and opposition is very real in 2021 to faith—to God—to the church.

The worldly-world has evolved to be a strong front of resistance and yes, even persecution, of the church today and of those who are committed to live in and share the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The worldly-world has evolved to a point where its comforts and amenities are beyond sufficient for living the good life.  One of my professors at Luther Seminary, who is a Coptic Nun from Egypt and a brilliant scholar, says sheepishly, that America has evolved to “not need God” anymore.  “America is doing just fine without God.  People have money and wealth and possessions, etc., etc.  It becomes increasingly more difficult for God to have a place in the lives of a people who are already satisfied with who they are and what they have and the meaning they have derived in their lives.”  Be clear, she is not throwing in the towel on God’s mission in the world.  In context, she is simply pointing out that the resistance against the Good News is VERY great in our world today and when/if we deny this fact, we are only deceiving ourselves.

Peter says it well in our Monday passage and Monday’s devotion.  Peter proclaims to the Jewish leaders that “God must be obeyed over human commands.”  I would expand this for us today to say that God’s mission and ministry and presence must take precedence over the temptations and lures of the worldly-world.  BUT—the choice is OURS….. How will we respond—as individuals—as families—as a local church—as the Church in the world?  We are faced now with new challenges as a result of Covid-19….. BUT we are also faced with NEW OPPORTUNITIES AND HOPEFULLY A RENEWED STRENGTH to re-ignite God’s mission in the world and to re-affirm our commitment (self, family, church, CHURCH!) to Jesus Christ and the GOOD NEWS HE BRINGS!!!

Obey God not man

Monday, May 4, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 5:12-42

Food for Thought: This is powerful passage of Scripture that moves quickly across a whole lot of material.

In Verses 12 through 16, we see the apostles empowered for healing in the early days of their ministry.  Peter was not Jesus, but Peter was certainly trained, prepared, and EMPOWERED by Jesus Christ to continue the ministry after Jesus was ascended to the Father.  Verse 15 is a definitive testament to the healing power of God—not any power that Peter had.  Peter was a human being—just like us…….. Below, the image shows healing—the healing of Godthrough Peter:

Peter Healing at the Temple

We have said it before, from his birth, Jesus Christ posed a threat to religious and government leaders.  Even as a baby, Herod sought Jesus so that he could have him killed.  Jesus experienced resistance throughout his ministry from Jewish leaders and officials, whom Jesus threatened.  Jesus was charismatic and brought the message of trust and justice and healing and the power of loving one another.  Ultimately, Jesus was arrested—accused—convicted—crucified—died—and was buried.  This happened at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders that were threatened by Jesus and the Roman government officials that played into the hands of the Jewish leaders.  Jesus was persecuted during his public ministry.  We know the final outcome—that Jesus broke the chains of persecution, death, and sin and was gloriously resurrected.  That is the final word.  But……for the apostles, that same kind of persecution was experienced as they worked to continue Christ’s mission and ministry after Christ was ascended.  For Jesus, RESURRECTION was the final word.  The power of God resurrected Jesus from the dead.  That same power of resurrection, helped the apostles in this passage in Acts 5:17-42.  Just as the tomb cannot hold Jesus, the prison cannot contain the apostles.

Who Let the Apostles Out The Angel

The authorities do not ask how the apostles have escaped from prison.  However, they charge them with disobeying the command not to teach in Jesus’ name and for accusing the leaders themselves for the death of Jesus.  This short speech (by Peter) in Verses 29-32, both defends the apostle’s actions and announces (again) the preaching and proclamation of the Christian message—the Good News.  The Greek word for this preaching and proclamation is kerygma.  Peter asserts that God must be obeyed over human commands.  His supporting evidence is that God has raised up and exalted Jesus.  Even though they were whipped/flogged, they embraced the whipping because they realized that they were being whipped for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and they considered that honorable and true to their calling in the name of Jesus Christ.

Peter proclaims that God must be obeyed over human commands:

Peter proclaiming truth to the leaders

Prayer MarkerPrayer for the Week: God of Wisdom—God of Power—As we join to pray together today, we come to you with our arms and hearts lifted in praise and thanksgiving.  You are our good God and we know that you hold us in the palms of your hands.  Thank you.  In these times of uncertainty, God, lift our hearts, our minds, and our spirits—from the worries and woes of this world.  Help us set our sights on you and heavenly fulfillment.  God, we know that the realities of this world of Covid-19, financial issues, and the challenges of social distancing are absolutely valid.  We know we cannot ignore them.  We also know that only through you can we find peace and wholeness as we face the realities of all these concerns.  You are our hope.  You are our promise.  You are our defense in a world that is upside-down.  Give us strength.  Give us peace.  Give us wholeness as we lay up our treasures in heaven and not on earth.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 6:1-15; Leviticus 24:11-16; Exodus 34:29-35; Luke 9:29 and 32

Food for Thought: Well, the persecution that we have been talking about is certainly heating up in this passage today.  Let’s look closer at this passage.  In Verse 1, we hear “Hellenists”.  “Hellenists” refers to Jews (and Jewish Christians) who speak and pray only in Greek.  Hebrews are those who are able to speak not only in Greek, but also in Hebrew or Aramaic.  Cultural, ethnic, and linguistic differences come to light in this dispute about neglecting the daily distribution of food for widows.  The Twelve resolve the dispute by dividing the ministries into ministry of the WORD and ministering at the TABLE.  The Twelve dedicate themselves to ministering of the WORD.  The Seven others are appointed for ministering at the TABLE.  The number SEVEN is often used in Biblical times to symbolize COMPLETENESS.  Stephen is one of those men.  The Twelve laid their hands on the SEVEN men, as seen below.  This is NOT the institution of the Office of Deacon that we have today.  This is the drafting and empowerment of the Seven to aid the Twelve in important work, but work that the Twelve believed could be delegated to others.

Laying on hands for the SEVEN

This separation of WORD and TABLE does not hold up in the coming verses when we hear that Stephen has worked wonders and signs, debated in the Synagogue with wisdom and spirit, and preached before the Sanhedrin.  Stephen and Jesus have numerous similarities between them:  Both are filled with grace and power.  Both of them perform signs and wonders.  We will see others later.

When the Jewish leaders are not able to get the best of Stephen, they stir up a false charges against him.  Blaspheming God or cursing the divine name was punishable by death, according to Leviticus 24:11-16.

Stephen before the leaders:

Stephen before the leaders

Interesting to note:  In Verse 15, Stephen’s face was “like that of an angel”.  This reflects similarities of the time when Moses encountered God on Mt. Sinai in Exodus and like Jesus at the Transfiguration.

The face of an Angel:

Stephen has the face of an angel

Prayer MarkerPrayer for the Week: Bound together as the body of Christ, let us kneel in unity as we pray our Prayer for the Week.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 7:1-60

Stephen’s Speech to the Council:

Stephen on trial

Food for Thought: Stephen’s speech begins as a defense, but it quickly becomes a thumbnail sketch of the history of Israel for opposing the Spirit.  The speech has five parts and contains tradition that was tailored by Luke to serve his theological interests.  The speech underscores Israel’s rejection of Abraham (Verses 2-8), Joseph (Verses 9-19), and Moses (Verses 20-40).  God, however, has always been at work in Israel’s checkered history, accomplishing the divine purposes with a fallible people.  Opposition to God’s purposes through the rejection of Stephen and the Jesus whom he preaches about is not a surprise.  With this speech, the writer of Luke portrays how Jesus’ followers begin to break away from their Jewish roots.

This speech by Stephen, this sermon, is the longest in the Book of Acts.  With his debate and defense, Stephen gives this speech in order to “prove” to the leaders that Jesus is indeed God’s chosen one—the Messiah!

Ultimately, Stephen’s justification of Jesus as the chosen Messiah of God does not sway the Council or save Stephen’s life.  Stephen is stoned to death as the first Martyr of the early church—of those who were unashamedly living as witnesses to the gospel.  As Stephen’s story come to a climax, the parallels with Jesus become even more pronounced.  The engaged reaction against his words matches that of the Jews of Nazareth (Ref. Luke 4:25-27).  Stephen’s final prayer, entrusting his spirit to God is similar to Jesus’ words from the Cross when he commends his spirit into his Father’s hands.

Laying the cloaks at the feet of Saul implies that Saul played a major role in the plot against Stephen.

The Stoning of Stephen:

Stephen stoned to death

Prayer MarkerPrayer for the Week: Bound together as the body of Christ, let us kneel in unity as we pray our Prayer for the Week.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 8:1-40

Food for Thought: Yes, Saul approved of killing Stephen.  Saul is the Hebrew name that means “asked of God”.  Yes, this is the Saul who was converted and later called Paul and who is a central character in the later chapters of Acts.  Saul is introduced here as one opposed to Jews who are followers of Jesus Christ.  (My—my—how that pendulum will swing!!!)

In 8:5, we see that Philip went down to the city of Samaria.  Philip is one of “the seven” that we have already studied this week.  Philip’s work in Samaria indicates that the Good News is not only for those living and around Jerusalem.  The movement of mission and ministry—the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ is EXPANDING!!!

Please pay attention to Verse 8:17 where they “laid their hands on them”.  This action indicates healing, blessing, giving a new task or responsibility, or bestowing the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It suggests there was visible evidence that people had received the spirit.  This entices Simon to offer money to get this power of the Spirit for himself (Verse 8:18).  BUT…. Peter said to him (in Verse 20), “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift [of the Spirit] with money!  (Now…… I have to ask—what would Martin Luther say about this???????  Thinking you can buy gifts of the Spirit OR buy your way to salvation sounds like grounds for reformation to me!!!!  Go get ‘em Peter.  Go get ‘em Martin!!!!!

This passage also includes Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch.  The eunuch is reading from Isaiah when Philip encounters him.  He is reading the words:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.  In his humiliation, justice was denied him.  Who can describe his generation?  For his life is taken away from the earth”.  The eunuch did not understand who was being talked about here, so he asks Philip for guidance.  Philip gives him the Good News of Jesus Christ, and as they pass some water, the eunuch asks to be baptized.

Philip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch:

Philip baptizes the Ethiopian Eunoch

Prayer MarkerPrayer for the Week: Bound together as the body of Christ, let us kneel in unity as we pray our Prayer for the Week.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 9:1-43

The following is a painting by Simeon Griswold—The Conversion of Saul—as displayed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum—painted in 1857.)

The Conversion of Saul

Food for Thought: In the first nineteen verses of this chapter, we see the conversion of Saul.  “Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him”.  This dramatic “calling” of Saul (later Paul) indicates the Holy Spirit’s POWER TO CHANGE HEARTS AND LIVES.

In Verse 2, we see Saul targeting “anyone who belonged to the Way”.  The “Way” is simply another name for the fellowship of believers, based on Jesus naming himself—The Way-The Truth-The Life (as we read in John 14:6).

Luther MarkerWhat is vocation?  Paul was called and chosen for a new way of life—a life as a witness for Jesus.  Yet, for the early church to have grown as fast as it did, many ordinary believers must have taken the initiative to share the Good News about Jesus Christ.  They did not depend on leaders to do most of the work.  Martin Luther taught that all Christians are called through baptism to be “priests” in Christ’s church.  Luther names this the “priesthood of all believers” and said that “being a good and honest butcher or shoemaker” is as holy a vocation as being a priest of the church.  Lutherans teach that believers are called to live out their calling to serve God and others as they carry out their daily occupations.  Vocation is the call for all believers to proclaim the gospel through daily life and work.  We see this in Acts 9.

Dialogue MarkerHow do you live out your calling to follow Jesus in your home, at school, in your workplace, and/or in your neighborhood?

Prayer MarkerPrayer for the Week: Bound together as the body of Christ, let us kneel in unity as we pray our Prayer for the Week.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

Service for Tomorrow

Food for Thought: OK—let’s get ready for our Worship Service tomorrow morning.  As we continue to celebrate the fifty days of Easter, tomorrow’s gospel includes Jesus’ promise that he goes to prepare a place for his followers in his Father’s house.  Our baptism commissions us to share Jesus’ mission in the world.  As 1 Peter reminds us, we are a holy people, called to proclaim the one who calls us out of darkness and into light.  In words and deeds, we bear witness to the risen Christ—our way, our truth, our life.

Here are a few words on each passage for tomorrow:

The Acts Passage: Stephen was one of the seven men chosen by the apostles to serve tables so that the apostles could be free to serve the world (Acts 1:1-6).  Stephen does more than distribute food, however.  For his preaching of God’s word, he become the first martyr of the faith.

Our Psalm: Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit (Psalm 31:5).

The 1 Peter Passage: Christ is the cornerstone of God’s saving work and the foundation of our lives.  We are God’s chosen, holy people who continuously celebrate and declare mercy of the God we experience through Jesus Christ.

The Gospel: On the night he is to be arrested, Jesus shares final words with his disciples.  As the one through whom God is known, he promises to go before them and act on their behalf.

Do Not Let your hearts be troubled

Jesus' embrace

In My Fathers House are many dwelling places

I am the way the truth and the life

I AM

Final word of I am the way the truth and the life

Prayer MarkerPrayer for the Week: Bound together as the body of Christ, let us kneel in unity as we pray our Prayer for the Week.

WEEK OF APRIL 27, 2020–THIRD WEEK OF EASTER

IntroductionPlease read this short introduction before you read Monday’s devotion.

Opening Tag

Soul on Fire

Let’s continue our journey in the Acts of the Apostles.  In contemplating the ‘beginnings’ of the church in Acts and how the Holy Spirit infused the action, it is [to me], like the people being set on fire by the Holy Spirit.  I read the passages and literally fell the energy and excitement of the accounts and thoughts of being infused with the Holy Spirit.  I am feeling a convergence of three powerful times when the Holy Spirit “breathed” over the people.    I have this ‘image’ in my head of the people being ‘moved’ by the PEACE and the POWER of the Holy Spirit, as they are overcome by the Spirit.  Again, this creates a feeling of energy and excitement.  Those three times are:

  1.  What we read in our Gospel reading last Sunday in the Gospel of John, John 20:21-22, as Jesus appeared to the disciples (minus Thomas) in the locked room on Easter evening—after his resurrection. “Jesus said to them [again], ‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.”
  2. The Coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost as we read in last week’s devotions in Acts 2:1-4. The Holy Spirit “suddenly” descended on them “from heaven”.  It came with a sound “like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting”.
  3. The openness we have TODAY with God as we call on the Holy Spirit to descend on us and lead and guide us and give us the positive energy and power to ACT in the name of God in a world that is often not open to the Good News.

Graphic

 All these three converge to EMPOWERMENT to live and ACT in mission and ministry as God’s Church in the world—doing God’s work with our hands as we are moved by the peace and power of the Holy Spirit.

This kind of EMPOWERMENT set the souls of the disciples [in that day] on fire and will set our souls on fire today when we open ourselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit.  This all makes me think of the “Contemporary Christian” song by Third Day called “Soul on Fire”.  Click here to hear “Soul on Fire”.  You may need to click ‘Skip Ads’.

SOUL ON FIRE:

God, I’m running for your heart—I’m running for your heart, ‘Till I am a soul on fire.
Lord, I’m longing for your ways—I’m waiting for the day—when I am a soul on fire,
‘Till I am a soul on fire.

Lord, restore the joy I had, and bring me back to you.  In this darkness, lead me through—
Until all I see is you.

God, I’m running for your heart—I’m running for your heart, ‘Till I am a soul on fire.
Lord, I’m longing for your ways—I’m waiting for the day—when I am a soul on fire,
‘Till I am a soul on fire.

Lord, let me burn for you again.  Let me return to you again.  And Lord, let me burn for you again.  Let me return to you again.

God, I’m running for your heart—I’m running for your heart, ‘Till I am a soul on fire.
Lord, I’m longing for your ways—I’m waiting for the day—when I am a soul on fire,
‘Till I am a soul on fire.

Soul on Fire ending pic

 Monday, April 27, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 3:1-10, Luke 5:17-26

Peter heals at the Beautiful Gate

Food for Thought: In this passage, Peter heals a crippled beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple.  Just as Jesus embarked on his public ministry of teaching and preaching, HEALING, etc., the disciples, as commissioned by the Christ, also embarked on their journey of carrying God’s mission into the world.  This is the first healing story in Acts.  This story parallels Jesus’ first healing story as we read in Luke 5.

Acts 3:6 makes it very clear—that this healing is in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  Peter makes sure that the people understand that the power of healing is NOT from any human source, but the power of healing comes only from God.  It is interesting to note that many Jewish men were named Jesus, so calling out Jesus as Jesus Christ of Nazareth makes it clear that this is Jesus THE Christ.

This image shows where the Beautiful Gate likely was located in the temple:

Temple Diagram

Prayer markerPrayer for the Week: God of Grace and God of Glory, we praise you for who you are—King of Kings—Lord of Lords—Conqueror of Death.  We give you our thanks for all the blessings you give us.  We are nothing without you.  Turn our spirits and our hearts to you in these challenging world times.  In our humanness, we tend to worry about and dwell on things that are out of our control.  Give us your peace—peace that can come from no other—and help us walk in faith of you and not in fear of the challenges that we see and face in the world.  Give us hearts of love for each other.  Give us hearts of compassion and forgiveness.  Give us open hearts to live in your ways and seek opportunities—now and in the coming days—to be your beacon of Light and Good News in the world.   We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 3:11-26

Peter Preaches on Solomons Portico

Food for Thought: In this passage, we read Peter’s second sermon at the Temple as he preaches in Solomon’s Portico.  This sermon follows the same pattern as his sermon on the Day of Pentecost: explanation of what happened, presentation of the Gospel of Jesus, and a call to repentance.

In Acts 3:15, we hear…. ” you killed…God raised…we are witnesses.”  These phrases are often repeated in Acts (4:10, 5:30-32, 10:39-41).  Peter is, of course, a Jew.  He is blaming his Jewish brothers and sisters for the death of Jesus.  Since both Peter and his audience are Jewish, this is like a family fight within the Jewish community.  We, as modern-day Gentiles (non-Jewish) readers of the Book of Acts, need to be careful not to blame Jews in general for the death of Jesus.  The Gospels and Acts tend to focus the blame on Jewish leaders in Jerusalem for the death of Jesus.  Peter extends God’s grace to them for their part (direct or indirect or simply being linked with the powers that were at that time) for the death of Jesus.  He tells them that they acted out of ignorance.  However, he clarifies that even in their ignorance, this was the way that God fulfilled God’s plan for redemption for humankind as had been foretold through all the prophets.  The prophets foretold that Messiah would indeed suffer.  Then, Peter calls them to repentance.

Please see the Temple diagram from yesterday (above) to get an idea of where Solomon’s Portico was likely located in the Temple.

Prayer markerPrayer for the Week: Joined in unity as the body of Christ in the world, let’s kneel together to pray our Prayer for the Week.  We praise God for always hearing our prayers.  Alleluia!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 4:1-22, Psalm 118:21-25, Matthew 21:42

Peter stirs up some trouble

Food for Thought: From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus attracted attention from leaders in the Temple who were [honestly] threatened by him.  They looked for anything they could to be able to use against Jesus—to take him ‘down’.  It is not surprising that the disciples attracted this same kind of attention when they began following their commission of teaching and preaching AND healing.  They first attracted the attention of “the Sadducees”, as we read in 4:1.  Recall that the Sadducees were one of the groups of the Jewish leaders and they did not believe in bodily resurrection.  The Sadducees were quite annoyed that Peter and the disciples were preaching and teaching resurrection.  In this passage, Peter and John are brought before Jewish officials, including the “rulers, elders, scribes, Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander”.  Together, all these officials would have been called the Sanhedrin, which included a group of seventy to one hundred men who acted as the ruling high court of the Jews.

As he appeared before the Sanhedrin, Peter is asked the question in 4:7 regarding by what authority or “power” was he acting as he stood before the people and proclaimed his message.  Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit (4:8-12).  Peter’s words in response to the leaders are guided by the Spirit of God.  Peter, empowered by the Spirit, does not back down  as he proclaims to the leaders that he did his good deed of healing “by the name of Jesus Christ, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (Verse 4:10).  Then he went on to say that “this Jesus” was “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders” but has now become the cornerstone (4:11).  In this verse, Peter is referring to Psalms 118:21-25, just as Jesus had referred in Matthew 41:42.

Peter before the Sanhedrin

Prayer markerPrayer for the Week: Joined in unity as the body of Christ in the world, let’s kneel together to pray our Prayer for the Week.  We praise God for always hearing our prayers.  Alleluia!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 4:23-37

Food for Thought: In the Book of Common Prayer, which is the book containing all the orders of service and rituals of the Anglican Church, including the Episcopal Church in America, uses these words as an invitation to the Lord’s Prayer, “And now, as Christ taught us, we are bold to pray…Our Father, who art in heaven….”  That “boldness” for prayer stems back to this very passage today.  The following image originally read: BE BOLD.  It has been modified to read: PRAY BOLDLY.  In this change of the words, it takes the ‘self’ out of the action [of prayer] and centers [the prayer] on God—God’s will—“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”:

Pray boldly

Little question markerAsk yourself these two questions, “What does it mean to pray for boldness in faith?” and “When might you offer such a prayer?”

The second part of this passage is about how the ‘believers’ share their possessions—all their ‘goods’ were held in common.  Jesus’ followers chose to live in a close community and to literally share everything.  Barnabas is shown in this passage as a good example of sharing.  Below you see an image that shows the sharing of meals (refer to Acts 2:42):

koinonia

Prayer markerPrayer for the Week: Joined in unity as the body of Christ in the world, let’s kneel together to pray our Prayer for the Week.  We praise God for always hearing our prayers.  Alleluia!

Friday, May 1, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 5:1-11

Anannias and Sapphira

Food for Thought: OUCH!  The example of Barnabas at the end of Chapter 4 from yesterday stands in sharp contrast to the deception of Ananias and Sapphira.  This ‘situation’ brings up some theological and pastoral questions, including: “Why is Peter so harsh in not offering the couple an opportunity to repent?  Does God really punish sinners in such a drastic manner?

This story is more folkloric than historical.  It is meant to underscore the serious breach that occurs when members of the community LIE to one another.  Hoarding of possessions for oneself, as Ananias and Sapphira did, poses a particular danger to koinonia.

Koinonia is a transliterated form of the Greek word κοινωνία, which refers to concepts such as communion or fellowship, joint participation, the share which one has in anything, a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution.

In 5:3-4, we see that Ananias’ heart has been filled by Satan, the personification of evil, rather than by the Holy Spirit.  Not only has Ananias kept back a portion of his property, but also his heart has not been wholly given to God.  Lying to the Spirit-filled community is equivalent to lying to the Holy Spirit—to God.  This story makes an impact to evoke fear in a way that one should consider how to avoid falling into the influence of Satan in one’s heart.  Luke (remember Luke-Acts) tells the story of Sapphira in parallel with the story of Ananias.  Luke does not say why Sapphira did not oppose her husband’s deception.  Whether actively approving or silently failing to resist him, as is often the case in a patriarchal marriage, she becomes complicit in his guilt, as she is accused of putting the Spirit of the Lord to the test.

Poor Annanias

Prayer markerPrayer for the Week: Joined in unity as the body of Christ in the world, let’s kneel together to pray our Prayer for the Week.  We praise God for always hearing our prayers.  Alleluia!

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Shepherd 1

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10

Food for Thought: Here we are again—let’s get ready for service tomorrow morning, which is the Fourth Sunday of Easter.  Tomorrow is the day many people call the “Good Shepherd Sunday.”  Jesus is called the “gate” of the sheep in today’s gospel.  The risen Christ opens the way for abundant life.  He anoints our heads with oil and guides us beside the still waters of our baptism.  We go forth to be signs of the Resurrection and extend God’s tender care to all creation.  Here are a few words about each reading:

The Acts Passage: This reading is a description of life in the community following Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on God’s people.  The new community is sustained in worship and fellowship, shares what they have, and ensures that everyone has enough.

Little sheep markerThe Psalm:  This is probably the most familiar of all the Psalms.  The antiphon for this week is: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”—from Psalm 23:1.

The Passage in 1 Peter:  Doing the right things does not guarantee that one will not experience difficulties, hardships, rejection, or even suffering.  Here Christ is presented as the model for our path of endurance and loyalty to God, particularly amid adversity.

Little sheep markerThe Gospel Passage in John:  Jesus uses an image familiar to the people of his day to make a point about spiritual leadership.  Those who listen to Jesus are led to abundant life!

Shepherd 2

Shepherd 3

Shepherd 4

Shepherd 5

Shepherd 6

Prayer markerPrayer for the Week: Joined in unity as the body of Christ in the world, let’s kneel together to pray our Prayer for the Week.  We praise God for always hearing our prayers.  Alleluia!

SEE YOU IN VIRTUAL CHURCH TOMORROW MORNING!  ALLELUIA!  CHRIST IS RISEN!  THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED ALLELUIA!

WEEK OF APRIL 20, 2020–SECOND WEEK OF EASTER

IntroductionPlease read this short introduction before you read Monday’s devotion.

Let’s spend a few weeks in Acts for our devotions.  The full title of this book is The Acts of the Apostles.  The word apostle comes from a Greek word meaning “one who is sent out”, or “a person sent to deliver a message”.  In Acts, apostles refers to the disciples Jesus chooses to carry on his teaching and ministry.  Acts records the activities of certain apostles—including Peter, Paul, and Stephen—after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  Acts was likely written around 80-85 CE.

Acts of the Apostles

The books of Luke and Acts were written by the same person.  Acts continues the story started in Luke.  We don’t know much about this writer, as there is no mention of the writer’s own background or life story.  Because of the skillful writing and the number of speeches by Jewish followers of Jesus, scholars generally believe the writer was a well-educated Jew who had come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Acts number 2

Both Luke and Acts are addressed to “Theophilus” (Acts 1:1; Luke 1:3).  This name, Theophilus, means “friend of God.”  Some scholars think this name is used to stand for all who follow Jesus.  Others believe Theophilus was a wealthy person, perhaps a Roman official, who paid for the recording and copying of this work.  Either way, the book is intended for a large audience.  It is likely that the first readers of Acts were Gentiles and Jews living on the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Early Church and Key Locations in the BOOK OF ACTS:

Map

Acts tells the story of the early days of the Christian church.  The outline of this book follows Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts is divided up as seen below… (This includes the sections for the entire book of Acts.  We will read through many verses in the coming days.  It is not intended that you read the whole Book of Acts right now, but having the big picture is not a bad idea!)

  • Preparation for Christian witness (Acts 1:1-2:13)
  • Witnessing in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14-8:3)
  • Witnessing in Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:4-9:43)
  • Witnessing to the Gentiles (Acts 10:1-15:35)
  • Witnessing to the “ends of the earth” (15:36-28:31)

The Coming of the Holy Spirit as we see in Acts:

Pentecost 1

Monday, April 20, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Luke 24:36-53, Acts 1:1-11

Food for Thought: The Gospel of Luke ends with the account of Jesus ascended into heaven.  The Book of Acts begins with that same event.  In the passages today, please pay particular attention to Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:9-11.  These verses within our full readings are the parallel accounts of the Ascension.  Let’s focus on the Acts account.  The writer uses apocalyptic symbols to dramatize Jesus’ exaltation at the Ascension.  This is a very visible and visual account.  A cloud symbolizes God’s presence (shadows from the Old Testament and the Exodus of the Israelites when God was often present in a cloud.)  Figures dressed in white or in shining garments are heavenly messengers.  The writer uses this imagery multiple times in Luke and in Acts.  In Acts 1:2, we hear about instructions coming through the Holy Spirit.  In both Luke and Acts, the writer consistently emphasizes the Holy Spirit acting with and through the disciples.

In Acts 1:4, we hear about the promise of the father.  Jesus often used “Father” to refer to God.  This promise refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit.  We will get to the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Chapter 2.  Jesus describes this coming of the Spirit as being “baptized” with the Holy Spirit (we see that in Acts 1:5).

Dove and Water

prayer hands to mark prayerPrayer for the Week: God of Resurrection—God of Life, as we kneel in prayer, we raise our songs of praise and thanksgiving.  You created us—you give us life.  We owe everything to you.   Help us live selflessly for you and for others as you taught us.  We thank you for this opportunity to be your hands in this world.  At this time of Resurrection, we thank you for your gifts of grace and salvation that you gave us with Christ’s own death and Resurrection.  Give us Resurrection in our lives and the life of the church as we listen to you for guidance, inspiration, and hope in how we navigate a new era of your mission and ministry.  Give us Resurrection in our hopes and struggles as we get ready to re-launch life after this Covid-19 pandemic.  Give us Resurrection when we are blinded by the distractions of the worldly-world and need your healing touch of wholeness and re-creation. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 1:12-26

Matthias:

Matthias

Food for Thought: There were only eleven disciples after Judas took his own life—until Matthias was chosen to replace Judas.  The account of Matthias being called as a disciple is in our passage today.

We talked about the Field of Blood during our Maundy Thursday contemplations.  Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  After he realized what he had done, we hear in Matthew that Judas repented and tried to return the silver.  The Chief Priests and Elders would not accept the silver back.  Judas threw it at them and went out and hanged himself.  The Chief Priests and the Elders retrieved the scattered pieces of silver; but they vowed they could do nothing with the silver because it was ‘blood money’.  However, they bought a piece of land with the money, a “field”, that would be used to bury the poor, refugees, and foreigners.  This field became known as the Field of Blood.  We hear about this in Acts 1: 18.

Pay close attention to the quotes cited in Acts 1:20. These quotations are from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8.

In Acts 1:26, they “cast lots…and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”  In the process of casting lots, marked stones or twigs were thrown or drawn to determine the answer to a question.  The eleven apostles probably cast lots to feel sure that the decision was God’s and not their own.  The number “Twelve” was considered a holy number.  For that reason, the apostles sought someone to replace Judas Iscariot.  With Matthias’ appointment, they were restored to a group of Twelve, just as Jesus had appointed at the start of his ministry.

prayer hands to mark prayerPrayer for the Week: In the joy of resurrection, let’s kneel together and pray our Prayer for the Week—united by the Holy Spirit as the body of Christ in this world.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Come Holy Spirit

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 2:1-36

Pentecost 2

Food for Thought: I know we are jumping ahead a bit in our Liturgical Calendar, but….. let’s stay in order in Acts.  Acts 2 is the account of the Day of Pentecost.  We celebrate Pentecost 50 days after Easter.  The Ascension of our Lord is the 40th Day of the Easter Season.  The Day of Pentecost comes shortly after.

So….. The word pentecost means fifty, so the Easter season end and the Day of Pentecost is celebrated on the 50th day after the Resurrection.  To be thorough, Pentecost, as we celebrate as Christians, coincides with the Jewish Feast of Weeks or Shavuot, that comes fifty days after Passover (see Leviticus 23:10-16).

In Acts 2:4, we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in Luke 24:49.  The disciples are led by the Spirit—not only in what they say, but also in the languages they speak.  This miracle is sometimes seen as the reversal of what happened at the Tower of Babel (see Genesis 11:1-9), when God confused the languages to curb human pride.

Luther SealLet’s ask this question of ourselves today: What is the work of the Holy Spirit?

Lutherans believe that we come to faith, remain in faith, and live our lives of faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.  In his explanation of the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed, Martin Luther taught, “… The Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with [his] gifts, made me holy and kept me in the faith, just as [he] called, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common true faith”.  Ask yourself: “How do you see the Holy Spirit at work in your life?”

prayer hands to mark prayer Prayer for the Week: In the joy of resurrection, let’s kneel together and pray our Prayer for the Week—united by the Holy Spirit as the body of Christ in this world.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 2:14-36

Pentecost 3

Food for Thought: In this passage, Peter addresses the crowd on the Day of Pentecost.  Actually, it is far more like he is preaching and teaching to the crowd.  Peter follows a common (and familiar) pattern in this ‘sermon’ that was used by the early disciples.  That pattern is:

  • An explanation of “what was happening”
  • A presentation of the Good News about Jesus Christ, including his death, Resurrection, and Ascension
  • A Call to repentance and baptism.

If you were going to tell someone the Good News about Jesus Christ, what would you say?

prayer hands to mark prayerPrayer for the Week: In the joy of resurrection, let’s kneel together and pray our Prayer for the Week—united by the Holy Spirit as the body of Christ in this world.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 2:37-47

Repent Believe Baptize

Food for Thought: Let’s make some “Gospel connections” with the idea of “repentance”.  To repent means to turn back to God.  This means RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD—DEEP, MEANINGFUL, EVER-GROWING RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.  We, as Lutherans, understand and believe that we are saved by God’s grace and not by any kinds of ‘works’.  ‘Works’ or doing more for Jesus is NOT what we are talking about here.  We are talking about living in faith and flourishing in faith.  We are new creations in Christ.  We are resurrected with Christ as these new creations.  Think of it, like we, as those new creations, are planted as seedlings.  We all know that plants need water and sun, tender care, and “some love”.  We, as these new creations, are watered, given THE LIGHT, shown tenderness, and shown “the love” (GRACE AND MERCY) by God, through Jesus Christ and the Power of the Holy Spirit.  Without God’s “watering” and “nurture”, we will surely not fully ‘live into’ our gift(s) as NEW CREATIONS.

In Verse 42, there is a reference to teaching and fellowship…breaking bread and prayers.  These words describe the DAILY LIFE of these followers of Jesus.  “Fellowship” probably means worship—coming together to praise and worship our Triune God.  “Breaking of bread” may mean sharing meals or the Lord’s Supper—this is community.  When people push back on the relevance of church today, and the coming together into God’s Sanctuary to praise and worship God, I think of this verse.  We are called to meet and show that kind of fellowship and to share in meals together and to share THE MEAL AT CHRIST’S TABLE!!!  I will be so happy when we can do that again!!!

Acts 2 38

prayer hands to mark prayerPrayer for the Week: In the joy of resurrection, let’s kneel together and pray our Prayer for the Week—united by the Holy Spirit as the body of Christ in this world.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 2:14a, 36-41, Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19, 1 Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35

Food for Thought:

Road to Emmaus

Acts Passage: This passage in Acts for our service tomorrow is the conclusion of Peter’s sermon that he preached following the giving of the Holy Spirit to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.  The center of his preaching is the bold declaration that God has made the crucified Jesus both Lord and Christ.

The Psalm:  The antiphon for our Psalm tomorrow morning is “I will call on the name of the Lord” (Ps. 116:13).

The 1 Peter Passage: The imagery of exile is used to help us understand that we are strangers in a strange land.  We, as Christians, no longer belong to this age.  Through the death of Christ, we belong to God.  This means that our focus in life, our faith and our hope lie solely in God and are no longer on the things of this worldly-world—like riches, possessions, silver or gold!

The Gospel Passage in Luke: This is the colorful story of Jesus’ appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  This story answers the question of how Jesus is to be recognized among us.  Here, he is revealed through the Scriptures and in the breaking of bread.

There is so much beautiful art that contemplates the Road to Emmaus.  A picture IS worth 1,000 words.  Here are five of those beautiful images:

Road to Emmaus Image A

Road to Emmaus Image B

Road to Emmaus Image C

Road to Emmaus Image D

Road to Emmaus Image E

prayer hands to mark prayer Prayer for the Week: In the joy of resurrection, let’s kneel together and pray our Prayer for the Week—united by the Holy Spirit as the body of Christ in this world.

SEE YOU TOMORROW IN OUR VIRTUAL CHURCH SERVICE!!!!   Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  Christ is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

WEEK OF APRIL 13, 2020–FIRST WEEK OF EASTER

IntroductionPlease read this short introduction before you read Monday’s devotion.

Happy Easter!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  We celebrated the glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in our Easter Sunday Virtual Service yesterday morning.  Yes, we were bound in the four walls of our homes….. BUT, we were bound together by our Triune God—Father—Risen Son—and Ever-moving Holy Spirit.  The resurrection of our Lord Jesus cannot be bound by any walls or building or anything else.  That is Good News for us.  Resurrection of Christ and resurrection IN CHRIST (for us) are the Good News of the gospel.  I thought it would be beautiful for this week’s devotions if we explore RESURRECTION as presented in the Scriptures.

We hear the words of Jesus as seen in this beautiful image:

John 11 Sun

Let’s start with the dictionary definition of resurrection.  Here is what Merriam-Webster says:

Resurrection [ rez-uh-rek-shuhn]

noun

  • the act of rising from the dead.
  • (initial capital letter) the rising of Christ after His death and burial.
  • (initial capital letter) the rising of the dead on Judgment Day.
  • the state of those risen from the dead.
  • a rising again, as from decay, disuse, etc.; revival.

Jesus talked about resurrection before his death AND resurrection.  In fact, it was his proclamation to die and then rise again that was the only evidence in his trial that proved to carry any weight with the rulers and judges.  Recall our Palm Sunday (main) Gospel reading of the Passion of Jesus Christ (Click here to hear that Gospel reading and to see it presented in images and art.).  In the Gospel of the Passion in Matthew, the only witnesses against Jesus who were deemed credible and who presented any kind of evidence that was considered incriminating, were the two witnesses who claimed that Jesus said he could destroy the Temple and build it back in three days.  Caiaphas, the High Priest, ruled that Jesus had committed blasphemy against God by making this claim.  That was damning evidence in this sham trial against Jesus…. BUT…. little did they understand that Jesus was actually talking about himself [Immanuel—God with us], who would die and then on the third day overcome death in a glorious RESURRECTION!!!  Alleluia!

Jesus by Tomb

Monday, April 13, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: 1 Thessalonians 4:9-18

Food for Thought: Here, Paul was concerned because some of the Thessalonians were grieving over the death of some of their fellow Christians, perhaps resulting from mistreatment on the part of non-Christians.  For believers who were expecting an imminent return of the Lord Jesus, this was difficult to accept.  To alleviate their grief, Paul cites a Christian creed: Jesus died and ROSE AGAIN.  He then affirms that what God has done for Jesus, God will also do for those who die in Christ.  They will live in Jesus.  This is the same promise that we live in today!  Alleluia!  We are resurrected with Christ!

Because He Lives

Little ButterflyPrayer for the Week: God of Resurrection—God of Life, You are Lord of our lives and we kneel to pray and offer you our praise and thanksgiving for all the blessings that you continue to give us.  In our broken lives, you give us life and resurrection with all the physical things that we need to sustain ourselves as fragile beings.  In our broken faith, you restore us and give us resurrection of hope and promise through the death and resurrection of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  In our broken spirits, you bind us with your Holy Spirit so that we can live in the warmth and beauty of your promise that you will be with us through all things we face in this life and that you will take us to be with you when we breathe our last in this world.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Butterfly Resurrection

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 2:14-33

Food for Thought: Peter’s speech here in Acts includes some Old Testament quotations.  These verses refer to Joel 2:28-32.  Peter uses them to tell how the outpouring of the Spirit is a sign of God’s reign among them (among us!)  Acts 2:25-31 uses Psalm 16:8-11 to emphasize how God worked through Jesus.  Peter’s audience was very familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, so this was all in perspective for them.  Pay particular attention to verse 24, “But God raised him up, having freed him from death [THAT IS THE RESURRECTION THAT WE ARE CELEBRATING AND LIVING “IN” TODAY], because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.”  This is our GOOD NEWS.  We died with Christ as he died for our sin—AND WE ARE RESURRECTED WITH CHRIST IN HIS VICTORY OVER SIN AND DEATH—OUR VICTORY OVER SIN AND DEATH!!!  Alleluia!  [Please note: Some of these verses are included in our Lectionary for this coming Sunday—see you at our Virtual Service!]  HIS VICTORY = OUR VICTORY!!!  Alleluia!

Broken Chains

Little ButterflyPrayer for the Week: Joined together as the body of Christ in the world and bound by the Holy Spirit, let’s get on our knees and lift our prayer of the week together.  We are one in the Spirit—we are one in the Lord!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: 1 Peter 1:3-12

Praise God New Birth

Food for Thought: Pay close attention to the following verses as you read this passage:

Verse 3: The gift of new life, made possible through Christ (his death and RESURRECTION), has changed the identity of this community of believers.  We now live in the age where the truth of resurrection gives us the opportunity to live in hope—to live in the promise of our own RESURRECTION!

Verse 4: For us to come into an inheritance (through Christ Jesus) that is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for us, and that is protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed to us at the end of our earthly lives, is the strongest promise that could be given to us.  This truly and unequivocally the promise from God that allows us—soothes us—encourages us—to live not in fear, but in lives of hope and assurance that ETERNAL life and LIGHT are just beyond this worldly-world.

Verse 6: Adopting a new identity means enduring the misunderstanding and even animosity of people who consider such a change to be contrary to God’s will.

Verses 8-9: The new birth and new identity are evident in the way the community lives.

Living Hope

Little ButterflyPrayer for the Week: Joined together as the body of Christ in the world and bound by the Holy Spirit, let’s get on our knees and lift our prayer of the week together.  We are one in the Spirit—we are one in the Lord!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: 1 Corinthians 15:1-23

Power of Resurrection

Food for Thought: This passage presents a debate with the people that ‘pokes at’ their possible UN-belief and contemplate the emptiness of life in UN-belief.  Life and attempt at faith would be useless in a life of UN-belief.  But Paul ‘brings it home’ in the declaration in Verses 20 through 23: “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.”  He puts in terms of a factual occurrence.  There were witnesses to the risen Lord after his death.  Paul’s writings are based on primary accounts of what happened.  His words, “IN FACT” carry a weight of authority that supports our life in faith.  We were not witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, nor were we tied to people who could give us eye-witness, primary accounts of Christ’s resurrection.  For us today, the Good News comes right here in the LIVING WORD OF GOD.  We have the only ‘proof’ that we need to LIVE IN FAITH, HOPE, AND PROMISE OF RESURRECTION—CHRIST’S AND OURS!

According to the Scriptures

Little ButterflyPrayer for the Week: Joined together as the body of Christ in the world and bound by the Holy Spirit, let’s get on our knees and lift our prayer of the week together.  We are one in the Spirit—we are one in the Lord!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Romans 6:1-23

United in death like his and in resurrection

Food for Thought: First, let’s consider the importance of baptism in this passage and IN OUR LIVES TODAY!  Let’s ask the question, “How does baptism affect daily life?”  While baptism itself is a one-time action, the struggle with sin is so great that we need to return to the waters of baptism every day as we remember that God has made us God’s own.  Baptism “signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance.  On the other hand, every day a new person comes forth and rises up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever”.  We can find these words in our ELW, page 1165.  In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther writes, “Thus a Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, begun one [day] and continuing every [day] after.”  Pay close to attention to verses 4-6 in these regards.

Verses 15-23 speak about ‘slaves of sin’ and ‘slaves of righteousness’.  To contrast sin’s power and God’s gift of grace, Paul uses the image of slavery.  Paul believes all people are slaves of some kind.  The only question is who or what we will serve as slaves.  The Good News for us is that God’s grace “is sufficient” for us sinners.

Freed from sin

Little ButterflyPrayer for the Week: Joined together as the body of Christ in the world and bound by the Holy Spirit, let’s get on our knees and lift our prayer of the week together.  We are one in the Spirit—we are one in the Lord!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31

Food for Thought: Here we are again, at the end of another week.  Let’s get ready for our Virtual Service in the morning as we contemplate our readings for tomorrow.  We take another detour from our Year A journey in Matthew as we are in the Gospel of John again this week.  One of the key things to consider in this Scripture is the fact that the disciples were still living in fear after the death of Jesus.  They were hiding from the world as their fear was paralyzing them in many ways.  However, Jesus had prepared them for mission in the world after is Ascension back to the Father, so their time of ‘hiding’, when Jesus appeared to them, was about to come to an end.  It would take the PRESENCE OF JESUS in the midst to start to move them from fearful ‘hiding’ to step out in their faith and proclaim the Good News of Christ that his death and resurrection mean!  [By his presence, Jesus shed LIGHT on this situation!]  We encounter the doubt of Thomas in this passage.  It is only after Thomas sees the physical proof that this is really Christ, that he proclaims, “My Lord and my God”.  How many times do we become Thomas when we ‘require’ more of the Lord than we think we are getting?  Does that make us bad?  Does that make us troubled doubters?  We are human and doubt can be healthy WHEN it leads to understanding and a deeper, more-evolved faith.  You heard me talk a little bit about this in our Palm Sunday Sermon/Homily.  (Click here to hear that Sermon.)  Doubt can texture faith when we keep the doubt in check and don’t let it consume our beings.  There is some “Thomas” in all of us!  Jesus met Thomas where he was in his doubt and Jesus does the same for us today!  Alleluia.

Doubting Thomas:

Doubting Thomas

Little Butterfly Prayer for the Week: Joined together as the body of Christ in the world and bound by the Holy Spirit, let’s get on our knees and lift our prayer of the week together.  We are one in the Spirit—we are one in the Lord!

Doubting Thomas Proclaims:

Thomas Believes

WEEK OF APRIL 6, 2020

HolyWeek Heading

Introduction:  Please read these introductory thoughts before you read Monday’s devotion.

It is unbelievable, but here we are at Holy Week.  Time surely flies.  But moreover, with fleeting time, we never know what a day—a week—a month—may bring.  We have all seen the unpredictable and fragile nature of the world we live in.  This year, our Holy Week connections must be through prayer, electronic devices, social media, our website, and yes—Virtual Church for Easter Sunday morning.  None of us—in our entire lifetimes—have ever faced a time when a global pandemic caused us to find creative ways to meet as a church instead of coming into our beautiful Sanctuary and praising God together—especially on Easter—The Resurrection of our Lord!  I missed the community waving palms together in person yesterday as we cheered Jesus entry into Jerusalem.  Our palms were a different kind yesterday, but we had them, and we celebrated that Triumphant Entry for Jesus into Jerusalem with our virtual palms!

How quickly the majesty and laud for Jesus by the crowds would change to shouts of, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  “We have no king but Caesar!”  “Release Barabbas and crucify Jesus!”

I love the New Revised Common Lectionary because, for the most part, our Scriptures lead us in a walk with Jesus from Advent through Ascension.  In Holy Week, we walk step-by-step with Jesus to the cross.  It is so personal and profound to make that journey every year.  Spring is popping out.  The forsythia bush in the backyard of the parsonage is blooming.  Resurrection—even in this time of quarantine—is all around us.  Jesus Christ transcends all earthly challenges and obstacles—all doom and gloom.  Jesus Christ is RESURRECTION!  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  Let’s continue our walk with Jesus through this Holy Week as we lead up to THE DAY OF RESURRECTION next Sunday morning!

Forsythia

One of my colleagues is a Lutheran pastor in Minnesota.  His name is Steve Thomason.  His church is Easter Lutheran Church.  He is a pastor, a theologian with a Ph.D. in Missional Leadership from Luther Seminary, and he is an artist.  He tells the gospel story through cartoon-like drawings.  These are not for humor, although sometimes, there is humor in the art.  These are serious renditions that purely tell the gospel story through a form of exaggerated caricature art.  I am going to share some of his Holy Week images throughout our devotions this week.

Holy Monday, April 6, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Mark 14: 1-9 and John 12:1-11

Images paralleling the Mark Version of the anointing of Jesus:

Annointing 1

Annointing 2

Food for Thought: In Mark, we hear about a woman anointing Jesus’ head with this very expensive oil—pure nard.  In John’s version, this woman is Mary (sister of Lazarus and Martha).  In both accounts, we hear about the anointing of Jesus with pure nard.  This was a very expensive ointment/oil that was often made as a counterfeit version because of the cost of pure nard.  Both accounts make sure to tell us that this nard was the real deal.  The point is not so much the woman’s name, although in Mark, Jesus does say that what she is doing will define her and the anointing will be what she is remembered for.

More than the differences in the two accounts, let’s focus on the similarities.  There were questions about why this expensive oil was used on Jesus when it could have been used for the poor.  In Mark, the people who were there questioned this, and in John, Judas questions this.  Let’s look at the gospel ‘connections’ in the version in John:

  • The anointing is a connective foreshadowing of the soon-to-come anointing of Jesus’ dead body as a preparation for burial. (By the way, this is also seen in the Mark version AND in the Matthew version).
  • Mary acts out of discipleship, while Judas objects to what he calls wasteful. This contrast goes far beyond Judas’ selfishness in this incident and absence of disciple-like behavior, but moreover points to Judas’ betrayal that is about to happen.
  • Judas is called a thief in the John account. The use of this language recalls a thief trying to infiltrate a herd of sheep by some devious ‘other way’.  Judas, as a thief also foreshadows his coming appearance outside the Garden of Gethsemane, when Judas makes the final act of betrayal, but Jesus is ‘ready’ to confront the thief.
  • In the John account, the Jewish leaders ‘plan’ to put Lazarus to death because of the attention Jesus has gotten by raising Lazarus from the dead. The plot to kill Lazarus is linked to the overall plot to put Jesus to death because he is gaining too much influence and power and is proving to be a real threat to Jewish leaders (and somewhat to the Roman rulers).

Prayer for the Week: Almighty God of all time and space, we humbly kneel before you to lift our prayers—our unending praise—and our thanksgiving for all the blessings of life.  Walk with us—not only in our Lenten and Holy Week journeys, but in every aspect of our lives—every day.  God, we are living in disruptive and uncertain times these days.  This can be terrifying and unsettling to us all.  Give us your peace as we live in the assurance that you are with us always—even to the ends of the earth.  Comfort and heal all those directly infected with this coronavirus.  Strengthen and protect our health care workers and government leaders at all levels.  Keep the rest of us protected as we navigate a new normal.  God, we call on your mighty name to restore order to this world as we look to you and you alone for wholeness.  Keep us connected as the body of Christ as we come together virtually for our Holy Week journey and to praise you together, while apart.  We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Holy Tuesday, April 7, 2020

30 pieces of silver

Scripture for Dwelling: Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-11, 12-21, Luke 22:3-6.  Then, also please read John 13:21-30

Mark 14:12-21:

Table 1

Food for Thought: As we have often discussed, the Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  They run (significantly) in parallel in their accounts of the life of Jesus and the Good News of Jesus.  Let’s explore these three short passages today as we read three accounts of Judas Iscariot agreeing to betray Jesus.   All three Synoptic Gospels include the account of Judas deciding to betray Jesus.  All three agree that Judas made his decision and then looked for an opportune time for the actual betrayal.  It is the Luke account that we hear, “Satan entered Judas” and then “he went and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police as to how he might betray Jesus.”  Luke links this scene with the testing of Jesus in the wilderness in Luke 4:1-13, when Satan left “until an opportune time” had come to tempt Jesus.  The Greek spelling of the Hebrew name ‘Judah’ is Judas, which could mean that this disciple was from Judea.  The name “Iscariot” could be translated “a man who was a betrayer” or “a man who was a liar”.  It was an evil and calculated and conscious betrayal of Jesus by Judas.  This act of evil was a major catalyst in the action of Jesus to be arrested and convicted and crucified.  As cruel as all this seems, this catalyst led to the Passion of Christ that ultimately fulfilled God’s plan for redemption of humankind.

How many times do we either consciously or even unconsciously betray Jesus by things that we think, do, or say, or things that we neglect to do that we should have done?  How many times do we profess, Lord, not I?

Judas bad Judas

Table 2

Prayer for the Week: Connected by the Holy Spirit, please join together in praying our Prayer of the Week during this Holy Week.

Holy Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: John 13:1-17

Foot washing

Food for Thought: Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday.  There are two major things that we commemorate on Maundy Thursday: Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and the Institution of the Lord’s Supper.  Today, let’s contemplate Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and tomorrow, we will look at the Institution of the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus knew that his hour had come.  In this 13th Chapter of John, we see a significant shift in the Gospel story.  In Chapter 12, Jesus is active in his public ministry.  Now, with his public ministry over and the hour of his death fast approaching, Jesus gathers privately with his disciples for what will be their final meal together.

In John 13:1-11, “Jesus began to wash the disciples’ feet”.  Foot washing was a gesture of hospitality that hosts provided to their guests when they entered their homes after traveling the dusty road to get there.  Usually, however, household servants, not homeowners, performed the task.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet before they eat together.  It is this loving act, rather than the meal, that becomes the central event of Jesus’ farewell supper with his disciples.  This is part of what we call the Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John.  In this Farewell Discourse, acts of love are pointed to as the mark of discipleship and as signs of the disciples’ relationship with Jesus.  The farewell meal ends with Jesus’ prayer that God’s love will remain present in the world and that the community’s life will be shaped by that love.  This is our call today!

Foot washing 2

Prayer for the Week: Connected by the Holy Spirit, please join together in praying our Prayer of the Week during this Holy Week.

Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2020

Eat this bread

Scripture for Dwelling: Matthew 26:20-25, Mark 14:17-21, Luke 22:14, 21-23

Food for Thought: Today is Maundy Thursday.  We contemplated foot washing yesterday, which was a significant part of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples.  Today, let’s talk about the Institution of the Lord’s Supper.

These three Synoptic Gospel passages give us an account of the original Lord’s Supper.  This is one of our two Sacraments as Lutherans.  As a sacrament, it uses earthly elements of bread and wine with God’s Word, at Christ’s command.  Although the Lord’s Supper began with Jesus and the twelve disciples, it is more than a remembrance of that event.  When we celebrate the sacrament, we are in the presence of Christ.  Martin Luther writes, “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and to drink”.

Colorful Lord's Supper

Prayer for the Week: Connected by the Holy Spirit, please join together in praying our Prayer of the Week during this Holy Week.

Good Friday, April 10, 2020

Jesus is arrested:

Soldiers come to arrest

Jesus is unfairly convicted and sentenced to death by crucifixion:

Crucify HimThe King who was glorified and honored just a few days ago as he triumphantly entered Jerusalem is now mocked as the King of the Jews:

Jesus in the purple

Jesus is crucified on a cross beside two criminals:

Wounded for our transgressions

He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities; with his stripes WE ARE HEALED:

On cross

Scripture for Dwelling: Mark 15:16-47

Food for Thought: We ask the question in the song, “we’re you there when they crucified my Lord?”  We respond with the words, “Oh, oh, oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble” because we know that we were there when Christ was crucified.  Christ took the weight of the sin of the world to that cross and died for us.  Christ died so that we would not have to.  We live in faith in Jesus Christ and our salvation is justified by the grace of Almighty God to God’s glory.  This is a solemn and sobering day.  I hope you will join me for our Virtual Service of Tenebrae tonight at www.splspokane.org.

Prayer for the Week: Connected by the Holy Spirit, please join together in praying our Prayer of the Week during this Holy Week.

Holy Saturday, April 11, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4, John 20:1-18

Food for Thought: We have anticipated this glorious Day of Resurrection for weeks and months.  Tomorrow we will celebrate in our Virtual Church that Christ the Lord is risen from the dead!  We will resurrect the Alleluias in our Service.  Yes, we died with Christ and our sins were buried in that tomb.  But the Good News is that we are resurrected to life eternal through Jesus Christ.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

arisen Lord In John, we hear Mary proclaim, “I have seen the Lord”.  Mary and the others were not sure what was happening, but indeed Christ was risen from the dead!  Alleluia!

Prayer for the Week: Connected by the Holy Spirit, please join together in praying our Prayer of the Week during this Holy Week.

WEEK OF MARCH 30, 2020

Introduction:  Please read these introductory thoughts before you read Monday’s devotion.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, I hope this new week finds you doing well and staying healthy!  As we are separated physically with this order to stay at home, we are forever joined as the body of Christ in the world.  No pandemic or anything else can separate us from each other or from the Light of Christ.  Let us live in the Light!  (Recall our discussions about the Gospel of John and how the writer of the Fourth Gospel uses light to signify the presence of God.)  Let us live in the Light and constantly celebrate the presence of God—even in a world turned upside down!

Light

It is so easy to get caught up in the constant news cycle that almost seems to attack us from all angles.  There is Good News in this world, and it is the Light!  The Light gives us hope and promise for a better life and world to come.  The Light gives us hope and promise for Salvation from the darkness of the worldly-world for eternal life in the Light!  Salvation STARTS RIGHT NOW!

Please reflect on the following words of a favorite hymn How Can I Keep from Singing?  Even in the challenges and disruptions that we are currently facing, with God at the helm of the ship of life, how can we keep from singing God’s praises and giving all glory to God.

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn–
That hails a new creation.

No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

 Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing
It finds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift my eyes, the cloud grows thin
I see the blue above it.
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it.

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart
A fountain ever springing–
For all things are mine since I am his
How can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

Singing

Nothing can shake us—when we look to the Light of the World as our source of life—our being—our all-in-all!

Monday, March 30, 2020

Scripture for Dwelling: Jeremiah 29:1-14