January 22

Luke 4:14-16

“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.” vss. 16-17a

Synagogues began to be built in the towns of Galilee and Judea just prior to the time that Jesus began his ministry. They were places of prayer and study and for the reading and exposition of scripture. Jesus was familiar with the synagogue in Nazareth and Luke tells us that on the sabbath he attended as usual. When he stood up to read, the scroll of Isaiah was given to him. By this time the scriptures had become holy for the Jews and people believed that a careful reading of them could reveal God’s will. It seems that Jesus was quite familiar with Isaiah and saw in its passages a message from the Spirit of God. Some of us have had similar experiences, and a few have been moved by scripture to redirect the focus of their lives. That’s one of the reasons we keep reading the bible. It’s our community’s book, and in its pages we can see how our faith ancestors have wrestled with the big questions of existence. We may not agree with all that is said–we know a lot more about science and history than did its writers–but the good news at its core has enormous significance for anyone trying to live well in our confusing and complex world.

Thought for the Day: What messages have I received from the bible?

January 21

1 Corinthians 12:27-31a

“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.” vss. 29-31a

As Paul describes the Church, using the human body as a metaphor, he tells the Corinthians that together we are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it. Within that one body each one has been equipped by the Spirit for the work of ministry, but not all are called to provide the same service or have the same office. And certainly, no one person will be more important than any other–all are equal and all have a part to play. Moreover, not all will have the same gifts, and no one will have all the gifts. His point is clear and designed to put an end to the bickering that has been going on in Corinth. But Paul doesn’t stop here–he continues the conversation by saying that the Corinthians should strive for the greater gifts. All the things he’s been talking about, the roles, abilities, and talents found within the congregation are important–those gifts will enable them to conduct their ministry effectively. But there are some things that are more important! Those of us who have been around the Church for a bit know what Paul is talking about. He has described a highly functioning congregation, one that operates like a well-oiled machine. But there’s more than that to being the Church of Christ! As Paul would put, “We gotta have love!”

Thought for the Day: How is my congregation using my gifts?

January 20

Psalm 19:7-14

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” vs. 14

These words from our psalmist will resonate with any faithful preacher called to proclaim the gospel to any gathered assembly, whether on Zoom or in person. The psalmist had listened to the words of creation and studied the Law with conviction, and he knew that what he had learned would have great value to others. It was likely the most important teaching they would ever receive! But he knew himself well–he had hidden faults and, despite his desire to be blameless, he could make errors. He could mislead those who had put their trust in him–but even scarier to him was the possibility that God would not be pleased with his words. And so preachers continue to say this prayer as they step into the pulpit, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord…” They know that sometimes their congregations won’t like what they say–that happens for every preacher as they “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable,” and yes, sometimes they do say stupid stuff. But their higher calling is to the Gospel of Christ and they deeply desire the guidance of the Spirit. And so every Sunday they pray that their words will flow out of that good news, and that the Spirit has been involved. And sometimes, even when they mess up, the Spirit intrudes, and the Word is heard!

Thought for the Day: How do I react when sermons are offensive to me?

January 19

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” vs. 12

Paul believed that the human body was the perfect metaphor for the Church and took care in describing the similarities. In fact, it’s likely because of his influence that we now speak of the Church as the Body of Christ. His primary purpose in using this image is to show the folks in Corinth that no one of them was more important than any other, and if the congregation was to be at its best, all would need to be respected and involved. The body cannot function without the cooperation of all its members. The mission of love inaugurated by Jesus continues in the Body of Christ. Quite literally, we who are baptized into Christ become the hands and feet of Jesus in bringing love and hope to a broken world. Sadly, for one reason or another, many of the baptized choose not to participate. Some drop out altogether; others look only to their own needs; and still others spend hours debating the color of carpet in sanctuaries. Imagine a human body in which the feet refused to walk, or the ears to hear–there would still be life, but little would get done. So it is with congregations! What a blessing it is when  people acknowledge the larger mission of the Church and use their particular gifts for the good of the whole! It’s happening all around the world, and God is glorified!

Thought for the Day: What Body part am I?

January 18

Psalm 19:1-6

“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.” vss. 1-2

The psalmist had an advantage over most of us. In his time, there was no smog to obscure vision in the day, and no light pollution at night. No wonder he’s ecstatic about sky-watching–every time he looked up, day or night he grew in his knowledge of God. Everything he saw was a manifestation of God’s glory, a sign of God’s presence that boggled his mind. We continue to have the psalmist’s fascination with the skies, and through the centuries have sought new technologies that have allowed us to peer deeper into the universe than we’ve ever thought possible. Last Christmas Day the James Webb space telescope was launched from French Guiana and astronomers from all over the world are eagerly awaiting its first images. One hundred times more powerful than the Hubble, the James Webb will be able to pick up light that originated 13.5 billion years ago, right at the birth of the universe. While we can’t even begin to imagine what will be discovered, the psalmist assures us that the fingerprints of God will be all over everything that we see. We’ll likely discover evidence of life in unexpected places, and our notion of God will need to be expanded once again. That’s just how it is for those who live in Christ, the One through whom all things were made. We just didn’t realize how magnificent the creation really was!

Thought for the Day: What drives humans to explore space?

January 17

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

“So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” vs. 8

When the people of Jerusalem wandered back to their home after the time of exile in Babylon, it wasn’t empty. Only the upper classes and nobility had been sent away–the ordinary folks had remained, but not much had been done to repair what had been destroyed. It took many months for the returnees to restore and construct new walls, and when they were done, it was the beginning of the new year–what is now known as Rosh Hashana. The leaders called on Ezra to haul out the book of the Law and read it to a gathered assembly. We’re not sure what this book was but it was likely some form of Deuteronomy which had taken shape sometime during the last days of the monarchy. It had been reshaped and edited during the Exile and no one in the gathered crowd had a clue about what it said, especially since it had been written in Hebrew, and the language of the people was Aramaic. Fortunately there were those who could make sense of it, and they interpreted it to the rest. We know that feeling when it comes to Scripture–parts are horribly difficult to understand, and we crave teachers who can make it come to life. What a blessing it is to find such a person, and then experience understanding!

Thought for the Day: Who has opened the scriptures for me?

January 16

John 2:6-11

“Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” vs. 11

As we move through the season of Epiphany we are being treated to passages from our scriptures that show a number of “eureka” moments in the lives of Jesus and his disciples. These are the times when, out of the blue, new and life-changing insights and revelations flash into our consciousness. Even though by definition they are rare, they can come to us all–they are those all-too-brief moments when the heavens open and we catch a glimpse of the Divine Mystery. The gospel writer John described the whole life of Jesus as a series of epiphanies and included in his book those he thought would be most likely to make believers of his readers. He begins with an unlikely event, a raucous wedding celebration in Cana–there’s no healing here, no raising of the dead, or the opening of ears. Jesus had been invited, and behind the scenes, changed water into wine so the party could continue. It’s a reminder that the most ordinary circumstances can be the occasion for the revelation of God’s glory. It could be anytime and anywhere! Sometimes it’s when we’ve been wrestling with some issue or problem, some perplexing matter that has us buffaloed. And then, in an instant, the veil is lifted and we “see,” and know a little bit more about who we are, and who God is. And our faith is deepened! And the party continues!

Thought for the Day: What have been the “eureka” moments of my life?

January 15

John 2:1-5

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.” vss.1-2

The opening prayer in the Lutheran marriage service begins with these words, “Eternal God, as you gladdened the wedding in Cana of Galilee with the presence of your son, so by his presence now bring your joy to this wedding.” What it doesn’t say is that Jesus brought gladness to the marriage feast by providing gallons of the finest wine that anyone there had ever drunk. It’s a fun story and we can be glad that John chose to include it in his gospel, especially since it’s the first thing John has to say about Jesus’ ministry. We can almost imagine the scene–Jesus and his disciples dancing in a circle singing Hava Nagila, lifting cups of wine, and toasting the bride and groom with shouts of L’Chaim. It was most certainly a joyous and festive occasion. Some pious folks might find it hard to imagine that Jesus ever danced at a wedding, but there’s really no reason to think that he didn’t. When the Light came into the world joy flowed into all aspects of daily life, and it’s wonderful to know that marriages are an occasion for divine laughter. Being a follower of Jesus is a serious matter, but sometimes we also get to party with him!

Thought for the Day: Why do people love good wine?

January 14

1 Corinthians 12:7-11

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” vs. 7

Paul believed that within each congregation there were a variety of gifts, services, and activities that were sparked by the presence of the Spirit. Moreover, since no one individual could do everything, each person had been equipped with particular gifts. In his words, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” In a healthy congregation everyone would be blessed in a particular way, not so they could flaunt their gift over others, but so that all could benefit. Everything would be done for “the common good.” It’s a simple thought, and in many congregations we’ve seen what blessings can come with such intentions. Unfortunately the whole notion of a common good is under attack in the secular world. The driving force in many peoples’ lives is now rampant individualism. They’re no longer asking “What can I do for the sake of others?” Instead they are demanding the right to do whatever suits their fancy and brings benefit to themselves. They mask their selfishness in the cloak of freedom and imagine that such behavior will lead to greatness. It’s an old heresy, one that always leads to division, and it’s all so sad. All people possess amazing gifts and abilities, and when all those talents are pooled together for the common good, God’s blessings are multiplied. It’s happened before and it can happen again.

Thought for the Day: How has individualism threatened my congregation?

January 13

1 Corinthians 12:1-6

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” vs. 1

Paul had written to the Corinthians to address a multitude of problems, but took a couple of chapters to address the issue of spiritual gifts, something that had become hugely divisive in that congregation. Some had begun to flaunt their spirituality, claiming a kind of superiority because they could speak in tongues, what they called a special gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul dismisses their claim and implies that speaking in tongues is nothing special, that even he can do it. He further claims that all the gifts, services, and activities taking place in the congregation in the name of Jesus are Spirit-filled and signs of God’s presence. His observations are right on! Sometimes we despair of ever hearing or seeing God, but all we really have to do is open our eyes and ears. God is all around us and lives within every creature, rock, and tree. That’s what the Holy Spirit is, the present tense of God in our world today, and none of us can say that somehow the Holy Spirit is our exclusive possession. In reality the Spirit possesses us and every loving word and deed we say or do is evidence of the Spirit’s presence. Of course not everything comes from the Spirit–and when our dark side shows, it’s not a pretty sight. Thanks be to God when those moments are brief and our Christ-light can resume center stage!

Thought for the Day: What triggers my dark side?