November 26

Matthew 24:36-39

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” vs. 36

When Matthew wrote his gospel many believed that the end times were near. The armies of Rome had destroyed the temple and many believers were sure that Jesus would surely soon return. But as Matthew recounts Jesus’ words about the end he makes it clear that all we can know for sure is that God is. No one, not even Jesus, has any idea about the timing of the second coming. So in lieu of such knowledge we focus on the first coming, and through the Sundays of the church year we take time to consider the mission of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow marks the beginning of the season of Advent, a time to reflect on what the birth of Jesus means for believers. Some will be lighting candles on a wreath or trimming a Jesse tree. Choirs will be rehearsing for special concerts that mark these weeks before Christmas. Naturally the world pays little attention to Advent. For most the weeks after Thanksgiving are spent preparing for Christmas–a church holiday that has found new life in our consumer driven culture as a reimagining of the Roman mid-winter festival of Saturnalia, a time for merry-making and festivities. So it’ll take some discipline for people of faith to use these four weeks in a contemplative way. There are going to be a lot of distractions! But Christmas is all the sweeter when we remember to use Advent for meditation preparation.

Thought for the Day: How will I be preparing for Christmas?

November 25

Romans 13:11-14

“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” vss. 11-12a

It’s so easy to lose track of time. Everyone knows the feeling! We get involved in one thing or another and before we are even aware that time has passed, a glance at our watch or phone can throw us into a panic. And it isn’t only minutes and hours that can slip away, it’s even more disconcerting when the same thing happens with years. Again, it happens to us all. It’s like we’re sleepwalking through life, paying little heed to the passing of the decades, when something happens to awaken us. It could be illness–maybe the arrival of a significant birthday–often awakening comes with a death. Those moments can be occasions for significant regret–we fear we’ll never be able to do those things we’ve put off. We begin to wish we could turn back the clock and make better persons of ourselves. Paul is bold enough to remind the Romans that the hour has come for them to wake up and begin to live as children of the light. They only have a lifetime–and that might soon be over. It’s a reminder that we could all take note of. If we’ve got some changes that need to be made, it really makes no sense to keep putting them off. One day we will run out of time!

Thought for the Day: What have I been putting off?

November 24

John 6:25-35

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.’” vs. 32

As the years pass each major holiday seems to acquire a unique identity, and that’s certainly true for Thanksgiving. For most Americans this is a day for coming together as families, maybe watching a little football, and then gorging on a multi-course meal that is bound to include turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberries. Occasionally, depending upon how many health conscious folks will be present, there will be creative variations on the old favorites. Sometimes there will even be a prayer, one that will recount the blessings of the year and perhaps offer thanks to God as the author and giver of life. Thanksgiving really is a good time for all of us to express deep gratitude for all that we have and are. Too often we get so caught up in the economies of our materialistic system that we actually forget the divine origin of all our bread. Like the people Jesus fed we eat and are satisfied, and then ask for more, sometimes never pausing to give praise and thanks for all that we have received. Perhaps this year we can do better than that! We’ve come through some trying times, and we’re actually doing pretty well. There is much to be thankful for–and God will be glad to hear from us!

Thought for the Day: What Thanksgiving traditions am I observing today?

November 23

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

“Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.” vs. 11

The Israelites, convinced that the God of their ancestors had directed them to cross the Jordan and take possession of the land, codified thanksgiving as a part of their written law. Each year after the harvest they would take a portion of the firstfruits of the land and return it to the altar of the Lord. And then together with all the people of the land (including the aliens), they would celebrate thanksgiving. Tomorrow everyone in our land, people of every faith and no faith at all, will be following our nation’s tradition and celebrate a feast that we call “Thanksgiving.”  It has become a significant holiday for us, but only some will be using the day to offer thanks to God for their material wealth and possessions, and even fewer will be setting aside an offering of “firstfruits” as a part of their celebration. It’s sad that so many miss that connection between gratitude and giving. Without the giving, Thanksgiving can easily become a symbol of excess and overindulgence, and gratitude is quickly swallowed up in the frenzied buying of Black Friday. It would be good for all of us to carve out time tomorrow for reflection on our many blessings and maybe even do some giving.

Thought for the Day: What are my firstfruits?

November 22

Psalm 122

“Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together. To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.” vss.3-4

The ancient Israelites were convinced that God was responsible for their existence as a nation and enshrined regular festivals of thanksgiving in their law codes. And the people were grateful! Ordinary folks recognized their dependence upon a benevolent God for survival and sustenance, and looked forward to their annual pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem with their thanksgiving gifts and sacrifices. We still do thanksgiving, even in our largely secular nation, and occasionally some will take time to give thanks to God. Mostly though it’s a holiday that focuses on family, feasting, and football, and God is at best an afterthought. We’ve found out that it’s possible to give thanks and gather together without even considering that there could be a place for God in the picture. For the most part we attribute our material well-being to our own hard work and the free enterprise system and maybe a dash of good fortunee. Bit by bit God has become an afterthought for most. But not for all! Some of us, like the psalmist, recognize that all we have and are is a gift from God and are bound to give thanks to the Lord, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day of the year.

Thought for the Day: What does Thanksgiving mean for my family?

November 21

Isaiah 2:1-5

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;” vs. 4a

In reading the Hebrew scriptures it’s easy to get the idea that God was an advocate of war and encouraged the people of Israel to engage in ferocious combat in defense of their land and to subjugate their enemies. More than that it’s often implied that the Lord assisted in those battles and encouraged total destruction. But not all the ancient writers were of that mind. Isaiah saw another perspective and announced an alternative vision. He says that God intends for all people to live in peace and that one day, under the influence of the Lord, nations will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. It’s obvious that we’re a long way from achieving that goal. Instead nations have improved their weaponry and now possess enough firepower to completely destroy the earth. Seldom have we made any efforts to reduce our destructive capacity and lasting peace has been elusive. Even today countries battle. Soldiers and civilians are killed. Millions of refugees have fled their homes in combat zones. And yet Isaiah’s vision remains. Surely one day God’s people will have had enough–weapons will be repurposed, and peace will reign on this beautiful planet. Surely that is God’s will for us all.

Thought for the Day: What will it take for weapons of war to become obsolete?

November 20

Luke 23:39-43

“Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’” He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.‘“ vss. 42-43

It’s possible to get completely sidetracked by this little exchange between two dying men in Luke’s gospel. Because we wonder about the nature of life beyond death we look here for clues that can help us construct some sort of timetable for what happens once we draw our last breath. We do that a lot with bible verses that make reference to resurrection. We want there to be some sort of sequence, a pattern that we can draw on as we speak of those who die in Christ. And some folks have done just that! They tell us in great detail what’s going to happen and often it includes things like resurrection, rapture, Armageddon, Judgment Day, purgatory, or pearly gates. Now having such descriptions can be helpful to some, but in reality they are pure speculation, the invention of well-intentioned imaginations. It’s best for us to simply take the words of scripture in their context and accept the message each text conveys. What we have here is a comforting promise made by Jesus to a dying man that also offers an assurance of complete forgiveness for the deeds of a misdirected life. It’s a message that every human yearns to hear, one that we can hold close in our hearts. With these words Jesus says to each of us, “Yes, my sinner friend, there is hope and forgiveness even for you.”

Thought for the Day: What feelings does this promise evoke in me?

November 19

Luke 23:33-38

“When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’” vs.33-34a

These words of Jesus are not recorded in the other gospels, but we can be grateful that Luke included them in his. It’s here that we begin to understand more completely the core of Jesus’ mission. He was a great and profound teacher to be sure, but he actually embodied his teachings. He didn’t just tell his followers to love their enemies, but in the crunch, on the verge of death, he forgave his killers. He did what he told us to do! And with those few words Jesus established forgiveness as the central message of the gospel. There is just no place for revenge or for getting even in our lives. Even if our offenders haven’t asked to be forgiven, there’s absolutely no reason for us to withhold it! Now that’s not easy at all–vengeance is probably one of the most common human reactions. It gives deep satisfaction when we can hurt someone who has caused injury to us. To go against that by following the Way of Jesus seems incomprehensible to most people. They want folks to have to pay for the wrong they’ve done. But what a blessing it is to have a Lord who goes against the grain and offers sweet forgiveness even when offenders don’t deserve it!

Thought for the Day: When am I most likely not to forgive? 

November 18

Colossians 1:17-20

“He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” vs. 17

Early Christians came to believe that the Christ who had been made visible in Jesus of Nazareth, was the incarnate Word of God described in the prologue to John’s gospel. Through the Christ, present in the Beginning, all things had come into existence, and the writer of Colossians adds that, “in him all things hold together.” In other words, Christ is the glue of the universe, the connective tissue that binds us to all people and to the earth itself. And because Christ was revealed completely in Jesus we know that his chief attributes, namely, love, mercy, and justice, are the spiritual bonding agents of humanity. Quite obviously there are many differences among the people on this planet, and often those differences have led to prolonged conflict. But when we’re operating at our best, when we put aside our many prejudices, we will discover the amazing adhesive qualities of the invisible Christ, and can actually dwell together in peace. Such a vision is not an idle dream but an exciting possibility, and it happens every day somewhere in this world. Bound together by Christ, enemies become friends, the broken find healing, and hatred is replaced by a deep and abiding sacrificial love that comes straight from the heart of God. And what a blessing it is when it happens among us!

Thought for the Day: What binds me together with others?

November 17

Colossians 1:11-16

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;” vs. 15

There is a solution for those who despair of ever knowing God or of having a sense of God’s presence in daily living. And it’s easier that we might ever suspect. All we need to do is focus on Jesus, the man from Nazareth, and we will be connected to the invisible God through whom the universe came into existence. At least that’s what the writer of Colossians implies, and there is great contentment in following his direction. When the unknowable God eludes us, Jesus is accessible, and in him we find one who is worthy of our worship and praise. In his gentle, humble and forgiving presence we see incarnate love at work, and in his unswerving embrace of justice and equity we find a working model for our mission and ministry in the world. Sometimes we can get flummoxed and confused by creeds and dogmas, and when we can’t quite wrap our heads around the complex propositions bandied about by theologians, it feels good to come home to Jesus and snuggle up in his compassionate arms. All we really need is love–it’s the primal force of the universe–and in Jesus it is poured out sacrificially on all humanity. To put it in words familiar to modern ears, the love language of God is Jesus! It’s the simple truth! And we don’t need anything more!

Thought for the Day: What image of Jesus is dear to my heart?