June 14

Job 38:1-3

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?’” vss. 1-2

The book of Job represents our faith ancestors’ best effort to deal with the injustice of human suffering. It’s a powerful story, one that has been told and retold hundreds of times by succeeding generations. Again and again in the story Job’s friends tell him to acknowledge his guilt, something he refuses to do. For chapter after chapter they argue–suffering is devilishly difficult to deal with and impossible to understand. When we google “suffering” today we find that times have not changed. There are literally thousands of perspectives and explanations–and the words from the Lord are as fitting today as ever, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” Because suffering is universal, each of us has a perspective and can speak to it out of our own experience. But the true meaning of our suffering lies beyond our experience and mere words are inadequate in capturing its essence. There’s a divine mystery in suffering that defies explanation–and somehow it’s connected to our salvation. It’s as though there’s a value to suffering, as though it’s something that is necessary for really being alive. The book of Job seems to indicate that it’s what we go through on the road to true joy–kind of like dying with Jesus in order to live with him!

Thought for the Day: What’s the value of suffering?

June 13

Mark 4:30-33

“It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;” vs. 31

Preachers have generally liked Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. It’s relatively short and seemingly easy to understand–and it provides an opportunity for dragging out a seed or two and talking about how they grow. But still there are questions. Is Jesus talking about the Church? It’s unlikely since there was no Church when he told the story–and he says that it’s about the Kingdom of God. Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of God–he said that it was at hand and that people should get ready for it by repenting. Maybe this parable was directed at those who were wondering when they were going to see the Kingdom, and he was telling them to be patient, that like a mustard seed it would grow. If that’s what he had in mind, it’s a reminder to us that the heaven on earth we yearn for is present, but it’s really hard to see. But it is going to grow! That interpretation does fit our experience–while we believe that Christ rules, signs of that rule are for the most part nearly invisible. But they are there, and to eyes of faith there are daily sightings. We’ll see an unexpected smile and get a surprise hug. Out of the blue there comes a word of affirmation or we see an act of sacrificial love. As Jesus says, the seed has been planted–no surprise then when we see it begin to grow!

Thought for the Day: What is heaven on earth like?

June 12

Mark 4:26-29

“He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.’” vss. 26-27

Even though we know that all people are in Christ, equipped with the Spirit of God, and designed to be the light of the world, most of the time we don’t quite know what is going on. And Jesus tells us not to worry! The seeds of goodness have been sown and there’s daily production all over the world. In the most unlikely places, even without our intervention, people are being changed and are growing to maturity. One day we see a self-serving, self-absorbed teenager and before long we encounter a self-giving, sacrificial servant bearing fruit that’s changing the planet. It really is a miracle, and it’s happening every day in every town, village, and neighborhood all around the globe. Because the growth is the work of the Spirit we don’t always see what’s going on. We’re much more likely to notice the weeds and the dark side of society–we do a bunch of lamenting as we read our papers and watch the news. We get so upset about the bad apples that we completely miss the myriad acts of love and kindness that are all around. What a blessing it is when our eyes become attuned to the rhythms of the Spirit and we begin to see the light of Christ in our neighbors!

Thought for the Day: What happens when I acknowledge kindness in another person?

June 11, 2021

2 Corinthians 5:14-17

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” vs. 17

We don’t see many stories of Jesus in the writings of Paul, and there’s a reason for that. He had never known Jesus of Nazareth–he only knew the risen Christ and believed that in Christ all had died and all had been raised. In his words, in Christ there had been a new creation and everyone was getting a fresh start. This conviction led him to view all people in light of their new status, he no longer saw them from a human point of view. What a difference it makes when we begin to see the people in our lives from this new perspective! Instead of seeing their parents in them, we see the Christ in them! We actually begin to see in them the DNA of the Divine Mystery! Granted, many times it’s hard to pull this off, especially when the persona they present to the world is one that revolts us. We might even think it impossible to see beyond the external flaws to the beautiful child of God within. But when we can close our senses to what is perceived, and be open to the beauty within, we’ll be amazed at the discoveries we’ll make. The caterpillar is already a butterfly–and we won’t even have to wait until people die to see it!

Thought for the Day: How do people see me, as a caterpillar or as a butterfly?

June 10

2 Corinthians 5:6-10

“For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.” vs. 10

We find great comfort in the persistent theme of grace in our scriptures. Because we don’t live as we ought, we love hearing that we have forgiveness in Christ, and that our guilt has been taken from us. We’re less excited in hearing about the judgment in Christ that is also a theme of scripture. In fact most of us would just as soon take scissors to the judgment passages and make believe they aren’t there. Of course we can’t do that–and it’s just as well. There’s a reason why they’re included. They reflect the sense that most people have that there must be consequences for the stuff we do in life. It’s a part of conventional wisdom for people of all faiths. Hindus and Buddhists speak of karma and Christians say “God is going to get you for that!” So it’s not strange to see Paul use Last Judgment language to encourage his readers to be mindful of their actions. In our hearts we really do want there to be compensation for what people do–and we particularly want this for other folks! This conviction only becomes a problem when it leads us to question God’s grace and unconditional love. Judgment does not cancel out sacrificial love–both are a part of life in Christ. And we don’t get the entire picture without embracing both!

Thought for the Day: What do I think about the Last Judgment?

June 9

Psalm 92:12-15

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap…” vss. 12, 14

This psalmist had been around the block a few times and knew that folks shouldn’t be discounted just because they had grown old. He believed that there was a connection between righteous living and longevity and that people could flourish and bear fruit even in their senior years. We still see that in our congregations today–some express sadness because their pews are filled with the elderly, but really it’s a blessing. Even when most organizations are in the habit of handing out golden parachutes to the aged, that never happens in churches. In fact, it’s the old folks who are keeping the doors open in countless congregations. They are the pillars of the church, the faithful ones, and they’re amazingly productive in doing the work of God. Many are using what they call the “third quarter” of life to blossom. They’re finding ever new ways to use their time and considerable talents to serve the broken and the poor. And they’re enjoying life more! Freed from the necessity of working to earn a living, they launch into labors of love and produce remarkable fruits. Even when it seems their energy is failing, their sap is still flowing, and they’re making a huge difference in our hurting world.

Thought for the Day: Where can I find my retirement niche?

June 8

Psalm 92:1-4

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night…” vss. 1-2

The psalmist had a rhythm to his life that strengthened his relationship to the Lord, and many of us could learn from his daily practices. He obviously lived with thanks in his heart and on his lips–he was glad to be alive and knew that he wasn’t the center of the universe. His grateful spirit likely showed on his face and in his encounters with family and friends–that’s just how it is when every day is Thanksgiving! He could live that way because he began and ended each day connecting with the Lord. He awakened every morning knowing that he was loved by God unconditionally and in the evening he recounted the ways God had protected and sustained him through the day. Those morning and evening prayers are essential for any of us interested in a long-term relationship with the Divine Presence. They don’t have to be long or complicated, just a God Pause or two at the beginning and the end of our days. It might not seem like much, but these are the moments that give a blessed rhythm to our comings and our goings. It’s so easy to get caught up in the intricacies of daily schedules–sometimes we wonder how we get so busy. So we can’t neglect good starts and smooth finishes–they’re our most important daily appointments!

Thought for the Day: How do I start and end my days?

June 7

Ezekiel 17:22-24

“Thus says the Lord God: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain.” vs 22

Ezekiel wrote at a time when it appears that Israel had seen its last days. Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed and the remnants of the royal house now lived in Babylon in captivity. All had been lost–but not quite all! Hope remained and Ezekiel fanned the flames of that hope with a word from the Lord about the cedars of Lebanon. A sprig would be planted on a high mountain, and it would grow and flourish. The point is clear. God is the Lord of all: trees of the field, birds of the air, all living things are created and sustained by the Divine Presence. So if there is hope for trees, surely God will care for Israel. There are many times when we need that reassurance. Right now things look a bit grim for our world. The climate is changing and disaster for many is looming. Humanity seems incapable of mounting a sustained and united response–in light of that failure we wonder what things will be like for our great grandchildren. Ezekiel reminds us that there is power greater than ours loose in the world. Even though we can’t see the way the Creator of the universe is still in control–and most days that’s our only hope!

Thought for the Day: What can God do that humans can’t?

June 6

Mark 3:28-35

And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’” vss. 34-35

Promoting the nuclear family wasn’t part of Jesus’ platform as his ministry continued in Galilee. In fact, he realized that what he was teaching could actually threaten family unity–at one point he told his followers, “I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother–one’s foes will be the members of one’s own household.” In recent years however it has become the fashion in congregations to promote the nuclear family, i.e. couples and their children. One of the by-products of that emphasis has been the estrangement of single people. Many have reported that they feel excluded, that they don’t really fit in among all the “happy” families. A better image, given what Jesus taught, might be to think of the congregation itself as a family. In that instance, members, both married and single, would be brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers to one another. And that’s what many of us have experienced in our life in Christ. Our congregation has become our family, and its intimacies surpass what we feel with blood relatives. Each day of worship is like a family reunion and we greet one another with honest affection and love. These are the folks who will be our support and it’s here we will find comfort and strength–even when our nuclear families are falling apart.

Thought for the Day: Where do I experience family?

June 5

Mark 3:20-27

“and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.’” vss. 20-21

According to Mark it took a while for Jesus’ family to adjust to his popularity as he began his ministry. And that’s probably to be expected. He had had what seems to have been a normal childhood and adolescence in Nazareth–there was likely nothing extraordinary about his family interactions. But then he’d gone off to see John the Baptist, maybe became his disciple, and ultimately had the baptismal encounter with God that changed his life. And when he returned he was on fire with the gospel, and some were saying he’d lost his mind. Some of us have had that happen in our families. And when a son or daughter comes home full of new ideas and passions it can be a jolt. And if they’ve had a spiritual encounter it can be downright frightening, especially if it seems they’ve become involved in a new cult or religion. Some have even been known to change political affiliations! And we wonder just like Joseph and Mary, “Is this change really of God, or has some demonic spirit taken over?” In the end we can do little more than pray…because when people have been touched by the Spirit, there’s little that can be done to restrain them. Ultimately, the authenticity of their calling will be revealed by its fruits. 

Thought for the Day: How might I react to radical change in a family member?