Sep 252020

About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way. (Acts 19:23)

In my experience, much of mainstream Christianity has emphasized nice-ness as a core value of the faith; that is, we should be pleasant, smiling at others, speaking kindly, never ruffling feathers. But when Paul taught, riots broke out because his message required people to re-orient their lives around following Jesus. It reminds me that following Jesus invites – in fact, demands – me to give up my old ways in order that all people might come to know God’s ways. – rc

Sep 242020

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because [God] has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. [God] has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18–19)

With election season upon us, it is fitting that we read Jesus’ inauguration speech from the Gospel according to Luke. These are the first public words that Jesus utters and they set the trajectory of his mission and ministry throughout the gospel. He will bring equity to those who are poor, justice to those who are imprisoned, healing to those who are blind, and liberty to those who are held captive – Jesus will usher in the peaceful and just kingdom of God where there is perfect balance, perfect harmony, perfect shalom. Jesus lived this mission, he called his disciples to live out this mission, and now, we are being called to live into this mission. – rc

Sep 232020

On that night the king could not sleep, and he gave orders to bring the book of records, the annals, and they were read to the king. (Esther 6:1)

On the one hand, this is simply a comic episode and King Ahasuerus is the unintentionally comedic king (and he has been throughout the entire book of Esther). He is rash, he does not seem to have a mind of his own, and when he cannot fall asleep at night, he calls for the book of records to be read to him. We’ve all been there: lying awake, tossing and turning, longing for the sweet relief of slumber.

But on the other hand, this is a story that calls us to wake up from our sleep ways and open our eyes to see how injustice permeates our world. In those very records, the king notices an injustice and he vows to set it right. To what do we need to open our eyes? What injustices lie before us? What might wake us up from our sleepy stupor?               – rc

Sep 222020

At Cenchreae he had his hair cut . . .  (Acts 18:18b)

Yes; it’s in the Bible. From Samson’s power-infusing locks (Judg. 13–16) to Job’s shaved head (Job 1:20) to the rules guiding the Nazarites (Numb. 6:5), a concern for hair is woven throughout the biblical tradition. And now Paul delays his missionary expedition to get a quick haircut. But he does so in order to fulfill a vow (v. 18b). While we don’t know what this actually means, it appears that Paul may have been giving thanks for what God had done for him thus far on his journey.

Of course, early in this pandemic, a trip to the barber or the salon was out of the question for us. Many longed for a quick trim, but hair stylists were unable to open their parlors. Now, as shops are opening again, perhaps the next time we go to get those long-desired haircuts, let us join Paul by giving thanks to God. – rc

Sep 212020

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” (Luke 3:10)

This is the question the crowds pose to John the Baptizer (not to Jesus) after he proclaims a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 3). The question is quite natural – people of faith are constantly looking to do faithful things, be faithful people, live faithful lives. But John’s response is more challenging than what we might prefer: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise” (v. 11); “Collect no more [taxes] than the amount prescribed for you” (v. 13); “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages” (v. 14). The faithful response to a life of repentance is to live generously and justly, always looking to give of who we are and what we have. – rc

Sep 182020

Therefore let all who are faithful

offer prayer to you;

at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters

shall not reach them. (Psalm 32:6)

This is a difficult psalm to read right now. On the one hand, it is good to know that God is with us in difficult times, but on the other hand, there are places in our own country where the “rush of mighty waters” (v. 6) have not only reached people but have swallowed them, their homes, their communities. “Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer” (v. 6) is the psalmist’s call. So we pray. We pray for those on the Atlantic coast and those along the Gulf Coast whose lives have been upended by hurricane winds and flood waters. And we pray for those on the Pacific coast whose lives have been ravaged by raging wildfires. We cry out for God to meet them “at a time of distress” (v. 6). – rc

Sep 172020

Restore us, O LORD God of hosts;

let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:19)

Today, the psalmist gives us permission to summon God to action, to plead with God to move, to demand – even command – God to respond to our own pressing circumstances. “Give ear,” she cries (v. 1). “Stir up your might,” she pleads (v. 2). “Turn again,” she demands (v. 14). “Restore us,” she commands (vv. 3, 7, 19). This is a call to prayer if I’ve ever heard one – a call for us to take a good hard look around us and demand that God work to make it right. But when we cry out to God to make things right, we remind ourselves that we too are called to work to make things right. – rc

Sep 162020

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised

in the city of our God.

His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,

is the joy of all the earth,

Mount Zion, in the far north,

the city of the great King. (Psalm 48:1–2)

The temple, perched high in the mountains of Jerusalem, stood as a symbol of strength and beauty. To look upon the temple reminded people of the greatness of their God, but it also reminded them of their call to live faithfully so that all the earth might experience the joy of living with God. When we look at our sanctuary, our church building, I hope that the same is true for us. I hope that we are reminded of God’s greatness, strength, and beauty and I hope we remember our call to live faithfully so that those who see us experience God’s grace.                – rc

Sep 152020

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. (Acts 16:9–10)

Although Paul finds God’s direction in a divinely-orchestrated vision, it may not take such a dramatic summons for us to figure out where it is God might be calling us to serve. Paul was listening and he heard a desperate man, pleading for help. When we listen to the community around us, who is calling out? Who is pleading for us to come? Who needs the good news of God from us? – rc

Sep 142020

Your name, O LORD, endures forever,

          your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages. (Psalm 135:13)

I’ve always liked stone church buildings – this is one of the many things that drew me to this place. When I look at a church building made of stone, I get the sense that the building is strong, stable, enduring, everlasting. I get the sense that the building has been there for a long time and will continue to be there for a long time. But I also get the sense that it’s not just the building that is strong – it’s the people who worship there who are strong and stable; it’s the God those people worship who is enduring and everlasting. – rc