Devotion for June 18, 2020

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Jun 172020
 

What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost. (Matthew 18:12–14)

 

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells the so-called “Parable of the Lost Sheep” for a somewhat different reason that he does in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke’s more familiar version, the sheep appears to represent the general “sinner” – it could be anyone. But in Matthew’s version of the story, the lost sheep is associated with “one of these little ones” – a reference to the little children whom Jesus says are “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (see Matt. 18:1–5). Children in the ancient world were powerless – mere objects or property – so it is ironic that as the disciples argue (or, as the Church argues) over who is the greatest, Jesus displays utmost concern for those deemed the least of these in society.

In his book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson says it best:

My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice . . . the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. (Stevenson, Just Mercy, 18)

 

In Jesus’ world and in Stevenson’s mind, no one should be lost and forgotten. What about in your world and mine?            – rc

Devotion for June 17, 2020

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Jun 172020
 

They are like trees

planted by streams of water . . . (Psalm 1:3)

A tree that bears fruit is a beautiful thing: it grows, it blossoms, it gives itself to others. And today, the psalmist draws upon this growing, blossoming, giving creation to reflect upon our unity under God’s law, our joy in following God, our call to give of ourselves for the benefit of others. Happy are those who grow in God’s ways. Happy are those who blossom together under God’s law. Happy are those who give of themselves for the good of others – for that is the primary purpose of the fruit tree; it exists to benefit others. But the funny thing is what happens to us when we put down our own ways to “delight in the law of the LORD” (v. 2), when “on [the] law we meditate day and night” (v. 2) – we experience the sheer happiness of growing and blossoming and giving of ourselves and in so doing, the world starts looking more and more like God would want it to look.                       – rc

Devotion for June 16, 2020

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Jun 162020
 

How very good and pleasant it is

when kindred live together in unity!

It is like the precious oil on the head,

running down upon the beard,

on the beard of Aaron,

running down over the collar of his robes.

It is like the dew of Hermon,

which falls on the mountains of Zion.

For there the LORD ordained his blessing,

life forevermore. (Psalm 133)

Psalm 133 falls within a collection of psalms called “The Psalms of Ascent.” These were songs thought to be sung as people made their way up to the Temple to worship together. Ironically, although the people make their way up toward the Temple, everything in the psalm sings of things coming down: precious oil runs down upon Aaron’s beard, oil runs down over his robes, the dew falls down on the mountains, and it all culminates in the blessing of God coming down from the heavens. But it’s the unity that makes it all happen – the whole psalm is a word picture of what it feels like to live together as one, unified people.

This is indeed a psalm for our own time and place: “How very good and pleasant it [will be] when kindred live together in unity!” (v. 1). May this be our way forward as we seek to become one human family. – rc

Devotion for June 15, 2020

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Jun 152020
 

So they set out from the mount of the LORD three days’ journey with the ark of the covenant of the LORD going before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them, the cloud of the LORD being over them by day when they set out from the camp. (Numbers 10:33–34)

The Book of Numbers is about a journey – a journey through a dry and weary wilderness, both literal and figurative. On the one hand, it is the story of a people wandering through a desert wasteland, searching for a land to call home. On the other hand, it is the story of a journey into our very hearts as we discover our own fear of the unknown, our own hubris and sin, our own reluctance to give up our own ways in order to follow God more fully, more faithfully. But I am struck by three things today. First, God provides the way forward, God leads the way, God has already been where we are going . . . and that is truly comforting news. Second, God provides restful moments along the way . . . again, good news for weary travelers. And finally, I am reminded that ours is a journey of faith . . . and in the life of faith, the journey is the destination. – rc

Devotion for June 12, 2020

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Jun 122020
 

How lovely is your dwelling place,

O LORD of hosts!

My soul longs, indeed it faints

for the courts of the LORD;

my heart and my flesh sing for joy

to the living God. (Psalm 81:1–2)

One of the more difficult things for our community of faith during this strange time is that we are not worshipping in our sanctuary. Although we don’t view our sanctuaries like those in the ancient world (as literal houses for deities), we do hold our houses of prayer as special, sacred spaces. There’s something comforting and peaceful about our worshipping spaces that calms our anxieties and soothes our souls. In Psalm 84, the psalmist sings out about her desire to be in the house of the LORD, to be worshipping in the temple. Her heart and flesh sing out to God and the very essence of her being longs to be there. The psalmist’s song echoes in many of our hearts as we too long to be back in our sanctuaries . . . and, to be sure, the days are coming when we will be together again in the comfort of our pews. But until then, we remember that creation itself is God’s sanctuary: the mountains and trees, the lands and the seas all testify with you and with me about the goodness and glory of God. – rc

Devotion for June 11, 2020

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Jun 112020
 

Send out your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will get it back. (Ecclesiastes 11:1)

Qoheleth (the main character and presumed author of Ecclesiastes) summons us to a life of simplicity, unity, and generosity. Eat together, drink together, and enjoy your work together – this is the simple refrain of joyful unity woven throughout the book. This counsel provides us with a guide for how we live the good life, the real life. And today, in this simple proverb, Qoheleth calls us to freely share what we have with the people around us – “Send out your bread upon the waters” (v. 1a); it’s decisively counter-cultural advice in world where so many are hoarding resources for themselves. But it is also community-strengthening advice as there may come a time when we need to rely on the generosity of others – “For after many days you will get it back” (v. 1b).

Simplicity, unity, and generosity form the foundation of a strong community . . . and a strong community is the manifestation of the good life – the real life – for Qoheleth (and for us). – rc

Devotion for June 10, 2020

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Jun 102020
 

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13–14)

There’s no doubt that we live in an increasing polarized world and it seems to me that much of this division has been caused by an extreme view of our individual rights. There’s no doubt that we have been afforded tremendous freedom here in our own country, but we seem to have lost the sense that our individual freedoms are always connected to the broad well-being of others. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul reinforces our call toward neighborliness by reminding us that we have been freed so that we might be bound to one another (v. 13); we have been freed so that we might love our neighbor as ourselves (v. 14); we have been freed so that we might love. Individual freedom is always a call to love others.                            – rc

Devotion for June 9, 2020

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Jun 092020
 

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,

your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,

your judgments are like the great deep;

you save humans and animals alike, O LORD. (Psalm 36:5–6)

There are, perhaps, a few silver linings to this viral outbreak we’ve experienced over the past few months. While it’s been difficult to limit our in-person social interactions, we’ve also been invited to go outside, to look up and around, to experience the wonder of God’s good earth. I hope we can all find inspiration in the beauty around us. I hope that when we look up to the heavens to see the clouds, we will experience the steadfast love and faithfulness of God. I hope that when we look around to the mountains that surround us or the vast rivers and lakes that refresh our lands, we will know of the might of God’s righteousness and justice. And I pray that when we start truly immersing ourselves int eh beauty of creation, we will grow in our awareness that God’s concern is for all of it, “humans and animals alike” (v. 6). – rc

Devotion for June 8, 2020

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Jun 082020
 

Jesus answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Matthew 15:26–27)

IMHO, this is perhaps the single most difficult reading about Jesus in the gospels. He encounters a Canaanite woman in desperate need and instead of offering compassionate assistance, he dehumanizes her, likening her to a dog. While many have tried to justify Jesus’ response, to do so misses the point. Just as Abraham argues with God and Moses argues with God, so too does this unnamed Canaanite woman argue with Jesus . . . and because of her faith and her cries for justice, Jesus is changed; he sees her differently; he sees her humanity. Let us recognize the ways in which we turn a blind eye to the humanity in others and let us grow as a people who stand up in faith and cry out for justices so that we might unite as one human family. – rc

Devotion for June 5, 2020

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Jun 052020
 

. . . even the fringe of his cloak. . . (Matthew 14:36b)

As this virus continues to spread throughout our world – with cases escalating now in Russia, Brazil, Peru, Chile, as well as these United States – there are many who are begging for healing, begging for wholeness, begging for an end to this dangerous time. There are many in our own community, some in our own congregation, who continue to fight sickness, who continue to battle disease. And we are left without “even the fringe of his cloak” (v. 36b) to touch. But thanks be God that our God is a God of healing. Thanks be to God that Christ works through our medical workers to offer wholeness. Thanks be to God and thank you to our of our healthcare heroes! – rc