March 29

Sunday, March 29, 2020

John 11:28-45

Jesus just won’t leave us in the place of death. As I read the note from my cousin … and reread it yet again … I got that she was sharing something about life that is greater than death. Even the way she made the little photo album still stands as a statement of her faith. Life is what fills its pages. Death is given a place, but it isn’t the last word. The last word in the series of photos is hope.

I keep that little album in my desk in my study at home. It is beneath my hand as I write almost every sermon … even as I write this devotional. Somehow in the midst of death, life continues to burst forth.

Jesus feels the sorrow. He sees the weeping. He stands before the tomb and cries. He calls out … he commands Lazarus to come out. Out of the shadows. Out of death. Into life! And he calls us. Yet the grief is still there. It was magnified ten times over … no, a hundred times over … when we lost Jeff three years ago. Still Jesus is calling. Death is real, but it is no more real than life. It is certainly no more real than resurrection … keep moving forward.

So we face death. Every. Single. Day. It takes courage to face death, but what I have discovered is that the greatest demand on my courage isn’t the courage to die … it is the courage to live.

Listen. Do you hear it? Jesus is calling us forth in life! He is calling forth the courage to embrace our grief … to grasp that life is never the same. It isn’t going back. It is going forward.

Life beyond death … resurrection … is the gift for which we hope!

Christ, we hear you crying. We hear you calling. Give us the courage to live beyond death to the place of life. Amen.

March 28

Saturday, March 28, 2020

John 11:1-27

The call came from my dad. His sister, my aunt, had been celebrating the birth of her first grandchild. The baby’s mother, my cousin, had gone through the birth of the baby remarkably well. My grandmother, the baby’s great-grandmother, had been there, along with my sister and her family. It was a time of celebrating. I had not had the chance yet to go.

Then the second call came from my dad. The baby had developed spinal meningitis … E. coli … and was transported to the children’s hospital in Lubbock. The next call was asking if I could go there. They were going to take the baby off life support, but they wanted me there … to baptize … to offer prayer … to be present.

The story of Lazarus seemed like a cruel joke. Why did Lazarus discover healing while this precious baby died? We would go back to Childress for the funeral. I would talk about Jesus calling children to him, offering them a place. It was a time of death and sadness. It was as if we were there pounding on the chest of our Savior wanting to know why.

About two months after the funeral, I received a small photo album about baby Chandler with a note from my cousin. The photos are of the good days right after his birth. My grandmother, my sister and her family, my aunt holding and loving that baby, my cousin and her husband laughing. Then in the back of the album tucked inside the cover were pictures of me holding a baby with tubes and wires. Baptizing. Praying. Wondering why.

As I looked at the photos, it began to dawn on me that I had a connection with Mary and Martha. They too had pounded on the chest of their friend the healer. “If only you had come! Where were you?” Jesus tells Martha that her brother will live again. Martha knows about the resurrection. She doesn’t care for theology … neither did we. What does it mean for us to believe in Christ?

Silence.

March 27

Friday, March 27, 2020

Luke 8:40-56

The image haunted me. The man had no teeth. He was lying in the gutter of a street where unclean water flowed beneath him. He was dirty and ragged. The smell of that moment leapt off the page at me. But she was there. Mother Teresa kneeling is this street of Calcutta … tenderly caring for this man who had yet to be moved to the bed where he would later die. It was an image that blended the most squalid conditions with the greatest of love.

That is the image I have of Jesus. He has just returned from the countryside of Gerasa (a city in the gentile region known as the Decapolis east of the Sea of Galilee). It was there that he had encountered a naked man possessed by demons living among the tombs. He commanded the demons to go into a herd of swine, which further moved us way beyond the land of kosher. Then he returned home and was being welcomed by the crowd when Jairus, a leader of the synagogue came to get him. Jairus’s daughter was dying. Jesus went with him.

Then as he was traveling, the crowds pressed in all around him. A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years was trying to get to him. She had found no way to stop it. The image here is an unclean sight regardless of how we might interpret this scene. She touches him, which according to custom, meant that she had immediately transmitted her insanitary condition onto him. The woman is trembling because her condition and her action is as unclean as the man running through the tombs.

Here is Jesus healing both actively and passively … touching and being touched … daring to be thought unclean for his willingness to reach out to those who are unclean. This is Mother Teresa, now a saint, whose face is close to the face of the toothless, dirty, dying man in the gutter.

This is what following Jesus is all about.

God, who stoops into the gutters with healing, so cause us to step into the unclean places around us that we might discover you there. Amen.

March 26

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Matthew 16:21-28

The disciples just didn’t get Jesus. The image of a military hero messiah was just too strong. So when Jesus talked about going to Jerusalem to die, Peter knew he had to take decisive action. He had to stop Jesus from surrendering. What kind of hero surrenders even before the fight has begun? Jesus, this must never happen to you! Be courageous!

Jesus, however, doesn’t have patience with this way of thinking. He has tried to get it through to his followers that the ways of God do not conform to our human ways. He has tried to get them to understand not just THAT the last shall be first and the least shall be the greatest, but he has tried to show them HOW this plays out by his living example as a non-violent justice seeker.

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block! You are not seeing the world as God sees, but only from your very human perspective!” Satan … the prosecutor … the one who goes out of the way to accuse … to trap … to cause us to stumble. This is the manifestation of all the evil we experience even in our own world today. The problem is that evil usually comes dressed as a friend.

Jesus lays out the hard truth about this journey we are taking. It isn’t always easy. It is a journey filled with both joy and sadness. Comfort and discomfort. Life and death. Ultimately, when we speak the truth to evil dressed as a friend (sometimes even a very religious friend), we will be shot down … maybe even crucified … for speaking the truth. Jesus makes it clear that the cross isn’t only his … it is ours, as well.

So as we journey, let’s not give into the Satan’s allure. When we carry our cross, we will experience what death is like … but we do so with the hope that a resurrection awaits!

God of Hope, we pray for the strength to bear our own cross. Walk with us as we face death, and give us the hope of resurrection. Amen.

March 25

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

John 10:22-30

As a child, I always loved visiting my grandmother’s house in the little community of Mooreville. One of the big highlights of any visit was going down the road either at 7:00 AM or 4:30 PM to watch old Mr. Hahmann move his sheep. Every morning, he would move the sheep from their pens behind his house, across the street to the old schoolyard, where they grazed the day away. Each afternoon, he moved them back.

What I always remembered, however, was how he would call them every afternoon. He would call them with a lyrical sound that was unique to him, and they would finish their journey from the back of the schoolhouse to the front gate. He would open the gate and they would go without complaint back to their enclosure for the evening. There was something about his voice.

Jesus suddenly finds himself surrounded by religious leaders, and he is being questioned. “If you are the Anointed One (Messiah), then just tell us.” Jesus responds, “I have told you, yet you still don’t believe. You don’t believe because you don’t belong to my sheep. You are unable to hear my voice. My sheep are those entrusted to me by God, and they hear my voice and follow me. God and I are one, and no one can take my sheep from me.”

In our world, there are many voices. Some hear the voice of the ego wooing us to spend our lives only on ourselves. Some hear the voice of power encouraging us to objectify others. Some hear the voice of consumerism encouraging us to strip the earth of its natural resources and exploit others in the process. Some hear the voice of religious leaders offering justification for violence and oppression. Those voices are often subtle and seductive, yet they are different from the voice of Christ.

So if we are sheep belonging to Christ, I would encourage us turn down the volume on the other voices and listen.

We are listening, O Christ, for the sound of your voice. Speak louder than the voices around us that we might hear and follow you. Amen.

March 24

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Romans 6:1-14

During the early days of ministry, one of my dearest mentors was Dr. Erwin Bohmfalk. Bummie, as he was known, provided me much valuable insight and years of learning. He was born in 1900, so he had more than 60 years of ministry behind him when I first met him. That meant that he had learned a thing or two and wanted to pass it on to me.

One of the gifts he gave me was a framed prayer known as The Pastor’s Prayer, and it is that prayer that teaches me about the humility required to be a pastor. It reads like this: 

O Lord God, Thou hast made me a pastor and teacher in the Church. Thou seest how unfit I am to administer rightly this great and responsible office; and had I been without Thy aid and counsel I would surely have ruined it all long ago. 

Therefore do I invoke Thee.

How gladly do I desire to yield and consecrate my heart and mouth to this ministry! I desire to teach the congregation. I, too, desire ever to learn and to keep Thy Word my constant companion and to meditate thereupon earnestly.

Use me as Thy instrument in Thy service.

Only do not Thou forsake me, for if I am left to myself,

I will certainly bring it all to destruction. Amen.

I still find humor in its honesty: if I am left to my own devices, then I will ruin it and bring it all to destruction. It is only humorous because it is blunt and painfully to the point. Without God, we have no hope of the abundant life promised to us.

Paul reminds us life itself perpetually flows from life to death to resurrection. Our passion and desire are not enough. Our skill and our connections with the right people are not enough. Finally, only God is enough, and when we willingly let ourselves die to sin, through this resurrection, we will wake up alive to God.

Don’t leave us alone, Lord, and let us die to sin that we might live for you! Amen.

March 23

Monday, March 23, 2020

John 17:1-19

As Jesus prays for his disciples, there is one central unifying theme: God is one with Christ, and because of Christ we are made to be one with each other. The holiness we seek is found only through wholeness.

The problem we seem to be having in our world is not just one of unity, which we often interpret as persuading people to “think like me.” Neither is it relativized truth where whatever people think, say or do can be said to be “just their own truth.” We have absolute truths that I believe are universal: the sanctity of human life … the discovery of Christ in the face of the poor … the harm that comes from our tendency to marginalize and demonize the other. So how do we create unity out of these disparate positions?

I find unity through developing theories of integration. One I first learned about only recently is the evolutionary theory of human development known as spiral dynamics. (Much can be found about this online, so I won’t detail it here.) The greatest part of this theory is that every person goes through various developmental stages, and each stage of growth is greater than the other. The same is true of human community.

The problem is that, as humans have grown to newer levels (say moving from a tribal to a national to a global worldview), we have tended to minimize and reject those who are elsewhere on the journey. This is how I see our current struggles in our national and denominational landscape.

What Jesus is calling us to is integration … a way of respecting others who are at a different place while perpetually inviting them to see the expansiveness of this God in whom we all are one. Christ is the gift of God capable of integrating us into the tapestry of heaven. When we experience this gift, then Christ’s joy is made complete in us!

In you, O Christ, do we find true unity. May we find wholeness and holiness in you. Amen.