Sunday, January 31, 2016

Daily Readings for January 31, 2016

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy' for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

Psalm 71:1-6
1   In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge; let me never be ashamed.
2   In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; incline your ear to me and save me.
3   Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; you are my crag and my stronghold.
4   Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
5   For you are my hope, O LORD God, my confidence since I was young.
6   I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother's womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 

Luke 4:21-30
Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Meditation for January 31, 2016

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Reading this passage at a wedding may seem like the perfect choice, mostly because Paul’s use of the word “love” seems to outline the best and brightest of what we’d all like to believe about love between partners in marriage. But these verses from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth are not about romantic love.

On the day I married Nancy, I did not need to be reminded to be patient and kind to her. Rather, I need this reminder on perfectly ordinary days—when I am trying to love difficult people in my community. I need to be reminded that love is not irritable or resentful when I am at work. I need to remember that love endures when I encounter people on the street asking for change, or when I read about violence in the paper.

My wife and my friends are easy to love. The people I have trouble showing kindness and patience toward are those I see only dimly, the enemy and the stranger.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Millennials leaving the church — open a dialogue

By Bruce Roberts

The title, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church,” is reason enough to read Rachel Held Evans’ special post on CNN’s “Belief Blog.”

Rachel is a 32-year-old author. She writes on this topic as an “evangelical leader” based on “the latest surveys,” along with “personal testimonies from friends and readers.”

Presumably, Rachel is concerned about “The Disappearing Church,” as is the staff of The Lutheran and many of us in the pews. This sets a context for trying to understand and learn from her comments. What’s needed, of course, is not just a read of my comments and then getting up to wash the dishes. What’s needed is to gather at church with copies of what Rachel wrote and in a wide-ranging and open-minded conversation identify how, in your congregation, what she says is, or is not, reality.

To give you a taste of Rachel’s argument, here are three quotes from her essay:

    … young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

    Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions — Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. — precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.

    What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance. We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

I am 45 years older than Rachel, a product of very different leadership voices that have swayed my beliefs and my values over time. Yet, I find myself agreeing with much of what Rachel has to say.

But this is curious. What Rachel describes is not what I read elsewhere or hear on the streets about what young adults are seeking as part of their bargain for staying in the church. Yes, I realize that what Rachel describes as the voice of the millennials is really her voice summarizing the voices of her friends. But then so are the voices advocating more casual, free-form services that “fit younger lifestyles.”

Is it possible that the issue that connects Rachel’s younger adult generation with my older adult generation is that we all seek that our church leaders truly listen to what we have “to contribute to a faith community” (quoting, Rachel).

I wonder though, if what I suggest is too difficult? Truly listening to one another and expressing appreciation for what is said by another person is not a natural way of communicating for way too many of us, especially if we don’t agree with what is being said.

Church leaders who choose to listen to us may have to set aside their own history of beliefs about the “right” way to do something and ask us for the details (and rationale) behind our suggestions — and then give sincere thanks for our contributions. We will then know we have been heard and we may find ourselves engaging more judiciously in the ongoing conversation.

I remember years ago when our church was contemplating whether to move from once-a-month communion to communion at every service, one of the respected lay leaders of the congregation was very much against this move. From my perspective this seemed preposterous. If communion is an important part of our beliefs and our religious life, why would not including communion in the every-week liturgy be even better? But in conversation, I understood her perspectives. She had grown up with a once-a-month communion and believed that this was the way it always should be. For her, to participate in communion on a more frequent basis made it less special. Once we all understood the history behind her belief, we felt more comfortable in expressing our own history and seek a healthy compromise.

We need to sit down together, we older adults and younger adults, so that as the leaders in our church truly listen to us talk from the heart about hope, grace and well-being in the community of our church, we opposite-poled-generations can express our appreciation to each other for our commonalities.

Bruce B. Roberts is a professor of psychology emeritus at St. Olaf College, one of the 26 colleges and universities of the ELCA. He currently teaches in the Cannon Valley Elder Collegium in Northfield, Minn.

Psalm 71: 1-2

In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.

Daily Readings for January 30, 2016

Genesis 18:1-16
The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on-- since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said." And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes." Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?" The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son." But Sarah denied, saying, "I did not laugh" for she was afraid. He said, "Oh yes, you did laugh." Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way.

Hebrews 10:26-39
For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy "on the testimony of two or three witnesses." How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know the one who said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet "in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back." But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.

John 6:16-27
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going. The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal."

Psalm 55 Exaudi, Deus
1   Hear my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my petition.
2   Listen to me and answer me; I have no peace, because of my cares.
3   I am shaken by the noise of the enemy and by the pressure of the wicked;
4   For they have cast an evil spell upon me and are set against me in fury.
5   My heart quakes within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
6   Fear and trembling have come over me, and horror overwhelms me.
7   And I said, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.
8   I would flee to a far-off place and make my lodging in the wilderness.
9   I would hasten to escape from the stormy wind and tempest."
10   Swallow them up, O Lord; confound their speech; for I have seen violence and strife in the city.
11   Day and night the watchmen make their rounds upon her walls, but trouble and misery are in the midst of her.
12   There is corruption at her heart; her streets are never free of oppression and deceit.
13   For had it been an adversary who taunted me, then I could have borne it; or had it been an enemy who vaunted himself against me, then I could have hidden from him.
14   But it was you, a man after my own heart, my companion, my own familiar friend.
15   We took sweet counsel together, and walked with the throng in the house of God.
16   Let death come upon them suddenly; let them go down alive to the grave; for wickedness is in their dwellings, in their very midst.
17   But I will call upon God, and the LORD will deliver me.
18   In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice.
19   He will bring me safely back from the battle waged against me; for there are many who fight me.
20   God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me and bring them down; they never change; they do not fear God.
21   My companion stretched forth his hand against his comrade; he has broken his covenant.
22   His speech is softer than butter, but war is in his heart.
23   His words are smoother than oil, but they are drawn swords.
24   Cast your burden upon the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous stumble.
25   For you will bring the bloodthirsty and deceitful down to the pit of destruction, O God.
26   They shall not live out half their days, but I will put my trust in you.

Psalm 138 Confitebor tibi
1   I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I will sing your praise.
2   I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your Name, because of your love and faithfulness;
3   For you have glorified your Name and your word above all things.
4   When I called, you answered me; you increased my strength within me.
5   All the kings of the earth will praise you, O LORD, when they have heard the words of your mouth.
6   They will sing of the ways of the LORD, that great is the glory of the LORD.
7   Though the LORD be high, he cares for the lowly; he perceives the haughty from afar.
8   Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me.
9   The LORD will make good his purpose for me; O LORD, your love endures for ever; do not abandon the works of your hands.

Psalm 139 Domine, probasti
1   LORD, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
2   You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.
3   Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O LORD, know it altogether.
4   You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.
5   Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
6   Where can I go then from your Spirit? where can I flee from your presence?
7   If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
8   If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
9   Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.
10   If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night, "
11   Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.
12   For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
13   I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
14   My body was not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.
15   Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; they were fashioned day by day, when as yet there was none of them.
16   How deep I find your thoughts, O God! how great is the sum of them!
17   If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.
18   Oh, that you would slay the wicked, O God! You that thirst for blood, depart from me.
19   They speak despitefully against you; your enemies take your Name in vain.
20   Do I not hate those, O LORD, who hate you? and do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
21   I hate them with a perfect hatred; they have become my own enemies.
22   Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my restless thoughts.
23   Look well whether there be any wickedness in me and lead me in the way that is everlasting.

Meditation for January 30, 2016

John 6:19-20 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Jeremy Sierra, editor in chief for Trinity, Wall Street shares with us "My wife is from Brazil, so we go to visit her family there each year. Last year, we tried something called stand-up paddle boarding, which is pretty much what it sounds like: you stand up on a surfboard and paddle around in the ocean. I was terrible at it. I fell off at least half a dozen times. My wife, on the other hand, stood up and never looked back. (Literally. The instructor had to call out to her to come back.) Once I got the hang of it, more or less, I enjoyed being out there on the waves with someone I love.

I’ve never liked being in the ocean all that much. The sea, as the disciples learned, is uncontrollable and unpredictable—full of unseen dangers beneath the surface, much like life. And also like life, the best way to navigate the waves is with the familiar presence of those who love us."

Friday, January 29, 2016

Daily Readings for January 29, 2016

Genesis 17:15-27
God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her." Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, "Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?" And Abraham said to God, "O that Ishmael might live in your sight!" God said, "No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year." And when he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. Then Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And his son Ishmael was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised; and all the men of his house, slaves born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

Hebrews 10:11-25
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, "he sat down at the right hand of God," and since then has been waiting "until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet." For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds," he also adds, "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more." Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

John 6:1-15
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world." When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Psalm 40 Expectans, expectavi
1   I waited patiently upon the LORD; he stooped to me and heard my cry.
2   He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.
3   He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many shall see, and stand in awe, and put their trust in the LORD.
4   Happy are they who trust in the LORD! they do not resort to evil spirits or turn to false gods.
5   Great things are they that you have done, O LORD my God! how great your wonders and your plans for us! there is none who can be compared with you.
6   Oh, that I could make them known and tell them! but they are more than I can count.
7   In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure (you have given me ears to hear you);
8   Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required, and so I said, "Behold, I come.
9   In the roll of the book it is written concerning me: 'I love to do your will, O my God; your law is deep in my heart.'"
10   I proclaimed righteousness in the great congregation; behold, I did not restrain my lips; and that, O LORD, you know.
11   Your righteousness have I not hidden in my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your deliverance; I have not concealed your love and faithfulness from the great congregation.
12   You are the LORD; do not withhold your compassion from me; let your love and your faithfulness keep me safe for ever,
13   For innumerable troubles have crowded upon me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more in number than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails me.
14   Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me; O LORD, make haste to help me.
15   Let them be ashamed and altogether dismayed who seek after my life to destroy it; let them draw back and be disgraced who take pleasure in my misfortune.
16   Let those who say "Aha!" and gloat over me be confounded, because they are ashamed.
17   Let all who seek you rejoice in you and be glad; let those who love your salvation continually say, "Great is the LORD!"
18   Though I am poor and afflicted, the Lord will have regard for me.
19   You are my helper and my deliverer; do not tarry, O my God.

Psalm 54 Deus, in nomine
1   Save me, O God, by your Name; in your might, defend my cause.
2   Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.
3   For the arrogant have risen up against me, and the ruthless have sought my life, those who have no regard for God.
4   Behold, God is my helper; it is the Lord who sustains my life.
5   Render evil to those who spy on me; in your faithfulness, destroy them.
6   I will offer you a freewill sacrifice and praise your Name, O LORD, for it is good.
7   For you have rescued me from every trouble, and my eye has seen the ruin of my foes.

Psalm 51 Miserere mei, Deus
1   Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
2   Wash me through and through from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin.
3   For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4   Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.
5   And so you are justified when you speak and upright in your judgment.
6   Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother's womb.
7   For behold, you look for truth deep within me, and will make me understand wisdom secretly.
8   Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.
9   Make me hear of joy and gladness, that the body you have broken may rejoice.
10   Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities.
11   Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
12   Cast me not away from your presence and take not your holy Spirit from me.
13   Give me the joy of your saving help again and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
14   I shall teach your ways to the wicked, and sinners shall return to you.
15   Deliver me from death, O God, and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness, O God of my salvation.
16   Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
17   Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice, but you take no delight in burnt-offerings.
18   The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
19   Be favorable and gracious to Zion, and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
20   Then you will be pleased with the appointed sacrifices, with burnt-offerings and oblations; then shall they offer young bullocks upon your altar.

Meditation for January 29, 2016

Psalm 40:1-2 I waited patiently upon the Lord; he stooped to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.

Every summer we’d sing this particular psalm in chapel at summer camp. It was U2’s version of this psalm, also called “40,” that the camp counselors played on their acoustic guitars. We’d sing the words with our arms around each other’s shoulders surrounded by the mesquite and live oak trees native to central Texas. The chorus, which is not part of the psalm, asks, “How long to sing this song?” 

Listening to that chorus now, I hear both expectation and apprehension in those words: “How long? How long to sing this song?” Long after the psalms were written, and long after the stone was rolled away from the tomb, we still live with that expectation and apprehension, with that sense that the work of God has begun, but appears to be far from over. That sense of being in-between is a part of faith. It’s what drives us to work for a better world and also what leads us back to prayer and song on Sunday morning.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hello From the Outside (How The Church Fails and Forgets Those Who Leave)

By John Pavlovitz
Many large churches have a door problem.
    The problem, is that they’re all about the front door; the curb appeal, the efficient parking attendants, the effervescent sidewalk greeting team, the beautifully manicured grounds, the warm and pristine lobbies, the willing and able Welcome Desk staff, and the overall ease and comfort of the Sunday morning “worship experience”.
    Add in a powerful, professional entertainment event, an attractive menu of amenities and age-specific ministry environments, along with a pleasing veneer of hospitality and general folksiness and it’s easy to see how these faith communities make a nearly irresistible first impression (which is a good thing, as tons of their financial and personnel resources are directed toward this end).
    In other words, the modern megachurch is a great first date. It can woo you like nobody’s business. It can have you at hello, close the deal, and make you fall in love with it at first sight.
Unfortunately, it often isn’t built for a real, long-term, meaningful relationship.
    Over time, many people in these communities become disenchanted and begin to feel invisible, and after languishing for a few months unable to find meaningful connections they finally leave with little of the fanfare, attention, and care that their initial arrival promised. When they do fall through the cracks, they soon realize that their absence is barely noticed or grieved, if at all. They are simply replaced the next Sunday at the front doors by fresh faces and new ready hearts to be won over.
    No one is watching the back doors of our churches and thousands of people are walking out every week hurting and defeated and anonymous, never to return—and this is a problem.
    You see, once they’re a part of these large communities, many people experience a distinct lack of substance and depth, and not merely in the Sunday stage/pulpit teaching, which often seems specifically designed to grab the first timer’s heart and manufacture the all important weekly conversion moment. This deficiency also shows up in the way they are cared for in crisis, connected in meaningful community, and nurtured in personal growth. They come to discover that all that initially glitters soon loses its luster.
    Such is the case when churches go all in with the front door and don’t care much about the back door; when they build themselves primarily for an hour on Sunday.
    Somewhere along the way, too many modern churches bought into the lie that their sole job is to “lead people to Jesus” and that he will take care of the rest; that once a person answers the altar call and is baptized, that they are no longer the church’s responsibility, but God’s. The new convert’s heads are barely dried and they’re already drafted into the urgent work of bringing others in through the front door.
    With little to no regard for how well they understand their new faith decision or for the swirling storm of emotions and questions they are dealing with, or the deeper needs they and their families may have, they are implored quickly to “get on mission for Jesus!” (whatever that is). They are expected to fend for themselves and find community, even if their personalities, emotional condition, life stage, or simply their level of intimidation provide a tremendously difficult barrier. Embedded into these subcultures, is a subtle yet real disregard for people the longer they are there.
That’s not how the Church was designed to work.
That’s not how pastors are called to pastor. 
That’s not how spiritual growth happens.
    Pastors and church staffs are responsible to their people, not merely to broker some magical, momentary spiritual transaction for them, but to ensure that they are fully integrated into communities where their physical and emotional needs are attended to along the way. The pastor’s role is to shepherd the people in their community; to know them or to make sure that someone knows them.
    Some advice to churches and pastors and church staff about their back door:
  If your church is too big to minister to people individually, your church is too big. 
  If you have no scalable system of pastoral care other than telling people to get into a small group, you have a lousy pastoral care system. 
  If people can come and go for months in your building (and ultimately leave) without you or anyone knowing it, you’re failing those in your care. 
  Pastor, if all you want to do is preach from the stage or the pulpit, stop calling yourself a pastor and admit that you’re a preacher or a religious celebrity. 
  Churches, if all you’re interested in doing is putting on weekly one hour crusades, stop calling yourself a church and just be religious event planners.
    The Church is a not a collection of fast food salvation franchises, it’s a group of local expressions of the care and compassion of Jesus, that know and understand how to create authentic, deep, sustainable community in the difficult, messy, time-consuming trenches of real lives.
    Local churches, your front door is important but if you don’t find better ways of providing everyone who walks through them a genuine experience of real, loving, intimate relationships, your back door will continue to be wide open—and generations of people will find it all too easy to walk out through it.
    Hello. Can you hear me?

Explore a Bachelor’s Degree in Divinity

Religious studies programs are often faith-based, but there are also secular academic programs for religious studies. When regarded as a social science, religion is studied for its philosophical, social, and psychological influences. Theological programs also explore the social influences of religion, with the key difference being that the religion is being studied in a faith-based context, preparing the student for a professional career as a clergy member or similar path.

Online divinity degrees are designed to teach students how to property interpret the Bible and to equip students with a thorough understanding of theology. Divinity is a field most appropriate for students who want to enter Christian ministry or leadership, or prepare for future graduate study in Christian education. Even so, many students who are interested in their own spiritual formation and growth pursue a degree in divinity, and move into non-ministry careers in business, communications, writing, and more. College and universities that offer divinity degrees may allow an opportunity to major in various areas, such as ministry, religious studies, or biblical studies.

Online bachelor’s degree programs in divinity are not as common as Master of Divinity programs. However, the few that are offered can usually be completed in four years, provided the program follows a standard semester format. However, program length differs from school to school and students may take longer to complete the program if they attend part-time. Program length may be shortened if a student has transferable credits from work completed at other schools to bring into the divinity program.

Class Curriculum
The curriculum in an online divinity degree program is designed to give students a comprehensive understanding of the Bible and the theological works of major Christian thinkers, often as part of a larger liberal arts education. Students commonly take courses in the languages of the Bible — Greek and Hebrew. Courses in Christian history, apologetics (defenses of Christianity), hermeneutics (interpretation of the Bible), and homiletics (preaching from the Bible) are also common. Students may also take the following courses:
  • Old Testament Survey. In this course, students are introduced to the major themes and people discussed in the 39 books included in the first half of the Bible, called the Old Testament. Students will learn how the Old Testament is broken down into areas of religious law, history, poetry, major prophets, and minor prophets, as well as some of the most significant people discussed in the texts, such as Abraham, Moses, and King David.
  • New Testament Survey. This course introduces students to the major themes and people discussed in the 27 books included in the second half of the Bible, called the New Testament. Students will learn how the New Testament is broken down into the Gospels, history, epistles, and prophecy. The life of Jesus Christ is often emphasized, as well as significant writers like Paul, Peter, and John.
  • Systematic Theology. In this course, students learn how to consider what the whole of biblical scripture has to say on any particular theological topic, such as the nature of God, sin and grace, and salvation. Students study various church doctrines and creeds, their roots in scripture, and how doctrinal differences have led to a great deal of diversity of belief in the Christian tradition.
Students should expect to complete writing- and research-heavy assignments in an online divinity degree program. Written assignments might include exegetical papers in which students must critically examine a section of biblical text. Language courses in Greek and Hebrew entail a great deal of work in translation as students learn to read, write, and pronounce these ancient languages and commit to memory some of the most common Greek and Hebrew words used in the Bible.

Building a Career

People with degrees in divinity often go on to enter careers as pastors, ministers, chaplains, missionaries, evangelists, or religious writers, authors, and speakers, although some find work with faith-based nonprofit organizations. Many pastors enter their church career as youth pastors, leaders of women’s or men’s ministry teams, pastoral care staff, or as assistant or associate pastors. With time and experience, they may be brought on by a board of directors or by church elders as a senior or executive pastor. Some ministry positions will require a Master of Divinity or similar graduate degree from a seminary.

The median yearly salary for clergy, which includes pastors and similar titles, was estimated at $44,140 as of May 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Median salaries for religious workers were $26,150 annually, the BLS noted. Salaries vary depending on where you live, the size of your church or employer, your roles and responsibilities, and your church or organization’s budget.

Are you a local Christian Leader who desires high-quality Bible based ministry training right where you live? Do you want your knowledge of the Bible to deepen? Do you want your walk with God strengthened? Do you want to learn ministry insights taught at seminaries, Bible schools, and Bible colleges?

Whether you are just beginning or continuing your Bible school education, CLI brings free online ministry training to you.

Daily Readings for January 28, 2016

Genesis 16:15-17:14
Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous." Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God." God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."

Hebrews 10:1-10
Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'See, God, I have come to do your will, O God' (in the scroll of the book it is written of me)." When he said above, "You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law), then he added, "See, I have come to do your will." He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

John 5:30-47
"I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me. "If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John's. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent. "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?"

Psalm 50 Deus deorum
1 The LORD, the God of gods, has spoken; he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory.
3 Our God will come and will not keep silence; before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a raging storm.
4 He calls the heavens and the earth from above to witness the judgment of his people.
5 Gather before me my loyal followers, those who have made a covenant with me and sealed it with sacrifice.
6 Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; for God himself is judge.
7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak: "O Israel, I will bear witness against you; for I am God, your God.
8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices; your offerings are always before me.
9 I will take no bull-calf from your stalls, nor he-goats out of your pens;
10 For all the beasts of the forest are mine, the herds in their thousands upon the hills.
11 I know every bird in the sky, and the creatures of the fields are in my sight.
12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the whole world is mine and all that is in it.
13 Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and make good your vows to the Most High.
15 Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall honor me."
16 But to the wicked God says: "Why do you recite my statutes, and take my covenant upon your lips;
17 Since you refuse discipline, and toss my words behind your back?
18 When you see a thief, you make him your friend, and you cast in your lot with adulterers.
19 You have loosed your lips for evil, and harnessed your tongue to a lie.
20 You are always speaking evil of your brother and slandering your own mother's son.
21 These things you have done, and I kept still, and you thought that I am like you."
22 I have made my accusation; I have put my case in order before your eyes.
23 Consider this well, you who forget God, lest I rend you and there be none to deliver you.
24 Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me; but to those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God."

Psalm 118 Confitemini Domino
1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his mercy endures for ever.
2 Let Israel now proclaim, "His mercy endures for ever."
3 Let the house of Aaron now proclaim, "His mercy endures for ever."
4 Let those who fear the LORD now proclaim, "His mercy endures for ever."
5 I called to the LORD in my distress; the LORD answered by setting me free.
6 The LORD is at my side, therefore I will not fear; what can anyone do to me?
7 The LORD is at my side to help me; I will triumph over those who hate me.
8 It is better to rely on the LORD than to put any trust in flesh.
9 It is better to rely on the LORD than to put any trust in rulers.
10 All the ungodly encompass me; in the Name of the LORD I will repel them.
11 They hem me in, they hem me in on every side; in the name of the LORD I will repel them.
12 They swarm about me like bees; they blaze like a fire of thorns; in the name of the LORD I will repel them.
13 I was pressed so hard that I almost fell, but the LORD came to my help.
14 The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.
15 There is a sound of exultation and victory in the tents of the righteous:
16 The right hand of the LORD has triumphed! the right hand of the LORD is exalted! the right hand of the LORD has triumphed!
17 I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD.
18 The LORD has punished me sorely, but he did not hand me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter them; I will offer thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD; he who is righteous may enter.
21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me and have become my salvation.
22 The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the LORD'S doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 On this day the LORD has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Hosanna, LORD, hosanna! LORD, send us now success.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; we bless you from the house of the LORD.
27 God is the LORD; he has shined upon us; form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will thank you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his mercy endures for ever.

Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Theologian

Today the church remembers Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Theologian, 1274.

Perhaps the greatest of the many medieval theologians, Thomas was the son of a prominent Italian count. He joined the Dominican Order against the will of his family. He studied at Monte Cassino and at the Universities of Naples, Cologne, and Paris, earning a Master's degree. Virtually his entire life was spent in teaching and writing.

His greatest work was the Summa Theologica, a masterful systematic statement of doctrine. It was by no means an immediate success, but time has proven it to be one of the finest intellectual expositions of the Christian faith ever composed. Some three centuries after his death he was declared "Universal Teacher"� to the church. He was particularly concerned about the relationship of faith and reason. He successfully reconciled the philosophy of Aristotle with Christian doctrine.

Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with the singular learning and holiness of your servant Thomas Aquinas: Enlighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars, and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Meditation for January 28, 2016

Hebrews 10:1 Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.

We’ve all woken up in the middle of the night and found ourselves unable to go back to sleep. During these wakeful times, I often think about my regrets: the friend I neglected when he was hurting, the kid I was mean to in the fourth grade, the people I could have treated better if I hadn’t been so absorbed in my own life. If there were some sacrifice I could make to erase my mistakes in the middle of the night, I’d do it.

In reality, forgiveness is not so easy. Sacrifices are not enough. Words are not enough. We cannot save ourselves from our own sin. It’s only in relationship that reconciliation and healing come. In the morning, with the sun up, I remember that I’ve reconciled with those people I’ve hurt, that I’ve received forgiveness for my sins. Ultimately, there is only so much we can do or say to make things right, and we must remember that we are loved, despite the inadequacy of our penance.

Lord Jesus, you have made our hearts burn within us, and have sent us back upon the road towards our brothers and sisters, with the Gospel message on our lips. Help us to see that hope and obedience to your commands always lead to the greater unity of your people. Amen.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

You Have Come Down To The Lakeshore

This hymn was written by a Spanish priest named Cesáreo Gabaraín in 1979. He wrote it just after returning from a trip to the Holy land where he visited Galilee. This hymn has become very popular and has been translated into over eighty languages.

As Jesus came down to the lakeshore of Galilee, he found Peter and Andrew, James and John. Jesus was looking for volunteers. He was conducting his own job fair. For Jesus, a specialist in job placement, this was personal. The recruits would be working for, with, around and under his direct supervision. We do not know what conversation took place that day. Only the words of Jesus: "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:19-20 NIV)

Even today Jesus continues to seek out those who will follow him. It does not matter who we are — man or woman, child, teenager, senior citizen — or where we have been in our lives. Jesus calls us to follow. As common, ordinary people, we are called to carry the Gospel message, the good news of Christ, to all the world. And the greatest job benefit ever offered is in the words of Jesus: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20b NIV)

The call to discipleship, to follow Jesus, is for each and every one of us. Jesus is looking for personnel in a very personal way. “You have come to call me.” From the very beginning, the coming of Jesus was personal. The angel said to the shepherds: “I am bringing you good news, for to you this day is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” And, in the words of our baptism: “I baptize you.” And as Jesus comes to us in Holy Communion: “This is my body, my blood, given and shed for you.”

Jesus, still today, is personally looking, searching, asking us to follow him. The first disciples had no idea what they were getting into when they began to follow Jesus. Nor do we. So, will we say “yes”? Will we answer his call to “follow me”?

You Have Came Down to the Lakeshore

Sweet Lord, you have looked into my eyes;
kindly smiling, you've called out my name.

On the sand I have abandoned my small boat;
now with you, I will see other seas.

  1. You have come down to the lakeshore seeking neither the wise nor the wealthy, but only asking for me to follow, REFRAIN
  2. You know full well what I have, Lord: neither treasure nor weapons for conquest, just these my fishing nets and will for working. REFRAIN
  3. You need my hands, my exhaustion, working love for the rest of the weary a love that's willing to go on loving. REFRAIN
  4. You who have fished other waters; you, the longing of souls that are yearning: O loving Friend, you have come to call me. REFRAIN

John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople

Today the church remembers John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, 407.

In an influential, prosperous, and sophisticated city at the apex of international power, it is rarely popular to advocate restraint, self-control, and responsible living. When the leaders of mighty Constantinople elected John Chrysostom to be Patriarch of the city, they thought they had elected a holy man who would bless and affirm them in their way of living. They were only half right.

Chrysostom's powerful sermons in the great cathedral, Santa (Hagia) Sophia, soon became like a cauldron of scalding water thrown in the faces of the rich and proud citizens of Constantinople. His example of piety, charity, and simple living was an embarrassment to many. Eventually, through the intrigue of a vain and powerful lady, Eudoxia, and a jealous and corrupt clergyman, Theophilus, John was exiled. He died as a prisoner on a forced march into the Caucasus Mountains in winter, a martyr for righteousness in a society bent on lust. However, his preaching and exemplary living had so touched the hearts of many that sweeping reforms were soon instituted and life in the great city was profoundly changed for a generation or more.
The numerous volumes which we have of his sermons and commentaries have not lost their relevance today. The Liturgy of the Church in Constantinople, which he profoundly influenced, still bears his name. From this we get the "Prayer of St. Chrysostom" from The Book of Common Prayer.

"ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise, that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests; Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen."

O God, you gave your servant John Chrysostom grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching, and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Meditation for January 27, 2016

Genesis 16:13 So she named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi.”

Every day, we become more and more aware of national and local discussions about race and the biases we hold. Some prejudices we are aware of, and others lie beneath our consciousness. These biases are a kind of impaired sight. We are not typically consciously judging people based on how they look, but our subconscious vision and our judgment is fallible.

In our Genesis lesson, Hagar calls God El-roi, which means “God who sees” or “God of seeing.” If we follow the God of seeing and we follow Jesus (who instructs us to love others, even the enemy and the stranger), then we are compelled to do all we can to correct our vision.

I often imagine religion, at its best, as a corrective lens. Our liturgies and prayers and communities are tools to help us know and love each other better, to bring us closer to one another where we can see more clearly.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Timothy and Titus, Companions of Saint Paul

Today the church remembers Timothy and Titus, Companions of Saint Paul.

Both Timothy and Titus were Gentiles, i.e., non-Jews, converted by Paul. Each seems to have accepted the Christian faith at the end of a long and deep personal struggle. It was not an easy step to take. Nor did the early church find it easy to accept a Gentile into the "Household of the faithful".

These men became close friends of Paul, and they accompanied him on several of his missionary journeys where they proved to be invaluable assistants, especially in the Greek cities of Corinth and Thessalonica. 

From Paul's letter to Titus, which is contained in the New Testament, we assume that the apostle left Titus on the island of Crete. Titus is believed to have been the chief organizer of the church on that island. Paul frequently used Timothy as a trouble-shooter and follow-up man in his ministry. Timothy followed Paul to Rome and visited him in prison there, but escaped the Neronian persecution. Timothy spent his last days witnessing to Christ in Ephesus where, according to Eusebius, he was beaten to death by a mob of pagans among whom he had opposed the licentious festivities of the goddess Diana.

The General Roman Calendar venerates Timothy together with Titus with a memorial on 26 January, the day after the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. From the 13th century until 1969 the feast of Timothy (alone) was on 24 January, the day before that of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Along with Titus and Silas, Timothy is commemorated by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church on 26 January.

Almighty God, you called Timothy and Titus to be evangelists and teachers, and made them strong to endure hardship: Strengthen us to stand fast in adversity, and to live godly and righteous lives in this present time, that with sure confidence we may look for our blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Meditation for January 26, 2016

John 5:17 My Father is still working, and I also am working.

When I was about twenty-five, I read the Bible from front to back. I remember the way the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke disturbed me. Jesus was so enigmatic. The Jesus in John, however, confirmed my understanding of him. Almost forty years later, I am having the opposite experience as I read through John to write these reflections.

In John, Jesus seems to have no room for my doubts. He is so confident, and the unpredictable humanity I find in the other gospels, which I now appreciate, is harder to see here. Like any other relationship, perhaps, my relationship with Jesus in the gospels has changed over time.

As I evolve over time, each encounter with Jesus brings surprises and new understandings. While I don’t find this rediscovery process entirely pleasant or easy, if it were any other way, my faith would be static and childlike my entire life. I must wrestle with the Jesus I find in John, just as I wrestled with the Jesus of Mark and Matthew and Luke, and be changed again.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle

Today the church remembers The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle.

Paul has been called by some modern writers "the true founder of the church" and even "the first Christian." Although we may reject such statements as exaggerations, they do reflect the enormous importance of this man in the development of our faith and our community in history.

The occasion of Paul's conversion has long been regarded as a major turning point in Christian history. He had been an enthusiastic Jew, a Pharisee, in fact, and had studied under one of the great rabbis of his day, Gamaliel. Paul advocated and witnessed the stoning of Stephen (see December 26) and was enroute to Damascus to assist in the further persecution of the Christians there when his dramatic conversion took place. 

From then on his life was totally devoted to the service of Christ, and especially to the conversion of non-Jewish people. His letters and the Book of Acts give us a wealth of information regarding his life and work. He founded churches in Philippi, Athens, Thessalonica, Corinth, and many other important cities of his day. He is generally believed to have died with Peter in Rome, a victim of the persecution of Nero.

The Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle is a feast celebrated during the liturgical year on January 25, recounting the conversion. This feast is celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches. This feast is at the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an international Christian ecumenical observance that began in 1908, which is an octave (an eight-day observance) spanning from January 18 (observed in Anglican and Lutheran tradition as the Confession of Peter) to January 25. In rural England, the day functioned much like groundhog day does in modern day America. Supposed prophecies ranged from fine days predicting good harvests, to clouds and mists signifying pestilence and war in the coming months.

O God, who taught the whole world through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Paul, draw us, we pray, nearer to you
through the example of him whose conversion we celebrate today, and so make us witnesses to your truth in the world.

O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Meditation for January 25, 2016

Matthew 10:19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time.

We’ve all searched for the right words to offer a friend in need of guidance. And most of us have probably found our tongues tied during a passionate exchange over right and wrong. Sometimes, my fear of saying the wrong thing keeps me from speaking up at all.

This verse from Matthew’s Gospel reminds me of a truth I already know: when we speak out of love, saying something is better than remaining silent. This is true when speaking to people we love and when we speak to power. Whether we are offering comfort to a friend or lobbying for change in our community, we will eventually think of the right words to say. They may not always be the most beautiful words, but the fact that we have the courage to speak (and that we do so out of love) is often enough to make a difference.

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Meditation for January 24, 2016

Corinthians 12:26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

I belong to a small, informal writing group. Every few weeks, we send each other our short stories or essays and provide one another with feedback. We encourage each other to keep writing and celebrate when someone gets a story or article published.

All too often my miserly heart wants to hoard all the honor. It’s easy to imagine that worth hinges on being recognized. Sometimes, I imagine if one person is getting praise, then there won’t be any left over for me. My writing group is evidence that this is not the case.

You and I both know that there is plenty of suffering to go around. Like it or not, we can share in each other’s suffering and still have plenty of suffering of our own. It may be harder to remember, but the same is true of honor. We can rejoice together because we are all valued and necessary parts of the Body of Christ. In a healthy community, there is no shortage of love.

Lord Jesus, you said that everyone will know that we are your disciples if there is love among us. Strengthened by your grace, may we work tirelessly for the visible unity of your Church, so that the Good News that we are called to proclaim will be seen in all our words and deeds. Amen.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Meditation for January 23, 2016

John 4:38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.

Jeremy Sierra, editor in chief for Trinity, Wall Street writes "I work at Trinity Wall Street, a church that is over three hundred years old. Queen Elizabeth I of England granted a large portion of Manhattan to Trinity. Since then Trinity has given most of it away, but the church still retains some buildings to generate grant revenue, fund a music program, and do other work in the city and around the world. Those resources fund my job and the magazine I edit for Trinity."

Like Trinity parish, I too am the beneficiary of other people’s labor. Some of the resources I have drawn upon to succeed are earned, more or less, but most are gifts passed along from generation to generation.

None of this is fair. Whether saving souls or building a career, we reap that for which we did not labor. Recognizing this is the first step to accepting our gifts and resources with humility and using them for the benefit of others. When we remember that what we have—everything we have—is a gift, it becomes much easier to give away.

Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor you with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Meditation for January 22, 2016

John 4:22-23 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.

Many people have a pretty clear conception of God—God is a person, somewhat like you and me, with a plan for each of us. My own understanding of God, on the other hand, is much hazier. I am uncertain about how to describe God, and I don’t really know what Jesus is talking about when he says that we will all worship in spirit and in truth. I have more questions about God than I have answers. I’m the woman at the well: I worship what I do not know.

I hope I can also be brave enough to approach God the way the woman at the well does. As the verse points out, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” Still, the woman is not afraid to question Jesus when she speaks to him. She may not have all the answers, but she is open to truth from wherever it may come.

O God, you prepared your disciples for the coming of the Spirit through the teaching of your Son Jesus Christ: Make the hearts and minds of your servants ready to receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit, that they may be filled with the strength of his presence; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Meditation for January 21, 2016

Genesis 11:4 Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.

Jeremy Sierra, editor in chief for Trinity, Wall Street wrote "I have a secret ambition to be famous. Not super famous, but maybe a review in The New York Times, a book tour, at least one piece of writing that people read after I am gone. When I write with this goal in mind, however, the results are often less than spectacular. I start to lose track of what I am trying to say and instead end up writing empty, flowery sentences. I am at my best when I write as myself, worrying less about creating something that everyone will love and more about stating something honest and true."

I wonder if the sin of the Babylonians was not building a tower but rather building with the intention of making a name for themselves. We all have gifts and talents, and we are meant to use them. We get ourselves confused when we worry too much about how we are perceived, about making the tallest tower. We are not meant to use our talents and skills to impress other people; we are meant to use them to create something authentic and true.

Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor you with our gifts and talents, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Meditation for January 20, 2016

John 3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

Every writer has heard the phrase, “kill your darlings.” Those little turns of phrase, the joke, the description on the second page of your manuscript that you love—you often have to let them go. When they don’t serve the story, you take them out, no matter how dear they are to you. If you don’t, those darlings become distractions.

I wonder if John was actually happy to decrease. He may have enjoyed having followers and preaching to the crowds in the desert, but he also knew that he wasn’t the main character of the gospel story.

It can be difficult to see ourselves as anything but the main characters in our own lives. Yet we serve something greater. We are called to love others as we love ourselves. This is a constant exercise in killing our darlings—letting go of anything that gets in the way of the larger story of God’s love. Our darlings might be our ego or our self-righteousness. Our darlings can be anything that puffs us up rather than increases the love of Christ in the world. We have to let them go.

Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Meditation for January 19, 2016

God of love, grant us the gift of unity so that we may serve you with joy and share your love with all. This we ask in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. 

Hebrews 5:11 About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding.

Dr. Haskell taught a great class on early American history. I enjoyed the class. I went to every lecture and took notes and did all the reading. Still, when it came time to take tests, I never made better than a B. That, in the end, is a decent grade, but until this class, I had almost always been able to get an A if I worked hard enough. Not this time.

Occasionally in church, I feel like the dull one, as if there’s something about faith that I just can’t quite grasp. But maybe it’s not simply that I’m not trying hard enough. Maybe I’m not ready to hear some of the lessons in the Bible.

I learned a lot from Dr. Haskell’s class. If I took the class now that I’m older, a subtler thinker, a better listener, I might be able to get an A. It doesn’t really matter. What mattered was that I showed up and listened and studied. I likewise continue to show up in church, to listen and study, and trust that God grades with great generosity.

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.