Category Archives: Church Devotions (Advent/Lent, etc)

Devotion: Maundy Thursday 2019

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Christians have been celebrating the Lord’s Supper for thousands of years now.  It is one of the central practices of the Christian faith, regardless of your beliefs about what the practice actually stands for.  For some traditions, the bread and wine are actually flesh and blood at some point in the service.  In others, the bread and wine are merely symbols. Yet the fact remains: these words, Jesus’ words to his disciples so long ago, hold special meaning in our Christian faith.

Even in my relatively young age of 40, I find myself failing to remember things: events, details, dates, where I placed my car keys (to which my wife reminds me if I just placed them in the dish on the kitchen table!), and so much more.  Remembering has gotten harder in a world where everything is digitally stored (when’s the last time you remembered someone’s phone number?).  The act of remembering today is just plain difficult.

Yet on this day, we’re called to remember.  To break and eat bread as Jesus did. To drink from the cup as Jesus did.  Yet we don’t just do this to remember a past event so long ago, but as the last verse says, it is an act of confession.  It is an act of witness.  By partaking in the Lord’s supper we are saying that the promises of God that come in Jesus’ death are true.  Jesus suffered and died for us, taking on the one thing we all share as human beings so that we might know that God has not abandoned us.  God stands with us, and even knows our suffering.

Even if you aren’t one who finds meaning in the Lord’s Supper, today is a day for us to remember: remember what God did for us in Jesus so long ago.  Remember what God has done for so many throughout history, and what God does for us today and will do for us each day forward.

You are not alone.

That is worth remembering.

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For Service Members and the like: Weekly Devotion

When I started my period of mobilization as a Navy Reservist in 2016, the biggest question I had for myself was, “How am I going to efficiently minister to all these people?”  The command I was serving had over 6,000 folks passing through annually, half of them heading on deployments all over the globe, and many of those places not having  a chapel or chaplain present.

So I decided to write a weekly devotion.

For two years, I wrote weekly devotions, liturgies for major observances, and other short messages for people “down range.”  People signed up with their email address to receive it.  I enjoyed the process of writing them, and from time to time I’d get feedback people were reading them – a comment from a Sailor returning from their deployment, talking to someone on a site visit to their deployment site, or an email comment – many of the times reminding me I had “missed” sending my devotional for the week!

Here in Germany, I attempted to shift writing the devotional to my personal email, primarily to leave space for my relief at my former command.  However, I’ve been getting gentle (and not so gentle reminders) that perhaps I should start up the routine again.  How do I do that effectively and appropriately?

I’ve decided to start using my blog.  So weekly (or as best as I can), I’ll be writing a devotion, based on one of the lectionary texts for the week.  It’ll likely have a focus on the reality of military service and deployments, but if you know me (and this blog’s name alludes to it), they will likely be for those of us who wrestle with having and living faith in a crazy world.

Like most things, you can sign up on my blog to receive them.  Or you can check the site regularly.  I’ll also post on my social media accounts.  So, what better week to start than Holy Week?

First post coming tomorrow. Peace!

 

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Courage.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:8-9

I was talking with a friend and colleague of mine about his sermon this past Sunday.  After the usual stumbling back and forth conversation, only to realize we are thinking exactly the same way in believing that it is the Holy Spirit, through God's Word, where the fundamental work of change happens.  Yet, what is the role of the person in all this?  When I think of myself, I think: COURAGE.

Courage to listen, take notice, and reflect….

Courage to look in the mirror and be honest about my hyprocracy, my pride, my self-indulgent need to "fix" what is problematic external to myself…..

Courage to admit my sin – those dark, ugly tendencies and urges that I'd just rather pretend don't exist….

Courage to admit where I am complicit and where I am in complete denial and avoidance altogether…..

Courage to really look in the mirror at the image staring back at me, stop deceiving myself and be honest.

For me, it is only when I exhibit this kind of courage do I ever properly hear God's Word as gospel, and thus the Holy Spirit is able to work in me.

Perhaps it is the same for you as well.

Lord, give us this courage daily so that we might be changed, and that we might be an instrument of your change in the world.

 

 

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2013 Advent Devotional 3: “Good Morning”

Isaiah 35:1-10

When I read this passage, the imagery catches my attention: water breaking forth in the wilderness (which in Judea was the desert), streams in the desert, thirsty ground springs forth water and the like. God will come again to the people and restore them, and all of creation will spring forth new life.

And it reminds me of mornings in the spring and summer on the farm. I grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota as a kid, and so mornings started early for us….4:30am, while it was still dark outside. And because of that, I got to see a lot of sunrises and mornings – the mist of a fog lifting, the dew on the grass, the hay fields, and on the newly planted fields of crops. It turned everything green – I mean REALLY green, better than any touched up photo or painting. And in that moment, through the peaceful breaking in of the morning, and the life seemed to jump out of it, I felt a sense of joy and excitement at the day to begin. (Which would quickly disappear when my dad would show me his list of farm work for the day!)

This passage from Isaiah paints a similar vision for the people of God. Everything in Judah has been overrun; the people are in the “desert” place in their lives, a place of barrenness and hopelessness. But God provides a vision of new life – and in that vision, God will break through. “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.” People will see in the restoration of their livelihood, the very presence and action of God.

I wonder, this Advent, if remembering the Christmas story isn’t like one of those “good mornings” on the farm; an announcement and vision of God breaking in and making all things new as in Judah in days of old.

The announcement of Christmas is that “Morning Has Broken”: The Christ Child comes into this world, and with him comes God’s vision of the past, present and future – a vision of joy and hope and peace.

That brings me to a favorite hymn of mine: “Morning Has Broken.” The lyrics were written in 1931 and set to an old Gaelic carol tune from the late 1800’s. Cat Stevens popularized it by recording it in 1972…and of course, people think that’s where the song originated from. But the imagery is striking, similar to Isaiah 35. And I think it’s a fitting hymn for Advent.

Morning has broken
Like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken
Like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing
Fresh from the word

Sweet the rains new fall
Sunlit from heaven
Like the first dew fall
On the first grass
Praise for the sweetness
Of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness
Where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light
Eden so play
Praise with elation
Praise every morning
God’ s recreation
Of the new day

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Advent Devotional Week 2: “Yearning”

Isaiah 11:1-10

“He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…The wolf shall live with the lamb…the cow and the bear shall graze, their young will lie down together…They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain…On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples.” (Various verses, editing mine)

One word sums it up for me: “Yearning.”

I yearn for the world to be a little less violent, filled with a little less hatred. I yearn for that world to take time to sit down with one another in peace. I yearn for people to actually sit down and be honest with each other, even if that means weathering some conflict along the way. I yearn for things to be a little less cynical, a little less critical, a little less apathetic and indifferent. I yearn for things to be a bit more hopeful, to see possibility where things seem impossible.

I wonder, if the future that Isaiah prophesies to God’s people – the promise of God’s vision of the future – isn’t something worth yearning for. It’s a vision of the future I find comfort and hope in – a future that’s not mine, but God’s. One that God alone will usher in.

However, there is one thing with yearning. Yearning without action sounds to me like “whining” and “passing the buck.” Yearning that doesn’t lead to us participating in what God is bringing about in this world is dead faith. True yearning, that kind that touches our heart and soul, is the kind that compels us to act…but to act in a way that submits to God’s will and vision of the future.

And again, that perhaps leads us to the place where in our yearning for peace, hope, and justice, God has a song for us to sing and play – action borne out of our yearning. Action that witnesses to God’s deliverance from our deepest yearnings and cries. “Mary don’t you weep….prepare and wait….God’s gonna come, and God’s gonna do something, just like he did in ages past for his people.”

Mary don’t you weep no more.

Perhaps not your “traditional” Advent hymn, but a spiritual borne out of a time when God’s people were yearning for freedom – freedom from pain, freedom from exhaustion, freedom from abuse, freedom from the bonds of slavery. Yearning that eventually led to freedom (and continues to work towards it on other levels today).

“O Mary Don’t You Weep No More.”

May God hear your deepest yearnings this Advent season….and may you find peace and hope that God will come, that those yearnings will be heard.

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1 Week of Advent 2013: Isaiah & Hymns

I’m a big fan of weekly devotionals rather than daily – for those out there who wrestle with matters of faith and life like me, and in the midst of a season like Advent, prefer to wrestle more deeply with things. So that takes time…more than just a day.

So for this year, I’m taking the Isaiah texts from the Lectionary and coupling them with an Advent Hymn. I love hymns, even at my young age (35!). I grew up with them. Often times, they’re dismissed by my generation and younger in favor of more “contemporary” stuff. But to me contemporary means “singable” – they’re easy to sing along to.

But for me, contemporary means even more than that. Because singable means it takes on a voice – a voice that is heard, and resonates with our soul. Contemporary means song that speaks & gives voice to people and things of the present. And so for me, hymns are contemporary – or should I say, they can be. That said, let’s move on to the topic at hand.

Read: Isaiah 2:1-5
The book of Isaiah in a lot of ways is a book of our time – the nation of Judah was facing conquest from all around – threats to their nation and to their way of life. War was the reality of the day – war waged by kings – political powers – for their interest and gain.

And caught in between are people – ordinary folk. Farmers, laborers, families; people who for the most part go about their days and routines relatively unnoticed. But war affects all people, and often times it’s those without a piece in the game that are most affected. It wears on people. It makes them question and doubt what is right and good.

And as I think about our world today, there are many places where war is fully present – wars in the Middle East and drug wars in Mexico and South America. But also, wars over religion and class and race in the United States – wars where words are used as swords and spears – for the personal gain of an individual or group.

And caught in the middle of all this warring are people. And whether the instruments are sophisticated weaponry of our time, or words, the affect is the same – people are affected by them. The violence of those instruments rob people of life and growth.

And honestly, I – like many – grow weary and question everything around me. And, it makes me a bit cynical and hostile to “prophets and kings” who proclaim peace and inclusivity, but in reality create conflict and division.

The prophet Isaiah announces God’s promise in the midst of that, and a surprising one – one that comes about by peace, not war. “they shall beart their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (2:4)

It is through instruments of peace – a ploughshare and a pruning hook (something used to trim grapevines and the like) – that God will work. These tools of agriculture are God’s instruments – not instruments of war like swords and spears.

This song (scroll to 1:47 in the video) is rapidly becoming my favorite Advent hymn. It was written in a time too, when the Vietnam War wore on people – making them question the world around them. But it, like the prophet Isaiah, offers a word of hope for those of us who feel “caught in the middle.”

Yet I believe beyond believing that life can spring from death, that growth can flower from our grieving, that we can catch our breath and turn transfixed by faith.

O Child of ecstasy and sorrows, O Prince of peace and pain, brighten today’s world by tomorrow’s, renew our lives again; Lord Jesus, come and reign.

Again, it is the announcment of peace that is God’s promise – a small child, one who will eventually lay down his life on a cross for humanity and from that place, life and growth – resurrection – will spring forth.

Ploughshares and pruning hooks; a tiny child and a cross: instruments of God’s will and action in the world. God’s instruments of peace for a weary and questioning world.

Instruments perhaps, that can shed a bit of light into the darkness of a world that wages war on itself, and offer us a bit of hope in the midst of it all.

Each Winter as the Year Grows Older – William Gay

Each winter as the year grows older
we each grow older, too.
The chill sets in a little colder;
the verities we knew seem shaken and untrue.

When race and class cry out for treason,
when sirens call for war,
they overshout the voice of reason
and scream til we ignore all we held dear before.

Yet I believe beyond beliving
that life can spring from death,
that growth can flower from our grieving,
that we can catch our breath and turn transfixed by faith.

So even as the sun is turning
to journey to the north,
the living flame, in secret burning,
can kindle on the earth and bring God’s love to birth.

O Child of ecstasy and sorrows,
O Prince of peace and pain,
brighten today’s world by tomorrow’s,
renew our lives again; Lord Jesus come and reign!

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Homecomings….

This past weekend, I headed out to Virginia Beach, VA. I was there primarily to recruit wrestlers for Augsburg College at the AAA Virginia State Wrestling Tournament. But, I got to visit and preach at my “home” congregation, St. Michael Lutheran Church. Since 2005, St. Michael has been a meaningful place for my faith. I’ve grown in so many ways – fellowship, doing youth and kids ministry, serving on church council, assisting with worship, and even utilizing my organ-playing skills during Lent in 2008 (long story).

St. Michael has also helped me through some tough times in my life – carrying me through them, and in their witness to me, helping me wrestle with tough questions about God and life, about this gospel message we proclaim, a message about the move from death to life…..cross to resurrection.

It’s been over 2 years since I’ve last been back. We still claim each other – they are my “home congregation;” I am one of their members – but there aren’t as many familiar faces, and the faces that are, aren’t as well known. It’s the reality of being away, you drift a part as you’re not so integrated into their lives on a daily basis.

However, there are some experiences that just tie us together. Last week, someone who I had known well, passed away suddenly. Her health was declining, but she got sick, and within about an hour of being in the ER, she died. This was one of a few tough deaths the congregation has been through. And, if you’ve been following this blog at all, you know from my life, that I’ve had a tough winter in the way of close deaths too. Really, death is an experience that ties all of us together. In a very striking and somber way, our mortality is one of the fundamental things of what it means to be human.

I’ve found that faith and trust are hard in such moments….but perhaps not so much in community. This mini-homecoming reminded me of that. We never trust alone – we are given the gift of people in community to surround us where God and the Spirit are present, being faithful to us, caring for us, even in the smallest of trust. It points to a God who is so faithful to us always, fully, even when we aren’t and can’t be.

We never trust alone….that’s something to be thankful for, and perhaps, something that nurtures and strengthens our own meager faith.

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