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Daily Devotion – November 30, 2011
11.30.11

Psalm 27:  13-14

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord

   in the land of the living. 

Wait for the Lord;

   be strong, and let your heart take courage;

   wait for the Lord!  

Reflection by Monty Wyne  

Despite the troubles of the world and the challenges and trials we face on this earth, God’s presence and goodness lives among us. It can be seen in the face of a child.  Heard in the song of a bird.  Felt in the comforting words of a friend. He speaks to us in ways we so often overlook or take for granted. We as human beings need to open our eyes and ears and take in the sights and sounds of God and recognize that He is among us “in the land of the living.”   

The second passage is one of preparation and belief. It is about steeling ourselves for future trials and tribulations, having faith in God and His strength. In that, we find the courage and ability to endure and brave the contests that lie ahead.  When we commit our souls quietly to God; as Isaiah says, “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” The toughest thing when we are in the midst of tremendous challenge or hardship is remembering that God is with us. We often become so entangled in the human experience we forget the spiritual presence. These two verses have given me renewed strength and purpose.  

Prayer:  

Our Heavenly Father, In times of turmoil, trouble or fearfulness let us remember to turn to you.  To look for your goodness amidst the storm.  To take heart in your presence.  To wait for you to speak to us, giving us the courage and strength to continue our earthly journey. Amen.



Sermon: Waiting for God (November 27, 2011)

Isaiah 64:1-9

Here’s a news item you might have missed.  “The folks at Star Provisions in Midtown are eagerly praying for the return of Jesus.  Sometime on Wednesday, a thief…swiped the Christ Child from a manger scene set up in the store.                                                      “Merry Christmas,” said a disgusted Dana Kirkpatrick, floor manager at Star Provisions.  “It’s wrong on so many levels.”  The shop was pretty busy on Wednesday so employees have no idea who robbed the cradle.                                                                          “This is a hand-carved set from Germany.  It’s kind of pricey,” said Tim Gaddis, the store’s cheese monger.  A former Gilmer County law enforcement officer, we asked how he’d go about investigating the crime if he still wore a badge.                                                                “I’d talk to everybody who was working that day, review security tapes,” he said.  “Fingerprints would be pointless.”  Were he to apprehend the culprit, the thief could expect another come-to-Jesus moment.  “You steal baby Jesus, you’re going to jail,” Gaddis said.”   “Star Provisions is not offering a reward – it just seemed too untoward (perhaps too King Herod-like?) to put a price on Jesus’ head.  Gaddis figures the thief knows who he or she is, and hopes to appeal to the better angels of that person’s nature.  “Jesus could return quietly in a brown paper bag,” he said.  “We just want it back.”                                                                   So, I wonder who the Jesus thief is?  A kid pulling a prank?  A non-Christian tired of all the baby-Jesus hullabaloo?  A Christian pastor tired of all the baby-Jesus hullabaloo?  Or maybe—and this is my theory—maybe it was a member of the Liturgical Police…because a member of the Liturgical Police would know—as every Christian should know—that the baby Jesus doesn’t come until Christmas Eve night!  (And, no.  I did NOT take that baby Jesus.)       We don’t like waiting on the baby Jesus, do we? 

We don’t like singing Advent hymns or hearing strange Scripture texts or looking at an almost-complete nativity.  No, now that Thanksgiving is over, we’re ready for the baby Jesus!  We want him and we want him now!       

In this age of instant everything, we’ve nearly lost the experience of waiting.  Like the guy in the 4G phone ad says to the guy with the 3G phone:  “That was so 27 seconds ago!”  We want everything now and, with few exceptions, we can get everything now.  But Advent –the season that begins today– is about waiting.  The baby Jesus is about waiting.  And those who want to experience Christmas meaningfully, can do so only after waiting for it.                    

The author of today’s Scripture lesson knows something about waiting.  The Prophet wrote in the 6th century BCE, after Israel had been taken into exile.  The people had been torn away from their homes, torn away from their land, torn away from their Temple.          

That part about being torn away from their Temple doesn’t have much meaning for us; we know we can experience God anywhere.  But for 6th century Israelites, God literally lived in the Temple.  So when the Temple was destroyed, and when they were forceably removed to a foreign land, the people began to wonder about God.  Did God still exist?  Were they still God’s people?  If they were still God’s people, why were they still in exile?  If God still loved them, why were they still suffering?      

                                                                                                    The prophet’s lament begins with memories of how God had, in the past, swooped in and saved the people.  O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,  so that the mountains would quake at your presence…to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations—like the one that had conquered Israel—might tremble at your presence

            The people are in trouble.  They’re in exile…they’re away from everything that’s familiar, everything that’s comfortable.  They’ve heard stories about how God acted in the past.  They want God to do the same right now.  They’d give anything for God to tear open the heavens and come riding in on a white horse to save them…right now.                          

Do you ever want God to swoop in and save you?  Do you ever long for God to tear open the heavens and whup up on your problems and set everything in your world right again?  If so, then you know something about how the author of these words was feeling.    

       Even in the midst of his angst, though, even in the midst of his suffering and his longing for God to tear open the heavens and swoop in and save him, still the prophet proclaims:  4From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.”  Yes.  Sometimes we just have to wait for God.  The pain will stop, the suffering will end, everything will go back to normal—or at least to a place of comfort—if we just wait on God.  Yes.  Just wait on God.

You know what I love?  Cheesy holiday movies.  I saw one Thanksgiving Night.  I don’t remember the name of it…but that’s okay.  You’ll know the plot by heart, anyway. 

A successful corporate attorney trying her best to make partner by the end of the year, tells all her underlings to cancel their Thanksgiving plans; they’ll be working all day to prepare for a court case the day after Thanksgiving.  They’re trying to win a case for an unsavoury mining conglomerate that wants to replace a town’s only park with an unhealthy mine.  In her drivenness to win the case, the attorney, Claudia, also cancels Thanksgiving plans with her sister and her sister’s family…not the first time she’s done so.

The day before Thanksgiving, Claudia shares a ride in the company car with a woman named Gina.  Gina asks Claudia if she’s happy with her life.  Claudia insists she is.  She doesn’t need family, she doesn’t need anything she doesn’t already have…except full partnership in the law firm….which she’ll get if she wins the case for the mining company.

About that time, the car hits a bump and Claudia hits her head.  When she gets out of the car, she finds herself at a house, with a husband and two children.  See?  You already know where this is going.  In a play on Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Claudia has the chance to live for a few weeks as if she had chosen a different life…not the life of climbing the corporate ladder, but the life of family connections and friends.

While living her alternate reality, Claudia crosses paths with Gina a couple of times.  Each time she begs to be taken back to her “real life.”  Each time Gina says, “You’re not ready yet.” 

Then, as the court battle with the mining conglomerate looms, Claudia gets in the taxi to go defend the townspeople’s case.  Who’s her cabbie?  Gina…who tells Claudia she’s now ready to return to her real life.  Of course, now Claudia doesn’t want to go.  She wants to stay and help defeat the evil mining conglomerate.  But with another bump of the head, she ends up back at her old law firm.  You know what happens…She goes to court, loses the case—and her job—then celebrates by going to the coffee shop where she meets the man who was her husband in the alternate life and who now will be her beau for real.  The end.

Okay.  Got the plot?  Seen it a thousand times?  Here’s why I’m telling you this story… because it’s all about waiting.  The first hours and days in her new life, Claudia wants out of there as fast as she can be removed.  This is not what she wanted.  Ever!  But then hubby and the two kids start to grow on her…and after a couple of weeks she discovers that she loves them.  And, yes, that she needs them.

It’s only when Claudia makes the discovery that she needs others in her life that she is at last ready to re-enter her “real life.”  With that first bump of her head, Claudia easily could have been returned to her life immediately.  It’s TV, right?  But if she had been, she wouldn’t have experienced the change that was necessary for her “real life” to have the deeper meaner it needed.  By the movie’s end, you know Claudia has changed enough that she’s going to make better, more whole-making decisions than she had in the past…all because she waited.  The experience of waiting taught her what only waiting could.  By inhabiting that place of discomfort, that place of longing to be anywhere except where she was, Claudia learned enough and was changed enough to begin living her life more deeply than she ever had.

So, I guess we could look at the absence of that baby Jesus in Midtown, not as a robbery, but as a gift.  What kind of Christmas would we have if we didn’t have to wait on the baby Jesus?  What lessons might we miss if we skipped over the waiting process?

There is one person in our community right now who is an expert on waiting, Emily Adams, who is in her 9th month of pregnancy.  I sent Emily an email this week, asking, first, if she might delay her son’s birth until December 24 or 25.  That would be so cool liturgically, don’t you think?  Apparently, Emily wasn’t in a liturgical mood when I made the suggestion.             

Then I asked her if she’d share something about her own experience of waiting.  She wrote:  “When waiting for something I really want, my first impulse is to focus on the feeling of unhappiness that I don’t have what I want yet.  I can’t wait to meet Ian and sometimes find myself feeling negative about the fact that I’m still waiting.  But I’m trying to train myself to take a deep breath, open my eyes, and see the wonderful things I can experience only because I am waiting.  In this case, all of the bed rest and time off of work has meant that I’ve gotten lots of extra time to be with Ben and really savor each moment of our time together before our family dynamic changes.  Waiting for one thing has given me the space to mindfully appreciate what I already have in my life.  And for that I am eternally grateful.”

What might we learn from waiting for our baby, the baby Jesus?  What might these days of longing and anticipation teach us, how might inhabiting this place of discomfort change us?  How might we use these next 28 days to prepare—really prepare—for the coming of God-with-us?  I don’t know.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

 In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©  2011

 

 

 

 

 



Sermon: The Least of These (November 20, 2011)

            Okay.  Let’s just get this out of the way:  Everyone here is a sheep.  Not a goat in sight!  I say that because often when we read this “least of these” text from Matthew, we get stuck on the idea of if we don’t do enough of the right things, if we don’t do enough good deeds, if we don’t do the most for the least of these, then we’re going (Choir: “straight to hell”).  Right.  And being afraid of going (“straight to hell”), we get paralyzed and do nothing or we get rebellious and do nothing.  Or we just discount this whole religion thing as quaint but obsolete.  And do nothing.

When we get bogged down in the question of where we’ll spend eternity, it distracts us from the question of how we’re spending our lives right now…and I’m convinced that THAT is the question Jesus is asking in this parable.  So, let’s just declare ourselves sheep and get on with it.

It’s not such a stretch to imagine everyone in this room as a sheep.  I’ve never been in a church that does so much for “the least of these.”  If a need is mentioned in this place, the response always is swift and generous— whether it’s chicken for MUST lunch, Christmas gifts for the girls at Wellspring, space heaters for people who need them, or supporting our youth in their mission trip to an Osage Indian reservation this summer.  Or this past summer when the MUST food pantry was out of food?  I mentioned that in worship and many of you left the service, drove to Publix or Kroger and were back with food before Sunday School was over.  We aren’t a large church, but we do have a large heart, especially when it comes to meeting the needs of “the least of these.”  I’m proud to pastor such a flock of sheep.

But reading this parable, I wonder if we’ve reached our sheepy potential?  I wonder if we’ve learned everything we can about serving the least of these?  I wonder if there’s still room for us to grow in the ways in which we live Jesus’ love in the world?

            Here’s why I wonder that…because there’s something about this passage that bugs me.  It makes sense that the goats didn’t realize that when they didn’t feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and all those other things…it makes sense that the goats didn’t realize that the things they weren’t doing they weren’t doing to Jesus.  I mean, in this story, the goats are clueless anyway.  It makes sense they didn’t get the connection between helping others and helping Jesus.

But don’t you find it strange that the sheep hadn’t made that connection either?  They asked, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you drink, naked and clothe you,” and all those things.  Jesus answered:  “When you did it for the least of these, you did it for me.”  “Oh, man!  That was Jesus?  Why didn’t somebody tell me?  I just thought that was old Joe who I see every time I go to serve at MUST.  I didn’t know it was Jesus!” 

We can’t deny that the sheep were doing good works.  They were doing amazing things—clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick and imprisoned.  But somehow in the midst of all their good works, it looks like they had missed Jesus.  They were doing good, but somehow, they were missing Jesus. 

I’d like to tell you one sheep’s story.  His name was Henri Nouwen.  He was a priest who, after a successful career of teaching, was becoming restless and looking for the next thing to do.  After a period of discernment, Henri ended up at a community called Daybreak inToronto.  Daybreak is a community for severely disabled people and the assistants who care for them.  “When Henri arrived inToronto, he was assigned to work with Adam.” 

Adam was “a 24 year-old man, [who] was very…handicapped.  He couldn’t speak.  He couldn’t walk.  He couldn’t dress or undress himself.  You never really knew if he knew you or not.  His body was very deformed.  His back was distorted and he suffered from continuous epileptic seizures.   

“I was really afraid,” Nouwen wrote.  “Here I was a university professor.  I had never touched anybody very closely and here was Adam.  Hold him!  At 7: 00 in the morning I went to his room and there he was.  I took off his clothes, held him and walked with him very carefully.  I was frightened because I thought he might have a seizure.  I walked with him to the bath and tried to lift him into the bath tub – he was as heavy as I am.  I started to throw water over him, wash him, shampoo his hair and take him out again to brush his teeth, comb his hair and bring him back to his bed.  I dressed him in what clothes I could find and took him to the kitchen.  I sat him at the table and started to give him his breakfast.  The only thing he could really do was lift the spoon up to his mouth.  I sat there and watched him.  It took about an hour.  I had never been with anyone for a whole hour, just seeing if they could eat.

            “Something happened. I was frightened for about a week, a little less frightened after two weeks.  After three or four weeks, I started to realize that I was thinking about Adam a lot and that I was looking forward to being with him.  Suddenly I knew something was happening between us that was very intimate, very beautiful and that was of God… Somehow I started to realize that this poor, broken man was the place where God was speaking to me in a whole new way.  Gradually I discovered real affection in myself and I thought that Adam and I belonged together and that it was so important.”

There’s a way of helping people that helps them, but at the same time, keeps them in their place.  Do you know what I mean?  I will help you because I have so much and you have so little.  I will help you because I am able-bodied and you are disabled.  I will help you because I’m an insider and you’re an outsider.  Sometimes the way we help others reinforces the idea that people who have more net worth also have more human worth. 

What Henri learned from Adam, though, is that he and Adam were equals.  Part of what helped Henri discover “real affection in himself,” was recognizing that, despite the very real differences in their abilities, he and Adam were just alike.  They both were human beings.  They both were loved—deeply loved–by God.  And Jesus lived in both of them.  It’s almost like in learning to see Adam’s humanity, Henri was able to see his own humanity.  In learning to see Jesus in Adam, Henri learned to see Jesus in himself. 

Maybe that’s what Jesus is calling us to in this “least of these” parable, at least those of us who identify as sheep.  We’ve already answered the call to work with and in behalf of the least of these.  Maybe our new call is to do so mindfully…to think with every person we help—this is Jesus.  This is a human being.  This is a person who is just like me—deeply loved by God. 

It is good to good things.  It is good to good things in the name of Jesus.  What might happen, though, if we do good things as if we are doing them for Jesus?  What might happen if we look for and find Jesus in the least of these, the outcasts?  It might just be that in loving the Jesus in others we will discover the Jesus in ourselves as well.  IT might just be that we will discover that we all are children of God.

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©  2011

Matthew 25:31-46

Here’s a story I left on the cutting room floor… 

Christ Heuertz made that discovery one afternoon inJerusalem.  Chris is part of the “Word Made Flesh” movement, people who live in community and serve the poorest of the poor across the globe.  I highly recommend his book “Simple Spirituality:  Seeing God in a Broken World.” 

On the day in question, Chris found himself on the Via Dolorosa—the way of Suffering.  It’s the path many think Jesus took on the last day of his life.

At the end of the way, Chris saw a Palestinian man.  “He had a long black beard and dirty hair that fell below his shoulders.  His eyes were kind.  He was barefoot.  He had no pants.  The only thing keeping him from being completely naked was the open rag of a shirt that he wore, torn and dirty, loosely hanging off his shoulders.  It caught me off guard,” Chris writes.  “He obviously was not in his right mind.  However, this man was gentle.  As his dazed eyes drifted into the sparsely clouded sky I could tell he was harmless.”

“Various tour groups making their pilgrimages throughJerusalemwould walk down the path with tears in their eyes and the typical romanticized holy-land-tour wistfulness.  Arriving at the end of the path, the tour groups and pilgrims came face to face with this naked man.  Their responses were usually very similar.  At first, most were frightened by the man.  Many flat out ignored him, walking right past him, acting as though he wasn’t there.  Some, realizing he was harmless and helpless, would cruelly try to scare him off or send him away.”

 “I went back to my dorm room that evening and began reading through the Scriptures.  I found myself stuck in Matthew 13:44, where a man discovers treasure hidden in a field.  The passage tells us that ‘joyfully’ he went off to sell all his possessions in order to buy the field… I sat at my desk with my Bible open, thinking about the meaning of this verse.”

 “I was compelled to pray about the passage.  Suddenly it was as if the Lord took a hold of my heart, trying to show me that I was the ‘hidden treasure.’  Jesus joyfully went to the cross and sold everything (his own life) so that I could be his.  I was overcome with a sense of God’s love for me.  It broke me.  I sat at my desk weeping, drinking in the love that God was lavishing, pouring out on me.”        

“I reflected on the events of that day, remembering the pain and sadness I saw reflected in the face of the naked man.  Praying for that man, the Lord opened my eyes to the hidden treasure that had been standing before me.  That crazy man, naked and dirty, also was a ‘hidden treasure’ that Jesus loved so much that he gave his all for him.”

 

 



Sermon: Blessed Are the Poor? (November 13, 2011)

           We’ve heard the Gospel lesson and a great spiritual written about it.  Before you get anxious about that going “straight to hell” part, let me assure you that this story is not about the afterlife.  When Jesus told this parable, it was meant to focus people’s attention on the here and now.  Hearing this parable today, 2,000 years later, it’s meant to do the same.  What does this parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus say about our lives today?

            Maybe we’ll learn something by hearing the story again.  Tell you what let’s do.  Let’s divide into two groups.  First group (choir side):  Listen to the story as if you are the rich man.  Second group (kitchen side):  Listen as if you are Lazarus.  Got it?  Here we go.

            There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

(To the “rich”)  You’re rich, probably royal—you were born into wealth.  You aren’t evil, just…insulated by your money and privilege.  You enjoy the fruit of yours or some ancestor’s labor.  Your wealth isn’t good or bad; it’s just the way things are.

20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

(To the “Lazaruses”)  You’re wishing you’d gotten here earlier to get a seat on the rich side, huh?  You are a poor person, one who literally is spat upon.  You are invisible.  Though you lie at his gate every day, it’s doubtful the rich man ever has noticed you.  For him, you simply don’t exist.

But you do exist.  You’re a human being.  Jesus draws attention to this fact by giving you a name:  Lazarus.  In fact, you’re the only person in ANY of Jesus’ parables ever named.  You are a human being…

…one who is hungry.  As the rich man feasts sumptuously, you beg for the bits left for the dogs under his table.  As it turns out, the dogs are the only ones who care for you.  They lick your sores, as they would lick their own wounds for healing.

So, how are you feeling, rich people?  How are you Lazaruses feeling?  Ready to change seats, Lazarus?  Hold on.  You might want to hear the rest of the story.

22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. (Rock-a-my soul in the bosom of Abraham; Rock-a-my soul in the bosom of Abraham; Rock-a-my soul in the bosom of Abraham.  O, Rock-a my soul.)  The rich man also died and was buried.  (He went straight to hell.)  23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.

Okay.  So, the tormented rich man looked up, saw Abraham and Lazarus in that sweet little scene, then…

24He called out, ‘Father Abraham—Kim:  Father ABRAHAM, right–have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’  (Dip you finger in the water come and cool my tongue, for I’m tormented in the flames.)

Okay, Lazarus.  How does that make you feel?  You’re in paradise, all cozy in the bosom of Abraham, finally receiving comfort you never experienced in life…and there’s this rich man who never noticed you in life, who never once acknowledged your agony…He does at least see you now, he knows your name, but he won’t call you by it…no…He’s still trying to order you around…(or order Abraham to order you around).  Who is this guy?

But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.  26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.

(Carole King:  “It’s too late.”)  It’s too late.  The Rich Man has lost his chance to see the poor man, to help him, to share with him.  It’s important to note that Father Abraham isn’t angry or punitive with the rich man here, he’s simply stating the obvious—that there comes a point beyond which generosity can not reach.  There comes a point when you dig the moat so deep around you—or the grobin, Jim?—When you spend your life building moats and walls and gates and suburbs around yourself to insulate yourself from the people who make you uncomfortable, the people, in your heart of hearts, you’re afraid of becoming…when you dig a chasm around yourself to keep others out, well, that’s exactly what it does.  It keeps others out.  It becomes too vast to fill in, too wide to bridge.  The chasm, the abyss gapes.  Forever.  Yeah.  It probably is hell, in its way.

(Point out “chasm” between the middle sections.)  Thanks to the choir’s help, we’ve created a representational chasm here in the sanctuary today.  Take a minute and think—are there chasms in your life?  Are there moats you’ve dug around yourself, to insulate yourself?  Are there people you work hard to keep at arms’ length? 

Who stands on the far side of your chasm?  Who has tried to reach you, to no avail?  Another way of thinking about it, Who are you glad is on that unreachable far side?  To whom are you grateful no bridge will reach?

Where are the poor in relation to you?  Or another way of asking it:  Where are you in relation to the poor?  Are you standing with them?  Or have you dug a chasm between you and them?   Have you so insulated your life that you don’t see the poor at all?

Author and UU minister Kate Braestrup talks about the time she missed the beltway inWashington,D.C., and ended up on the wrong side of town.  To get where she wanted to go, she and her children had to drive through some scary neighbourhoods.

She writes:  “When the light ahead turned red and the line of cars travelling upNew York Avenuestopped, a gaggle of homeless men shuffled off the sidewalk into the street.  They began dabbing at windshields with dirty rags, beseeching drivers for money.

“I stared at the light, willing it to turn green before they got to me.  This sort of thing doesn’t happen in Maine, I said fretfully to myself.  I’ll give them money if I must, but I’d really rather the light just turned green.  Come on, light.  Turn green.  Turn green.

“Then one man turned in my direction.  He was making some loud, strange sounds, but he was not begging.  His hair stuck out in clumps all over his head.  Clad only in a pair of cutoff jeans, he wore no shirt, no shoes.  His face and torso were thickly scarred, as if he had been badly burned.  He had no arms.

“I pressed the button that raised the car windows the last half inch.  I checked to make sure the doors were locked.  The light turned green, and I drove forward.  It wasn’t until I was passing under the traffic light that it dawned on me.

“’He had no arms,’ I said aloud.

“’What?’ the children said.

Shoot.  Oh, shoot.  “He had no arms,” I repeated.

“’Who?’ her daughter Ellie asked.

“’That man back there…he had no arms.”

“’Poor man,” said Ellie.

Poor man!  He had no arms.  He couldn’t hurt me.  I didn’t need my fists, didn’t need to flee:  What did I have in the car that he might need?  What did I have that he might want?  Juice boxes, cookies, money, Band-Aids, and baloney…but I checked the door locks and the windows to make sure they were closed against him.

“’Shoot.  Oh…shoot!”

“’Mama is crying,’ Woolie announced.

“Having seen, what could I do?  Turn around, go back?  Chase him down the street, this poor, differently-abled, mentally challenged person of color?  Hey!  I can see you now!  You’re innocent, truly a child of God!  Oh, please, can I give you a Fig Newton?

“It was too late.  He was gone.”  (Beginner’s Grace, 81-82)

We’ve had some fun playing the roles of the rich man and Lazarus, but the real invitation of this parable is to identify with the rich man’s five brothers. 

He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.”  Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.”  He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”  He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

We are the rich man’s siblings.  Despite how the economy might make us feel, we are inhabitants of the first world.  We do have power in the world.  And I doubt that for most of us here this morning, this is the first sermon we’ve ever heard about the poor.  The truth is, I could preach many more of these sermons…we could do power points, sing songs, hear testimonies, watch movies, even take mission trips…but in the end, the only thing that will change any of our hearts about the poor, the only thing that will help us to take off our blinders and see, really see, the poor, is our own desire to do so.

So, how about it?  Where are you standing in relation to the poor?  Are you satisfied with that location?  Would you like to change locations, fill in the moat, bridge the gap?  If so, you might want to get to work….before it’s too late.

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.

Amen.          Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©  2011

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What I left on the cutting room floor….

I came across some questions the other day that have caused me to stop and think—really think—about my relationship with the poor.   (These questions came from the version of the Spiritual Exercises I’m doing…see www.creighton.edu/retreat)

What evil continues because of me?

How have I been deaf to the cry of the poor? 

How have I insulated myself, lived in my own world so that I don’t get bothered by the need of others? 

How does my comfort cost others?

 

 



Daily Devotion – November 29, 2011
11.29.11

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Reflection by Angela Gula

Over the past several days I’ve come to read these passages from a new perspective. On Saturday, my beloved dog Fenway had to be put down. In mourning his loss I spent a lot of time thinking about how much he came to trust me. He was a stray that I adopted from a shelter over six years ago. I remember that Sunday I got him–he didn’t trust me–he didn’t acknowledge me as anything other than another human passing through his life. But, over time his lack of trust in me changed–he realized he had a home, food, toys and unconditional love. Over the last several months as his condition began to worsen–he couldn’t play, had a hard time getting around, and lost his appetite, but there was one thing that didn’t change–his trust in me. He fought daily to please me–he hung on to life much longer than his body should have allowed. Fenway taught me lessons in love, toughness, and compassion, but more than anything else, Fenway taught me an awful lot about trust.

This passage is a powerful, yet simply stated reminder, of the importance in trusting in God. It’s difficult sometimes–to see a hurting world full of poverty, war, injustice, and violence. In a digital age of instant answers, we think we have it all figured out–and sometimes in the fast pace of life we forget that we don’t have all of the answers–we forget that we need to trust in God.

What if I trusted God the same way Fenway trusted me? What if I acknowledged God the way Fenway came to acknowledge me as his owner?

Prayer:

Dear God, thank you for the wonderful gift of pets. Help us trust in you more each day the way a pet learns to trust its owner. Amen.

 



Daily Devotion – November 28, 2011
11.28.11

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.

Reflection by Rev. Kimberleigh Buchanan

Yesterday was both a hard and a wonderful day at church. The hard part was hearing about so much sorrow in our community–deaths of loved ones, devastating diagnoses, the ongoing, arduous journey of grief for so many, unwanted life transitions…sometimes life is just hard. Like, really hard.

The wonderful part about being in church yesterday was being with others who understand something about the difficult times we’re experiencing. Paul’s words to the Corinthians describe well just how important sharing our struggles with our brothers and sisters in Christ is. Somehow–who knows how?–but somehow in sharing our struggles, God shows up. It’s like sharing our struggles not only makes us feel more connected to each other, but also to God.

This God-group-togetherness happened in a powerful way during So What? Sunday School. We started out talking about the worship service, but ended up sharing the difficult times some of us are having right now. Somehow–who knows how?–but somehow in our sharing (and in our praying), God showed up. Though we were sharing hard things, somehow, sharing and praying together lightened our loads…a little bit, anyway.

Prayer:

God of all consolation, thank you for choosing to meet us in our relationships with each other. Thank you for consoling us through the consolations of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank you for–occasionally–“putting on some skin.” Amen.

 



Daily Devotion – November 27, 2011
11.27.11

Psalm 25:6-7
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Reflection by Jim Kennedy

This was David’s personal petition for God’s forgiveness of his sins. The memory of sins past can cause feelings of guilt, shame, and regret and can become a curse in our lives no matter how hard we try to forget. King David knew the curse of the memory of past sins.

There are two classes of sins here, the sins of David’s youth and his transgressions. His conscience was disturbed by the painful memories of his adultery with Bathsheba and his treacherous murder of her husband, Uriah. So David prayed to God for forgiveness, a prayer that asked God both to forget and to remember.

David’s prayer did not plead for justice, but for mercy. Perhaps he had found, as so many others have discovered, that the sins of youth are never terminated automatically with the arrival of maturity. Sins have a way of fastening themselves upon the sinner and increasing as the years go by.

Only God can forget sins, an achievement of which humankind is incapable. The promise that God would both forgive and forget sins was revealed by the prophet Jeremiah as the outstanding characteristic of the New Covenant.

What we need most from God is not simply guidance or leadership, but remembrance. It is not as if we expect or think that God will forget; it is more of a desire or longing we have that our best days and best ways are in God’s mind as God thinks of us.

Our images of God are anthropomorphic; we speak of God as we comfortably use words to speak about the affairs of our daily lives, even though God is beyond our words and our thoughts. As Marcus Borg writes, God is transcendent and imminent so that we may be comforted in the fact that God’s steadfast love will never end and that it will be directed towards us always.

Prayer:

Dear Lord please accept the sins of my youth and my future transgressions as I strive not to go beyond your love and acceptance (not that I ever could). Amen.

 



Daily Devotion – November 26, 2011
11.26.11

Psalm 25:16-17 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.

Reflection by Diane Ingram

When we moved to Tennessee in the mid 1990’s, I was lonely. For over 20 years we had lived in the same Atlanta neighborhood, and in our new location I knew hardly anybody. One of the ways I coped was by volunteering, and one of those efforts was a crisis hotline.  At first, I was terrified that I would get a call from a person considering suicide and that I would not handle it well. The next concern was that I wouldn’t remember where to look in the big notebook of community resources if someone called needing rent money, transportation or any number of other requests that we fielded.

As it turned out, almost every call was some version of these two verses from Psalm 25.  The people who called the crisis line for the most part were lonely and were looking for a respite from troubles of [the] heart. What I came to hear was people who had the same loneliness we all feel at times and the same hope that there was relief somewhere, somehow, if only briefly, in another person on the telephone line. Some of the troubles were overwhelming, others less so, but what our callers most often felt was a heavy sense of being alone.

In all the time I volunteered, I always felt some degree of inadequacy, but I did begin to learn that we often need connection – a release from loneliness – more than we need solutions.

Prayer:

Thank you, God, that you hear me when I am feeling weak and alone. Help me to hear others in their distress.

 



Daily Devotion – November 24, 2011
11.24.11

Psalm 106:1-3

Praise the Lord!
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Who can utter the mighty doings of the Lord,
or declare all his praise?
Happy are those who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times.

Reflection by Lynne Buell

Thanksgiving mornings are bitter sweet for me.  Whenever my Dad showed any form of excitement over anything, it would make me so happy because my Dad was a quiet man (except when he was angry and that happened a lot when it concerned my younger brother and sister!).  So any show of tender emotion from him moved me.

Every year I tear up when the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade starts.  Yes, I have real tears when they cut the ribbon and the band begins to play.  I can see us kids back in 1959 glued in front of our Zenith TV (black and white—the bulky floor model—with the rabbit ears and tin foil arranged ‘just so’) watching the floats gliding down the parade route and Dad sitting on the couch drinking his coffee pointing out objects of interest that he didn’t want us to miss.  Mom would be in the kitchen cleaning up the empty oatmeal bowls and prepping the turkey for dinner later that afternoon.  We were able to put off cleaning the murky fish bowl (the only pets we were allowed to have!) for the reasons mentioned above.  Outside, it was typical Buffalo weather:  cloudy, rainy and cold.

I didn’t know it then that we were creating treasured memories.  I took family holidays for granted.  Even as a young adult, before we were all living in various parts of the country, I didn’t realize how wonderful those days were being together.

So this morning, after I have my little ‘moment’ at parade time, I will reflect on all the blessings that God has bestowed upon me and thank Him for the life that I am living.  Even if I can’t be in that tiny living room safe and warm surrounded by my siblings, I will now create fond remembrances for my daughter and grandson.

Prayer:

Loving God, you have led me down a path of happiness and contentment for which I am so very grateful.  Thank you for all of this and the memories which I will treasure forever in my heart. Amen.

 



Daily Devotion – November 23, 2011
11.23.11

Psalm 23
The Divine Shepherd
A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

Reflection by Joshua Durst

I must admit that I took a deep breath when I realized what scripture I was given for today’s devotion. This familiar text, memorized by countless Sunday school students, has a very different meaning for me. In hearing the words of the Psalm, I am transported back to a small country farmhouse in rural northern Indiana. The setting of the day could have easily been any other family get together, but my family had gathered this particular day for a much deeper reason. We were saying goodbye to my beautiful grandmother. 

Jean James was a person that you immediately liked. She was warm, caring, and compassionate. She loved her family fiercely and never met a stranger. She was a woman of deep faith and believed in the idea that love wins out over all ills. To me, she was my dear grandmother. The woman who loved me completely, supported me, and was one of the rocks that I have built my life foundation.

Grandma had been sick for months with cancer, but the casual observer would never have known. Her spirit and her resolve never faltered. On the day that we gathered, we knew her time was no longer measured in days, but instead hours and minutes. Though grief filled each of our hearts, we knew we were gathered in a sacred place with the opportunity to touch Heaven for a few moments as we said our goodbyes.

Sometime during the early afternoon, the minister of my grandmother’s church arrived to support my grandma and our family. By this time, grandma was resting quietly in her bed. The incredible support staff from the hospice agency was there to make her comfortable. The minister invited us to all gather in her bedroom for prayer and reflection. After prayer together, the minster began to lead us in the words to Psalm 23. I looked towards my grandmother where she sat in her bed and was overcome with her witness – she recited the Psalm word for word.

We lost her beautiful heart and soul several hours later. I miss her each and every day. I find solace though when I hear the words of this Psalm and am grateful for the Angel that watches over me.

Prayer:

Creator God. Thank you for the people in our lives who touch our hearts by their witness of faith. We are grateful also for your infinite Love that is a balm for our hearts in times of grief. Be with each of us during each step of our life journeys. With humility and peace we pray. Amen