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Daily Devotion – July 31, 2015
07.31.15

Romans 12:2New International Version (NIV)

2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Reflection by Jaime Fulsang

I’ve read this particular passage of scripture probably hundreds of times. Until preparing to write the devotional, I have always understood it to have the same simple meaning: don’t be like the world—be different—and show what it means to live a life that is pleasing to God.

As I read and reread the passage for this devotional, my spirit seems to pause at the phrases “conform to the pattern” and “good, pleasing, and perfect”. I realized that maybe this verse isn’t about being a super-Christian that isn’t tempted by the things of this world, but maybe, it’s about something else. Maybe God doesn’t want us to compare ourselves to others. Maybe the “pattern of this world” isn’t just sinful, destructive habits, maybe it’s the “shoulds” we face every day. “I should be this…” or “I ought to do that…” Maybe, God wants to free us from thinking we have to be a cookie-cutter version of what’s ideal. There is no perfect mom, no perfect student, no perfect friend. Perfection is an illusion and a trap. The guilt over the ways we aren’t “just right” can be crippling. Maybe when we allow ourselves to be transformed and renewed by God’s grace, we can begin to see that we are loved, lovely and lovable—just as we are. When we are freed from the burdens of “should” or “ought to” and can respond to God and others with love, joy, mercy, and grace. God’s good, pleasing and perfect will is that we walk in who God made us to be and we help others be free to do the same.

Prayer:

Loving God, help me to see and appreciate who you made me to be. Show me how you want to use my gifts and talents to spread your love throughout the world. Help me resist the temptation to compare myself with others or to get caught up in trying to be like everybody else or who they think I should be. Help me to know and feel how much you delight in me just being my best self. Transform my heart and my mind to understand that me, abiding in your love alone, is your good, pleasing, and perfect will.



Daily Devotion – July 29, 2015
07.29.15

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 frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. John 6:16-21

 

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

 

The fact the disciples were not afraid until they saw Jesus walking toward them stands out to me. I can’t help but think how afraid I might be if I were out on a small boat during a storm. The fact that it was dark would only add to my fear. In the dark, there is much uncertainty, especially when you are out in the middle of the sea. Maybe this wasn’t their first rodeo though. Maybe they had been in this place before and while they knew it wasn’t the best position to be in they were confident they could make it safely to shore. If they were confident, it seems to be thrown off with the appearance of Jesus.

In my work as a hospice chaplain, I sit through many storms with people. Storms of life are not easy to deal with, especially when that storm means confronting your mortality. Much fear, anxiety, and struggle must be confronted when dealing with death. I remember when I was new at chaplaincy, I feared what the storms I was walking into would bring and whether I would be able to make it through it without doing more harm than good. After walking through a number of these storms over the years, I have become more confident in my ability to manage the storms despite the uncertainty of the moment. The difference from now and then lies in my experience. A place that was once unfamiliar has become familiar, and, like the disciples, I know that my skills will carry me through. This place of confidence can become so routine, however, that I forget to look for God and even let God in on what is going on. Like the disciples, I can get so caught up in what I doing that I forget. Thankfully, it is usually during these times God finds a way to surprise me by saying, “Here I am.”

Whether through a comment, such as an expression of faith, or through an action, like a tear or a smile, or even through a gesture of kindness, I become struck by the moments I am offered by those I visit. I am moved at the presence of God. Sometimes the storm rages on so badly and for so long that it is easy to feel alone and forgotten. It is easy to dismiss God, believe that God forgot to get on the boat, and just try to do it on my own. The scripture reminds me that if I keep alert for God, I will find that God is right there with me even as the storm rages on.

The scripture doesn’t stop with Jesus showing up. The disciples, despite their initial fear, recognize Jesus and welcome him to the boat with a glad heart. I would do well to open my heart more to God, and invite God onto the boat with me. Then, together, we can sail to shore. I would have so many stories to tell. Sounds like that would be a pretty good boat ride.

Prayer:

Through my storms of life when I feel confident that I can get through it on my own, may I remember I don’t have to go about it alone. Keep my eyes alert for you so that I can welcome you with open arms when you appear before me. May I always invite you with enthusiasm into my lives. Amen



Sermon: “Killing Koinonia” (7/26/15)
07.28.15

Acts 5:1-11  (NRSV)

But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; 2with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3‘Ananias,’ Peter asked, ‘why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us* but to God!’ 5Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. 6The young men came and wrapped up his body,* then carried him out and buried him.

7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8Peter said to her, ‘Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ 9Then Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ 10Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.

Well, isn’t that a sweet story?  A married couple sells some land and gives the proceeds to the community….well, most of the proceeds.  By agreement, the two decide to give only a portion of the proceeds but say it’s the whole thing. The difference, they keep for themselves.

So, Ananias brings the offering and lays it at the apostles’ feet.  Knowing of the deception, Peter calls Ananias on it.  Ananias’ response to getting caught? He drops dead.  Three hours later, unaware of her husband’s demise, Sapphira appears.  Peter asks if they sold the property for the lower price.  She says yes.  Then, she too drops dead.

What in the world is going on here?  Why is this story in the Bible? Aside from a potentially compelling stewardship illustration J, what good news is there for us in the disturbing story of Ananias and Sapphira?

It might help if we look at the larger context of Acts. It couldn’t hurt, right?

Fifty days after Jesus’ death and resurrection his followers gather in Jerusalem for the high holy days.  After God’s Spirit swoops in and stirs things up, the people…

devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds* to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:42-44)

Two chapters later, the community is still clicking on all cylinders. Listen:

the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. …There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

In fact….

36There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’). 37He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

To this point, the believers have acted as one.  Everyone is on the same page.  They really do have all things in common, even their ideas and hopes and motivations.

But it’s a community…which means things aren’t going to go smoothly forever.  There’s going to be a hiccup.  At some point, someone’s going to forget about working for the common good and will put themselves first….and they’ll do it, not because they’re bad people, not because they’re selfish people, but because…

Why do people sometimes put their own needs ahead of the needs of the community?  We hear it over and over in the Bible–work for the common good, love your neighbor as yourself, have all things in common….yet sometimes we keep something back for ourselves; we withhold our gifts–time, talent, authenticity, honesty. We know the community is strengthened when we commit ourselves fully, but sometimes we just don’t.

Do you wonder why Ananias and Sapphira lied about their gift, why they held something back for themselves? The expectations were clear: have all things in common.  They’d just seen Barnabas sell his land and give every cent of the proceeds to the community. But for some reason, they couldn’t do it; they weren’t yet ready to give everything they had to the community.

Luke doesn’t say why Ananias and Sapphira drop dead in the doorway when their lie is found out.  He doesn’t say “God struck them dead.”  He doesn’t say, “the wages of sin is death. See?” He doesn’t say the couple had pre-existing cardiac issues. He just lets us know they lie, then they die.

I wonder how things might have gone differently? What if, when their resolve to give everything to the community wavered, instead of lying they’d gone to Peter and confessed: “We can’t do it.  We sold this property intending to give all the proceeds to the community, like Barnabas did, but we can’t do it.  We’re so sorry, but we just can’t do it.”

And what if Peter had responded: “Giving all to the community is hard; it takes time.  Thank you for being honest about your ability to commit.  Your confession is a step in the right direction.  Being honest about your limits also builds community.  Give what you can now.  Later, as you grow deeper into this community, perhaps you’ll find it easier to give more.”

Maybe Luke included this story of Ananias and Sapphira as a cautionary tale…not so much to warn against holding things back from the community, but to warn against lying about it.  Trying to be someone we’re not, and trying to convince others we’re someone we’re not–that is what kills koinonia.  Inauthenticity kills community. Dishonesty kills community. Being flawed people? That doesn’t kill community. In fact, it is our flaws, our limits that provide fertile ground for growing deeper as a community.

I’ve learned that lesson again in the last year and a half. Raised Southern Baptist and called to pastor, my journey into ministry wasn’t easy. I went to seminary to become a children’s minister– because that’s all I thought women could do in church. But a few professors helped me see that my true calling was to pastoral ministry. Just as I was opening myself up to my call, the fundamentalists took over the seminary. By the time I graduated, I heard every day, “Women can’t preach; women can’t pastor.” In my head, I knew the words weren’t true, but they seeped into my heart anyhow. Seminary is a joyous experience for many. For me and my classmates, it was traumatic.

It’s taken a long time, but I’ve done a lot of healing. You all have been key to that healing process. I’ve never felt like a woman pastor here; I’ve just felt like your pastor. Your acceptance of me has helped me live into my true calling. You have acted me into well-being.

Sometimes, though, even after we’ve healed, something happens and all the old pain rushes back. That happened to me at the Cobb Interfaith Thanksgiving Service in 2013.

A year or so before the service, the Cobb Interfaith Spiritual Leaders group had begun meeting. Some folks floated in and out of the group, but six of us formed a core—five men and me. Over the course of the year, the six of us had become good friends.

I went to the Thanksgiving service joyful and eager to support interfaith work in our community. But when the procession of clergy began, and I saw that there were just two women and that among the large group of men were my five good friends from the Cobb Interfaith group—all the exclusion I ever had felt because of my gender came flooding back. Feeling excluded again—and betrayed by my friends—I walked out.

As I reflected, prayed, and processed the experience with others, I struggled with how to respond. In my head, I knew those men never would have excluded me intentionally. But still. I hadn’t been included when they had. The two token women had been enlisted; there was room for no others. Yet the platform had plenty of room for all those men. I knew my friends only wished me well, but—because of the old hurts—the group no longer felt safe for me. I sent them an email letting them know what had happened and that I was taking a break from the group. To a man, they responded with great compassion.

I stayed away for a long time—over a year. I had all but decided not to return to the group when I was invited to participate in an interfaith prayer vigil for marriage equality last April. Participating in that service was a homecoming. It was good to reunite with my friends.

The experience was good enough that I went to our group’s meeting in May. All through the meeting I debated, “Do I tell them about my journey in the last year or not? Do I explain why I came back, or just go on as if nothing happened?”

I opted to tell my story. Those men—my friends—listened with their full attention and again with deep compassion. The first person who spoke said, “We’ve been waiting for you to tell us your story, Kim. We’re so glad you’re back.”

IMG_0216

The photo on your bulletins was taken this past Thursday. For the first time, I hosted the Cobb Interfaith gathering. Ten of us—women and men—gathered around the table, broke bread, and talked about how people of all faiths might work together on healing racism in our country. Then I led us out to the peace pole and got Lynne to take our picture. A couple of the faces in this picture you’ll see again Saturday night at our musical celebration.

Why tell you this story? I tell it because it demonstrates just how hard community can be sometimes…and how much stronger community becomes when we’re honest with each other. Had I not shared my Thanksgiving service experience with my friends, it wouldn’t have been as dramatic as what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, but it would have amounted, essentially, to the same thing—I would have been dead to that community. Instead, because I confessed my limitations, it gave them the opportunity to be supportive of me, which gave me the opportunity to receive their care for me, and to feel included.

As we sat around the table Thursday, I realized we had come a long way.  I had come a long way.  What good friends we are! What a strong community we are becoming. I know there will be other hiccups along the way, and I know that the next time we hit turbulent waters, we’ll be able to navigate them with greater skill…because, look! We’ve already done it once.

When we started on this journey of growing deeper into community here at Pilgrimage this summer, I didn’t realize just how hard the work of deepening community can be. But, as I’ve learned with my Cobb Interfaith friends, that hard work strengthens community as nothing else can.

I just wish someone had told Ananias and Sapphira.

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2015



Daily Devotion – July 28, 2015

John 6:14-15New International Version (NIV)

 

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”

Reflection by Holly CothranDrake

Do you fall in love with Jesus all over again when you read certain scriptures? I do. I love his heart, his soul, his peaceful and loving nature, and his humility. I love how he welcomed those shunned by society. I love that he loved without limitations or conditions. I love how he forgave those he loved so dearly and who betrayed him. Yes. I fall in love with Jesus all over again when I read certain scriptures. And it warms my soul.

 

Prayer:

Almighty God and Great Creator, thank you for your son and our Savior, Jesus. Thank you for creating him in your perfect love. Amen.



Daily Devotion – July 27, 2015
07.27.15

John 6: 10-13

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.

 

Devotion by Julia Shiver

This is the well-known passage of “The Loaves and Fishes”.  Other books in the Bible refer to it as the “Feeding of the Five Thousand.”  I can’t help but notice though that is specifically says five thousand men.  Nothing about the women and children.  And suddenly there is enough food to feed all these people!  It’s a miracle!  It would indeed be a miracle if five thousand men showed up with enough food for all.  I’m pretty sure the real story is all those women who went out to hear Jesus, following their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons, who would not ever leave home without provisions for whatever might happen.

As you read this, Chris and I are on a two-week vacation.  And it is all I can do not to pack everything we own!  But there will be grocery stores, drugstores, Walmart, Rei’s, almost everywhere we go.   I do try to be prepared, but I am pretty sure I can find bread and seafood In Seattle and Vancouver.  My bigger challenge is to be open to whatever God wants me to experience, to be open to all that God wants to provide that I didn’t even know I needed; to be open to all the ways God wants to nourish me on this trip of a lifetime.

Creator God,

Please help me be open to the wonders of your creation and to the many blessings you have given me in this life.  Amen.



Daily Devotion – July 26, 2015
07.26.15

John 6:6-9

6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages* would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’

Reflection by Lynne Buell

This is a familiar story ending with yet another miracle performed by Jesus. The disciples were in doubt, but once again the outcome was awe-inspiring to those who were present.

At that time, the 5,000 or so people were in need of food. What is your need? What are you hungry for? What do you lack? Do you believe that Jesus will satisfy your hunger? If you have faith, you believe that your needs will be fulfilled. Have trust in God, then all the rest will fall into place.

 

Prayer: 

Gracious God, while we pray for the families of the victims of violence that we hear about every day, help us to continue to focus on our needs and keep them in perspective. Amen.

 



Daily Devotion – July 25, 2015
07.25.15

Psalm 50:1-2

1The Mighty One, God, the Lord, has spoken, And summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth.

 

Devotion by Don Tawney Sr.

The perfection of beauty— the Scripture says. We see what beauty is, as defined by the world; it is the most expensive home or car, or when Hollywood parades the “beautiful people” (Whatever that means) to see who wins the coveted Oscar.  Beauty by such standards usually means outward or material success or who makes the most points and draws the most money for the team owner.  We can think of beauty on a little higher level: The first smile of a new baby, a beautiful sunrise or sunset.  The highest beauty, as the Scripture lesson says, is the presence of God in our hearts.  In the Bible, God was geographical; He dwelt in the Temple, or on a certain mountain.  Zion was called God’s abode.  Isaac Watts wrote, “Then let our songs abound, and every tear be dry; We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground; We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground, To fairer worlds on high. We’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.”  So true beauty is presence of God in each life; this is the perfection of beauty.

We have all sung the chorus, “Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me, All His wonderful passion and purity. Oh, Thou Savior Divine, All my nature refine, ‘til the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.”

 

Prayer: 

Dear God,

Thank You for Your Son, Jesus, who came to show us who You are; kind and merciful Father to save us from sin.  Amen   



Daily Devotion – July 24, 2015
07.24.15

Acts 5:7-11

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, ‘Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

I watched this episode on the NBC Sunday night series, “AD”. It helped to explain this event in more detail. This couple, Ananias and Sapphira, were one of the wealthiest to join the early church. They gave the most to the church, but they also hid some of their wealth in case the church didn’t survive. At the time, the Romans were still trying to purge the territory of Christians because they saw Christians as a threat to their rule and way of life. They saw Jesus as a revolutionary that stirred the people up. The Romans preferred the throngs to be obedient to Roman rule and not question anything.

So that is the backdrop for the early church. Their very survival was always in question. So this couple, even though they gave much to the church, held some back for a potentially political rainy day. Their lack of faith angered Peter, and very quickly both the husband and the wife died in front of many witnesses. Fear of death then solidified the followers behind Peter.

This story bothers me. Would God intentionally kill people to create fear to reinforce believers? I realize that fear is a great motivator. After all, it is said there are no atheists in foxholes during war. But is it God that creates war to create more believers? That doesn’t resonate with my belief system. My way of thinking is that mankind has free will and through our poor choices, we create war. And God is always there to love us, even when we find ourselves in foxholes.

So how do I mesh this story with my belief system? I don’t have an answer today. Some times, Bible stories leave me wondering and questioning. And I think that’s okay, as long as I keep working on my relationship with God.

Prayer:

Dear God our Lord, I am so thankful to be part of a church that encourages its members to question and grow their faith with deeper understanding. I am confident, Lord, that you will reveal yourself in due time. Amen.



Daily Devotion – July 23, 2015
07.23.15

 

Acts 5:1-6

Ananias and Sapphira 

But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. ‘Ananias,’ Peter asked, ‘why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!’ Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him.

 

Devotion by Rochelle Lofstrand

So once getting past the very morbid ending to this text, this text is about God preserving the integrity of the community. The sin of Ananias and Sapphia wasn’t in not selling all their property, or in keeping part of the proceeds of the sale, but in lying about how much they had received. Growing a deep community requires that all participants are open and honest. This is the only way to build trust . . . the cornerstone for any community.

In today’s text, the outcome of Ananias lying to God was drastic but had he lived, Ananias’ lying would have led to the downfall of the Christian community, which he was a part. Would the community have turned on him? Would he have turned his back on God? Have you ever lied or tried to lie to God? What was your ‘punishment’? Guilt, sadness, alienation, self-loathing? Let’s just all learn from Ananias and Sapphia and be honest with God, with ourselves, and with others!

 

Prayer:

God, please forgive me for all of the times that I have not been honest with myself, with others, or with you. Through your grace I find forgiveness and for that I am thankful. AMEN.



Daily Devotion – July 21, 2015
07.21.15

 

Ephesians 3:17-19

17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Devotion by Anne Mooney

When I read this passage of scripture I was struck with what an expansive blessing it was. Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter to the church in Ephesus. Even though he was locked up, he managed to lift up a magnificent message of hope and love. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we all had the “power to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth” of God? I imagine this world would be a much more loving and supportive place. Even if all we did as people of God was pray this blessing for everyone else, it might foster a much more loving world community.

These words encourage me to consider how I might be affected if I did indeed have a true awareness of the fullness of God. How would my actions and attitudes be changed, and in turn, how would others be impacted by the shifts in my behavior? How would my prayers change if I prayed this blessing for everyone I know, as well as those I don’t know? I wonder if I could ever sustain and hold onto such a magnificent awareness, but I am still encouraged to pray and hope and love.

Prayer

Dear Creator and Sustainer, Help us be more aware of your power and your glory so that we can bear witness to your intense love for us and our world. Thank you for sending Jesus to show us how to live and love. Amen