Daily Devotion – June 30, 2016

Socializing with Sinners
Lillian Daniel

“When the Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” – Luke 7:39

Last Sunday we welcomed new members to our church.  Coincidentally, I was preaching about one of many Bible stories where Jesus is criticized for socializing with sinners.

This was no reflection on the nine people joining the church that Sunday. At the risk of stating the obvious, I am not Jesus. And, as far as I can tell, our new members are no better or worse than anyone else around here.

But the Bible story reminded me that Jesus was always welcoming the sinners, the unwelcome, the weird, the extravagant, the excellent, the perfectionists, the loyal, the disloyal and everyone else.

It was a scorekeeper who criticized Jesus for associating with that woman. Jesus didn’t argue. He just said, “Do you see this woman?”

Because the scorekeeper didn’t see her. All he saw was himself, his higher pursuits, his sniveling superiority and his hidden anxieties. Jesus gave him a chance to see something better, in himself and in that woman.  Who knows if he ever saw either one with any love or mercy.

In the Congregational tradition, the minister is also a member of the church, so I also joined last Sunday. Thanks for having me, First Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa. I’m proud to be associated.

Now you can add my name to the long list of tax collectors, prostitutes, scorekeepers, scrutinizers, superheroes, saints and sinners who now make up the mighty cloud of witnesses who hear our prayers each week and add their own, “Amen,” as if to sigh, collectively, from the heavens, “We’ve been there. You’re not alone.”


Whatever I’ve seen, done or felt, you’ve been there, God. So have your sinners and so have your saints. Thanks for the honest company, if not always here on earth, then at least, one day, in heaven  Amen.

Lillian Daniel is the Senior Minister of First Congregational United Church of Christ, Dubuque, Iowa, and the author of When “Spiritual But Not Religious” is Not Enough.


Daily Devotion – June 29, 2016

16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you* a way of salvation.’ 18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the authorities. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, ‘These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.’ 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.  Acts 16:16-24

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

It’s amazing that even during the ancient times of the Book of Acts people were still more concerned with their pocket books than the actual healing of an individual from the chains that bind them.  People who question the profits of others tend to cause an adverse reaction of anger and even violence in those who seek to protect what they have.  In this passage, it is a woman enslaved by a spirit that allows her to tell others their fortune, bringing in profit for her owner.  As long as that money is coming in, the owner doesn’t seem to mind whether the woman is a slave to this particular spirit.  Not until the spirit calls out to Paul and his apostles does the woman get the healing she needs.  Even then it seems to take several attempts for Paul to take notice.  He is driven to annoyance before he is willing to do something.  Why is that? Why is easier to maintain the status quo, to be able to turn a blind eye to those in enslaved by a power that takes everything from another for their own gain?

How many of us are enslaved so that the powers that be can keep control, continue to watch profits roll in and have their way with us at will.  We certainly see this at work in this season of the political campaign.  Those powers that be speak to our fears, which are mostly centered on people who are different than us.  The GBLTQ community, immigrants, Muslims, to have gun control or not are all at the heart of our fears right now.  As with Paul, it is risky behavior to speak up and demand that healing and freedom from our chains take place.  We risk possible imprisonment and becoming outcast.  We risk becoming the focus of ridicule to those in positions of power.  What will it take for us to begin finding ways to heal ourselves and heal the world?  Do we need to be driven to the point of annoyance and anger before we will do anything? Or will we go ahead and allow courage to take us over so that the work of God can work through us?


God of justice, give us the courage to let go of our fears that cause us to cower instead of standing up for what will bring healing to your creation.  May we not have to be driven to the point of annoyance and anger before we will do anything.  Draw us to those places that are crying out for your attention.  Allow us to be your light in a darkened world.   Show us your ways.   Amen.

Daily Devotion – June 28, 2016

Matthew 25:44-45 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)


44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’


Devotion by Holly CothranDrake


I have grown so much as a person and as a Christian at Pilgrimage United Church of Christ.  Our church continues to teach me how to see Christ in everyone I meet and to be the hands and feet of Christ.  I often wonder, “What would Jesus do in this situation?”  For example, “How would Jesus respond to the mass shooting in Orlando?”  Instead of only relying on my own thoughts and feelings, I try to pause and imagine Jesus faced with the same situation.  How would he react?  The verse above provides a few answers.  Jesus would feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty.  He would offer clothing.  He would minister to those who had not only sinned, but also broke the law.  In other words, he didn’t judge and then decide who was “worthy” of aid.  He made it clear that ALL of God’s children are worthy.


Almighty God and Great Creator, thank you for your Son, Jesus, who is the ultimate example of how we should treat one another.  Thank you.  Amen.


Sermon: Acting Women into Wellbeing (6/26/16)

Have you heard?  Pope Francis has elevated Mary Magdalene’s saint day (July 22) to a Feast Day.  Among Catholics, the move puts Mary on equal footing with the Apostles.  The decree states that this woman, “recognized as one who loved Christ and who was very dear to him,” can be considered by the faithful as “a paradigm of the ministry of women in the Church.”

In a letter released along with the announcement, the Secretary of the Congregation, Archbishop Arthur Roche, argued that the decision speaks to the current moment facing the Church, which, in part, calls for “a deeper reflection on the dignity of women.” 

Isn’t that just great?

And yet, life is still precarious–and dangerous–for women worldwide.  30% of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence.  The figure in the US is closer to 33%.  Half of those who abuse women are intimate partners or family members.  An alarming number of women across the globe have inadequate access to healthcare.  The vast majority of the world’s poor are women and children.  Rape is a terrifyingly common practice.

The issues are widespread and run deep in most cultures.  Where does one begin the process of acting women into wellbeing?

It’s a crucial question for people of faith in the 21st century.  Based on today’s Gospel story, I suspect few people were asking it in the 1st century.

Simon, a religious leader invites Jesus to dinner.  As they eat, a woman—who is known in town as a “sinner”—enters the house carrying an alabaster jar of ointment.  Imagine the scene with me.  “She stands behind Jesus, at his feet, weeping.  She begins to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair.  She continually kisses his feet and anoints them with the ointment.”

What do you imagine those present are feeling?  Here’s the word that’s coming to my mind:  AWKWARD!  Yikes!  Even in our more progressive 21st century culture, if this happened at a gathering we were attending, I suspect it would make most of us uncomfortable.  Like, really uncomfortable.  But in that culture?  A culture that did not honor the whole personhood of women?  Or of so called “sinners?”  This was a social disaster—especially for Simon.  A sinful woman acting this way, doing these things to the great religious teacher?  It was scandalous!

Even more scandalous, is Jesus’ response.  Instead of scolding the woman and quoting Scripture at her, as any good religious teacher would have done, he tells Simon a story, a sure sign the Pharisee is about to be taken to school.

“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them.  Now which of them will love him more?”   Simon answers, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” Jesus says to him, “You have judged rightly.”   Oh no!  Not the “You have judged rightly” response!  Fasten your seatbelt, Simon, because your ride is about to get very bumpy.

“You have judged rightly,” Jesus tells Simon.  “Then turning toward the woman, Jesus says to Simon….”  Wow.  With one simple gesture, Jesus upends every social expectation, every modicum of propriety.  He looks at the woman….while he addresses Simon.

…which begs the question:  With whom is Jesus trying to communicate?  Are his words for Simon or are they for the woman?  While looking at the woman, Jesus says to Simon:

“Do you see this woman?  I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet (a common sign of hospitality), but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.  But the one to whom little is forgiven (that’s you, Simon), loves little.”

If you’re Simon, the words are a scathing indictment.  If you’re the woman, they’re a deep affirmation of your personhood and generosity.  So, with his words, Jesus indicts Simon and praises the woman.  But what does his gaze communicate?  His gaze shows us that Jesus saw the woman.  The one Simon would have dismissed without a second thought, to Jesus is a human being, a beloved child of God…and more generous in spirit than the religious leader.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus spends a lot of time seeing women in their full personhood.  After the scene at Simon’s house, Luke tells us that Jesus “went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women…Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.”  Perhaps those women followed Jesus and helped with his ministry because he had seen them and welcomed them as equal partners in the work he was doing.

Which is great…but how might this story help us figure out how to act women into wellbeing today?  How do we act women into wellbeing?  We do what Jesus did:  we see them.  We see women as beloved children of God.  (And for the women in the room, that means we see ourselves as beloved children of God.)  We see women as whole human beings.  We see them as deserving of a life free from fear of violence, as deserving of equal pay for equal work, as deserving of having a say in what happens to their bodies, as deserving of respect and dignity and freedom from being objectified simply because of their gender.

Remember all the hubbub when Caitlyn Jenner came out?  Jon Stewart nailed it when he said:  “It’s really heartening to see that everyone is willing to not only accept Caitlyn Jenner as a woman, but to waste no time in treating her like a woman.  You see, Caitlyn, when you were a man, we could talk about your athleticism, your business acumen, but now you’re a woman, and your looks are really the only thing we care about.

“Pundits are asking each other important questions about the societal impact of Caitlyn’s transition, such as “Do you think Caitlyn is hotter than Kris?” and “Does she have a better body than Kim Kardashian?” and, saving the best for last: “She looks good!  Especially for her age.”

“There you go! That’s the caveat we were missing: Remind her she has an expiration date now! You came out at 65, you’ve got another two years before you become invisible to society.”

Trying to make the world a safer, more life-giving place for women is a daunting task.  If you want to work for women’s health and wellness, I encourage you to check out the Half the Sky Movement website at   In the meantime, here’s a place all of us can begin—with the women in our lives, the girls and women we know.

Last week was Father’s Day.  In all the excitement of VBS Sunday, I totally forgot to mention it.  As a way to make up for the omission last week and connect it to worship this week, I invited some of our fathers who have daughters to name their hopes for their daughters.  They’ve given me permission to share some of their responses.

One father hopes his older daughter gets through her husband’s retirement from the military and that his younger daughter successfully completes college.

Another dad hopes his daughter will live a long, healthy life, where she feels empowered and fulfilled with what she does with her life, and of course, be happy.

One dad said this.  I’ve always said to my daughter – if you want something and you work hard, you will attain it. No matter what it is you want to do or accomplish you will always be competing against others so do your best every time; relax and breathe and you will be successful.  At this time in her life she has actually listened and done what I instilled in her and she is successful and knows what it takes to accomplish anything that she wants.   I am glad and very proud and I know she will keep going with that.

My hope for our daughters is that through the influence of family, church and school, our daughters will make decisions which will help fulfill each one’s goals and ambitions and allow them to grow into the person they want to be.

What do I hope or wish for my daughter?  My sincerest wish is that she finds happiness and contentment in life. That she continues to chase rainbows. That she never loses faith in God or in herself. That she remains the independent and determined soul that she is and I hope always will be. That she finds the love of her life.   And, that she knows my love for her is eternal.

I pray that my daughters will always have love in their hearts, and be lights in the darkest of places.  I pray they will find what they love to do and not let any struggle keep them from doing it.  I pray they will dance with such great joy they will bring the same peace and happiness to all those watching that I experience.  I pray they will never go a day without hearing the words, “I love you.” I pray they will know how wonderful and beautiful they are but also understand the same wonder and beauty exist in all of their friends.  And I pray that if the road of life does get too hard for them, I, or someone else, will always be there ready to give them a hug.   Finally, I pray for all the daughters of the world that their voices will continue to remain strong and that one day all of our daughters will grow up in world without violence so they can realize what sweet gifts they are.

Want to act women into wellbeing?  Follow the examples of these dads and the example of Jesus—see the women in your life, listen to them, and do everything in your power to help them become all God has created them to be.

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2016

Daily Devotion – June 27, 2016

Matthew 25:41-43

Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

Devotion by Julia Shiver

I am so quick to anger when I see how we treat each other. And I can be terrible about judging others who show no compassion.  I judge those who let their privilege in life- be it money, skin color, gender, ancestry – keep them from feeling compassion for those without, the marginalized, the poor, the disabled, the imprisoned, the sick.  But I am no better than they are when I let myself become judgmental.  I can only be open to God’s call in my life, serve the way Christ would have me serve.  And leave the judging to God.  I become faint at the sight of our inhumanity to each other.  And I can do all that I am able to act others into well-being.  But that does not give me the right to judge.


Dear God, Please continue to help me with my feelings of anger and judgement. I am still learning to love in all situations and in all times.  I can only do that with your love and guidance. Amen.

Daily Devotion – June 26, 2016

Matthew 25:40

40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.”

Devotion by Lynne Buell

I call them church hoppers. It isn’t a typo…I mean ‘hoppers.’  Unfortunately, there are many folks out there who go from church to church looking for cash.  Over the past 6 years, I have encountered many people who come to our church asking for cash assistance.  They have all kinds of stories ranging from living in their cars needing cash for gas and food to needing cash to get back home in a different state because a relative has passed.  I used to fall for their schemes, but you become thick-skinned when they return a month later probably hoping to have a different person answer the door and buy into their pleas for help.

So does this mean when I turn these hoppers away that I am turning Jesus away too?

I tell them we do not keep cash at the church, yet I offer them food from our MUST Food bin; or if they have children with them, to look through the MUST Clothing bin for clothing. (I had one family take me up on the offer…I also gave them a gift card.)  The hoppers turn abruptly and leave.  In fact, I had a hopper come to the door last week asking for cash assistance.  I didn’t even have time to complete my sentence before she brusquely left without a word.

It’s a tricky thing to try and guess on the spot if this is a way of life…easy cash…being too lazy or lacking motivation to get a real job, or if these folks have fallen on hard times and are seeking temporary relief until they do get a job. I have learned to rely on the Holy Spirit when I’m approached for help.  After all, who are we to judge?  Only God knows what is going on in a person’s life and what will help them the most.



Gracious God, I thank you for providing me the wisdom on how to know when and when not to provide assistance. Amen.




Daily Devotion – June 25, 2016
Matthew 25:37-39  (REB)


Then the righteous will reply, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and fed you, or thirsty and gave you drink, a stranger and took you home, or naked and clothed you?” When did we see you ill or in prison, and come to visit you?”


Devotion by David Burns
This has to be one of the greatest set-ups in all of scripture for a revelatory teaching regarding the inter-connectivity of all things!   It is just so easy – and dangerous – to separate out our relationship with God/Jesus from our relationship with a co-worker or brother or neighbor or partner or stranger.  We have a remarkable ability to accommodate both a warm and fuzzy relationship with Jesus and an adversarial and broken relationship with others.  We find it fairly easy to love and admire Jesus while only seeing the shortcomings in those around us.  If Jesus were literally in need, we imagine we would jump to help, but find it fairly easy to bypass the folks around us who are experiencing lack of some kind.


The people in Jesus’ parable apparently were engaged in caring for those in difficulty around them.  What they had not done, is made the connection to the unity of all things.  Jesus’ response to their question goes like this:  “Anything you did for one of my sisters or brothers here, however insignificant, you did for me.”  And, as he will soon suggest, anytime they neglected the needs of his brothers and sisters, they neglected him.


How we care for and relate to the human beings who populate our lives is a direct expression of our care and love for Jesus.  These things are not separate.  Jesus has so identified with humanity that what happens to all of us, happens to him.  When we relieve suffering and engage in acts of love for one another, we are not only acting the world into greater wholeness, we are relieving the suffering and increasing the joy of Jesus.  Something good loosens up in me when I think about that.


God who is in us and with us and among us, increase our connection and love for one another.  Give us eyes to see you in one another and in ourselves, and energize our loving with your boundless love.  Amen.

Daily Devotion – June 24, 2016


Matthew 25: 34-36

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

This passage fits right into our summer theme at Pilgrimage, “Acting the world into wellbeing.” We aren’t thinking the world into wellbeing, or hoping the world into wellbeing. We are acting the world into wellbeing. Here, Jesus is commending those who take action for those who are in need.

It is easy to think, as those of Jesus’ time, that good works would lead to great wealth. For here, Jesus says those who provide for those in need will “inherit the kingdom”. Sure sounds like a capitalistic view of “winner take all”.

But what isn’t apparent at the time is what Jesus meant by “kingdom”. In other passages, He says that His kingdom is not of earthly possessions but of heaven and eternity. And that’s why so many people of Jesus’ time were so disappointed in Jesus. They thought He was going to release them of their woes on Earth. Jesus was professing that He would lead them and us to a more peaceful eternity in heaven.

And wouldn’t it be good if we could help create a little heaven on Earth by acting the world into wellbeing?


Dear God, help lead us into action. Help us seek opportunities to help others. Help us to act the world into wellbeing. Amen.


Daily Devotion – June 23, 2016

Matthew 25:31-33


The Judgement of the Nations


‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.


Devotion by Rochelle Lofstrand


Upon reading this Bible verse, I was surprised by my first reaction because this seemed quite harsh. After the Orlando massacre, it seems that we should be focusing on coming together as a community and not separating anybody out from the group as ‘different’ or unworthy of God’s attention; however, once reading the verses following this one (coming up in tomorrow’s devotion) it is actually a unifying scripture focused on working together to serve God through others.

Today’s specific verses, when taken out of the context of their surrounding verses, seem a little confusing and authoritative; but God is setting the stage for two things – that God is the only one with any authority to separate one group from another and (in the following verses) they are separated based on their deeds for the ‘least of these’. There is nothing here that gives humans the authority to judge each other but instead these verses encourage humanity to grow in their mission outreach in order to serve God.

Let us pause and wait for the rest of the lesson to be taught and think about how we might judge those around us based on nothing but our human interpretations.



God, as we continue to heal as a nation and as a Christian community, give us the strength to see into our own motivations to separate some from the others. May God give us the wisdom to leave the judging up to God and allow us to do God’s will here on earth. AMEN.

Daily Devotion – June 22, 2016

Luke 7:42b-48


42b. “Now which of them will love him more?”

  1. Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

  1. Then He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your

house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped

them with her hair.

  1. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered,

has not stopped kissing my feet.

  1. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.
  2. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much.

But he who has been forgiven little, loves little.”


Reflection by Darlene Wagner


Yet again, Christ praises the outcast for her gentle hospitality and upbraids the respectable man for his inconsideration. Simon the Pharisee obeyed all points of scriptural law as it was understood in ancient Judaism. Simon the Pharisee probably assented to all the respected doctrinal beliefs and political views of his community as well. Yet, true goodness became real in the form of a woman who was a community outcast. She lacked a fine house, or may have even been homeless. In her unsophistication, she embodied the perfect love and hospitality that Christ had been preaching.


In today’s world of hateful words and violent deeds, every opinion, argument, or doctrine is beside the point. Humanity desperately needs a return to practices of hospitality and healing. Such acts of outrageous generosity become truths where correct knowledge fails.


Hymn –


Dear Mother Compassionate, boundless in blessing,

your table set silver-bright beacons me towards your side.

Past crowds ill-mannered, your hand’s gentle healing guides

my hurting heart to your light!