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Daily Devotion – October 27, 2016
10.27.16

Luke 19:8-10

Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

Read that last sentence again.  “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”  The footnote in my bible says “A summary of Jesus’ ministry in the entire Gospel.”  By Zacchaeus’ repentance and conversion, he saves himself and his household. But he also brings the salvation message to all those he has swindled and cheated over the years.  One person’s change of heart has brought the kindom of God to their entire community.

“For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”  Indeed, the entirety of the Gospel in one sentence.

Dear God, I thank you for the change you have brought to my heart and my life over the years.  I pray only that that salvation message be a witness to all those who I come in contact with.  May they see the kindom of God in me, as I see the kindom of God in them.  Amen.

 

Devotion by Julia Shiver

The New Oxford Annotated Bible – New Revised Standard Version with The Apocrypha

Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching – “Luke” by Fred Craddock



Daily Devotion – October 26, 2016
10.26.16

Luke 19:7

All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’

 

Devotion by Lynne Buell

The Pharisees and the Scribes were appalled when Jesus stopped at the tree Zacchaeus was sitting in and told him to come down because he had chosen Zacchaeus’s home to be a guest in.  The crowd could not believe that Jesus would stoop so low and dine with a great sinner—the head tax man who was quite rich as he robbed nearly everybody in the city by charging excessive taxes.

I gave this scenario a lot of thought.  There have been times when I’ve been among a group who have grumbled about other people.  You can get caught up in it.  Later I feel guilt and dissatisfaction with myself.  After reading this scripture (and the 3 or 4 before and after this one), I couldn’t help but think how God must have been saddened and disappointed with me.

And then I felt God’s love for me, because I do believe that God is helping me to see my own sins and faults more clearly as I continue my faith journey.

In my attempt to be a better person, I will include the following prayer in my daily routine:

Gracious God, take from me vicious and condescending talk.  I pray for a spirit of patience and love for all persons I encounter.  Amen.

 

 



Daily Devotion – October 25, 2016
10.25.16

“When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’  So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.” (Luke 19:5-6)

Devotion by David Burns

Sometimes, we really don’t want to be seen.  Whatever is occupying our time, or has been occupying our time, has made us feel a bit sheepish about being seen by other people.  Our curiosity remains.  Our desire for companionship and interaction are still intact, but, generally, we have come to accept that people don’t think too highly of us – what we do, or what we have done.

I think Zacchaeus was feeling a bit this way when he climbed up in the tree along the parade route Jesus was to walk.  He wanted to be a part of the experience, but he did not want to be seen.

So, you can imagine the initial shock and fear that must have hit him when Jesus stopped by his tree and looked up and took notice of him.  He was ready for the whispers, for the judgment, for the rejection.  What he was not ready for was for being chosen.  But it did not take long for Zacchaeus to receive the good news!

In a kindly smile and a handful of choosing words, Jesus reoriented Zacchaeus and unleashed in him the goodness that was waiting to find expression.  Mutual welcome is a powerful thing.

Prayer:

Our Surprising God, help us to receive your lifegiving welcome this day, even in the face of abiding self-judgment.  Free us to give expression to who you have created us to be.  Amen.  



Sermon: Humbling Prayer (Lk. 18:9-14) 10/23/16
10.24.16

When was the last time you prayed–not here at church, but by yourself?  I know.  It’s a nosy question…you don’t have to answer out loud.  When you last prayed, for what did you pray?  How did you pray?  What happened as the result of the prayer?

I doubt any of our prayers are as obnoxious as the Pharisees’ in the parable (at least I hope not J).  In truth, I doubt any 1st century Jews prayed that obnoxiously.  Hyperbole—exaggeration–is part and parcel of parables.  The over-the-top-ness brings home the point quickly and with humor.

So, what point do the exaggerations in this parable bring home?  What truth do they uncover?  There’s one person bragging to God about his righteousness, reminding God of just how much better than the other guy he is, while the other guy is over there beating his breast asking for mercy.  What truth was Jesus trying to communicate through this story?

It’s clear from the way Luke sets it up that Jesus directs this parable to the Pharisees.  So, tell you what let’s do.  Let’s imagine we are Pharisees, “trusting in our own righteousness and regarding others with contempt.”  I know that’s something we usually try NOT to do; it’ll take some imagination.  But stepping into a Pharisee’s shoes and receiving this parable might give us some insight into what Jesus was trying to communicate in this parable, so let’s try it.

Are you ready?  Feeling appropriately righteous and regarding others with contempt?

So, you’re a Pharisee, feeling righteous, regarding others with contempt, when you hear  this itinerant teacher tell a story about a Pharisee—who, it just so happens, feels righteous and regards others with contempt– and a tax collector (hated by just about everyone in that society), who bows his head and asks for mercy.

What’s it like for you as a Pharisee to hear this parable?  How do you respond to it?  Do you confront the teacher?  Do you storm off?  Do you lodge a complaint with the synagogue leaders?  Do you start discounting everything the teacher says, because—obviously—he doesn’t know what he’s talking about?

Or do you take the story in, ponder it, and allow yourself to think about it in the context of your own prayer life and, maybe, allow it to change you?

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is hard on the Pharisees.  I wonder, though, if what sounds like criticism is actually an invitation—an invitation to authenticity…because that’s the main difference in the prayers of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the parable, isn’t it?  The tax collector is as honest with God as he knows how to be.  The Pharisee instead hides his true self behind boasting and condescension.

How honest are you when you pray (you as you, not you as a Pharisee)?  When you pray, do you say things to God you think you’re supposed to say?  Do you hold back some of your true feelings–anger, depression, grief?  Do you not pray at all because you aren’t sure you believe in God, so what’s the point?  How much of your true self shows up when you pray?

If you don’t bring all of your true self to prayer, why don’t you?  Does prayer feel fake to you?  Have other prayers gone unanswered and you just can’t risk any more vulnerability with God?  Are you afraid if you get real with God, you might have to change something?

If you haven’t brought your true self–warts and all–to prayer, what might happen if you did?  If you held nothing back from God, not anger or outrage or depression or grief or impatience or pain or cynicism or unbelief?  What might happen if you brought your entire self to your conversations with God?  Theologian Marjorie Suchocki has written:  “If God knows me better than I know myself, what point is there in pretending I am other than I am before God?  Prayer is not the place for pretended piety; prayer is the place for getting down to brass tacks… God receives us as we are, and how we are is no surprise to God.  God, being continuously present to us, has no doubt noticed how we are before we take notice of it ourselves.  Thus we might as well acknowledge our true state when we pray.  We pray to God from where we are, not from where we consider we should be.”  (37-38)

Sr. Joan Chittister tells the story of her friend, Theresie, who prays to God from exactly where she is.  For years, Theresie taught first grade.  After she retired, former students continued to visit her long after they’d grown up, the impact she’d had on their lives was that great.

Theresie also suffered with bipolar disorder.  Medications helped keep the chemicals in her brain in balance, but maintaining that balance became increasingly difficult as she grew older.  When things got bad, Theresie would be hospitalized, taken off one medication, and slowly put back on a different one.  It was a grueling process.  Once balance had been restored, she’d be released and would be okay until the next episode.

In a particularly deep depressive episode, Sr. Joan found Theresie writhing on the floor in her bedroom.  “Her elbows were tight against her ribs” Sr. Joan writes, “her fists were clenched, she was rolling back and forth, from side to side, and moaning.”  Sr. Joan told Theresie it was time to go to the hospital again.

Theresie resisted.  “No!” she cried.  ‘Don’t make me do that.  I can’t do that.  I hate that.’  Sr. Joan held her and rocked her.  She told her the doctor was worried about her and wanted her in the hospital.  Theresie stiffened.  ‘I know he’s worried,’ she sobbed.  ‘He won’t believe me.  He thinks I want to commit suicide!  I’ve tried to explain to him but he won’t listen. Joan, tell him.  Tell him!  I would never do that.  I have too much faith in God to do that!’

When she said that, Sr. Joan knew she was telling the truth.  She really did have too much faith in God to take her own life.  Theresie “knew she was not being punished, not being abandoned, not being tested, not being scourged.  She knew she was sick and she knew that God was with her in the midst of the darkness of it.”  (Chittister, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope.)

Sometimes, the truest prayer we can offer is the one where we simply acknowledge in God’s presence who and how we are.  No requests.  No praise.  Just, “here I am.”  Part of the power of Theresie’s story is the fact that nothing was going to change.  There is no cure for bipolar disorder.  The possibility of depressive episodes would never leave her.  Theresie knew that.  Because she knew that, she didn’t ask God to cure her; neither did she try to hide who she was from God.  In her darkest moment, she simply came as honestly as she knew how and, even in the midst of excruciating pain, knew that God was with her.

Two more prayer stories.  Both come from one of the people I visit regularly, Gary Dorsey.  Gary and his wife, Jan Winburn, and their daughter Ella Dorsey (who is a meteorologist at Channel 46!) moved to Atlanta several years ago.  Both Gary and Jan had taken writing and editing jobs at the AJC.  Six weeks after moving down, Gary had a massive stroke in his brain stem.  Few people survive the kind of stroke Gary had, but Gary did.  Physically, he’s fine.  The stroke did, though, significantly affect his cognitive functioning.

As a religion writer, Gary won several awards for his work.  He also wrote a book called “Congregation,” that tells the story of what happened in a Congregational church in Connecticut over the course of a year and a half.

As he tells the story of the church, Gary also tells some of his story…part of which involves dealing with his and Jan’s infertility.  As his frustration over the infertility deepens, Gary finds his prayers changing.  “BLEEP you!  I would pray,” he writes.  “Over and over, the same message.  Could the all-powerful, all-loving God absorb that kind of anger?  Was there a language God could understand?  BLEEP! I’d pray.  “Stupid BLEEP!  Come here you lousy BLEEP!  Answer me now or leave me alone!”

Have you ever prayed that honestly?  Have you ever really told God how you feel?  Gary eventually discovered that God could absorb that kind of anger.  Toward the end of the book, he writes about adopting Ella.  After working in Baltimore for a while, the family moves to Atlanta and he has the stroke and loses a lot of his cognitive ability.

When I started visiting Gary, I asked Jan what I should do during our visits.  She suggested simply reading a verse of Scripture then sitting in silence.  She and Gary were Quakers and that was a practice Gary still appreciated.

Gary can talk and he seems to appreciate the visits.  He doesn’t initiate topics of conversation, but he does respond to questions I ask.  And he listens.  A few months ago, I took my guitar.  Singing some of the old hymns—He especially likes “I’ll Fly Away” and “Give Me that Old Time Religion”—Gary has come out of his shell a little more.  He sings and laughs and we have a good time.

And always, like this past week, we end our time by sitting in silence for 20 minutes or so.  We don’t pray for healing.  We don’t even pray for others.  We simply sit in God’s presence just as we are….which feels like the deepest kind of prayer.

We’ve spent a lot of time in recent months here at Pilgrimage focusing on what we can do out in the world.  Working with God in the world to act it into wellbeing is important work.  Equally important, though, is nurturing our own spirits through prayer.  If we come to God just as we are, with all of who we are, as honestly as we know how, we might find—through prayer—we are able to act ourselves into wellbeing, too.

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



Daily Devotion – October 24, 2016

Luke 19:1-4

 

Jesus and Zacchaeus

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

I’ve always remembered Zacchaeus, because I could relate to his short stature. I was in the infield at the Kentucky Derby 36 years ago. The crowds were five to ten deep. I couldn’t see a thing, so I squatted down and could see between everyone’s legs who stood in front of me. I could only see the powerful hoofs of the horses as they galloped by in a flash. The crowd was cheering wildly. I had no idea who had won. Turns out a filly named Genuine Risk won that race. Only the second female to have done so at the time. But I digress.

Zacchaeus was so curious about Jesus that he climbed a tree to be able to see Him. Maybe like doubting Thomas, seeing is believing. When loved ones become ill and are not healed, we wonder, “Where is God?” We seek evidence of His presence through the curing of the ill. We want to see Him.

Sometimes God reveals Himself in different ways and through different people. He answers prayer in His own way, in His own time. It isn’t always satisfying. It isn’t always what we want. So we stand in judgment of God and become disappointed and doubtful.

As I write this devotional, my brother-in-law has moved into hospice after years of battling cancer. We prayed for healing day after day. And most days our prayers were answered. But now they seem to fall on deaf ears, and we wonder where is God?

If I put aside my anger and doubt and quiet my heart and listen for God, I can feel His presence. Or perhaps it is the Holy Spirit enshrouding me. My sadness is not replaced by gladness. But somehow I feel that God is mourning as well. And I can take a little comfort knowing that God weeps with me.

Prayer

Dear God, please continue to reveal your love and mercy. Be with all of those seeking your healing hand. Let them know that You are there. Let me be a reflection of the Holy Spirit and help to enshroud those who grieve. In your mercy, amen.



Daily Devotion – October 22, 2016
10.22.16
Psalm 65:5-13
5.  You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness,
O God our Savior,the hope of all the ends of the
earth and of the farthest seas,
6. who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength,
7. who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of
the waves,and the turmoil of the nations.
8. Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns
and evening fades you call forth songs of joy.
9. You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water to
provide the people with grain,for so you have ordained it.
10. You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11. You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
12. The grasslands of the desert overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
13. The meadows are covered with flocks and the
valleys are mantled with grain;they shout for joy and sing.
Reflection by Darlene Wagner
Again, the Psalmist expresses a deep reverence for the Divine Spirit as it moves the forces of Nature. While the monotheistic Hebrews did not worship Nature, they valued the mountains, seas, skies, and life-giving rains as ‘signposts’ pointing towards a single Ultimate Reality. In the high-tech, urbanized society of the Twenty-First century, it is difficult to notice the signposts of Nature. In a society living in alienation from the natural world, disconnection from the Divine too often follows. As people lose their direct connection to their Deity, they lose their patience and civility with one another.
Meditation:
A life-restoring rainy cloud
obscures the mountain slopes
and shelter’s in Love’s mystery
these gray-trunked spruce-tree woods!
Each grass and flower tan with wounds
left by the summer’s drought
regain their life in Heaven’s womb
to sprout autumnal shoots!


Daily Devotion – October 21, 2016
10.21.16

Psalm 65[a]

For the director of music. A psalm of David. A song.

Praise awaits[b] you, our God, in Zion;
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave[c] our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.

Devotion by Anne Mooney

I journal almost every day as a part of my morning routine.  Through the years I have found it helps me keep my mind free of clutter.  It gives me an opportunity to release the nitpicky thoughts and feelings that get in the way of enjoying the day and the people I encounter.  One of the things I do when I journal is to consciously practice gratitude for everything that God has given me, whether I like it or not.  When I read this Psalm, the words, “Praise awaits you,” made me think of this practice.  Everything I have comes from God.  Even my life struggles have eventually led to personal growth.  I have never failed to find a reason not to thank God because God is always there for me, sending me what I need to grow.  David says, “Blessed are those you choose and bring near,” then he goes on to say “We are filled with the good things.”  God chooses us and loves us, forgives us, and blesses us.   Thank you, God.

Prayer

God is Great, God is Good.  And we thank you!  Amen



Daily Devotion – October 20, 2016
10.20.16

Is God Responsible for Everything?
Lillian Daniel

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” – Deuteronomy 6:4 (NRSV)

“Our time on earth is temporary. If I won’t try to find out who you are, how will I know who I am?”

That’s a rough translation of the song that stayed in my head long after I heard it. But I didn’t remember it for the lyrics. I learned those later.

I remember the song because of the twenty teenagers who sang it that night in Jerusalem. “God Is Not Responsible for Everything” is a pop song by one of Israel’s most popular rappers, Erez “E-Z” Sharon.   Their matching jeans and white shirts made it clear they were a choir. They moved and sang as a well-rehearsed group.

But their neon sneakers, long hair, short spiky hair, hijabs, sandals and funky belts expressed the natural teenage individualism that made the performance so much fun. They clearly liked the song they were singing. They took turns stepping up into the spotlight in pairs, singing and rapping at the mic, then stepping back into the group so the next pair could step forward.

You would never have guessed that these were teenagers from two separate choirs who were performing together for the very first time that night. These Jewish and Arab teenagers had not known each other before rehearsing together. But now they looked like one experienced choir.

The lyrics of the chorus made it plain:

“God Is Not Responsible for Everything. If we don’t accept each other, even the One Above won’t save us from ourselves. God Is Not Responsible for Everything.”

These kids knew more about religion than many adults and now they were teaching us.

Whatever you call God, don’t ever ascribe hate to God’s holy name.

Prayer

Eternal God, Creator of the universe, there is no God but You. Amen.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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 – October 19, 2016
10.19.16

Luke 18:14

I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.

 

Devotion by Jim Kennedy

 

This is the last verse from the part of the Bible called The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. It is the tax collector who went down to their home justified. The tax collectors were hated and despised because they were usually fellow Jewish people who worked for the city of Rome. There were many taxes needed from the provinces to administrate the Roman Empire. During the time of Jesus in first century Israel, there were tax collectors who could walk up to a person and tax them for what they were carrying, and much more.

Home-life was the test of the reality and acceptableness of one’s worship. The Pharisee, in spite of their self-importance, betrayed a conscience ill at ease by irritability, harshness, sitting in judgment upon others. The tax collector, not in spite of their self-condemnation, but because of it, went home with a new sense of peace, showing itself in a new gentleness and cheerfulness.

The spirit of religious egotism is not easily exorcised. The temper of the Pharisee may learn to veil itself in the language of the tax collector, a person confessing that they are miserable sinners. The tax collector, an openly non-religious person, was giving God thanks that they were not a Pharisee (it’s something about those Pharisees that nobody wanted to be like them).

“Exalted” means to raise someone or something to a higher level, to praise it highly, or to present something in a way that is very favourable, or too favourable. The Pharisee denies them self to be a sinner; none of their neighbours can charge them, and there is no reason to charge them self with anything amiss; they are pure from sin. But the tax collector gives them self no other character buy that of a sinner. The tax collector has no dependence but upon the mercy of God through prayer.

The Pharisee thought that if one of them must be justified it certainly must be them self rather than the tax collector. The Pharisee is rejected by God; their thanksgivings are so far from being accepted that they are an abomination. The Pharisee is not justified and their sins are not pardoned, nor are they delivered from condemnation.

The reason given for this is because God’s glory is to resist the proud, and give grace to the humble. Proud people, who exalt themselves, are rivals with God, and therefore they shall certainly be awash in sin. Humble people, who abase themselves, are subject to God, and they shall be exalted. God has preferment in store for those that will take God’s grace as a favour, not for those that demand it as a debt. They shall be exalted into the love of God, and communion with God; shall be exalted into a satisfaction in them self, and exalted at last as high as heaven.

Prayer

Dear Lord I pray that I may always worship you in an appropriate manner and walk humbly with you through life.



Daily Devotion – October 18, 2016
10.18.16

Proverbs 8:22-31

 

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.

 

Devotion by Molly Broderick

This election season has brought unhappiness and despair and confusion to my heart. Lately it feels like “the rules” don’t apply anymore. It feels like wrong is right and right is wrong. Like women don’t matter. Like kindness and decency and wisdom don’t matter at all. My world feels upside down and mixed up and confused.

As I have pulled myself away from the voices of doubt and fear to concentrate on the goodness of God and my life, I am even more appreciative of these words in Proverbs.

Before God even formed the world or the human race, he established order and wisdom. Wisdom rules the whole of creation; the seasons, the rain, the snow, the sun and moon, animals and humans alike. There is a comforting order to wisdom and in the character of God.

I am so thankful that when life and society feels chaotic and out of control, my Lord has established righteousness and wisdom and order and PURPOSE in this life.

Prayer:

“Holy God, I thank you for Wisdom. I thank you that you have created us all with the ability to BE wise. May we seek the Wisdom that comes from You only, in these turbulent days.”