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Devotions in Quarantine

May 25th 2020

I was reading a book the other day that used a phrase I really liked. Addressing the anxiety and worry that can come in times of radical and fearful times like these, the book spoke of the need for the faithful to take on “Spiritual  Spunk.”

Spiritual Spunk!  

In the midst of  very real “powers and principalities” (Ephesians 6:12) working against us at all levels—economic turmoil, very real and present healthy fears, growing racism and political animosity–  now is the time, more than perhaps ever before, to dig deep into the ground that holds us. 

“Spiritual Spunk” means holding to the promise that God, in Christ, is even now working all things for our good, and working to redeem the whole of creation. It means holding like glue to the sure and certain promise of Resurrection and Life, and the promise that God will wipe away every tear from every eye.  It means not letting go of the hope that God loves the world so that life is ahead, always life, always abundant life, no matter what is going around us or within us.

This day, as economic worries gather speed, as the virus continues to spike, we are called to “Be Strong in the Lord and in the Strength of His Might.”  We are called to “Spiritual Spunk”—to trust in God’s steady will to hold us in love as this and then that carry the worry, the real worry, that maybe God isn’t there after all.  We are called to the Spunk that loves from that love, that gives from that giving, that holds to the good, loving kindness, doing justice, walking humbly, regardless.  Regardless!

All in the promise that Christ Jesus, Risen from the Dead, is the spunk in and through which we gather our own.

Gracious God,

Make me strong in Christ,

And the power of his might.

Amen

For Children

Ask your children to show some “muscle” – by doing a push up, or a sit up, or by running fast. Share with them how you experience God’s own strength in this time.  Where are they growing tired in this?  Pray for strength with them to keep going, and share with them that Jesus is with us, and by his love, will bring us through it.Attachments area

May 20th 2020

I was thinking about this prayer this morning as I sat down to breakfast.  I know it’s easy to pray maybe mindlessly, without thinking either of the prayer or settling one’s heart quiet to pray it. 

But it’s worth thinking about, praying quietly through, and paying attention to.

“Come Lord Jesus.”   We pray that Christ would be among us, with us, and beside us in all we face this day—sickness, worry about economics, heath, and their interplay, how to stay safe as we slowly come back together.  Come Lord Jesus! Give us your strength in this, your guidance in this, your presence among us to keep us centered and focused in faith, in hope, and in love.

“Be our Guest.”  We are called to make our hearts and lives open that Christ might be a guest among us.  As our guest, we are called to pay attention to him, focus on how we might best serve him, change our hearts, our songs, and our ways to welcome him.

“Let these gifts to us be blessed.”   I like to change the prayer a bit here, to say “to all be blessed.”  Gifts-whether they be health or work, masks or physical distancing—are meant to bless.  They are given to enrich, enliven, and encourage both our lives and the lives of others.  God’s gifts aren’t meant to be buried, or hidden.  They are meant to work for our good- ours, and our neighbors’.

There are troubling things among us.  But God stands ready, able, and eager to share abundance, even in this. 

Come Lord Jesus-

Be our guest.

Amen

For Children

Pray or teach your children the prayer, “Come Lord Jesus, Be our Guest . . . “  Pray it before your next few meals.  Jesus wants to be among us as a special guest—someone to pay attention to, so we can receive all the love he has to give to us.

May 19th 2020

G. K. Chesterton, a English poet, once wrote this:

“GOOD NEWS: but if you ask me what it is, I know not;

    It is a track of feet in the snow,

It is a lantern showing a path,

     It is a door set open.”

The poem is suggestive of many things, but most significantly, this.

Jesus came preaching and teaching good news, for sure.  The thing is, we can’t always see that good news with absolute clarity or direction.  It doesn’t sit before us black and white, without ambiguity. It’s not the case that the good news is clearly here, and the bad stuff we’ve come out of or happen to be experiencing, clearly there.

“If you ask me what it is, I know not; It is a track of feet in the snow.”  It is more of a path than a map, more light behind cloud than direct sunlight.  Some theologians have said the gospel comes to us as a “theology of the cross.”  God is present in Peter’s denial as much as the promise of forgiveness made to him.  God is present in Christ’s death, as much as his resurrection.  God is present in Thomas’ doubt as much as in his cry of belief, on seeing his Lord’s hands and side.

The virus is here yet, along with the staggering number of deaths from it; the millions of people sick with it; the heart-breaking word of unemployment by the hundreds of thousands and once steady businesses going under. But God, in Christ, is present as well—even before we rejoice in the word of a vaccine that works, thanks be to God, or an antibody that gives new hope.  God, in Christ, is here “as a lantern showing a path;” as a “door set open.”

The valley of the shadow is as real as green pastures, cool waters, and banquets set before us.  It does not negate good, love, hope, or salvation. God is present underneath it all, in it all, through it all, breathing upon it and through it toward God’s purposes—which are always good news, always life in abundance.

It is ours only to keep our eyes on that lantern, our ears open to the crack of that snow, our feet ready to walk through that door set open. It is ours only to keep steady in what is finally pretty amazing news:  Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  Not any valley.  Not any virus. Not any sense or sight that life is not only coming loose at the edges, but once and for all falling completely apart.

As we live the cross, deep in it, wholly convinced there is nothing beyond it, Easter is moving: Alleluias humming though unheard, rock-solid tombs registering barely audible cracks.

Hang on, people of God.  Hang on.

Gracious God,

Hold me in your promise that in Christ,

Nothing can separate me from your love.

Amen

For Children

Plant a flower with your children that will bloom in late summer or early fall.  How do we know it will bloom?  We water it and tend to it and know it will bloom in hope.  Jesus gives us the hope that no matter what, his love his here.  We can feel it even though we can’t see it right now, and wait for it as we remember that he is with us.

May 18th 2020

What is the vision in this day?

It can certainly seem like all is bleak.  I laughed when I saw this gif:  “Good night sky; Good Night Moon; Good Night Sense of Impending Doom.”  That’s certainly what things feel like!

As people of faith, however, we have vision even in this time. Especially in it.  And we have vision on a number of levels.

We know, first of all, what God, in Christ, has done for us in the past. We can see God’s hand stretching over our lives, granting grace, hope, mercy, love, and forgiveness. We can see that God has opened doors we never thought would be opened.

We can see, too, that God has a vision for us in this new day, complicated and frightening as it might be.  The vision set before us in Christ is even now to “Do Justice, Love Kindness, and Walk Humbly” with our God”  (Micah 6:8).  The vision before us is to keep sharing that cup of cold water, however and wherever we can, in the expectation that Jesus himself meets us in each and every neighbor.  The vision is to “Keep Alert,” as our Advent texts bid us, watching for God’s hand in Christ at every turn.  The vision is to stay firm in the hope that in Christ, all things—even this—work for good.  (Romans 8). 

And there is vision for the future. We wait for the day God will wipe every tear from every eye. (Revelation 21).  We wait for the day of the redemption of the whole of creation (Romans 8). We wait for the day when we can look back even on this and rejoice with one another at how God’s hand was present, moving all toward hope and life.

That vision will change what we do and how we act today, changing all things toward the life God has for us in Christ in the process- and witnessing to the deep love of God as we go.

Gracious God,
Let the vision given to me in your Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord be my eyes in this unpredictable, strange time.

Amen

For Children

Ask your children to put on a pair of sunglasses. How do the glasses change what they see, and how they see what they see?  Share with them that Jesus’ love changes the way we see things. Jesus helps us see that love is present no matter what.

May 14th 2020

Courage, someone has said, is “fear that has said its prayers.”

No doubt, there is much to fear these days.  Just when you think things might be getting resolved, there it all goes.  We always face future unknown, but what a time this is.

To be faithful is not to be without fear.  We fool ourselves if we think faith equates to nothing less. But- faith has a particular perspective on fear.  We face it, feel it, know it—and yet, in faith, move away from acting upon it or in it. We face fear with prayer, in the peace that passes understanding, in the sure and certain hope of God’s love in Christ, which moves through all we fear-for good reason!- toward our good.

I find this prayer particularly helpful when facing an unknown future. It is a prayer that has moved through the church from its earliest days.

O Lord, our God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrod, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

There is peril. There are ventures unseen.  There are paths untrod—frightening ones. But faith, that gift that is inexplicably ours in Christ, gives us faith to “go out with good courage.”   God is leading us, even in this- no matter how chaotic and dark it gets. God’s love is supporting us, as each day brings new fear- supporting us to go out “with good courage,” not letting fear get the best of us, but strength grounded in love and hope prevail.

Give me faith to go out with good courage, O God.

Amen

For Children

Ask your children when they’ve had to do something kind of scary. Share with them about a time when you did. What helps us in those times?  Love does—Jesus’ love.

May 7th 2020

We are in disagreement-severely so—about how and when to open up the economy with the virus still around, like it or not.

The economy has to run again, of course.  And absolutely.  But if we are to take this verse seriously, there’s a way to go about it.  All that we do is to be “done with love.” 

That means that for every job that opens, love has to be considered–—love for all, including the most vulnerable.  It means that for every business that takes steps to begin humming again, we need to ask how every neighbor- worker, consumer, employer- might be protected as the threat still looms among us.  It means that for every social event we enter- gladly, for sure!- we need to remember that we are still vulnerable to the virus, and so then, called keep the question of how we can best protect both ourselves and those we gather with constantly before us.

It means that as we gather again for worship—and please God, let that day be among us-! our primary question is what it always has been, only with more pointedness, more power:  How do we best love one another as we gather?

Some years ago, a popular thing among at least some of the church was to encourage the faithful to ask “What Would Jesus Do?” when questions arose about life decisions.  I didn’t really like the thought at the time, in the sense that there is no direct prescription we can take from each of Christ’s actions to our own.  Walking on water doesn’t mean we can or should.  However, there is a sense in which that question is profoundly valuable, especially in this crisis.

What would Jesus do?  No question about it.  Follow his ”New Command.” We are to love one another, even as he has loved us.

Every decision we make now- every one– finds its frame there. How does Christ pour out his love among and upon us? How do we experience that love?  How are our loves transformed, changed, by it? 

And how are we called in this new time, with these intense, troubling, and powerful challenges, to bring that love to bear in our lives and in our world?

Gracious God,

Give us wisdom, courage, and strength to ask hard questions of ourselves,

Listen well for your Spirit,

And live, most of all, by and in the love of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Amen

For Children

Make a game of washing your hands together with soap.  Ask why that’s important all the time, but particularly now. We have a bad sort of cold that’s crossing the world, and the best way we can love one another and ourselves,  even as Jesus loves all of us, is to wash our hands to help stop the “cold.”

May 6th 2020

Henri Nowen, a Roman Catholic priest, teacher, and writer, has said this about the significance of Community in the life of faith:

“Each of us is like a little stone  . . . together (as a mosaic) we reveal the face of God to the world.  Nobody can say, “I make God visible.” But others who see us together can say, ‘They make God visible.’  Community is where humility and glory touch.”

We are not together right now. And yet, we are. Every time each one of us does something as little—and significant—as sharing a cup of cold water, our common witness gains traction.  A mask worn in Christ’s name protects not just a neighbor, but neighbors.  A can of food in the food basket becomes cans.  A prayer made becomes prayers.  A call made becomes calls . . . .

People across the globe are reaching out to one another in profound and powerful ways as this virus works its havoc.  As reach out together in the name of the Crucified and Risen One, our witness gives an added wonder.  The water we offer- in our very human, very earthy ways—bears witness to the very glory, purposes, and being of God.

Gracious Lord,

Move not just through each of us,

But all of us.

Amen

For Children

Ask your children if they would like to draw a card for thank you card for one of our First Responders—or find some other way to helps someone right now.  Share with them that every time we do something even as little as giving a cup of water to someone who is thirsty, we share Jesus’ love.

Devotions and Encouragement, March 21, 2020

Today’s Text

Seek the Lord and his strength,
    seek his presence continually.

(1 Chronicles 16:11)

This is going to be a long haul.  Even if it continues a but a few more weeks, it’s going to ask for everything we’ve got to give.  And–as with any long journey–the greatest challenge we will face is giving up on what matters most.

For us, that which matters most is the promise of God’s presence with us in Christ.

Truth be told, I’ve never liked, at all, the kind of worship services where the pastor or worship leader look across the congregation with  sort of beatific sunshine—as if just by our belief, we are guaranteed freedom from trouble.  One pastor after that vein told me she didn’t like the cross.  Too much emphasis on pain, she said.  Why would the God be in that? 

I’d say it’s Lent and Easter, intertwined, that witness more to where God is for us, and how God is for us.  God does not promise God’s beloved people freedom from arduous journeys. Any of you knows that. All of you know it!  You’ve experienced no less. And lest we forget, Lent comes to us each year to remind us of just that.

The road of life can be long.

But there is Easter.  There is.  Interestingly, one tradition in the church doesn’t count the Sundays of Lent as belonging to the days of Lent.  Sunday, in this thinking, is always a day of Easter—even in the middle of way too many things that remind us that we are, after all, “dust.”

God is with us, in Christ, here and now, right in the center of the virus. Right as it moves with lightning speed across the globe.  Right as we wonder who it’s going to hit next.

God is present with resurrection and life in the pain.  In the cross.  In the very long walk pain can demand of us.  Christ, the resurrection and the life, sits in the very center of it.

The challenge ahead—among who knows how many others—will be not to forget that.  God’s strength is there in Christ.  God’s presence is there in Christ. Seek it, or not.

Which gives all the more cause to seek, to continue, to press on. In hope.

Gracious God,

Give us courage today.

and trust tomorrow.

And then,

Once again.

Amen

For Children

Have your children run toward something far away in the house and back a number of times without stopping.  Ask what it takes to keep going even when we’re tired or maybe out breath sometimes. Share a story about a time you’ve needed some extra strength to keep going.  Jesus gives us that!  He’s always with us.

Devotions and Encouragement, March 20, 2020

Today’s Text:

They all joined together constantly in prayer.

Acts 1:14

Well, here’s one thing – one powerful thing—we can do in our physical isolation from one another. We can pray.  Constantly.

The writer and teacher Kathleen Norris has said this about prayer: “ . . . _Prayer is not asking for what you think you want but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine.”

We are living in a chaotic and difficult time.  Things change sometimes moment by moment.  One of the best gifts we might be given right now is to be “changed” in ways we can’t imagine.  As we remain steady on the promise of God’s love in Christ, we can pray to be changed toward love and service in ways we could have never before have seen, even as we stay at a distance from one another.  As we hold fast to the promise that the God we knew yesterday is the same God we know today- and will know tomorrow- we can pray to be given strength we had not known God could give; hope we’d only previously glimpsed, courage we had never expected the Spirit could breathe upon us.

We couldn’t imagine this.  We couldn’t. 

But God—God, in Christ, can imagine and bring to be new strength within us and among us. And what else? 

Pray, and see.

Gracious God,

In this day, give us gifts that yesterday, we could never have imagined.

Amen

For Children

Play an “imagine” game.  If your children could have recess right now, what would they play with their friends?  If they could be at church right now, what song might they sing?  If they could see someone right now, who would it be? Share with them something you could imagine that God is doing with your family right now. Ask your children to do the same.