Luke 21:37-38

You can read the whole passage for today here.

37Every day [Jesus] was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. 38And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.

It’s not that I’m skipping over the apocalyptic part of this text. It’s that I preached Mark’s version of it on the first Sunday of Advent. And what was missing from Mark were all the people who got up early to go to the Temple and listen to Jesus teach. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is speaking to his closest disciples. I’m not surprised when they get up early to hear Jesus–they were his crew. Where he went, they went. What he did, they did.

But let’s talk about these people getting up early in the morning to meet with Jesus in the temple. He’s presumably there teaching all day, but some people get up early in the morning to go hear him.

Maybe they wanted to be sure not to miss anything. Maybe these are people who can sit in the Temple all day and listen, and that’s what they are doing from the earliest hour until Jesus finishes, however late that might be.

Or maybe they went before they began their workdays. Or before the children were awake and required attention. Or before the chores of home and homestead began in earnest. Maybe they went when they were able to step away from their daily tasks and go hear from Jesus.

Maybe it was just men, as would be customary in the temple. But women figure prominently into Jesus’ ministry–as ones who sit at his feet and listen, as ones who fund his ministry, as ones who proclaim the good news of his resurrection. So I can’t imagine it’s just men who are there to hear him, and that women are present in one way or another in the temple courts.

In some years, my Lenten or Advent discipline has included waking up before the sunrise to study scriptures and write my daily reflection. The way I made it through seminary involved waking up at 4:30 most days to read the thousands of pages assigned for each semester, to write papers, and to prepare for exams. Now I wake up early to read scriptures and spend a few moments reflecting as a child of God before I begin my work as a professional reader and studier of scripture (and the daily tasks of ministry).

Why? Because drawing near to Jesus and living into his calling for me is worth it.

That’s not to shame people who are unable to do that, or who don’t function well early in the morning. Obviously you will find your own rhythm for meeting with Jesus. I’m naturally a morning person and getting up early is much more possible for me than staying up late or even trying to take time in the late afternoon when my brain is largely mush.

To me the point is more this: if it’s important to you, you will find the time to do it. Whether it’s early, or late, or on your lunch break, or during your commute, or when you would have been watching Netflix–you will find even just a few minutes to do the things you long to do.

May you be filled with the goodness of God and closeness of Jesus this day.

Psalm 122

I was glad when they said to me,
   â€˜Let us go to the house of the Lord!
’ Psalm 122:1

(Read all of Psalm 122 here.)

As a child, when we went to church, I was often reminded that we were going to the “House of the Lord.” I learned to speak of the church as the place where God dwelled and lived. There were things we wouldn’t do in the Lord’s house–ways we wouldn’t talk or think or act, because they are particularly disrespectful to do in the House of the Lord.

As an adult who works in faith formation, I try to not use that language in that particular way. It’s not that I don’t think church is a special place where we meet God; it’s not that I don’t think God dwells at church.

It’s that I believe that God is not bound to the church building; that God can hear the words we use and the thoughts we think even when we aren’t at church; that God dwells in our very selves (hearts?).

All my pastoring life, I have tried to find the theological phrasing/living that acknowledges the church building as a special, sacred place, but not the only special, sacred place. To keep the building from seeming like or becoming an idol of sorts. To help people understand what it means that God is with us not just at church, but at work, at play, at the bar, at the shelter.

Yes, this building is the house of the Lord, but so are you.

And then came 2020.

And I suppose we have all had to examine and consider what we believe it means to go to the house of the Lord.

Yesterday, at Peace, we worshiped in the parking lot at 9:00 a.m. We used our new FM transmitter and sound booth. I had a window to look out and see all the cars, filled with the faithful, gathered for worship. I miss the pulpit and pews, but I am so grateful for people who are willing to worship differently to keep the most vulnerable among us safe and included. I received many kind words after that service–gratitude from people who had been able to come to the house of the Lord.

We worshiped on Zoom at 11:00 a.m. We’ve been doing this since March 22, every Sunday at 11:00. Last week after the service, I reflected on how much better we’ve gotten at Zoom Worship since we began, as we have learned to mute and un-mute and read off the slides on the screen. And then yesterday was kind of a mess, at least for the beginning of the service, as some slides had become out of order and a reader forgot to print her script for the candle lighting. But when it was over, people believed they had been to the house of the Lord and were grateful for their time together in worship.

Yesterday afternoon (and between the services in the morning), about 30 families drove through the parking lot to pick up their Advent boxes filled with supplies to lead them in prayer activities and supplies for upcoming worship services. They would drive up and I would bring out their box. We’d chat about how things are going. Some brought their dogs for me to gush about. Some gave me updates about loved ones or particular situations. Some asked if we could pray together. This, too, was coming to the house of the Lord.

And when they open their boxes at home and take out the first activity, and consider scripture and pray and do something that helps them connect to others from church (even if it’s just that they are participating in the same activity), this too will be a visit to the house of the Lord.

Maybe this is the year we begin to understand what it means that God is with us and the house of the Lord is where we are seeking God.

I was glad when they said to me,
   â€˜Let us go to the house of the Lord!
’ Psalm 122:1

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

13But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.

This is a beautiful, hopeful passage full of wonder and the imagination of God. But the word I am reflecting on is encourage.

Paul is inviting his congregation in Thessalonica to remind one another of the truth that Jesus is coming again as a way to encourage one another.

Not to scare one another. Not as “you better watch out, you better not pout…” Not to issue a cautionary tale for the ones who have yet to get their lives together. Not as a weapon or a warning.

Encourage one another with these words.” Share these words and find hope in them! Rejoice in them! Remember these words on the dark days when it seems like this is all for nothing or grief is overwhelming.

What are the ways you can share God’s word and hope in what God is doing with someone who needs encouragement?

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

The full passage for today is here.

9 Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; 10and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, 11to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, 12so that you may behave properly towards outsiders and be dependent on no one. 1 Thess 4:9-12

I am struck by Paul acknowledging both the love the people of Thessalonica already had for one another and all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia, and also how he urged them to “do so more and more.” Not just the brothers and sisters, but everyone.

Sweet Lisa commented her thoughts about this passage on Peace’s Facebook page, and I appreciated her thought: “If we could still ourselves long enough to reflect on how much [God] loves us and how unworthy we are, we can see what we should do.” If God is love, and if God loves us–outsiders to him–that alone should be the reason we love more and more, and farther and wider and deeper.

Psalm 126

1When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

2Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

3The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

4Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

5May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

6Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

The word I chose for today is the restored/restore that begins both stanzas of this short Psalm.

God’s people knew the joy of God’s restoration–again and again in scripture, we see God restoring what has been taken or lost. Restoration of a people to a land after the Exodus. Restoration of the people to God over and over in the time of the Judges. Restoration of individuals who turned from sin and sought God even still–Sarah, Moses, David. Restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Captivity.

Again and again, God is one who restored.

Again and again, God’s people hope in coming restoration.

We long for every broken, lost, and stolen fortune to be restored in the Kingdom that is coming. God has done great things for us. God will do great things for us.

Isaiah 2:2-4

2In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2:2-4

My word: Instruction

Here’s something I wrote in 2018 as part of my Advent word-a-day exercise:

Do you know what I never read? The instructions. I loathe reading instructions when it’s time to put something together or get a new electronic device going. I usually just dive in and figure it out and most of the time, I can do it without reading.

One exception to my no instructions rule: board games.

I read all the instructions for board games.

I want to know how to play the game correctly, ya know? And I will fight you if you try to lead us in the wrong direction because you didn’t read the instructions and you don’t know what you are talking about.

Regardless of whether I like them or not, the instructions are available for a reason. Very often, taking the time to read them makes assembly, set-up, or play of game easier, faster, and less frustrating.

The Word of God, as it comes to us in scripture, is different than board game instructions, of course. It’s a little more nuanced, requires a bit more interpretation, was written in ancient languages, has a complicated and important context, often has layers of meaning, and hopefully is inspired in a way that board game directions usually are not.

And yet, as we read the words of scripture, noticing what they say and don’t say, interpreting their meaning well, learning how we might apply them to our current context and lives, we very often find gracious guidance and inspired instruction for living and loving.

Luke 20:9-18

The scripture for today can be found here.

He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. Luke 20:9

Today, the word I chose is “owner.”

To be honest, this is a tough passage. I’m thinking about what it means for someone to plant a vineyard and lease it to tenants to tend it and care for it, only to have those occupants reject all who represent the planter and owner of the property.

And I’m thinking about what it means for Jesus to entrust us with the good news of his reconciliation and love, to leave us with it to tend it and care for it and share it in the way he meant for us to do so…only to have us reject the very ones he sends to us, because we’d rather not share the goodness and love with the ones he sends, but keep it and manage it for ourselves.

We will reject the One who planted the Vineyard if that’s what he’s going to expect from us.

But as it turns out, the tenants aren’t the owners.

And neither do we own the gospel or the church.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-4

(The scripture for today is 1 Thessalonians 1:1-11)

2We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s possible we may finally understand what it means to be steadfast in hope.

This has been a year when satisfying outcomes have not been quick or easy for months and months now. Almost every phone call I make is to someone who, from the other end of the phone line, longs for things to be the way they once were or for things to be better than they are now.

94 year-old Kathryn, who I call about once a week, after lamenting about what she misses, always reminds me, “We’ll all be together again soon.”

We have become so used to being able to direct the outcomes and get fast results, whether we are clicking on a link to a website or waiting in line for our coffee order. We have made so many avenues to have it our way right away that we hardly have to hope anymore. If we don’t like the way things are going, we just get it done somewhere else.

And we’ve done that with church, too. We have made church something we consume, something we demand feeds us and meets our needs the way we want them to be met. If we don’t like what’s happening at our church, we can go somewhere else.* I have many pastor friends who, especially in this past year, have been bossed and bullied and threatened with tithe dollars withheld if someone doesn’t get his or her way. Thanks be to God, that hasn’t happened at Peace. Folks may not always like what’s decided, but they have been encouraging and understanding all the way.

In this year so much has been beyond our control. Even when we try to make things the way we want them–to get back to normal–we cannot affect the outcomes. Singlehandedly, we cannot tame the virus. We cannot boss it around or tell it to leave us alone because we are going to church or to be with family. There are no easy choices and no easy paths to walk here. We have to do hard things and be steadfast in hope.

And we do have hope that it will not always be like this.

Because it will not always be like this, I’m certain. Kathryn reminds you, “We’ll all be together again soon.”

May you remain steadfast in hope until that time comes.

*Obviously, children of God, this is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s time to leave a church, or a church turns out not to be a good fit. When that is the case, please go in peace. But also be willing to ask the question: “Am I leaving because I’m not getting my way or because it’s truly time to leave?”

Isaiah 64:1-4

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.

Today begins Advent. During Advent, my congregation and I are participating in a devotional practice that is simple and intentional.

“Advent” means coming or arrival. The word has double significance, as in Advent we celebrate Christ’s coming into the world and we look with longing for his coming again. The season of Advent begins with an emphasis on the final things (eschatology). We watch and pray with expectant hope for the establishment of God’s justice and the return of the Prince of Peace. Advent marks a rending of the heavens, and opening of the veil between the holy and the human. (Summary from our Book of Common Worship.)

The prophet writing the words we read in Isaiah 64 knew this longing. “Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down…” The prophet writes from a time long before Christ’s first advent, before God dwelling so tangibly and perfectly and purposefully with humanity was revealed in Christ. He longed for a God that was close enough to breathe the same air and inhabit the same earth.

From our perspective well on the other side of that first arrival, we may know a similar longing, one borne of the grief, sorrow, and disillusionment of living, so that Isaiah’s words continue to ring all around us. “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” Come, Lord Jesus, open the heavens, enter our earth, and bend all that is wrong and unjust in our world toward your holy justice. Open our hearts and dwell within them, filling them with your light and love.

If you are starting an Advent journey today, may it be blessed.

Advent Means I Am Back

The year 2020 has been something! But Advent is almost here, just as it always would have been, regardless of the events happening in our world, communities, churches, and homes.

Advent for me is often a time when I come back to the practice of writing and reflecting in a way that is blog/website friendly. Often, I have a list of words that I offer up for daily reflection, inviting you to take a photo or write your own post about the word.

This year, to my church and to you, I’m offering a scripture for each day and inviting you to find the word.

Word a Day for Advent 2020: A Daily Devotional Practice

Daily Instructions:

  1. Light your Advent wreath/candles (first week, just one purple; second week, two purple, etc)
  2. Pray a prayer for illumination, asking the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to the scripture.
  3. Find the scripture listed for the day and read it slowly.
  4. Reflect on the scripture for a moment or two. What stands out to you?
  5. Read the scripture again.
  6. Choose a word from the scripture that seems meaningful to you or that you think the Holy Spirit is drawing you to.
  7. Write that word in your daily Advent journal (or simply highlight or underline it in your Bible).
  8. Pray and ask God to help you follow his will today.

Bonus ideas: 

  1. Journal about the scripture and your word. Reflect on what the Holy Spirit has said to you as you have read and reflected.
  2. Take a photo that captures your word and share it with someone.
  3. Join us for our Zoom discussions about the Word a Day on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m. to share the words you have uncovered. (Send me a message for the link!)

Here are the words for the whole season:

These are drawn from the daily lectionary. You can find the full schedule of readings here.

November 29: Isaiah 64:1-9

November 30: 1 Thess 1:1-10

December 1: Luke 20:9-18

December 2: Isaiah 2:1-4

December 3: Psalm 126

December 4: 1 Thess 4:1-12

December 5: 1 Thess 4:13-18

December 6: Isaiah 40:1-11

December 7: Psalm 122

December 8: Luke 21:29-38

December 9: Isaiah 6:1-13

December 10: Psalm 147:12-20

December 11: 2 Thess 2:13-3:5

December 12: Psalm 90

December 13: Isaiah 61:1-11

December 14: 2 Peter 1:1-11

December 15: Isaiah 9:2-7

December 16: Luke 1:5-17

December 17: Luke 1:18-25

December 18: Isaiah 11:1-9

December 19: Revelation 20:1-6

December 20: Luke 1:26-38

December 21: Psalm 40:1-8

December 22: Luke 1:39-56

December 23: Luke 2:1-7

December 24: Luke 2:8-20

December 25: John 1:1-14