E Devotion 06.21.17

June 21, 2017

Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday. Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.  Do not fret — it leads only to evil. For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. …Psalm 37:5-9

Each day it becomes more and more common for me to hear someone say: “I’m afraid to fly, travel by the train, or even go to the mall.  You don’t know if someone will set off a bomb or a terrorist will begin shooting.”   And, as you watch the news, somewhere in England, France, Holland, or Boston a terrorist has once again killed and injured dozens or hundreds of people.  People are living in fear, unable to enjoy the blessings of the present.  It is into such a moment that the words of the prophet Isaiah reverberate with hope and assurance.  Isaiah writes: “The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Is. 40:7-8).  Our Lord would have us live freely, not in fear but with hope and assurance.

Certainly, people have differing opinions and desires, but such never becomes the rationale for violence.  Conversation, debate, dialogue, seeking to understand, and listen should always be first and foremost in our thought.  Too many today seemingly believe that violent action should be our response.  It is horrifying to turn on the TV and see a 66-year-old man shoot and hurt a number of U.S. Senators while practicing for a baseball game.  How have we come to such a time, when we would believe that our freedom leads us to believe that violence is the best or only response?  God would have us live freely, but not use our freedom as a pretext for evil.  Freedom allows for many choices, but certainly has boundaries.

Fear can be both healthy and paralyzing.   We teach our children not to play with fire and to be very careful with sharp instruments, but we can be so afraid of fire that we would never know the joy of roasting marshmallows over a bon fire or sitting around a camp fire singing spirituals with our friends.  One cannot live in fear, for such handicaps the wonder of joyful experiences.  If we constantly live in fear, we’ll never experience the wonder of traveling to Yellowstone Park, wading in the Gulf of Mexico, or standing in a crowd watching a parade go by.  God would have us enjoy our days, knowing that we are the Lord’s children and God’s word has promised grace and assurance.  As the Psalmist says: “the grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.”

This past week I had the privilege to bury a gentleman of foreign birth and a different culture.  It was an awesome celebration of life.  I watched the family write their names and some even took time to write a message to the deceased on the pillow of his casket.   They shared some wonderful stories of their daily journey together and shed many a tear in love.  Even though we came from different cultures, we could share the love of a Lord who loved us so much that he could give us his son, that we might share life’s joy in the midst of grief.  It was a tremendously wonderful moment.  And after the funeral service, one of the family gave a rosary to each of the children.  The children opened the box, took the rosary out and put it around their neck.  God touched their lives with hope and assurance in the midst of their grief.

I would pray that we will not let the violence or differences that exist in our world lead us to build barriers but rather encourage us to understand, learn, and appreciate one another – for all are children of Almighty God.  May we not seek violence but rather take time to respect and listen to each other.  As Jesus always listened to those around him, may we be willing to listen to those around us.

Let us enjoy the days we have and live confidently that God is with us – not in fear, but with hope and assurance!  For the Lord truly endures forever.

Blessings to all of you!

Pastor Dick

E Devotion 06.14.17

June 14, 2017

By his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24

My friend, Mike, donated his body to a university. There, medical students will learn what happened and, hopefully, why. Mike was struck by an autoimmune disease that, over time, left his system powerless to fight off infection: what started as a simple cold, for example, almost always became life-threatening pneumonia. Any simple infection could become life threatening. How does this happen? What are the ramifications and possibilities for treating others who suffer from similar diseases? In a very real way, Mike’s “wounds” could become healing for someone else.

I thought of Mike as I read this wonderful passage from 1st Peter. Peter, of course, was speaking of Jesus’ crucifixion and our healing through his resurrection. The healing we have received in Jesus Christ is eternal and once for all – as the writer of Hebrews tells us. But it serves as a model for how suffering can have purpose in this life.

I do find it striking that often someone’s wounds become the source of healing for others. Years ago, I learned that often those who go into counselling or psychiatry do so in order to care for their own wounds… and in doing so, their wounds become sources of compassion and healing for countless others. Ordinary people often find, in their own pain, the care for others in similar circumstances becomes possible. Struggling with her own grieving, a woman becomes a grief counsellor; having been a victim of PTSD, a vet turns it around and becomes a support person for others with the same pain. The best AA sponsors are those whose own battle with alcoholism was substantial.

Peter reminds us that our wounds have been blessed by the wounds of Christ and our death has been healed through his eternal life. What Christ has done for us we are privileged to do for others to a lesser degree… and the world tilts just a bit more towards healing and hope

E Devotion 06.07.17

June 7, 2017

The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:24

In our annual “pasta meals” we give an update on the ministry of our congregation, point toward God’s future for us and then invite those attending to help shape that future with their ideas and input. This has been quite successful with over 250 attendees this year. Not surprisingly, this has also helped set the stage for growing our financial base. When we have helped shape what’s happening we are much more likely to invest in it.

This year we asked for input on the characteristics of another pastor. Not surprisingly, preaching, teaching and leadership led the list. What was startling, was how often the use of the Bible was mentioned as the basis for these activities. We are a community of faith that has been called to discipleship and that has meant that our focus has been on the Scriptures. We don’t talk about this very much. I think we often take it for granted. But in this age with instant communication that often disappears as quickly as it came and usually had only a short length of life and relevance, we have found the eternal Word of God to be, as the prophet quoted by Peter above found, that which endures forever.

There is a stridency in our society right now. Underneath it is, I believe, the singular issue of trust. Specifically, who can I trust to tell the truth not only from his or her perspective, not only in this particular instance, but over time?

We long for a word of truth that has stood the test of time. For millennia, the scriptures have spoken to the human condition through countless changes and upheavals. So, we take our stand on God’s Word, as best we can understand it, with confidence. And we build the future with God’s Spirit leading us.

Amen

E Devotion 05.31.17

May 31, 2017

…the God in whom Abraham believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist… Romans 4:17

            St. Paul asserts a radical idea of God as creator and life giver. This is the One who works above death and nothingness to make things alive! For Abraham, though he and Sarah were beyond child-bearing age, God called into being a child, Isaac. For Paul, this is clearly a theological thread tied to the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The God who spoke, “Let there be light!” and the darkness shattered; the One who said, “Let us make humankind in our image” and living, breathing men and women were called into being; this is the God who brings life to those who are dying through this same Jesus.

This inheritance, Paul asserts, is not something that we can earn. It is ours solely by trusting the promise of God. Faith is this radical trust. Faith is the certainty we place in God who is never distracted from his promises – though they come later than we often would hope. But this faith is confidence in God while we wait… as Abraham and Sarah waited for the promised birth of their son, Isaac; as Jesus hopes in the Resurrection while suffering on the cross; this, Paul tells us, is the consistent desire of God: to be simply believed.

Is that all? Is it that simple? Yes… and no. By simply believing we let God be God. Like the child who finally jumps into the arms of a father who calls from the depths (a swimming pool) to trust him, we hurl ourselves into the thin air of hope… and God catches us. We do not leap into the air with abandon. We have seen God’s promise kept in Sarah and Abraham; we have known God’s promise kept in the Savior’s resurrection. We hurl ourselves forward knowing that God can be trusted. For many of us, as Paul suggests, this is an on-going process of the life of a believer. Again, and again, we are called to trust in new circumstances the “old” God we have always known.

This is called grace. Amen

E Devotion 05.24.17

May 24, 2017

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, discipline yourselves… 1 Peter 1:13

A number of years ago, a speaker at a conference I was attending about strategic planning stopped  in mid-sentence and said, “Remember, the purpose of planning is not to make a plan. It’s to get something done.” It was perhaps the most profound thing he had said. Of all the ideas he presented during the conference, this one thing I still remember.

St. Peter sees a church in action. His understanding of the resurrection of Jesus is that it is so radical, the hope so profound, that the minds of Christians ought to be prepared to do something. Yet, so often in the church, we gather together to plan and the end result is that we have made another plan.

That’s when disciplining ourselves becomes important, Peter tells us. The discipline is in the execution of the plan. As Christians we ought to be so committed to accomplishing good for the sake of Christ, that our planning leads to doing something.

I wonder how many wonderful ideas have emerged in the church only to be lost for lack of follow through. I can’t help but reflect on the good ideas I have had to serve others that were never done because, somewhere between the idea and the action, my mind did not connect to the spiritual discipline of simply doing it.

Peter’s words were shared to encourage the early Christians as they held onto their faith in the face of growing persecution. Today, most of us do not face the severe persecution of our faith forebears. Instead we face the temptations of apathy and ease. The power of the Gospel of Jesus is still ours. The needs of our world for a hope that does not disappoint still exists. The opportunities to bless the lives of others through word and deed are as many as ever. The costs for us and for the church are measured in time and effort.

Today I am praying that the Holy Spirit will prepare my mind for action – not just another idea or two. And if enough of us heed Peter’s counsel, we just might change the world.

E Devotion 05.17.17

May 17, 2017

Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Ephesians 5:14

I awakened early this morning, just after 5am when the sun was just beginning to paint the day with light. I lay there for a moment, glanced at the clock and hoped I’d go back to sleep – I didn’t. Instead, I got up, put the coffee on and opened the shades.

I couldn’t go back to sleep because my mind and heart were full of thanksgiving. My mind began to list the many ways that I have been blessed by God – in stark contrast to the stories of refugees and immigrants I had seen the night before. I thought I had forgotten them and their plight but they hadn’t left me. So, as I thanked God for the grace of my circumstances, I began to pray for those whose lives are undeservedly hard. As my mind reflected on them and me, my heart began to swell with gratitude for knowing the God who is not distant or uninvolved with our lives. The God of Jesus chooses to be present in and through us. And, I dare to believe, in and through those who suffer so much dislocation and upheaval.

That’s when a single thought emerged: What will you do?

I don’t know… I still don’t know. What I do know is that just praying is not enough. My prayers must be matched with the decision to do something… but I’m still not sure what that will be. As a friend recently said, “Revelation brings responsibility.” The revelation of their need has brought with it the responsibility for me to do something to meet that need. I am confident that the God who has awakened this deep desire to respond will shine the light of Christ on me and I will find something God is calling me to do.

I hope that God’s Spirit wakes us all up! I pray that each of us, as children of the Heavenly Father, will be stirred by the Spirit to see a need and then do something about it. Then, the Church will surely awaken from its sleep and rise from the dead to the glory of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ… and what an Easter that will be!

E Devotion 05.10.17

May 10, 2017

God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.….” Genesis 9:12-15

This morning (Monday) as I stepped out to pick up the Des Moines Register, I was greeted by that marvelous blessing of a rainbow off to the south west, there before me was that wonderful blessing of God in brilliant red, yellow and blue and all the shades of color in between – now, there wasn’t just one rainbow in the sky, there was a second a little bit further to the east.  It was spectacular!

Lewis Smedes, a college professor, reminds us that redemption is always the redemption of all of creation.  In our world with all of its challenges – challenges within families, communities, and nations – it is comforting to know that God is committed to saving His creation, all of creation.  And when I saw those rainbows, I was once again reminded of God’s love for me and all of creation.  In spite of all the pain and suffering, hunger and death in our world, God continues to encourage us to remain hopeful, and to continue working at solving the problems of our world.  St. Paul says: “for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:20-21).  God never rests from his desire that redemption might be realized for all people and at all times.  For as Smedes says: “God loves this world that he has made and has no plans to preside over its demise.  His plan is to make it right again.”

I interned in Detroit, Michigan when the riots of 1967 turned the community upside down, it was time of fear and anger, hostility and destruction.  One of the congregation’s members, Bill Gateman, operated a small grocery store that served the local community.  When the riots broke out a neighbor wrote on his store’s windows “Soul Brother,” for he served the community with joy.  And, when the local residents needed credit for groceries, he gladly provided it.  But then on the third night of the riots, someone smashed the store windows, went inside and poured flour and cereal on the floor and proceeded to pour syrup and cooking oil on top of flour and cereal – it was a mess.  We asked Bill if he was going to relocate his business – he said no.  So, members of the congregation went down with him to the store, cleaned up the sticky floors, wiped the shelves clean, and helped him restock his merchandise.  He put new glass in the windows and once again began to serve the community in exactly the same way he had before.  There was no resentment on Bill’s part, he only desired to serve and allow the community to thrive.  Once again he offered credit to the local residents when needed.  He loved the people, and was willing to do all he could that redemption and grace might live again.

For community to live and be possible – humility, servanthood, civility, honesty, and generosity (all gifts from God) must arise in the midst of decay.  In a world filled with challenge the rainbow is truly a blessing from God reminding us that God hasn’t abandoned his creation.  God is still at work seeking to raise up people who will seek to live with hope and assurance, for God is constantly working through us to bring a new day into being – a day of redemption.

Blessings,

Pastor Dick

E Devotion 05.03.17

May 3, 2017

When they heard Jesus’ words… some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he?” John 7:40-41

As a pastor, I have heard countless questions about Jesus and our belief that he is the Son of God risen from the dead. I have heard questions asked out of skepticism: “How can you believe in the Resurrection? I’ve never seen anyone get up from a casket.” I have heard questions asked out of heart-break: “How can God allow such a tragedy to happen – if there is a God?”

Questions have always occurred in response to Jesus of Nazareth. The above quote from John’s Gospel is just one of those asked during his earthly ministry. I don’t think questions are wrong or inappropriate in themselves. Rather, I think the purpose of the question, the occasion for the question needs to be taken into consideration. When someone has lost a loved one, especially in an untimely death, God hears the question as a simple expression of grief – not necessarily an opinion about whether God exists or not. When someone struggles with the evil evident in our world and questions how a just God could allow such things, I think God hears the question as an expression of compassion – not a denial of God.

I have also come to believe that most of the difficult questions about God are best simply heard. That is to say, that an answer is not required and often does more harm than good. Often our answers, no matter how well intentioned, are heard as naive or judgmental. In either case, the person asking the question feels dismissed. Better to remain silent and prayerfully listen. My experience suggests that such a response leaves the door open for further conversation… and that’s when such questions can become open doors to faith – like the question above.

I am always eager to give a defense of our faith. I have learned that listening is often the first step in doing so effectively.

Lord, help me listen to others; not only what they say but why they say it. Amen

E Devotion 04.26.17

April 26, 2017

“Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on do not sin again.     John 8:11

In one of the most dramatic moments of the ministry of Jesus, a woman, caught in adultery, is brought to him. After her accusers have all left, she stands alone before the Savior. Then the shocking words of grace above were spoken to her: Jesus forgave her and restored her dignity.

She couldn’t have expected such words from a rabbi – let alone a prophet. But these were the words of blessing she heard. This is sheer grace!

Few of us have been so publicly shamed. For most of us, the shame we experience is internal. That’s why it stays with us for so long, rising up when we judge ourselves guilty of sin in order to punish us and accuse us of being unworthy. This woman stood in shame before Jesus. He did not excuse her guilt but his grace removed both her guilt and her shame.

Grace works like that. Grace has no room for shame. Before the Savior, guilt is forgiven and shame is dismissed. Before Jesus, we, like this woman, stand before love. Love doesn’t excuse our guilt but it always denies shame a foothold. The love of God insists that we are worthy of life… abundant life. God’s grace alone can make sin a servant of forgiveness and new life.

Tradition holds that this woman was transformed that day. I believe it. Grace is the transforming power of God’s Word declaring that we are each a son or daughter of the Living God – brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ… and shame has no power over that. Thanks be to God!

E Devotion 04.19.17

April 19, 2017

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”  …. Luke 24:13-35

In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. The novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”

Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, go in peace.”

Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.”

This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”

Having the Emmaus story on my mind, I began to imagine what it would be like for Jesus to be walking the streets of West Des Moines, coming up beside people overhearing their conversations, being close enough to rub shoulders with them.

What if the person up ahead on the sidewalk, or the person standing next to me on at the stop light was Jesus? Would I recognize him? Would I want to meet him? There are a lot of unsavory people on city streets, you know. Would I be willing to make a place for him in my life and share my thoughts and feelings and experiences with him? Would you?

Well, I can’t think of a better image of what it means to live a life in the spirit of the resurrection than to look for the presence of Jesus Christ in the faces of those around us and to reach out to them in his name.

Have you ever gone for a walk and got lost?  Looked at the street signs and wondered where you are?  Have you ever found yourself going in circles, and not wanting to ask someone for help?  And then, a kind stranger comes up and says to you would you like some help.

In the story of the walk to Emmaus, Cleopas and the other disciple were also lost, only in a different way. They were on the right road, and they knew their way home, but they had no idea what to make of Jesus’ passion and death or the women’s testimony that he’d risen from the dead. Geographically, they knew where they were; theologically, they were lost.

Jesus came alongside them and asked, “What’s this you’re talking about?” And they told him the whole story of Jesus’ passion and death. When they finished, Jesus explained to them, in light of the prophecies of the Old Testament, the significance of what had happened.  I like to think of it this way: Only when they were willing to stop talking and start listening were they able to hear the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The story goes on to say that Cleopas and the other disciple invited Jesus to join them for dinner and, in the breaking of bread, their eyes were opened, and they were able to behold the risen Christ. They ran all the way back to Jerusalem to tell the others: “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!”

It is when we’re willing to interpret what it means to be a follower of Jesus in light of scripture and the witnesses of those with whom we walk will we experience the full power of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of life in all its abundance. Enough for now. Here’s where I’d like to stop. A funny thing happened on the road to Emmaus. Jesus appeared out of nowhere and opened the eyes of two of his followers to the miracle of his resurrection and the dawning of God’s New Creation. May he open our eyes, as well.

Blessings,

Pastor Dick