“A Continual Course Correction” A Devotion for Lent

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 3.02.37 PM“A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went.” —Matthew 21:28,29

Repentance has long been an important theme for Lent, but many are put off by the idea since it seems to demand one big life-changing event. A friend of mine had a big poster on his wall that said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” In small print at the bottom it said, “If you have already repented, please disregard this notice.”

But I contend that we should never disregard that notice since repenting is something we must do again and again and again throughout our lives.

The Greek word we translate as “repent” simply means to change direction. The son in today’s parable repented of his first answer. He changed his mind and did what his father asked him. He started out in the wrong direction, but finally turned to the right one.

I have come to view the Christian life as a continual process of course correction. Our instincts are often wrong, our decisions often bad, and we easily get off course. We hurt others; we hurt ourselves.

But the good news is that God loves us enough to want us to get back on track. Like a GPS of the soul, God’s love keeps beckoning us to come home, and in our several turnings find our way back to God.

Prayer: O God, keep us ever turning and returning toward you. We pray this in the name of Jesus, the one who called himself “the Way.”

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotional for March 19, 2017. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here.)

“The Seven Last Words of the Church”

seven-last-words“Jesus said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” – Mark 7:6-8

Some of the scribes and Pharisees questioned Jesus as to why his disciples had not washed their hands before eating, as was “the custom of the elders.” He chastised them for their slavish devotion to custom, while neglecting their relationship with God.

Our customs and traditions are important for institutional continuity and for doing things in the church “decently and in order.” But customs followed for their own sake can stifle needed change and quench the flame of the Spirit. Continue reading

“Looking for Light in the Shadow of Death” A Sermon on Matthew 4:12-23

shadow

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

The “Shadow of Death.” That doesn’t sound very good, does it?

I asked Rabbi Josh Breindel of Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield about the phrase and he said it is quite literally “shadow of death” in Hebrew. He said it is a colloquial saying and means something like “mortal peril.” We are all acquainted with that image from the 23rd Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

Two of the traditional themes for the Epiphany season are “light shining in the darkness” and the “calling to Christian discipleship,” and I hope to combine them today. Continue reading

“Helping those who have no helper”

helper“For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.”
—Psalm 72: 12

Psalm 72 begins “Give the king your justice, O God.” It implies that justice is a God-given matter, and though in our time we have no king, the seeking of justice remains one of the marks of authentic government. Continue reading

Emmanuel, Come to Us! A Prayer for our World at Christmas

sunsetO God of wondrous grace and holy love, we give you thanks and praise that you entered into our world to share our messy humanity. In this holy season we are quick to speak and sing of your majesty, mystery, glory and might. Yet this season reminds us that you are not a distant God, but come close to us in Jesus Christ, your Word made flesh. He is Emmanuel, God with us, and in and through him you are with us in all the comings and goings, the beings and doings, of our days. Continue reading

“Childlike not Childish!”

astonish-us“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the realm of God as a little child will never enter it.”—Luke 18:17

Have you ever noticed that the adjectives “childish” and “childlike,” which have pretty much the same definition, carry very different connotations? Continue reading

“Turning the World Upside Down”

“When the mob could not find Paul and Silas, they dragged some believers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.’” Acts 17:6

WorldPaul and Silas got in big trouble in Thessalonica. Paul preached for several days, explaining that Jesus was the Messiah and that he had to suffer and die. Many listeners were convinced and followed them.

But there was backlash. Luke writes, “They formed a mob and set the city in an uproar.” They said, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.”

They didn’t mean it as a compliment, but “turning the world upside down” is exactly what the Good News about Jesus did that day. Continue reading