Thought for the Day: Saint Augustine (354-430AD) wrote the following:
Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.
I never want to suggest that charity is a bad thing. There are moments, especially during a crisis, when charity – an immediate and helpful gift – can make all the difference. It can become a bridge to the pre-crisis level. But as Augustine seemed to suggest, charity often becomes confused with justice. Charity has never solved underlying injustice or historic oppression. Right now, as a human race, we must dig through the inequality of the past that remains very much a part of the present. It has been camouflaged and well disguised with all kinds of explanations and excuses. If folk cry injustice, we tend to toss a little money their way in hopes that it will quiet them, but if they continue to make demands, we label them as troublemakers. Digging into the human psyche and the soul of a culture is tough work, and mandates a lot of painstaking honesty followed by confession and repentance. Many will want to say this isn’t the right time, but when a pandemic and an economic crisis have already brought a nation to its knees, why don’t we take this opportunity to humbly listen to God and our sisters and brothers. The death of George Floyd has allowed us all to see the ugliness of systemic racism that will not go away with a little charity. Notice the author of the Psalm, close to 2,700 years ago, suggested that the desolate need a home. This Hebrew word is more than just a bed in a homeless shelter. It describes a family or a support system. And the prisoner isn’t simply released with the clothing on his or her back, but guided toward prosperity. Our Hebrew ancestors knew the difference between charity and justice, yet because justice demands so much more, it is the only path to true transformation.
Prayer: You are the Father of the orphan and the Protector of the widow. Holy God, allow your grace to be the companion that guides us deep into the unconfessed sins of our individual and corporate lives. As the old song reminds us: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. But Lord, I also request that justice begins with me…as difficult as it might be. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Change is always right around the corner. All it takes is a good spiritual wind to blow through our lives, and suddenly we can find ourselves moving from the security of an upper room where we have sat in silence to the streets where we are proclaiming a radical message of love. If the disciples didn’t expect it, why should we? Yet I guarantee you that it will come, not just once, but again and again. It is hard, but some people can ignore it. Others can make excuses for why this isn’t the right time. And still others can make the whole experience into a nice creedal statement that sounds very righteous but requires nothing of the person who is actually reciting it. Next time you see the spiritual leaves being tossed around, make yourself ready for the Spirit of God to push you out of the comfortable upper room and onto the streets where love is to be lived. Take this as a simple warning — the spirit will blow through your life very soon!
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, and drive me from my comfortable places and into those uncomfortable settings where so much of ministry is done. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: In a book of prayers, Lavon Bayler writes: “Eye-opening God, whose compassion reaches out to all who walk in darkness, help us to recognize the blind spots in our lives.” This is a dangerous prayer to offer as it requests God’s help so that we might recognize the blind spot in our vision, and by the grace of God, regain a vision capable of seeing the needs of the world. And once we’ve seen those needs as God sees them, we will need to respond. Too often our prayer life consists of requests that will make our lives easier, but I’d like to suggest that we pray for the Eye-opening God to do just that — open our eyes to the needs, the injustice, the suffering, the loneliness, the hatred that is currently in our blind spot.
Prayer: Illuminate our vision, O God, and lead us to the place where you would have us serve our neighbor, work to reconcile enemies and bring true justice to the broken places of this world. Amen.
Walking the Grounds at the Centrum
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Thought for the Day: Though I imagine Paul was a pretty serious guy, I think he desperately wanted to be known for having a sense of humor. I don’t wish to be rude, but if that was his wish with these words, he didn’t quite achieve his goal. There is definitely some concern about some arrogant folks in the Corinth community, and though Paul hopes to visit Corinth again and set things right, it appears to me that he offered this sharp and over the top exaggeration in hopes of getting a chuckle. The Gospel Paul believed and proclaimed required that he come with only love and gentleness, and so his words sound strange, even awkward. Have you ever been around someone who is trying to be funny, but keeps putting his foot in his mouth? Humor is an incredible gift, and even a little biting sarcasm might have its place, but followers of Jesus need to make sure their humor (or attempt at humor) does not undermine the most central convictions of the faith.
Prayer: Bless my life with humor and laughter, O God whose love abounds. But let the humor I share continue to communicate what is most important in my life. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: On Monday, after the heavy rains from the night before, I didn’t know if I was going to get my lawn mowed. Monday is my day off, and I am always hoping for good weather to complete the task. It was finally dry enough around 4pm, and so I got out the equipment (lawnmower, trimmer and the leaf blower), got to work, completed the work, and put the equipment away. The job was done, and I didn’t plan to give one more minute of my time to mowing until next Monday. If you were to think of it in regard to the verb, to mow — it was future – I need to mow; present – I am mowing; past – I have mowed. In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, there are some other verb tenses, including one called the Perfect Tense. It is something completed, yet the ramifications of its completion are still being felt. I was done mowing, and there were no lasting ramifications except a slight twinge in my lower back.
Paul wrote a second letter to the church at Corinth, and in it he talked about a new creation. The old had passed away, and everything has become new. The verb we translate as has become is the Perfect Tense. Yes, in Christ Jesus, God has made all things new. But it isn’t as if God has put away the tools, shut the garage and gone to take a nap. What God has done is still happening, in the sense that we are being renewed every day. Lamentations speaks of God’s mercies being new every morning. Does that mean God comes up with an entirely new set of mercies every day, or is it that we are growing into a fuller understanding of God’s glorious mercy? I believe God has already completed the task of a new creation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We, on the other hand, are in a constant state of renewal and restoration, waking to each new day with the opportunity of living a life that more fully resembles the new creation that is Jesus. It’s as if God has already finished mowing the lawn, building on that analogue, yet we are inside fretting whether we’ll get it done before the rain comes. We need to start living as if the task is done, because it has. And others, simply by interacting with us, should be able to see what God has already completed.
Prayer: O Creative and Renewing Spirit, there is a lot of work needed within us if we are going to be those who live as if there is a new creation. You’ve completed the task, yet thankfully you did not go and take a nap. You continue to invite us to appreciate and live as those who know what has been done. Allow what has been done to gently shape our lives so they more fully resemble Jesus, the one who is the new creation. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Paul was referring to different spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ, but earlier today I read those words a bit differently in light of the pandemic. What does it mean to be one, yet to have different emotional responses among the one body. Is it ok to have among us some who are frightened and others who are really quite calm, some who are highly stressed and still others who cry on a regular basis? I am a little bothered by those who might be overly cavalier, or even dismissive about what’s happening. But most other emotions fall pretty much into the normal category, and feeling pretty good one afternoon and rather upset the next is okay as well. The church is made up of a diverse group of people, with a wide range of experiences and emotional temperaments. As long as your response is not endangering the lives of others or yourself, then it is probably okay for the moment. If you need help or someone to listen, please reach out. That’s what makes the Body of Christ a beautiful gift. Today, you may be the person needing a little help, and in the next crisis, you might be the one who can provide a non-anxious presence. Outside of being cautious and smart, I don’t know if there is a right way of approaching a pandemic. Be good to yourself and to one another. Recognize that you might have already had a life experience that somewhat prepared you for this moment, and for that reason, you might be a gift to someone else. Next time around, you may be the one requesting some assistance. It is really good to be a member of the body.
Prayer: You are with us in this moment, Lord God, and you do not require the “right” emotional response for us to be recipients of your love. Whatever we feel in this time is what we feel in this time. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Glory full of grace and truth – My theology, my understanding of God, has always been shaped by those words. And I need to remember sometimes that an occasional sermon preached is not always going to be remembered by the congregation, and there are always folks who might not have heard those sermons in the first place. The reason I say that is in regard to my recent references to truth, including in today’s sermon. When speaking of truth, it is for me another way of speaking of God. God is the marriage of truth and grace, for I do not picture God like a Zeus or any other physical manifestation, but as the very essence of truth and grace that is woven into the fabric of the universe. Our lives are a journey of discovery and maturing as we seek to align ourselves with God, what we as humans describe with the language of truth and grace. Jesus is the fullness of this grace and truth, and his life helps us to define those words and to model them. As I think about it, though maybe an over simplification, it begins for us with telling the truth in grace, and showing grace in hopes of revealing truth.
Prayer: Holy One of Truth and Grace, continue to draw me closer to you, the very essence that holds the universe together and provides us life and the fullness of life. Amen.
SUNDAY MORNING GREETING
Full Worship Service
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Thought for the Day: I’m drawn to the language of knitting, in part, because I served a church years ago that had a group that called themselves the Knitting Ladies, though over time, they took on some male representation. These folks knitted scarfs for children and adults who needed a little more insulation during the colder months. As a non-knitter, I simply watched them do their good work. Yet my non-knitter perspective allowed me to see how this simple act brought these people together with a purpose, and their purpose was an act of love that had far-reaching ramifications. Not only were individuals in our community receiving a tangible item that helped them fend off the cold, but it also became a symbol of the way God’s spirit wraps around those in need. Not only do we need to knit ourselves together so we can do the good works Jesus has called us to do, but in our doing of these good works, we find ourselves being more fully knitted together as a community.
Prayer: Your ability to knit is amazing, O God, and we desire for your tools of grace and mercy to loop and stitch us together in service to the world. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: In my second or third year of ministry, I got a call from a man in the church whose wife had died about a year before I started serving the church. He always seemed to keep to himself, and didn’t participate in anything outside of Sunday morning worship. But he called that afternoon because God had told him to do so. I was all ears! He explained how, in his loneliness, he had cried out to God for help the night before. And though he didn’t hear an audible voice, he explained to me how God said, “If you’re lonely, call someone! Start with your church.” That conversation always comes to mind when I read a passage like the one above. So often we think that if we call out to God, we then sit by passively as God sorts out the rescue plan. Could it be that God’s response is for us to take some responsibility? If today, by chance, you find yourself calling out to God for help, maybe your second call should be to the church. Maybe we were unaware or maybe we were not as discerning as we should have been, but your call to the church might just be the answer to your prayer. We cannot solve every problem, but we have a word of grace to offer.
Prayer: Holy God, thank you for listening to us no matter what the problem might be. Where needed, help guide us to those places and people who will love us as we seek healing in our lives. Amen.
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