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Thought for the Day: This is where hopelessness learns how it has no final authority in this world. The suffering this woman experienced, not only physically but economically, would have been devastating. She spent all she had on physicians, which means she kept on having glimmers of hope that were quickly eclipsed by the words, “There is nothing more we can do.” The human soul can only take a certain amount of emotional pain (on top of any physical pain she might have been experiencing) before it begins to feel crushed under the weight of hopelessness. And since she was experiencing a hemorrhage, there would have been a social stigma that left her without a support structure. Jesus does not consciously choose to heal her, but simply being in his presence and touching the hem of his cloak was enough to reverse her years of hopelessness. The presence of Jesus communicates how hopelessness has no final authority in this world. It may throw around its weight and talk a big game, yet the Good News Jesus revealed says, “No darkness can ultimately extinguish the light.” In a world where hopelessness is once again throwing around its weight and talking a big game, where do we find the Body of Christ bringing hope to those who simply brush up against us?
Prayer: O God from whom eternal hope flows, we open ourselves to your presence that is always walking alongside us. Let us draw from you the blessing of hope, and then seek to share this gift with others. We pray in the name of the one who enfleshed hope, Jesus Christ. Amen.
TODAY’S WORSHIP SERVICE
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Thought for the Day: Who was really making things happen in the Jesus movement? Clearly there were more than 12 disciples following Jesus. We use the number twelve because so much has historically focused on the twelve guys, yet there were probably an equal number of women…maybe more. Not only were they following Jesus, but it sounds as if they were financing this movement. Had it not been for the women, the 12 might have gone hungry. I picture Jesus growing tired of turning water into wine and multiplying the loaves just to feed those who followed him. Though there is not a lot said about the women, these are clearly individuals with stories, gifts, authority and generosity. In a patriarchal culture, it appears as if Jesus did not follow the norms and expectations of most. Every human being was precious and brought something to the movement. Within the political and religious culture of the first century, this would have sat far outside conventional thinking. What does that tell us about Jesus and God? Scripture was written within a very specific historical context. For that reason, we need to pay close attention wherever something sits outside of that context or even rebuffs it all together. Those are the passages where the heart of the Gospel is most often found.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord God, for always pushing away the restrictions societal norms attempt to impose upon your message. So much is happening within the Jesus story, and we request your help in identifying those places where you are really trying to make your point. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Please note that Peter (Simon) had a mother-in-law which I’m pretty sure means he was married. So often we think of the original 12 disciples as a bunch of bachelors, but at least one (if not many) of them was married. That is more of a side note as I really want to focus on the healing of this woman. Healing stories are very important in the Gospels, but they are also troubling in that we don’t always receive healing when we make a request of Jesus. So often it is presented that if you have faith and you request healing of Jesus, he will heal you. And so in those moments when you are not healed, the only logical explanation is you lacked faith. That experience has left so many people feeling lost, confused and rejected. I wonder if we read the story too narrowly. Is it simply to communicate how asking in faith will always bring you whatever you ask for? Or are we to read it from a broader standpoint, recognizing in the larger landscape of the healing stories a simple insight: Jesus wants us to be whole. And if Jesus wants us to be whole, then God wants us to be whole. And if you and I are the Church, the Body of Christ, then isn’t it our task to bring wholeness to every human being? I believe this is our task through the power of the Holy Spirit working within our collective gifts. I wonder how often we notice one part of the story, but miss the larger implication. For example, we notice how Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, yet we do not take the next step and recognize how having a mother-in-law implies he was married.
Prayer: Merciful and Generous Healer, you are ever present to us with an endless supply of love and compassion. It is these gifts at work through your collective body that mends the broken pieces of this world. Amen.
INVITE A FRIEND
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Thought for the Day: The last thing Jesus ever intended to do was to create a new religion. Now that I’ve made that statement, I cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, my statement will not hold up in a court of law. Yet so much of Jesus’ ministry was spent pushing back against religion in hopes of creating space where something new could emerge. For Jesus, it was never about an adherence to a set of doctrines or rules, but an invitation into a way of living. Jesus was not opposed to faithful practices, rituals and traditions, assuming they did not become an end in and of themselves. When they do, faith collapses in on itself and becomes more obsessed with the protection of itself at any cost. The religion then uses power and fear as its tools of protectionism. Once someone is sucked into the worldview of that religion, it is difficult to imagine the radical alternative Jesus was suggesting. The accusation by the Pharisees sounds rather pious (Why are you breaking the Sabbath law?). Yet it is an example of how religion enjoys creating a false dilemma. In the end, people are left feeling as if there was only one answer on the test, and they did not have the correct one. Jesus didn’t attempt to answer the trick question put forth by the Pharisees. Instead, he told a story about King David. Stories rise above the nonsense of religion and invite people onto a journey of discovery. Be cautious of any religion with all the answers and a mandate of adhering to some set of arbitrary rules. All of it usually ignores the only rule Jesus seemed interested in: the rule of love.
Prayer: You came to liberate through love, O Gracious One, and invite us into the life-giving journey modeled in Jesus. Give us the courage to leave behind those seeking to create a system of certainty, for we wish to be swept up in the joy of your Spirit. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: This might be the greatest reverse pyramid scheme ever. Through the invitation of Jesus, Levi left behind his job. He then threw a party for Jesus using his own resources and invited all of his friends to do the same. And if each of those people threw a party for their friends… well you see where this is going. At every step, people were leaving behind their livelihoods and giving away resources. It didn’t enrich the leader, like every other pyramid scheme seeks to do. Instead, all this giving away was enriching the lives of complete strangers, but not in the traditional way we think of enriching. They walked away and gave away so they could live more like Jesus, hoping their choices would help introduce others to the values of the Kingdom — values like: generosity, kindness, compassion, mercy and love. The Jesus story is a story of reversals, of turning things upside down and discovering a new kingdom reality. Yet too often in our culture, we have normalized the Jesus story to the point of turning it right side up, and in the process, we’ve drained it of every ounce of its transformative power.
Prayer: Encourage my faith and strengthen a spirit of boldness within me. Living and serving you, O God, requires me to be a spiritual trapeze artist. There will be plenty of upside down acrobatics required to join in the great reversals by which you point us to your kingdom. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: In Sunday’s sermon, I challenged the congregation to spend more time with Jesus, specifically the stories of Jesus. Today, I want to begin a couple of weeks with some familiar and maybe not so familiar stories of Jesus. In this passage from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus heals a man. This is not something all that unusual, yet you can feel the man’s desperation. A skin disease in the ancient world was often understood as God’s judgement upon a person. So those with a skin disease felt the critical glances of those who were wondering what horrible thing the person had done to deserve the skin disease. Of course, the skin disease was not a sign of divine anger, but simply biology doing what it does… sometimes with some unpleasant side effects. If Jesus is the closest thing to God one can know in human form, and Jesus does not judge but heals, then what would that communicate to both the man with the skin disease and those who were quick to form an incorrect opinion? With his actions, Jesus confronted certain held beliefs, and in doing so, suggested that things might be a bit more complicated than what might be initially assume by some. This is so true of life. We see someone, and we are quick to label them as lazy, stupid, immoral, a lousy parent or negative human being. Yet do we know the whole story? Are the quickly formed opinions that are embodied in the judgmental glances part of the struggle the person faces on top of so much else. It is often said that we only know about 5% of what is happening in another person’s life, and that’s really not enough to make any sort of accurate assessment. Maybe a better approach would simply be to follow the example of Jesus who showed love by first allowing the man with the skin disease to know that his request was heard and he was valued as a human being.
Prayer: Provide me the capacity to see the world around me through the lenses of your love, O Lord. Help me to appreciate the complexities of life, and the individual struggles so many people face each day. It is in that appreciation that your grace can be known and shared. Amen.
PRAY FOR YOUR CHURCH
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A PENTECOST PRAYER
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Thought for the Day: Something happened in that moment as people from every culture and nation and background found common ground, a sacred space where all divisions disappeared. I’ve often said that’s the goal of the church. We are called to be the community where our presence, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, helps to create sacred space. With that said, there will be some who suggest that they are not welcome. They will get mad because they feel excluded. Yet let’s be clear, their feeling of exclusion comes from the fact that they don’t like the idea of everyone else finding peace and welcome through the power of the Holy Spirit. They’d rather have a more exclusive club, where there is a clear delineation between US and THEM. That’s tough, especially as a pastor of a church striving to live into the Love First Life. I have participated in powerful moments when the Holy Spirit has created sacred space, when people found a whole new capacity through the power of love. Where divisions and exclusions once existed, healing and joyful community were found. Sadly, some sit on the outside not wanting to participate. They cannot imagine why God has welcomed “those” people. It is hard, yet I think our task is to maintain that sacred space to the best of our ability, while making sure the door is always wide open for those who would like to test the sacred space where the radical and redemptive love of God rules all things.
Prayer: Wherever your Spirit is at work, O Lord, may I recognize the sacredness of that space. And as my eyes are open to such moments, help me to see how your Holy Presence has already made all space sacred. I desire to be one who lives my life in that conviction. Amen.
TODAY’S WORSHIP SERVICE
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Rev. Bruce Frogge