Thought for the Day: In reading this passage recently, I was struck by the word “again,” a word I had not really noticed before. You can read the passage without the word “again,” and it makes sense. Yet the assumption, or at least my assumption, is that Paul knew many folks in the Galatian community (communities) well enough to know their yokes of slavery. Paul appears concerned that people will find freedom, but only temporarily. What kinds of slavery have you known? Maybe it is addiction, arrogance, selfishness, hatred, narrowness of thinking, etc. I tend to think that all these and others are rooted in fear, low self-worth or guilt. A person, through God’s grace (with counseling and support groups), can often find liberation from these very confining and weighty forces. Yet for most of us, it is not like turning off a light switch. We can too easily submit again to the yoke of slavery. It might come packaged a little differently, but its destructive power remains the same. For me, regular times of self-reflection are absolutely necessary as the yokes of slavery are many, and I feel certain there are still others I have yet to acknowledge and confess.
Prayer: I hope that I will forever see myself as a work in progress. Be for me, O Lord, the gracious guide who continually helps me ask the hard questions about the unacknowledged stuff within me that has kept me from realizing your gift of freedom. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Jewish law required that landowners did not harvest the edges of the field, providing needed food for the poor who would come along later, gleaning from the fields (Leviticus 19:9-10). There was some interesting debates among some of the religious folks in regard to whether those who were hungry could gather from the fields on the Sabbath. No one was to work on the Sabbath, but that’s an easy rule to impose on others who do not have the luxury of leftovers in the cupboard from a day earlier. If rituals are intended to teach people about who they are, but more importantly who God is, then what would it say if the Sabbath rule suggested that the poor had to suffer one day every week even though there was available food for them to collect? Sabbath was to provide a day of rest, a day for intentional reflection. On the Sabbath, one might reflect on, among other things, the mercy and compassion of God. It seems strange that a person would reflect on the mercy and compassion of God while holding fast to a rule that limits the mercy and compassion of God. Religion can be a strange thing sometimes, holding so tightly to some practices that God is eliminated from the conversation.
Prayer: May the practices of faith always draw me closer to you, Lord God, while also helping me to embody your grace, mercy and compassion for others. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Have you ever had someone complain about something in particular, and then turnaround and basically do the same thing? Jesus was calling out the religious elite for the heavy requirements they placed upon the masses in regard to achieving communion with God. Not only were there many hoops, but these hoops were on fire and constantly moving. Fellowship with God seemed nearly impossible for most people. Salvation, that is, finding fellowship in the love of God had absolutely no requirements and no hoops according to Jesus. Instead of having people spend their lives trying to earn fellowship with God, Jesus basically said that it was a done deal. And once you come to that realization, you can focus on what is really important – living a life that loves God and neighbor. Yet it wasn’t long after Jesus offered those words that the church, the entity that was to be the Body of Christ, did exactly what Jesus opposed. Throughout its history, the church has continued to create hoops along a theological obstacle course, suggesting the great life-long challenge of earning God’s love. It was often used as a distraction by those who were doing something not so Jesus-like. You get people fearful that their salvation is hanging in the balance, and you get them focused on all these rituals and practices that the church says are required, then the people never have the time to ask tough questions about what the church is really doing. Access to the love of God is, in fact, easy, and any burden can be brushed aside. Jesus wants us to find rest in that love so that we are not spending our lives fearful of losing it. Instead, he wants us doing the work of love. Whenever someone suggests you need to jump through a bunch of hoops before you can find fellowship with God, you can confidently express how you’ve already found rest in that love.
Prayer: I am amazingly blessed, O Generous and Gentle God. I am truly blessed for there is nothing I can do that will separate me from your love. May I find rest in that Good News, and then live my life so that others might encounter that amazing gift. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: They say that you can’t please all the folk all the time, and I believe that to be true. At the same time, there are those who will never be happy no matter what you try to do. Are you a people-pleaser? Do you obsess with making sure everyone is happy? In some groups, these aspirations might be achieved, but in most cases a person attempting to balance all the needs and wants and general weirdness found in a group will fail… even if the group is only two or three. I had a friend who would said, “If you do your best, and people can’t appreciate your best, go find some folks who might.” I don’t know if it is the best advice in every situation, but there are times when alternative agendas and general negativity cannot be easily overcome. And as Jesus suggested earlier in the Gospel, there are times when it is best to shake off the dust on our sandals and move on.
Prayer: O Great God, help me as I strive to do my best in your kingdom work. When my best appears to hit a roadblock, or folks seem to find something irrelevant to nitpick, keep me focused on the bigger picture. Keep me strong and speaking Good News as I refuse to allow their not so good news to dwell within me. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Jesus was talking about John the Baptist, but he takes an opportunity to take a little dig at those who are wearing soft robes. Of course, John was dressed in a robe made of camel’s hair (3:4), and though I have never worn camel’s hair, I’m guessing it is about as far away as one can get from a soft robe. John is a prophet, but he also went a step further and became the one who prepared the way. A prophet announced God’s justice and reign, while one who prepared the way found him/herself in the muck of daily organization, volunteer recruitment and training. Usually different people with different gifts are called forth, but there are times when one person takes on multiple challenges. Maybe it’s because the person is multi-talented. Or maybe it’s because no one else would step forward. In John’s case, I don’t believe we know the answer. Yet I imagine, even if he had many talents, it had to have been challenging to do both. And of course, he does get beheaded for his work (14). Whether you are a prophet or someone working behind the scenes in making sure the logistics are in place for the next thing, there is always danger if it is the work of God. People love the work of God until it makes them uncomfortable, and then they are quick to go from loving to killing.
Prayer: Holy Spirit who shares, empowers and calls forth the gifts of the community, let us be mindful, without being fearful, of how our gifts can be used in your work. Rarely does it bring a reward or grand recognition, yet your people who have embraced your love are willing to model that love in service to you. We’d rather not follow in the footsteps of John who was executed, but we do recognize how faithfulness might not end exactly as we had hoped. Provide us the needed strength. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: The 10th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel describes Jesus preparing his disciples to go on a mission. A lot went into the preparation, but unlike Mark’s Gospel (chapter 6), Matthew never actually tells us about the mission. Strange! It’s like someone explaining at length all the challenges that went into planning a vacation, and then without ever giving any details about the vacation, the person moves onto another subject. It leaves you asking, What happened? Were you well prepared? Did you have fun? But Matthew, at first glance, appears to skip it all together. Or does he? There is some interesting language in the second half of vs. 1 where we hear about Jesus teaching and proclaiming his message in their cities. The word “their” appears to be an indefinite pronoun. Who are these people connected to these cities? Some folks much smarter than I have suggested that Matthew is really writing to his community decades after Jesus, suggesting that Jesus was very much alive in their mission work. Let me say that differently — Matthew was telling his readers that Jesus was present wherever the Gospel was shared, even when individuals felt as if they had been sent unprepared into the world. That’s pretty comforting for most of us who feel, on occasion, a bit underprepared for the task at hand. My words may feel far from perfect, but in faith, Jesus is present among and within those who are giving themselves fully to the work of sharing God’s unconditional love with the world. Those original 12 disciples were given a task and sent on a mission, and in spite of nervousness and fear, Jesus was right there with them as he is with us – he’s right there teaching and proclaiming through his body known as the church.
Prayer: I am your vessel, your instrument through which the Good News is shared. Lord Jesus, I make myself available to you so that the message I have heard is a message I am able to share, even when I find myself alone and apprehensive about the ministry task before me. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: These two verses were included in Sunday’s sermon text, but I did not really reference them much. It was a rather meaty section of scripture, and I have the bad habit of biting off more than I can chew in a single sermon. Unlike previous references to taking up the cross, Jesus uses it here in a way that might even sound threatening. I believe Matthew, the Gospel writer, wanted his audience to feel some discomfort. A preacher can, on occasion, employ a little pressure with hyperbole, an amplification of the consequences. Jesus suggested that anyone who did not take up the cross would be unworthy of him, yet isn’t the Gospel a message of grace — based on the idea that no one is worthy of such breathtaking and relentless love? It almost sounds as if Jesus was pleading with them to do something that acknowledged a hint of appreciation. Now was Jesus requesting our lives literally hanging from an executioner’s tool? I can’t say for sure, but many of his early followers knew that experience firsthand. The image of cross-bearing is powerful, especially in light of the crucifixion. Maybe I’m watering it down a little, but I believe we are on a daily quest for opportunities to take up the cross and to find ways of losing our lives. Many of opportunities will probably not be as dramatic or memorable as the crucifixion, but when the whole Body of Christ sets out on this quest every morning, the collective impact can be revolutionary. I am reminded of Edward Everett Hale who wrote,
“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
Prayer: Where to begin, O Lord who loves us even when our lives unworthy of that love? Where do we begin to live lives that resemble the cross-bearing love of Jesus? Put before us an opportunity to participate in the larger work of sacrifice made real through the full body of Christ. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: These were words of preparation for the disciples (Apostles) of Jesus who were about ready to be sent into the world. Once again, Jesus warned them of what to expect, and it was not looking pretty. It was time for what Jesus had been teaching more privately to go public, well beyond the local setting. It would not be well received. In fact, the disciples would feel the pushback.
Prayer: Let us not be driven by fear, Holy God, but driven by your grace and mercy. The message of light and hope taught to us shall not be confined to a building, but taken to rooftop pulpits where it is shared with all who can hear. Amen.
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