Thought for the Day: The word Kingdom is one of those words that is a bit dated, while also remaining somewhat relevant. We all have watched enough movies where the setting is some sort of kingdom. For that reason, we understand the general concept, yet as Americans we celebrate our victory over a specific kingdom a few hundred years ago. And we don’t really want to go back.
Today (and tomorrow), we will begin the new study on Dr. Amy-Jill Levine’s book, Sermon on the Mount: A Beginner’s Guide to The Kingdom of Heaven. For Dr. Levine, the Sermon on the Mount is exactly what she suggested in the title – a beginner’s guide to the Kingdom of Heaven. The Sermon on the Mount tells us…
…that the kingdom of heaven is not some abstract place with pearly gates and golden slippers, harp music, and a bunch of angels flapping their wings. The kingdom of heaven occurs when people take the words of Jesus in these chapters to heart and live into them.
As she goes on to suggest, “Heaven is a different place, a better place, a real place, a place where God rules and life is as God wants rather than as humanity has constructed.” And when this Kingdom of Heaven makes an appearance on earth, it is through the human affirmation of the vision presented in the Sermon on the Mount. Early in Matthew’s Gospel, we hear about the announcement of the good news of the kingdom. Let’s be honest here, it was not necessarily good news for everyone. The Sermon on the Mount was (and is) controversial, stirring up all kinds of discomfort and anger. When a Sermon challenges the comfort of the comfortable, usually the preacher gets fired or crucified. Jesus understood it well. Do we?
Prayer: O God whose kingdom has come to earth in Jesus of Nazareth, walk alongside us as we venture into these powerful and challenging words. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: I have received a number of emails and letters from Hyundai recently. My car is going on 18 months old, and they have been contacting me for all kinds of reasons. What’s interesting is they somehow switched my middle name and last name. So everything is addressed to Bruce David, yet on the cover of the letter and in the subject line of the email it is usually BRUCE DAVID, all caps. Technically, that is yelling! One note even said, “You’re behind BRUCE DAVID!” And the only person, before this, who ever shouted BRUCE DAVID was my mother. I give her full permission to do so as I know she has my best interest in mind. Friendship (and family) requires a lot of permission-giving, but it also demands self-awareness, specifically in regard to boundaries. It is entirely ok to make a choice in regard to who has permission. It has a lot to do with trust, and knowing the person has your best interest in mind. It is ok to let someone know, who definitely has ulterior motives, how they do not have permission to give their opinion on your life. And if by chance they do, you have the right to give yourself permission to ignore what the person is saying. Now it is dangerous to surround yourself with those who have permission to speak their mind if you know in advance they will only praise you. It is better to have a trusted friend who will stick with you, while also telling you the truth when it needs to be spoken.
Prayer: Provide me a few trusted friends, Lord God, who love me enough to tell me what no one else will say. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: As I mentioned yesterday, I am preaching from John 14 today. There are a handful of images in scripture that seize the imagination of my spirit, and this would be one of them. There are those who find the image of house or home not so pleasant because of an unhealthiness within the dwelling that should have known only safety and comfort and love. For me, it carries plenty of joy-filled memories, especially when I draw upon the recollections of gatherings with extended family, great uncles and aunts, and some folks we called aunt and uncle, but later I would learn how they were friends of the family. When I hear Jesus speak of “his Father’s house,” the emotional memory is very vivid and intense. It’s not that I am nostalgic, wanting to return. It is more gratitude for what it was and what it continues to be for me. Our task is to create the experience of the Father’s house in the here and now – doing so as the church, the Body of Christ, for the purpose of creating a grace-filled home for all of God’s creation.
Prayer: May all human beings find a home, O God, where welcome and joy permeate the experience. It might be with family, or simply with those who have filled a gap in one’s life. However it comes together, may it know your blessings. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Tomorrow, I will reference these beautiful words from John’s Gospel, yet I learned that a single space can significantly change the meaning. I was typing this verse very quickly from memory, and when I looked back at what I had typed, it read:
“…so that where I am, there you maybe also.”
There is a difference between “may be” and “maybe” – the latter suggesting that we may or may not be there with Jesus. Who knows?
In fact, there is only certainty in the actual scripture, but a slight mistake can alter the meaning rather dramatically. Jesus was not saying, “…perhaps this may happen, but don’t count on it.” Instead, he was providing a pastoral word of comfort, and certainty is the best comfort one can provide.
Be aware how the smallest of errors can have a dramatic impact on what one is attempting to communicate. It’s the difference between Good News and rather blasé news. Let’s do our best to communicate Good News.
Prayer: God, let my words communicate the convictions of my heart. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: What will it mean to be the church in a post-pandemic world? I have done some reading, though not a lot, on what life was like after the Spanish Flu (1918-1920) as things returned to normal. Actually, from what I have read, it was a bit more of a challenge than some might have thought. I am pretty confident we will find it more demanding than ever imagined, with a great deal of need – economic, spiritual and emotional. Like any traumatic event, the idea of normal will be elusive, and for some who actually find it, they will be unsatisfied. I am of the belief that we are going to see a great yearning for meaning and purpose beyond what felt gratifying prior to the pandemic. Churches that desire to prepare themselves to speak to this yearning must recognize how these will be folks uninterested in pithy slogans and narrow rhetoric. They will be seeking community, but community that reflects the richness and complexity of the world. They will seek experience above dogma and pronouncements. They will want to come to a truth, not as a list of required beliefs, but in life-giving relationships. They will want to serve, but not necessarily in ways that simply acknowledge need, but wanting to transform the systems that created the needs in the first place. Will we be able to welcome the stranger, and will the stranger feel welcome in our midst? In the weeks to come, we will be preparing ourselves for the post-pandemic world. It is going to take more work than most of us would think.
Prayer: A moment like very few of us have ever experienced – a transition, a threshold, that will not come easy for us. Move among us, O God, and reveal to us the questions we need to be asking. Show us how to be the church, not for the pre-pandemic world, but the world that will emerge. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Have you ever had a coworker who might have better been described as a couch potato observer? When I was in high school, one of the dreaded lines was, “Your grade is going to be a team grade. You will do the project together.” Occasionally, depending on who was assigned to your group, it might not have been a bad thing. But I had, and I’m guessing you might have had, some not so stellar experiences. Either one or two of us did all the work, or one guy on the team did not do his part and we were given a lower grade for not fully completing the project. It makes me wonder if God ever looks at the angels and says, “Maybe coworker was not the best title to give them.” On one level, I am immensely humbled that God invited me to be one of the coworkers in the mission of living and building the kingdom. On a whole different level, I wonder if God is whispering to some angel close by, “The Frogge guy needs to pick it up or he goes on the couch potato list.”
Prayer: I am both challenged and inspired by your invitation to be a coworker, O God whose Kingdom I want to see realized. May I never be that guy who isn’t pulling his weight in the work of love, mercy and justice. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: It was this week in 1806 that Lewis and Clark returned to St. Louis at the conclusion of their travels. They had been gone for more than two and a half years, and during that time there were many moments when it appeared they would not make it, though in the end, only one member of the expedition actually died during their travels. What must it have been like to return? I imagine it to be dramatic, like moving from one world into another. The new world (St. Louis and home) was in fact the old world, yet after being gone that long, it had to have felt unfamiliar and strange. In fact, Lewis struggled with depression in the years that followed. Returning to what was, even when we are longing for it, is often more difficult than imagined. For Esau and Jacob, the return was better than imagined, yet it was because these two men had changed so dramatically in their time apart. And though the reunion was joy-filled, the two families felt it was best if they went their own separate ways. This pandemic is changing us, whether we recognize it or not. Like Esau and Jacob, the change might be healthy, providing a needed perspective on life. For others, it is a daily struggle that has left them lost, angry and bitter. The path to the post-pandemic world will be more challenging than expected as people will have changed. They will emerge from this time having different priorities and values. I believe we will navigate it, but be mindful that the change in you may not necessarily match the change in someone else. There is going to be a required time of reorientation, a time to explore the old world which will be a new and unfamiliar world in many ways.
Prayer: Teach me, O Lord, to be more gracious. Give me a heart that appreciates how this pandemic has impacted people differently. Change is not necessarily good or bad, sometimes it just is. Allow my spirit to be patient as I grow to recognize the change within myself and others. Amen.
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Thought for the Day: Yesterday, we ordered dinner to be delivered. I could track it, and at one point it said the driver was in our neighborhood. The next moment, there was no tracking. A few moments later, I got an email saying my food had been delivered which was followed by a request for me to rate my experience. I was hungry, and there was no food at my door. It took quite a bit longer for my food to arrive. Though not terribly thrilled with the service, this was no evil scheme. It was not the sinister work of the wicked. It was a mistake, and mistakes are going to happen. But what happens when people and systems leave the hungry empty and the thirsty without drink? What happens when the poor are discredited with lying words? This is when prophets stand and speak, when the emissaries of the Holy will not be silenced. Listen to their words and do not turn away. Listen and be confronted by their defiant declarations. Prophet is not a vocation relegated to some ancient time. They are among us, faithfully speaking the painful truth.
Prayer: Give me both ears to hear and a spirit willing to be moved if I am part of the problem in our world. I do not wish to be a fool or to participate in acts that leave people wanting. Lord, invite me into the good work of your Kingdom, your holy dream for all creation. Amen.
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Rev. Bruce Frogge