Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church
November Daily Devotions 2022
An Adventure in Wholeness for Safe Harbor Presbyterian
The Rev. Eugenia A. Gamble
We are approaching the end of the Christian year. New Year’s Day for the church is November 27th this year, the first Sunday of Advent. We are also winding up our year-long lectionary exploration of Luke’s Gospel. For that reason, it is Luke where we will focus this month. Scholars do not agree on the actual author of the Gospel of Luke and Acts. Tradition teaches that it was the Luke of the Twelve and that he was a physician. It is easy to see how that tradition arose. A careful reading of Luke shows an intense concern for the physical, emotional and spiritual health of people. Through Luke’s eyes we see Jesus as the great physician who throughout his life, and death, seeks to heal people’s bodies, souls, motivations and morals. The Gospel of Luke is all about wholeness and the removal of every barrier to it. The word we translate as saved is the Greek word (sozo). It means to be made whole, complete, and put back together. This month we will not attempt a deep dive into healing per se. That is complex concept in scripture that is beyond the scope of these devotions. Rather, I’ve chosen scriptures this month that illuminate something about what leads up to healing and what can get in the way. These texts include physical healing stories as well as stories that show an even deeper restoration. Each day, invite the Spirit to show you how the passage illuminates an aspect of your own healing journey. I have included the full texts of the passages from the NRSV for your convenience. I have chosen to offer the passages without verse numbers. I did this so that you could read the text as a continuous flow. Verse numbers were only added to the scripture in 1551. As you read and reflect, remember that wholeness, in every aspect, is your birthright in Christ, so I invite you to explore your legacy this month. As you do so, you will be preparing for the holy season of Advent and the coming of the Christ Child again at Christmas.
Nov. 1 – All Saints’ Day – Luke 6:6-11 – Stretching in Hope
On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
This story comes in the midst of a longer narrative about sabbath controversies. The temple leadership is concerned that Jesus and his followers are not keeping the sabbath laws. Here, Jesus answers from his broad interpretation. He is saying that in circumstances of pain and suffering, the choice is not between doing something or doing nothing. After all, doing nothing is actually doing something. The choice, then, is between doing good or doing evil. To do nothing is to do evil. In addition, what strikes me as profound here is the response of the withered man. After years of pain, and on a day when he expected to be ignored at best or judged at worst, he nevertheless stretched out his hand and came and stood by Jesus. Hope for him, on that momentous day, won over experience. Have there been times in your life when you had given up hope? Can you think of a time when you felt
Jesus call you out of hopelessness into a new life? What did you have to stretch in order to move out in hope when your experience had taught you that hope was not warranted? Imagine for a moment stretching out from the hurt places in you and standing next to Jesus to receive healing. How can you be an example of the wholeness that hope brings today?
Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you that nothing is hopeless with you, even if all evidence seems to the contrary. Awaken our hope today and help us to stand with you as witnesses of your healing power. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 2 – Luke 6:27-31 – Discovering the Illusion of ‘Them’ - “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
This passage comes in the midst of Jesus’ masterful Sermon on the Level Place (in Matthew called Sermon on the Mount.) Here Jesus is painting a picture of just how counter cultural the kingdom of God really is. Perhaps nowhere is that more clear than in these verses. He asks us not to respond in kind to wrongs done to us. He asks us to give lavishly, and even to find actions of love to express toward our enemies. Good heavens! This flies against reason and experience, doesn’t it? Well, that is only true if we are operating from an ‘us and them’ mindset. In the kingdom there are no such divisions. We are all one, even those we do not understand and cannot bear. This does not mean that we excuse evil behavior, or send smiley faces to oppressors. Nor does it mean that we passively refuse to respond to those who hurt us. What it does mean, is that we are invited not to become what we most despise. This sermon is addressed to victims and not victimizers, after all. We are asked to constantly keep our shared humanity in mind, no matter the provocation. We are asked to realize just how easy it is to respond in kind, and in so doing add to the sum total of the pain and grief in the world. Here Jesus asks us to remember that the image of God resides in every person, even if we think it is deeply buried in some. Therefore, how we treat anyone is how we treat God. We are to treat others as God treats us when we are in the wrong and doing harm. In so doing, we declare God’s glory. Little by little, then, we experience the soul healing of realizing that there is no ‘them,’ only us. Can you think of a time when you responded in kind to a wrong? Did that seem to help? Can you think of ways to do good to your opponents without expectation of return or good will? How might your life change if you practiced seeing the image of God in every person, even those you find personally repugnant? How do you long to be treated? How can you offer that treatment to others? Who needs you to give them something of value today? Do you find yourself wondering if they deserve it? Can you set that judgment aside and give as if it is to God? See if you can feel the healing of soul that comes from releasing the notion of ‘them.’
Prayer: Dear God, help us today to see you in every person, even if we feel hurt or afraid of them. Help us to identify how we want to be treated and make it our practice to treat others in that way, not as a response to their behavior, but as a response to your grace. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 3 – Luke 6:37 – Letting Go of Judging – “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven;”
Continuing in this incredible sermon, Jesus returns to a theme he has addressed with his hearers many times: the soul sickening habit of negatively judging others. In Greek the text literally reads: Stop judging. Stop condemning. This is not only hard to do, it is often hard to reconcile in our minds. The truth is that justice and mercy often seem to be at odds, even in the Bible. Granted, injustice must always be called out and held to account. However, this texts calls us to a deeper self-examination. The old saying that when we point a finger, there are four others pointing back at us, is apt. The transformation from negativity and judgment to faith and mercy can only sustainably happen from the Spirit’s power at work in us helping us to become aware of our own failings and skewed motivations. Quiet yourself for a moment in a spirit of prayerful awakening. Ask the Spirit to help you see the situations in which judgment is your default response. What is it about those experiences that triggers that response in you? Are their times when, in some way, you also judge others for failings you share? For example, do you easily judge a racist but find that you also sometimes act from prejudice? If you leap to judge a family members harsh behavior toward you, are there times when you are harsh to others too? What is the fear that leads to those reactions? Consider the same questions for the issue of forgiveness. When we look honestly at our own hearts, it becomes easier for our emotional responses to be released into God’s non-judgmental forgiveness. Slowly then, our own responses begin to heal.
Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you for the grace of knowing ourselves better. Thank you for seeing us with clarity and constant mercy. Thank you for your reliable forgiveness. As we relish these gifts from you, help us to offer them lavishly to others so that we can be a part of your healing of the world. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 4 – Luke 6:39-42 – Releasing Hypocrisy – “He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but anyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbors eye.
In the New Testament, the word we translate as hypocrite originally referred to actors who performed behind masks. Eventually it came to refer to any people who performed their way through life attempting to be seen one way when their lives, hearts and motivations were not in alignment with the masks they wore. We may think that hypocrisy is not a big problem for us. We try hard to live with an inner coherence to our beliefs and our actions. We try to be ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of folk. The problem comes when, as is too often the case, we don’t really know what is motivating us and have only a bare acquaintance with the true person we are behind the masks we wear. We can actually come to believe that our personality, or ego with all its games, is who we are. Then we wear masks without even knowing it. Today, draw a wonderful deep prayerful breath and ask the Spirit to show you where you may be living falsely. Where do you behave in ways designed to get a response you want from others when that behavior may or may not be true to you or to God’s values? Ask the Spirit to show you the logs in your eyes in all of the little actions of life. Once you observe them, ask the Spirit to guide your hand and heart to remove them for your own healing and wholeness, and so that you do not cause unintentional harm to others even as you try to be helpful.
Prayer: Gracious God, we implore you today, protect us from doing damage to others inadvertently. Show us just what we need to know in order to grow in Christlikeness. Fill us with the wondrous power of awareness and humility. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 5 – Luke 6:43-45 – Looking at Your Heart – “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”
We live in an intense time of name calling and finger pointing. So did Jesus. As we saw yesterday, we also know a bit about living from behind masks and the soul damage that can do. Here, Jesus tries to impress upon his friends that the only behavior that produces good fruit is behavior that comes from a deeply loving and transformed heart. The word we translate as good from the Greek, kalos, means valuable, worthy, honest, winsome. It is the kind of goodness that is not just morally good and true, but also so transformative of the soul that the person with a heart of kalos both does good, and looks good and appealing to others. The word for evil, poneros, refers to something that is hurtful, malicious, diseased, or harmful. That kind of heart cannot produce anything that is not hurtful, malicious, diseased and harmful. When we talk about our hearts being divided we are talking about the experience of both kalos and poneros fighting for space and dominance in our lives. The way that we can tell which is winning in that inner battle, is by the results of the choices we make on others and ourselves. Today, draw a deep breath and ask the Spirit to help you see deeply into your own heart. What do you see there? Ask yourself how others usually seem to feel when they are around you. Do they feel valued, worthy and inspired? Do they sometimes feel deflated, hurt, wounded or harmed? Don’t be afraid to see the truth! The Spirit of Truth can only work to heal when you are willing to look at the truth. Ask God to heal any parts of your heart that harbor hurts or fears that can leak in malicious ways onto others or into the world. Ask God to strengthen those parts of your heart that are loving and true. God will do this healing work if you permit it.
Prayer: Gracious God, we so long to live as people with pure and loving hearts. We want to do good and not harm. We want our transformation in you to be so lovely and apparent that others are drawn to you through us. Help us today to heal any divisions in our hearts. Inspire us. Transform us. Use us. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 6 – Luke 7:1-10 – Being Worthy - After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him,
and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
This tender story of a Roman boss and his Gentile servant has much to teach us about the role of intermediaries in prayer and healing, about the erasing of the boundaries of class and religion, and about Jesus as the bridge between different worlds, cultures and classes. There is much to ponder. Today, I invite you to take a moment to focus on the qualities that led the centurion to see his servant as worthy. The word in Greek comes from the root for weighty, like gold is considered worth more by its weight. It came to refer to the weight of a person’s actions. This centurion clearly saw his servant as highly regarded or esteemed. It was that esteem that he was banking on to convince Jesus to help him. Set aside that God is not swayed by how esteemed we are, and think for a moment about the examples the elders give as they plead the man’s case. He loves the people. That is, he, a Gentile loves the Jewish people. (The word is agape which is active unconditional love.) And he helped them build their synagogue even though he himself was not Jewish. Whether they would put it like this or not, it was the agape of the servant that gave his life weight and worth. That is what love does. Not only do we see Jesus reach out to heal the man, we also see that he sees the faith of a person of a different religion as greater than what he often sees in his own! Can you think of people who are not like you that you have gone out of your way to love actively? Can you think of times when you have thrown your own weight behind supporting and helping to build up a worshipping community that is not of your own faith? Can you think of a time when someone asked you to be an intermediary with Jesus on behalf of someone in pain or suffering? Think for a moment about the faith of the one asking for intercession. It was powerful even if that person did not see it as faith at all!
Prayer: Dear God, sometimes we spend too much time on who is in and who is out. We waste our heart on deciding who is worthy of our love and help and who is not. Today, give us the powerful love of the servant, the faith of the centurion and Jesus’ own wisdom to see what is worthy. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 7 – Luke 7:11-17 – Feeling God’s Compassion – Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. Just last week, as I write this, I watched helplessly as our little granddaughter Penelope Rose suffered in the hospital. I felt such empathy as I remembered all the days of troubled breathing in my young life. While Penelope’s condition triggered my own memories, it was her parents experience that released the greatest wave of compassion. How could they bear to watch their precious child suffer and not be able to fix it? In this story of Jesus, it was not the suffering, or premature death, of the son that was the focus. It was the pain of the mother. There are several words in Greek that we translate as compassion. One means to have pity. One means to suffer with another. One means to have mercy or show kindness.
The one used in this passage comes from the root for a person’s bowels. It means to be sick to ones stomach, to not be able to stomach what one is witnessing to the point that one yearns with the whole self to heal or make a tangible difference in the situation. Here it was the grief of a helpless mother who had not only lost her beloved son, but with him her only support and means of survival. It is into that experience of grief and helplessness that Jesus moves to restore. That was true then and it is true now. Jesus still cannot stomach that pain, in our homes, communities, in Ukraine or anywhere else. It bends him double. He cannot turn away. He must reach out to restore. If you find yourself in a time of grief or helplessness, close your eyes and feel the energy of Jesus’ compassion reaching into your situation to restore it in exactly the right way. Perhaps you are not in that place of desperation yourself, but many are. Jesus wants you to be his eyes to see and his hands to reach out. Can you think of any painful situations that you think trigger Jesus’ compassion today, anything that he just could not stomach? How might you reach out to offer hope in that situation? How might the church do so? Ask the Spirit to open you to see the ways that you can act in compassion today.
Prayer: Gracious God, there is much that is hard to stomach in our lives and world. Help us today not to run from what we see, but rather to run toward it with your own healing compassion, knowing that as we do so, we too are healed and restored. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 8 – Luke 7:36-50 – Knowing What God has Done for Us - One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Good heavens what a stunning and passionate story! It is easy to conflate this story with women’s anointing stories that we find in the other three gospels. This one, most scholars point out, is not a parallel to those others. There is no reason to connect this woman with either Mary Magdalene or Mary of Bethany. All we know of her is that she is a local woman who is a sinner. Two things strike me. First, is the picture of how two very different
religious leaders approach the presence of a sinner. The Pharisee host’s response was to grumble, judge and use the incident as evidence of Jesus’ inferiority. He understood that righteousness meant that he should distance himself both from the sinner and from Jesus. Jesus, on the other hand, understands that righteousness requires that he accept, understand and bless her. It is worth lingering, too, on the fact that it is the sinner who offers Jesus the hospitality of anointing that one would expect of a host. What may be most important for our journey today, though, is to consider the lavish gratitude of the woman. She knows who Jesus is and what he has done for her. She responds by spending a huge sum of money. Many people saved all their lives for oil like this for their burials. She weeps openly and unlooses her hair to dry his feet. For a woman to let her hair down in public was a sign of public mourning (or sometimes loose morals.) Somehow this woman knows just what Jesus has done for her, the depth and power of it, the world shaking change of it, and she can do nothing else but respond with her whole self, her wealth, her emotions, and even her pride. I think we too must know what Jesus has done for us in real concrete terms before we can respond as she did. We have to know that there was something that was real from which we needed deliverance. We have to know that, without that intervention, we were done for. We have to know that Jesus’ love and forgiveness require a response. It is not possible to live whole, in my opinion, if we have no idea that we have ever lived broken. Today, take a minute to think of all the ways that you have been forgiven and affirmed by Jesus. It can be small things or large ones. Just take time to feel the depth of your gratitude. How might you offer your thanks today for the healing and forgiveness you have received?
Prayer: Gracious God, we would be nothing without you. We would not know who we were, or how to make any changes we need to make. Your forgiveness and acceptance make our lives more whole. Help us today to thank you lavishly for your great gifts. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 9 – Luke 8:1-3 – Providing for Jesus Personally – Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
This little story only occurs in Luke’s gospel. Some scholars opine that it is added to the story we read yesterday of the forgiven woman in order to make sure that we know that not all women were not as notorious sinners as the grateful woman of the previous passage. Here, women are shown as disciples and mission partners in Jesus’ work. It is important to remember that demon possession, such as that which afflicted Mary Magdalene, was believed to cause maladies of body and mind but did not result in moral or ethical problems. There is nothing in scripture anywhere that associates Mary Magdalene with the centuries later legend that she was a prostitute. Joanna was the wife of a domestic administrator in Herod’s government and was a woman of some means. We don’t know much about Susanna but the text indicates that all three of the named women were people who had access to money and chose to spend it to support Jesus and his mission. They gave to Jesus of what they personally had to give. One thing that is intriguing here is that these women are not out of sight sending money from a safe distance. Rather, they are risking all to be in the fray with Jesus and the men. For them it is personal. There is no hedging of bets.
They are all in, and most of the accounts of the crucifixion it is these women, Jesus’ mother Mary and other unnamed ones who stay with him to the end. Discipleship is personal, no matter where the path leads. Today, take a moment to think of how your discipleship is personal. How do you serve Jesus and his mission with what you have to offer? Do you ever find that you feel overwhelmed with the demands of discipleship and want to distance yourself from the community or the work? If that happens, what choices do you make? Do you stick it out or do you withdraw? What are the effects on you and others of that choice? How might you make your discipleship more intimate and personal?
Prayer: Gracious God, your call to each of us is intimate and personal. Help us today to answer and to follow. Help us to give what we have to give, grateful that in your hands what we offer is enough. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 10 – Luke 8:16 – Uncovering Your Light – “No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light.
Jesus has just told a large crowd that includes his disciples a story about a sower who sows his crop. Some of it does well. Some of it seems to thrive for a while then fades. Some never takes root at all. In that story it is clear that the early followers, and even Jesus himself, wrestle with the conundrum faced by all teachers: why do some people get it and others don’t? Why are some people transformed and fruitful for the gospel and others flash brightly but just don’t develop lasting roots? That story concludes with several sayings, of which today’s verse is one. In this verse, Jesus reminds us that while it is something of a mystery why some respond, take deep root and others don’t, it is the responsibility of those who are rooted in the gospel to let the light that is in them shine in the world. Here again we see that the gospel and its transformative power is not for the timid or selfish. Light is to be shared. One of the challenges we face today is that many people think they know what the Gospel light means but have only a perverted view of it. That perverted view comes in no small measure from the missteps and meanness of the church and/or the viciousness of those who claim to be on the path. Here is the key: when Christ takes root in our hearts, love is revealed, never hate, never vengeance, never lies. Take a moment today to explore the light of Christ’s love within your heart. You might want to light a candle on your desk to remind you, or on your dining or coffee table. Take a moment to look at the flame. As is done in the ancient sabbath ritual, wave your hand to bring the warmth and smoke to your face so that you can breathe in the Christ Light as a prayer. Ask yourself how you display the Light of Love most clearly? Are there things that scare you about making Christ’s Light more obvious in your life? When are you most likely to hide the Light? Where is it most needed? How can you display the Light without being unkind or disrespectful of others? Ask the Spirit to show you ways.
Prayer: Gracious God we praise you for the Christ Light you have planted in our hearts. Help us today to display that loving light in everything we say and do. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 11 – Luke 8:19-21 – Listening and Doing – Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
This is a passage that can easily confound and upset us. After all, we live in a Hallmark Card kind of “family first” age. We love our families, or even if we don’t, we try to. So how can Jesus be so dismissive of his own? Especially his mother who risked her life to have him. Well, we need to remember that Jesus’ birth family did not play an active positive role in his earthly ministry. As a matter of fact, the Gospel of Mark suggests that they were so disturbed by his message and behavior that at one point they tried to do an intervention to get him some help. And, no doubt, to try to get him to stop embarrassing and endangering the family. It was only after the resurrection that they saw the big picture and even then their responses were mixed apparently. On top of that, this passage would have shocked those who tried to live their lives by the complex commandment to honor father and mother. So what was Jesus trying to teach us? That there are more important things than family? Maybe. That families that don’t get on board with our mission and priorities in life don’t get to come first anymore? Maybe. What is more fruitful to ponder is not just what it takes to be kept waiting on the front porch. What is fruitful for us to ponder is what it takes to be the chosen family inside. He tells us two things. To be his family we must listen to his word and then do it. The word translated ‘do it’ means to abide, to agree in a way that binds, to bring forth, to commit, to secure, to perform or to yield fruit. There is little room in Jesus intimate family for passivity. It is not enough to listen to a word spoken. We become family when we actively abide in the word and bring for with our lives the very things the words express. Think for a moment about the ways that you hear Jesus’ word? What are the contexts? How do you actively go about committing to what you hear? How do you abide in it in such a way that the word brings forth its fruit in your life? Do you feel like you need help with this? Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire you. Talk it over with Christian friends and family members. What does it mean to be a family of the word?
Prayer: Gracious God help us today to hear your word and to do it. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 12 – Luke 8:22-25 – Even the Storms Obey - One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
The picture of Jesus’ friends, certain that they are about to die, waking Jesus from a sound sleep to, if nothing else, simply care about what is happening to them, is poignant indeed. There are several interesting elements. First, in the ancient world our ancestors had a very jittery relationship with the sea or the lake. It provided a living for fishermen and transport to markets, but it was also capricious and dangerous. They believed the waters were full of demons that could rise up and stir deadly storms to swamp them. From our earliest beginning our ancestors saw large bodies of water as symbols of chaos itself. It was this chaos that God tamed to begin creation. All of that to say that when the disciples found themselves swamping in a storm they thought it was a demonic action. When they wake Jesus, he treats it as such and uses the traditional formula for exorcism to deal with it. We could spend days on this text and barely scratch the surface. For today, note a couple of
things. This is one of the few times that the disciples are the beneficiaries of Jesus’ miracle working power. They have witnessed it many times, but this is the first time it has been employed for them. Are there times when you have benefited from Jesus’ power in a time of crisis? Jesus was just about to commission the disciples for ministry. Did your experience somehow equip you for ministry? Think as well about the two questions. Jesus asks them about their faith. He is not implying that if they had had enough faith and not been too scared to access it that they could have dealt with the storm themselves. No. He is asking them if they can trust him even in the midst of a storm they cannot control. Can you think of times when Jesus asked you to trust him in a dangerous or frightening situation? The second question the disciples ask each other. Who is this guy? They were more afraid after the miracle than before because they realized they were in the presence of a power the likes of which they had never seen before. If someone were to ask you, who Jesus is, what would you say to them? Your answer will steady you in your own storms and little by little repair life’s ravages.
Prayer: Gracious God, you are with us in every stormy passage of life. Help us to trust in your presence to do and be all that is best. Help us to deepen our understanding of who you are, so that we can answer from our deep hearts the questions of our stormy world. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 13 – Luke 8:26f – Living with the Chains of the Past - Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
As is so often the case when we read a passage from the gospels, it speaks to us on many levels, often at the place of our greatest need. Perhaps the story of Legion touches you in your own mental health struggles or those of a loved one. Perhaps you know what if feels like to be so beset with worries that there would need to be a legion of you to keep them at bay. Perhaps you know what it feels like to be cast out of home or community because of something you can’t help and others can’t cope with. Perhaps you know what it feels like for losses to pile up on you, or rejections, or personal failures, to such a degree that you just want to isolate yourself from others so as not to face the judgment or the shame. Whatever the case, I expect that each of us has had moments when life was too much and we just wanted to run away. One of the things that touches me so much about this story is that the demoniac was so broken by life, by illness, by his own unruly thoughts and feelings, that the only place he could think to go was to the dead, to the place of no hope and uncleanness. Sometimes when we are feeling incredibly stressed or overwhelmed, we may tend to retreat to a dead past ourselves. We may think there is nothing left for us in the present or the future. We may even rewrite a less than perfect past, or spend our energy trying to recapture one that was good and nourishing. When that happens, we can find ourselves living among the tombs and scratching open wounds that are trying to heal. While there are lots of nuances in the story that we could dwell upon, today I invite you to linger with the picture of a man who is so burdened that he has decided his only hope is to live in the dead past. Are there times when you find yourself longing for a past that is dead and gone? Do you think that you have idealized the past? Do you ever find yourself putting your best energy into returning to the past rather than into relishing the present and trusting the future? What seems to trigger that behavior? Take a moment to look around you at what is right now. Take a moment to breathe today’s air and thank God for every single thing you see!
Prayer: Gracious God, we are often so overwhelmed by our unruly lives and times. Help us not to fixate on the past to try to recreate it. Help us instead to release the things that hold us captive and breathe in the beautiful air of the present moment. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 14 – Luke 8:42b-48 – Never Giving Up (Taking a risk) – And as he went the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed the power have gone out from me.” When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him. And how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
As a woman with chronic illness, this passage touches me on many levels. I know what it feels like every day to try to breathe and manage pain. I know the toll that takes on family and finances. I know what it is like to go to doctor after doctor hoping that each new one will have a key to make things better. I know what it is like to find that cures do not cure and often make things worse. She is me. But she is not just me in the pain and disappointment. She is not just me in the financial hardship and worry. She is also me in the hope and the tenacity. The way God has used this text to heal me has had nothing to do with my lungs or spine. It has everything to do with learning where my hope resides and never giving up. The woman in this story is fierce and courageous. She has been declared unclean by her community and cast out of it. Her constant flow of blood means that no one has touched her for twelve years. She has not been able to go to the Temple for twelve years. She has not been able to drink from a cup or eat from a bowl or sit in a chair that another might touch and be spiritually contaminated by her. And yet. She never gives up. She pushes herself through a crowd and reaches out with hope to touch Jesus. Perhaps she hopes not to be noticed. Her touching him while bleeding was a crime, but her faith and her desire for wholeness led her to him with an indomitable pull. So she risks it. She hopes it. She gets it. What touches me most is that when Jesus realizes what has happened, she comes forward and tells him her story, all of it. She confesses. She proclaims. Take a moment today to go to Jesus as this woman did. Bring with you all your burdens and your hopes. Reach out to him and tell him your story. See what happens next.
Prayer: Gracious God, help us today to come to you with all our need and all our hope for ourselves, our families, our community, our church, our nation and our world. Help us to see you as the source of all hope and to get as close to you as we can. Hear our stories and bring us your healing grace. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 15 – Luke 9:1-6 – Shaking Off the Dust – Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to the, “Take nothing for your journey, not staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
For as long as they have been following him, the disciples have watched and listened. They have seen him, heal, exorcise and explain the radical nature of the kingdom of God. Now it is their turn to go out and do the same in his name. They can expect to be greeted with hospitality as was customary. The caution to stay in the one house is a warning not to rebuff humbler accommodation if more elaborate is offered later. The instruction not to take extra provision shows reliance on both the customary hospitality as well as the need to trust on God’s provision and not one’s own strength or resources. Still, Jesus realizes that they may not always be welcomed as they might expect. Sometimes hosts put tests to those they thought might be a threat before hospitality was offered. Sometimes they might be rejected outright. Here Jesus warns them not to carry their rejection or hurt feelings with them when they move on so that it will not waste their energy or color future interactions. They are to shake off the leavings of those encounters and move on fresh, optimistic and full of faith that God will do with them exactly what God desires most. Sometimes we are prone to carry our hurt feelings with us into new situations. Sometimes our rejections seem to cling to us like mud on a sandal. Jesus understands that and gives us the same advice he gave his early disciples: let it go. Leave the hurt behind and do not allow negative experiences to follow you into new experiences. To experience our own wholeness, and the Spirit power released through us, we must not let old failures be the lens through which we view the present or the future. Think of any old rejections or failures that still bother you. Ask the Spirit to help you shake the dust of those days from your heart so that you can meet today with joy and trust.
Prayer: Gracious God, sometimes we carry too much baggage with us into each day. We carry a wariness built from old experiences and fragile trust. Help us today to release everything that does not serve us and your mission for us, so that we can confidently meet the challenges of our day. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 16 – Luke 9:10-17 – Sharing Your Source - On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured. The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
Miracle feeding stories appear in different form in each of the Gospels. Each highlights a different gift to explore. In one, the disciples get supplies, meager as they are, from the crowd and somehow, when put in Jesus’ hands they multiply and are more than enough. In another version the emphasis is on Jesus telling his disciples that even when they think they cannot do it, it is their job to feed them. Here Jesus asks them to offer the crowd their own small provisions. It is in the offering that the experience become bounteous and sacramental. When we put what we have at Jesus disposal there is enough and more than enough. Even the broken leftovers are enough to fill twelve baskets. No act of giving is ever wasted in the providence of God. When you think of the hungry and hurting ones in your community and in the world, what do you have that you can put in Jesus’ hands to meet their need? Maybe it is a box of food for a food pantry or spiritual food that you have gathered and let rise in your heart. Maybe it is even the broken pieces of your life that you have accumulated from a lifetime of faith and faithlessness. Whatever you have, in Jesus’ hands it is a valuable treasure that can be used in ways that are indeed miraculous. What can you offer today?
Prayer: Gracious God, help us today to see what we have to offer you for the feeding of your people. Open our hearts and hands. Help us to trust that what we have is enough and that you will do miracles with tiny offerings. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 17 – Luke 9:18-20 – Personal Confession – Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”
Years ago when on study leave in Nova Scotia, I asked strangers that I met who they said Jesus was. The answers were both hilarious and heartbreaking. My favorite response was from a young waiter at the pizza place. When I asked him the question Jesus asked Peter, he said, “Hmm. Jesus. I don’t know the dude, does he live around here?” That’s a good question isn’t it? I don’t think Jesus was asking his friends for the current polling on his favorables. I think he was asking them if they knew him, if he lived around there. I think that Jesus continues to ask us that same question. He doesn’t only ask what people are saying about him. Much of the time these days the answer to that question is a bit depressing. What he really wants to know of those of us who claim to follow him, is who we say he is. What do we think he is all about? With what expectations do we layer the relationship? What do we see as his basic values, his basic nature, his basic purpose? What is the story that we have to tell from our time of walking with him about who he is to us personally? Do you know the dude? Does he live around here? Take a moment today to quietly reflect on each of those questions. One of the most important aspects of personal wholeness (salvation) is our answer to Jesus question for ourselves.
Prayer: Gracious God, we give you thanks and praise for the intimacy we share with you in your son Jesus. Help us today to think about what he means to us. Help us to review and refine the story we have to tell of our relationship with him. Thank you for this mighty gift. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 18 – Luke 9:23-25 – Take Up Your Cross – Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?
Much of cultural Christianity, or so called Christian Nationalism, seems to be marked by a winners mentality. This mentality claims that Christianity is about getting to call the shots over others’ lives and choices. It is about being right while others are wrong. It is about one interpretation being faithful and all other interpretations being sinful. It is about winning, prospering, controlling and punishing. That cultural expression of what it means to be Christian seems dominant sometimes but, at least from my point of view, it is largely inconsistent with the values Jesus espouses in the scripture. Today’s passage is a case in point. Here we see Jesus lay out a path that is not about winning, prospering, or keeping oneself safe and insulated. Rather it is about losing, not profiting and suffering. Why? Well, in part of course because that is what he does. It is the picture of true sacred love in skin giving all for the beloved. It is also, I think, in part because losing, sorrow and struggle can sometimes be our greatest teachers. When we are hurting we know our need and it has the potential to allow us to grow in dependence upon God and the capacity for deep transformative compassion for others who suffer. Does God somehow will suffering, then? No. I don’t think so. Rather, God recognizes that suffering is the natural consequence of living the values of love in a world that just wants to win. God knows that as we contemplate our pain through the lens of the cross we will learn the depth and breadth of God’s love and the sweetness of following Love wherever it leads. If we are not brave or trusting enough to do that, even occasionally, we will forfeit the fullness of the life for which we were born. Think for a moment today about the times when you have experienced a cross to bear. Think about it in detail if you can. Looking back, how do you see your faith growing in that situation? Were there aspects of the false self that you released? Were there tender graces and compensations that you received? If all we are willing to do in life is feel the pleasant feelings then we will undoubtedly organize our spiritual lives in the most superficial ways. If we are willing to trust, obey, pick up and follow, we may go to the cross, but we will end up in the garden wondering why the tomb seemed so scary.
Prayer: Gracious God, today we ask for the sacred gifts of trust and courage to follow wherever you lead. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 19 – Luke 9:28-35 – Unsticking - Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
The story of the Transfiguration is one of the most familiar texts to us church people. We set aside a Sunday every year to read and ponder it’s message. In it we see the beauty of the ‘mountain top’ spiritual experiences. We see the weightiness of Jesus’ identity and mission. We see the role of prayer in creating an environment for insight and epiphany. One of my favorite aspects of the story is Peter’s desire to build tents so that they can stay right there and never have to go down the mountain and face Jerusalem. It is so natural to want to stay in the experiences of sparkling intimacy and insight, isn’t it? The problem is, as Jesus well knew, that we can fall in love with the goose bumps and not with the reality of a savior who to follow will take us to the cross before we get to the empty tomb. Peter wants to freeze one precious beautiful moment and stay in it. What would have happened if he had? In this passage he would have been so busy building tents that he would have missed the awesome presence of God in the cloud declaring Jesus’ identity and telling them to listen up. Sometimes, we too can fixate on moments in our spiritual or church lives that were special and holy. We can want to build something to keep those moments in place and intact. When that becomes too heavy a focus we can lose the beauty and profundity of what comes next. Each moment is a God spangled moment. Each moment is the moment we need most. If we remain stuck, or fixated in past experience, then we will just mistake the holy presence for a pesky cloud and miss what God has for us in it. Take a moment today to relive a few of your high holy moments. Do this with your palms open and resting on your lap or raised in prayer. Thank God for those moments. Have you been stuck there? Have you been fixated on those times and spent energy trying to re-create them? Ask God to show you the wonders of the present moment and all the graces they hold. What are the gifts of this time in your life?
Prayer: Gracious God, we are so grateful for every experience of your glory and grace. Help us to remember that you are as present with us when the goose bumps fade as you are when we are most awed. Help us to welcome this day and exactly what it brings. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 20 – Luke 9:46 – Recognizing True Greatness – An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”
Don’t you love it? Jesus’ closest friends are fighting over who Jesus likes best and who is going to get to be number one and sit in the honored seat. Writing this during college football season, I cannot help but think of the giant stadium at my old alma mater, Alabama, with the walk of champions complete with bronze statues of winning coaches, Heisman winners and the wall of National Championship trophies encrusted in crystal and diamonds, and lit to sparkle enough to confuse air traffic. I can just hear the hushed conversations in that shrine to ‘greatness.’ Who was the greatest coach? Was it Saban? Was it the Bear? Who was the greatest quarterback? Was in Namath? Was it Stabler? Was it Starr? Which was the greatest championship team? Which was the greatest goal line stand? In my mind’s eye, in the midst of that conversation, wanders Jesus carrying a 1972 Greenville High School banner…my old High School that won no games that year, scored once on a safety when the opposing team ran the wrong way with the ball and lost our big rival game 88-0. Here is the thing Jesus tells us here: you can’t always tell who is winning by the score. In this passage, Jesus reminds us that his kingdom operates with very different rules. The ones with power are those with no power. The ones that are strong are the ones that are weak. The ones that can be trusted are the ones who trust others. To be a child in Jesus’ day was to be lowest on the totem pole. No status. Few protections. Utterly dependent. To him that was the greatest status at all. Why? Because their faith was simple? Maybe. Because they were open and able to learn? Surely. Because the world of winning had not broken their spiritual antenna? Of course. Mostly, I think it was because they had nothing of their own but the capacity to love lavishly, to stretch out their arms and ask to be held, to trust that each day is full of wonder. I think they were models for us because they had little, had not yet learned the games of hierarchies and hadn’t yet learned to count. What do you think? What are the characteristics of true greatness that you learn from this object lesson given to those who are locked in worldly thinking? How might you cultivate that kind of greatness.
Prayer: Gracious God, today we ask for the humble greatness of the child in Jesus’ arms. Help us to display love, trust, simplicity and eagerness to learn in everything we do today and every day. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 21 – Luke 9:49-50 – A Lot of People Use the Name – John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.”
Fasten your seatbelts. If you really think deeply about this passage it will be a bumpy ride. Jesus’ disciples have already demonstrated that they are keeping score and concerned with who is greatest. Here John is upset because somebody who is not a part of their group is using Jesus’ name to help people. Jesus will have none of that self-aggrandizing tribalism. It is not about who is in and who is out. It is about being about the work of helping and healing. We don’t know anything about the outsider exorcist. Was he someone who had been following Jesus before the Twelve were chosen? Do they think they are better than him because he didn’t make the final cut? Had he experienced awe, wonder and understanding in Jesus but exclusion and rejection among Jesus’ followers? We don’t know any of that. All we know of him is that he found the name of Jesus, the name that holds and stands for the whole of Jesus, healing and powerful, and he wanted to share what he had found with others. The point here, is that Jesus’ inner circle has not yet grasped the radical inclusion of his movement. Have we? Sometimes I think not. Even within the Christian movement today we set up dividing lines that exclude some and welcome others. We set up tests for inclusion and often they are just about general agreement and making sure we aren’t stretched or uncomfortable. Do we try to stop others who do not see things like we do or who have other challenges to inclusion from being in ministry? Here is something to ponder: a lot of different people use Jesus’ name. Maybe they don’t understand him the way we do. Maybe they are stricter or more lenient. Maybe they speak his name in a language or tradition that we have never heard of. Is it our job to make them like us? Not according to this passage. Certainly the name of Jesus can be used inappropriately. I can be used to exclude or as an excuse to hate. That is not what we are talking about here. In this text the outsider is trying to help and free people from oppression. In circumstances like that, our job is to celebrate the name of Jesus on the lips of soulful believers and to trust the outcome to God.
Prayer: Gracious God we thank you for all those who turn to you and call you by name. We pray for each believer over the whole earth who works today to help free others from pain and bondage. We thank you for sisters and brothers we do not know who are doing your will in the world. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 22 – Luke 9:51-56 – Not Everyone is Open to Wholeness – When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
In writing about this passage, the great preacher and commentator Fred Craddock wrote “Is it not interesting how the mind can grasp and hold those Scriptures which seem to bless our worst behavior and yet cannot retain past the sanctuary door those texts which summon us to love, forgiveness, and mercy” (Interpretation Commentary, Luke p. 143.) Clearly it takes little more than a cursory reading of scripture to discover that ethnic prejudice, political and theological disagreements, and historic misunderstandings that persist for decades are not merely modern aberrations. We humans are a tribal lot and while a sense of righteousness and belonging can be a wonderful thing, when our boundaries are closed and our prejudices entrenched, we, like the Samaritans in this passage, can find ourselves shutting out brothers and sisters that could bring us many gifts. In thinking about this passage in terms of healing and wholeness, it becomes clear that not everybody is open to the often-unexpected ways healing arrives. The Samaritans were not willing to see anything good coming to them from their ancient enemies. James and John were obviously offended and wanted to retaliate in rather spectacular manner. But Jesus would not do that. He rebuked the ones who wanted to rebuke! Why? Did he not want to waste his time and energy where he was not wanted? Maybe. Was he tired and just wanted to move on? Maybe? Did he not want his disciples to become what they themselves most despised? Probably. And maybe he did not want his disciples to add fuel to the fires of prejudice in the hope that one day the ones who rejected him would change and find themselves ready to welcome him after all. That makes a lot of sense. Sometimes we lash out and rather than balancing some unseen scale like we think our retaliation might, we do nothing but entrench harm, make everything worse and reconciliation more elusive. Can you think of times when you rejected Jesus in some way, maybe because you didn’t trust the messenger? How did you respond? Did that help or hurt?
Prayer: Gracious God, help us to see and to heal from all prejudice in our hearts and community. Help us to open ourselves to your ever surprising ways so that we may welcome any whom you send. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 23 – Luke 9:57-62 – Putting First Things First – As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those in my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
The key to this enigmatic text is the word ‘follow’ in the first verse. It comes from roots that mean to accompany, to be with, to be an attendant. It implies a fixed, intimate, unshakeable devotion to someone or something. When used to describe following Jesus it implies cleaving to him in obedient trust that circumstances cannot shake. In today’s passage we see the kind of push me- pull ya effect that Jesus’ presence had on those who heard him and felt his presence. They wanted to follow him but there were important competing calls on their lives as well. There were relationships that needed tending. There were duties that had to be performed. There were preparations that needed to be made in order for them to shift their lives and follow him. Is Jesus insensitive to the conflicting needs of his followers? I don’t think so. I think he is simply clear eyed about what is at stake. Remember that he is heading to Jerusalem for the last time. He tells the first man that he will in essence be dependent of the hospitality of strangers and there are no guarantees. He tells the second that to face what is coming he, Jesus, must become his primary duty and that not even grief or filial responsibility can rival it. He tells the third man that if his loyalties are divided he will not make it as his disciple. To follow him is to put him first. There will be no going back. Most of us, as Jesus’ most ardent followers today, live with at least a degree of divided loyalty. We want to know where we will sleep. He want to put our family and friends first in our lives. We even tell ourselves that that is as it should be. Here Jesus asks us to look at what comes first in our lives when times get tough and decisions have to be made. He reminds us that cleaving to him and to the radical ways of his kingdom will have consequences in our lives. They may not always be dire, but they can be. Are we ready? What could you release in order to cleave more intimately to Jesus in tough times? What relationships and duties seem more important some days than dedicated trust and following? Ask the Spirit to show you areas of your heart that need a closer examination. Stay with those revelations today and ask God to guide, heal and inspire you.
Prayer: Gracious God, help us today to put you first in everything that we do, trusting that you will never lead us astray and that only in you will we ever be truly whole. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 24 – Thanksgiving Day – Luke 10:2 The Harvest is Plentiful – He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Even on this day of bounty when many of us give thanks for the good land in our care and enjoy feasts and memories with our families, we too can feel the burdens of not enough hands on deck. Maybe if you are the chef for the days meal you find that you can hardly enjoy it because of your aching back or tired feet. Maybe if you spend time in contemplation of the gifts of the land you feel that there are not enough others who dedicate themselves to preserving it. Maybe if you focus on the beginnings of our country, as we know it, you feel that there are not enough of us still willing to labor for restorative justice and the hard work of true democracy. Maybe if you are a leader of the church, you can feel that the needs and changes demanding your attention are overwhelming and you wonder where the people are who can share your passion for Christ and help you shoulder the burdens of keeping and sharing the faith. Especially after covid, when the ways of community life are so changed and our needs have not diminished at all, we may cry out with Jesus that we know the harvest is plentiful but there just aren’t enough of us to bring it in! Jesus recognized this situation clearly. What does he say? Just work harder? Just do what you have always done only do more of it and do it better? Get up an hour early and go to bed an hour late so that you can do more for more people? No. That is not what he says. He tells us, tired and often confused followers, that when all our stuff is not enough, that we are to pray and ask God to send us the laborers needed to bring in God’s own harvest. God is not asleep in these days. Where we are as individuals, as a church and even as a global family, does not come as any surprise to God. And, God has a plan for you, for us, and for these days. It is not a plan of burnout, exhaustion and frustration. It is a plan of bounty, joyful service and bountiful harvest. Can you think of times when you felt overwhelmed and even resentful that there were not enough people to help you with a project or a responsibility? If so pray for God to send you exactly who and what you need so that your duty can be fruitful and full of joy. Then do what you can do and wait for God’s often surprising response.
Prayer: On this day of thanks, we thank you for all our bounty and we trust you to provide what and who we need to do your will today and every day. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 25 – Luke 10:21-23 – Seeing What You See – At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Then turning to his disciples, Jesus said to them privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”
I have had poor eyesight from a young age. I thought it was normal until one day my teacher called my parents and said that I was struggling in school because I couldn’t see the blackboard clearly, even from my preferred front row desk. When I got my first pair of glasses I was both excited and a bit ashamed. I was now open to all the taunts of ‘four eyes’ and the deepening feeling of being somehow defective that my lung issues had instilled in me from the age of three. On the other hand, I could see! I remember one day walking to play with my friend Harriett and being dumb struck with wonder that a person could actually see leaves on trees and not just study those that had fallen to the ground! I had that same wonder again more than fifty years later when I got cataract surgery. The colors of creation so overwhelmed me that some days I had to pull over to the side of the road and just weep in awe. In today’s passage, obviously, Jesus is not simply referring to how our physical eyes work. He is talking about our inner eye, the capacity to see the truth of God and to act on that truth in our personal lives and in the world. Have there been times in your life of faith when you had sudden insight? Times we you saw things that you have never seen before? Jesus says that those times are among the most blessed times of our lives. What might you do today welcome the gift of insight? How can you deepen your faith today?
Prayer: Gracious God, open our eyes today that we may see you more clearly. Help us to listen deeply to your word spoken in our hearts and celebrate the new wholeness that it brings. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Nov. 26 – Luke 10:25-37 – Go the Extra Mile - Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The parable of the good Samaritan is one of the most beloved in all of scripture. In it Jesus invites us to examine our prejudices and our self-righteousness. He shows us what the love of God actually looks like in human behavior. He shows us that those we think don’t know God or worship as we do can be closer to God than we are. He shows us that no one is outside God’s call to minister in mercy, even our enemies or those who have worked against us. He shows us that seeing human pain, setting aside prejudice and going the extra mile to address it is Godlike and a model to be emulated. Laying down our prejudices and preconceived notions about others, their life choices and beliefs is not always easy or natural. What if the wounded man was of a different political party? Or religion? Or sexual orientation? Are we still called upon to go out of our way for him? I think one of the reasons that Jesus said that the wounded man had been stripped was to highlight that there were no distinguishing marks on him to show who he was. He was every one of us, stripped naked without distinction. This is not subtle. Jesus tells us that there are none that are outside the need of God’s care and mercy and we are to model our lives on the ones who offer that care without counting the cost. Can you think of times when you judged someone who needed care as worthy or unworthy? What was your criterion for that? How does that hold up to the healing light of this story? Take a moment today to notice when you are drawn to offer care and to whom? How does this story illuminate your choices?
Prayer: Gracious God, help us today to offer care to those in need, even in our own families, without judgment or counting the cost. Just as you have offered your mercy to us, help us to act for you in the world. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.