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Daily Devotions May 2024 

This month we continue our experiment in kindness that will conclude our Great Fifty Days of Easter celebration on May 19th. For the balance of the month I have chosen scriptures that continue of the theme of personal discipleship. My prayer is that you will enjoy this beautiful month of experiencing God’s spiritual bounty for you and others! Love, Eugenia

May 1 – The Kindness of Commitment – Exodus 20:14 “You shall not commit adultery.”

There is little in this life more freeing and healing than having a trustworthy companion who keeps promises and steadfastly refuses to cause us harm in order to meet momentary needs. This is obvious in faithfulness to marriage vows. It is true in many other circumstances as well. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, God was not just trying to build fences to corral our unruly behavior. Rather, God was painting a picture for us of what truly free and fulfilling life looks like. In that kind of life, commitments matter and so do the boundaries that allow those commitments to thrive. This is true in all of our relationships. No relationship can last in which we choose to make our own, often unexamined, desires more important than the feelings, safety and pain of others in our lives, homes, communities and even our global family. Being a trustworthy partner allows relationships to flourish and, indeed, for the world itself to flourish and heal. The prohibition is not just about who is doing what with whom in the bedroom. It is about taming our egos to such an extent that we are unwilling to cause pain to others with whom we have a commitment. As God’s people we have a covenantal relationship with all people on earth so the prohibition against causing pain, or using people in an unworthy way, applies to the ways we are willing to use others wrongly to meet our needs whether that is physically, economically or emotionally. Our commitments to others are the greatest kindness we can offer. Today, take a moment to consider your relationships. In what ways are you most faithful to the people in your life? Are there areas in which you are prone to lie or lash out just to meet a momentary emotional need? Do you ever look to your family and friends and expect them to meet all of your needs? Do you ever feel the need to wander from your commitments and chase something or someone flashy and new? If so choosing the kindness of commitment can be a daily practice that will deepen relationships and shape your own character. What LARK can you offer as a sign of your commitment to someone special to you today?

Prayer: Covenant God, your commitment to us is everlasting and unwavering. Help us today to see you as our model for how to commit to those closest to us and to the entire human family. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 2 – The Kindness of Taming the Tongue – James 3:5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

When I was a teenager, I remember my father coming home from work one day and sitting me down on the back porch for a talk. I don’t remember anything about that talk except for one sentence. “Genie,” he said. “Always think three consequences ahead of your mouth.” I don’t remember that I had done anything particularly egregious that he was trying to correct. My memory is not that he was disappointed with me or punishing me. Rather, I expect that he had spent all day in court (he was a judge) listening to people who’s lives were upended by words spoken and actions taken without thinking of consequences. He was, as always, trying to protect me. I think that is what James was doing in today’s verse when he urges the people in his congregation to get control of their speech. Words, as we learn in the beginning in Genesis, create things. They can create wonderful, powerful, loving situations. And they can create painful, chaotic and destructive situations. The truth is that we tend to become what we habitually say. If we constantly complain, we become people surrounded by people about whom to complain. If we constantly speak negatively, we ourselves become negativity. If we consistently denigrate others, we lose the capacity to lift others up, including ourselves. The ancestors understood that the tongue can wound more powerfully than a sword. Especially when the words spoken are untrue or intended to diminish the reputation or esteem of others. Gossip and inuendo have fueled many a rupture in a relationship or a church. Sometimes it is an act of supreme faithfulness to refrain from gossip and negative speech, but it is an act of faithful kindness. Are there times when you find yourself jumping to negative conclusions about others with no evidence?

Can you keep confidences shared with you? Do you ever lash out with your tongue? Have you ever spread an unfounded rumor? If so, welcome to the human race! Today take a moment before God to examine how you use the gift of speech. If there are areas to confess, do so, trusting in God’s power to forgive and restore. Notice today if you can hold your tongue in a situation in which you feel like speaking harshly. Let that be your LARK today.

Prayer: God of Grace, help us today to speak nothing but truth and kindness in every situation. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 3 – The Kindness of Seeing the Heart – Luke 7:36-50 – Please read in your own Bible.

This beautiful story of Jesus’ interaction with a desperate sinful women demonstrates kindness, although the word itself is not used. The story comes in the midst of a longer section of healing stories after Jesus’ great sermon on the level place (on the Mount in Matthew) in which he gives the beatitudes and the command to love ones enemies. Words like those set things in motion that cannot be turned around. Love for all, even sinners and enemies results in unexpected healing and mercy. In Jesus’ interaction with the distraught women who bursts into the room as the men are reclined at table for a meal, stands behind him, anoints him with oil and her tears, and then wipes his feet with her hair, the disciples are dumbstruck. For a woman to let down her hair in public was a scandal itself, an indication of her sinful state and of her grief. The others no doubt want her dealt with harshly. What does Jesus do? He thanks her, praises her and uses her as an object lesson to show the men what devotion and faith look like. His kindness toward her in response to her kindness toward him gives us a dual picture of the power of kindness in our own lives. Kindness is extravagant. It does not always stay within the bounds of propriety. It is personal. It can even be costly. The ointment she brought with her to Jesus would have been worth a life savings for most people in that day. The kindness that Jesus offers in return by declaring her sins forgiven and praising her faith, comes from the capacity to see beneath her circumstances to a desperate heart filled with all the longings and shames of every heart. Today think about how you might offer lavish kindness to someone who has made a difference in your life. How can you do that personally? Think as well of how you might offer kindness to someone who has done something kind for you. Can you see behind the circumstances of someone to their longing heart? Is there a LARK that you can offer as a way of showing that you see the heart beneath the hurt?

Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you for the many and unexpected ways that kindness has been lavished upon us. Most especially we thank you for seeing our own hearts, forgiving our sin, and showing the great kindness of recognizing our faith. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 4 – The Kindness of Laughter – Luke 2:10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours have a wonderful song called “When you are Laughing.” It is all about how the songwriter fell in love with a woman, not when he saw her looks, but when he got her laughing. He says that it is her laughter that brings the best out in him. I always imagine that kind of love-awakening laughter when I read the story of the angels’ declaration to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth. By this time in the Biblical story the profession of shepherding had lost its earlier luster when Moses and later David worked as shepherds. In those days it was a profession of trust. By the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were often hired by absentee owners and were as like to run off with the sheep, or get drunk during the night and allow the sheep to wander away or be stolen, as they were to tend to them. For the angels to come to them on that one night with news that the world was turning and it was turning toward goodness and joy, must have resulted in belly laughs. If it had not been for the whole supernatural aspect of the revelation, I expect they might have rolled over on the hillside, blamed it on drink and gone back to sleep. But they didn’t. There was something in their souls that wanted to see for themselves if the belly laugh of real joy, everlasting and unending joy, could actually be true. Perhaps the angels giggled a little too. How could they not? How can we not when we think of the outrageous love of God that burst into the world in flesh and bone in the form of a tiny baby that nobody had room for and whose very parentage was a scandal. This is how God saves? It is a hoot! Sometimes laughing with someone in times of confusion or grief is one of the kindest things we can ever do. It is a way of saying without words, what Antsy McClain and the angels said to the shepherds: I bring you good news of great joy! Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is at the heart of God’s will for us. And not only that, it is warranted at all times even in times of sorrow or division. Why? Because it is who God is and what God is always bringing. Joy is not always dependent on our emotions, nor does it always erupt in laughter. Still laughing with others is kindness that unleashes just what it did for the shepherds: Hope and a desire to see for themselves that life can be good and joyful in even the worst of times. Today, think about how you can laugh with someone as your daily LARK.

Prayer: Gracious God, the universe pulses with your joy and laughter. Help us today to awaken to the absurdity of your love for us and laugh out loud as you bring out the best in us. Help us to share appropriate laughter, kind laughter, with others today. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 5 – Kindness Toward Strangers – John 4:1-30 – Please read in your own Bible.

Today I am asking you for a commitment, the commitment to take out your own Bible and read a long and complicated passage. It is the story of Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan women at a well. (If you want to study the passage carefully, there are study helps in the archive of Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church website.)This is the longest conversation between Jesus and a human being in the whole of the New Testament. In short, the woman that Jesus addresses is a Samaritan, the Jews ancient enemies. She is also likely an outcast in her community and has a very painful personal past. They have never met. His upbringing could have taught him to despise her. Her upbringing would have taught her to fear him. And yet, he initiates a relationship with her, even though the text tells us, he knew her whole story in that inward way of knowing so prominent in John’s gospel. He did not chastise her for her bold inquisitiveness. He did not judge her for her family or her past. Rather, he shared the intimacy of a dipper of water with her. He talked theology with her and diffused some of her more divisive questions. He made no excuses for his encounter with her when his disciples returned from the market and were scandalized. He was simply there for her and with her. The result was that she became the first evangelist in John’s gospel. After all, an evangelist is one who is sent by Jesus and tells the news of him. Sometimes we can miss the most powerful and unexpected grace when we make assumptions about people we do not know based on their family, faith or past. There is little more kind that seeing past those cultural blinders to the heart of another human being and engaging with their questions, their pain and their outcast status. Think today about how you tend to categorize others and make assumptions about them. Are there those that you write off without knowing them? Are there beliefs or histories that are so abhorrent to you that you don’t engage with those people or communities? Strangers are just siblings we have not met yet. Are there ways today that you can offer the kindness of recognition and a listening ear to a stranger? Of course we do not want to put ourselves in danger, so some caution is appropriate. So pray for discernment and Godly opportunity. Let that be your daily LARK.

Prayer: Gracious God, all of us are strangers until we find our rest in you. It is then that we realize that we are one. It is then that we know that all are our siblings. Help us today to examine our assumptions and offer kindness to strangers. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 6 – The Kindness of Waiting in Silence – Rev. 8:1When the lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

The Book of Revelation can be confusing and frightening for some of us. As a matter of fact, during the 16th century Protestant Reformation, many urged preachers not to read from it on Sundays because people took it literally and it was not uncommon for parishioners to scream and run from the church when the lessons were read. That is still the case in some circles, sadly. Suffice it to say today that highly symbolic texts are always the child of the marriage of despair and hope. The main point is: Yes things are bad. Yes, they may get worse. But that is temporary. God is on the move and God will work it out. The powers that are not God, whether they be oppressive governments or the power of evil itself, will never have the last word. God will see to it. That is my synopsis of the Book of Revelation. Today’s verse comes immediately after the author’s mystical vision of the great multitude that no one could count from all tribes, peoples and languages gathered in joy and praise around the thrown of God. In the midst of this wonderous praise, the Lamb broke the seventh seal and the universe fell silent, waiting in the presence for what God’s love and glory will do next. We all know from our own lives that sometimes things have to change to get better. We also know that change can be hard and painful. What touches me at this point in the vision is that when faced with the love and glory of God, and the pathway toward wholeness, the creatures sat mute for an hour and a half. What kindness for God to give them time to process next steps! What kindness for God to offer a period of restorative silence! In our culture many of us are rarely silent. We pick up our smart phones when we wake up and don’t put them truly down until we go to sleep. We go from input to input whether that is digital or personal. We are so unaccustomed to silence that we can even fear it. What will it reveal about who we are, who we are not? I remember the first time I ever went on a silent retreat at a convent near my seminary. I took a suitcase of books, three changes of clothes, make up and electric hair curlers for my twenty four hours of silence with the nuns! What I did not yet know, however, was the power and kindness of silence. It is in silence before God that all that still needs to be healed or purged in us emerges. It is in silence that the most profound sense of God’s presence is often felt and creates spaces for what is truest to arise. Sometimes when we are unaccustomed to silence we can rush in with words that not only blur the truth, but can harm others. In many circumstances the most loving and kind thing we can do for ourselves and others is to offer the gift of meaningful, humble, open hearted silence. Today, let your LARK be a time of silence. Even ten minutes can work miracles. When we become comfortable with our own deep silence, then and only then, can we experience the true intimacy of offering another person the gift of sharing silence.

Prayer: O Great God of the Universe, help us today to spare moments of true silence as we sit in the presence of your love and challenge. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 7 – The Kindness of Never Giving Up – Luke 15:1-7 – Please read in your own Bible

As a young child growing up in the southern United States, summers were spent going to Vacation Bible School. My friends and I would go for a week at a time to first one church and then the next. I especially remember the pride I felt when the whole town full of children arrived at my little Presbyterian church for the festivities. One of my favorite memories is of sitting cross legged on the faded red carpet at the front of the church while our teacher taught us the parable of the Lost Sheep using cut out figures on a felt board. It was wondrous. As a chronically ill only child, I identified with the sheep that was alone and cut off from the herd. I imagined Jesus finding me as a wheezed alone at home. I saw him lifting me on his strong shoulders to take me back to the other sheep who were, as I imagined, drinking red Kool-Aid and eating Animal Crackers. When the lesson was over, we ran to the fellowship hall for snack and then art where I colored in my picture of Jesus with the lamb, made a staff from pipe cleaners and glued cotton ball clouds onto the sky. I asked the leader if she had any glitter. “Why, Genie?” she asked. “Because I know the lamb must glitter when Jesus finds her. He just never gave up on her.” Isn’t that the way it is? Sometimes when we have given up on ourselves, or found ourselves hopeless lost in the weeds of an out of control life, we too need Jesus to never give up on us. This passage makes it clear that he never will. There is little kinder than not giving up on someone. Is there anyone in your life today that you can reassure that you will be there for them no matter what? Let that be your LARK today.

Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you from the depths of our being that you love us and never give up on us. We thank you that your will is to restore us to both safety and community. Help us today to be your deputy shepherds, reaching out to those who are lost and alone to bring them safely home. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 8 – The Kindness of Sharing – Matthew 14:13-21 – Please read in your own Bible

The bible contains many stories of miraculous feeding, from manna in the wilderness in the Old Testament to today’s story often called the feeding of the 5000. In this story, Jesus has just heard about the arrest and subsequent execution of his cousin John the Baptist. Upon hearing the news he withdraws in a boat to a quiet place by himself in order to come to terms with it and to pray. The crowds of people in the area follow him. When he comes to shore, there they all are, thousands of them, suffering in every possible way. Jesus is moved with compassion and begins to heal them. As nightfall approaches, his disciples tell Jesus to send the crowds home so that they can buy food for themselves. Jesus, in a characteristic flash of brilliance, tells the disciples to feed them instead. They can’t imagine how to do this with only five loaves and two fish. And yet, when what they have to offer was put into Jesus hands, there was enough and more than enough. Even the crumbs leftover were not wasted. Nothing put into Jesus’ service is ever, ever wasted. Sometimes in the complexity of a hurting community with so much inequity and so much need, it can feel like we do not have enough to make a difference. This is true both of meeting physical needs of hurting people as well as emotional and spiritual needs. The question that this passage stirs is not so much the physics of how a small food supply could satisfy so many. The question that stirs is: how do I offer what I have at my disposal as a tool for Jesus’ works of compassion and filling? The act of sharing what we have, whether great or small, is an act of profound and compassionate kindness. Not even the smallest crumb of what we offer will be wasted. Ask yourself today where the need is in your community, or even your home or workplace. Who is hungry or hurting of heart or body? What do you have that you can share in Jesus’ name? How will you go about doing that today? Let that be your LARK.

Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you for all the gifts and resources with which you fill our lives. Help us today to put all that we have and are in service to you knowing that we are simply sharing with your children what already belongs to you. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 9 – The Kindness of Withholding Judgment – Luke 6:37a “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.”

In contentious times it can feel like the only right and good thing is to judge others for their actions that either appall us or damage us. In the Bible as well as in most forms of government in the world, it is usually appropriate to hold people accountable for wrong and immoral actions. Accountability and judgement, while often using the same language, are not the same thing. Accountability, at least in the Bible, is about fair consequences for wrongdoing. It is NEVER about punishment per se, but always for the purpose of reform. The kind of judgement Jesus is speaking of in today’s text is a bit different. Today’s verse builds on the previous verse which is all about mercy. Here he uses the a word that means ‘to divide, to separate, to make a distinction or come to a decision.’ It is usually used in a judicial sense, with condemn, to speak of passing a sentence that is solemn or consequential. Is Jesus saying, then, that we should not uphold the judicial system and sit on a jury if called? I don’t think so. Rather, I think Jesus is pointing us to the thorny and more prevalent arena of deciding the truth about other persons and their actions and assigning blame without the facts or the authority to take action. The scriptures, from the Ten Commandments onward, take people’s reputations very seriously. The ancestors used gossipy judgment as an example of killing, stealing and perverting the judicial system. The truth of the matter is that only God knows the whole story and so only God can declare it and its consequences. We are not to judge. We are to constantly bathe our thoughts with mercy instead. The old saying, “There but by the grace of God go I” is an important filter before we make judgments about other people. When we offer the kindness of reserving judgment we open a pathway not only for reform of the one we are considering, but a pathway for awareness of our own shortcomings as well. After all, we often find that we resoundingly condemn in others what we most fear, or are blind to, in ourselves. Today, take a moment to think about anyone that you find it easy to judge. What triggers that for you? Can you see the same tendencies in yourself in different clothes? Decide today that you will neither condemn others or yourself. It is harder than you think! Let that be your LARK for the day.

Prayer: God of Grace, we are so often quick to judge and to condemn. We are often lacking in a substantial mercy that would transform our hearts, relationships and world. Help us today to avoid harsh judgment of others and ourselves so that your kind mercy can mend our flaws and heal our world. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 10 – Kindness Toward the Mentally Ill – Mark 5:1-20 – Please read in your own Bible.

In today’s story Jesus is confronted by an individual who suffers from what we might today call severe mental illness. He has burned every bridge, as is too often the case even in our day. His neighbors had tried everything to the point of trying to capture him and tie him down, but he always broke free, such was the power of his torment. This is a complex passage that, in my opinion, has often been misused in a way that has subjected tormented people to additional torment. Most of us are not mental health professionals and we do great harm when we overly literalize scriptures to do what we are not capable of doing. Still, I think there is marvelous kindnesses in this story that we can practice in our own lives as we interact with people dealing with anxiety, depression and other challenges. Look at the dynamic. The man was living in a cemetery and doing self-harm. His past pain and present affliction were such that when Jesus asked his name he told him it was Legion, or Many Soldiers. His tender and beloved self was under siege by a great battalion of irrational thoughts that he could not conquer. He needed help and he needed to be seen not just as his illness but as a person. Jesus did that when he stopped what he was doing and asked the man his name. Many of us have inner wars that sometimes dominate us. We live in the past (cemetery) and we slice ourselves wide open with helplessness and shame. We can even become so accustomed to our pain that it is terrifying to think about being free from it. It may be awful, be we know it. It may define us but who would we be without it? When we or our loved ones find ourselves in that situation, perhaps it is not our job to offer cure, but rather to stop, be present and ask people to tell us their name. Maybe they will lead with their hurt, but beneath it a new name will emerge. The kindness of listening as hurting people find their way is a way to model Jesus and, sometimes over time, to witness miracles. Today stop and ask yourself if Jesus desires to use you to listen to someone who is battling mental illness. If that someone is you, ask yourself what your real name is and repeat it again and again. If it is someone else, can you spend a few minutes with that person, focusing on them and not their illness? If so, let that be your LARK today.

Prayer: Gracious God of Healing Grace, help us today to stop, listen and seek the real inner name of those who are hurting. Use us as you will, to show your own kindness and attention. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 11 – The Kindness of Forgetting the Painful Past – Philippians 3:13Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have laid hold of it, but one thing I have laid hold of: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal, toward the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul is in prison under horrendous conditions. His friends in Philippi have sent an offering to him to help him get food while in jail. This letter, one of his most soaring and joyful, is in part a thank you note and in part a sharing of the joy and solace he finds in Christ even when things are at their worst. In this section he is sharing with them about his assurance that, no matter what, he is following Christ to an ultimate victory. In the previous verse he told them that he knew he had not yet fully become all that Christ made him to be. His greatest longing is to fully share everything with Christ. In today’s verse he acknowledges that he has a way to go yet. He recognizes that one of the greatest impediments to spiritual progress is clinging to the past and pointing our energy backwards and not forwards. I think this may be easier for the young than the elderly who often, erroneously, think we have more past than future. This is, of course, only true in the physical earthly sense. Still, I don’t think Paul means to urge us to delete our memories. They can often be sources of great joy and learning. I think what Paul is urging is that we not to let our past become the sole template for our future. If we are growing in Christ daily, we are closer today than yesterday, wiser today than yesterday, more our true selves today than yesterday. That being the case, the past while valuable, cannot be allowed to limit our forward motion. Paul, like all of us, had a truly checkered past. If he let his former persecution of the church haunt him unduly he would never be able to put his best energy into moving forward in the unending stream of God’s healing grace. Perhaps you carry some sorrow about your past. Perhaps you were mistreated by people you loved. Perhaps you made choices that, looking back, cause you shame, or set in motion consequences you never intended but could not contain. You can always look at those things and learn from them. What Paul is cautioning is giving them too much room in the heart or letting the expectations that arose from them set the agenda for your future. In Christ you are not bound by your past. You are moving forward in love toward more love. Always. Such is the kindness of God. Can you think of anyone who seems locked in the past? Are they hampered by guilt? Are they repeating patterns? Do they expect to receive what that have always received? How might you gently encourage them to look forward and not backward today? Let that be your LARK.

Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you for every bit of our lives, the joys, miracles, sorrows and confusions. Help us today to release the past into your care, carrying its wisdom but refusing to be defined by what is gone. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 12- The Kindness of Enemies – Luke 10:25-37 – Please read in your own Bible.

Today’s story is one of kindness between enemies. We call it the story of the Good Samaritan. It is such a well-known story that the phrase ‘good Samaritan’ is applied to anyone who stops to help another in distress. In this story a Samaritan stops to help someone who had been beaten and left bleeding on the side of the road. The power of the story lies in the animosity between the Jews and Samaritans. By Jesus’ day the feelings were  centuries old and virulent. Some leaders even taught that Samaritans were worse than Gentiles. Gentiles were so despised that some taught that it was illegal to help a Gentile woman in labor because it was just bringing another Gentile into the world to pollute it. Theological and tribal animosities ran deep. Jesus tells this story in the context of being grilled by religious leaders who were trying to trick him into vindicating their less than loving behavior. They want to find a way to weasel out of responsibility for caring for neighbors by narrowly defining who fit into that category. They wanted to believe that only good Jews deserved to be called neighbor and receive care. Jesus would have none of that! In this story the ‘despised’ Samaritan is the hero while the ‘good’ priest and Levite go out of their way to avoid helping they man who is bleeding by the roadside. There were issues of ritual purity involved obviously and we don’t really know whether the Samaritan could tell that the hurting man was a Jew or not in his terrible state. The point, however, is that when the Samaritan saw pain, he sought to address it concretely, specifically and at great cost when the religious leaders did not. It is this kind of mercy that Jesus asks his followers to emulate. We live in a time where ancient animosities rear their ugly heads as well. Jesus’ call to offer kindness and mercy to those we think of as opponents or unworthy is often hard for us too. Here and in many other passages in the New Testament, Jesus urges his disciples to do all they can. He urges not to be bound by our animosities or even our religious beliefs when it comes to helping those in trouble. Tall order! Today, take a moment to honestly ask yourself if there is anyone, any group, that you consider to be your ‘untouchable’ or unworthy of help? Are any of them in dire need? How can you be Samaritan today to hurting strangers regardless of their ideology, nationality or religion? See if you can think of one way to show kindness and mercy to someone that you are not drawn to like. Let that be your LARK today.

Prayer: O Gracious God, you see all people as your beloved children. Help us today to remove the labels and judgments that keep us from offering kindness when we could. Use us today as living parables of mercy in whatever way that you need us. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 13 – The Kindness of Serving Others – John 13:1-20 – Please read in your own Bible.

Today is the 40th anniversary of my ordination to ministry in the PCUSA. It seems in some ways like yesterday that I gathered with friends and family on a stormy day at Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church in Louisville Kentucky and heard the thunder clap as elders, pastors, seminary professors gathered around me for the laying on of hands. I had no real idea what the life of ministry would look like. I didn’t know what I would asked to do. I did not know where I would be asked to go, or how intimate and holy the task would be. What I did sense I think, through a glass dimly no doubt, was that there is nothing more profound in life than serving others to the best of our ability. Granted, I have not always done that well. I have often not done that well. But others have always picked up the slack when I faltered. That is miracle indeed. Today’s exquisite passage from John’s gospel gives us a poignant look at the kindness of serving others. Jesus and his friends are gathered in the upper room. He, if not they, knows that the storm clouds are gathering and he will likely die as a result of them. In John’s account of the upper room, there is no institution of the Lord’s Supper, no ‘take and eat, take and drink in remembrance.’ In John, Jesus himself becomes the sacramental object lesson for what intimacy with Christ and the road of discipleship is to look like. Here he takes off his robe, the symbol of status and protection, wraps a towel around his waist, takes a basin of water and washes each of the disciples feet. This was the role of servant, a lowly servant at that. He washed the feet of his friends. He washed the feet of Peter who would betray him three times that night and Judas who would sell him to his death within the hour. In taking that holy action, he declares that ministry in his name is not to privilege. It is only and always to service. Today, take a moment to reflect on your life in Christ. Have there been moments where you felt called to serve in a particular and maybe lowly way? What was that like? In a spirit of prayer, ask your heart the question: Are there feet that need washing today? What privilege and status might I need to set aside to do that? Where is the ‘water’ I need to offer? Who needs a hand in getting clean? Is there a little act of random kindness I can perform today? If a special call arises from this prayer, let that be today’s LARK.

Prayer: O Gracious God, you have shown us what the kindness of serving others looks like and what it costs. Help us today to follow your example, to abandon status and position if we need to, in order to offer the powerful kindness of service. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 14 – The Kindness of Choosing Not to Retaliate – Romans 12:17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought of what is noble in the sight of all.

In today’s verse, the Apostle Paul has stopped preaching and ‘gone to meddling.’ In Romans, his last and most theologically intense work, he is speaking to members of a church he did not found but hopes to visit. He wants them to understand who he is and what he believes so that they may partner with him in his dream of taking the gospel as far away as Spain. In the section from which today’s verse is taken, he is sharing what he believes to be the moral and behavioral marks of a true Christian. Verses 9-21 would be a good mission statement for all of us, one that it would be useful to read daily. In it he reminds us that our love must be authentic and not counterfeit. He tells us to rejoice in hope, be patient in affliction, persevere in prayer, contribute to the needs of the saints, pursue hospitality to strangers. He then urges us to bless those that persecute us, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those that weep, live in harmony with others and more. In verse 17 he begins a thought stream about the importance of living life in a non-retaliatory way. Christians are simply not to return evil for evil. Period. Those of us who live in the United States live, and have always lived in my view, in a culture that equates strength and winning with retaliation. If an enemy harms us, leaders contemplate how to retaliate. If individuals harm others the legal systems figures out how to hold them accountable and to punish (retaliate.) Paul sees the fruitless and escalatory nature of retaliation. His thinking is rooted in Jesus’ admonition to turn the other cheek, pray and work for the good of enemies. One of the problems we often have with this teaching is that we think of it as weakness. Nothing could be farther from the truth. To choose to live in a non-retaliatory way requires enormous and concentrated strength. It rests on the bedrock understanding that what others do to us does not get to determine our behavior. Only Christ gets to do that. Only the love of God manifest in Christ gets to set our agenda. Only God gets to rule. Wow. Today take a moment to ponder what a world, or your own life, might look like if retaliation for harm was taken off the table. Would it mean no accountability? Would it mean refusing to resist evil? Would it mean cowering or fleeing? Obviously, I don’t think it means any of those things. But what do you think? Let today’s LARK be your honest reflection on this concept.

Prayer: Gracious God, how kind you are to us. You do not retaliate against us when we fall short of your values or cause harm to ourselves and others. Rather, you strengthen, mend, inspire and restore us again and again. Help us today to think deeply with you about the teaching of today’s verse and to be transformed, if needed, by our time with you. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 15 – The Kindness of Loving – Luke 6:35“Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return.”

Yesterday we pondered what a non-retaliatory life might look like. Today we take that a step farther. It is one thing not to retaliate. It is another thing to love those who we think seek our harm or undoing. Remember that the word translated ‘love’ in this verse does not mean affection. Jesus is not saying that we must fall in love with, or even feel warm Hallmark cardy about enemies. He is not even saying we need to like them personally. He is saying, rather, that we are to unconditionally seek God’s highest good for them. We are called to behave just like God has, and does, toward us when we ourselves sometimes act like enemies of the gospel. This verse can be nearly incomprehensible when looked at from a wider societal perspective. But it is not much easier to grasp on a smaller personal level. Still, it is crucial and basic for deepening spiritual growth and discipleship. Today think for a moment about anyone who feels like an enemy to you. Has anyone hurt you in such a way that you think in us versus them terms? Is there anyone that you fear might not have your best interests at heart? How might God want you to do good for those persons? (The word we translate as good here is sometimes also translate as generosity. It refers to love on its feet. It is goodness that makes things happen. It is the kind of goodness the late Rep. John Lewis meant when he urged us to make good trouble.) It there a “good kindness” that you might offer today? As you think about that, notice if you feel a new sense of freedom as you release enemies to love. Can you think of a small step you might take today in this regard? If nothing occurs to you, practice praying God’s best for your enemies. Let that be your LARK for today.

Prayer: Gracious God, we are sometimes overwhelmed with the call to love all people, even those we have come to regard as enemies. Help us today to reframe those relationships with love and seek the good of others. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 16 – The Kindness of Forgiving – John 8:1-11 – Please read in your own Bible

For the last several days we have been thinking about how we relate to others, especially to those we fear or who have harmed us. Jesus and the apostle Paul both taught that we are not to retaliate but rather we are to love and seek the good of our enemies. Perhaps the key to how to do that can be found in today’s passage. This is the story of Jesus interaction with a woman caught in adultery. This story is one of the most beautiful examples of the power of forgiveness, and the shame of unforgiveness. A women has been caught in adultery. The man is not brought and charged which is a story for another day in and of itself. An act was considered adultery in the ancient world only if the woman was married. The marital status of the man was not a part of the equation. If he was married and the woman not, it was not considered adultery. Adultery was a violation of the rights of the woman’s husband. It was, by law, punishable by death, although that penalty was not ordinarily imposed. Still, despite the technicalities of the law, this woman is brought to Jesus for judgment. The question that the scribes and Pharisees place before him is whether or not her sin is deserving of death. He brilliantly listens to their arguments and then says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” At which point they slink away, one by one until only Jesus and the woman are there. Jesus has been writing in the sand and when he stands up he says, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus then said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on do not sin again.” Two things stand out to me in this story. First, Jesus refused to let her mistakes define her life or her worth. And second, he reminded the powers that be that, while their sin might manifest in different ways, they were themselves in no position to condemn her. Forgiveness in the Bible has to do with releasing others from the need to pay for the wrong they do. That release is primarily for the purpose of freeing the one who has been harmed. Forgiveness declares that the one who hurt us does not get to set the timeline or the agenda of our healing. Nor does the memory of the harm get to re-harm us again and again. We let it go, trusting that God will attend to what needs attending so that we can then live and out of the mercy that we ourselves have received. Today, I’d like to ask you to think about the self-kindness of forgiveness. It is not about saying that what happened was ok. If it had been ok, forgiveness would not be needed. It is about saying that what happened is not everything and does not get to rule us anymore. Is there someone that you struggle to forgive? If so, I urge you today to begin the process of letting go so that you can move forward. It may take time, but a start is a start. Offer that kindness to yourself as your LARK.

Prayer: Gracious God, help us to forgive as you have forgiven us. Help us to recognize in painful situations that, there but for your grace, go we. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 17 – The Kindness in Needing Help – John 21:18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.

The last of the resurrection appearance stories in John’s gospel ends in an enigmatic way. After Jesus and Peter conclude their conversation about loving and feeding the flock, Jesus uses a strange image that was interpreted by the gospel writer as a prophecy. Jesus uses the challenges of aging as a way of talking about how out of control life can become. The gospel writer sees this as a prediction of Peter’s own martyrdom. Perhaps so, but there is more, isn’t there? In offering us a picture of how out of control life can sometimes get, I notice that there is also a helper there. The gospel writer sees this helper as an executioner, fastening Peter to his own cross. I see the helper as a figure of kindness. Sometimes we need help. The older I get the clearer that becomes. Things I could once do easily are more difficult, if not impossible now. Mercifully, I can fasten my own belt and do not yet have to be led by the hand wherever I go. Still, I do find that I cling to Robbie’s hand as we go down a flight of stairs. There is a tenderness in that small action. Sometimes kindness comes when we recognize that we need help. Today practice thinking of your limitations as opportunities to receive kindness. Rather than sulking over what is passing away, open your heart wide to receive the kindness God sends to tenderly care for you and give you space to live and love. Jesus ends the strange story with simple command, “Follow me.” If we take that seriously we will follow him to some helpless places, to our own kinds of crosses. What we know, however, no matter how hard things may become, is that his own hand of loving kindness is reaching out to help us even if we can’t quite fasten our own belts. Today take a moment to thank God for all those who show you kindness by helping you when you need it. Let your LARK be a heartfelt thank you to those ones.

Prayer: God of Loving Kindness, we thank you for the grace of needing help sometimes and for the kindness of those you send to help us. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen!

May 18 – The Large Kindness of Small Things – Luke 21:1-4He looked and he saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them, for all of them contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she has to live on.”

Our fifty day journey of exploring kindness is at an end. Today’s verse reminds us that no act of kindness or generosity is ever too small or insignificant. In this story, Jesus is in the temple for worship. In those days the offering receptacles (big metal objects that looked a bit like a trumpet) were set in the front of the worship space. It was not uncommon for people to gather nearby and listen to the clanging of the coins in the trumpet. Often the rich gained status by how loud, and thus how large, the noise their gifts made. Here Jesus watches a poor widow give everything she has, two tiny coins. Her coins would not have made more than a small clink. She could not give much in quantity but she gave all in quality. I think Jesus was most impressed about the ‘all.’ Her trust in God was so complete that she held nothing back for herself. Wow. As we think about our journey into kindness, it is fitting to remember that it is not the large actions of kindness that define our faithfulness. Those are amazing miracles of God, without a doubt. Still it is the small daily self-giving choices we make that will make up the larger changes in our hearts, and eventually in our world. Today take a moment to think over these last weeks of LARKS. What small actions did you take to be kind? How has the practice of giving and receiving kindness changed you? Can you identify any shifts in your attention? Can you feel any softening in your heart? Do you find that you are a bit less quick to judge? Can you feel a greater sense of oneness with those around you and the created order? Do you find that you are a little more kind toward yourself and forgiving of others? If so, praise God for this time! You may want to go back over these devotions, or any that seemed most meaningful to you again and again. The more your commit to the process of kindness, the more miracles you will daily see!

Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you for the miracles of kindness, especially for the small actions we have taken. We thank you for the changes we are experiencing and we offer ourselves to you and ask that you will deepen our kindness! In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 19 – It’s None of Our Business – John 21:20-21Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?”

Peter, surely wondering what is going on after all he has experienced, loses his battle with his ego one more time. In this last of John’s resurrection appearance stories, Peter and Jesus are walking together on the beach after the miraculous catch of fish and Jesus’ enigmatic telling Peter to feed his sheep. Peter turns and sees the beloved disciple following  behind them. He asks Jesus what is to become of him, the beloved disciple with whom he has always had a bit of a rivalry. Behind that question is the age old desire to be number one. This is so natural. We want to be the most loved, special, and unique. In this case, apparently, Peter wants to know if he will outlive the beloved disciple. Jesus appears to lose a bit of patience here. (You can always tell that Jesus is exasperated or trying to emphasize something in scripture when the saying is punctuated by an exclamation mark.) Jesus shuts Peter down quickly, telling him that how Jesus relates to others is none of Peter’s business. Sometimes I think we have forgotten this lesson. We sometimes question how Jesus will relate to others who are not like us, don’t think like us, or with whom we feel a competitive spirit. We wonder what Jesus will do with them. What about them, Lord, we ask of those who claim the faith but do not seem to us to be claimed by it. What about them, Lord, we ask of those who call God by another name and read a different sacred book. Sometimes we need to be proven right so badly that we don’t care what God does with the ones we have decided are not right. Jesus has little patience with this. I would submit that he answers those questions of ours with an exclamation point too. Today, breathe deeply and relax your shoulders. Remember that it is your job to love and proclaim Christ. It is not your job to decide who is in and who is out. That resides in the unfathomable grace of God. Jesus can be trusted to sort it all out.

Prayer: God of Grace: We  thank you that some things are just none of our business! Help us today to relax and trust you to rule your world and love your children in exactly the right ways. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 20 – Enough is Enough – John 21:24 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

As a writer, I can so identify with how John ends his gospel. He knows that there is so much more he could say, so many more wondrous and instructive stories he could tell about Jesus. Still, he, with the gift of special inspiration that he had, knows when enough is enough. There were lots of stories and first person accounts of life with Jesus that circulated by the time John wrote. Gospels of Thomas, Phillip, Mary Magdalene and even Judas have surfaced with many stories similar to the Biblical stories and others that are new and very different. What is so wondrous to me about John is that he knew when enough was enough. A skill I can rarely master myself. He held to his purpose throughout: to testify to Jesus so that people may know that what is told of him is true. We may often want more. More insight. More experiences of Jesus. More stories to learn and into which we can enter. In the last verses of John, the gospel writer reminds us that while there is more, what we have is enough. We have enough to come to know him. We have enough to encounter him. And, we have enough to allow Jesus to continue his story through us in our own lives and daily companionship with our risen savior. So today, take a moment to breathe deeply. Set a three minute timer and see how many stories from the life of Jesus that you can bring to mind in that space of time. Jot down a reminder or title to each story, such as Good Samaritan, Woman at the Well. Just enough to get the story in mind. Throughout the day when you pause in your responsibilities, choose one story and remind yourself of it in detail. If you don’t remember it well, you can look it up. See if you don’t find yourself smiling at the wonder of it all. Thank God that what you have been given of Jesus is enough, knowing that there will always be more just when you need it.

Prayer: God of Grace, we thank you for the stories of Jesus that have been handed down to us with such insight and care. Help us not to take this gift for granted. Help us today to receive the blessings you have for us in scripture. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 21 – Waiting for the Right Moment Acts 1:3-4bAfter his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.

The Acts of the Apostles is part two of Luke’s Gospel. Here we follow the early disciples, primarily Peter and Paul, as they moved out in witness after Jesus’ ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Today’s verse precedes all of that. The disciples, upon the instruction from the risen Christ, have stayed in Jerusalem. Jesus has appeared to them in many ways. Still, Jesus knows that it is time for him to ascend. He also knows that there is more that the Father has to give them. They, unfortunately are still stuck in their old mindsets of winning and restoration of power as the hallmarks of kingdoms. It will take the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to help them finally see what is real and durable. For now, Jesus asks them to wait on God’s timing for the fullness of God’s gifts to them. God still waits for the right moment in each of our lives in order to give us new gifts, insights, blessings and purpose. We may think we are ready and want all of it all at once. We want bounty today. We want filled sanctuaries today. We want complete understanding today. What we often forget is that waiting too has a spiritual purpose. As we wait for what God will bring, we become more attuned to God’s wisdom and also to what we have already been given. We have to have a little time to incorporate and appreciate before a new gift can be truly good for us and for the world. So today, open your heart. Take a look at the spaces that you want to be filled with more love, bounty, success, or mission. Look at that space and thank God that you are ready to receive when the time is right.

Prayer: God of Grace, we thank you for the gifts of waiting for your perfect timing for the blessings that you have for us. Help us to be ready and not to waste anything. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 22 – The Grace of Baptism - Matthew 28:18-20  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.

For the next few days, we will return to the Great Commission in Matthew’s Gospel and open ourselves to receive each of its elements. Today we receive the grace and power of our baptism. Baptism is a multi-leveled sacrament that, in my opinion, opens up fully in us over time. From the earliest times of humankind, peoples all over the world and from all cultures have embraced rituals of inclusion. These rituals mark participants and leave them fundamentally different from the way they were before. They mark them as a part of something bigger than they are, something that gives them identity, power and purpose. For Christians our inclusion ritual is the sacrament of baptism. In it we affirm that the baptized are children of God and a part of the household of faith. In the Reformed tradition, we baptize people of all ages, acknowledging that it is God who does the saving work in us and not our own understanding. We baptize people into faith and understand that as a beginning, or turning point, in their journey with God. When we are baptized it is not only a hedge against eternity, it is a road map for this life, filled with power, grace and growth. So today take a moment to thank God for the amazing grace of your baptism. If you have not yet been baptized, you will always be welcome!

Prayer: God of Grace, we thank you that you claim us as your children. Today we bask in the grace and power of our baptism. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 23 – The Name - Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.

When Jesus tells the disciples to baptize others far and wide, a later editor of the text adds in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit to make it clear to us what kind of baptism Jesus was encouraging. To baptize in the name is to declare that the newly baptized will be empowered daily to claim their role as a child of God, to grow in knowledge of God, and to fashion life according to God’s values. When we move through our days as those baptized in the Name, we realize that we have been claimed into all that God is, values, desires and requires. When we are baptized we enter into a family of faith where we make commitments not just to God, but also to each other. This is why, in Presbyterian churches, baptisms are never private rituals but always celebrated in the worshipping community. When we are baptized we are never alone again. We are never without a place of belonging again. We may sometimes feel isolated and alone, granted. And faith communities have many failings that can make us want to flee at times. Still, from the moment we are baptized in the name we are a part of something that cannot be broken. We are a part of the household of God.

Prayer: God of Grace, we thank you for the gift of bearing your name. Help us today to be more and more worthy of the name we bear. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 24 – Teaching Obedience - Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.

The word teaching here means something like ‘to cause someone to be a learner.’ Jesus tells us in these verses that his desire for us is that we will cause others to learn obedience. What is obedience in the Bible? Does Jesus by that mean that we teach people all of the rules and make sure that we police them? Well, not exactly. The word in Greek means ‘to attend, to willingly stand under, to order or sort something or to hear something with such power that it causes one to act on what is heard.’ So I hope you can see from these nuances that obedience is not simply about accepting the rules and doggedly keeping them or else. Rather, obedience is about radical transformation of life and priorities such that one hears God’s word, agrees to stand beneath the comfort of it and attend to it constantly. Sometimes we associate obedience more with our failures than our protection. We look the many times we fail to live up to even our own standards, much less God’s, and see the word obedience as a sword hanging over our heads. While there are certainly consequences for our failures, the New Testament image of obedience is one of attention and comfort. We can think of God’s values as a great oak tree with branches that, if we stand beneath, close to the trunk, we will received protection from rain and sun. Under those branches we can take a nap and then awaken, look up and attend to the beauty of each leaf. We can listen to the wind rustle through the leaves and recognize what is good and powerful and true. If we choose to leave from beneath the tree we have little protection from the elements and, I would submit, no rest at all. This is the winsome truth that Jesus asks us to teach the world. So today, I invite you to welcome the rest and protection of obedience to God’s ways and the call to share it with others.

Prayer: God of grace, we thank you for the protection and rest we find in following your ways. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 25 – Promised Presence - Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.

After Jesus gave his commission to the disciples, they must have felt overwhelmed. Or maybe they were still so clueless that they didn’t know enough to feel overwhelmed. Jesus, however, knew what was coming their way. He knew how hard it would be to break through the world’s hard shell, the certainties and expectations of life weary people and open up to the truths of hope and grace. He knew that there would be times to come when they felt abandoned, when they would be persecuted and when they would feel like failures. He knew that we would have times like that, too. So before he ascends he reminds them to remember that he is (present tense!) with them always even to the end of time. The word remember in Greek is a powerful one. It literally means to give something flesh again, to make it alive again. It is the word that we use of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in which we don’t just recall but we give flesh again to the whole reality of Christ with us, within us and among us. Jesus knows that sometimes life is hard and that for us to live it in Christ we will need to open ourselves to his constant presence in our lives and world. So today, open your arms wide. Feel the air on your skin. Know that that air is the very breath of God. Close your eyes and see Jesus’ face however you imagine it. Hear him say to you, “I’m right here. I’m still right here. I will always be right here.”

Prayer: God of Grace, we thank you for your never failing presence. Help us today to awaken to it everywhere. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 26 –  Out of Sight – Acts 1:9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

Sometimes it is hard to feel the presence of Jesus when we do not see him. The disciples had been through so much, I cannot imagine what their feelings were as they watched Jesus rise to the heavens and disappear. Could they, in the face of that experience, believe that he was somehow mysteriously and spiritually still completely present with them? It took two men (angels) in white robes to remind them that they should stop staring up at the heavens and start their role in spreading heaven on earth. Which is what they did. They elected Matthias to replace Judas and then started together trying to figure out how to get on with their mission. In the history of Christian theology, teachers have suggested that the Ascension was necessary for the Holy Spirit to come in fullness, and that the fullness of the Spirit is necessary for the accomplishment of our mission, or even to make it through day to day. Why that was necessary is a little murky to me, but the results are not. Having Jesus ascend gives us a great opportunity to walk by faith and not by sight. It is the walking by faith that strengthens the muscles of the heart and soul allowing us to look within at Spirit’s work in our hearts and then outward at Spirit’s work in the community. So today, take a moment to thank God for the mysteries of the times when God seems out of sight and for the ways it stretches our faith.

Prayer: God of Grace, we thank you for the mysterious grace of the story of your Ascension. Help us to respond as the disciples did and get on with the work you have for us. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 27 –  Signs and Wonders – Acts 2:43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.

The book of Acts gives us a beautiful, and likely idealized, picture of the lives of the earliest Christians. In today’s verse, the Spirit has been received. The indwelling power of the Spirit of Christ has changed Peter completely. No longer is he the bumbling ego driven jealous power seeker. Suddenly he is resplendent and eloquent. His speech helping the gathered crowds understand the first Pentecost has led many people to faith in Christ. In these few verses we get a glimpse into what the daily life of the earliest believers was like. All around them they saw signs and wonders. In the New Testament, the word for sign means a mark or an indication. Signs are pointers to a greater reality. Signs appeal to our understanding. When we see an indication of God, we come to understand God better. Wonders are a little different. Wonders are things that make us marvel. They are often strange and out of the ordinary. Wonders are often understood as supernatural and intended to appeal to our imaginations. Signs help us understand more of God. Wonders help us know how much is beyond our understanding. We can look for signs. Wonders, however, are pure gift. All we can do to receive them is to be humbly open to them. Today, tune your eyes to the signs that are around you that help you see God and learn something about who God is. Also, tell God that you are open to receive wonders if they are needed and God sees fit.

Prayer: God of Grace, we thank you for the many signs of your presence with which you bless us. We are grateful for every new insight. We are grateful as well for the moments of wonderment when we realize how much we do not and can never know. Keep us always in Awe of you! In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 28 – Holding All Things in Common – Acts 2:44-45All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all as any had need.

Today’s verse may be one of the most challenging in the New Testament for those of us who live in the United States with a measure of privilege. We have been trained to be ruggedly individualistic. This does not, of course, mean that we have no spirit of oneness and esprit de corps, but still we do tend to think of what we have, own, and control as our own. We tend to think that it is all, first and foremost, for our security and enjoyment. Not much could be further from Jesus,’ and the Bible’s, reality than that. Throughout Jesus’ teaching, he asks us to unhook from the dangers of possessions and individualism. He tells a rich man to give everything away to the poor. He laments at how hard it is for those with many possessions to enter the kingdom. It is not, of course, possessions that are the real problem. The problem is the way possessions possess us, and therefore the way we cling to their inequitable distribution. It seems from this text that there was a brief shining moment when as a people of Christ we understood and lived this truth. We understood that nothing actually belonged to us at all. That everything we had and controlled was given for the good of all and was to be relinquished whenever another was in need. That radical form of community, sadly, did not last long even among the early believers who were in constant awe from signs and wonders. Later in Acts we see that Ananias and Saphira try to hedge their bets and falsify their pledge to seem more generous than they actually were. That duplicity killed them both. Granted, for good or ill, we are not likely to form a commune and hold all our goods in common as today’s verse describes. Still, there is tremendous grace in recognizing that all we have belongs to God and is to be used for the good of all. Today, as you go about your daily tasks, notice everything that you have, your clothes, shoes, computer, desk, bed, house, car, just everything. Thank God for each thing you notice and ask how it might be used to meet the needs of others. Perhaps your kitchen can produce a meal for a hungry or hurting neighbor. Perhaps your bed can give you good rest so that you are strengthened to serve others. Perhaps your car can make a run to the grocery for a shut in neighbor. Recognizing that all we have is to be used to serve, has the added benefit of reducing our secret feelings of lack or desiring more than we need. After all, to whom much is given, much is required!

Prayer: God of Grace, we thank you for the realization all we have is gift to be used to serve others on your behalf. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 29 – The Grace of Worship - Acts 2:46-47 Day by Day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

This verse gives us a picture of a community basking in the joy of what God has done for them in Christ to such an extent that they are constantly worshipping and praising. They spent much time in Temple worship which included instruction, song and ritual action. Our service for the Lord’s Day liturgies are loosely based on the forms of Temple worship at the time of Jesus. There are rhythms to it, time of rejoicing, times of confessing, time for instruction, times for prayer. The early believers recognized how much they needed this worship. They knew how grateful they were for God and all of the grace they received. They took their worship home with them and ate together with glad hearts. This rhythm of worship and feeding did its transforming work and all around saw the changes in them. Others began to notice that these Christians were not like everybody else. They had a shimmering quality to their common life. They had become people of praise and generosity. Their faith so delighted them that others wanted to share in what they had found. The rhythms of worship, home fellowship, generosity and praise are still transformative. That is, if they become an awakened way of life and not adjuncts to lives filled with too much else. Today practice that rhythm. Take a moment to offer your worship to God. Confess your faults. Receive instruction. Share a meal with someone if you can. Open your heart widely and generously and watch what happens. You will be amazed!

Prayer: God of Grace, we thank you for the patterns and rhythms of our lives and faith. Help us today to draw strength for them and to worship you with a glad and generous heart. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 30 – The Power of Gentleness – Phil 4:5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

The word for gentleness in Greek is fascinating. It refers to something that is fitting, equitable, fair, moderate, forbearing, not insistent on the letter of the law. Something or someone who expresses this characteristic offers even handed considerateness. A version of this word was often used to characterize a nurse with trying children or a teacher with difficult students. Some translate the word ‘sweet reasonableness.’ In today’s verse, Paul is writing to special friends in Philippi. These members of the church pray for and support him in trying times. He is in prison as he writes. His circumstances are truly awful and yet he urges his friends to let their sweet reasonableness, their forbearance and moderation to be obvious in how they live and how they are seen in the community. In the dominant expressions of our faith in the United States, gentleness is not the first word that often leaps to mind. We sometimes associate this quality with being wishy washy or weak. As anyone who has ever sought to practice this type of gentleness knows, it is anything but. Being equitable in a word of inequality is hard work. Being moderate in a world of extremes is hard work. Finding the most fitting response in difficult circumstances is hard work. Refusing legalism is hard work when our precious values seem threatened. Pursuing sweet reasonableness in a violent and fractured time is hard, hard, hard work. It is counter-cultural and it cannot be counterfeit. Still, this quality may just be the most needed in our day. To open ourselves to gentleness requires that we learn to watch our reactions to things and people. It requires that we stretch our capacity to choose responses rather than react with first emotions. That is not easy but it is something that can be learned. So today, if you notice yourself reacting fiercely or negatively to anything, take a breath. Ask God to express sweet reasonableness through you. Then respond for that newly centered position.

Prayer: God of Grace, we thank you for the gift of sweet reasonableness and your Spirit’s power to flow though us in all gentleness, moderation and forbearance. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

May 31 – The Power of Rejoicing – Phil 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.

Just before Paul tells his friends to manifest gentleness he tells them to rejoice in all things. Could that be the key to practicing sweet reasonableness? Words for joy and rejoicing in the New Testament cover everything from calm delight to wild unbridled hilarity. What we sometimes fail to realize is that joy is not just a release or an anesthetic. It is a fierce power. Joy is a conduit of Spirit energy. It can heal and it is independent of all circumstances. There is rub, isn’t it? We tend to think that we feel joy only when times are good, or when we have gotten something that we want. To the contrary, in the Bible joy is called out when we are in the worst possible circumstances. Why? Because joy is rooted not in what is happening now but what has happened and happens eternally in Christ. Every day is seen in the context of eternity. Even suffering, in the New Testament, is an opportunity for joy because it allows us to share in what Jesus himself endured and thereby understand him and be closer to him than before. Joy has an emotional quality but it is also a Spirit fruit that can be cultivated and tended. Joy can be found inside of us and called to expression whenever needed. So today, no matter what is going on, find something that brings you joy. Laugh if at all possible and do it from the belly and longer than seems reasonable. Just do it. Joy always follows! I double dog dare you!

Prayer: God of Grace, we thank you for the gift of joy and open ourselves today to receive it in full measure. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.