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Daily Devotions - June 2024

Recently the pastor of a church in Mobile Alabama shared statistics from a new study that looked at how Christians view themselves as opposed to how non-Christians or former Christians viewed practicing Christians. The results were pretty daunting. While most practicing Christians saw themselves as loving, kind and welcoming, most non, or former, Christians saw practicing Christians as hypocritical, judgmental, exclusionary, and deniers of science and threats to the planet. Yikes! As I have pondered this reality, It occurs to me that we in the church need to do both some soul searching as regards our behavior, and some excavating to reach beneath our assumptions to the bedrock truths of our faith. So this summer, I invite us to return to our roots and to consider again the basics of Christian faith, doctrine and practice. I don’t offer these reflections as a litmus test for faithfulness, nor as a carved in stone theology to which you must adhere in every detail. I offer these reflections in the hope that you will examine your life vis a vis these themes. To what extent do you show these truths in your behavior in your home, congregation, community and especially with those who do not share your faith convictions. I hope these devotions, and that reflection, will give you a new and sturdy confidence with which you can share your deepened faith with any to whom God leads you. At the end of the summer, I encourage you to print these devotions out as a set that you can refer to yourself, or that you could give to those who you think maybe struggling with the faith or have gotten lost in the weeds of too much, too much. It will, of course, not be complete. We can never completely describe faith or its meaning. What we can do is dip into it in tasty morsels and rejoice!

June 1 – Shema – The Holy one of Israel – Deuteronomy 6:4-5 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God will all your hearts, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

These verses are the very core of the faith of Israel. It is called the Shema because in Hebrew it begins “Shema Yisra’el.” It is one of only two prayers specifically commanded of believers in the Old Testament. (By the way, the other is the grace after meals.) The Shema  is said morning and evening and is included in almost all worship services for the Jewish people to this day. The gift at the heart of these prayer verses, for all of us, is the supreme insight that God is one, and only one. In an ancient world with many competing religious views and many different gods and goddesses that ordered the lives of their adherents, the profound declaration of Israel’s faith, and our own Christian faith, is that there is only one divine reality, there is only one divine One. It is that One, that we are called to worship and serve with our whole hearts, souls and power. The word for heart in Hebrew refers to more than our emotions. The heart is the seat of our ethics and moral choices. The soul does not refer to our immortal soul here. The word in Hebrew is nephesh. It refers to our inward being, our inner self, our inner thoughts and personality. The word we translate as might refers to a person’s personal power or physical strength. Try today to repeat the Shema in your own words, or as I put it in the following prayer. Do this morning and evening and notice what the Holy One does with your faithful prayer.

Prayer: O Holy One, you are my one and only. I love you today with all of my choices, my ethical and moral decisions. I love you with my inmost thoughts and offer my whole personality to you for refining. I love you with every bit of my physical and spiritual strength. Any power I have, I commit, from my deep love, to use for you. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

June 2 – God is Creator (Parent) – Genesis 1:1-31 and Genesis 2:4b-23 “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…”

The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) give us two different and differently beautiful accounts of earth’s beginnings with all of its wonders and creatures, including human beings. Sometimes in our haste we try to conflate those stories into one literal narrative. The scripture was not inspired to be used in that way. The ancestors were in no way interested in whether a day was 24 hours or 24 eons, or any other period of time. They were not concerned with beings we call Adam and Eve and where, if they were the only humans, the sons wives came from. That is to miss the point completely. The point of both of these stories is to tell us something universal about who God is, what God does and what that means for our relationship with God, each other and the whole created order. The point is that God creates. God did in the beginning when there was nothing. God needed no ingredients because God was the ingredient. God created everything out of God’s own bounteous self with just a word, just a thought. All was created out of Love (which is what God is) and for love. God continues that loving creation with every bud in spring, every cleansing rush of water in a stream, every new cardinal in a nest and every new born human placed in parents’ arms. God creates continually and in infinite intricacy. If that were not glorious enough, we learn that God’s purpose for creating is goodness and loving relationships. Each part of the created order is named good and is to be treasured and cared for (this is what the word dominion means…to work for the long term good of.) All creatures are in relationship with God and with each other, made from the same spangled stars and rough red clay. Humanity itself is created for relationships of mutuality, fulfillment, trust and intimacy, both with other humans and with God. “Ah at last, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” As God is One, God desires that we experience oneness. God makes us, loves us, sustains us. Today take a moment to look around you at God’s good creation. Notice the leaves on trees and the blooms in the garden. Notice the artistry of your own possessions and the intricate beauty of the veins in your hands. Notice whiskers on a beloved pet and the way the hair sticks up in back of your beloved when he or she tumbles from sleep. Notice morning shakes and smiles, and even grumpy shuffles. Notice life within and around you and, with God, call it good. See what happens to your outlook when you try this practice.

Prayer: Creator God, today we thank you for life itself, for the capacity to love, for the miracle of breathing in and out, for the sweet nourishment of the earth, for the call to tend to creation and to our relationships with you and others with creativity, imagination and love. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 3 – God’s Image – Genesis 1:26a “And God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;”

Don’t be concerned that God says, ‘Let us.’ The Hebrew scriptures often show God speaking with a kind of royal we. Perhaps it is even a foretaste of the Trinity. Most scholars believe that God is referring to the heavenly court of helpers and angels already created in the beginning. All of that is interesting, but not very important. So what is important? What is important is that God creates human beings to be like God. Not to BE gods, but to reflect God’s beauty, creative bounty and love, back to the world. We are created with the capacity to show God to one another. What an amazing evangelistic tool that is! We each have the capacity to reveal to others a bit of who God is. Maybe you have a musical gift that lifts others’ spirits. Perhaps you are gifted in the garden, as God was. Perhaps you can sew clothes as God did for Adam and Eve. Perhaps you have insights into scripture and can separate light from darkness. Perhaps you recognize your oneness with other people, somehow knowing that they were actually made from your own side. Perhaps you see pain and reach out to offer compassion and healing. The list is endless and filled with the variety that is the human family. Today take a moment to think of your positive qualities, things you can do, understand, feel or offer. Make a list of a few of those and think about how that quality is a window into a part of God. Ask yourself how you, as your own unique self, show others the image of God.

Prayer: O God, you are beyond our ability to define or contain, and yet you give us so many clues about who you are and what you value. You do that in Scripture and sacrament. You do that in the created order. And you do that in each human being. Help us to see ourselves, and everyone with whom we interact today, as creatures made in your image. Help us to rejoice in the wonder that is You. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 4 – God is LOVE – 1 John 4:7-8,16b “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God…God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

This entire section of 1 John is worth reading every day. Here the apostle helps us to see that, at least in part, God and Love are synonyms. Throughout this letter, the apostle is trying to help people grapple with twin afflictions, legalism and perfectionism. New believers could not grasp that grace was enough, nor did they know how to deal with the fact that sin was still a problem in their lives even after conversion and redemption. He has told them that it is God (Light) that gives us insight and illumination that helps us to change. He has told us that because of Jesus we have an advocate and are not left to face the music alone and without representation. Still, many are struggling to live a truly changed life and they fear that God is mad with them. After he addresses these issues and uses the beautiful imagery of being children of God, he arrives at what is, to me, the absolute pinnacle of his teaching. God is love. We must be careful here because we know that not everything that we may call love is actually of God. We use the word often, sometimes in less than loving ways. The word John uses is agape. It is a multi-faceted word that means unconditional mercy coupled with steadfast choosing the good of the other. That is who God is. When we live in mercy and steadfastly choose the good for others and ourselves, we live in God and know God. We could talk about these simple verses for an entire year and never plumb the depths. For today, read them out loud if you can several times. How do they land on your heart? How do they taste on your lips? How do you live in Love? How do you show and receive mercy? How are you constant and steadfast in love? If you feel that you are lacking, ask God, who is love, to give you a little more of Godself today.

Prayer: God of Love, help me today to see the love that is all around me and within me. Help me to choose loving actions and to show mercy wherever needed. Fill me with more of yourself so that I can be steadfastly loving, and secure in my relationship with you and others. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

June 5 – God is Light – 1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

The image of light (Greek phos)is rich indeed. It refers, of course to literal light, the capacity to see with the eyes and discern one thing from another. Most often in the New Testament, phos refers to spiritual insight, truth, reality, and enlightenment. When John uses this word with his flock, he hopes that they will understand that God is both the source of insight, truth, and enlightenment, and is insight and enlightenment itself. To walk in the Light is to walk with God’s eyes, seeing the world through the lamp that is God. It is equally important for him to impress upon his church that there is no darkness in God. The word skotia refers to physical darkness but even more to spiritual darkness or even secrets. It refers to evil works and moral failures. It is important to John that his followers know that when there are secrets, lack of insight, spiritual blindness, and moral evil, that that is not God and God has no part in it. Those things are the lack of Light, the lack of Love. As we saw yesterday and today, God is Love and God is Light so that which is not light and love is not a part of God. God does not inspire confusion, does not author evil, does not keep us in the dark. Yet even when we find ourselves lost, compromised and confused, we have but to turn, open our eyes, and find the insight that we need in order not to continue stumbling around in the dark. Today practice seeing with your eyes, if you are able. See what you see, notice what you learn from what you see. Perhaps more importantly, see what you see with the eyes of your heart. You don’t need physical sight for that. What does your heart see as true? Is that consistent with what you know of God as Love and Light? Is it more consistent with lies or darkness? If the later, see if you can shift your inner sight toward the good and see if things become clearer.

Prayer: Light of the World, how we need your light and insight in these troubled times, and in our often troubled and confused lives. Open the eyes of our hearts to see you more clearly, to understand you more deeply and to serve you with more integrity. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

June 6 – God is Mercy and Grace – Ephesians 2:4-8 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

This soaring passage nearly sings from the page! Remember that when you see long dashes in the text, that indicates that in the oldest manuscripts something has been lost or corrupted so much that it can’t be discerned. It could be a word, a phrase or even a page. We have no way of knowing. What we do know as we read these words is that what remains is all we need! Here the author presents us with a soaring picture of God’s mercy and redeeming grace. The word we translate as ‘mercy’ refers to the outward expression of compassion and pity toward those who are hurting, especially due to their own faults. It is mercy that forgives, binds up wounds, and sets us on a path of life. Mercy is without judgment. It never says, ‘you made your bed, now lie in it.’ It is boundless compassion and understanding at work in the life of the one in need. ‘Grace’ refers to God’s powerful, unmerited, unconditional and eternal love. It is this powerful love that saves us. The word for saved, sozo, means to be rescued or to be put back together again whole. ‘Faith,’ which means trust, is the way that we experience the mercy and grace of God as real and true for us. It is not a set of beliefs per se. It is a choice to rely upon the message we have received. It is not about doing everything, or anything right. It is about releasing into the miracle that God is mercy and grace, and has and will dispense mercy and grace to us forever. Do you sometimes find it difficult to trust that God looks at you with compassion? Do you sometimes struggle to trust that God loves you eternally and that God’s love is enough to put you back together again whole? Do you get lost in notions of what you deserve or images you have been taught that God is harsh and angry with you? That God hates you for who you are? Those images are powerful in our culture and, sadly, sometimes in the church as well. They are just not true. God sees you as you are, flaws and beauty. God’s lavish compassion surrounds you all the time. God’s love will never let you go. See if today you can let go and trust that that is your truth.

Prayer: God of Mercy and Grace, I am so grateful for your saving love and bountiful mercy. Help me today to trust in your grace alone and begin to see myself through your eyes of love. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

June 7 – God Works In Us – Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Paul is writing this letter to his friends from prison. He is in an awful circumstance and yet this letter brims with joy and thanksgiving. In these verses he tells them two important truths. First he encourages them to keep at their spiritual practice. The word ‘salvation’ has as its root, sozo, that we looked at yesterday. It means wholeness, put back togetherness. It does not simply refer to life in heaven after we die. It also refers to the life of wholeness that is our to enter into even now. That entering in takes time and practice. Working out our wholeness sometimes means that God’s values have to be worked into us. Sometimes it means that old habits or patterns of thought or self-deprecation have to be worked out of us. Obviously we are saved already. The cross accomplished that. But wholeness has to be worked into the dough of our lives and it takes daily attention. Second, and oh so comfortingly, he tells us that that working out of our wholeness/salvation is not dependent on our own ability or discipline. God is INSIDE of us, working our healing and wholeness day by day by day. Take a moment to look back on your life. Can you see how God has worked wholeness into you? Can you see areas where you have changed, grown and become more loving? Stop for a moment. Rest in God’s pleasure at your growth and give thanks.

Prayer: O God, we are so grateful that you live within us constantly working to heal and transform us. We thank you for your faithfulness to us and ask that you will help us to be faithful to you. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 8 – Jesus the Son of God– John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,  so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

For many Christians, this is the first Bible verse that we memorize. It is everywhere. People carry it on placards on street corners. Athletes paint it under their eyes before big games. Even some business people put it on their signs or logos as a signal to others of their beliefs and values. I sometimes wonder if those users understand the radical nature of this verse and what they are declaring. Many seem to only associate these words with eternal salvation without understanding that eternity has already begun. For some it is just a way to claim their team allegiance. For others it is a political signal. For others it signals who people are against more than who God is for. For still others it is an outpouring of trust that is both declaration and invitation. So let’s consider it’s elements one by one. We already learned last week that everything that exists is a manifestation of God’s love (agape.) God’s constant choosing the best for the beloved inevitably leads to the offering of Jesus to the world. The tense used in this verse indicates something that happens once, continues to happen, and never stops happening. The word ‘only’ doesn’t mean single in Greek. It means unique or unable to be duplicated. Although the concept of DNA was foreign to John, the use of the word ‘Son’ carries that sense. Jesus is the unique expression of Divine Being. The word ‘believes’ means to rely upon, to trust with one’s life. It is not about a particular set of dogmas. It is about an intimate relationship of trust. ‘Perish’ is an interesting word that means to be utterly destroyed or to be lost and unable to find one’s way. The word ‘life’ is one of two Greek words translated as life, zoe. This word does not refer to biological life, but to the eternal life force within a person. The gift of this life force in us was understood as God’ greatest gift to human beings. God did not simply give Jesus in order to rescue us for heaven, although that would have been gift enough. In Christ, God gives us a share in God’s own eternal life. That life is for now as well as eternity. Today think about what it means to you to know that your eternal life has already begun. You are already living it. Nothing can change that. Not ever.

Prayer: Dear God, your graciousness toward us is beyond our comprehension. In Jesus you chose to share your very life force with us, the force of eternal love itself. In Jesus you have gifted us with a measure of your own nature and power. Wow. Just wow. Help us to welcome this gift, to sink into it, and to live out of it. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 9 – Jesus the Word Made Flesh – John 1 John 1:14 – “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

John is trying to explain the person and power of Jesus to an audience that does not have any Jewish theological background. The notion of Messiah or redeemer would not have made sense to them. So he chooses another metaphor that they will understand, Logos (Word.) Logos refers to a special word that embodies a big idea. It is bigger than the words used to describe it. Logos is a thought or concept embodied. Using this word tells his hearers that Jesus is an action of God, an embodiment of all that God is, values and desires. John doesn’t use the word ‘flesh’ the same way that Paul does. In Paul it usually refers to base desires, but for John ‘flesh’ is just a human body and experience. He is saying that Jesus is not a divine being in a human disguise. Jesus is fully human with the same body and emotions of every human being. The phrase ‘lived among us’ literally is ‘tenting among us.’ In other words, Jesus is the one that shows us that God pitches God’s tent with us, lives life with us day in and day out. The word ‘glory’ is a strange one. It comes from the root for ‘opinion.’ It refers to the honor that comes from a good opinion, but more than that, it refers to the nature and acts of God in self-manifestation. In other words, ‘glory’ refers to God being God for all to see. The ‘truth’ refers to the reality that lies at the heart of a thing, the essence of the matter distilled. The word ‘grace’ is a huge one. It means, love, power, blessing, kindness, favor, all unmerited and lavishly given. Grace is not just an emotion. Nor is it just an action. It is a force, a power. It is the very force of God’s love pouring out on and through the beloved. Think for a moment today about what it means to you for Jesus, embodying all that it is to be human and fully what it is to be God, to come to pitch a tent with you. Look at him carefully. What do you want to ask him? How do you want to model your life on him?

Prayer: O Word, you pitched your tent with us long ago and even today you do the same, picking up and moving camp when we do, kindling a fire and pushing back the night, filling us with your body for food, and staying close through each of our days. Thank you! Help us to see you with us at all times today, offering the sustenance of your very life to us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

June 10 – Jesus, Born of Mary’s Yes – In your own Bible read Luke 1:26-28.

The mystery of the incarnation cannot be explained. Why did God choose this path? Was it really a virgin birth? Does that ultimately matter? Those questions are hard to answer, especially because the word we translate as ‘virgin’ is nuanced indeed. The virgin birth was very important to early believers, and still is today to those who believe that original sin is passed to a child through the act of conception itself. That is not a part of my theological tradition and is a debate not suited to these devotions. What is vitally important, divinely important, is that God chose to come to us in Jesus, that Jesus was born from Mary’s own body, that he lived and died and rose among us. What captures me so in the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit announcing what God was about to do, is Mary’s ‘yes.’ We don’t know if her yes was somehow necessary. Does God need our agreement to accomplish God’s plan? Sometimes it seems so. And, since there is no violence or coercion in God, my belief is that Mary’s yes was vital. She well knew the risk in agreeing. She could lose her impending marriage and reputation. She could even be executed if Joseph did not believe her and filed charges. And yet, she said yes. The risks receded at the thought of being the bearer of God’s son. Her role in salvation history boggles my mind. Still, I know that every day Jesus asks again to be born in me. Every day I wake knowing that God desires me to bring Christ to life for the people in my life and community. That is true for you as well. Jesus comes to life in the heartfelt yes of believers each and every moment. He wants you to deliver him, to nurture and care for him, to offer your life for him as surely as Mary did. Think today about what you know about Jesus. Make a list of things and pray through them saying something like: Dear God, how can I offer Jesus’ love to others today? Or how can I bring Jesus’ values to life in my home or office today? Or how can I stand as Jesus did with the poor today? Let the Spirit guide you in this and relax a bit. After all, Mary has done the heavy lifting for us. We get the easier part.

Prayer: Gracious God, you chose to have your son born from the yes of one ordinary woman. Help me today to say yes to the ways you ask me to bring Jesus into my own ordinary life. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

June 11 – Jesus Challenge to Unjust Power – Matthew 2:3 “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.”

The baby Jesus has been born and lived in obscurity for his first years. Scientists and astrologers from the east, called Magi, have seen a unique star and traveled far to try to find him. They have heard, somehow, that he has been born to be king of the Jews, so in their search they go to Herod’s palace. Where else would they expect to find a king? When they present themselves to him, Herod is immediately afraid. And, when Herod was upset and afraid the whole city was upset and afraid! Was an insurrection in the works? A coup plot? Was the whole opulent, but fragile, network of power about to tumble down? To deal with his fear, Herod lied and hatched a vile plot to find out where Jesus was and to ‘deal with him.’ Herod, lost in his corrupt power and feeling threatened, did what oppressors always do. He decided that the threat must be eradicated. The child must be killed. When God moves to interrupt this plot in a dream to the Magi, Herod escalates. Not only is the child Jesus to be killed, all male children under the age of two in and around Bethlehem must be killed too. Scared power is scary indeed. Oppression becomes a way of life. In the eyes of the oppressor it is a necessary and even laudatory tool. It is interesting that it is the birth of God’s Love in Jesus that terrifies Herod. Love always scares the unjust. They will lash out, with billy clubs. They will lash out with legislation to tighten their grip on power. They will lash out with violence that starts small and escalates. Like the wicked witch of the west in the Wizard of Oz, God’s undaunted Love in Jesus Christ, is the water they fear will dissolve them. They will do anything to stop that from happening. They will lie, blame, intimidate and ridicule anyone or anything that scares them. The sad truth is that sometimes, in our own small lives we know how to do that as well. When a family member challenges our behavior we know how to lash out, work the phones and build an ‘army’ against them. When a boss feels threatened by our ideas, we know how to get into a battle for control. If new ideas threatened us, we know how to run, ban, burn and vilify even before we know what it is all about. When we act on those kinds of fears, we are not saving ourselves, we are destroying ourselves. Today see if you can think of an example in your life, community or church where something new has felt threatening to you? How did you respond? Was anyone else caught in the crossfire? As you think about these things, ask Jesus to help you understand your motives and to give you new ways of dealing with old fears.

Prayer: Dear God, your love is so powerful. It is change itself. Help me today to see the ways I resist what you are doing in my life and in the world. Help me to see the things I cling to that I should release. Help me to welcome you in whatever way you come, even if it means I must change. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

June 12 – Jesus Journeys with the Oppressed – Matthew 2:13 “Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

While Herod plots his evil response to the fear of losing power, God sends an angel to Joseph to warn him and give him new directions. What I love about this story is not the simple wonder of God’s dream language, a topic worth extended study. What I love is this early glimpse of Jesus and his family as political refugees and God’s determination to give them a path forward to safety. Jesus and his family could not survive in their home land. They had to flee. I see that as such an act of solidarity with the many refugees around the world today who are forced to flee their homelands due to the threat of violence or poverty. I believe that Jesus always stands with them, children and adults, because he knows what they are going through. He also knows that God always provides a path that leads to life. There are many good and practical reasons why borders and their security are important in our day. No argument there. What this text shows us, however, is that borders don’t mean much to God when the lives of the beloved are at stake. Take a moment today to think about the many displaced persons all over the world. Open your heart to compassion and breathe your care as a prayer, knowing that Jesus accompanies every desperate journey. Even your own.

Prayer: O God of all our journeys, we thank you that you accompany us on our way. We thank you that Jesus, our Lord, knows what it is like to have to flee for safety. Fill us with your compassion and vision so that we may find ways to help and never harm. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 13 – Jesus the One Worthy of Obedience – Mark 9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

This verse is taken from Mark’s account of Jesus’ transfiguration. Things are coming to a head in his ministry when he takes his closest friends, Peter, James and John, with him up to a mountain to pray. In the Scripture, mountains are often symbols for places where God communicates directly with people. Think of Mount Sinai and the gift of the Law. Think of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ mighty declaration of God’s values. Think of Mount Calvary where Jesus dies, ending the necessity for future sacrifice. We don’t know where this incident took place but, at least metaphorically, it is a mountain between mountains, with Sinai on one hand and Calvary on the other. Jesus knows what awaits him. His friends may not yet be clear about it. In this spiritual experience they are visited by the long dead Moses, symbolizing the Law, and Elijah, who was thought to return just before Messiah. The disciples are undone by this encounter. They do not know what to think as they see Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah. Suddenly a cloud surrounds them, suggesting both God’s presence and their own confusion. From their clouded thinking, God speaks to soothe and direct. He reminds them of Jesus’ beloved status and gives them the best advice anyone could ever give: Listen to him! In Hebrew thought to hear, or to listen, implies being changed by what one hears in such a way that it is acted upon. It means to respond or obey. If we hear Jesus’ words and see his actions, yet do nothing about them concretely and specifically in our own lives, according to the Bible, we have not heard them at all. Today, stop and see if you can remember some of Jesus’ most powerful teachings. Listen to those words in your heart. Pray for right interpretation. Ask God to show you what to do.

Prayer: O God of Grace, we thank you for sending Jesus to show us the ways of life. Help us today to listen care-fully to his words. Inspire us with the truth. Remove from our hearts and minds faulty interpretations that can only harm us and others, so that we may hear and obey rightly. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 14 – Jesus as Storyteller – Mark 4:30-32 “He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

In this section of Mark, Jesus is telling a series of stories about growth. He uses imagery with which they are familiar from their ordinary lives. In the previous story he tells them that seeds must be scattered, and that when they are, growth is miraculous and surprising. In this story he tells them not to worry if they feel small and insignificant. When they offer themselves as seeds then they will grow into something lush, sturdy, fine and serviceable (the birds can nest there.) In the following verses, Mark tells us that Jesus spoke almost exclusively in stories. The stories Jesus tells, and even the stories of our own lives, are rich with meaning. They can be means of growth and understanding. When we tell Jesus’ stories, and our own, we continue to plant seeds for growth for ourselves and for this world that is so in need of something sturdy, fine and sheltering these days. Take a moment today to think about some of the stories of your life. It doesn’t need to be the big ones. It can be of the mustard seed variety. Take a minute to think about what that recollection has to teach you. Ask yourself if this story has anything in it that has to do with the great themes of faith: creation, sin, enlightenment, redemption and new starts, grace or compassion. Think of yourself as a living parable in Jesus’ hands. What does your life have to teach you and others?

Prayer: Storyteller God, we thank you that you teach in words we can understand. Help us today to learn from our own stories about grace and compassion. Help us to live in such a way that the stories our lives tell will further your kingdom’s goals and glorify your name. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 15 – The Suffering Servant – In your own Bible read Isaiah 52:13-53:6 “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”

The Old Testament book of Isaiah was written by several different prophets, some of whose names are lost to us. The first 39 chapter are written by a prophet known as Isaiah of Jerusalem in a time of growing national calamity. He envisions God sending a mighty, winsome, wise, and just warrior savior (messiah) who will save the people from colonization, protect the homeland, and return hope and faithfulness to them. The prophet’s hope was not for a God-man as Christians experience, but for a righteous and powerful man-man who would be used by God in mighty ways. By the time we reach chapter 53, times have changed and gotten worse. Babylon has invaded and much of the country’s wealth and people have been exiled there. In the face of those disasters, this prophet ponders how it could happen that God’s chosen people could fall so far. He believes that that kind of destruction is the natural consequence of faithlessness. Still, for him all hope is not lost. He is inspired to imagine a different kind of Messiah, this leads from amongst the people. He suffers with and on behalf of the people. It is somehow in his solidarity with suffering, and his own sacrificial suffering, that true healing happens. Like the scapegoat at Yom Kippur who is sent into the wilderness to carry away the people’s sin in order for them to start over clean with God, this vision builds on the ancient notion that sin must somehow be atoned. It has gotten so bad that a goat won’t do. Christians view these writings as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ rejection and sacrifice for the healing of humanity. Notions of sin that requires suffering to atone, undergirded the sacrificial system in Israel. Blood for blood. Life for Life. In the New Testament book of Hebrews (Ch. 10 in particular) the writer expands this view by telling believers that Jesus sacrifice was once and for all. The need for sacrifice for sin is ended. Even though the idea that sin must bring suffering in order to heal is over with Jesus, it still lingers in our consciousness, does it not? Are there times when you find that you do not think that you are worthy of forgiveness? Are there times you think you must somehow pay for your mistakes in order to be right with God? You do not. Jesus freed you from that necessity. Granted, God longs for each of us to live by God’s values. Granted, we often pay a steep price for our mistakes with those we harm. What is true, even then, is that we are right with God in Christ. God does not need, nor ever require, our suffering. God desires our love. God desires our repentance, not so that we satisfy God, but so that we learn, grow and heal. This is why Good Friday is called Good.

Prayer: Gracious God, we thank you for your Son Jesus, who makes a way for us away from suffering and into joy now and eternally. Help us to stop trying to be our own little saviors. Help us to release our needless guilt, so that we can live with the hope he came to restore. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 16 – Jesus our Redeemer – Job 19:25-26 “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God.”

The idea of God as redeemer is rich in the Hebrew scriptures. The term comes from a root word for marketplace and has to do with purchasing. Some suggest that it had to do with purchasing the freedom of slaves, but that is not made explicit. What is clear, is that redemption is always about taking someone from one place to another, from bondage to freedom, from pain and sin to love and hope, from despair to the presence of God, from death to life eternal, for example. While, Jesus is never called Redeemer in the New Testament, many passages describe that from which he has redeemed us: slavery to sin (Rom.3:23), slavery to the Law (Gal.3:13), empty religion (1 Peter 1:18), death (Heb. 2:14-15), and coming judgment (1 Thess. 1:10.) Jesus as our Redeemer should not solely be viewed in terms of the hereafter. While Jesus redeems us for eternal life, he also redeems us for bounteous and faithful life now. There are many situations and habits today in which we feel stuck and unable to free ourselves. We need a redeemer when we feel hopeless, or when our will power fails, or our destructive choices seem in control of our lives. Sometimes we feel that we need to get from one place in our life to a better place. We feel that there is more to life than we are living, but we can’t find our way or the cost of the journey is too great for us to pay. We may feel that we cannot overcome our health problems, our financial woes, our relationship strains, or even our spiritual stagnation. Jesus as our Redeemer reminds us that when we cannot, Jesus can. When we will not. Jesus will. When we know not. Jesus knows. Not only that, he stands ready at the market stall of our stalled lives to pay any price to get us from pain to joy. Today take a moment to think of any places you feel stuck and do not want to stay. Offer those to God for insight and redemption when the time is ripe. Remember that God does not see as a problem everything that we see as a problem. Sometimes the greatest redemption comes through the reframing of worn out views that blind us to what is already present.

Prayer: O God, our great Redeemer. In Jesus you provide us with a way out. Help us to turn to you and accept that we belong to you, and not to our bondages. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 17 – Jesus our Ransomer – 1 Timothy 2:5-6a – “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all”

The word ‘atonement’ means reconciliation. In Christian theology atonement refers to the removal of the effects, or consequences, of sin so that relationship with God is established and unfettered. The Greek word often used to express this concept literally means to establish friendship. The idea that God came in Jesus to establish everlasting friendship with us by removing any obstacle to that friendship is mind blowing. It is also impossible to define all the implications. There are many, many theories of atonement. So far we have considered Suffering Sacrifice and Redemption. Another fascinating theory is ransom. Jesus uses the term of himself as he contemplates his coming suffering (Mark 10:45) and links it with the affirmation that he came to serve and not to be served. The word ransom, then and now, while very similar to redemption, is slightly different. A ransom is paid in exchange for the release of someone held captive. Here Jesus gives himself to secure our release. A redeemer purchases with a price so that the one purchased now belongs to the redeemer. A ransomer exchanges something of value for the freedom of the one held captive. Yes, Jesus is our redeemer who buys us for himself. He is also our ransomer who chooses to give himself up to assure our freedom. The point of this theory is not the suffering or the change of allegiance, it is the demonstration of a love that will do anything to free. There are many things in our lives and world from which we need to be set free: despair, division, sin, toxic habits, and violent dehumanizing politics. I expect there may be things in your personal life that seem to hold you captive as well. Today, see if you can identify anything from which you long to be ransomed. In prayer offer those challenges to God and ask for Jesus to come to your aid. He has already done this. Maybe all you need right now is to remember that, give thanks, and ask that your freed state become more and more visible to you and others.

Prayer: O God, your love alone ransoms and frees us. We thank you that Jesus chose to demonstrate that powerful love, not even withholding his own life, to set us free. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 18 – Jesus the Glory of God – Matthew 27:51 – “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.”

This powerful verse in Matthew’s gospel describes what happened at the moment of Jesus’ death. But what does this tell us? Obviously, it tells us that his death was a powerful earthquake that would forever change the landscape of human history and of a single human heart. The curtain image is a little more complex. In Jesus’ day, the holiest place in the temple, called the Holy of Holies, was the place where heaven and earth were said to intersect. It was God’s dwelling and held the Ark of the Covenant which contained the tablets of the Law. It was considered too holy for human beings to enter. Only the High Priest could go in there, and then only on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. It was thought that God’s presence was too much for people to bear. The Holy of Holies was covered by a thick curtain intended to keep the people safe from the mighty power of God. The tearing of the temple curtain at Jesus’ death gives rise to another atonement theory often called the Glory theory. This theory asserts that on the cross divine glory was completely revealed in self-giving love. That love, and that love alone, break down any perceived, or real, barrier between God and God’s people. It is love itself that reconciles, and it is love itself that removes the consequences of sin in the relationship between God and God’s people. In this theory the root sin is understood as idolatry. Seeing the truth of God’s love on the cross renders idolatry unthinkable. This theory also holds that it was not just the cross that showed us who God is. Rather Jesus’ whole life is a demonstration of God’s whole, full, glorious self. So with the crucifixion as the pinnacle of that revelation, there was no longer a need for the temple curtain. We no longer had to fear that being in God’s presence was dangerous. We have seen God in Jesus and we did not die. Rather we only began to live. Today take a moment to think about all that Jesus has shown you about the Glory of God and what God values most. Spend at least a part of the day in praise and thanksgiving for this revelation.

Prayer: God of Glory, we praise you that you do not want to be hidden behind a curtain. We praise you that we have seen your fullness and glory in Jesus and that your love alone makes us whole. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 19 – Jesus our Propitiator and Substitute – 1 Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed”

Jesus as substitute, claims that Jesus took our place on the cross. He received the punishment that was really coming to us. This understanding is often combined with propitiation which is basically a big word that means appeasement. These theories rest on the belief that sin is such an affront to a just God that it stands in the way of our relationship with God and must be punished in order to quiet God’s wrath. Both of these theories can be taken to wild extremes that make God seem like an angry brute with his finger on the smite button. That is simply not the case. In each of these theories, the origin of atonement is divine love. Period. To understand the atonement, it is helpful to keep the oneness of Christ and God in mind even as Jesus’ humanity was so tortured. It is in Christ that God’s own self bears the consequences of sin. This is at a cost to Godself not a third party. This is not, as some contemporary theologians have asserted, a heinous myth of divine child abuse! This is, rather, the supreme act of self-giving love. We all know that behaviors have consequences. Bad behavior often has bad consequences. The gift of God’s love in Jesus, tells us that if consequences must be born in the spiritual life, God bears them for us. Like a mother who gives a kidney so her child can live, or like a father who confesses to a crime to save a child, God does whatever must be done to keep us in unhindered relationship with God for eternity. You are worth so much to God that there is nothing God will not do to keep you close. Today, take a moment to reflect on any behaviors on your part that have negatively affected your relationship with God. Can you let them go and move forward? God already has.

Prayer: Loving God, it is overwhelming to consider the lengths to which you go in order to be in intimate relationship with us. We are so grateful. Help us today to let go of anything that hinders that relationship from our end so that we can live in an awareness of your love and presence every day. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 20 – Jesus the Defeater of Death – Luke 24:5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

In Luke’s gospel, the first Easter morning dawns with three women who have risen in the darkness to go together with spices to anoint Jesus’ body. When they arrive at the tomb, they find two dazzling men and no Jesus. One of those angelic messengers asks the question in today’s verse. The result of the work of Christ is to render death moot. This of course does not mean that death has no meaning. It, as all of creation, has a purpose. What it means is that death is not final. It is not the last thing. (We will explore this theme more toward the end of our summer reflections.) The fact that Jesus defeated death and showed us that God’s love for us is everlasting does not mean that our physical bodies will not die. It does not mean that we will not endure pain and grief in letting go of this life, or in releasing our loved ones to God. It does not mean that we are unfaithful if we fear death or if we can’t seem to shake the grief surrounding our own losses. It simply means that there is a bigger picture and plan at work in, with, and through us. We do not know what comes next. We have brief glimpses, like gates of pearl and Jesus’ resurrected body, that suggest some things, but much of the next life is a mystery. We can be sure that if we needed to know more, God would have revealed more. In Hebrew theology, which did not have a clear belief in an afterlife, death was seen as the enemy, a punishment that came on humanity as a result of disobedience. In Jesus, that thought process is laid to rest. Death is not our enemy. It is not an evil but is turned into a good. That does not mean that we seek death. Life and death belong to God alone. It simply means that we get to double down on living because dying is just a change of address. The true miracle is that we are already living our eternal life so we can focus on living to the fullest rather than biding our time in this veil of tears hoping for better days to come. Take a moment today to consider how you feel about death? Sit with the mystery and the many emotions. Say to yourself and God “In Christ I have life eternal.” Start living from that truth and see what changes.

Prayer: Everlasting God, we thank you for the promise of eternal life in Jesus. Help us today to live into that promise with joy and thanksgiving. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 21 – Jesus our Savior – Luke 2:29-32 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

How quickly the angel choruses disappear! How quickly the shepherds go back to their flocks! How quickly the pageantry of the miraculous birth gives way to the affairs of ordinary life. Mary and Joseph have a son to rear, and we who gathered dewy eyed at the manger know where that life is going. The story from which we take today’s verses, emphasizes a theme that Luke repeats often; Jesus’ commitment to the law, even from the cradle. These verses, often called the Song of Simeon, refer to two rituals required by the law for babies. One was the ritual cleansing of the mother. Since there was blood involved in childbirth, a woman was considered unclean for a period of time following giving birth.  The length of time depended on whether the child was a boy or a girl. After the birth of a male child a mother was unclean for 7 days and underwent purification for 33 days. It was twice as long for the birth of a girl. During this time she was not allowed in the temple or to touch any holy thing. At the end of the proscribed time, the mother was required to sacrifice a lamb plus a turtledove or pigeon. If the family was too poor to afford this sacrifice, the law provided that two doves or pigeons could be substituted. Mary’s sacrifice tells us not only that she was a woman of faith, but that Jesus was born into poverty. The second ritual was a dedication ritual in which a first-born son was returned to God as a thanksgiving for the gift of fertility. For five shekels the baby could be redeemed and raised at home. Simeon, whose name means “God hears”, was an ordinary man of faith. He was not an ordained religious leader, nor did he have any special religious credentials. He simply walked with God. He lived a life of prayer that was marked by patient waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled. When he sees Jesus he instantly knows that his long wait is over. The word translated salvation refers to the one who brings salvation. It is from the root sozo and it means wholeness, wellness, perfect and eternal wellbeing. What Simeon sees in Jesus fulfills his life to the point that he is overwhelmed. The word ‘dismissing’ means to free fully, to relieve, to release, to let die, to pardon, to forgive, to loose, and to set at liberty. This is the salvation that Jesus brings. Take a moment today to think about each of these aspects of salvation for your life. What does wholeness, wellness and perfect eternal wellbeing mean to you? How can you begin to live into your saved state today? What does it mean to you to be fully freed? From what? To be relieved? Of what? Go through the list above and consider what this means for you. Thank God for your Savior.

Prayer: Saving God, we are humbled when we consider the life that you intend for us, free whole, well and eternal. We thank you for your saving love and healing presence. Help us today to live into our dearly bought salvation. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 22 – Ruach – Genesis 1:1-2 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

I will never forget the first week of Hebrew class in seminary. We had learned our letters and sounds. We even had a small bit of vocabulary under our belts when our professor set us to translating the first five verses of the Bible. I was very intense about the whole thing. As I plodded through, I remember the moment that took my breath away. I had managed to translate the empty void and to feel the dark waiting. Then I got to verse two, ‘a wind from God swept over the waters.’ I began to cry. It literally reads, ‘the spirit of God, she hovers. The Hebrew word we translate as wind or spirit is ruach. It is in the feminine. It can also mean breath, air, courage, breeze or even temper. It refers to the invisible, intangible quality of life itself. Spirit is what distinguishes a living things from a non-living thing. Obviously the Hebrew scriptures do not contain a doctrine of the trinity, but the work of the Spirit is everywhere, always present, enlivening, holding back the chaos, sorting light from darkness, bringing things to life at the right time, spinning the planets and imagining bountiful new starts. Ruach is the force of divine energy moving to create in love and for love. Ruach Spirit is not gentle. It is fierce and powerful. A Jewish master once said, “God is not nice. God is not an uncle. God is an earthquake.” Can you think of a time when Spirit shook you up and started something new in you? Can you think of a time when chaos seemed to rule everything around and inside you and there was a pervading darkness? As you think of that time, can you begin to sense Spirit hovering over and putting boundaries in place so that you could find your way? Can you think of a time when you felt overwhelmed, breathless, Spirit-less? What does it feel like to hear the news that even then, even now, Spirit is bringing something new to birth in your life? Take a moment to ponder the areas of your life that are stuck and confusing. Are there voids that feel dark and ominous? If so, acknowledge those things to God with patient expectation of how Spirit will move over, and in, you to bring vast bounty and joy. Be thankful.

Prayer: Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

June 23 – Shekinah – Exodus 29:45-46 “I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God.

The Hebrew word shekinah does not appear in the Old Testament but, drawing on intimate verses like those we consider today, the term came into wide usage in the early Talmudic period. It refers to God’s intimate presence and special bond with God’s people and the world. It is often talked about as a kind of ethereal light that surrounds people with holiness, mystery and intimacy. Once during a period of hardship in my life, I took my study leave in a cabin on the coast of Nova Scotia. One day I was walking on the beach when a dense fog suddenly surrounded me. At first I was afraid, totally disoriented. I couldn’t see my way home. So I just stood there for a moment taking deep breaths of the moist salty air. Suddenly, I felt the fog itself become a kind of embrace, powerfully surrounding all of me, all the goodness and all the broken pieces of my heart and life. It felt like a divine hug and I knew that all I needed to do to get to the cottage was to lean into that embrace and walk by the wild water until I found home. God’s shekinah never leaves us. Are there places in your life right now where you need a divine Spirit embrace? Do you feel disoriented and not know how to find your real home in this world or in God? Does loss seem more powerful than love in your life? If so, I invite you to stop and take some deep Spirit breaths. Slow your mind down for a moment. Offer yourself for a reorienting Shekinah embrace. It does not matter if you don’t feel it. It is happening and the healing has already begun.

Prayer: Ah Holy Lover, surround me today with your mysterious embrace. Envelop me with your ethereal light. Dwell with me, today and always. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

June 24 – Spirit our Advocate – John 14: 15-16 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.”

In Jesus’ passionate farewell address to his follower in John 14, he promises his friends that, in the context of love and obedience, he will ask the Father to send the Spirit to help them after he is gone. He first describes the Spirit as ‘another Advocate.’ The Greek word, parakleton, is also sometimes translated as Helper or Encourager. In Greek writings of the day, it is the word for a legal advisor, one who pleads another’s case, or one who acts as a proxy. The qualifying word ‘another’ helps us see that the Spirit is one who will continue the same awakening, loving, redeeming work of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Spirit as Advocate provides a defense for us, even if undeserved. We can think of Spirit as our divine defense attorney when we have stumbled badly. What is so touching to me is that it means that we do not face the consequences of our sin and failure, alone. Spirit makes a case for our defense, and because of Jesus’ work, it is a persuasive case indeed. Today, think for a moment about anything for which you need Spirit to make an argument for your defense? Have you neglected your spiritual life? Have you harbored hate or unforgiveness in your heart? Have you nursed prejudices or demonized opponents? Are you a little too prone to harsh judgment of others or yourself? If so, remember that Spirit, using the record of Jesus as your own, pleads your case to God. If you can’t think of anything that needs pleading, that can be because you are not aware of your faults and you can ask Spirit for insight. It can also mean that Spirit is doing a great work in you and you are growing in righteousness every day. Take an honest look. Retain Spirit as your Advocate and rejoice that you do not have to face the music alone.

Prayer: O Holy Advocate, I thank you for taking my case! Help me to learn from your advocacy how to live a new and forgiven life. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

June 25 – Spirit of Truth – John 14:17 – This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.

Immediately after Jesus promises us another Advocate, he describes that one as the Spirit of truth. The Greek word we translate as truth, alethia, refers not so much to truth as opposed to a lie, as it does to ‘big truth’, truth that lies at the very heart of things. The alethia that the Spirit both is, and insists upon, includes a commitment to actual facts, of course. It also includes the deeper realities of the soul. Spirit of Truth helps us by insisting that we confront the lies of our age, and our own blind spots and false excuses. Or, at bare minimum, Spirit asks us to acknowledge that we have blind spots and that we do not know what we do not know. Spirit of Truth desires that we examine our assumptions that hurt us and others. Spirit insists that we take a look at the places in our lives where we function by rote so much that we regularly miss the wonder of the moment. Spirit of Truth is an anti-arrogance potion! It is Spirit that opens our eyes to truth, teaches us the meaning and implications of God’s ways, and shows us how we are to honestly live in this world. Today take a moment to think about Spirit as Truth. We know that we live in a time that seems to love lies, that chooses lies over truth, that decides that lies really are truth. So how do we sort that all out? The easiest and most reliable way I know of when confronted with conflicting narratives, both external and internal, is to ask a couple of diagnostic questions. Is this idea, narrative, belief, behavior, conclusion consistent with what we know of God revealed in Jesus Christ? Is it loving? Is it forgiving? Is it just? Is it redemptive? Does it support the common good? Or, is it exclusive, judgmental, mean spirited, violent, self-serving or based on prejudice? When we honestly ask those questions, it quickly becomes obvious where Spirit Truth is found. Today, take a moment to notice when choices that have a moral component need to be made. Ask yourself the questions above and listen for the Spirit’s answer.

Prayer: Spirit of Truth, guide us today in every choice and action so that you may be glorified in our lives. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 26 – Spirit as Memory Aid – John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

Continuing in John’s Gospel, Jesus is still in the upper room with his friends, trying to prepare them for what lies ahead. The tenderness of his attempts to comfort them is striking. He sees their confusion and fear and in essence says, ‘I know you don’t fully understand all of this, but I am asking the Father to send you the Spirit and that one will teach you what you need to know. Spirit will clear things up for you.’ As if that were not enough, he looks at them with soft eyes and says, ‘Spirit will also help you remember me and what I have said to you.’ Yesterday, I visited my 98 year old mother in her care home. Her memory is not what it once was and, sadly, she knows it. She doesn’t trust her memories even when they are trustworthy. But, if I begin to reminisce with her, tell her about a family outing, or ask her a question about a play (she was a drama teacher) she can usually find a snippet or two. When I give her space and she concentrates, something wonderful returns to her and brings a smile of joy and pride. Today’s verse tells us that in our own lives Spirit will prime the pump and help us remember just what we need to of Jesus’ teaching so that we can live in joy and safety. The Greek text of this word is very strong. It could literally be translated the Spirit will cause you to remember. Have you ever found a word of scripture come into your mind at just the needed moment? Maybe you don’t know the quote completely or couldn’t find it in the Bible, but you know it is there and it is perfect. That is Spirit as teacher and memory aid, bringing to mind just what you need to face your moment. Today, pause and think of any area of life in which you feel the need of extra guidance. Quiet your mind and emotions as best you can and ask Spirit to remind you of something Jesus taught that can help you in your situation. Listen and be thankful. Don’t worry if nothing comes to you immediately. You may not need the answer now. It will come when most needed.

Prayer: O Holy Spirit, help me today to remember Jesus’ teaching at exactly the right moment. Teach me your ways and make me mindful. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

June 27 – Holy Helper/Adopter – John 14:18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.”

This is one of the passages that leads people to think of the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ. Other passages indicate that the Holy Spirit is the continuation of Jesus’ earthly ministry. This passage expands the notion of Jesus as Advocate to assure his friends that they will not be left orphaned by the events that are about to unfold, even though Jesus will seem to be taken from them. Here we see Spirit as Adopter or Rescuer. About three years ago, Robbie and I adopted a rescue dog, Bonnie. When she came to us she had known hard times. Picked up as a stray, she had obviously recently had puppies but none were recovered. She was a wild thing and did not know what to do in a house with two senior citizens! But we could feel the love in her. She quickly bonded with us and now we cannot imagine our home without her. In a sense, we were her Helper/Adopter. In another sense, she was ours. Jesus tells his friends that life in the Spirit will be similar to that, a mutual, loving, bonded, intimate relationship that changes everything. Take a moment today to think about the wonder of Spirit adopting you and moving in with you. From what have you been rescued? What do you need to learn to adapt to Spirit’s ways? Set an intention today that you will stop frequently and acknowledge Spirit’s presence in your heart and home. Ask Spirit if there is anything you need to learn? Thank Spirit for coming to your aid and rescuing you.

Prayer: O Holy Helper, I thank you for rescuing me from danger. I thank you for every new start you have brought into my life. I thank you that you never leave me alone. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

June 28 – Spirit as Flame – Acts 2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

Peter and the other disciples have gone to Jerusalem on the instruction of the risen Christ. Jesus has ascended to the Father and now they are ready to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Matthias has been chosen to replace Judas, and Peter has begun his preaching ministry. Hundreds have gathered in Jerusalem for the Hebrew festival of Pentecost which occurs fifty days after Passover as a closing festival of the harvest season. In this section, we get a powerful look at Spirit’s power and priorities. Fire is deeply symbolic in the Bible. It symbolizes both power and purification. In this story, tongues of fire hover above each listener’s head and they are able to understand each other when they are speaking in languages that they do not know. This does not refer to the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues that Paul often talks about. What happens here is that each person understands what is being said in their own native language. Spirit fire doesn’t come as some great banket of fire. It is individual. Each person receives the power and the cleansing that each so desperately needs in order to face the challenges and wonders of life. Individual sins are purged and all dividing walls come down. No one language or culture dominates. Each understands what God is doing in his or her own language. Each stands on its own and receives the truth and refining of the Spirit in the way it can be understood. In the Acts story, Spirit’s first act is justice, leveling the playing field, doing what must be done to bring people together in holiness and with power. When we engage with Spirit we find the perfect language of love for each person. Think today about those with whom you need to communicate. Is there an issue of injustice or division at work? Ask Spirit to give you ears to hear what is important to the other person. Ask Spirit to give you the perfect loving words to share what needs sharing.

Prayer: O Flame of Love, give us ears to hear you speak in others today, and give us your language of love and justice with which to respond. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

June 29 – Inspired by God -2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

Many scholars believe that this letter was written during Paul’s last imprisonment in Rome, shortly before his execution. Others argue it was written earlier during his first imprisonment. In either case, Paul is writing to a beloved friend and colleague, Timothy, from dire circumstances. Even so, this letter is filled with love, compassion, encouragement and wisdom for a younger colleague that he loves like a son and who is trying to faithfully minister in troubled times. The context is poignant as both men are facing hardship in different ways and yet Paul’s prescription is the same. When hard times come, turn to the scriptures and linger there. Of course when Paul wrote, the scriptures available to him were the Old Testament. We are blessed now to also have the scriptures of the New Testament which contain four gospels of Jesus’ life, the Acts of the Apostles and a rich treasure of letters and sermons written to early congregations and even one long visionary book of the coming perfection (Revelation.) Paul knows that no matter what is happening in our lives and world that scripture will provide us with wisdom, instruction for course correction when we stray from the path of God, and all we need to know about how to live loving, just and grace filled lives. Notice the word reproof. In Greek this word refers not just to a charge against someone who has done wrong. It implies a manifestation of that charge and the agreement of the truth of it. I think of this word as the experience of awakening suddenly to the truth of destructive behavior in such a way that change is deep and lasting. In other words, scripture helps us see ourselves clearly and know how we are to behave accordingly. As you go about your day today, think about what scripture has taught you, how it has called you to change, how it helps you become a better person and give thanks!

Prayer: O Gracious God, we thank you for the scriptures in which you show us your love and help us see ourselves. Thank you for leading us into right paths by your word. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

June 30 – God’s Gift of Love– The Ten Commandments- In your own Bible read Exodus 20:1-17.

Many of us know the Ten Commandments, if not by heart, then in practice. What we may not know, however, is their purpose. The Ten Commandments are not only a list of laws telling us what to do and what not to do in order to please God. That would be enough, but that is not nearly all there is. These words are a love letter from God in which God shows us clearly how we are intended to live in joy, safety, respect and within divine embrace. God begins these words by declaring God’s love to us much as a lover might do. “I am yours” God says. “And this is what our life together can look like.” God also reminds us that God is the one who brings us out of all bondage so that we are free to live fruitful, joyful lives with God and in safe and sacred communities. Spend some time today thinking about the Ten Commandments as a personal love letter to you. Like a parent to a child, like a lover to the beloved, God wants only to protect, free and be loved in return. Are there times in your life when you struggle to put God first? Do you ever trivialize your relationship with God or serve other things before God? If so, now is the perfect time to apologize and reflect on that. Ask God to help you see where your love is shallow and where other things take over God’s place in your life. Ask God for strength and insight, trusting completely that it will come!

Prayer: O Gracious God, you love for us is complete. You desire for us is joyful freedom from every bondage. We thank you! Help us today to see where we fall short in our commitment to you. Allow the strength of your Love to draw us home. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.