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1005 Old Turkey Point Rd.
Edgewater, MD 21037

Office Visiting Hours:  Mon – Thurs. 9:00 AM - 2:00 PM

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Phone: 410-798-6110 || Fax: 410-798-6474

Office Phone Hours: Mon – Thurs. 10:00 AM -1:00 PM

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Lenten Devotions

by author Dr. Rev. David Cooney 

​      The pandemic that has embraced us all prevents us from gathering together during this Lenten season for worship, prayer, study, and mission.  There are multiple ways, however, that we can stay connected and share in the Lenten journey.  One way is through common devotion.  We are providing a devotion each day for the remainder of Lent.  The texts all come from the gospel of Luke beginning with the 51st verse of chapter 10 through chapter 19, covering the time from when Jesus left Galilee to when he rode triumphantly into Jerusalem.  While only a verse or two is quoted in each devotion, you may want to read the verses that precede and follow.  A brief prayer is provided, but adding your own prayers will deepen the experience.

April 9, 2020

“. . . say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks you, “Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ Luke 22:11


I am always curious about the unnamed helpers in Jesus’ ministry. He was often provided with food and lodging and financial assistance, usually without it being mentioned and with the providers being unnamed. They were, however, necessary and important participants.
 

We saw this just before Jesus entered Jerusalem. He sent disciples to a nearby village to get a colt. As they were untying it, the owners understandably asked them what they were doing. “The Lord has need of it,” was their only response. They were given the colt, no further questions asked. Obviously, when the disciples referred to the Lord the owners knew who they meant. They were unidentified supporters. We see this again on the night of the Last Supper. Someone provided an upstairs room already furnished so that Jesus and the twelve could celebrate the Passover meal.
 

These are small things – lending a colt, providing a room. Small things make a difference, though. The colt allowed Jesus to fulfill prophecy and experience a triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. An upper room allowed Jesus to spend some private and intense time with the twelve literally hours before his arrest. It was in that room that Jesus demonstrated the importance of humility and service by washing the feet of the disciples. It was in that room that Jesus instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion. It was in that room that Jesus told that one would betray him and in that room Jesus prepared Peter for the coming moment when Peter would deny him. It was in that room that Jesus gave final instructions and teaching to those who would soon continue the mission in his name. Just providing a room was not such a small thing, after all.
 

It is customary on Holy Thursday to wonder, as did the disciples, if we are the ones who will betray him. That is not the most important question. It is not even a question. We all betray and deny Christ in our own ways. We should just acknowledge that and repent. The more important question to ask is – how can we serve him? Do we have a colt to lend, or a room to provide, or a gift to offer, or a talent that can be used?
 

Your answer might seem insignificant to you, too small to mention. That is not true. The small things make a difference. Put together, they are huge. The Last Supper does not happen without someone first providing a room. Tonight Jesus prepares to offer his life for you. What do you have to offer Jesus?
 

Prayer: Holy God, on the night of the Passover, the blood of an innocent lamb saved your people Israel from death. On this night, the blood of the Lamb of God, your Son, will save your people from death. He came for the salvation of all. He continues in our lives to save us yet. Let me be a part of the salvation story. Show me my part, however large or small. Enable me to serve in whatever way you need me. In the name of the Lamb, Amen.

April 8, 2020

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace.” Luke 19:41


Sorrow and helplessness mingle when those we love are on a course of destruction and nothing we say or do seems to cause them to change direction. Perhaps you have experienced this as a parent or a spouse or a close friend. If so, you know the level of grief this brings.
 

This is how Jesus felt about Jerusalem. The city, the site of the temple and nestled against Mt. Zion, represented the religious heart of Israel, the spiritual capital of his people. Jerusalem was heading for destruction, literally and spiritually. Jesus desperately wanted to save it; in essence, save Israel. He knew though that he would be rejected, crucified in what amounted to the town dump, and set aside like so much garbage. This rejection made him cry.
 

After Christ was warned that Herod was out to kill him, and he prepared to leave Galilee for Jerusalem, he began the journey with a lament. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Luke 13:34)
 

He speaks the lament in today’s reading following the ‘Palm Sunday Parade.’ As he descended down the Mt. of Olives and across the Kidron Valley, supporters waved palms and shouted praise. Surely this was a high moment for him, at least a momentary vindication of his mission. As he neared the gate of the walled city, however, he stopped and wept. Jesus predicted the total destruction of the city, something that happened in 70 CE, and ended his lament saying all of this would happen . . . “because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:44)
 

This lament is haunting. Is it possible that God could visit and we would not know it? It is easy to shake our heads in disbelief when it comes to the leaders and powers that be in Jerusalem that week. Jesus was there in the flesh. Stories abounded about the miracles he had performed in Galilee. People gathered around him in the temple court to listen to every word he spoke. He demonstrated remarkable wisdom and performed more eye-popping miracles. How dull did they have to be not to recognize a visitation from God? It is easy to smirk at their blindness.
 

The fact is, though, that they saw what they wanted to see. They were not interested in seeing anyone, not even God, who would threaten their political, economic, and social power. They were not interested in sharing the stage with anyone else, much less vacating the stage for another. Consequently, they did not see the divine in Jesus. They saw an intruder, an imposter, a charlatan, a hoax of a holy man.
 

We, too, see what we want to see, so we are equally vulnerable to self-deception. Tomorrow is Holy Thursday, followed by Good Friday. As we prepare to commemorate these profound days, we should first pause and recount who has shown up at our gates. Is it possible that we did not recognize the time of visitation from God? Is it possible that Jesus is lamenting over us?
 

Prayer: God of deep love, how often you must weep when I do not listen to you and sow the seeds of my own destruction. Again and again, you strive to pull me back onto your paths of peace. Open my eyes to recognize you, dear God. Open my ears to hear your voice and to know it is you speaking.

Save me. In the name of the Messiah, Amen.
 

April 7, 2020

He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.

So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him because he was going to pass that way. Luke 19:3-4

 

This is part of the well known story of Zacchaeus in Jericho. This wealthy chief tax collector wanted to “see who Jesus was.” Hmmm. We might ask, why? He most likely was not a religious man. After all, tax collectors were not community-minded and were known to be unscrupulous. Remember, tax collectors were Israelites who collected the heavy taxes imposed by the Roman occupiers. They were paid by adding their own normally excessive fees to the taxes. In other words, they were both aiding and abetting the enemy and gouging their neighbors. No wonder tax collectors were hated by the people. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector and we are told, not surprisingly, that he was rich. We know how he got his wealth. Why would such a man want so desperately to see Jesus that he would humiliate himself by climbing a tree in front of all the people who would like nothing better than to mock him?

 

The answer has to be that he was not happy with his life. He had ‘played the game’ and made a mint, but he was not sleeping well at night. He knew his gains were ill-gotten. No one liked him or respected him; maybe even his own family thought little of him. He was ready for a change. He needed a change.

 

Jesus gave him that opportunity. Jesus, known for welcoming the sinner and extending grace to the outcast, was coming through town. Zaccheaus just had to see him. What he expected to happen we do not know. Surely he did not anticipate that Jesus would call to him and have lunch with him. Maybe he thought that just seeing him would be enough to make a difference in his life.

 

It did. He made the effort to see Jesus. Jesus, in turn, saw him. Grace was extended. Zaccheaus repented. Jesus proclaimed,

“Today salvation has come to this house.”

 

If you are at all unsettled with your life, maybe it is time to climb a tree. How many times does Jesus have to pass by before you go to see who he is? We can grow distant from God, estranged even, for many reasons. Normally we slowly drift, almost unnoticeably, until one day we do notice that we are far from our starting point. What this account tells us is that we are not so far that a return is not possible. Jesus is prepared to call us down from the tree and to re-set our lives. It is never out of the question and never too late. Indeed, we learn in this passage that we are never too old to climb a tree. Make an effort to see Jesus, knowing that Jesus will see you, too.

 

Prayer: God of grace, even when I am hidden in a crowd you notice me and call to me. You do not look away, disgusted with me. Instead, you beckon me to come be with you. Help me to accept your grace and mercy. Give me the conviction to adjust my life to your life. Come to my home today. In the name of the transformative Christ, Amen.

April 6, 2020

Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?

Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Luke 17:17

 

Quarantine is a word we have known and now have come to know personally. Having to stay isolated because of a contagious illness is a practice at least as old as the time of Jesus. Leprosy was the culprit then. Little was known about this skin disease. Many recovered, but others did not, and for still others it was fatal. Consequently, those with leprosy were sequestered in colonies outside of town. There they were to remain self-quarantined until they improved, if they improved.

 

Imagine, then, the relief and joy of ten isolated lepers when Jesus heard their cries for mercy and healed them. Not only was their disease cured, they could now return to their families and villages and work. In every respect, their lives were restored. It was a ‘fall on your knees and praise God’ moment. Yet, only one bothered to even say thank you. The rest just went on their merry way.

 

Two thoughts are brought to mind. The first is how often we fail to offer God thanks. We are quick to ask for help when in trouble. We are sure to grumble when the help we want does not come when we want or in a way we want. Yet, we are lax in our thanksgiving despite God’s regular presence and care. So many choose not to worship, and I understand some of their reasons; too often worship is not a compelling experience. I do tire, however, of hearing people say they don’t go because they do not get anything out of it. The primary reason to worship is to intentionally praise and thank God. In other words, God gets something out of it. If we get something out of it also, that is only icing on the cake. We scoff at the lepers who just walked away following a miraculous healing. We better check our own habits before scoffing at them.

 

The second thought, and the one Luke is actually making, is that the one who did return to thank Jesus was a Samaritan. This is significant because God’s chosen people of Israel hated Samaritans. They considered Samaritans to be unclean and uncouth and ungodly. This means that the nine people who we all would expect to thank Jesus did not, and the one who we would figure would not thank Jesus did.

 

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. All along his route outcasts and sinners and those estranged from God welcomed him, and listened to him, and came to believe in him. In Jerusalem, where the most religious people lived, he would be rejected and crucified. Once again, those we would expect to reject Jesus welcomed him, and those we would expect to embrace Jesus rejected him.

 

Our ‘pedigree’ does not matter. Our reception of Christ does. Are we praise-filled followers constantly giving thanks, or do we take Christ for granted, accept our healing, and walk away?

 

Prayer: Giver of life and all good things, accept my praise and thanksgiving. You do so much for me, Lord, that there are not enough words to express my gratitude. All praise and honor and glory be unto you. Amen.

April 5, 2020

He [Abraham] said to him [rich man], “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Luke 16:31

 

Today’s verse is the conclusion to Jesus’ story about a rich man and Lazarus. In the story, the rich man lived lavishly in every respect, while Lazarus sat outside the man’s gate covered with sores and literally starving to death. Both died. Lazarus was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man found his new home in Hades. From Hades, the rich man implored Abraham to send Lazarus with water to comfort him. He was told that was not possible. He then asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his house to warn his five brothers so they would not also end up in Hades. Abraham told the rich man that his brothers would not be convinced, even if someone rose from the dead.

 

From Abraham’s perspective, Moses and the prophets had already given ample testimony about God’s thoughts related to righteous living, including care and compassion for others. To be unresponsive to the desperate needs of someone literally at one’s doorstep, especially when there was the ability to help in significant ways, was not simply carelessness; it was hard-heartedness and a callous disregard for others. It was not a matter of not knowing better; it was a matter of choosing to disregard the desires of God. In other words, what else did they need to know?

 

We have Moses, the prophets, the apostles, and Jesus. What else do we need to know? If we are being unresponsive to the needs of others, what else would it take to motivate us? Do we need to hear a more inspirational sermon or maybe the voice of God itself? Do we need to experience a lifechanging miracle? Do we need to have a near-death experience that puts the ‘fear’ of God in us? We cannot make a difference in every situation and cannot help in every circumstance. The world is too big and the problems too numerous for that. Sometimes, though, the one we can help is just outside our gate. Here Jesus is bluntly telling us that ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse.’ We already have been told the right thing to do.

 

This story ending also proves to be prophetic. The raising from the dead of the real Lazarus (see John 11), and the resurrection of Christ himself, did not change the minds of many. Many chose to pretend that neither happened or they just ignored the truth. Many still chose to carry on with their lives unchanged. It seems Abraham was right about people not being convinced even if someone was to rise from the dead. Take heed. Don’t wait for more information or another witness. God sent his own Son to show us the way. That is all we need.

 

Prayer: Compassionate God, open my eyes to the needs of my neighbors and give me the heart to respond to those needs. Inspire me to be merciful as you are merciful, and to love as you love. I pray in the name of your Son, Amen.

April 4, 2020

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1

 

This verse serves as the context for three parables told by Jesus, all with the same message. We call these the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (or parable of the prodigal son). In each parable, something special is first lost, and then found, with a party following to celebrate.

 

In the parable of the lost sheep, a shepherd leaves ninety-nine of his sheep to go looking for one that is lost. If sheep were more like humans, and if they could talk, they would probably have grumbled about the shepherd leaving them unprotected in order to go after one lost sheep, which was probably always wandering off and deserved to be lost. From the shepherds’ perspective, it was not that he cared about the ninety-nine less, but that all of the sheep were precious and he was not going to lose one without trying to save it.

 

In the parable of the lost coin, a woman tears the house apart looking for the coin. It was only one out of ten, but every coin was valuable to her, so finding the one was worth it.

 

The third parable is a bit different. Here, a son disrespects his father, takes his inheritance early, then goes off and squanders it in careless living. Eventually, he crawls home hoping to get a job. He and his brother, who was angry that his brother left him with all of the chores, agreed that the prodigal should not be welcome back into the family given his terrible behavior. The father, though, loved his son despite his behavior and was thrilled to have him home and welcome him back into the family.

 

Look again at the context of Jesus’ stories. The self-righteous Pharisees were grumbling that Jesus welcomed sinners into his circle. Jesus did not argue about whether or not they deserved to be ‘lost.’ He was not interested in blame. His point in the parables was that, like the shepherd who valued every sheep, and the woman who valued every coin, and the father who loved both the steadfast and the prodigal son, so God loved every person. It did not matter that they had been lost. It mattered that they had been found. Jesus was not interested in the lost having to ‘earn’ their way back. He was thrilled to have them back. He believed the Pharisees should be thrilled too.

 

The moral here is not that we should be open to welcoming the lost, especially considering that we are all lost and found over and over again. The moral is that God loves us deeply and is always prepared to search for us and to welcome us into a relationship no matter what we have been up to. A prodigal returned is cause for a party.

 

If you are somehow estranged from God right now - lost to God, if you will - do not stay away because you do not think you will be welcome or do not deserve to be part of God’s family. Know that God’s heartaches because you are missing. Come home and let God embrace you. We all get lost. Staying lost is a choice. Make a better choice and come home.

 

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, I know I have sinned against you and hurt you. I know I have wandered from your paths to pursue my own ways. I know I have turned my back on you while you have called me. Forgive me. Accept me. Welcome me back into your presence. Thank you, Lord, for your unending love. In the name of the one who died to cleanse me, Amen.

April 3, 2020

“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:11

 

Perhaps even more important than choosing a menu for an official State dinner is the job of preparing a seating chart. Deciding who sits where and next to whom is a diplomatic nightmare. Place at the table signifies importance and getting the seating chart wrong is a diplomatic faux pas.

 

This was true for all formal dinner parties in Jesus’ time. People sat according to social rank or hierarchy. The difference was, no one assigned seats. Each guest had to pick a place at the table. This meant making a judgment about how important you were in relation to others there.

You can imagine how awkward that might get.

Jesus referenced this social custom to teach about humility. Using the occasion of a wedding banquet, he advised not sitting too close to the head table. Someone more distinguished might have been invited and the host would have to ask you to move. You would then have to take the ‘walk of shame’ as you moved to a less prestigious seat. On the other hand, if you sat at a place of low station, the host would call you forward to a seat of greater dignity. You would then take the ‘walk of honor’ as you moved up. He ends the parable with the verse quoted above.

 

It is a teaching that can also be found in Proverbs and the advice friends give to friends. “Don’t toot your own horn.” “Don’t sing your own song.”

“Don’t think too highly of yourself.” It is better to let others praise you or honor you.

 

Much is said and written about self-esteem these days and appropriately so. It is important for each of us to know that we are children of God and we each have value and worth. We each also have gifts and graces. Refusing to believe anyone who tells us that we are worthless or, in any way that we are less than others, is necessary for emotional health.

 

At the same time, believing that we are better or more valuable than others is equally as problematic as believing that we do not count. When we decide that we belong in the best seat, we are also deciding that others do not. When we assume the seat of honor, our assumption is also that others do not belong in it. This is the kind of pride Jesus witnessed the Pharisees and Sadducees and Priests exhibiting. They strutted around like they were all that and they moved automatically to the most prestigious seats. It never occurred to them someone else might be more distinguished. This did not please the Lord.

 

Jesus just shook his head. Better to get called up than to be sent down, he told them. Indeed. Better yet, at God’s table, every seat is a seat of honor.

So, sit wherever you would like.

 

Prayer: Creator God, let me recognize your light in me and also see your light in others. You love all of your children, dear God, including me. Each person is specially made. Give me eyes to see that specialness. Invite me to your table, Lord, at the banquet you prepare, where all of the seats are the same. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

April 2, 2020

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” Luke 13:31

 

Our best-laid plans seldom work out exactly according to our time schedule. Something, or someone, extraneous to us causes us to move more quickly than we want, or causes a delay. We have to move because we have sold our house, but the settlement on our new home has been delayed, so the timing becomes problematic. We are offered a wonderful job opportunity in a different city, but our child is a senior in high school and we want to stay put until graduation, so we may miss out on the job. We need to see a doctor, but not before a required test, and the test has a long waiting period, so we just have to wait. Seldom do our plans work on our schedules.

 

This was true even for Jesus. He was planning on going to Jerusalem. As we read in a previous devotion, he had already set his face to go to Jerusalem. He still had some things in Galilee to tend to first though. He was not quite ready. Then some Pharisees warned him that he better get out of town because Herod was out to kill him. Whether these were Pharisees genuinely friendly toward Jesus giving him an honest heads up, or they were not fans and were using this as a way to move him along, we do not know. Either way, Jesus took the warning seriously. We know because he responded in an angry way saying, essentially, that he still had things to do; but then he agreed that he better get going because God’s plan was for him to die in Jerusalem, not Galilee. Herod had the power to carry out the threat. He had, after all, beheaded John the Baptist. So, Jesus adjusted his time schedule and left before he wanted.

Sometimes when our schedules get upended we need to take a deep breath and keep the bigger picture in sight. Jesus was irritated, but getting to Jerusalem was more important than making a point with Herod. Jesus knew that and so moved past his frustration.

 

It is possible that getting hurried may actually prevent us from dragging our feet, or getting delayed might give us time to make better decisions. When our plans get recalibrated, rather than seeing it as a disruption, we should look for the opportunity. Jesus was planning to go to Jerusalem, but is it possible he needed a little push? He could always find something else that needed to be done before leaving and he knew that leaving was the beginning of the end. No one would blame him for not starting right out. Herod unwittingly gave him a shove.

 

Is your life somehow out of order right now? Are brakes being put on your plans, or are you being forced to move too quickly? It is disconcerting, but it may be for a good reason. Keep the larger goal in sight and adjust accordingly. Later you may see it as a blessing.

 

Prayer: O God, so often my life does not unfold as I desire. My plans are forever changed by others. Show me your plan and remind me that your plan will happen in your time, which is the right time. Give me patience and wisdom. Guide me not just where, but when, you want. In Christ’s name, Amen.

April 1, 2020

“What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?” Luke 13:18

Jesus did not come to make the world a better place. He came to make it a whole new place. He did not talk about how a different form of government, or a different economic system, or a different social order would improve the world. He talked about the coming reign of God. In this new reality, there would be no governments, or economic systems, or social orders. God would be present at the center, surrounded by all of God’s children, and there would only be peace and beauty and abundance. When Jesus invited people to follow him, he was not inviting them to join a political movement. He was inviting them to follow him into this new age, into the coming reign of God.

 

This was a challenge, because it was difficult to invite people to something they had not seen or experienced and to something they knew nothing about. Jesus tried to show them and to tell them about God’s reign. He healed people to show that in God’s reign there is no illness. He raised people from the dead to show that in God’s reign there is no death. He fed people with a few loaves of bread to show that in God’s reign there is enough for all. Many of his miracles were simply demonstrations of what he was trying to explain.

 

He also tried to explain this new age with parables and similes. Often times you will read a parable that begins with Jesus saying, “The kingdom of God is like. . . .” If you continue reading from the verse quoted above, you will see that in this teaching he compares it to a mustard seed and to yeast. The point is the same in both comparisons. In each case, something small, almost imperceptible becomes surprisingly significant. The tiny mustard seed grows into a substantial plant. The tiniest pinch of yeast leavens significant amounts of flour.

When Jesus preached that the kingdom of God was at hand, many scoffed. Where were the signs? A miracle here or there hardly meant that the entire world was changing. Jesus responded by saying that it may not look like much at the moment, that it may hardly be noticeable, but that did not mean that nothing was going to happen. The immense can begin with the tiny.

 

As we wait for the full consummation of the reign of God it can be easy to become discouraged. Reading the news on any given day can make us feel as if God’s reign is a pipe dream. To keep hope alive, we have to learn to appreciate the glimpses we do get. The first followers of Jesus saw the power and control of Rome first hand. They also saw demons and the sea and the wind obey the commands of Jesus; a glimpse for them of what was to come. Many of his followers were quite poor and a meal a day was no certainty. They saw Jesus feed the multitudes; a glimpse for them of what was to come. Some had been sick or disabled for years with no hope of a cure. When Jesus came into their lives they saw again and walked again and stood up straight again and felt well again; a glimpse of what was to come.

There are glimpses of God’s coming reign all around us. We see them when we develop eyes of faith. These glimpses give us confidence and assurance. The day is coming when God will make heaven and earth the same. It may not look too much like that now, but remember the mustard seed and yeast.

 

Prayer: Mysterious God, it can be hard to see your hand at work in our world. It can be hard to believe the promise that your reign is near at hand. Yet, Lord, the risen Christ has given proof of your power and intention. Help me to see and to believe. In the name of the Miracle Worker, Amen.

March 31, 2020

“Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”

Luke 13:8

 

This is how the parable of the unfruitful fig tree ends. The owner of a vineyard was inspecting the trees and came across one that for three years had borne no fruit. He wanted it cut down and replaced with another tree that would produce. The gardener, though, asked for more time for the tree. He promised to give it some extra loving care, loosening the soil to let in more water and adding extra fertilizer. The gardener believed there was still hope for the tree and wanted to give it every opportunity to produce figs. There was a time limit, however. If after another year the tree was still barren,

the gardener agreed to cut it down.

 

Jesus told this parable immediately after warning people that they better repent because they did not know when a tower might fall on them as one had already done on others. The parable emphasizes the same message: there is not unlimited time to respond to God. In the case of the tower, we never know how much time we have. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. In the case of the fruitless fruit tree, God’s patience can have a limit. The tree had been given ample time to produce and was being given extra time and extra care to make that possible. At some point, the tree had to respond or not. The parable connects to Christ’s hearers because Jesus was preparing to go to Jerusalem where he would be crucified. For three years he had been inviting people into discipleship, giving them the opportunity to be part of the reign of God. They were running out of time to accept that invitation.

 

We can be equally slow in sending back our R.S.V.P., equally slow in producing the fruit God has created us to produce. Too often our response is that we will get back to God about it, or we will do what God wants when we get around to it. Jesus injects some urgency into that response, making it clear that, ultimately, the amount of time we have to produce fruit is not up to us.

 

Is God waiting on you, wondering when you will produce the fruit he desires from you? Do you know what that fruit is? Pray about what hopes and dreams God has for you and about your response. Ask God and listen carefully. This is not something to do when you get around to it. Jesus makes it clear that the time is now.

 

Prayer: God of the vineyard, do not let me be barren of the fruit you desire from me. Allow my roots to drink deeply from the waters of your Spirit. Nourish me and cause me to bud and bloom. May the fruit of my life be pleasing to you. In the name of the Holy Gardener, Amen.

March 30, 2020

“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” Luke 13:2

Generally speaking, we hate randomness. The idea that things can happen to or for anybody for no particular reason makes us uneasy. We like reasons. They make it possible to explain events and consequences, and that is comforting. Being careful, working hard, following good advice, eating and exercising properly, being careful with money, obeying the ten commandments are the kind of actions that should lead to good consequences. Conversely, if something bad happens it is often because someone was not careful, or did not work hard, or did not take care of themselves, and so forth. Cause and effect put us in control. Do the right things, get the right results. Randomness, however, robs us of control. We can do everything ‘right’ and still be at the wrong place at the wrong time. That is discomforting.

A prominent theology in Jesus’ day, and one that has never completely gone away, was that, if something terrible happened to someone, that person had done something at some time to deserve it. (Listen to the ‘friends’ of Job). Thus, when Pilate slaughtered some Gentiles, most assumed that the ones who died had sinned. Similarly, when a tower collapsed and killed eighteen people, others shook their heads and wondered what they had done.

 

Jesus did not accept that theology. Of course, there are times when our actions do lead to undesirable consequences. We make the bed we lie in. There is also, as much as we may hate it, randomness. We are experiencing a painful example right now. Those who get infected with the coronavirus are no better or worse than those who do not. Those mildly infected are no better or worse than those who die from it. Business owners who go under are no better or worse than business owners who make it through. Those who keep their jobs and those who lose theirs, those who experience terrible disruption and those who experience only inconvenience, those who find toilet paper and those who don’t – none are better or worse.

Tragedy happens and, no matter our best efforts, sometimes there is nothing we can do about it. Jesus delivers this unpopular message. What we can do, Christ points out, is to repent of our sins and live in relationship with God. Then, we are right with God no matter what the day brings. Believing that nothing terrible can happen to us because we are in control is foolishness. Putting our lives into the hands of God is wise. Do what you can to limit your exposure to tragedy, certainly. The most important thing to do, though, is to be right with God. Don’t wait for tomorrow assuming you are safe.

 

Prayer: God of Power, I know that I do not control all things. I am not my own shield or protector. You are the one who holds my soul for eternity. Forgive my sin, O God, put a right spirit within me, and keep me ever close to you. In the name of the true Savior, Amen

March 29, 2020

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body,

what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” Luke 12:22

 

This teaching by Jesus falls into the ‘easier said than done’ category. In fact, is there any advice given more infuriating than “don’t worry?” Worry is not like a spigot that we can just turn off. Besides, worry can function in a helpful way. Just as we generally try not to be afraid, the fact is that fear can keep us from doing careless, even stupid things. For instance, I stopped going up rickety ladders to clean out gutters in precarious places only when I started to fear falling. In the same way, worry can motivate us to act in appropriate ways. We do not want to panic because of the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, if worry about spreading or getting the virus causes us to wash our hands more frequently, practice social distancing, and wipe down surfaces, that is a good thing. Those ignoring the pleas of health and government officials need to worry a bit more. Worry can be a good thing.

 

So is what Jesus telling us wrong? It is not. Notice that this teaching immediately follows the parable of the man who built larger barns in order to store more and more. He unnecessarily worried about an imagined shortage in his future. He believed that he had to secure all of his needs and put no trust in God. This worry not only kept him in a constant state of anxiety, but also prevented him from being generous. After all, one option to building bigger and bigger barns would have been to share with those who had nothing. Thinking that his future could be secured only by his own efforts also kept him from experiencing a genuinely trusting relationship with God. Thus, his worry skewed his relationships with God and neighbor. Where did that worry get him? The very night he finally thought that he had enough, he died.

 

What Jesus specifically means in this teaching, then, is that we should not worry so much about the material. When we worry that we do not, and will not, have enough, then our focus in life becomes accumulating more. We never experience the peace that comes from being satisfied with what we have. We live in a constant state of tension, which takes a huge toll on our health. We begin competing with our neighbors, instead of working with them. We discount God’s providence and limit God’s ability to bless us. In all of these ways, worry is not a good thing.

 

All of us worry some. Worry can even be helpful, so long as it moves us to positive action and not to paralyzing hand-wringing. Mostly, though, worry is debilitating and hurts us, God, and neighbor. So, to the best of your ability, follow the words of Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Always remember, God is with you. Be filled with that truth, not worry.

 

Prayer: O Lord, so much seems out of my control and I cannot help but worry. Bring peace to my spirit. Remind me that you are always with me and that the future is in your hands. Give me confidence and help me to live in faith. Amen.

March 28, 2020

“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15

 

               This teaching about greed which is followed by the parable about the man who built bigger barns to store more and more and then suddenly died has an interesting antecedent.  Jesus gives this teaching after someone asked him to intercede in a family dispute over an inheritance.  One man wants Jesus to tell his brother to divide the family inheritance with him.  Jesus refused to get involved in that squabble, but used the occasion to teach about greed.

               What makes this interesting is that the man was not necessarily being greedy.  It was quite possible that his brother was unfairly withholding his portion of an inheritance.  That would make it an issue of justice, not greed.  Jesus, though, did not care.  He essentially told them to work it out between themselves and to guard against greed.  What was his point?

               Jesus was not concerned about whether or not the man deserved a portion of the inheritance.  From his perspective, the man was putting financial gain over the relationship.  His desire to get his ‘share’ of the money would most likely result in a fractured relationship with his brother.

               It happens.  Over years of pastoral experience, more times than I want to count, I have seen previously close families torn apart over money.  Indeed, in my experience, money is the biggest divider of families by far.  Fights about who got what, or who got more, or how what was gotten was used, or who deserved what have irreparably torn families apart.  The same happens between business partners, friends, and neighbors.  Perhaps you, too, have witnessed these disputes.  Perhaps you have been part of one or more.  Winning these ‘fights’ is most often a case of winning the battle and losing the war.

              

The desire for more is a slippery slope.  Accumulating more at the expense of others is never God-pleasing.  Accumulating more just for the sake of having more is never God-pleasing.  Accumulating more so we can assure our own needs rather than depending on God is never God-pleasing.  Damaging relationships for the sake of having more is never God-pleasing.  Greed comes in many shapes and sizes and in many disguises.  This is why Jesus said, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”  Jesus was consistent in saying that we should put God over money and people over money.  He concludes the parable by teaching that it is better to be rich toward God than to store up treasures for ourselves.

               Is money standing between you and another?  Pray about how you might change that.

 

Prayer:  Giver of all that we have, never allow me to value possessions more than I value you or others.  Give me my daily bread and let me be content. 

Help me to be generous and not selfish.  Give to me open hands and not clenched fists.  In the name of the one who gave away even his life, Amen.

March 27, 2020

“But woe to you Pharisees!”  Luke 11:42

 

               We are familiar with beatitudes, blessings spoken by Jesus.  We sometimes forget that Jesus also spoke woes.  In most cases, Jesus directed those woes to the Pharisees.  Pharisees were lay people who committed themselves to following every letter of the Levitical law.  This was a challenge.  First, they had to know the law, and then they had to discipline themselves to live by it. 

Consequently, they were respected and admired for their knowledge and dedication.

               Jesus was not an admirer.  It actually was a mutual dislike; the Pharisees found it impossible to take Jesus seriously as a holy man because, from their point of view, he was very lax when it came to the law.  Jesus was unimpressed by the Pharisees because they mastered all of the technicality of the law and none of the spirit.  Jesus and the Pharisees constantly sparred over this.

               In this section of Luke, the Pharisees are upset with Jesus because he did not ritualistically wash his hands before dinner.  Jesus is upset with the Pharisees because they were focused on how to properly wash hands all the while ignoring the bigger concerns of justice and love.  “For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God.” (11:42b). In general, the Pharisees’ dedication to the law was not for the honor of God, but to make themselves superior to the ‘sinners’ beneath them.  Jesus considered this hypocritical and it infuriated him.

               How often do we confuse the rules of religion with the heart of faith?  We know the proper order of worship, the liturgies for each season, the proper format of the Eucharist, and the appropriate components of prayer.  We know what it takes to look and sound religious.  We may even be generous with our time and giving.  None of this matters, though, if we are not humble before the Lord or if we are neglectful of those around us who hurt.  Jesus is saying here, for instance, that tithing is unimpressive if we neglect justice and the love of God.

               Law is one thing.  Love is another.  God’s law is intended to help us to love.  When it is instead used to divide or, to elevate one above another, it becomes simply rule-keeping, not law-abiding.  The Pharisees knew how to wash their hands.  They did not know how to love their neighbor.  Jesus tells us they missed the point.  It does not help to wash the outside if the inside is not washed also. Are you motivated by rules or love? 

Jesus hopes the answer is love.

 

Prayer:  Dear God, do not allow me to be lost in the petty.  Show me what is truly important and in harmony with your will.  Let love be my guide, knowing that when I love, I am fulfilling the law.  In all things make me an instrument of your love.  In Christ’s name, Amen.

March 26, 2020

                                              “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, there is need of only one thing.”  Luke 10:41

 

     Poor Martha.  Jesus and his entourage showed up at her house with little notice.  The sacred duty of hospitality required that she provide them with refreshments and, of course, she wanted to please the Lord.  She busied herself in the kitchen while the men relaxed and talked.  Well, it was not all men.  Martha’s sister, Mary, was sitting at the feet of Jesus taking in every word.  Martha could have really used her help, but her sister did nothing to assist her.

          

     Martha was furious.  As she diced vegetables her anger heated and finally boiled over.  She stormed into the room, pointed our Mary’s laziness to Jesus, and asked him to tell her to get in the kitchen and help.  Jesus did not.  In fact, he gently scolded Martha and praised Mary.  Why?  Because more than Jesus needed snacks, Mary and Martha needed the word of the Lord.  In other words, Mary should not be in the kitchen with Martha.  Martha should be in the room with Mary.

            

     Sit with this image for some moments.  Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, was in the living room, and Martha was in the kitchen.  Was she being a good hostess?  Yes.  Was she caring for her guests?  Yes.  That, though, is not the point.  Jesus was in the house and she was missing the visit.  That is the point.  It should cause us to wonder how often we may have missed Jesus because we were focused on something else.

             

     Here is a riddle.  When is doing the right thing the wrong thing?  One way to answer is to think about times when you were doing something important, maybe even something you considered necessary, and consequently missed seeing a spectacular sunset, or short-changed precious time with your child, or gave little attention to your spouse, or apologized to friends that you were just too busy to get together.  No time for daily prayer and devotion?  Maybe Jesus is in the next room and you are in the kitchen.  Martha was certain that she was right and her sister was wrong.  Jesus did not agree.

              

     What are you doing that is more important than being with Jesus?  If your answer is anything other than “nothing,” think again.  Do not let the most important moments of life pass you by because you are distracted by the less important.  Jesus would rather have you at his feet than in the kitchen.

 

Prayer:  Sweet Jesus, keep my eyes on you.  Do not let me look to the left or right.  Help me to keep you always in sight.  When I become distracted, touch my shoulder.  When I become preoccupied, call to me.  There is need of only one thing, Lord, and that is you.  Keep me close.  Amen.

March 25, 2020

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  Luke 10:29

 

There is always a loophole.  No matter the law, or rule, or directive, there is always some technicality that makes skirting the law possible.  This is what the lawyer who set out to test Jesus was counting on.  The lawyer wanted Jesus to tell him what he had to do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus put the question back to him by asking him to quote what was written in the law.  The man gave the standard answer:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus agreed and told the lawyer to do that.  That should have ended the conversation.  It did not.  In the lawyer’s mind, the law was vague.  It said he was to love his neighbor as himself without defining neighbors.  That could mean anyone, and he was not wanting or willing to love just anyone.  He wanted clarity or, more to the point, permission to love only the ones he wanted to love.  So, he asked a follow-up question:  “And who is my neighbor?”  Christ then told the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan.  In the parable, the character who clearly acted as the neighbor was the very one the inquisitive lawyer did not want to love.

I suspect the man was sorry he asked Jesus.  The answer was not at all the one he wanted.  That is what happens when you start looking for loopholes.  When we start to put too fine a point on the commands of God they cease to be God’s commands and start to be our preferences.  Loophole-looking is simply an attempt to twist God’s ways to our ways.  How many times do we say or think: we know what Jesus said about giving, or we know what Jesus said about not striking back, or we know what Jesus said about forgiving but. . . . then we explain that Jesus did not mean it for our circumstance or we interpret the teaching so narrowly that it no longer applies to our situation.  That is disrespectful to God and of no help to us.  God’s laws are for our benefit.  Christ’s teachings are for our happiness.  We only hurt ourselves when we look for loopholes.

 

Little angered Jesus more than when the Pharisees would demonstrate their grasp of the minutest points of the law all the while being oblivious to the suffering of the people around them.  Stop parsing words, he would tell them.  Love God, love neighbor, period.  There are no loopholes.  It really is as simple as that.

 

Prayer:  Lord, let your word be a lamp unto my feet, a light that I do not darken.  Show me the wisdom of your ways and inspire me to abide by those ways. 

Keep my love for you and your neighbor strong. Amen.

March 24, 2020

                                              “Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20

 

     Jesus had sent seventy evangelists ahead of him to prepare the cities for his coming.  Their mission was a great success.  When they reported back to him they were flushed with excitement and incredulous about all that had happened.  “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us,” they gushed.  Jesus was pleased as well and celebrated with them.  He cautioned them, however.  Their joy should not come from the fact that they put a beat-down on demons, as awesome as that was.  Their joy should come from knowing that they were part of God’s eternal kingdom.

              

     This should be the same source of joy for each of us.  Many things make us happy, and rightfully so.  Many things make us proud, and rightfully so.  Many things cause us to dance an extra step or to clap our hands and laugh, or to leap a bit into the air, and rightfully so. Nothing, though, should give us more joy than knowing that our names are written in heaven.

              

     What makes this joy supreme is that it cannot be taken from us.  Everything else in life is temporal.  Our loved ones can be lost to death.  Our health can change in an instant.  Our finances can collapse.  Everything can be lost to us, except our place in heaven.  When we have given ourselves to Jesus and serve as his disciples, our names are etched in heaven.  Nothing on this earth can erase that etching.  No power on earth can take that away.

              

     Jesus’ followers were having a good day and had every right to be excited.  We should always be excited and celebrate every good day we have.  Mostly, though, we want to anchor our joy and excitement in the permanent and unshakable.  No matter whether today is a good day or a challenging day for you, you still belong to the Lord, and your eternal future still belongs to God.  For that, you can give a word of thanks and rejoice.

 

     Prayer:  You hold my life, O God, and I am grateful.  Nothing in this world can pull me from your grip.  Help me always to rejoice, in good times and bad, knowing that you have written my name in heaven. Amen.

March 23, 2020

“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62

 

Jesus is walking along a road, we are not told from where or to where, and as he walks he invites two people to follow.  Both say yes, but. . . one wants to bury his father first; the other wants to first say goodbye to his family.  Both ‘excuses’ make perfect sense and we might think that Jesus would say,

“Of course.”  Jesus does not.  He brushes off their requests as unacceptable.

 

Does this seem harsh to you?  Consider two things.  First, the reasons given were not as simple as they sound.  The one who wanted to bury his father was not in the midst of planning a funeral.  His father was still alive.  What he was really saying was that he would follow Jesus after his father died, whenever that might be.  That could be years.  He was putting devotion for his father ahead of devotion for Jesus.  The other wanted to first say goodbye to his family, but once he went home to give them a hug, would he really leave?  Jesus obviously did not think so.  In this respect, when they said ‘yes’ what they meant was ‘no.’

Secondly, the invitation to follow was given at a time of urgency.  Jesus was preparing to go to Jerusalem.  His days were numbered and short.  There was no time for these two to think about whether they were in or out, or to fulfill other obligations first.  Jesus did not say, “If you would like to come along, we’d love to have you join us. ”He said, “Follow me.”  When God calls, it is not acceptable to answer, “Sure, when I get around to it.”

              

Are you actively following now or just planning to follow when the time is more convenient?  Is your response to God  “yes, but. . ?”  Spend some time in self-reflection and prayer around these questions.  If you are putting off following, what is holding you back?  In light of putting God first, very legitimate reasons are ultimately just excuses.

Discipleship is rarely easy or convenient.  Jesus always made this clear to any that would follow.  He also made it clear that any pain or sacrifice was well worth it.   He reminded all that what we experience in this life is nothing compared to what we will experience in the life to come – eternal life with Jesus in the kingdom of God.  When Jesus calls, don’t hesitate or wait for a better offer.  Just grab your things and go.

 

Prayer:  Gracious One, I have so many obligations and responsibilities.  It is hard to just say yes to your call.  Remind me that wherever it is that you want me is where I should be and that you will care for the rest.  Give me a willing spirit and help me to be a faithful follower.  In the name of your Son, Amen.

March 22, 2020

                                                            When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.  Luke 9:51

 

      Jesus had been in the northern region of Galilee for roughly three years.  He certainly experienced some challenges and conflict there but, for the most part, these were good years.  He was very popular with the people.  He drew crowds whenever he spoke.  People lined up to be healed by him.  Even some Romans and religious leaders admired him and believed in his power.  He could have had a very successful ministry and died an old man in Galilee.

              

     That, however, was not the plan.  The plan called for him to take his message to Jerusalem in Judah.  Many would love him there also.  The difference was that Jerusalem hosted the most powerful religious and political leaders.  It was also the site of the Temple from which the powerful priesthood operated.  The Romans, community leaders, priests, scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem would not be open to Jesus.  Indeed, he would be considered a major threat to their power and way of life.  To go to Jerusalem, then, was to invite conflict and almost certain death.  Jerusalem represented the religious heart of Israel, though, and Jesus could not avoid it.  The time had come to head there.

             

     In our text, we read that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.  This does not mean that he headed south immediately.  In fact, he remained in Galilee for a while longer.  His mind was made up, though.  His teaching became more intense.  It was less invitational and more about saying it was time to make a decision – to follow him or not.  He began to tell his disciples that things were about to get difficult so they would have to be truly committed.  When warned that Herod might kill him, Jesus could not wait any longer and started south.

             

     There are times in our lives when we have to set our faces to go to Jerusalem.  Our reasons will differ.  Though we may be doing well in our work, we know we are not doing what we are called to do and it is time to make a job change.  There may be an opportunity or need for us to move to a different place, geographically or spiritually.  It might be time to finally confront an addiction or to change our ways and habits.  No change from the comfortable or familiar happens, however, until we first set our face to go in a new direction.

              

     Where are you being called to go?  What is next in your life?  What plan does God have for you?  Maybe now is the time for you to set your face to go to Jerusalem.

 

Prayer:  Lord, wherever it is that you are calling me to go, give me the courage to follow.  Do not let me cling to the comfortable and familiar, but rather push me to where you would have me be, doing what you would have me do.  Show me the way and lead me, O God.  Amen.