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“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Gospel Lesson for  
        August 20, 2017, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 15: (10-20) 21-28 (CEB)
21 From there, Jesus went to the regions of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from those territories came out and shouted, “Show me mercy, Son of David. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” 23 But he didn’t respond to her at all. His disciples came and urged him, “Send her away; she keeps shouting out after us.”

24 Jesus replied, “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.”
25 But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.”

26 He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.”

27 She said, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.”

28 Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.” And right then her daughter was healed.

Dear Friends,

I knew someone, over a period of years, who hated African Americans, Jews, Catholics, and every group other than his own. Modeling love and tolerance didn’t change him. Nothing did. Instead he taught me a great deal about likeminded people.

He told me painful stories about how he came to be who he was. He was obviously unwilling or unable to set aside the pain caused by his parents and others. Affirmation and agreement from people was like a hunger. Disagreement was his personal enemy. Reflecting on his personal pain and the pain he inflicted helped me understand better the nature of hatred.

Hatred has no resting place in our hearts as love does. There is no internal confirmation of owning it. The peace of Christ that passes all understanding is not available to those who hate and so they are left to seek something else. They unfortunately don’t realize what they need is repentance: the ability to forgive others, be forgiven, and turn around and face in another direction.

Hate is a demonic possession that I would define as “a lie that someone believes is true.” The only relief for such individuals, so possessed, is to release the hatred outwardly from time to time. They “need” opposition- an enemy. It is not the “ideas” of the opposition that are helpful to them; it is the opposition’s energy and hurtful words and insults. Evil needs a fight to justify itself. Hatred is justified by hatred.

The only way to render hatred powerless is to not respond. We need to let them chant their hatred and then let them go home unopposed. It is counter intuitive but it is the most effective way to minimize harm by them ….and to them. Hurtful words will reinforce the source of the pain from which their hatred was born. We can make them worse.

The psalms teach that in the face of evil/hatred, we are to get out of its way. It is God’s responsibility to deal with. In time, it will destroy itself, literally eat itself, as Fredrick Buechner so aptly wrote. If the hatred becomes violent or illegal then the police, the courts, or armies will get pulled into the fray. But saying nothing, may keep it from getting that far and allow God to act and heal in ways we cannot.  

Peace to you, Keith
 
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Gospel Lesson for  
        August 6, 2017, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 14:13-21
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
 
Dear Friends,

I don’t look at this as a miracle story but rather a spiritual story. If is only a miracle, so what! Jesus doesn’t cater church meals today. Only they who were present that day benefited from the bread and fish.

Spiritually speaking, I am grateful for the bread Jesus gives me and those who love him. His insights and wisdom and love still transform my life.

Last week, at VBS, I told the children that I was walking around praying with my eyes open asking God to help me teach them well. I wondered privately if the bread I have would be sufficient for each little soul that God had sent our way.

Now a week later I pray that I did and that they ate what the staff and I offered. As I have in years past I wait with the other teachers to see if the bread we served filled them up. I trust that what Jesus blesses-- will. Through him, whatever bread we have will always be enough.

Peace to you, Keith
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Gospel Lesson for  
        July 16, 2017, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 13: 1-9 [18-23]
 
That day Jesus went out of the house and sat down beside the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he climbed into a boat and sat down. The whole crowd was standing on the shore.

He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. Everyone who has ears should pay attention.”

Dear Friends,

Jesus said that his story was a parable…not an analogy, not a metaphor, not an allegory or a fable.

Yet the church has treated it as anything but a parable. I intentionally did not include verse 18 to 23 because they are an allegorical interpretation of the parable. Even in Matthew’s community there was such a desire to have it speak to a problem the church faced, the interpretation was included.

Obviously, the interpretation was a comfort to them and it made it into the text. They were confounded about why everyone didn’t believe in Jesus’ teachings. This was an answer for their disappointment.

Parables, as I understand them, create an internal conundrum within the believer. If I “pay attention” I will sense that this parable is about me. It is safer to think it is about “them” who don’t believe, but what of my unbelief? What about my interpretation of Jesus that lives among thorns of condemnation of others or of ideas like loving your enemy that I have no intentions of adhering to? What of ideas about love and care that I apply just to those people I like or who return the favor- can I be so shallow rooted? Unfortunately, yes.

Historically, the church has used parables to explain a problem or bring comfort to believers which is all well and good. My sense is that Jesus, if push came to shove, intended to unsettle us.

Peace and unrest to you, Keith

P.S. One might argue that I have interpreted this allegorically and simply internalize the allegory. A parable has layers upon layers of interpretation. For example, “thorns” can be many things in parable, not only the way I have used it here. Do not let an allegory limit the value of a parable, not even my interpretation!
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Gospel Lesson for   
        July 9, 2017
                               Matthew 11:16-19; 25-30
16 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Dear Friends,

A little bit of knowledge goes a long way…the early church frequently compared Jesus to Wisdom (vs. 19b) in the Hebrew scriptures (Proverbs). The metaphor made him Wisdom with whom God created the heavens and the earth. She (Wisdom) was in the beginning with God and were true ideas that were the world’s foundation.  

Another little tidbit…rabbis were known to call Wisdom a “yoke.” Thus, the verse “learn from me.”

Burdens then are ideas that weigh us down, demoralize us, shame us, imprison us within our heads. It is most readily understood by those who have been beaten down by life. But is there anyone who hasn’t? Is there anyone who would not welcome the yoke of a Friend who reassures us that we are loved and valued by God?

Wisdom helps us see the world and ourselves in a different way – as God sees us, loves us, treasures us, and blesses us on our way.

Peace to you, Keith
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Epistle Lesson for Trinity Sunday
        June 11, 2017
                              II Corinthians 13:11-13
11 Finally, brothers and sisters, good-bye. Put things in order, respond to my encouragement, be in harmony with each other, and live in peace—and the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Say hello to each other with a holy kiss. All of God’s people say hello to you.

13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Dear Friends,

What can we say when a Muslim or Jewish friend asks why we believe in three Gods? We can say that we don’t, yet this doctrine of the trinity makes us seem like liars. The Trinity cannot be explained logically and defending it would be nonsense.

There are affirmations in all religions that seem like nonsense to outsiders. Affirming our cultic ideas without understanding what they mean is useless even to the believer.  We need to take the time to understand our own doctrines before we dismiss someone else’s—well, we have no right to dismiss anyone else’s.  

Again, what if they ask? What if they initiate a dialogue? What do we say? I think our search in our discussions is for common ground. What does the trinity mean to me? Verse 13 is Paul’s effort to share. He connects the Persons with grace, love, and fellowship. What faithful Jew or Muslim would take issue with those concepts? 

Now ask your friend what they believe about their affirmations of faith. Maybe we believe it too.

Peace to you, Keith
“The Way” a weekly devotional              
       Epistle Lesson for Pentecost
            June 4, 2017
                                      Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Dear Friends,
There is a consensus among colleagues I hang around with that God is changing the church. The question that looms with all minds wondering is, “Into what and how will we know when something is transformed?”
 
Signs and omens are risky to interpret at best. Pastors and congregations have often wandered down a path that was not God’s intent. They found out when no one was excited about where it led.
 
Pentecost reminds us that the church began with excitement and joy. The disciples sensed that that was God’s intent. I think it still is.
 
Peace to you, Keith
 
 

“The Way” a weekly devotional                                   
       Gospel Lesson for the                                  
Fifth Sunday of Easter
            May 14, 2017
                                      John 14:1-14
 
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Dear Friends,

Here are the verses that contain the title of this weekly devotional (The Way). I have written it for 16 years, sometimes wondering if it was primarily for myself. These reflections have helped me explore what I believe. Some weeks I had the feeling that I had missed the mark and other weeks there was a sense of hitting it. I think that is what Philip is asking Jesus, “When will we know if we are on target? When do we know when we have touched the Father?”

I have to believe it is more than a feeling of peace. Lots of preachers have been self-satisfied with their sermon and I haven’t agreed with a word of it. But is God satisfied knowing who this person is and how far they have come? Are our daily affirmations of faith as good as they can be on any given day? Is to follow Jesus in the Way to prayerfully ponder every day or at least every week what we believe now? Here may be the truth and the life we affirm in our search for God. We will never be completely right nor should we be content with what we believed yesterday.

Peace to you, Keith
 
“The Way” a weekly devotional                        
       Lesson for the                                     
Fourth Sunday of Easter
            May 7, 2017
                                      Acts 2:42-47
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Dear Friends,

I spent some of my week memorizing the above passage. It was the focus of our key note speaker at the EAPCE conference. Amazing how scripture becomes a part of you when you spend time with it. The verses gave me much to ponder.

Although Luke’s description of the early church has become iconic, most of my fellow church educators and I, couldn’t relate to the idea of selling all our possessions for a communistic philosophy of community. So there was this feeling of paradox or contradiction in our response to the story, both encouragement and criticism. Over the centuries, the definition of “church” has remained an ongoing debate.

I am convinced we are living incongruently as a church compared to how the church has been. I don’t profess that that is wrong so much as noteworthy. What does it say about who we are and what we do? For example, it is remarkable that we have so many people who have become members of the congregation because so many people won’t. Yet our attendance records indicate that their participation varies from weekly to monthly to yearly to not at all.

I trust that God is in each of them and leading them in the ways they need to go. So, what should my understanding be as a pastor? What is my role in a congregation that I encounter weekly, monthly, or yearly? How do I remain in communion with them all?  What does “being together” mean for all of us?

I believe that, given the dramatic changes in church participation, we need to return to our original stories, i.e. Acts 2, and wonder about who God is inviting us to be. I have wondered if given the complexities of our world, can the church be the only source of understanding or must our members search for insight elsewhere? Are we the source of Godly concepts and biblical concepts but the application and interpretation of them in our incredibly complex world is beyond our abilities and calling? Must faithful church members break bread with others who understand their dilemmas and pray for God’s insight with them?

If that is true then folks can come to worship and Sunday School with reasonable expectations of what they will receive here. I believe we all need to wonder so that we continue to have “the goodwill of the people.”

Peace to you, Keith
 
“The Way” a weekly devotional                        
      Gospel Lesson for the                                       
Third Sunday of Easter
            April 30, 2017
                                      Luke 24:13-35

The Walk to Emmaus

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Dear Friends,

I think the church is in a place where we need to go back to these resurrection stories and instead of affirming their theological conclusion, wonder with the disciples what God is doing. Our church programs and even our theology doesn’t work for people. How many people do you know pour into church because of “predestination?”

Our affirmations about what church is about don’t work anymore. We could give up and quit. We could dig in our heals and persist in doing what we have always done. Or we can “wonder.” Wonder is the opposite of “Answers.” It is a great alternative to bitterness and spite.

Wonder has a childlike quality to it but I also believe it is an adult option for opening ourselves to the Spirit. We do have to take on an attitude of not knowing the right answer and allow our hearts and minds to consider conclusions we haven’t before.

I keep saying we need to “change” which brings anxiety to anyone I say it to, including myself. Saying, we need to wonder with God seems to be more calming and hopeful. For if in the fun of wonder we gain an insight, we will have an inner sense of its rightness and our willingness to try it.

Peace to you, Keith
 
“The Way” a weekly devotional                        
      Gospel Lesson for the                                       
Easter Sunday
            April 16, 2017
                                      
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” 
 
Dear Friends,

“Do not be afraid” is a major theme of the Bible. Adam and Eve hide themselves when they hear God walking in the garden. Angels reassure shepherds not to be afraid on the night of Jesus’ birth. And here at the story of rebirth for Jesus and the world are the same assurances.

None of us is afraid of Easter. The increased attendance at the church service bears that out. But all the biblical characters of whom we have read, suggest that that would be a normal and maybe prudent response.

The earthquake, the angel descending, the enormous stone rolled away, echo the power and habits of Zeus. Of him the normal response was fear. When he acted then heads rolled. For the world was going to be changed and humans may well be the victims.

Matthew announces a worldwide change with the resurrection of Jesus. The God who loved Jesus and raised him from the dead loves us too. Easter takes fear itself away. It offers a perspective of universal love and care rather than destructive power and might.

For those who believe that their political power protects them from fear and death, may apt to be afraid of the Easter message. They are for sure looking at the world incorrectly. I think that would be a frightening revelation. For when all is said and done, God’s love will have the final word. Fortunate even for those who do not understand the Easter message. 

Easter Blessings! Keith
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