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“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
 
“The Way” a weekly devotional                        
      Gospel Lesson for the                                       
Palm Sunday
            April 9, 2017
                                     Luke 19:29-40 
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Dear Friends,

My grandson, LeRoy, keeps asking about the boo-boo on my arm where a melanoma was removed. My granddaughter, Madeline is concerned but much less interested in touching it. Looking from a safe distance is fine with her. They represent for me the crowd in Jerusalem on the Sunday of Jesus’ entrance. There were interested participants who watched and waved the palms or spread their cloaks on the ground beneath the animal’s hooves. And others who watched with interest from a distance.
  
My grandchildren and the children of the church, draw me into a place of wonder. If I had been there where would I have stood? What would I have wanted to touch? What would I have risked? I think parents of young children have gifted teachers in their daughters and sons. Their questions spark imagination. Through their inquiries Holy Week becomes real and even painful.

At the Eggs-pience party on Saturday a gift will be given to each family - a booklet entitled: My Holy Week Journey. Where the author has tried to make the stories appropriate to the ages, I imagine the children making the events real and stark as they ask questions of their parents. As we journey to Easter, I suggest we experience each day through the eyes of a child.

Peace to you, Keith
 
“The Way” a weekly devotional                        
      Gospel Lesson for the                                       
Fifth Sunday of Lent
            April 2, 2017
                                     John 11:1-45
11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was… (The story is abbreviated here for space. Please read whole passage in your Bible.)

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Dear Friends,

I am wary of people who begin a conversation with “Don’t you think….?” I find opinions about life, for the most part, useless. The sisters do that with Jesus when they suggest that they think he should have come sooner. Realizing who they are saying it to ---they back off. This story has layers of understanding about the spiritual journey for us all. It is not just about Lazarus’ literal or spiritual death and resurrection but also that of his family and friends’ journeys.
 
The spiritual journey is an inward journey. Who am I God? What do my life experiences tell me about who I am? What pain do I need to examine? Who do I need to forgive? What insights into life does my journey teach me? What can I share with someone else about my journey?
 
I think many well-meaning Christians believe that the faith journey is one in which we “fix” others with their own opinions. The reality is that the only way others will change is if they take the inward journey, for God transforms within. So, when we share what we have come to understand with others, we are offering “markers” for them to consider in their own prayer life.
 
I am listening to Maya Angelou’s composition entitled “Letter to my Daughter.” She is the mother of a son, so this series of reflections is intended for women who have allowed her to be a mother to them. In her preface, she is careful to point out that she is not applying her insights to their lives. She contends, “You are intelligent enough to do that yourself.” There I think is the key to sharing our faith with others. There is space for them to reflect and apply to themselves.
 
A better question by Mary and Martha to Jesus might have been, “Why have you come now?” And then listened to his insight. As we know, he had much to share. Even with him the personal application remains our own.
 
Peace to you, Keith

“The Way” a weekly devotional                        
      Gospel Lesson for the                                       
Second Sunday of Lent
            March 12, 2017
                                     John 3:1-17
3 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Dear Friends,

Of those who knew Jesus, I most resemble Nicodemus. I am good at caution. I am good at questions. I am good at doubt. I approach new ideas with much time of pondering. I prefer to figure things out myself. Also, like him, I cannot be quiet once I am convinced, even against my predilection. (Later, in John, he publicly helps bury Jesus as an act of devotion.)

I am sure that I am not alone in this approach to life. I believe most of us think our lives to death, trying to make sense out of every little thing. We base our thought process in what we have always known to be true just as Nicodemus took his scriptures with him to meet Jesus. Only when an answer to the challenge before us cannot be answered with former insight can we make a leap of faith and consider another perspective. The affirmation did not come from linear knowledge so it must have come from above.

Nicodemus moves from a knowledge based life to a Spirit led one. In the mystery of believing that God sent Jesus he is lifted above mortality to immortality in this world and in the next. Jesus’ words translated to today would probably be something like, “Answers to life’s challenges are from something other than the newest gadget. Use your electronic devices for fun but put your faith in me.”

Peace to you, Keith
The Way” a weekly devotional                       
 
      Gospel Lesson for the                                       
First Sunday of Lent
            March 5, 2017
                                     Matthew 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’     and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
 
Dear Friends,
I have always liked this story as opposed to the transfiguation (last Sunday) and they are both imaginative. Maybe it is because what happened to Jesus on the mountainside wasn’t helpful to my spiritual journey. Now…. him being tempted in the desert…that is another story. I am right there with him.
 
I can easily say that having enough food to eat, wealth to be comfortable, and power to ward off people who make me miserable, is aluring. I think this story helps us say “yes, that is what much of our day is about:” earning a living, dealing with power plays by others, and trying to figure out when I have enough and need to share. But it says a loud “No” to them as well. Lest we think that is all life is about and become lost in the desert.
 
Sr. Joan Chittister’s monthly devotional arrived by email yesterday and as always she has quotes and thoughts that speak (shout!) to our spiritual jouney. Here is her reflection for Monday, March 6: “We spend time on our bodies and what we look like; we spend time on our jobs and how much we earn. But too often we starve our souls. Then we wonder why we collapse inside when the things we’ve collected and the wealth we’ve accumulated can’t solve what ails us.”
 
This is a good week to begin to pay attention to our inner journey. Consider: the daily lenten devotional on this website; subscribing to Joan’s Monastic Way (monasticway.org); sign up for the PCUSA “d365” on line or pick up a devotional guide at the church. Read a book including the Bible. (I have guides for checking off chapters as you read them.) Practice resisting temptation and spend Lent being fed, empowered, and at peace.
 
Peace to you, Keith 
 
 
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