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“The Way”- a weekly devotional                                              
       Gospel Lesson for  
      
 Third Sunday of Advent, December 17
 
                               John 1: 6-8, 19-28
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said,

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”

as the prophet Isaiah said.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Dear Friends,
 
No one can simply look at a name in scripture and say they know what the character is about. John the Baptist of the first three gospels isn’t sure if Jesus is the Messiah while the fourth gospel has John affirm Jesus clearly as the One. This John testifies to the truth of the Messiah’s identiy and is careful to humbly diminish his own importance.
 
As I watch the world news, I am convinced of the need for followers of Christ to bear witness to him as the Baptist did. We need to be careful not to sound arrogant and say, “Hey, be more like us!” We make enough mistakes ourselves to not be worthy examples to others. If we dare boast, we need to be like Paul, and boast only in following Him.
 
Will the world be a better place in following Christ? I believe that it has a better chance to be than if we don’t follow him. Our testimony is needed. We need to point toward Him.

Peace to you, Keith

“The Way”- a weekly devotional                     
       Gospel Lesson for  
      
 Second Sunday of Advent, December 10
 
                               Mark 1: 1-8  
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Dear Friends,

Prophets are commonly misunderstood by modern people. They were not prognosticators. They did not know the future. No one knows what is to come.

Prophets were social and religious critics of their time. They described what they saw was wrong in the way leaders and people were acting. They suggested the logical conclusion of such behavior …usually, ending badly.  And they bore witness to what God was about in the life of the people. Their hope – which was more than wishful thinking - was that God would make what is wrong - right.

Mark found inspiring and relevant words in Isaiah to describe the state of affairs for his day. Just as inspiritational speakers quote words of people from the past, he used Isaiah for setting the scene for John’s minsitry.

I know of no one who has nothing of which to despair - whether personal, familial, or political. Life is difficult for us all. Isaiah’s remarkable faith bears witness to us today. God will send someone to show us the way into new life. John believed, as do we, that that would be God’s Son. For him we wait this Advent.

Peace to you, Keith

"The Way”- a weekly devotional                     
       Gospel Lesson for  
        33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 19
                               Matthew 25: 14-30  

The Parable of the Talents14 

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Dear Friends,

Although I am a few days late, I came across an interesting quote that spoke to me about this parable.  In the book, Faith Development and Theory was this statement: “Alfred North Whitehead wrote in Religion in the Making, that religion involves the transition from God the Void to God the Enemy, and from God the Enemy to God the Companion. Faith development theory helps us recognize that there are times in faith when God seems to approach us as Nothingness or a Slayer. We do not make the transition from one stage to another without disruption, pain, confusion, and a sense of loss. All growth involves pain.” (p.40)

What if, contrary to every commentary I read, the Master does represent God? God, as understood by three different levels of faith development. Fear being the lowest and bold initiative as being the highest. Even when God seems distant (or away) how then shall we live? Boldly, conservatively, or fearfully? 

Peace to you, Keith
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                     
       Gospel Lesson for  
        32nd Sundy in Ordinary Time, November 12
                               Matthew 25: 1-13
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Dear Friends,

When I read the gospels, I have to remind myself that the “kingdom is within.” These stories of Jesus are about spiritual preparedness. They are about my inward readiness for both celebrations and painful experiences. When the time comes for me to act faithfully will I be ready?

Have I spent time in prayer carefully pondering my daily life? Have I practiced compassion for others? Have I read and re-read the teaching of the Bible so I have a reference for my experiences? Have I embraced the pain of smaller losses, so I can handle greater ones? Do I know what to celebrate in others? Can I see the good in them? Do I know the difference between blessing and curse? Am I able to set aside my personal wants for the needs of others?

Those who have planned a wedding know the mundane and often simple details that fill the days before the event. Without diligence the family can be unprepared for the big event. When the day arrives, they can see clearly why they did what we did.

Prayer makes practicing our faith possible for whatever comes our way. Like the bridesmaids, we understand in hindsight.

Peace to you, Keith

“The Way”- a weekly devotional                     
       Gospel Lesson for  
        All Saints Day
                               Matthew 5: 1-12

The Beatitudes

5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
 
Dear Friends,
A commentary I read this week suggested that a number of these beatitudes were not only about us but about God. God is humble, mourns, holds back from imposition, longs for righteousness, is merciful, is pure of heart, and makes peace. Here is Jesus’ insight into the nature of God.

Living the Christian faith is thus a desire and journey to be more like God. Jesus’ parables and sermons are paths to that end. In fact, his own life is a guide to follow.

From an outsider’s perspective we may appear to be human doormats. From the perspective of faith, we are embodying the image of God from which we were made. Such a way of being seems powerful to me because of the transformation we can bring in the world.

Peace to you, Keith
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                     
       Gospel Lesson for  
        October 22, 2017, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 22:15-22
 
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Dear Friends,

What Jesus doesn’t say is the key to understanding this story for me. He doesn’t say that taxes shouldn’t be paid. He does not stand over against the reality of human governments. That is for him part of life.

Instead he affirms the two realities in which we live: the secular and the divine. One scholar’s translation of “for you do not regard people with partiality” was helpful to me. He said the Greek can be translated as “you do not look upon people’s faces.”

Here is the reference to the coin and the face of the emperor and everyone else’s face as well. Jesus looks to the face of God for living his life. The face of the emperor, despite what the coin says, is not divine and not in control of how he lives. To the emperor we owe taxes and to God we owe our devotion.

Peace to you, Keith
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                                  
       Gospel Lesson for  
        October 15, 2017, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 22:1-14
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Dear Friends,

I have gone through periods of my life when I dismissed the idea of a final judgement. God will just forgive our sins, I thought. I have also wondered if it is healthy for our souls to not be held accountable for our choices. There are reasons why we make poor choices. If we don’t examine them how will we ever be healthy and whole?

I am pretty good at guilt. My mind quickly goes to the guest who didn’t put on the wedding robe and think that is me.  I wonder if what I am doing for the kingdom is right and good or if I have shied away from the invitation to share in the banquet.

When I sit quietly in the morning my brain often rehearses all the things that I regret having done and have felt guilty about. Some would say it is unhealthy. But it doesn’t happen every day and I don’t sit down to do it intentionally. Some days it just happens.

I let it run its course so my prayers can turn to other matters and I can concentrate on reading.

I have wondered if it is God’s crucible for the refining of my soul, right now, rather than at the end of my life. Actually, I am okay with that if it is. 

Peace to you, Keith 
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Gospel Lesson for  
        September 24, 2017, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 20:1-16
20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So, they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Dear Friends,

I think the parable is best understood as a whole. Maybe the only way to get there is to dissect it like so many are prone to do. But no matter how many ways you examine what the landowner did, one must conclude He is not fair and He is not just. This is not about an equitable system or about giving everyone their due.

This is about compassion for a human being who needs the minimum of incomes to survive the day. This is about our need for grace even though we don’t deserve it. This is about food and care for a homeless laborer who needs the smallest of coins to buy a meal.

This is about a kingdom in direct contrast to our world system. And the Creator’s right to do as She pleases. For every wayfarer is one of Her children. Our sense of justice and fairness may well have made them poor. But we have a God who is unjust and unfair. There is hope for us all. Thank God!

Peace to you, Keith

 
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Gospel Lesson for  
        September 17, 2017, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 18: 21-35
 
21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church[g] sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven[h] times.

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents[i] was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;[j] and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister[k] from your heart.”

Dear Friends,

There are so many interpretations of this passage. If we try to break it down and analyze each event we can take a variety of paths.

What if it was intended to be one image? What if Matthew was trying to dream of a church that was as magnanimous as God? He imagined a community of people who did not quibble over money or debts but rather forgave one another for every little thing and every big thing no matter what?

The parable is about debts not sins. The dream was of a church that was based in grace not dollars and cents. The dream was of a most forgiving people like the world had never seen before.  

Ponder this story the next time you pray the Lord’s Prayer. The dream made it into our most sacred prayer.

Peace to you, Keith

 
“The Way”- a weekly devotional                   
       Gospel Lesson for  
        August 27, 2017, 21th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                               Matthew 16: 13-20
 
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Dear Friends,

There is a subtle shift in the story that we can easily miss. The move is from Peter to the Church. The church will bind and not bind – which is a rabbinic way of saying what is ethical and what is not. The authority of heaven is not vested in one person but in many.  We are to be a community of faith together who wrestle with the issues of life. We are together because we believe Jesus is the Messiah. It becomes impossible to say what “I believe” without saying what “we believe.” In fact, no one can be a Christian, a follower of Christ, alone.

I cannot think of a more important lesson for a parent to teach their child than “You belong to a Christian family. Who you are is tied closely to who we are together.” To make the lesson have value to the child takes time to be with the household of God in worship, education and fellowship.

We can teach good ethics and morals in our homes. We cannot teach community apart from time with all our children’s godparents. When our teens go out into the world and come up against people who do not love them, they need to have the knowledge that we are a people who love them. When they come up against an unethical philosophy of life they will need the teachings of Jesus to bolster them against the opinions of others.

School is important; sports are important; jobs are important; but without the community of faith, Christ’s church, our children will not know who they are or whose they are. We need to find time to be together for their sake and for Christ’s sake.

Peace to you, Keith
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