A place to ponder the awe and mystery of God in everyday life.

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules is like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.  Luke 22:25-27

In Jesus’ time, only the servants – the lowest class of people – were the servers. Respectable people didn’t serve.  What Jesus did here, and in so many other times and places in his life, turned the society of their time on its head.  He was asking people to step out of the roles that society had clearly defined for them. … give up the status they were entitled to enjoy.  Who would do that?

In the Servant Song (above) we are reminded of the many roles that servanthood can take.  We are also reminded that we reflect Christ when we are serving others from a loving heart.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

It all comes back to love.  Jesus’ love for us.  Extravagant love. Love that serves.  And enjoys doing it. Love that brings light into the darkness, and hope into grief.

martin-luther-king-quote

Albert Schweitzer is another contemporary great man who followed Jesus closely.  (1875 – 1965)  He understood the value and importance of serving.  He said, The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.  He lived what he ‘preached’ – as a German then French theologian, physician, musician, and medical missionary.  He received the Nobel Peace prize for his ethics work, “to be in awe of the mystery of life.”

Schweitzer, and countless other everyday people of far less notoriety, have found the truth and the joy of life.  Serving!   Schweitzer also said, Life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier. 

In my denomination we have many hymns about serving.  We talk about servant leaders.  We preach regularly about serving others.  If you want to know what we believe, listen to our music.  This hymn, “We are Called,” is based on Micah 6:8. This particular video is made by the Catholic church, so it shows some of the priorities in that tradition that are not shared in all of the Christian denominations.  It is beautifully done.

And what does the Lord require of you?  To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

 In Marty Haugen’s song, the refrain includes the line, “we are called to serve one another.”

ServeTheLord

Questions to ponder
Who do you know who serves others joyfully?  How do they serve others?
What is one thing you could add into your life to serve others?  How will you begin? And if you don’t, what’s stopping you?
Martin Luther said, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.” How might serving our neighbors be part of God’s plan for us and the world?

Prayer for today:
Lord God, you are the king and savior of the world and yet you stooped to serve us again and again. You modeled love in serving. Strengthen us to be your servants each day that your love and your light might be reflected brightly throughout the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Shepherd mosaic from ORLC

Which of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?  Luke 15:4

This is part of the reading about the lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son.  And each time the “lost” is “found” there is a fiesta!  A party.  Time to celebrate!   There is rejoicing over that which had been lost and now is found.

Each of them are crazy stories in a sense.  No shepherd would leave a flock of ninety-nine to look for one sheep.  The ninety-nine would be far to vulnerable to wolves or thieves or their own stupidity.

The art that is pictured is a tile mosaic form the front of a church in western Minnesota. The lambs picture a variety of relationships to the shepherd.  One has its eyes fixed on the shepherd.  One is looking off in the distance.  One is walking away.  And one is tucked safely in the shepherd’s arms.  Members of the congregation  gaze at that mosaic and ponder the different sheep portrayed. How and when have they been those lambs at different times in their life.  The obedient one?  The one kicking up its heels as it runs off?  The one snuggled next to Jesus?  The one walking away as it is still searching?

Would the shepherd seek the ornery sheep who is always causing trouble if that were the sheep who were lost?  The scripture does not tell us that, but we might surmise that it wasn’t the obedient sheep who wandered off and got into trouble.

How about our congregations?  Do we respond like the Good Shepherd and welcome the lost and those who have gone astray?  Who is welcome in our doors?  And who isn’t?

For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.  Luke 19:10

* Questions to Ponder
* Take a few moments to think back on your life.  At what times did you feel lost or distant from Jesus?  At what times was Jesus searching for you, or gathering you up in his arms?
* What would your congregation need to do to become known as a place that reaches out to those who aren’t part of a community of faith?  What can you do to help?

For today’s prayer, listen to this wonderful hymn – Amazing Grace. It’s powerful.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”

* “Material from Book of Faith Lenten Journey: Beyond Question by Eric Burtness copyright © 2012 Augsburg Fortress. Posted by permission. All rights reserved.”

“Beautiful Things” by Gungor:

[Jesus] said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love [phileo] me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love [phileo] me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love [phileo] you.”  John 21:17

The New Testament was written in Greek, and there are three words that all translate as “love” in English, but have very different meanings.  The first is agape (pronounced “ah-gop-aa”).  Agape is the perfect love that God has for us.  It is sacrificial love: with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  The second word for love is phileo (pronounced “feel-ee-oh”).  Phileo is brotherly or sisterly love toward another.  The city of Philadelphia is rightly called the city of brotherly love.  The third word for love is eros (pronounced “air-oos”) from which the word “erotic” is derived.  You get the idea.

So in this passage, Jesus is asking Simon Peter if he loves Jesus with a complete, total, sacrificial love.  And Peter just can’t go there.  Twice Jesus asks Peter if Peter loves [agape] him.  And twice Peter answers that he loves [phileo] Jesus.  So the third time Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love [phileo] me?”  And Peter can finally answer, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love [phileo] you.”

I have often heard it said that Jesus accepts us where we are, but loves us too much to leave us there.  In this passage, Jesus tries to show Peter the deeper love that Jesus desires from each of us.  Total.  Sacrificial.  Whole-hearted.  But when Peter isn’t ready, Jesus brings it down a notch, to a level of love that Peter understands.

I had a seminary professor who said the toughest job we would have in ministry is convincing the people we serve that God really, really loves them.  After a number of years in the ministry, I’d have to say that he is correct.  It is hard for any of us to grasp the extravagant, unconditional, amazing grace and love that God has for us. It is wondrous love.  If you have time to listen to a choir singing the well-loved hymn, “Wondrous Love” – here it is.  It can be your prayer of thanks and gratitude for today:

* Questions to Ponder
* When and where have you been most aware that Jesus loves you? What words, songs, or images does Jesus’ love bring to mind for you?
* Worshipping, praying, giving, reading the Bible, teaching, inviting, and serving are among the many ways we can grow and develop our love for Jesus. Consider making one of these practices a more regular part of your life for the remaining days in Lent.
* “Material from Book of Faith Lenten Journey: Beyond Question by Eric Burtness copyright © 2012 Augsburg Fortress. Posted by permission. All rights reserved.”

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon peter, “Simon son of John, do you love [agape] me more than these?”  He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love [phileo] you.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love [agape] me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love [phileo] you.” John 21:15-16a

Tevye and Golde singing, “Do you love me?” from The Fiddler on the Roof   (<—  click here to hear this classic favorite.)

A few years ago, around the time of our 25th wedding anniversary, this scripture from John came up in the lectionary.  My husband and I were both serving as pastors in the same congregation at the time, and we sang this song from “Fiddler on the Roof” as the opening story for the sermon.  There haven’t been many sermons when we’ve received applause, but this was one of those days!

DSCN0622

“Do you love me?” is a question that many people ask of others, either explicitly or implicitly.  Sometimes the answer is known even before the question is asked.  Sometimes it is asked in desperation, and the answer really is unknown.

Do you love Jesus?  Really love Jesus?  This is one of those transformative questions.  The answer matters.  What does your love look like on a daily or a weekly basis?  Can other people tell that you love Jesus?

In this text, Jesus returned to his disciples after he has been raised from the dead. The disciples didn’t know how the story was going to end, so they were astounded to see Jesus.  The risen Jesus asks the same question of Simon Peter three times. This is the same Peter who denied Jesus three times just before Jesus was crucified.  Peter knows it.  Jesus knows it.

But this is the God of love and second chances.  And third chances.  Even seventy times seven chances.

Jesus asks, “Do you love me?”

In the Greek (the language in which the New Testament was written) there is more than one word for “love.”  They describe different types of love.  More on that tomorrow as we look at “phileo” love and “agape” love.  My teaser for the day. (Come back tomorrow!)

For today just ponder your love of Jesus, and what happens when you turn your eyes on him.  Here is Michael W. Smith singing, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus,” a song I learned to love in my high school youth group.

Or, listen to this lovely surprise by the  Indiana Wesleyan University Chorale when their plane was delayed for a maintenance check: “Give Me Jesus.”  I think they were singing about love.  I leave you with this as your prayer for today.  God bless you!

[Jesus] said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like?”  Luke 13:18a

My favorite bumper-sticker is, “God can’t steer a parked car.”  It reminds me that some days I need to just put one foot in front of the other, do the next right thing, and trust that through my prayer and my actions, God will make God’s will known to me.

Sometimes when we talk about the Kingdom of God, we tend to focus on eternal life.  But the Kingdom of God is also the here and now.  And it is God’s desire for it to grow.  A lot!

When Jesus taught his followers about the kingdom of God, he compared it to a mustard seed and the yeast used in baking.  In both cases the starting place is incredibly tiny but turns into something many times bigger than itself.  A mustard seed – much smaller than a peppercorn – grows into a large bush.  A few granules of yeast can leaven a whole loaf of bread, changing it into something bigger and better than it had been.

A mustard seed and baking yeast.  Two tiny, common things that the people of Jesus’ day knew well.

Most of us don’t consider ourselves to be “big enough” to really make a difference in the world. People who say that have forgotten what it is like to be in bed with a mosquito in the room!  None of us are “big”, but God can use us if we open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit.  We can become the leaven in the loaf through the power of the Holy Spirit.  God can use us if we quit making excuses for all the reasons God can’t use us!

Rick Warren said, “Don’t wait to feel powerful or confident.  Move ahead in your weakness, doing the right thing in spite of your fears and feelings.  This is how you cooperate with the Holy Spirit and how your character develops.”

Or listen to Peder Eide’s fun song about the many characters in the Bible who had multiple excuses why they couldn’t serve God.

Peder Eide, “As Is”

* Questions to Ponder
* What would you say the kingdom of God is like?
* Reflect on your life to this point, your walk with Jesus, and any times when you have been changed or transformed.  Then consider how God might be changing or transforming you now.

A hope-filled prayer of blessing written by Andrew Greeley (book of Irish American Blessings and Prayers)

May your work bring order where there was chaos,
wisdom where there was ignorance,
brightness where there was obscurity,
purpose where there was confusion,
warmth where there was harshness,
laughter where there was pain,
challenge where there was boredom,
and God’s holy peace where there was hate.
May you create in the name of God who creates,
be wise in the name of God’s revealing word
and loving in the cause of God’s spirit who serves.

* Prayer for Today
* Transforming God, take my life, my will, my intellect, and my heart and make them truly yours.  Guide me, lead me, walk beside me, and transform me.  In Jesus’ holy name.

* ”Material from Book of Faith Lenten Journey: Beyond Question byErick Burtness copyright © 2012 Augsburg Fortress. Posted by permission. All rights reserved.”

Godspell

Listen to a poignant song from Godspell, “You are the Light of the World”!

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? Matthew 5:13a

Salt is seasoning.  It is a common element.  A little bit goes a long ways to enhance flavor.  Food without salt lacks taste.

Salt is healing.  After an athlete has spent a long day training, competing, perhaps twists an ankle, or after a gardener has spent an early spring day tilling and planting; a hot bath with epsom salts can relieve muscle aches or strains and speed healing.  A warm salt water gargle is soothing to a sore throat.  Children with battered knees from the adventures of childhood who swim in salt water or soaked their wounds in salt water know the healing properties of the poison being drawn from their wounds.  If you’ve ever been faint and had smelling salts wafted beneath your nose, you know how salt can revive.

Salt is a preservative. In Jesus’ time salt was rubbed into meat to preserve it. Without refrigeration or salt, meat would spoil quickly. With salt it would not rot or be a breeding ground for bacteria.

In the Middle East salt is stored in buildings with dirt floors.  The salt on the bottom looses its flavor if its on the ground too long. And once salt has lost its flavor it cannot be restored.

Jesus called his followers the “salt of the earth.”  In what ways do God’s people – do you – act as seasoning, healing, and preservative in the world?   How could a person’s ‘saltiness’ disappear?  You are the salt of the earth…. Shake it!  🙂

Salt by Salt Shaker   Original Filename: 6507-000073.jpg

*Questions to ponder:
* Name some people who are “salt of the earth” in your life or in your community.  How do they maintain their saltiness?
* What can you do to bring salt or light into a place that needs it?

*Prayer for today:
Dear God, guide me and teach me to be salt and light in the world.  When I am running on empty and feel I have nothing left to give, restore me and fill me again. Let my light shine and bring glory to you.  In Jesus’ precious and holy name. Amen.

* ”Material from Book of Faith Lenten Journey: Beyond Question byErick Burtness copyright © 2012 Augsburg Fortress. Posted by permission. All rights reserved.”

In This House

A crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  Mark 3:32-33

Family can be a great training ground for learning about love, forgiveness, acceptance and encouragement. Some families learn many of those lessons around the dinner table. Some never have that opportunity.

Pastor Craig Barnes tells a powerful story about lessons learned around the table. Craig’s dad served a congregation in a tough part of town.  There were a number of drug addicts in the congregation, and Craig’s dad reached out to them as best he could.

Twelve-year-old Roger was a member of that congregation.  Roger had two heroin addicts for parents. Although it didn’t seem that Craig’s dad was making a difference in the lives of those who struggled with drugs, Roger’s mom had written the pastor’s phone number on the wall by the phone in case the pastor was needed.

One night the phone rang at Craig’s home.  It was 12-year-old Roger saying that both his parents had OD’d and he couldn’t wake them up. The pastor jumped in the car and drove to the projects.  He got there about the same time as the police.  Roger watched as the coroner zipped bags over both his parents and carried them out of the house.

There weren’t any other family to care for Roger, and the police were ready to put Roger into the system which was not a good thing in that time and place.  Craig’s dad convinced the police to let him take Roger home at least for the night.

Somewhere on the way home, Craig’s dad decided to adopt Roger.  Those were the days before cell phones, and later in life Craig wondered how his mom figured into that decision.  But when Craig’s dad and Roger got home that evening, Craig and his brother were awoken and introduced to Roger.  His dad said, “This is Roger who will be your brother from now on.”

Well, that sort of thing doesn’t happen every night!  Craig was amazed that by the sheer declaration of his father, Roger was now his joint heir.

Did Roger earn it?  No.
Did Roger figure out he needed it?  No.
Did Roger finish studying the catechism first?  No.

Simply by the declaration of Craig’s father, Roger had become part of the Barnes’ family.

Now Roger had been raised by addicts, and Craig’s parents were not only pietists, but actually the ‘green beret’ of pietists!  While it was clear to them that nobody gets into heaven by careful living, they would have been first in line if it were possible.

Roger had a lot of learning to do about what it meant to be a part of this new family he had entered.  And as Craig reflected on those years with Roger, he was pretty sure that most of the lessons Roger learned happened at the table.

Most of the lessons Roger learned at their table were from Craig’s mom.  She was the Holy Spirit figure in their family.  She kept trying to help Roger figure out what had happened to him when he was adopted into this family. For the next five years, the most common phrase in their household was, “No, no, Roger – we don’t do that here!”

When the table was set and they all sat down, Roger would lunge for the food.  He had grown up with addicts, and IF there was food on the table, you had to grab it for yourself.  No one was going to serve you or look out for you.

But Craig’s mom would say, “No, no, Roger – we don’t do that here!”  And she would intentionally start the food next to Roger so that it would have to be served all the way around the table before it reached Roger.  He would watch it, counting the servings and the people, before it got to him.

Then after supper, Roger would leap from the table.  And Craig’s mom would say, “No, no, Roger, it’s your turn to do  dishes tonight.”  That was another new concept – chores.

Roger would get angry and start yelling, but Craig’s mom would say, “No, no, Roger – we don’t speak in loud voices here.”

Occasionally Roger would break forth with some words that had never, never – ever, been said in the Barnes’ home.  And Craig’s mom would say, “No, no, Roger – we don’t ever, ever, say that here!”

Bless his heart, Roger made a lot of changes.  It wasn’t easy on him receiving all that grace!

Craig is the one who told me this story, and he went into the ministry like his dad.  Craig said that almost every time he stands at the table to preside over Holy Communion, he looks out over his congregation and he watches them try to bring all kinds of stuff to the table that doesn’t belong there.  He thinks about his mother’s phrase. He can hear the Holy Spirit saying, “No, no – we don’t do that here… Don’t bring that anger to the table; not with your brothers and sisters. No, no – we don’t do that here!”

“Don’t bring that victim-thing here.  You’re actually going to try to be a victim at the table of Christ, for Pete’s sake?!  No, no that won’t work here.  You can’t be a victim in this family!”

There is  transformation that happens when we commune with our true family identity.  Roger learned and was changed by that.  Roger learned what it meant to be adopted into that family he entered.

Roger was just enough older than Craig and I that rather than be caught up in the draft during the Vietnam era, he chose to volunteer.  He wanted to do something to make his mom and dad proud.  And, like so many of the volunteers in Vietnam, Roger was sent to the front lines.

One day Roger lost his life in a heroic act of sacrifice that saved the lives of many of his buddies.  It was a dark day in the Barnes’ home when that telegram arrived.

Craig most remembers his mother’s tears.  One day she stopped crying long enough to look at Craig and ask, “Do you think any of those crazy table lessons had anything to do with Roger changing from someone who was frightened and lost, into someone who was a hero?”

last supper graphic

Absolutely!  Welcome to the table!  The table has always been a place where incredible love is offered.  As Jesus has commanded us, choose to love one another, as difficult as that can be.  May we all take the lessons learned at this table to heart and be changed.

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