Thursday, March 21st
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 21st: Psalm 63:1-8; Daniel 3:19-30; and Revelation 2:8-11. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
A lot about Lent is about choices. Lent has the audacity to ask us to place Jesus at the top of our to-do list. Jesus as a priority is a choice. It is hoped that Lenten choices are not only seasonal, but transformational. It is hoped that people actually change after living their Lenten choices.
We sometimes speak of these Lenten choices as sacrifices, but we need to keep this in context. Sacrifice may imply that we are giving up something better. So let’s talk a bit about context.
In today’s reading from the Book of Revelation we hear of the church of Smyrna. This was one of the principal cities of the Roman Empire in Asia Minor. It was a port city. There was a great deal of commerce taking place within its boundaries. Money was to be made. It is to the Christians in this prosperous community that Revelation writes: "'I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich.’” The biblical author is not distracted by the wealth of Smyrna. He sees through these trappings and sees instead affliction and poverty.
It is expected at this point to speak about the Christian obligation to care for the less fortunate especially when there are people of wealth who can make a difference. However, I think Revelation is pointing in another direction. The material wealthy are the ones who are afflicted and impoverished.
This is not meant to be a generalization, but I have been confronted and affronted by the lifestyle choices made public in the news and in the courts about some people of massive wealth and corporate power. If their behaviour is in any way indicative of the effects of massive wealth, then Jesus’ warning is true: “‘You cannot serve God and wealth.’” For all of the show and luxury of massive wealth, I think the words of Revelation still ring true: “I know your affliction and your poverty.”
This is the context of Lenten choices. We can choose the priorities of the world, but they seem counterfeit. Or we can “sacrifice” them and make Jesus our choice, our priority. Then we can read and meditate upon and celebrate today’s Psalm, which is characterized by the beautiful phrase: “My soul clings to you, [O God].” Lent may ask us to sacrifice, but in the long run Lent offers us greater gifts.
Wednesday, March 20th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 20th: 2 Chronicles 20:1-22; Psalm 105:1-15 [16-41] 42; and Luke 13:22-31. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Talk about a long shift at work today! I go in to work in the Winter and I don’t get out until Spring.
Spring arrives today at 5:58pm. And it comes unassisted. We can play with what we call the hours of the day. 5PM can just as easily become 6PM when we spring ahead in Day Light Savings Time, but the Vernal Equinox arrives on schedule and on its own. One of God’s greatest blessings is the regularity and order of creation. It is something we take for granted, that is until that regularity and order is disturbed.
For example, people are finally awakening to the dangers posed by climate change. Storm intensity and frequency, higher temperatures, rising sea levels, changing habitats and even changing seasons are now observable as predicted. This is going to force change upon where people live, how we farm, and what we will lose to extinction. Young people protested around the world last Friday because they fear what is in store for their future. If it becomes as bad as predicted if we do nothing, if we don’t Go Green as they say, then we will long for the good old days of regularity and order.
This is sort of what is going on in today’s reading from 2 Chronicles. The Jerusalem Temple had long stood in place as God’s house on earth. The offerings and sacrifices, the feasts and the priests, were all chugging along as scheduled. The Temple took on a life cycle of its own. There was regularity and order. It was almost as if the Temple was so obvious that it disappeared from attentive view. It’s like driving to work year after year. The driving is automatic. You only take notice when something changes.
In today’s story, the land of Judah is threatened by invasion. Regularity and order can disappear. Suddenly, the people see again the Temple. The people turn to God and pray for a return to regularity and order. The unspoken prayers immediately are voiced with passion.
In the story, God does protect and regularity and order are restored, but there’s a warning. Don’t take the normal for granted. Blessings abound in the ordinary. Don’t look past them as if they don’t exist. Sometimes God’s greatest blessings are the very ones we can take for granted.
Lent is that time when we can pause and look for Christ more intently. Jesus warns in Luke today that at some point the owner of the house will shut the door, at some point it will be too late. And then we will long for the good old days of regularity and order. Today is one of those good old days. Don’t let it pass unnoticed. Thank God for the ordinary blessings.
Tuesday, March 19th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 19th: Numbers 14:10b-24; Psalm 105:1-15 [16-41] 42; and 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
In the story from the Book of Numbers, God becomes so angry with His people that He is prepared to destroy them and start anew. Moses will then not only remain the law-giver. Moses will replace Abraham as the new father of God’s people. It is the intercession of this one man who changes God’s mind. Moses pleads Israel’s case before the bench of God’s judgment, and God relents.
It is most definitely not only the Jewish people who fail God repeatedly. There is a lesson here for all people of faiths. The honesty of this story’s self-awareness needs to be respected and repeated.
There is far too much religious arrogance in our world today that arises from a suspected perfection, and it is leading to prejudice and violence. I for one have had enough of zealots who cannot convince others to believe by word and example and who must resort instead to violence. What a perfect example of the weakness and impotence of such people and the fantasies of their god.
Rather than an embarrassing line of religious extremists jumping at the chance to imagine and even implement God’s fury, and it doesn’t matter if they’re Christian white nationalists, Muslim terrorists, Jewish extremists, Hindu nationalists, whatever, Holy Scripture gives us the compassionate example of Moses turning down the divinely sanctioned chance to seek revenge. Moses pleads for God’s mercy on the very people who had attacked him and his leadership.
This story, shared among people who recognized honestly that they were not always faithful, must have been reassuring. And its lesson is meant for all of us who are part of the one People of God. It is reassuring to be able to believe that the fate of the many may be swayed in God’s court by the charity of even a few, hopefully, prayerfully, a few of us.
Let us remember Paul’s words today: “Now these things occurred as examples for us.” Let us not join in the glee over judgment and rapture because maybe that glee is a sign that such people are not on the right side of judgment and rapture. Rather, let us pray for others, even others who disagree with us, as did Moses. Let that be an example for us. May we be compassionate believers, and may that religious example help others to be like Caleb who was privileged by God to march into the Promised Land.
Sunday, March 17th
Here is the link to our Sunday morning Service for the Second Sunday of Lent. We had been experiencing technical difficulties with our videotaping. I thank John Novak for his help in fixing those problems. The sound is great. I hope you enjoy our Sunday worship,
Monday, March 18th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 18th: Exodus 33:1-6; Psalm 105:1-15 [16-41] 42; and Romans 4:1-12. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
I have never visited Mount Sinai, but it looks inhospitable. It is a rather bleak looking location. It was, however, the place of encounter. This barren terrain is where God descended and Moses ascended, where God conversed with the leader of Israel, and the people of Israel were witnesses. They knew that God abided in this place, no matter how fearful His presence, God abided in this inhospitable place.
It could not have been an easy existence in the Sinai Desert, but the people had grown comfortable with this location. They felt secure in the presence of God. So secure that they did not wish to move on toward the Promised Land. It required a command from Yahweh to compel the people to leave and to continue their journey.
It is not difficult to fall into this enticement of a comfortable religion, the desire to remain in place where once the presence of God was felt. The problem with this stasis, however, is that God is calling us forward, to our Promised Land. We can stay in place, but it seems a bit much to ask the same of God. And so, sometimes, maybe unwillingly, we are called by God to move on, to get up and get moving.
Yesterday in church the young people planted seeds during the Time with Children. It was to try and get across the message that Lent is a time for growth, sometimes unseen, sometimes slow and plodding, but still a time for growth. We even planted more than a single seed in each cup because sometimes one attempt at growth will fail. Lent is leading us forward, even if haphazardly. When the flowers bloom and are transplanted outside, we hope that they will remind us throughout summer of that message of growth.
We sang that day, “In the bulb there is a flower …”. God plants not to keep the seeds, but so that the seeds may blossom. Wherever we may be in our journey of faith, just planted, plodding along, second or third try, or right on schedule, God is calling us forward. We have to guard against trying to stay in place, even if that place was once God in all His awesome power at Mount Sinai, because He will intervene and tell us in no uncertain terms that it is time to continue the journey.
Saturday, March 16th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 16th: Psalm 27; Psalm 118:26-29; and Matthew 23:37-39. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today the Tri-Conference Spring Super Saturday gathering will take place at Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham. The day begins with all of the participants worshiping together. Then each participant goes to the various workshops that had been chosen.
I’ll be spending my morning, just over two hours, at a live presentation of the Gospel of Mark. Rev. Shannon Wall, a former professional actress, will present the entire Gospel from memory. Mark is the oldest Gospel. It emerges from an even earlier oral tradition. The earliest Christians never imagined a church of 2,000 years and counting. They were expecting Jesus to return in glory, probably even during their lifetimes. The written Gospel only appears after the realization that this will not take place.
Robert Browning expresses this poetically: “When my ashes scatter, says John [the last living apostle], ‘There is left on earth no one alive who knew (consider this!) – Saw with his eyes and handled with his hands that which was from the first, the Word of Life. How will it be when none more saith, “I saw”’?”
The workshop description suggests that we will have a “visceral experience of the first Gospel.” The presentation on Mark will take us back to the first generations of our faith when people would share the amazing and paradoxical account of Jesus’s life, teaching, death and resurrection as a story, a first time ever heard story.
I’m looking forward to that, but I think the Bible can always be read as a first-time experience. There is always something new to be revealed. As we grow, as our situation in life changes, as our faith lives change, the Bible speaks to us differently. Lent gives us the sacred opportunity to spend more time with the Word of God so that the Bible can speak to us as a fresh revelation. For this I am grateful. As the Psalmist writes: ““The Lord is God, and he has given us light.”
I invite you to read the Gospels so that God can give us more light, and I invite you to come join us tomorrow at our Sunday Service as we continue to experience firsthand the fresh presence of Christ in our midst.
Friday, March 15th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 15th: Genesis 14:17-24; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-20. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, a soothsayer warns the title character: “Beware the ides of March.” The ides of March corresponds with March 15th, today. It is the day in 44 BC when Julius Caesar was assassinated. Especially since the writings of Shakespeare, the Ides of March has been associated with worrisome watershed occasions.
I don’t know if the young people around the globe had this in mind when they planned their Youth Climate Strike for today (https://www.youthclimatestrikeus.org/), but change, ominous change, is approaching closer and closer unless the world does something deliberate to cut back on global warming.
The young people whose future is in jeopardy write in the first line of their mission statement: “We, the youth of America, are striking because decades of inaction has left us with just 11 years to change the trajectory of the worst effects of climate change, according to the Oct 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report.” So today in cities and towns around the globe, young people are leaving the classroom to bring attention to this dire, scientific consensus.
Maybe the church should take more notice. This is of moral importance to the coming generation, and it should be for all of us. For the longest time humanity assumed that God had assigned us the role of creation’s masters, but this may well be a perversion of the biblical message that we are creation’s stewards.
We get a hint of this in Paul’s words today. It’s on a different subject, but Paul admonishes that people are diverted from things of spiritual importance because “their minds are set on earthly things.” It may seem to be an anomaly to speak up for the caring of the earth by referring to minds sinfully preoccupied by “earthly things,” but is it?
If we are rapacious with the earth’s resources and cavalier about what we do to its climate, then aren’t we looking at creation not as a gift from God, not as stewards of divine creation, but only taking from the earth whatever we can regardless of the consequences to life, and by this I don’t mean only human life? Then aren’t our intentions truly only on “earthly things”? Maybe these young people activists can get the church to thinking more forcefully about the spiritual, even about the spiritual aspect of a God-given creation.
Thursday, March 14th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 14th: Genesis 13:1-7, 14-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:2-12. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is π-day, March 14th. π equals 3.14 ad infinitum. I’m hoping our local library can find me a copy of the recently published book The Shape of a Life: One Mathematician’s Search for the Universe’s Hidden Geometry by Shing-Tung Yau and Steve Nadis. The books share’s Yau’s effort to uncover the geometric shape of the universe’s possible hidden dimensions, but told for regular people who have trouble remembering definitions of circumference and diameter. It’s amazing what the human mind can fathom.
And it’s also amazing what the human mind can fathom. We have discovered ways to destroy civilizations. In this month’s Atlantic Magazine, there is an article about how lucky we are to still be here. There are forces unpredictable and uncontrollable in the universe that could destroy our planet instantaneously, but we have also fathomed ways to destroy ourselves.
They share various stories of near-miss apocalypses. Here are two of them:
“On September 26, 1983, a Soviet duty officer named Stanislav Petrov found himself paralyzed. He was manning the Soviet Union’s early-warning system for incoming American nuclear missiles when his computer alerted him to the unthinkable: a highly reliable detection of incoming warheads. It was a nuclear first strike and the possible end of civilization. Or it was a computer malfunction. ‘The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds, staring at the big, backlit, red screen with the word “launch” on it,’ Petrov later told the BBC. ‘All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders—but I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan ... Twenty-three minutes later I realized that nothing had happened. If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief ... they were lucky it was me on shift that night.’”
“On November 9, 1979, the U.S. national-security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski awoke to a military assistant solemnly informing him of another all-out nuclear first strike, this time coming from the Soviet side. As he prepared to call the president to advise a counterattack, Brzezinski decided not to wake up his wife, preferring to let her die peacefully in her sleep with the rest of humanity. With moments to spare Brzezinski learned it was a false alarm.”
Life is a precarious miracle. It is a blessing from God. It is filled with the possible and that is amazing, amazing and possible for what we can become as the Abram and Paul selections relate, but also amazing and possible in that we can stubbornly insist on playing Russian Roulette with humanity’s very survival. The two stories above, thank God, ended without an apocalypse, but the longer we survive the more near misses we encounter, and then our odds become increasingly risky.
During Lent let us consider the wisdom of Jesus’ love and peacefulness, not as some ivory tower idealists, but as rational people who live in an increasingly lucky world that is sometimes only a few seconds away from complete destruction. God has promised us the stars, but we have to be worthy of that promise. In the meanwhile, let us trust in the protective hand of God: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Wednesday, March 13th
Throughout the year, the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 13th: Psalm 17; Job 1:1-22; and Luke 21:34—22:6. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Religion should not be limited to small questions with known answers. We are trying to find and follow God. What could be a greater quest? I love reading the quotes of scientists when they are baffled, especially when they thought they knew the answer, but the answer was not where they expected. They don’t see this as defeat. They don’t insist that the answer must be there nonetheless. What I hear scientists say over and over again is how excited they are by the unexpected because it has the potential to lead to new discoveries and to approach closer to a truth. Religion should be this and so much more because we are reaching out to the very definition of The Unknown.
Job is a hard book to read. It leads to more questions than answers, but maybe that’s the way it has to be in a book that struggles to reach beyond small questions with known answers. The Book of Job wants to know why the good suffer and it basically says that there is no knowable answer. All the pedantic mutterings of Job’s companions lead nowhere.
Satan, just as we saw on Monday, is a contrivance. He’s created to move the story along. Satan in Job is not the evil nemesis of God that becomes familiar in the New Testament. Satan is more the provocateur. Righteous Job is protected by God so that Satan asks: “‘Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?’” This is the conventional position. Proverbs teaches: “The curse of the Lord is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the home of the righteous.”
(3:33) But reality keeps pushing its way into this neat theological construct, and people of faith must deal with the randomness of suffering.
This is where Satan’s dalliance of his test of Job enters the story. God does bless the righteous, but Satan interferes and subverts the moral orderliness. I don’t know how convincing or comforting this argument is to you, but the point remains that the Book of Job attempts to deal with the hard questions of faith. Even these millennia later, the discussions about the randomness of suffering still commonly invoke the story of Job.
Job gets us to thinking, maybe not to answers, but at least to thinking, and the journey of faith moves forward. We move beyond the moral caricatures of life’s justice and seek out God in the world’s necessary randomness. And then during Lent we add Jesus’ unjust Passion, crucifixion and death into the mix. God endures what we must endure. The God who appears to Job with might rather than comfort appears again in Jesus with the compassion and empathy of one of us.
And Jesus would teach every day “[a]nd all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.” The teaching continues and we hopefully find better answers and grow closer to the truth.
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