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Doing Good

“I will rejoice in doing good to them, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” Jeremiah 32:41

What are you going to do today? For some of you, I imagine that today has a long to-do list. Perhaps you’ll be running around town, trying to fit in all the errands for which you didn’t have time during the work week. Or perhaps today is a blank slate, filled with possibility but not yet with commitments. For some of you, I’m sure, today is one more day in a seemingly endless slog of pandemic days, days in which you wish you had something to do, somewhere to do.

Around here, I’m not sure yet. It’s quiet so far. I wonder what the children are plotting?

While we may not yet be sure what we’re going to do today, Jeremiah gives us some insight into what’s written in God’s day planner. God rejoices in doing good to God’s people, so that’s probably what God is going to be working on. These particular words come as promise for a people who are soon to be exiled to Babylon. They are about to enter a decades-long period of wondering why God has forsaken them. But God has not. God goes with them, and works to bring them home.

This is work into which God pours the divine heart and soul, just as God asks that we love God with heart, soul, and mind. It certainly feels like we are still in a time of exile. There is no shortage of bad in the world. But God is working for good. The promise is sure. Not even the death of Jesus could derail God’s purposes and, in Christ, death itself is transformed into the gateway to eternal life. Hang on, friends. God is doing something good today, and you will find yourselves planted in a verdant land. Whatever your day is filled with, seek to do good for the sake of the God who is working good for you.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God, your goodness and mercy follow us through life’s dark valleys. Bring us today into the bright light of your love. Free us, inspire us, to live lives that bear witness to your goodness in this bad news world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Sometimes doing good is helping your neighbor (or little brother) stand back up.

The Centre of Everything

“It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13

My Friday started as most Fridays do. Making sandwiches for lunches. Drinking coffee while the kids eat their breakfast. Getting to work on the mounds of laundry that have piled up during the week. Now, the blog. Soon, a book (Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, for those who are curious). It’s all so ordinary (except for Robinson’s prose).

This morning’s New Testament verse from the Daily Texts brings to mind words from Rowan Williams, erstwhile Archbishop of Canterbury, which I ran across in Christian Wiman’s He Held Radical Light:

It should be a rather exhilarating thought that the moment of creation is now – that if, by some unthinkable accident, God’s attention slipped, we wouldn’t be here. It means that within every circumstance, every object, every person, God’s action is going on, a sort of white heat at the centre of everything. It means that each one of us is already in a relationship with God before we’ve ever thought about it. It means that every object or person we encounter is in a relationship with God before they’re in a relationship of any kind with us. And if that doesn’t make us approach the world and other people with reverence and amazement, I don’t know what will.

Or, as Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “it is God who is at work in you.” One could say that both Paul and Williams are pointing out that God is in the ordinary, and that’s true. But it doesn’t go far enough; neither does it capture the greater truth they point it. Rather, the ordinary, the quotidian, the banal moments in our lives are taken up into the “white heat at the centre of everything.” Through Christ, by the Spirit, we are in the God who is at work in us. God is not simply tacked onto our lives as something extra. No, this is total contingency. We neither create nor redeem ourselves. We neither live nor die to ourselves.

In the middle of this mundane day, I’ll be spending some time with a dear friend. Before and after the time we spend together, we’ll both be in an eternal relationship with God. A relationship that springs forth from God’s creative love and transverses the chasm of death. A relationship that is possible in the now because it exists forever within the capacious eternity of the Triune God.

And if that’s not good news, I don’t know what is. May you will and work for God’s good pleasure today.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

Creator God, we praise you for creation, which springs forth anew every second from your overflowing love. Give us eyes to see one another as those in whom you live, as those who live in you. May our ordinary moments refract the light of your transcendence that others may see and know you, too. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Most liquids contract when they freeze. Water is one of the few exceptions. I don’t remember enough from my high school science classes to tell you why this is so, but I see God’s creative hand at work. If water behaved “normally” many bodies of water would freeze solid. Instead, lakes freeze from the top, enabling fish to survive below while kids play hockey above. How cool is that?

Leave Your Nets

“And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Mark 1:18

Standing in the Yigal Allon Museum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, I remember thinking, “I think I might have stayed in the boat.” We were looking at the “Jesus Boat,” a first-century fishing boat discovered in 1986 by two brothers, Moshe and Yuval Lufan. Two brothers who were fishermen, not unlike those two sets of brothers called away from their nets and boats by Jesus 2,000 years earlier.

A twenty-seven-foot boat on the sea isn’t my idea of safety and security, but at least the unknowns were known, the dangers predictable in their suddenness. But who was this Jesus, and what was this life to which he was calling them?

And yet they went. They left everything to follow Jesus.

The life of discipleship is not a life of comfort. Following Jesus doesn’t make life easy. We sail on choppy seas, in uncertain waters. But to be a disciple of Christ is to never be alone. We are called to sail together and, even when otherwise alone, Christ is with us.

We’ll hear Jesus call these first disciples in our gospel reading this Sunday. Today, let us think of the journey of faith to which Jesus invites us. It’s a new day, and anything is possible. Hear his voice: Follow me!

Be well, friends. You are loved.

Lord, you call us to leave everything and follow you. Following you, we receive everything back from your gracious hand. Help us let go of all which would hinder us. 

Image: The Ancient Galilee Boat in Yigal Allon Museum Kibbutz Ginosar, August 16, 2017 (photo by me).

Inauguration

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” 1 Timothy 2:1-2

Today is Inauguration Day. In a few hours, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in as the President and Vice President of the United States. Last night’s COVID memorial ceremony provided insight into the way they will lead. They showed compassion and empathy. Mr. Biden’s words were straightforward and true: “To heal, we must remember.” In those five words, he showed that he cares about both healing and the truth. To remember is to be honest about what has happened, both the joys and the sorrows, and to use that truth as a starting point for what comes next, the starting point for healing.

Today, I pray for our new President and Vice President. I pray that they will continue to lead with compassion and empathy, seeking healing and truth. I pray that they will ground themselves in godly wisdom. I pray that they will pursue what is right and, when they do not, that they will accept correction. I pray that they will be lifted up when they are discouraged. I pray that they will be both bold and humble in exercising their duties.

Scripture calls us to pray for those who lead. Reading Paul’s words to Timothy, you’ll note that we do not pray for our leaders simply for their sake, but for ours. We pray for those in high positions for the sake of those who are lowly, that together we might lead quiet and peaceable lives, marked by godliness and dignity. Paul’s words remind us that those in power ought not exercise power for the sake of power or self-enrichment. They are called to use their office for the sake of the powerless. I pray that this will be the case for the next four years. I also give thanks that these two leaders care about peace and dignity. May they be supported and sustained in seeking peace, working for justice, and governing for the benefit of all Americans.

I give particular thanks today for Vice President-elect Harris, whose life bears witness to my children, my daughter and my sons (and to all of us, really), that women belong in places of power, and that the voices of People of Color must be heard if we are to build a fair and just society.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

Lord of the nations, you call your people to work for justice and peace for all people. Create a greater equality in this land, with true freedom for all. Bless Joe and Kamala, and all those elected to positions of leadership, that they would faithfully fulfill their duties. Send forth your wisdom upon them, Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Photo of the White House at night, Rob Young, May 29, 2011 (used with permission).

United

“He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.'” Mark 8:29

Yesterday was the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter. Since 1908, this day has been the first day of an octave (eight-day observance) now known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In ends January 25 on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul.

What does it mean for Christians to be united? For what are we praying when we pray for Christian unity? Disunity has been present within the church since its earliest days. The disagreements between James and Paul, with Peter ping-ponging back and forth, are well documented in the New Testament. Today the church lives in a post-schism, still-reforming world. Denominations splinter and struggle for relevance. Where is our unity?

The first unity we have is that gifted to us by Jesus. He, as Peter confessed, is the Messiah. We are united because we are connected in Christ. This unity exists before and beyond our disagreements. We are one because Christ says we are one.

The second unity is the one for which we wait. Common to Christians is our hope for the world to come, the kingdom in which our disagreements will be drowned out by our songs of praise around the throne of the Lamb. When we get there, I can guarantee that we’ll all have been wrong about something. It will no longer matter.

The third unity lives between the other two. It is the unity for which we work. As those who are united by our common confession of Christ as Lord and who share the same eschatological hope, we are called to make our unity more manifest in the world today. This does not mean setting aside or papering over our differences. Quite the opposite. We are called to grapple with what it means to be followers of Jesus so that we might more faithfully live out this call. We are also called to be accountable to one another. Unity cannot exist apart from mutual accountability. We are called, too, to acknowledge that not every difference is a sign of division. Surely the Body of Christ has room for diversity, deep and wide. I love being a Lutheran, but the church would be a poorer place if everyone thought and acted just like me.

So, friends, pray for Christian unity. In thanksgiving, with hope, and for the sake of the work we share. The world needs us, church. In the name of the Messiah, united with the whole people of God, live your call.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

Gracious God, in this world of division you have united your people together in the Body of Christ. As with Peter and Paul, use us to bear witness of the crucified and risen Christ. Let us become living signs of our unifying love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Saint Peter, Marco Zoppo, circa 1468 (public domain).