Prepare the Way

Prepare-the-Way-e1441988465670

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, here we are, the second week of Advent. We are still waiting. We are waiting for Christmas Day to arrive and the reminder of Christ that was born into this world to walk among us, both fully human and fully divine.

In the midst of this waiting we find ourselves making preparations. We are good at preparing for things. We prepare ourselves for the first day of school. We prepare ourselves to go on vacation and make arrangement for things to be taken care of when we are not home. This season we are preparing for Christmas and all of the joy that it may bring. May of our local communities have had their parades and tree lightings and we are starting to hear of gatherings to celebrate this time of year. We are in the midst of holiday concerts, like the community choir concert and the upcoming concerts at our local schools. At times it is easy to say that we are caught up in the busyness of the season. We can get ourselves so wrapped up in the preparations at times that we can forget the most basic things in life.

In the midst of this Advent season we still have terror and violence residing within our world. This past week we have been shocked by to more mass shootings in Savanah, Georgia and San Bernardino, California. We wonder when it is going to end and if we can have a voice in anyway that may make a difference. Yet we still are waiting and in the meantime we find ourselves in preparation.

Luke, being one of the most scholarly Gospel authors, presents us this morning with a lesson with history as its basis. H e adds historical reference to his Gospel so that we may be able to locate the time of the gospel story he writes. Perhaps, her is preparing for the future readers of his Gospel and providing a basis for us to place the happenings in a historical context. Luke’s lesson this morning speaks of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus. This is after the birth narrative and both John and Jesus are grown men. Jesus is about to begin his ministry.

What a fitting inclusion in our Advent lessons though. The preparations take place for Jesus to come into this world as we await the story of Mary and Joseph searching for a place to stay. We are all in the midst of preparation.

In the midst of John’s preparation we are fully aware of his backstory. We know that he is the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah. We know that before his birth that he was already set apart to be a prophet, as the Song of Zechariah informs us in Luke chapter 1. We know that he is to go before the Lord and Prepare the way.

It is very possible though that the majority of people in Israel have no idea of what is going on. This strange guy, named John, comes out of the wilderness to speak of a Messiah that is supposedly on the way. Who is to say that he is just another one of these false prophets, a street corner preacher, speaking nonsense. He most likely is ridiculed and disregarded by many, but also is starting to gain a gathering and his own disciples as well.

Things have changed today. Christianity is now established as the largest religion in the world. We have thousands of denominations and even more leaders within those denominations that all have their own theologies and beliefs. The church, much like John, is not taken seriously all of the time either. The church is not fully respected and is at times disregarded by those that are not a part of the church. Often times we cause this ourselves. We argue with one another about who is right and wrong while forgetting some of the most basic teachings of Jesus.

In the midst of this though God is at work. As we make our preparations, God is at work. And the amazing thing is that God is at work in the least likely of people. God was at work in John the Baptist, this strange guy that wanders out of the desert proclaiming a message of repentance and baptism. John could have possibly been laughed out of the towns that he went into preaching, yet God was present with him. In the strength that he gathered from God, he continued on his journey, in his calling to prepare the way.

God regularly chooses people whom the world sees as insignificant though whom do marvelous things. Mother Theresa reached out to the poor and the needy and touched many people through her simple acts of kindness throughout the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a movement that would change the direction of race relations in this country. Malala Yousefsai was shot in the face to be silenced, but now is a Nobel Peace Prize winner advocating for the education of young girls. The ELCA’s Nadia Bolz-Weber, tattoos and all, is not your first thought as you think of an ELCA pastor. But she has influenced many people and just published her own book, titled Accidental Saints, naming those that God is working in and through.

These are just a few people whom God is working through that may at first glance surprise us. In this Advent season I am sure we can think of hundreds, if not thousands of more people of faith to give thanks for and are preparing the way.

We do not have to be anything special to proclaim God’s Word. We do not need to be on a Who’s Who list of Christian leaders. God is calling us into action and preparation using the gifts and talents that we already have. Those gifts that God has given us. We may see God at work in all aspects our lives; our jobs, family, and civic life. God is working through people all around us in the least likely of ways.

So, this Advent, as we are waiting, I encourage you to look around. Where this past week have you seen an activity in which God was using someone or a group of people to help care for the world in the midst of its brokenness?

As we continue on in John’s ministry to prepare the way, part of it is to see God at work in our midst. Yes, there are horrible things that are happening around the world and even in our own country. I am positive though that we can witness God in many more things then things where evil reigns.

We are chosen by God to do wonderful things. Each of us this Advent Season can do marvelous acts of love for our neighbors and brothers and sisters. May we share the gifts of Grace from God that are freely given to us. In Advent, we may wait, but it is in the hope and promise of the cross that we are made free.

Advent Devotions December 6

adventcandles2

Philippians 1:8-11

For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

How does one become pure and blameless? This is the challenge that Paul has placed to the Philippians in the beginning of his letter to them. He is already quite proud of the work that is being done in Philippi and prays that they continue in their practices that they are doing. In this time of waiting we have the time to do many things. We prepare for Christ as John the Baptist does in one of our other accompanying readings today.

We have been making preparations for the last month probably and many of our are just waiting to be able to celebrate with neighbors, friends, and family during this season. From Thanksgiving meals to New Year’s celebrations we have many opportunities to gather and be together. As part of these preparations, how have we kept God in our daily activities and continued in daily prayer? As we celebrate this season, let us also strive to deepen our relationship with God. It is here that we work toward the righteousness of God.

Let us pray. Pure God, be with us this month of celebration and parties. Let us not lose sight of our relationship with you and draw us closer. AMEN.

 

Advent Devotions December 5

advent1

Luke 1:68-79

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

As I do my personal daily devotions this passage is always a part of my Matins (morning prayers). This Song of Zechariah, which is also known as the Benedictus, is historically a part of Matins within many communities.

It speaks today to the Advent season and the place that John the Baptist has within the story of Jesus. As John prepares the way for the coming of the Messiah we get this announcement from his father that he will be the prophet to prepare the way. We all have high expectations for our own children and it is here that Zechariah shares his, which he has received from God.

This sounds like a lot of pressure to put upon one child, yet as we read ahead a couple of chapters in Luke we know that he is up to the task at hand. Many times we want our children to be the “one” with it all that is in charge and is looked up to and admired by everyone else. John is in a place of honor simply by preparing the way and being the prophet of the Most High. May we be so proud to proclaim the gospel of Jesus as well.

God of Light, we pray that as we move forward into this Advent season that you continue to guide and lead us so that we may follow the example of John the Baptist and continue to prepare the way of the Messiah. AMEN.

Advent Devotions December 4

advent1

Philippians 1:20-24

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.

The greetings Paul brings to the Philippians makes them aware of his current situation and the hopes that he has for them. The hope that he speaks of is the hope that we have for the world and one that rings louder during our time of Advent. We wait anxiously for the coming of Christ, and in the midst of the violence that we hear about daily it is nice to hear Paul’s words knowing that in Christ is gain.

The boldness in which Paul speaks should be an example for the world today as we boldly proclaim the Gospel in our communities. We must not be ashamed of the message that we have to share and shall remember that Jesus too was not welcome in his hometown of Nazareth. The hope that comes to us in the Word is one that needs to be loudly proclaimed in the midst of everything that occurs in our world today.

Empowering God, we ask for boldness today as we go out to proclaim your Gospel and ask that you may lead and guide us on the path. May the hope that breaks through during Advent enliven us to preach boldly. AMEN.

Advent Devotions December 3

advent1

Philippians 1:12-14

I want you to know, beloved that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.

Is Paul just trying to look at the positive side of being imprisoned? It is true that the spread of the Gospel did increase greatly during the time he was imprisoned and may have gave others courage to continue in its proclamation. Others though may have been discouraged for fear of the same thing happening to them.

In the United States, we really do not know what it means to be a martyr or what that looks like within our current culture. That does not mean that it does not happen around the world in other places where Christianity is not the majority faith. We pray for those in countries where it is dangerous to carry one’s Bible or speak of Jesus Christ. They may also be emboldened by Paul’s words throughout his many letters.

In our country there is a vast apathy for social justice. We like to assure that we are taken care of, narcissism at its best, and push off those causes around the world that do not affect us. Jesus was not afraid to speak up in these circumstances though and neither was Paul. What cause do you choose to support this Advent season?

God, may you guide us on the right path in caring for our neighbors and brothers and sisters around the world. May we banish apathy with love and turn towards you in all we do. AMEN.

A New Beginning

every_end_is_a_new_beginning-by-lifelotus

This post is a partial book review and also a look towards the future. We each have unique paths and journeys that we take as we listen to where God may be calling us in life, that is if we choose to listen. Beginning a new call brings many questions as one starts to get acquainted with his/her surroundings. I recently finished the book, Ten Commandments for Pastors New To A Congregation by Lawerence W. Farris. Like the previous book I read regarding new calls, this has some great points and ones that may be off the mark slightly. My thought is that I would review the Ten Commandments as Farris lays them out.

  1. Thou Shalt Be a Cultural Historian. Get to know the history of the congregation that you are serving. From its very beginnings to the present day. What areas of conflict have occurred within the church and what are some of the ministries that people are passionate about. I am still in the midst of this, as I believe this can take months, possibly even years to fully understand the workings of each individual congregation.
  2. Thou Shalt Spend Thy Blue-Chips for Change on Changes that Matter. Do not fight those fights that are not worth it. Ones that are only going to hurt people in the long run or cause a rift within the congregation. We all make mistakes at times and I am sure I have done my fair share of breaking this commandment. You can find out where to spend those blue-chips simply by listening.
  3. Thou Shalt Attend to Thy Preaching. This is the ministry that I am called to, Word and Sacrament. If I do not spend the proper amount of time in study and preparing to bring the word to my congregation then I am failing in living up to my call.
  4. Thou Shalt be Certain the Church’s Financial House Is in Order. Most churches do not have professional accounting services preparing their books. This falls to the hands of members of the congregation who may or may not be trained to handle such responsibilities. My business acumen helps me in this regard and I believe that all pastors should have a basic knowledge of accounting and finances. You also need to be forward in asking for information when seeking a new call so that you know the situation you are stepping into.
  5. Thou Shalt Not Create Expectations Which Cannot Be Met in the Long Term. This can be tough, as being a pastor is a vocation which involves being with people and at times we receive very little feedback as to how our ministry is progressing. We must be careful and set realistic boundaries so that we do not set ourselves up for failure in the future. Self care is very important.
  6. Thou shalt take care of Thyself from Day One. A pastor can only successfully pastor to her congregation as long as she is healthy. It is imperative that self-care is a part of the call and the congregation realizes the need for this as well. One such way I have found is to join a local gym in which I pay a monthly fee and it is enough motivation for me to go at least three times a week so that I do not waste that money that I spend for the membership. Taking care of oneself also included caring for one’s family.
  7. Thou Shalt Be Aware of the Chronics. There are members within each congregation that are constantly coming to the leaders needing something; it may even just be acknowledgement of what they are doing. These members require a lot of time and therefore take away from other possible ministerial tasks. We must not avoid the chronics, because they do need love as well, we just need to be self-conscious of the time spent with them and learn when to direct them to other appropriate forms of help if needed.
  8. Thou Shalt Limit Thy Activities beyond the Congregation that has Called You. I don’t believe this is a commandment that needs to be followed throughout the entire ministry at one congregation. I have learned though that one can easily get involved in too many things and other things begin to suffer, often times at the expense of personal self-care or time with family. I truly believe it is essential to be involved in the community in which you pastor. First and foremost, it is important to get to know your people.
  9. Thou Shalt Remember What Thy Job Is. We are called to a ministry of Word and Sacrament and within these there are other responsibilities in which we take part. However, you are not the only person in the congregation capable of doing things. I have learned that you must at times stand back and let the people of God do God’s work.
  10. Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery. This seems like an obvious commandment to follow. Of course there is the sexual kind of adultery and unfortunately to many pastors fall to this. However, we can also over commit and let go of our commitments that matter most, our spouse and children. Are you also keeping committed to your beliefs and not wavering?

Farris leads the reader through his book in a quick and fulfilling way. I pray that as a pastor I am able to stick to these commandments and also continually self-check so that I can ensure that I am on the right path. This is a must-read for new pastors and would not hurt call committees to read as well.

Advent Devotion December 2

advent1Luke 11:29-32

When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!

While we are saved by grace, we are still called to repentance for our sins and things that we have done and have left undone. This first week of Advent encourages us to repentance for all of our sins.

The sign of Jonah could be referring to Christ’s death on the cross and being dead for three days as it reflects the amount of time that Jonah was within the belly of the big fish. Also, in the story of Jonah we witness the entire repentance of the people of Nineveh. It is in this that I believe we are called to today. As we read through the paper, watch the news on television, or possibly even scroll through the newsfeed on our favorite social media account we are bombarded with what appears to be bad news. The good news far outweighs the bad, unfortunately it is the bad that is always making the headlines.

These are the sins of the world and a sign of the brokenness that we live amongst. May we repent of all of these and have a active voice in the areas that drive our passions. It can also be in our inactions that we promote the very thing that we are against.

Forgiving God, we pray for peace in the world so that generations to come will not experience bloodshed and war. We pray that in this time of Advent we may be a voice for those that cannot be heard. AMEN

Advent Devotion December 1

advent1

Second Samuel 7:18-21

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God; you have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come. May this be instruction for the people, O Lord God! And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord God! Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have wrought all this greatness, so that your servant may know it.

A line in this passage reminds me of my walk with the Order of Lutheran Franciscans. David asks, “Who am I, O Lord God?” That question has been implanted with me since I began the journey this previous January. This question is one that St. Francis asked himself often, “Who am I, and who are you?” These are not bad questions, and I believe they get us right down to the heart of things. In these questions we want to know more. We open ourselves up to the curiosity of what it means to be a child of God. We are constantly on a self journey to determine who we are and where God is calling us to action within our own lives. It may seem a bit preposterous to ask God, “Who are you?” Whether, we state it aloud or not, I believe we all have that question pop up in our minds from time to time. Don’t we get to know people better if we find out a little about them and what drives them as people, what they are passionate about. I believe we can get to know God on the same level. We just have to listen.

Almighty, may you open not only our ears to hear your proclamation, may you also open our hearts, mind, and soul to experience your unending grace. This Advent season may we enter into a deeper relationship with you. AMEN

Advent Devotion November 30

advent1

Psalm 90:1-2

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Our current history that we are aware of as humanity is the smallest of percentages when compared to the fact that the earth is well over 4 billion+ years old. The universe as we know it is probably closer to 13 billion+ years old. God has been present from the very beginning and it is in this that we place our faith and trust in the promise of God. The promise that all of creation will be restored and we will come into a time of peace. Creation itself is one of the great mysteries of God and one that leaves many of us slack-jawed at its never-ending beauty. Not only has God had a hand in the mountains and the valleys, the undulating oceans and the flowing streams, but God continues to create and recreate. The eternal nature of God is one of presence throughout the ages; the one who is, who was, and who is to come.

Creating God, we give thanks for the dwelling place and refuge that we can take in your creation. May we rightly care for the creation that has been given to us so that future generations will be able to appreciate its beauty. AMEN

Advent Devotion November 29

advent1

Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

We enter this Advent season in the midst of a world that is broken. Nothing is truly any different than it was back in Jesus’ time or even Martin Luther’s time. We have always been at war with one another. Tribe against Tribe. As we enter this Advent season though we are reminded once again of the promise that God has made to God’s people. The promise that Jeremiah speaks of is still valid today and if we look around us we can see glimpses of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, fulfilling the promise that God has made to us from the beginning of creation. It can be seen in this season of giving as we reach out to help our sisters and brothers in our own communities or in the greater global community. How can you be the hands and feet of Christ in our world today and during this festive season?

God, we ask that you stir up within us the desire to help our neighbors nearby and far away. As we enter this Advent season may we take time to reflect on your Word and be still in you. AMEN