Monday, November 30, 2020

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. — Romans 8:33


How do you feel when you read that word?

My guess is you get a negative vibe. We tend to use the word negatively: We don’t want to be (or be around) someone who’s judgmental. We avoid situations in which we feel “judged.” We complain about our friend whose comment sounded “a little judgy.”

The word “judgment” is a fairly neutral term. After all, in a courtroom, someone can be judged either guilty or innocent. But we tend to equate the word “judgment” with condemnation. And for this reason, we don’t like the idea of being judged.

This negative connotation can complicate our understanding of God as our judge. We presume God’s judgment is a declaration of guilt. Now, make no mistake: we should take seriously God’s authority to declare our guilt; we should not take lightly the weight of our sin. But, because of who God is and how God chooses to interact with us, God’s status as our judge is very good news. It is good news because, as Paul says in today’s passage, “It is God who justifies.” 

What is justification exactly? N.T. Wright explains that justification is “God’s declaration, from his position as judge of the world, that someone is in the right, despite universal sin.” Set right.

Today’s passage is nestled in a progression of statements from the apostle Paul about the completeness of God’s justification. Paul assures us that God has definitive say in who we are. Only God. The truth is we are sinful. And the truth is God has taken our sin upon himself, through Jesus’ death on the cross, to declare us forgiven, chosen, and beloved. Because of God’s judgment, we are in good standing with him. Set right. Praise God for that.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you.” —Psalm 38:9

“You know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” —James 1:3

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and a reminder that I have so much to be thankful for! Thank you, Lord! Yet mixed in with all my gratitude is a bit of impatience and frustration that we are still dealing with the COVID virus and its toll on our lives and on the lives of all around us. Why Lord, why are we still dealing with this?

In an age of instant gratification, it is hard sometimes to be patient. That patience gets tested even further if you are unemployed or underemployed and struggling to make ends meet, or if you or someone you love is ill. Or it could be something else that you long to happen, but it still eludes you. Waiting can feel like a test of faith. Sure, God could solve all our problems with a blink of an eye and does perform miracles at times, but if he did this all the time, what would we learn? God wants us to learn to work together and help each other. He wants us to show kindness and caring and compassion for one another. And carrying the yoke of Jesus does build strength and endurance and teaches us patience.  

So, Lord, I am thankful that my sighs are not hidden from you and that you know my heart and my worries. But most of all, I am grateful that no matter what I face in my life, both good and bad, you are there with me. And for that, I will always be grateful. Amen.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Today’s bonus reflection is by Petra Rickertsen, a member of the Redeemer community and Coordinator of Network Engagement for ELCA World Hunger. This reflection is not on one of today’s Daily Texts, but on the nature of family in God’s kingdom. This will also appear as an article in the upcoming edition of ELCA World Hunger’s magazine, LifeLines. Thank you to Petra for sharing with us!

“Jesus replied to them, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” —Matthew 12:48-50

What three words come to mind when picturing the holidays? Even when accompanied by lighthearted commentary about tolerating certain family members’ irritating qualities, for many, “family” makes the cut. The ever-present “family” theme in holiday stories, movies, and advertising could justify one reason why, but the theme wouldn’t resonate so well if it didn’t ring true for most Americans. 

In movies, characters who come together for Christmas work to quell the arguments, set aside differences in opinion, and look past clashes of personality in the name of enjoying the holidays. Some people might do this in their real lives, because they think they can’t change their family or feel societal pressure to set aside differences and come together.

Letting go of the narrow definition of family as “those with whom we share blood” allows us as Christians to embrace more fully our “kin-dom of God” family. We practice this when we welcome children of God of all ages into the family through baptism and into the mission we share. 

When someone told Jesus his mother and brothers were arriving, even He replied: “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”

Living as “little Christs” then (for this is what the word “Christian” means, coming from the Greek christianos), our family is everyone who lives with us in Christian mission. 

Yet, what does it mean to make a congregation one’s family?

Rev. Mollie defines family in two “prongs”: one of origin; one of choice. Rev. Mollie embraces chosen family at Lord of Life (Thousand Oaks, CA), with whom she connected as a college student and still feels most “comfortable and purposeful.” After cutting ties with family of origin, this is no metaphor: this congregation is her family. “They’ve modeled for me what radical hospitality and acceptance looks like, and what it means to not settle for anything less than you deserve. Everyone needs and deserves to be loved, and if your family of origin doesn’t do that…your chosen family is waiting to be made.” 

“Beyond the sense of biological, I believe that family also expands to include those who offer support, guidance, and grace,” offers Louis. “That calling that we all have in different ways” first called Louis to the congregation, now family, of Living Lord Lutheran Church (Lake St. Louis, MI). For Louis, this calling manifests in journeying with others through life in its fullest expression: from celebrating anniversaries and baby showers, to the blessing of being with people as they journey out of this life, then celebrating their life thereafter. It’s not exclusively sharing these life-altering experiences that makes congregation family, though; it’s also the way being present with the people is an opportunity for the Spirit to move. “When I am comfortable and thus able to take people into the Gospel in ways that they haven’t been able to before—that is when I know that I have found a family with the community.” 

People of Pilgrim Lutheran Church (Chicago, IL) form Betty’s calling to the church family too. Betty’s blood relatives don’t let her help them, and don’t help her either. But when Betty offers to take care of the kids during worship services and make bread pudding for the annual holiday picnic, to name a few ways she wants and knows she can use her God-given gift of care, the congregation in whom she’s found a family graciously accepts. Because her church celebrates her gifts of helping others instead of dismissing her, Betty shares, “being in church with the people makes me happier.”

Perhaps a congregation being one’s place to turn for the holidays doesn’t mean they will become “family,” because the word itself is too damaged from broken relationships. Dr. Peter Carlson, Associate Professor of Religion at California Lutheran University, adds that a congregation should never self-title themselves as family to another because it looks like they need it for the holidays. But Dr. Carlson continues that when people of a congregation welcome people of God’s kin-dom to Christ’s table—not just at the altar, but also at our home dinner tables or physically distanced picnics—throughout the year, “maybe…then when the holidays come around, those of us whose lives are lived on the edges and in those in-between spaces, for whom “family” and “home” are damaged goods, might experience something new and redemptive. We might have to come up with new words to describe it, but it will be available to us, and will be safe, and filled with nourishing love.”

Sincere thanks to Rev. Mollie (San Diego, CA), Louis Mohlman (St. Louis, MO), Betty Ramos (Chicago, IL), and Dr. Peter Carlson (Oxnard, CA) for sharing your stories. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

As for those who in this present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that is really life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

This week, all around the country people will pause, even if it’s just briefly, and thank God for what they have. It will be especially striking to those of us who have not experienced loss or extreme hardship while navigating the pandemic. This passage from Timothy reminds me that as a follower of Jesus, my task each day is to give thanks for what God has provided. 
Notice that Paul doesn’t suggest that those “who are rich in this present age” get rid of all their possessions. Paul doesn’t call on those who are “rich in this present age” to not enjoy what they have. 

Is it possible God may call on us to do this? Yes. Remember, Jesus saw how the rich man made an idol out of money and called on him to sell everything he had, give his money away, and follow Jesus.  

But assuming God isn’t calling you to do that right now, the point is that what we have been given is to be handled with care and treated with respect. Remember, if you are a follower of Jesus, what you have been given has been given not because you deserve it, not because you earned it, and not because you were owed it. We are called to enjoy what we’ve been given, but more importantly we are called to remember who gave it. To embody the qualities of the giver and participate in God’s work in the world. 

Throughout the rest of this week, let us work to demonstrate generosity, extend grace, and live with awareness that the greatest gift that one can be given is that of eternal life.  

Friday, November 20, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“He changes times and seasons, deposes kings and sets up kings.” —Daniel 2:21

“Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name?” —Revelation 15:3-4

How election weary are you? I sure am! All the intense emotions, misrepresentations, and distortion of facts that turned people against each other and divided families, friends, and communities. Even as we long to return to normal with the pandemic, I also long for a return to kindness, compassion, and caring for all God’s people, regardless of who they voted for.

After all, there can be only one King and Lord, and that is Jesus. We can elect people to guide us and lead us in the ways of our country and world, but it is God who has the true power. God is the one who changes time and seasons. God is the one doing great and amazing deeds in our lives and in the world. God is the one giving us strength and wisdom to deal with the pandemic and inspiring the scientists who are developing the vaccines and cures. God is the one whose ways are just and true, and God is the only one worthy of our worship.

Next week, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, let us remember that and give thanks that we have a God of love and grace who is truly amazing! Thank you, Lord! Amen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

We must obey God rather than any human authority. Acts 5:29

Lately I’ve been thinking about those things in my life that have slowly worked their way into an elevated position in my day to day. How tightly do I cling to money? If I were to loosen my grip, do I trust that God would provide? If I were to completely and forever commit to eliminating behaviors that are contrary to the life God calls me to, do I think the life Jesus offers would be better?

When my mind is clearest, when I am oriented toward God, I am able to see these things as they are, idols. They are false Gods. They are lords that I have elevated to the point of having dominion over my life.

For each of us, these lords rob us of the life the Lord of Lords intends for us to live. The call of every Jesus follower is to turn back and orient ourselves toward God. So today, let us subject ourselves not to the lords that rob us of joy, but the to the Lord who brought joy to this world through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son.  

Monday, November 16, 2020

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” —Leviticus 19:18

Early in the Old Testament, we find the story of the Exodus. We’re told that the Lord liberated his chosen people from bondage in Egypt and led them on a journey toward the land he’d promised to their ancestor Abraham’s descendants. While in the desert on the way to what would be their new home, God formed them into a people, a nation set apart from the other nations, a people who would be holy (which means “set apart”) just as their God is holy.

In today’s verse, God gives the people this great, central commandment. Centuries later, Jesus would cite this as one of the two greatest commandments, along with loving the Lord with all that we have and everything we are.

Or perhaps it’s better to think of these as two parts of the same commandment. That’s certainly what it looks like here in Leviticus. Loving our neighbors as ourselves—and rejecting vengeance and grudges—is what we do precisely because of who our God is. The Lord is the Lord., the One who heard the cries of his people and liberated them, the One who is slow to mercy and abounding in unrelenting love, the One who had a purpose for the nation he was creating. This holy people was to take its identity from this holy God, to be patient as God is patient and compassionate as God is compassionate. This holy people was also to recognize that God alone is the Lord. Judgment and vengeance are God’s alone. He alone is the righteous judge. The people were invited to walk in peace and trust because they knew they had a mighty God who cared for them.

When Jesus taught this same commandment, he reminded those who called him Lord that lordship is not acknowledged only with our voices, but also with our actions. When we creatively find ways to love our brothers and sisters, we acknowledge the One who is Lord over them and Lord over us.

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” May it be so, for he is the Lord.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring.” —Isaiah 44:3

“Peter said: ‘The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’” —Acts 3:39

Like the Apostle Peter said, the promise is for us, for our children, and for everyone far and near. God calls us all. These verses made me think back to my parents and grandparents and how they influenced my faith. My maternal grandmother would attend church services every Sunday and would write beautiful poems about God and her faith. My mother was the one who made sure we went to church every Sunday, even when we went on vacation. I didn’t mind. I have fond memories of ecumenical campfire services at places where we would go camping. Worshipping outside surrounded by God’s creation felt very natural and wonderful to me. My mother also modeled service for me, as she was always helping in one way or another at church.

God’s spirit poured over onto me through the faith of my ancestors and blessed me and my children. But God’s love is not confined to just my family. God’s love is for all people—for you, for your family, for your friends, and for all people all over the world. God calls to us all. All we have to do is listen for that call and believe and be blessed!  Amen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.” Proverbs 15:16

Fear is a tricky thing. It‘s meant to be a healthy deterrent to reckless or dangerous behavior that can cause great harm (hence my fear of roller coasters). More often, fear is a thing that consumes us, that keeps us from taking any risk or gets in the way of trust. 

Scripture tells us that appropriate fear, such as the “fear of the Lord,” is actually a benefit to us. When we have a proper sense of respect, awe, and wonder regarding who God is, we can trust that God’s desires for us are good. Moreover, it reminds us that God is God, and we are not.

I think most of the time when I get into trouble, it’s because I’m more concerned with what I think or with what others think than about what God thinks. 

I recently heard an interview with (now former) presidential candidate Kayne West, and he said it in a way that really resonated with me. He said, “…if you remove the fear of God, you create the possibility of fear of everything else.”

We live in a broken world so there are things to fear. But today let’s begin with the fear of the Lord, so those things that we shouldn’t fear can be put in their rightful place.

Monday, November 9, 2020

“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
    I was found by those who did not seek me.
To a nation that did not call on my name,
    I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’” —Isaiah 65:1

One of the really interesting social challenges that seems to have been exacerbated in the last several years is how to properly express tone of voice in written communication. I remember my little brother explaining to me once that responding to a suggestion with “yes” or “yeah” can make one seem reluctant, hesitant, or even sarcastic. I’ve read that people have started ending text messages with no punctuation because a period at the end of a sentence is sometimes perceived as unenthusiastic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been uncertain how to interpret the simple reply “sure.”

What’s lurking behind all of this is that we really don’t want to feel as if we’re imposing on someone, or insisting on something the other party isn’t really happy about. More dramatically, we don’t want to feel that we’re imposing ourselves on someone, or insisting on ourselves. The fear of rejection, the fear of not being liked or loved the way we like or love, is powerful. It affects so much of how we behave, not just in text conversations but in so many of our human interactions. It’s not uncommon for us to avoid an interaction altogether because we fear rejection.

Which makes it even more striking that God initiates relationship with people over and over, despite the long history of rejection. In this verse from the book of Isaiah, God describes his proactive mission to reveal himself to humanity, and specifically to his chosen and beloved nation of Israel. It’s not that they (or we) go looking for God. God comes looking for us.

God doesn’t let fear of rejection deter him from the relationship with us that he longs for. Instead, God creates the path to himself and leads us along it. When we ignore or reject God, God keeps waiting, keeps coming back.

If you haven’t been seeking God, if you haven’t been calling on God’s name, there’s good news: God is right beside you, right behind you, right in front of you, all around you, saying, “Here am I, here am I.”