Friday, February 26, 2021

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“Lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, reveals his thoughts to mortals, the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!” —Amos 4:13

If you were to ask me where I feel closest to God, I would have to say it is outdoors in God’s created universe. I am in awe of God’s majesty when I stand on the shore of the ocean or look up at the mountains. I soak up all the beauty and splendor when I am in a garden full of trees and flowers. I feel God’s peace when I go for a walk along a forested trail. I marvel at the sun and the moon, the stars and the planets adorning the heavens. I close my eyes and listen for God’s whisper when I feel a gentle breeze.

God’s world is filled with miraculous wonders, most of which we tend to miss because we are too focused on our problems and our worries. Or right now we are so focused on the inconvenience of the snow that we forget that the snow acts as insulation for tender roots and provides needed moisture for spring plants when it melts. It is all part of God’s plan for his creation. So the next time you are out enjoying nature (or even tempted to grumble about it), even if it is in your own backyard, stop and say, “Thank you, Lord, you and your creation are truly amazing!” Then feel the peace that follows. Amen.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.” —Matthew 14:20

The feeding of the 5,000 has to be in the top 5 miracles performed by Jesus during his earthly ministry. As I was rereading the verses today, what stood out to me was the placement of this story in Matthew’s Gospel. The account begins with Jesus hearing that his cousin John the Baptist has been killed by Herod. After hearing this terrible news, Jesus gets in a boat and heads off because he wants to be alone. Unfortunately for Jesus what seems to happen regularly happens again, and people get wind of where he’s headed and follow after him. Jesus’ time for solitude is put on hold as he begins healing the crowd and will go on to perform this amazing miracle.

As someone who cherishes the opportunity for solitude, I can’t help but feel convicted by Jesus’ response to this interruption. Rather than being irritated by it, he looks at those in the crowd and has compassion on them. We don’t read anything in the text that makes us think he’s doing it begrudgingly. Jesus isn’t making a show out of it so people recognize that he’s doing them a favor. He just begins to heal and tops it off with the astounding miracle of feeding the crowd with what little his disciples bring to him.

Jesus steps out of the boat and starts healing because he’s looking at the crowd through his Father’s eyes. His first priority each day is nurturing that relationship. By doing that, Jesus can weather the interruption and use it to bring glory to his heavenly Father. Today, let’s do the same and look with hopeful anticipation at the inevitable interruptions that await.

Monday, February 22, 2021

“Hannah made a vow, saying, ‘LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.’” —1 Samuel 1:11

I love this prayer because it’s so real.

Hannah was a woman living in the land of Israel in the time before Israel had a king. She was one of two wives of a man named Elkanah. Hannah and Elkanah had no children, but Elkanah and Peninnah, his other wife, did have children. Elkanah loved Hannah and treated her well (setting aside the minor fact that he had another wife), but Peninnah was cruel to Hannah, mocking her for not bearing children.

Hannah longed for a child—apparently a son, specifically—and she cried out to God, promising that if God would allow her to conceive and give birth to a son, she would dedicate the son to the Lord’s service. (The “no razor will ever be used on his head” is a reference to a particular set of vows some people, known as nazirites, made to God.)

Here’s what I love about this prayer: we can poke a bunch of holes in it (Why does Hannah care what Peninnah says? Does it make sense to bargain with God in this way? Why does she want a son instead of a daughter? Not having a child shouldn’t really create “misery,” should it? Surely being unable to conceive isn’t a sign that God has forgotten someone, is it?), but Hannah’s not worried about censoring her prayer so that it all passes theological muster. She’s speaking from her heart, an imperfect person in a painful situation in an unjust society in a broken world.

I think all of those objections to Hannah’s prayer mentioned in the previous paragraph are legitimate. This prayer is not a model in terms of its content. But it is a model in terms of its honesty. God has heard it all before. We can bring our flawed, broken, half-thought-through prayers to God. If we speak honestly to God and also listen to what he’s teaching us, over time God will shape our prayers to better match his truth. But the most important thing is to get started, to get the conversation going. That’s what prayer is: a real, honest conversation. So be real with God. Be courageous. Don’t forget to listen, but also don’t wait to talk until you’re sure you’ve got all the words and ideas worked out just right. Because you never will, which means you’ll be choosing not to talk to your Father in heaven. And that’s never a good thing.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” —Colossians 1:27

The mystery of God. How much do you feel you know about God and God’s will? When Job thought he had all the answers, God responded with a long lecture about how little Job actually did know or understand (see Job, chapters 38-41).

In my Lutheran theology class at seminary, we learned about Luther’s theology of the Hidden God vs. the Revealed God. Luther explained that God reveals himself to us through Jesus and through the words in the Bible, but God’s glory and majesty and wisdom are much greater than we could ever fully comprehend, so a part of God and God’s will for people and creation will always be beyond our understanding.  

Jesus once told his disciples that he spoke in parables because most people would not bother to try to fully understand what he was saying or even ask for an explanation. They were not like little children who love stories and love to learn; they had closed their minds to what Jesus was trying to reveal to them. Only those, such as the disciples, who stayed close to Jesus and listened to his teachings could even begin to understand. And even then the disciples would have to ask Jesus, “What does this mean?”

We are fortunate that God sent Jesus so we could even begin to understand. And every time we read the Bible, listen to a sermon, or attend a Bible study, a little bit more understanding is revealed to us. Yes, part of God’s will and God’s nature will always be a mystery to us. But we can relish in what we do know—the glory and hope that is revealed to us through Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. —1 John 2:2

I’m going to go out on a limb and declare that it’s pretty difficult to miss when someone is walking past you with the sign of the cross on their forehead. Because of this, I bet that on average, today is the day every year that those who follow Jesus most outwardly demonstrate their belief to the world around them. While I know that ashes aren’t necessarily an accurate barometer of the spiritual health or faith of those I pass, it’s hard not to feel a sense of encouragement and solidarity when I see others declaring that they follow Jesus as Lord. Conversely, lack of ashes can make me wonder about where a person is on the spiritual continuum. Do they follow Jesus but didn’t go to church yet? Did they follow Jesus but leave the faith? Do they practice another religion? Are they moving toward God or away from God? This verse from 1 John reminds me that solidarity and encouragement of fellow believers is a very good thing, but God’s intention is for every person to come to know Jesus, and we are invited to participate in making that happen. So may we remember to demonstrate our faith every day and in every encounter, especially when the ashes have been wiped away.

Monday, February 15, 2021

“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” —Luke 15:7

I have a list of missing items. As of this moment, it contains three items: (1) the sixth Harry Potter book, (2) a condenser microphone, and (3) some black Nike basketball shorts I had when I was in eighth grade. Given that I’ve already read the missing book and outgrown the missing shorts (probably, although given how baggy my clothes were in 1999-2000, it’s possible the shorts would now be too big rather than too small), it’s not such a bad list. My frustration comes less from really needing the missing items and more from the unanswered question of where on earth these things could have gone.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables about missing items: a missing sheep, a missing coin, and a missing son. Tucked in the center of this chapter is today’s verse, which makes explicit the point of the story: God is all about restoring lost people to his family.

If I were to find my missing book, mic, and shorts, I would be thrilled. I wouldn’t be angry at the book for having been lost in the first place. I’d just be happy to put it on the shelf where it belongs.

With people, however, we sometimes have competing emotions about those who haven’t found their way. Too often, we spend our mental energy making unhelpful comparisons with other people, building ourselves up by condemning others. “I may not be perfect, but I would never do that,” we think. Because we get a sick pleasure from these comparisons, there’s a part of us that doesn’t really want people to get their lives on track. And if they do, we comfort ourselves with the fact that we never sank to the depths that they previously inhabited.

But this attitude ends up getting us all off track. Because the God of heaven and earth is all about the restoration of lost people. In fact, the most dangerous situation is the one in which we imagine that we ourselves don’t need restoration. When we think we’re not in need of restoration and redemption, we cut ourselves off from the power of the God who longs to find us and heal us.

So may we celebrate with heaven that even people as lost as we are can be found!

Friday, February 12, 2021

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” —Proverbs 3:7

Last Sunday, Pastor Dan shared with us some passages from the book of Proverbs and how they are meant as instruction for us and a guide to God’s wisdom. For the verse from Proverbs today, I think it is helpful to look at the adjoining verses as well: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body” (Proverbs 3:5-8).

We learn so much through our life experiences and through our educational institutions, and can sometimes become arrogant about what we know or what we think we know. Yet when we seek out wisdom, we sometimes ignore the wisdom from the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments and how that wisdom can guide us to be better people, following God’s path for us. But looking at the verses above, we see that when we trust God and follow in his wisdom, it can be healing for us, easing our stress and giving us the strength and knowledge to deal with everyday life.

We all value wisdom, and I, for one, wish I had more of it. But what a blessing to be able to go to something as near to us as our Bible to gain insight when we need it! So, let us put our trust first in God, and then gain from the wisdom in the Bible. And may that wisdom help us to find peace and healing and insight from our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

Lately I’ve been wondering, at what point does a kid understand that the world existed before they did? Do babies/small children just assume that adults have forever existed at this exact height, age, etc.? Then I wonder, when they do comprehend that fact, is it a mind-blowing experience? 

I’m wondering this because as an adult, I regularly get dizzy when I pause and think about the age and scope of the universe. It gets even crazier when I think it in the context of today’s verse. That God has just always…been. That God just always will…be. 

The writer of Hebrews has been outlining that Jesus isn’t a new creation or a new addition to God’s plan. He’s a fresh revelation of the same God who promised long ago to conquer sin and put the world back together.

This permanence of God is what allows us to live in the confident hope that there is no struggle we face that can outlast God. Jesus always has been. Jesus always will be.  

Monday, February 8, 2021

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” —John 17:22-23

A couple years ago, I went with family on a tour of Wrigley Field. We got to stand on the right field warning track, got to sit in the press box, and got to try to avoid hitting our heads in the dugout. As we were walking out of Wrigley, Jade and I paused to take a look at the 2016 World Series trophy. It’s a beautiful piece of work featuring 30 gold-plated flags and a silver baseball. But the real beauty of it is the way it brings back memories of watching the Cubs win Game 7 of the Series, of not even trying to hold back tears of joy, of celebrating with my family. The trophy symbolizes victory and triumph and—even more powerfully—family and community. In some ways, it’s a glorious item that points beyond itself to glorious events and glorious memories.

When I think of “glory,” I tend to think of something like that trophy—of victory over opponents, of triumph, of something or someone standing out as better than the things or people to which they might be compared. I think of the celebration that comes when we know we’re on the victorious side.

What I don’t think about often enough when I think about “glory” is love. Today’s Daily Text verse from John’s Gospel is from Jesus’ prayer to the Father just before he is to face arrest and execution. In verse 22 Jesus says this amazing thing, that he has given to those who believe in him the glory that the Father has given Jesus. When I read this, my mind immediately goes to glory on the world’s terms—victories and status and riches. But that’s not the heart of what Jesus describes as glory. Glory in Jesus’ view is about unity and love.

Of course.

In Jesus we see with crystal clarity that the nature of God Almighty is eternal love. For all eternity the Father has loved the Son and the Son has loved the Father. Now Jesus, in communication with the Father, lets it be known to his disciples listening in that his people are, in being united to Jesus, also brought into that divine love. And in being brought into the divine love of God, we’re able to have complete unity with one another in that love.

This is one of the most lofty statements in all of Scripture about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. The glory of divine love is now available to us by following Jesus. So may we be encouraged to participate in that love more fully, in complete unity and purpose and joy. Amen.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ And the chains fell off his wrists.”  —Acts 12:7

When I think of the apostles, especially Peter and Paul, who were willing to risk imprisonment to spread the gospel, I can’t help but feel a little bit ashamed. I don’t have anyone threatening to throw me in prison for telling people about Christ, and yet I find I can sometimes be hesitant to do so if I sense that the person I am talking to might react badly. I have no problem talking about Christ with other Christians, but what about strangers? Or even non-believing friends and acquaintances? I sometimes find myself falling back to “well, they will know I am a Christian by my actions” when I could be sharing about Jesus.

But if I really want the light of Christ to shine through to all people, I need God to help me break out this self-made prison I have created. This place where I have locked up God’s message inside of me, hiding it from others. I need God to tap me on my side and wake me up. I need God to use me as a mirror so that when he shines his light on me, I can reflect it back on others. 

So, dear God, break me out of my self-made prison and make me courageous and fearless to spread your word. Shine your light upon me, release me from my chains, and set me on your path. For surely your message of salvation, love, and grace are worth sharing! Amen.