Monday, March 29, 2021

His servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.

—Revelation 22:3-4

In Exodus 3, when Moses hears God calling to him from a burning bush, Moses instinctively hides his face, afraid to look directly at God. Many chapters later, after Moses encounters God on Mount Sinai, he descends from the mountain “radiant”—to a degree, in fact, that the people of Israel are afraid to come near him. And at the opposite end of your Bible, in the book of Acts, when Saul encounters the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, he receives temporary blindness and a permanent new purpose and name. As we read in today’s text from Revelation, the author John proclaims, “[God’s] servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”

I wonder what would have happened to Moses had he not averted his eyes; what would he have seen? I wonder what exactly it was about Moses’ incandescence, as he returned from the mountaintop, that caused the Israelites to keep a safe distance. What did the light that Paul saw look like, and what precisely did John see on the foreheads of those who served God?

There’s a mystery and a sort of “you had to be there” element in all of these accounts. But one theme is prominent: there’s something about encountering God that leaves us both utterly awestruck and indelibly changed.

I have not heard God’s audible voice and I have never yet had anyone tell me I have that just-saw-Jesus glow about me. Perhaps you have had dramatic and pivotal moments of encountering God; or perhaps, like me, you’ve acquired a lifetime of experiences, each of which revealed more and more of God’s awe-inspiring face. Either way, those encounters have shaped who we are and continue to transform us.

What’s interesting to me is that in each of these biblical accounts about seeing God’s face or God’s glory, the change is outwardly discernible. Those who encounter God don’t just feel different; they look different. (And, in Moses’ case, it was the reaction of others that alerted him to his own transformation.)

This common thread causes me to question my own “appearance”: do the people I meet see God’s brilliance reflected in me? How might I open myself up to let other people observe God’s transformative power in my life? How might I glow with God’s astonishing glory, goodness, and love in ways that are unmistakable to everyone I meet? How might God’s glory radiate from me not just in what I say, but in who I am and how I live?

Wonderful God, may I approach you with awe and humility fitting to who you are. Continue to reveal your face to me so that I might more boldly reflect you in the world.


Friday, March 26, 2021

“Yet I planted you as a choice vine, from the purest stock. How then did you turn degenerate and become a wild vine?” —Jeremiah 2:21

Today’s devotion was written by Deacon Karen Katamay

One of my favorite places to shop is a garden center. I love strolling through the wide variety of flowers and other plants available and imagining them in my garden. Many of the plants have been bred to display favorable characteristics, or a vine with a favorable fruit may be grafted on to a hardier rootstock.

The specialized breeding can be desirable when first planted, but sometimes seeds from plants that have been genetically altered will revert back to the characteristics of the base plant over time. Or a cultivated vine may eventually become a wild vine if it is not properly tended.

The Bible uses a lot of natural images to help people understand God’s message to us. In this particular passage, the prophet Jeremiah is sending a warning to the people of Israel about letting themselves become corrupted by other cultures around them. They were God’s chosen people, his own special cultivar, his own pure stock. But when they intermingled with other kingdoms and cultures, they began to drift away from God and follow the religious customs of the other nations. They became like a wild vine in God’s garden, seeking their own way.

Today we do the same thing when we allow the things of this world to distract us and keep us from a close relationship with God. We know what God expects of us and the people he wants us to be, and yet we drift away and do what we want instead. We become like that wild vine, seeking our own path.

So how do we get back to being that choice vine in God’s garden? By going back to our root which is God, and nurturing our growth with the living water of Christ. God wants us to grow and flourish and we can best do that when we center ourselves in Christ and follow in his ways. And when we do that, we will be the fruitful vine that God wants us to be! Amen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

God blessed them, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” —Genesis 1:28

I recently watched a comedy news program that discussed plastic waste and how surprisingly little of it can actually be recycled. A couple of not-so-comedic points stuck with me. First, I learned that in the Pacific Ocean, there’s a garbage patch full of plastics that is larger than the combined area of France, Germany, and Spain; and it’s still growing. I also learned that by 2050, the ocean is expected to hold more plastics than fish.

Humanity has done an abysmal job at carrying out God’s instructions to hold authority over creation. 

Hearing facts and projections like the ones above leaves me feeling angry (how could the people in charge allow this to get so out of hand?), guilty (I use and dispose of plastics every day!), and overwhelmed (when the problem is this huge and this rampant, what hope do we have to turn anything around?).

While we are always called to lives of introspection, confession, and repentance, Lent is a season when we are especially mindful of these behaviors. At this time of year, we reflect differently on our desperation for a savior. While I tend to reflect and seek forgiveness individually, when I consider the abuse we have done to God’s perfect creation, I am reminded to ask for mercy and forgiveness for humanity collectively. I am keenly aware of our need for redemption when I see where sin is so tightly woven into our daily lives that we can’t imagine how possibly to free ourselves from it. Together, we commit large-scale sins that have global and irreversible consequences. When we confess, we can confess both our own sins and the sins of humanity.

Feeling overwhelmed at the scale of a problem like plastic waste can cause me to throw my hands in the air and give up any sense of personal responsibility. After all, the problem is so large that we need powerful leaders and industries to fix these things, not me. And it’s true—problems this large cannot be solved by only individual efforts. But, in today’s Scripture reading, we remember that God gave large-scale instructions for the care of the planet to two individuals: Adam and Eve. He charged just two people with what would ripple into a global responsibility. God speaks the same instructions to me and you. I cannot, by myself, remove plastics from the ocean, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything. That doesn’t mean I don’t have the ability to influence those who hold power. That doesn’t mean I ignore God’s instruction to steward Creation to the best of my ability. You and I, as Adam and Eve, bear God’s image. God is a creator who breathes life into God’s creation, and we are made to imitate these creative and life-giving qualities.

Our individual behaviors, however small, do matter. Individual behaviors, collectively, change outcomes. Individual behaviors, collectively, change societal norms. 

Lord, have mercy on us. May we take more seriously our individual and collective obligations to your creation. Amen.