Monday, April 12, 2021

Note: This will be the last of our three-times-a-week reflections on the Daily Texts. We began these as a way to help us stay connected while stay-at-home orders were in effect. Now, as the vaccination effort advances and we’re able to see the light of increased in-person connection at the end of this long tunnel—thanks be to God!—we’ll be ending these reflections. We, of course, encourage you to continue to make time for reflection on Scripture every day!

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” —Luke 2:29-32

There was a man living in Jerusalem named Simeon, a devoted follower of God. He was led by the Holy Spirit to the temple courts, where he saw Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus. God had revealed to Simeon that he would live to see the promised Messiah, and, when he saw Jesus, he knew this had indeed happened. That’s the context for his words in today’s verses.

What’s amazing about this reaction is that Simeon hadn’t seen Jesus do anything at all. Jesus was just a little baby. But the presence of Jesus was enough for Simeon to rejoice at the good work of God.

Simeon’s words were, of course, correct. In faith, Simeon could see who Jesus was and what Jesus would be for the world. Jesus was salvation from God, revelation to the Gentiles, and the light of glory for God’s beloved people Israel. The fact that Simeon was already proclaiming these truths is a reminder to us that the kingdom of God is not abstract or impersonal. The kingdom of God is just that: God’s kingdom, centered on the person of the Messiah, the King, Jesus of Nazareth.

May we always remember to look with joy and wonder at Jesus, and may we always see in him the salvation of God for this beloved world.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” —Isaiah 43:1

Last Sunday we celebrated Easter, the holiest day for Christianity. If Jesus had not died and risen again, defeating death and redeeming us from our sin, we would not be Christians today. But thank God the story did not end with his death on the cross! Thank God that he is most gracious and merciful and that he loves us enough “so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16b).

We do not need to be afraid when we believe in Christ, because God is always with us, no matter what we are facing in our lives. We only have to remember the Easter message and be reassured in God’s love and sacrifice for us. God loves each and every one of us and he calls us by name and we are his—forevermore! May the joy of Easter stay in your heart all year through! Amen.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Luke 6:28

Today’s verse is located in Luke’s account of the sermon on the mount. In it, Jesus calls his followers to forgive their enemies. Even though Jesus’ command makes total sense to me, I still find myself tempted to withhold forgiveness for certain people who have hurt me. I find myself wanting to read Jesus’ words as a suggestion that is to be implemented on a case by case basis. The problem is, we just celebrated Easter and to celebrate Easter we must remember that only three days earlier Jesus actually lived this command out when he forgave those who put him on the cross and into the grave.

Jesus went to the cross for you and me. Jesus went to the cross knowing how difficult it is to break out of the the cycles of sin that we find ourselves trapped in (not to mention the sins that we willingly walk toward committing). Jesus extended forgiveness all while knowing that we would live in a way that curses at the idea that God wants good things for us and that we abuse the gift of grace that has been extended because of Christ’s sacrifice.

Jesus modeled for us that it is possible to live this out this principle of forgiveness. Let’s work to embody this command today.

Monday, April 5, 2021

“Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” —Luke 24:26

Whenever I catch myself starting a sentence with “God must,” I pause and think about how to adjust or rephrase what I’m intending to say. Because God is perfectly free. There’s nothing at all that God, strictly speaking must do. Starting a sentence with “God must” is a good indication that I’m not talking about the God revealed in Jesus Christ, but instead I have in mind some kind of false god that is bound by something beyond itself.

And yet these words in Luke 24, from Jesus’ own mouth, refer to his own death as “necessary” (a good translation from the Greek account of Jesus’ presumably Aramaic words).

This doesn’t mean that there were some cosmic rules greater than God that God had to follow, and thus Jesus had to suffer the things he suffered. Rather, Jesus went on to explain to the men he was talking with that throughout the history of Israel, God had been working out this particular plan. God, in absolute freedom, chose to work out his rescue plan for creation in this way. Jesus’ suffering was necessary based on the plan that God had put into action; this was the Father’s will, carried out by his beloved Son.

Jesus did not go grudgingly to the cross. This was how he demonstrated his love for us, by suffering and dying and rising in victory over sin and death. Alleluia!

Friday, April 2, 2021

Today’s reflection is written by Deacon Karen Katamay.

“Christ is our peace.” —Ephesians 2:14

“Christ is our peace.” This short passage is a wonderful encapsulation of what Jesus gifted to us through his life, death, and resurrection. I invite you to also read the rest of the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, because the whole chapter summarizes the message of how God unites us and reconciles all of us through the cross. And the cross is the theme for this Good Friday—the cross where Jesus hung, condemned for the sins of the world, and died, so that we might live, before rising again, defeating death itself. How can we ever fully appreciate his sacrifice for us? How can we ever fully understand his willingness to suffer and die for us? He, who was without sin, dying for us sinners?

I would also like to share with you verses 4-7 of the second chapter of Ephesians: “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” 

It may be hard today to associate the violent suffering and death of Jesus with a message of peace, but it is precisely because of what Jesus did for us that we can have peace, knowing our sin does not condemn us and that God forgives us and loves us.  Our Redeemer lives, and what comfort and peace that sweet message is! Amen.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” —Luke 23:34

I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at forgiving people. Even when I’ve been really hurt by someone, with a little bit of time and distance, I find that I can let go. I just don’t like holding grudges. I think some of it has to do with my commitment to following Jesus, but when I look at how Jesus talks about forgiveness (for example: Matthew 18:21-22) and how he lives out forgiveness in the verse above, I can’t help but see that I have a long way to go before I’m really living like Jesus.

See, while I need time and distance to be able to forgive those who really hurt me, Jesus is ready to do it before he’s even suffered the full extent of what is to come. Remember, it’s after this prayer to his Heavenly Father that the people and soldiers mock him and it will be hours more before he takes his final breath. Jesus is extending forgiveness before he has even experienced the full brunt of humiliation and pain to come (a prayer of forgiveness that extended from that moment all the way out to today and until he comes again!).

Lord, may we embrace the forgiveness you offer so that so that we can give glory to you, by becoming more forgiving. Amen.

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.

Monday, March 22, 2021

“This poor man cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.” —Psalm 34:6

Abner Mikva told a story about trying to get involved in Illinois Democratic Party politics in the 1940s. When he went to the party office in his Chicago ward, he was asked who had sent him there. When he said nobody had sent him, the ward committeeman said, “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent.” This oft-repeated story illustrates the insular world of machine politics: it was all about who you knew.

There are lots of areas of life in which access is predicated on some kind of status. Jeff Bezos is probably more likely to be able to get 10 minutes on the phone with Jay Inslee than I am with J. B. Pritzker. That’s the way of the world.

But it’s not the way of the kingdom of God. In today’s verse, David the psalmist describes how he cried out to God when he was in great danger, on the run from King Saul. David would become a great king, but he recalled a time when he was a poor man, unjustly persecuted by the king he’d faithfully served, facing threats all around. As a “poor man” he cried out to God, and God heard him.

God does not reserve access for the elites of society, or the wealthy or beautiful or smart. There’s no need to put on airs with God. There’s no need to get references from higher-placed friends. In fact, these pretensions only serve to alienate us from God.

God is our Father. He wants us to talk with him, to cry out to him in our times of need. So today, whatever you face or whatever you need, bring it to your Heavenly Father.