February 1, 2022
Whose Body? Our Body!
by Phiwa Langeni
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:15-16 (NRSV)
In an effort to unite people, Paul likens differences to different parts of a body. I love how he doesn’t tell arms to be legs, or hands to be ears, or teeth to be toes. We cannot erase the differences between veins and arteries, even though they’re similar. And if we require a heart to be a brain, we put ourselves in grave danger. Likewise, if we erase the HIV+ parts or the disabled parts or the homeless parts of Christ’s Body, we cause trauma to the whole Body.
If it’s true that we’re one Body, then we’re called not only to acknowledge the Body’s many parts but also to honor the unique expressions of those Body parts. What if the Body of Christ unapologetically cared for its mentally ill parts and its youthful parts and its kinky parts and its rural parts and its non-binary parts and its parts of every language (spoken or signed)?
Whatever your color, race, ethnicity, and tribe may be, every ligament, bone, organ, and cell of your being is important to the Body’s existence—to our shared existence. We cannot be whole and healthy if you are not whole and well and included as an indispensable part of this, Our One Body.
Remind us, loving God, that umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu—we can only realize the fullness of our personhood with and through others. Amen.
February 2, 2022
Chicken Soup for the Soul
by Kenneth L. Samuel
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. – Psalm 32:3&5 (NIV)
As a prank in college, I, along with four of my senior class colleagues, conspired to steal the bell that was stationed at a corner of our college square. After we’d done the deed around 3 a.m. one morning, we delighted in hearing the utter befuddlement and bewilderment that characterized the responses of various students regarded the missing icon.
The plot was a great source of amusement until our senior class voted to contribute a sizable sum for the replacement of the bell. At that point I had to speak up, because I couldn’t rest well with the fact that my senior classmates were going to give good money to replace something that didn’t need replacement, but return.
I went to the class president and told her that the bell would be returned. Of course, I implicated myself … but I was so ready to be free from the guilt that I was happy to sing like a bird.
And I was relieved to deal with the consequences of my actions (which amounted to a stern reprimand; as it turned out, we weren’t the first seniors to pull that prank).
As I look back on the incident, my cover-up was as bad as—or even worse than—my misdeed itself.
Sin is an enticer. But after it entices us … it entangles us.
There is nothing that can free us from our conscientious entanglements like open, honest, full-throated confession. The truth about who we are and what we’ve done—even when we believe that what we did was harmless—is tonic for our souls.
Lord, help us to realize that even though we can live with cover-up and denial … we cannot live well. Amen.
February 3, 2022
by Rachel Hachenberg
I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything. On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. – Psalm 138:2-3 (NRSV)
I’ve started stretching in the mornings.
Sort of. Occasionally. If I’m not making a beeline for caffeine.
Easy, manageable, yoga-ish positions without the mats and cute outfits. Just me in sweats, gazing down at the dirt in my living room rug and up at the cobwebs along the crown molding. Then an inelegant roll and now my bum’s against the couch, legs propped up against the arm rest, and I’m making pathetic grunts as my hamstrings stretch.
On my better days, I try to pray through my stretches more than I groan. Most days I just groan.
But after my headrush clears from returning upright, I notice the miracle: Looseness. Deepened breathing. Shoulders dropped from my ears to their rightful resting place. Increased energy in the moment and throughout the day.
Bowing is good for my body and spirit. Stretching to the ground is healthy for my cranky spine. Inhaling slowly is sweetness for my anxious mind. Each pull against my body’s stiffness is a reminder that I am wonderfully finite—I am not trying to compete with, not even striving to impress, the One who is exalted above everything.
I am simply calling.
Welcoming the Strength that I know comes when I am patient, when I bow low and stretch wide.
You are a miracle, O God, breathing strength into our limited bodies, stretching our stiff spirits until they increase in humility and love. Over and over again, I will gaze at the dirt in the carpet to experience that miracle.
February 4, 2022
First Things First
by Anthony Robinson
Jesus said, “And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. Instead, strive for God’s kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” – Luke 12:29&31 (NRSV)
I was speaking at a conference where teams from a bunch of congregations had gathered. After a while, someone said, “Listen, the question for us is survival. Will our church survive? We don’t have many members. No young people. Our pews are emptying out and so is our bank account. We need you to tell us what to do to survive.”
I had to respect the pain and the earnestness. I knew the feeling was real and the anxiety genuine. I said, “I understand, I do. And yet, ‘How can we survive?’ is the wrong question. And I suspect that worrying it to death isn’t helping you.”
“Well, what should we do?” said that worried, good man.
“I’d suggest that you ask God to show you God’s purpose, God’s calling and mission for your church. What is God calling you to do? Call on the Lord to show you that and give you what you need to be about it, and leave the other things to sort themselves out. I suspect it was something like that Jesus had in mind when he said, ‘Seek first the kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.’”
There are so many congregations today worrying and wondering if they will survive. Trust me—better, trust Jesus. It’s the wrong question. The right one is, “What’s God’s purpose for our church today?” Discover that and go after it with holy love and wild abandon. Nothing else matters.
God, give us the courage to seek your will and way for us. Let your purpose and call so take hold of us that we lose ourselves for your sake, and thus are truly found. Amen.
February 5, 2022
by Vince Amlin
At daybreak Jesus departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. – Luke 4:42 (NRSV)
Last winter, on retreat in New Mexico, I spent one whole day hiking the Zuni-Acoma Trail. Fifteen miles out-and-back over rough volcanic rock. The rugged footpath has long connected the two pueblos for which it is named. A lifeline through the high desert. A hard and beautiful place.
But the first European people in the area called it El Malpais, “the badlands.” A friend who teaches recreation and ecotourism said, “That’s the name white people used for any land they couldn’t make money off of.”
The word used to describe the place where Jesus hikes in the early morning in Luke 4 gets translated variously as “deserted” or “desert.” As “isolated” or “solitary.” As “lonely” or simply “a place where he could be alone.”
The variation may have something to do with how the translators feel about such spaces. The unproductive ones. Away from the crowds. Away from the work. The places and times where nothing is grown, or built, or extracted.
I struggle with them myself. Especially this nearly two-year-long one. This season when it feels like I have gotten so little done. Made such scant progress. This rough and rugged stage of the journey.
What has it been for?
Maybe to remind me that life has value whether it is “for” anything at all. That a place and a time can be beautiful and good even (perhaps especially) when they are useless.
And maybe a person too.
God give me the blessing that is before and beyond anything I do.
February 6, 2022
by Quinn Caldwell
Jesus said to Simon, “Let down your nets for a catch.” They caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break … and they filled both boats, so that they began to sink. When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. – Luke 5:4-11 excerpts (NRSV)
What happened to the fish, please?
Remember? The net-breaking number of fish? The boat-sinking quantity?
The story’s narrator wanders off after Simon Peter, who wanders off after Jesus. But I’m still there on the beach, wondering. What are they gonna do with that fish?
The thing about Jesus’ miracles is that no matter how spiritual their effects might be, they always involve the stuff of the world. It’s not just hearts that are changed; the world is changed, too. Fish and bread and jars of wine pile up.
One obvious job of the church is to bear witness to the miracles. The perhaps less-obvious job is to ask—especially when it comes to miracles of abundance—what happens then. Do we leave the leftover bread on the ground for the birds, or do we gather it up, twelve baskets full? And then what? Who needs it? Who deserves it? Who gets it?
Jesus’ miracles of abundance always have leavings. Even the ones in your church’s life: unused rooms in the building, last year’s budget surplus, unoccupied heated spaces in a frigid winter, a 501(c)(3) status with room under the umbrella, leftovers after the meal. And before everyone wanders off to the next worthy thing and just leaves those collateral blessings lying around, I hope somebody will ask:
What will happen to the fish, please?
For the miracles you perform, and for the miracles you expect us to perform after the miracles, thank you.
February 7, 2022
Eating With the Physician
by Mary Luti
The Pharisees were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:30-31 (NRSV)
Jesus says he’s come to call sinners to repentance. But there’s no sign in this passage that he’s thinking, “Oh, good, I can bag some souls at supper!” There’s no judgment, altar call, breast-beating. The only people he actively corrects are the righteous.
Jesus knows that tax collectors aren’t morally well. He also knows that sick people need healing, not shaming. And the key to healing is company, solidarity, friendship, intimate presence, like the intimacy of sharing a meal. That’s why he’s there. To be with them. And eat with them.
Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we understood our presence and sharing of food at the table as a gift to someone who needs to know that their sins do not make them undesirable to Jesus. Or to us.
If we understood others’ presence and sharing as an offer of healing we ourselves badly need.
If we welcomed Jesus into our midst just to be with us, to eat and enjoy life with us, and didn’t turn every occasion with him into a moralistic moment, a lesson to be learned, an obligation to shoulder.
I wonder, too, what it would be like if, when we gather for Communion, there actually were notorious public sinners among us. And I wonder what might need to change in our practice of Communion such that righteous people would be scandalized by it and ask us, incredulously, “Why?”
Call us to repentance, good Jesus, so that we will be happy among tax collectors and sinners, all of us eating and drinking our way to healing; all of us eating and drinking our way to God.