February 22, 2022
A Better Person than I Am
by Kenneth L. Samuel
When David had finished speaking, Saul called back, “Is that really you, my son David?” Then he began to cry. And he said to David, “You are a better man than I am, for you have repaid me good for evil.” – 1 Samuel 24:16-17 (NLT)
We might as well admit it. Most of us are not likely to pass up on a golden opportunity to silence our enemies. Especially the enemies who never miss their opportunities to attack us.
King Saul’s pursuit of David into the desert springs of ancient Judah (En-Gedi) marked the thirteenth attempt of King Saul to take David’s life. In a fit of paranoid rage, King Saul even attempted to kill his own son, Jonathan, when he wrongly suspected that Jonathan and David were colluding against him.
When King Saul entered a cave at En-Gedi to relieve himself, he had no idea that David and his men were hiding in the back of the very same cave. Instead of easily taking advantage of Saul’s vulnerability and slaying him, David snuck up behind Saul and cut off a piece from the hem of Saul’s robe. Outside the cave, David showed Saul the piece he’d cut as evidence of his unwillingness to take vengeance.
But not many of us would have blamed David if he had killed Saul in that cave.
We may give lip service to the virtues of humility and turning the other cheek, but we know we live in a dog-eat-dog world, where “getting over on others before they get over on you” is deemed necessary for survival.
Unless like David, we become more committed to God’s righteousness than our vengeance.
Unless like David, the nobility of our character keeps our desire to strike back in check.
Lord, help me to not confuse victory with vain self-vindication. Make me a better person than I am. Amen.
February 23, 2022
That Extra Package of Toilet Paper
by Martha Spong
Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” – Luke 17:1-2 (NRSV)
Two years ago, as news spread about a novel coronavirus and disruptions it might cause, I remembered living through a widespread ice storm years earlier in Maine and wishing I had a better pattern of replenishing everyday items. So I made a list, and on Monday, March 2nd, my wife (who was humoring me) went to Sam’s Club and loaded up at a level I wouldn’t call survivalist, but capital-P prepared.
When stores soon ran short, I thought about the extra (large) package of toilet paper we now had in reserve. Did we (and many others) mess things up by getting one shopping trip ahead of our usual pace? That extra package weighed on me even more after an anonymous church member kindly dropped off another by our back door.
Whatever decisions we are making or actions we are taking, we live in connection with other people. I impact you, and you me, whether or not we ever learn the specifics.
As Jesus told his friends, people are bound to mess up. It’s as everyday as that extra toilet paper. Just don’t be the one who leads them to it.
I wonder, whose stumbling block am I?
Holy One, help us to understand the significance of our actions and the impact we have on others. Forgive us for the times we did not recognize the harm we caused and enable us to make things right, in Christ’s name. Amen.
February 24, 2022
Acknowledged. Now What?
by Chris Mereschuk
Know that the Lord your God, who is crossing over before you, is an all-consuming fire! God will wipe them out! God will subdue them before you! Then you will take possession of their land, eliminating them quickly, exactly as the Lord told you. – Deuteronomy 9:3 (CEB)
How do we contend with scripture that not only praises the conquest of indigenous people, but presents it as a divine promise to the conquerors? It’s not just our faith that is built on this conquest. In the U.S., our literal churches are built on conquered, stolen, colonized land. This is not new information. We have known this. Now what?
Some churches and other organizations make Land Acknowledgements, naming the original inhabitants and stewards of the land. Awareness is a start, yet often it doesn’t go beyond acknowledgement. We said it out loud, let’s move on. There’s no engagement, repentance, or restoration. What does it accomplish for those who were and continue to be harmed? Just a feel-good moment for the one saying it, a false sense that something meaningful has been accomplished.
So now what? I don’t have an answer. At least not an answer beyond continuing to acknowledge, confront, and wrestle with this and myriad other harms and sins that have been committed against various people in the name of Christianity. We can acknowledge that this is unsettling and uncomfortable work, yet it is critical. Read, preach, and critique these troubling scriptures.
Uncover, name, and repent of our wrongs. Seek authentic relationships with those who have been harmed, listening for calls to repair. Respond in material, meaningful ways and not react with easy words and rituals.
Now what? I can’t say for sure. But I can listen.
Holy One: Pray us through acknowledgement to action.
February 25, 2022
by Kaji Dousa
The widow then saw said to Elijah, “You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” – 1 Kings 17:18 (NRSV)
I experienced a miracle recently. A friend came to visit, and after a while, pulled me aside and called it like it is and said: I am watching you disappear from yourself. And she was right. I was disappearing from myself as my sense of confidence in the future was waning.
But the fact that I can say “was” is one of the greatest miracles of my life.
Which takes me to this text. The widow’s child became ill. Was lifeless. And the widow blamed herself. She thought that the child was suffering because of her sins. She thought the prophet was there in mocking retribution. That she deserved the suffering of loss because she’d done something wrong.
Sounds ridiculous, no?
Unless that’s ever been you.
Have you never wondered if something that’s not right is the divine repaying you for a misdeed? Have you never thought that your hardships are your own fault? Have you never believed that you were unworthy of true joy? Of love? Of comfort? Have you never thought you were too unattractive, too broken, too unprepared, too messy, too damaged, too poor, too mentally ill, too … anything, really … to be loved?
But let me tell you something:
There is no causal link between whatever you have done or thought or might do or think … and the miracles God has in store for you.
Listen. I don’t think the widow needed Elijah to perform the miracle. I think the widow needed Elijah to show her that miracles are possible—even for her. To understand that she wasn’t too broken to offer the blessing her child needed.
The same is true for you.
Miracles aren’t about some magic. They’re about God connecting with the spark of the Holy Spirit within you to breathe new life.
You or someone you know may be spiritually lifeless, too. And if that’s you? Hear your official invitation to move past this blame that doesn’t serve you.
And stretch into the miracle that is ready and waiting.
O God, may my breath return? May I feel worthy of everlasting joy? May I receive your miracles, now and forever? Amen.
February 26, 2022
Happy are the Eyes
by Vicki Kemper
Turning to the disciples, Jesus said privately, “Happy are the eyes that see what you see. I assure you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see and hear what you hear, but they didn’t.” – Luke 10:23-24 (CEB)
You could do much worse with the gift of this day than to spend a few minutes giving thanks for the things you might never have expected your eyes to see or your ears to hear or your heart and mind to know.
Your same-gendered, legally certified spouse, for example.
That the vice president of the United States is a woman of Black and Asian heritage.
That fewer doors are closed to your children because of their identity, physical capacity, or neurodiversity.
The resurgence of the bald eagle.
Communities that have survived the pandemic and are alive with new purpose.
How many electric vehicles are on the road.
The medication that stabilizes your health and improves your quality of life.
That your grandchildren care deeply about the world.
A computer-slash-camera-slash-telephone that fits in your pocket.
A church that strives to welcome, affirm, celebrate, and empower all people.
An evolving sense of who God is, how much God loves you, and what “faith” means.
You get the idea.
Yes, our planet is on fire. White supremacy and all manner of evil and injustice continue to inflict pain and suffering, inequality and division. God knows we have far to go.
But in our hard and holy work to get there, in our reasonable impatience and justifiable rage, let us not forget to rejoice in how far we have come.
Despite everything, O God, may we let our hearts be happy in your mighty works.
February 27, 2022
Can I Get a Witness?
by Liz Miller
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. – Matthew 17:1-2 (NRSV)
Not every mountaintop experience belongs to us. Sometimes we are called to witness someone else’s big moment.
Seeing a loved one cross the graduation stage after watching them struggle through school with dogged persistence. Listening to your bestie recount every minute of a magical first date after months of hearing the angst of a simmering crush. Cradling your sister’s perfect, squishy baby after holding her grief from miscarriages and invasive fertility treatments.
Eventually they have to come down the mountain. Another rejection from a hoped-for job makes them wonder if the degree was worth it. The honeymoon ends and the bestie asks how you know when to fight and when to walk away. The baby becomes a threenager and your sister questions all her parenting choices.
In those moments, you remind them of what you saw on the mountaintop. You tell the story of the transformation they have long since forgotten. You help them see the sparkle buried under the layers of sweat and tears and spit up. You tell them, again and again, that they are beloved.
Jesus didn’t go up the mountain alone. He took witnesses. He knew there would come a time when he would be criminalized, deserted, and left for dead. It was up to the witnesses to tell the mountaintop story, of a Savior who dazzled them and of the Son of God, who was beloved.
Dear God, from the valleys to the mountaintops, thank you for witnessing the story of our lives. Amen.
February 28, 2022
Work Won't Love You Back
by Molly Baskette
Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. – Exodus 35:2-3 (NRSV)
“Sobering reminder: If we die our jobs will just post our opening. Don’t let work kill you.” (Heather Thompson Day on Twitter)
This is not a leap year. You do not get an extra day tomorrow. If you did—be honest—you would probably just fill it with the same kinds of busy-ness today holds. Mostly work! Too much of it. Paid and unpaid.
Getting an extra day would not be like turning the clock back in autumn: a sneaky sabbath, a gift from God, the afternoon suddenly feeling woozy and layabout and ready for anything. Or better yet: ready for nothing.
Yet that extra day is exactly what God does give us, every week. Actually, God demands it from us—in order to give it back to us.
The sabbath, Rabbi Heschel’s “palace in time,” is a commandment given alllll the way back when Moses and the Israelites were still manna-gathering and as yet had no civilization to maintain. Before they were really busy, in other words. Jesus later reinforced it when he said, “The sabbath was made for humans and not humans for the sabbath.”
In other words: God craves our rest. So much so that overwork, God told Moses, comes with a death sentence. And God isn’t the executioner (doublecheck the text!). Overwork itself is.
In modern parlance: work will never love you back, and it may even hasten your demise. But God will love you back. So will the friends and family and animal companions and vegetable gardens and books that fill your sabbaths.
God, thank you for making the sabbath a commandment, something I must do … almost as if it were my job. Amen.