Theme - Traumas and Tragedies
Scripture - Luke 9:38-39 - A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him.
Quote - Thich Nhat Hanh - “I have noticed that people are dealing too much with the negative, with what is wrong. ... Why not try the other way, to look into the patient and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?”
This weeks story is rich with lofty theological themes. The divine glory of Jesus bursts forth in the moment of transfiguration and we are invited to ponder Incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. But much like last weeks story of the woman who anointed Jesus's feet, lofty theological and spiritual lessons are rooted in common experiences. This week it is the experience of trauma..
A father cries out in fear and desperation. His son is afflicted with a spirit that causes painful convulsions. It seems clear that he has sought assistance from a number of sources, including the disciples of Jesus, but no one is able to offer relief. The heart of our story is the suffering of a parent who cannot ease the suffering of a child.
This alone gives us something to ponder. For it reminds us that the root of Israel's theological proclamation about God, their God, the one true God, the thing that makes their God alone trustworthy and faith-worthy is that this is the God who hears the cries of the suffering and desperate. This is the testimony of the Exodus story when God appears to Moses in the burning bush and says that he has heard the cries of his enslaved, oppressed and endangered people. Once again we see that Jesus is the Incarnation of God. He hears the cries of the desperate. And he responds.
So the heart of this story is a celebration of God's interruption of pain and desperation. Jesus hears and Jesus heals. Think of a time when, in your own pain and desperation, God responded. It could be a sense of peace or confidence. It could be through the prayers and support of a friend. Begin the day with gratitude for the times when God heard your cries and responded by interrupting tragedy with hope and healing. But also allow this story to challenge you to consider, who cries out to be heard among us today? Who experiences fear and tragedy and desperately needs to be heard? The Incarnation of Jesus only matters when those who call themselves disciples continue that the Incarnational mission of hearing, healing and hoping with those for whom hope is lost.
Prayer - For the many times you have heard my cries for help, support, and hope, I am grateful, liberating God. For the patience and tenacity to journey through challenging times fed on faith alone, I am grateful. For the knowledge and the experience of never being alone in my struggles, I offer you my praise. Use these experiences to bolster my courage to face future challenges and risks and to make me ever more sensitive to the cries of others.
Theme - Fear and Failure
Scripture - Luke 9:40 - I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”
Quote - Thomas Merton - “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
Why is it that the disciples cannot heal the boy? If we go back to the beginning of chapter 9 we see that Jesus has anointed the disciples with power and authority and they go out preaching, teaching, healing and freeing people in the countryside. What has happened? What has changed? That is an important question with perhaps many possible answers. So I offer today one possible answer for us to prayerfully ponder.
I would suggest that the disciples are ineffective because of fear. I say fear because if we read all of chapter 9 we see that just before this incident with the possessed boy and the desperate father is the story of the transfiguration (that we will get to tomorrow). But before that Jesus predicts his crucifixion and death. And I would suggest that the disciples are completely unsettled by this news. This is not the goal that they had envisioned for Jesus's mission or their devotion. And so, they are afraid; that they are wasting their time, that ultimately they will be unsuccessful, that this is all for not.
Fear is powerful. That is why Jesus warns and preaches as an inoculation against fear repeatedly (remember the story of the panicked disciples in the midst of a stormy sea, in which Jesus says, 'do not fear, have faith.') And while it is beneficial to research and discuss the fears of the disciples, it is also important for us to discern and interrogate our own specific fears. What is it about the mission that Jesus has called us to that makes us afraid? Are we afraid that we do not have the resources to do what we are called to do? Are we afraid that we do not have the energy or the expertise? Are we afraid because we do not know exactly how to face the challenge (whatever it may be)? Are we afraid of the cost? (I think the disciples fear the cost, but more on this Friday). Sometimes the suffering we know is preferable to the challenge of the unknown and unfamiliar. And the fear that we there will be a sacrifice or a loss as a result of following Jesus is powerful in its prohibition. Connected to that particular fear is the intimidation of trying and failing. Perhaps these are the most powerful forces we face as Christians; fear of loss and fear of failing.
As challenging as it may be, prayerful consider a time that you as a disciple or we as a church resisted following Jesus because of fear of loss or fear of failure. This is important, not only so that we learn, but also so that we experience God's love and mercy. Is there a call we resist even now? Let's imagine what it would look life if God's love and mercy empowered us to resist fear and move forward in faith.
Prayer - We join you gracious Lord, in your Gethsemane prayer, in which you faced your own fears and doubts, yet relied on the faithfulness of God to encourage and empower you. Seeing the loss and pain, you still carried out your ministry and mission, trusting that God could transform loss and pain, to life and peace. Help us to acknowledge our own fears, especially the fears and doubts that come when following you is risky. Strengthen us with the vision of your resurrection, wounded yet risen, to follow you in service and sacrifice.
Wednesday Theme - The Gift of Wonder
Scripture - Luke 9:43 - And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.
Quote - Harry Emerson Fosdick - Fear imprisons, faith liberates; fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages; fear sickens, faith heals; fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable.
I'm sure that monday and tuesday's devotions were a bit challenging. The spiritual practice of recalling our pain and admitting our fears is not easy. But now we are fully prepared to experience the shocking and surprising joy of the Transfiguration, which I would suggest is another celebration of the Incarnation. What have we been prepared for? The interruption of pain and fear by the glorious new creation not only promised by God, but made present with us through Christ.
Jesus takes Peter, James & John on a hike up a mountain to pray. Amazing and miraculous things happen. Moses and Elijah, long departed from the earth, suddenly, impossibly appear. And Jesus begins to glow and flash like lightening. If we are honest, this might be the moment when you begin to wonder how on earth this story could have anyting to do with practical matters like pain and fear. You wouldn't be alone. We are witnessing an event, a phenomena that is rare to the point of being singular, it is easy to doubt that this happening could have anything practical to offer to us in our times of need.
In the Advent and Christmas seasons we sing 'Hark the Herald, Angels Sing.' And one of the lines that we sing is 'veiled in flesh the Godhead see.' This moment we witness, with Jesus glowing on the mountaintop in the presence of Moses and Elijah, the unveiling of the Godhead. We see Jesus revealed. But not just Jesus, we see the future God has planned and prepared. The new creation, the reign of peace and justice is revealed (that is what Moses and Elijah symbolize). And even more, not just the future that is to come, that future impacts the present. The future is now. Which is probably why Jesus gets testy when the disciples still remain grounded in their fears and doubts. They have seen the future and its powerful intrusion in the present and still they succumb to doubt and fear.
But here is the point. The Transfiguration is a gift. Peter, James and John, three key leaders of the early church, in the midst of their fears and doubts are given a glimpse of the future and its impact on the present, so that they can serve with energy and face risk and sacrifice with courage. They are given empowerment and courage because they see the glory that is to come, the glory of God's reign that they can take some small but still significant part in preparing the world for. Pain and fear and doubt are interrupted by this gift. Which leads us to the question, what if we were not compelled or constricted by fear and doubt, but instead, by the gift of hope because we have seen the glory to come? What if we could see not only the struggle, but also the reward of our service and sacrifice and then respond with energy and courage? That is the key question that this story urges us to ask ourselves. Are we compelled by fear or by faith? And if by faith, what risk are we being charged with taking in order that the future glory of the Kingdom of God can be glimpsed in the present?
Prayer - The story of your Transfiguration is so far outside our normal experience, it is difficult to even believe. Forgive us for the temptation to dismiss the gift that is meant to raise within us wonder and awe. For these are gifts meant to inspire our courage to serve and follow faithfully. Use this amazing story to inspire our hope and our imagination. Use this blessed vision of the glory to come, to embody in ways grand and simple, the glory of the Kingdom of God, here and now, no matter the challenge or risk.
Thursday Theme - Safety & Seclusion
Scripture - Luke 9:33 - “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Quote - Brene Brown - “Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”
Peter, high on the mountain with a flashing, lightning like Jesus, wants to stay right there in that spot, in that moment. And who can blame him. Isn't that the whole point? Isn't that why he left everything, his job, his family, his security, even his honor behind? To experience the glory of God's presence and the security of God's reign? Now, having experienced it, why wouldn't he want to stay right therer in that moment and in that place, all his dreams realized and all his hopes secure?
This is one of the great challenges to the Church of Christ in America at the present moment. While we can certainly identify with Peter and understand his desire to stay, it is ultimately selfish. He has achieved his reward, experienced salvation, the wholeness of the presence of God. And for far too long large swaths of the church have presented the Christian faith as securing personal peace, personal happiness, personal salvation. But Peter isn't allowed to stay in that moment and that place. He has to go back down the mountain and back into the pain, the fear, and the uncertainty that is human existence. He has to go back down because he isn't called by Jesus, empowered by Jesus, given the gift of witnessing the future present in Jesus, just for himself. He is given all these things, so that he can share them with others and impart the healing and hope he has been given to those who need it most. We believe not just for ourselves, but to give others hope. We have faith not just for our own benefit, but so that our lives of courage and trust, of risk and sacrifice, benefit others. The flashing of Jesus is meant to continue to burst and radiate in our lives as a beacon to others.
Another great challenge of this verse and this story is the real and understandable desire to stay safe and secure. Why would we want to risk being unsettled. After all, we often feel unsettled as it is. If we have achieved some stability, some sense of peace, why risk it, why ruin it? We often prefer the unsettled even untenable nature of the present to the risk of change in pursuit of something new and better because, well because we know and are comfortable with the present. It may not be perfect, but we know how to navigate life this way. Or we have not experienced just how painful and stressful life can be for others. Why risk our own comfort for the suffering of another. We will look at this in greater depth tomorrow. For today we are left facing the challenge. The challenge of satisfaction and security. The challenge of this weeks story in which Jesus demands that his disciples willingly reject being settled in order to bring peace and hope to those whose lives are unsettled. The challenge that we not avoid discomfort, pain, and disturbance, for when we do, we are avoiding the place where God dwells and the people with whom God dwells.
Prayer - We are grateful for the many times throughout our lives when you have fulfilled your promise, Prince of Peace, to give us rest when we are weary and heavy laden. That you are a source of comfort and a shelter in a time of storm we are so thankful. But we know that there are many who know stress and need some rest, whose lives are storm without shelter; because of poverty, ethnicity, identity. Forgive us when we stay safely ensconced in your shelter. Remind us that we are shelter so that we can go out into the storms with the gift of love, mercy, and justice. Push us, when necessary from our settled spirituality into a faith in action, confident that we can always return for rest, renewal and healing.
Theme - The Cross
Scripture - Luke 9:23-24 - “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
Quote - NT Wright - "The message of Easter is that God's new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you're now invited to belong to it.”
Today we return to the source, the root of this weeks story. Why did Jesus take Peter, James and John up the mountain and give them the gift of witnessing Transfiguration? Because he had just announced that the culmination of his ministry and mission would be a cross and death. Jesus announces this and then challenges the disciples with this radical and shocking redefinition of what it means to be his disciples. They too, must deny themselves and take up their cross...daily.
How often have we heard someone describe a challenge they face, a tragedy they are living through, a pain they experience as 'the cross they have to bear?' How many times have we said it ourselves. But that isn't quite accurate. Notice that Jesus says the disciples must 'take up' their cross. So he isn't describing the challenges that happenstance brings into our lives. He is describing an active choice to let go of safety and security to accept a burden. John Howard Yoder explains it this way; ' “The believer's cross is no longer any and every kind of suffering, sickness, or tension, the bearing of which is demanded. The believer's cross must be, like his Lord's, the price of his social nonconformity. It is not, like sickness or catastrophe, an inexplicable, unpredictable suffering; it is the end of the path freely chosen after counting the cost.'
This is not to say that Christ is not present with us when the inexplicable and unpredictable happens. Today's story shows that explicitly. We know that Jesus is the incarnation of God, God with us, because Jesus hears the cries of suffering of those caught up in the pain of the inexplicable and traumatic. Christ is the very promise of God to be with those who suffer and struggle with forces beyond their own control, whether that be disease or broken relationships or political oppression. But when Jesus says to the disciples that they are to take up their cross he is telling them that they are called by God not only to face their own personal struggles, but to take on the suffering and struggles of others as their own. And he is saying that when forgiving and being reconciled with the enemy, when being hospitable to the other, generous to the poor, friend of the outcast, goes against popular opinion and causes suffering and doubt, fear and pain, THAT is their cross.
That is an incredible challenge, a high calling. That is why the gift of transfiguration is given. Because we are being challenged to a high purpose which is to take on the suffering of others as our own, to respond with hope, hospitality and wholeness and to maintain solidarity to the outsider, even when we will not be supported, thanked or appreciated. The transfiguration is a glimpse of Christ's resurrection. Jesus died because he would not abandon or forsake the vulnerable, the oppressed, the outsider. The transfiguration shows that loss and trauma and pain is not the end of the story of our mission when we take up our cross. The glory of God's reign and its new creation, is our story and our reward.
Prayer - As we approach the season of Lent, we celebrate the gift of your resurrection, crucified and risen Lord. For it reminds us the cost of discipleship, the risky demand of carrying a cross, and blessed reward of solidarity with you, which is hope and life. Remind us that your death on the cross was not the action of an angry God, but the gift of a loving God and fill us with that kind of love that risks much in or order to serve the least.
Monday Scripture - Luke 7:39 - “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.
Monday Quote - Richard Beck - In the actions of the Pharisees we see how the experience of purity... had come to replace morality (the mercy impulse.) This is the pietistic temptation, seeking a personal experience of 'cleansing' at the expense of social and political engagement. The spiritual experience of being pure replaces passionate moral effort.
Monday Thought -
The Pharisee in today's story is deeply offended, even disgusted by what he sees. His disgust is multi-layered. He is disgusted that a woman has entered the dinner party uninvited and then stayed. Women and men were not to eat together. The women were to serve and then leave. He is disgusted because the woman has a reputation. She is a woman of poor morals. This makes matters worse. Poor moral character was considered contagious. Much the way some are understandably concerned about physical contact at the passing of the peace during worship in cold and flu season, so was the Pharisee concerned about catching the woman's sin. And finally, the woman does touch Jesus in a most intimate way. Her hair touches his feet, which again, risks the contagion of her poor morals and which is far too intimate a form of contact for a social dinner event especially between a man and woman who were not married.
Although issues of power and social influence are certainly a part of the his concern, these are not the only issues. The Pharisee is concerned about purity. Moral Purity. Let's not forget that in Exodus God, after freeing the Hebrews from slavery would say, 'you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.' The Pharisee is also concerned with holiness. In Leviticus we see Israel working out what it meant for them to be a 'priestly kingdom and a holy nation.' Clear boundaries were set and distinctions made between pure and impure. That is probably why Leviticus isn't so widely read among Christians today. It tends toward long lists of things that are unclean. What foods are clean and unclean, what activities are clean and unclean, what objects and even people are clean and unclean. At its root, this code of distinguishing between clean and unclean is one way that Israel worked through trying to live holy lives that would be pleasing to God.
Although we like to think ourselves different because we are Christian's living under grace and not the law, or because we are educated modern people, I think that this concern with purity still exists. Who among us has not heard from our mother's, 'birds of a feather, flock together,' or, 'lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas.' these are a mothers way of saying that poor morals and bad decision making is contagious. We can catch it. And to a certain extent, there is some validity. Why is bullying such a large and increasingly damaging issue in schools? No, the language of clean and unclean, pure and impure is not used. But there is definitely a social function of deciding who is in and who is out. And those of us who were out in junior high and high school know well that you can spot this in the lunch room. There are certain people you will not sit with if you want to be in. And those who are out, are not welcome at the in table. Not so long ago African-American's in certain parts of the nation were not allowed to use the same public drinking fountains, or sit in the same locations in restaurants as whites. And if we are paying close attention, we will hear concern about cleanliness and purity in social and political debates that are currently raging.
The point for today is this. At its deepest root, concern with purity had its virtues. Israel wanted to live in a way that pleased God, and they knew that they could be influenced and tempted away from living a life that is holy and pleasing to God. It is good for us to take seriously being holy and not take lightly the temptations that we face. But as Richard Beck in the quote for today reminds us, the attempt to be holy can become a temptation in itself. It can lead to moral superiority, judgement, exclusion and division, all of which can be dangerous for society's most vulnerable and most in need of support, comfort and mercy. In Matthew Jesus will say to the crowds gathered to listen to him speak, 'be perfect, therefore, as your father in heaven is perfect.' He will say this right after he has instructed them to love their enemies. This is something the early church took seriously as we read in 1 Peter1, 'But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Jesus has come to add a new dimension to what holiness means.
Monday Study - Leviticus 11; Matthew 5
Monday Prayer - Teach me Lord and empower me to be holy today. holy as you are holy and so holy by forgiving and reconciling. Help me to be holy by listening carefully and caring deeply. Help me to be holy by serving even when it risky and giving even when that is costly. Use my humble attempts at holiness to bear witness to your holiness that all whom I come in contact with today experience the peace that results from your holiness.
Tues Scripture - Luke 7:44-46 - You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.
Tues Quote - Christine Pohl - "For much of church history, Christians addressed concerns about recognition and human dignity within their discussion and practices of hospitality. Especially in relation to strangers, hospitality was a basic category for dealing with the importance of transcending social differences and breaking social boundaries that excluded certain categories or kinds of persons...Hospitality resists boundaries that endanger persons by denying their humanness."
Tues Thought -
This weeks story begins with a Pharisee's disgust. But he is not the only one disgusted. Jesus is as well. As the story goes on it becomes apparent that Jesus is disgusted at the Pharisee. He is disgusted that he did not receive an hospitable welcome when he arrived at dinner. Jesus isn't so much personally offended that he was greeted hospitably, as he is disgusted that the Pharisee could act so hypocritically. The Pharisee isn't aware that he has acted offensively because he is so busy being offended by the sinful woman. Yesterday we ended our devotional reflection by discovering that Jesus had come to add a new dimension to the meaning of being holy.
Today we focus on what Jesus has to say about the holiness that pleases God. And that holiness is hospitality. The sinful woman who is shamed and excluded by the Pharisee is the example of hospitality. She is grateful to be able to play host to Jesus by washing his feet. She shows us that hospitality means something a bit deeper than being friendly. She humbles herself to serve Jesus. By both washing his feet and 'anointing' them, she is treating Jesus with dignity and honor. To practice hospitality is to give the gift of honor and dignity to those who have been shamed. It seems apparent that the Pharisee has shamed Jesus in his lack of hospitable welcome. (More on this tomorrow)
It is important to remember that while Jesus is redefining holiness in terms of hospitality (not only by dining with the sinful woman, but also by touching lepers, interacting with Samaritans and Romans, ect) this isn't exactly unique. The prophet Micah has already said something very similar; 'He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.' And we should also remember that the prophet Isaiah has also suggested this alternative vision of holiness when we wrote, ' Learn to do right; seek justice Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.' Jesus is lending his authoritative support to Isaiah and Micah's view of what holiness is. Instead of pursuing holiness as purity, which excludes and denigrates others, God desires a holiness that is hospitable, that serves the most vulnerable and bestows the gift of dignity upon the shamed. Holiness is meant to heal, forgive and renew, not create guilt, shame or enforce bias and bigotry.
Tues Study - Micah 6:3-8; Isaiah 1:10-20
Tues Prayer - For your holiness which seeks the lost and shelters the weak, I am grateful Lord, today. For your holiness that turned slaves into your chosen people, that heard the cries of the suffering and responded, I give you my thanks. For these are not simply stories from the past, but experiences for today. So I thank that I begin the day by being reminded that I am your beloved, not in in my strength, but in my weakness, not in my moral perfection, or strength of character, but simply because I am your child. For your holiness that reminds me that I am your beloved and the inspiration to be loving, as the sinful woman was hospitable and loving, I am grateful. Empower me today, to be holy.
Wed Scripture - Luke 7:38 - she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
Wed Quote - Jurgen Moltmann - “God allows himself to be humiliated and crucified in the Son, in order to free the oppressors and the oppressed from oppression and to open up to them the situation of free, sympathetic humanity.”
Wed Thought -
The odd thing about this weeks story is Jesus' offence. He is offended that the Pharisee didn't greet him with hospitality. Let's recall what Jesus says to him. It was yesterday's scripture reading, You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. ' The thing is, while washing the feet of guests was a common practice, that was a slaves job. The host, in this case the Pharisee, wouldn't have actually performed the foot washing. Neither am I aware of any social custom of anointing the head of a guest. I suppose that Jesus could have been offended that the Pharisee didn't arrange to have a slave available to wash his feet. But I have to admit, it still seems that Jesus is being a bit sensitive here. So what it is exactly that Jesus is sensitive about or sensitive to? Is it the way that the Pharisee has treated him personally, or could it be something else?
In order to answer that I would suggest we think again about the intimacy of the contact between the sinful woman and Jesus. Not only does she wash his feet with her tears, but she anoints them with perfume. In the original greek text she anoints Jesus not simply with perfume, but with myrrh. This is a spice used to prepare the dead for burial. Not only is Luke telling us a story which illustrates the holiness that God desires of us, the holiness of hospitality. Luke is also telling us a story about the mission of Jesus. The sinful woman recognizes who Jesus is and what he has come to do, while the Pharisee doesn't. The sinful woman recognizes that Jesus has come to die.
The intimate contact between the sinful woman and Jesus, the nature of this contact, and anointing with spices used at burial, all support Luke's theological point for this story. Jesus is God incarnate. But that incarnation takes on special meaning because Jesus is God incarnate with the vulnerable, the shamed and the sinful. Jesus is offended because the sinful woman has been treated with disrespect. Even more, Jesus experiences her disrespect and shame as his own, as directed at him as well. Or, as Matthew has Jesus teach in Matthew 25, 'whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' Inhospitality to the sinful woman is inhospitality to Jesus, the incarnation of God. Shameful rejection of the sinful woman is shameful rejection of the son of God.
So this story does not only redefine holiness and show the importance of hospitality but also defines and describes the importance of Incarnation. The incarnation is not important to us because it is a display of God's power. It is important because God put incarnation to use by placing that life that incarnation in intimate connectio with the lost and the least, the shamed and degraded. These are the ones whom God choses to come to earth to be present with. What's more, we learn an important lesson about Jesus's death. Jesus is willing to honor his identity as one of and solidarity with the despised and rejected to the point of death. Jesus's death is meant to inspire in us a courage to accept the risk of joining with the shamed even when that costs us our safety, our security, our social status. He could have opted out of those consequences, but he chose to stay one with the shamed even when it meant crucifixion, pain and death. So the incarnation, according to Luke, shapes us into human beings living in solidarity with those who suffer and who are shamed. The crucifixion and resurrection shapes us into people willing to live in solidarity with those who are shamed and unsafe, even when that could negatively impact us. It is from this perspective that we will decide what is right and wrong, what is good and bad. By joining with the shamed we live out God's holiness.
Wed Study - Matthew 25:31-46
Wed Prayer - Plant within me today, resurrected Christ, the holy seeds of courage. Remind me that you not only said, 'come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest,' but also '"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.' Give me the courage to take up my cross today. I trust that you will give me the gift of rest when I need it. And I pray that as I carry my cross, that will bring rest and peace to all the heavy-laden I meet today.
Thurs Scripture - Luke 7:48 - Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Thurs Quote - Miroslav Volf - “Sin is here the kind of purity that wants the world cleansed of the other rather than the heart cleansed of the evil that drives people out by calling those who are clean “unclean” and refusing to help make clean those who are unclean.
Thurs Thought -
There are certainly a number of instances in the gospels where Jesus addresses sin by challenging what is defined as sin and who is labeled a sinner. For instance, in John chapter 9 the disciples ask Jesus, when they see a man who had been born blind, if that disability were caused by the sin of the man's father, the man's mother, or the man himself. Physical disability was thought of as a result of moral impurity. There are many other examples, such as lepers, those unable to walk, and those with other disabilities like a malformed hand. The list goes on. Part of what Jesus does in healing these people is also call into question their rejection as morally suspect or even impure. Sin was ascribed to things that weren't sin.
But that isn't always the case. And today's story is one example. Jesus doesn't challenge the idea that the woman has been sinful. Jesus does challenge the Pharisees assumption of moral superiority and subsequent distancing from and lack of hospitality to the woman. Then Jesus forgives her sin. Let's me honest. Sin can be an uncomfortable topic to touch upon. In my own experience that is because the concept of sin has too often been used as a weapon against others from the pulpit. Talking about sin becomes a way of beating up on those we disagree with, those who are different and even those who are most vulnerable. Sin has also been used as a marketing strategy, attempting to make people feel guilt and shame in order to join the church. All of these ways in which sin has been addressed and utilized are not only unhealthy but inconsistent with the gospel itself, which is good news.
This weeks story offers us an opportunity to think about sin holistically. As we have already said, the experience of guilt and shame, of being denigrated and dehumanized is sin. So Jesus frees the sinful woman from this experience by his reception of her as a beloved child of God. We don't know what the woman's moral failure was specifically. But I think it is fair to assume that there was also moral failure. But Jesus does not reject or distance himself from her. Because Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, he can re-create and so her moral failure is forgiven. That moral failure does not define or control her any longer. She is a new creation. Finally, Jesus is also confronting the sin of the Pharisee, whether we see that as shaming and judging others, or distancing himself from one who has failed morally. Both of these are sins as well. The good news in this instance, stings. The good news confronts and insists on a change. The greater point to all of this is that Jesus has the authority to heal and rescue from the web of sin, whether that is being made to feel shamed, making others feel shame or moral failure. None of these, as powerful as they feel in our lives, is more powerful than Jesus, the creative word of God incarnate. The point of the story is not that we ignore or dismiss sin, but recognize it in all its iterations, and trust that when we are hospitable to Christ, we can be healed, restored, and redefined, Beloved. When we ignore sin because of our discomfort, it maintains power over us. When we acknowledge it with confidence in God's love for us and Jesus's ability to free and forgive us, we are no longer controlled by sin, but compelled by the loving spirit of God.
Thur Study - 1 John 1:5-10; John 3:1-21
Thur Prayer - Holy God, we come before You in humility,
For we do not live as we ought.
We do not love You with our whole heart and mind and strength.
We do not love our neighbor as ourselves.
So we pray, in all humility,
That You will change our hearts and minds,
That You will show us again how to love others the way You love us,
That You will put power and courage in our hearts to do your will.
This we pray in Jesus’ name and for His sake. Amen.
Fri Scripture - Luke 7:50 - Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Fri Quote - “The Simple Path
Silence is Prayer
Prayer is Faith
Faith is Love
Love is Service
The Fruit of Service is Peace”
― Mother Teresa
Fri Thought -
As rich and complex as this weeks story is, touching upon sin, purity, hospitality, incarnation and atonement, Luke has a few more themes to pack into this last sentence of his story; faith, salvation and peace. Thats a lot to get through in one daily devotional. So lets get started by looking at a quote from N.T. Wright and then dig into our story.
N.T. Wright has this to say about salvation; “the work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.”
When we look at this weeks story we see all three of Wright's points illustrated I believe. First, salvation is about whole human beings. Jesus forgives the woman her sins, so part of her salvation IS about her 'soul.' But that isn't all that is happening. This is a story that reveals the complexity of salvation. The woman is judged and shamed by the Pharisee and so her trust (faith) that the Pharisee's categorizing her as shameful is no longer powerful or authoritative, and instead, Jesus's acceptance of her as a part of his family, heals not only her soul, but her emotional life. She now know and believes in her value, that she is, despite sin, the good that God created her to be. And it is social. As I just said, she is no longer an outcast or outsider or reject. She is welcomed by Jesus, to the banquet table, to the feast. When we think back to other stories, and recall that Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, and cleansed the skin of lepers, and fed the hungry, salvation becomes a holistic experience of life in all its fullness. Which leads to Wright's second point.
Salvation is about the present, not merely the future. Salvation isn't something that the woman has to wait for after her physical death. Jesus proclaims her saved in that moment. Thinking back to some of the other things that Jesus has said about his life and mission, such as, 'I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly,' in John 10, or his description of rescue for the imprisoned, good news for the poor, healing for the blind, what Jesus is describing in not the promise of what will happen in the future, but a description of the impact of the God's reign in the present. Even in our story, the woman anoints Jesus's feet with myrrh, which is both a act of hospitality in the present, that is connected to the work Jesus will do in the future.
Which brings us to Wright's final point which is that salvation isn't only in and for us, but through us. And this is the part of the story that intrigues me most. Not only is God saving this woman through Jesus, but blessing, encouraging, uplifting Jesus, through the woman. Her act of hospitality, of washing Jesus feet and anointing him for crucifixion, as an act of honoring his life and his solidarity and sacrifice, is a gift to Jesus. Salvation is the mutual giving and receiving of that moment, Jesus giving the woman new hope and new life through acceptance, forgiveness and hospitality, the woman giving Jesus hope and life through gratitude, hospitality and honor. Each experience the abundance of life by sharing life with one another.
Which finally brings us to peace. Let's not forget that both the woman and Jesus are experiencing the painful and unsettling indignity of the Pharisees judgement and open lack of acceptance. But they give each other the gift of peace, of knowing love, appreciation and value, as they serve one another. The Pharisee's judgment has no power over either of them, as they practice the peace of being hospitable to one another. And this caring and serving is their salvation.
Fri Prayer - Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.