Monday, December 30, 2013

What Gives You Life?

For the next 30 days, I will be be receiving an amazing gift from my amazing church. Broadneck has the remarkable practice of giving their pastors a sabbatical of 30 days after three years of service. After three and a half fantastic years at Broadneck, I will be taking my sabbatical now through the month of January, taking time to get married (an unusual use of sabbatical, I know!) and to rest and find refreshment for continued ministry.
As I have prepared for this time, I was convicted that I wanted January to be a "sabbatical" of sorts for you What Gives Us Life?" I have asked them to consider not only what they see as life-giving in the lectionary passages for each week, but also to share some of what is giving them life currently as they continue the journey of faith.
all as well--a chance for you to find renewal and restoration as a congregation. I also wanted to lend some coherence to the month even as you have the gift of hearing four different amazing preachers--Cherie Smith, John Roberts, Leslie Copeland-Tune, and Brent Walker. So I asked all four preachers to offer reflections on a common theme: "

This theme idea was inspired by one of my favorite writers, Barbara Brown Taylor, who had this to say in her book An Altar in the World (my recommended reading for you this month!):

Many years ago now, a wise old priest invited me to come speak at his church in Alabama. “What do you want me to talk about?” I asked him. “Come tell us what is saving your life now,” he answered. It was as if he had swept his arm across a dusty table and brushed all the formal china to the ground. I did not have to try to say correct things that were true for everyone. I did not have to use theological language that conformed to the historical teachings of the church. All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could, and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves.

This is my prayer for you this month--that you might rediscover what your life depends on, or discover it anew--that you may find a way to connect to the things that give you life and to stay close to them. Most of all, that this may be a life-giving time for you as you consider the one in whom "was light, and that light was the life of all people" (John 1:4). What is saving your life right now? What does your life depend on? And how might God want to help you connect to new life, rest, and renewal?

Some people will be sharing their testimonies addressing this question in worship in the coming weeks, and I hope you will consider how you would answer these questions for yourself. Share your answers with me when I return!


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Year in Review

This coming Sunday, as part of our worship, we will offer a litany that includes a paraphrase of a simple prayer that has been one of my favorites since I first heard it on a New Year's retreat as a teenager:

For all that has been, Thank you. 
For all that is to come, Yes!” 
(Dag Hammarskjold) 

We will say these lines together as part of a litany blessing the year that has been in the life of our church, and blessing the many, many transitions that surely will be part of 2014.


All this got me to thinking about what a truly amazing year 2013 has been in the life of our church. From our incredible, congregation-changing week of hosting 25 homeless guests for the first time through the Winter Relief program in January; to an amazing art-infused Church Council retreat in April; to an intergenerational Seder dinner in March followed by a beautiful celebration of Easter; to the youth group trash pick-up in April; to the Strawberry festival in early June followed by Music and Arts Camp at the end of the month; to serving through My Brother's Pantry in July and in West Virginia in August; to Tea and Parables in September and our Bryan Moyer Suderman concert and chili cook-off in October; to a beautiful All-Saints Day and baby dedication in November, and now this Advent of a Holy Pause--it has been a remarkable year, one that has made me more grateful than ever to call myself Broadneck's pastor.

2014 promises to bring new things--some of which we embrace, some of which we wish were otherwise, some of which we have no idea yet. Births, deaths, marriages, retirements, sabbaticals, moves, illnesses, new relationships and opportunities--all of these are part of our journey as a family of faith. As we move into this new year, my prayer is that we will continue to walk together with joy and intentionality, and most of all with love for one another. Join us on Sunday as we say "thanks" for what has been, and "yes" to what will be.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Poem for Christmas Eve

Take the time today: read Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-18 here.

Then read the poem below from one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. Though I hope today won't bring snow (I want to worship together tonight!), I feel like it captures the sense of Holy Pause we have been aiming for throughout Advent. How do you need to pause tonight, to experience the silence immense, the heavens holding a million candles, welcoming the light of the world?

A blessed Christmas to you all.

"First Snow" by Mary Oliver

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence
is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles, nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain — not a single
answer has been found –
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What Wilderness Do You Wander?

Our texts for this third Sunday in Advent are Isaiah 35:1-10 and Matthew 11:2-11, which you can read here.

Have you ever been to the wilderness? I don't have a lot of wilderness experience, but I do remember the shock of my one major wilderness trip: to the Grand Canyon. As we were driving from Nevada through Arizona to reach the canyon, I was stunned to pass a road sign that said, "Next gas station 57 miles." 57 miles? Who knew there were still places in America you could travel 57 miles without finding a gas station...or even an interstate exit! Where was I?

Then I got to the canyon, in all its majestic rugged beauty, and my favorite picture of all the MANY I took there is this one:
It sounds silly, but maybe not so much I guess after I professed my draw to trees and my desire to be one in the sermon last week: I fell in love with this stubborn, scraggly thing that had stubbornly taken root in rock, pushing through the most hostile of climates and circumstances to find life. This is what you find in the wilderness: stubborn, resilient beauty. Life in unexpected nooks and crevices.

Today's passage from Isaiah reminds us that there IS life even in the wilderness--where there seems to be just nothing. Matthew's Gospel reminds us that even in the dark wilderness of a prison cell, just beyond the walls (and even within them) there IS God at work, even in places where it can be hard to see just what's going on. 

We all find ourselves in different wildernesses from time to time. Look at the various wilderness pictures below. Which one resonates with you? Where might you need claim that "The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing"--even the one you may be walking, wandering, or driving through this day?


Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Peaceable Kingdom

Our texts for this second Sunday in the season of Advent--our season of Holy Pause--are Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12, which you can read here:  http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=253272695.


At our first Tuesday night "Holy Pause" gathering this week, a variety of reflection stations were set up around the worship space to allow people to practice pausing and opening themselves to God's holy presence in different ways. One of the stations was entitled "Looking," and at it was an art print of the above painting by John August Swanson, "Peaceable Kingdom."

The instructions on the station read, "Read Isaiah 11:6-9, then spend some time looking at John August Swanson’s painting entitled “Peaceable Kingdom.” Consider these questions:
         How do the image’s colors and lines illuminate the scripture’s meaning?
         Where do you see God in this image?
         Had you been the artist, how might you have illustrated this passage?

Here were some things that occured to me as I meditated on this image:
         I wonder why the scene was set at night time? 
         Why are there pairs of some animals, and only a single one of others?
         With peace, I often think in pastel colors...I love how rich and full these colors are. This scene is not docile...it is VIBRANT.

What captures you in this art image? What captures you in the images painted by the author of Isaiah? What might this vision really look like lived out?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Advent Resources

Our texts for this first Sunday in Advent are isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 24:36-44, which you can read here:  http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=252852732.

           


Tomorrow we begin a new church year and a new season--my favorite season of the church year. Advent is a beautiful season of possibility, and this year we will be focusing on the Advent theme of "A Holy Pause"--our need to interrupt business as usual and prepare space in our hearts and lives for Christ to be born within and among us.

Need help pausing in this busy season? I would encourage you, this Advent season, to take on the discipline of a daily moment of pause--time to reflect, to engage scripture or other forms of inspiration, to breathe and find yourself rooted in God's goodness and peace amidst the chaos. Below are some resources I recommend. Which of these might you want to engage in this season?

  • Our theme is inspired by the small but beautiful book The Art of Pausing, a collection of images, poems, and reflections on the names of God. This is what I will be using during this season, and I encourage you to consider getting yourself a copy: http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Pausing-Judith-Valente/dp/0879465093
  • You can sign up to get daily emails from the "Following the Star" daily online Advent Devotional at www.followingthestar.org. I have written for this site in the past, which is geared towards teenagers but I think appropriate for all ages. It also includes some beautiful music.
  • My colleague Elizabeth Hagan edited an ecumenical collaboration called the "Baby Jesus Blog" that is making its debut this Advent, with daily reflections written by men and women who have waited or are waiting for babies. Check it out at at www.ElizabethHagan.com  
  • Upper Room is sponsoring a couple of really interesting online Advent retreats, where you can be led in your reflection and dialogue with others about what you are experiencing. Check them out at http://beadisciple.com/upperroom.html
  • Nancy and Joann recently went to a peacemaking conference addressing the conflict in the Middle East and found a lovely print daily devotional put together by the Bright Stars of Bethlehem, a ministry in Bethlehem sponsored in part by the Alliance of Baptists. I think Nancy is going to get some copies of this devotional for people who are interested in taking one home, or learn more about this ministry in Jesus' birth town at  http://brightstarsbethlehem.org/.

Above all, I hope you will join us on Tuesday nights throughout the season for "A Holy Pause." At 6 pm each Tuesday, we will gather in the sanctuary for a simple time of prayer, singing, and reflection. For the first two Tuesdays, we will have Advent vespers in the sanctuary and also have a labyrinth laid out for you to walk. On the third Tuesday, Eloise's sister Trish, who is retired from running a retreat center in Canada, will be with us to teach a simple workshop on "A Introduction to Mindfulness" that can help us learn to be present. Finally, on Tuesday, December 24 we will gather to worship and welcome the Christ Child.

Be with us on Sundays and Tuesdays throughout the season so we can practice pausing together, making the space we need in our hearts and our lives. I look forward to hearing about the ways you find to pause during this holy season!

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Time to Celebrate

"Celebration" by John August Swanson
Our text for this Sunday--the last Sunday in Pentecost, also known as Christ the King Sunday and, here in America, also the Sunday before Thanksgiving--is Esther 7:1-10 and 9:18-28, which you can read here.

This week, as we finish our three week series on Esther (and our 8 weeks on the little-read books of Nehemiah and Esther--congratulations, you have almost survived, and hopefully you have gleaned something from these stories!), we will be learning about the historical origins of the Jewish festival of Purim--a time for rejoicing and celebration observed every year and first "officially" introduced in the book of Esther.

As we read this story of celebration, and consider the importance of celebration in our own culture and lives, we also move towards a day that has been celebrated in American culture for centuries, if officially only for about 150 years--Thanksgiving. It is a day set aside to intentionally express gratitude, and to rejoice over the bounty of what we have been given, to give thanks for God's provision even through times of difficulty. As we prepare to celebrate next week, I would like to offer for your consideration and meditation a prayer from one of my favorite Christian thinkers, Walter Brueggeman. How might this prayer shape your celebration of Thanksgiving this year?


The witnesses tell of your boundless generosity,
and their telling is compelling to us:
You give your world to call the worlds into being;
You give your sovereign rule to emancipate the slaves and the oppressed;
You give your commanding fidelity to form your own people;
You give your life for the life of the world...
broken bread that feeds,
poured out wine and binds and heals.
You give...we receive...and are thankful.

We begin this day in gratitude,
thanks that is a match for your self-giving,
gratitude in gifts offered,
gratitude in tales told,
gratitude in lives lived.

Gratitude willed, but no so readily lived,
held back by old wounds turned to powerful resentment,
slowed by early fears become vague anxiety,
restrained by self-sufficiency in a can-do arrogance,
blocked by amnesia unable to recall gifts any longer.

Do this yet. Create innocent spaces for us this day
for the gratitude we intend.

In thankfulness,
we will give,
we will tell,
we will live,
your gift through us to gift the world. Amen

--from Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann (Fortress Press, 2002)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Save Me From My Fear

Our scripture for this second week in our series on the book of Esther is Esther 3:1-6 and Esther 4
(yes, all of it). You can read them here:  http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=251483529


One of the most interesting and discussed features of the book of Esther we get from the Hebrew Bible (and that is featured in our Bibles) is that the word "God" is never used. In fact, God is barely even implied in the text, and the story features few overt expressions of religion. It is, on the surface, an almost wholly secular book-except for the fact that, through coincidences, courage, and plot twists that lead to deliverance for God's people, you get this unshakable sense that God is always at work behind the scenes.

If you read the Greek version of Esther, however--which includes several additions to the manuscript we honor as part of our canon--God is mentioned all over the place. In fact, we get to hear a prayer Esther is said to pray just after the events of this week's story, before she approaches the king to seek mercy for her people. It is a pretty incredible prayer, even if it is not in our canon (it is included in the part of the Bible commonly called the "Apocrypha"). I thought it was worth taking time to read here:

Then Queen Esther, seized with deadly anxiety, fled to the Lord. She took off her splendid apparel and put on the garments of distress and mourning, and instead of costly perfumes she covered her head with ashes and dung, and she utterly humbled her body; every part that she loved to adorn she covered with her tangled hair. She prayed to the Lord God of Israel, and said:“O my Lord, you only are our king; help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, for my danger is in my hand. Ever since I was born I have heard in the tribe of my family that you, O Lord, took Israel out of all the nations, and our ancestors from among all their forebears, for an everlasting inheritance, and that you did for them all that you promised. And now we have sinned before you, and you have handed us over to our enemies because we glorified their gods. You are righteous, O Lord! And now they are not satisfied that we are in bitter slavery, but they have covenanted with their idols to abolish what your mouth has ordained, and to destroy your inheritance, to stop the mouths of those who praise you and to quench your altar and the glory of your house, to open the mouths of the nations for the praise of vain idols, and to magnify forever a mortal king.
“O Lord, do not surrender your scepter to what has no being; and do not let them laugh at our downfall; but turn their plan against them, and make an example of him who began this against us. Remember, O Lord; make yourself known in this time of our affliction, and give me courage, O King of the gods and Master of all dominion! Put eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion, and turn his heart to hate the man who is fighting against us, so that there may be an end of him and those who agree with him. But save us by your hand, and help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, O Lord. You have knowledge of all things, and you know that I hate the splendor of the wicked and abhor the bed of the uncircumcised and of any alien. You know my necessity—that I abhor the sign of my proud position, which is upon my head on days when I appear in public. I abhor it like a filthy rag, and I do not wear it on the days when I am at leisure. And your servant has not eaten at Haman’s table, and I have not honored the king’s feast or drunk the wine of libations. Your servant has had no joy since the day that I was brought here until now, except in you, O Lord God of Abraham. O God, whose might is over all, hear the voice of the despairing, and save us from the hands of evildoers. And save me from my fear!”

I am totally captivated by the last line of that prayer, one that seems added in almost as an afterthought: "Save me from my fear." That is one of the best prayer, I think, I have ever heard. I wonder what would happen if we prayed to be saved from the fear that possesses us and keeps us from acting? I wonder what would happen if we meant that prayer as we offered it?


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Esther? Who is That?

Our scripture text for this week is Esther 2:1-11 and will be preached upon by my dear friend Elizabeth Hagan. You can read the text here (I would also recommend reading Chapter 1 if you are not familiar with the overall arc of Esther), and you may read Elizabeth's blog here to start getting to know her better before Sunday!

True story: when I was in seminary, a classmate of mine came to me asking for advice. He was taking a class on Faith and Humor (he always seemed to find the classes that sounded made up), and he had to write a paper on humor in the Bible but did not know where to look. "How about Esther?" I suggested. In return I got a blank stare. "You know," I repeated, "Esther. In middle of Bible. Queen who saves her people amidst lots of irony, exaggeration and general ridiculousness from all the characters." He continued to stare at me cluelessly. My colleague had never even heard of this book of the Bible--one of two to be named after a female!

I sent my friend home with instructions to read Esther. For the next three weeks, we will be reading Esther together as well. We won't be reading it for its humor, though I hope you do enjoy the cleverness of some of the narrative. Rather, we will be reading it for the very, very real ways it relates, as the book of Nehemiah did before it, to the situations in which we find ourselves as Christians today. Esther's story, though unfamiliar and set in an ancient Persian culture foreign to us in most every way, resonates with ours as we seek to live a faithful life in the midst of a culture that pressures us to assimilate rather than live a distinctive life that reflects belief in a distinctive God. Esther's wise and bold decisions are ones from which we have much to learn--and the way this story is written overall has much to teach us as well.

So brush up on your Esther--or turn to her story for the first time if need be--and join us on this journey as we learn from her experience of God and how it connects to our own.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pastor's All Saints Playlist




Our text for this All Saints Sunday is Nehemiah 8 (yes, the whole chapter, impossible-to-pronounce names and all!), which can be read here.

I am kind of addicted to music. I find that my life of reflection, writing, and study really cannot be done without music; and so many weeks, when I am planning worship or working on a sermon, I will create a playlist of songs to listen to that reflect the theme of what I am preaching on that week, to play on a loop in the background as I work.

This week, as we prepare for All Saints' Sunday when we remember our connection to those who have gone before, our need for brothers and sisters beside us on the journey of faith, and our role in the lives and faith of those who will come after us, I thought I would share my playlist with you--at least part of it!

So if you have time, give these a listen, and let the music prepare your heart for our time together on Sunday even as it is (hopefully) preparing mine.

Carrie Newcomer, "All Saints Day". Click the video below if you are on the blog, or, if you receive this by email, try this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1P3wdZoRYzM



Andrew Peterson, "God of My Fathers"  Click the video below if you are on the blog, or, if you receive this by email, try this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v26upPqljEA



And finally, a modern take on the classic hymn "For All the Saints" recorded by Jars of Clay. Click the video below if you are on the blog, or, if you receive this by email, try this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZJSPDGwAxo




Friday, October 25, 2013

Speaking up and speaking out

Our text for this fourth week in our series on Nehemiah and faithful leadership comes from Nehemiah 5:1-13, which you can read here.

When I opened our mailbox at church this week, I found the usual stack of magazines from various groups with which our church shares common ground. One of those magazines, however, had a somewhat surprising cover story. "Predatory Lending: Baptists Confront a Neglected Justice Issue." The article by Aaron Weaver in Fellowship! magazine, which you can read in full here if you have interest, tells a host of stories like this one about one of the 12 million Americans who take out at least one payday loan each year:

"Like a growing number of Americans, Elliott is underemployed and has lived paycheck to paycheck for quite some time. An emergency savings fund is a privilege that he has not been able to afford. When his wife Linda fell and broke her leg, Elliott panicked. With Linda unable to work, how would they make the next mortgage payment? To save their modest home, Elliott took out a $500 “payday” loan. But that small payday loan proved to be a bad decision, if he even had a real choice. One loan led to another and then another. Elliott was forced to take out additional loans, a loan to pay for the last loan. Two years later, he was trapped, paying the lender $450 every two weeks, never able to touch the principal for all the interest. Elliott eventually lost his home, spending more than $30,000 in the process."

The article detailed how widespread stories like Elliott's are, and how different Baptist groups are beginning to take up the fight to stop such predatory lending, using their voices to call for regulation of interest rates, and longer payback periods as they addressed their legislatures. But some churches have gone even beyond using their voices to call for justice: a consortium of churches in San Antonio is looking to launch an alternate lending option called "Freedom First" that will help the working poor secure small loans and save money. A church in Louisiana has worked to offer free tax filing assistance to low-income tax payers.

This article caught my attention because it sounds a lot like what was going on in Nehemiah 5: when Nehemiah sees the working poor around him caught in a horrible situation of cyclical debt and despair, he sees the system needs to change. He boldly and publicly speaks out against the way things are, and then he suggests practical ways to shift the status quo and agrees to be part of a new way himself--changing his own practices for the sake of his neighbors. Nehemiah's choice to speak up and speak out and back his words with action changed the way his community was doing business.

Predatory lending is just one neglected justice issue facing our neighbors. What others do you see? In what ways might you--and our congregation--be called to speak up, speak out, and back words with actions, as Nehemiah did in his community?

Friday, October 18, 2013

When Challenges Come

Out text for this third week in our series on Nehemiah and faithful leadership is Nehemiah 4:6-20, which you can read here: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=249114152


As Nehemiah approaches the midpoint of his project in this week's reading, his plan was progressing smoothly:  he had secured the king’s blessing, journeyed to Jerusalem, and assembled a massive support team.  About halfway through the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, however, obstacles begin to spring up.  How will he respond to challenges to his leadership and vision, both from within his community and from opponents outside of it?  

 

Anyone who has been part of a team effort has likely experienced the pitfalls of trying to collaborate and hold a community together around the common good, as we discussed last week. Harvard University’s Bok Center for Teaching and Learning has produced materials describing the most common obstacles faced by a group seeking to work together.  Their list includes things like floundering (struggling to figure out roles); dominant or reluctant participants; a tendency to go off on digressions and tangents; power feuds; and tendencies towards ignoring or ridiculing others in the group. What other obstacles have you faced when you have been part of a group seeking to accomplish a common—and often difficult—goal? How many of the challenges typically come from internal conflict (i.e. strife and division within the group) and which come from external sources? How have you seen these challenges addressed--or not addressed--in communities of which you have been a part?


Nehemiah faced both internal and external obstacles to his group’s effort to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls.  What can we learn about leadership from the way Nehemiah faces obstacles? What might we learn from Nehemiah about how we can deal head-on with things that are really hard, and address challenges in a way that is both practical and grounded in faith?  Join us on Sunday as we consider these and other aspects of Nehemiah's story and our own experience!




Friday, October 11, 2013

Building a Community

Our text for this second Sunday of looking at Nehemiah and faithful leadership is Nehemiah 2:1-18, which can be read here: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=248513077.



In this week's portion of Nehemiah's story, Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem and begins to work on building the community he will need in order to get the walls of Jerusalem built. But what sort of team should Nehemiah assemble for this monumental task? What will exercising leadership as a united community rather than just as a collection of individuals look like?

When asked, “What makes teams successful?,” a survey of American workers done by Training and Development magazine found that 33% said getting along; 29% said listening; 21% said setting priorities; 6% said feeling recognized; 6% said having everyone agree; and 4% said deciding who's in charge (from Teamwork in the American Workplace, Dale Carnegie & Associates (Training and Development, January 1996 - Pp. 15 – 16)).  Think for a moment: when have you been part of a group where at least one of these things was true?  What was working as part of that team like? Are there other things you would add to this list as vital?

Then, I invite you to think about the different places where you exercise leadership—at home, church, work, in community groups.  How do the teams you work as part of function differently in these different places? Are there things that you think make the way we function as faith communities different than how we function in other communities--or that you think should make our faith-based communities function differently? If so, what are they?

Post your thoughts here--I would love to hear them this week as we consider how, before we can begin to build a wall, we must first invest in building the community that will make it possible--a community, as the book of Ephesians put it, that is rooted and grounded in love, and in a God who can do more through us than we can ever individually dream or imagine (Ephesians 3:18-21).





Thursday, October 3, 2013

Communion with the World

Our text for this Sunday is Nehemiah 1:1-11, which you can read here: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=247816440.


Recently, I have begun getting the bulk of my daily news from the BBC website rather than from an American website such as CNN, USA Today, or the Washington Post. Why, you ask? Well, what I appreciate about the BBC is their commitment to covering world news. American websites, it seems, often focus only on what is happening right in front of us--government shutdowns, pop culture happenings, etc. But on the BBC site I learn about world things I might not know about otherwise. Today, I learned these things:


At least 130 African migrants have died and many more are missing after a boat carrying them to Europe sank off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa. Most of those on board were from Eritrea and Somalia, and the boat was believed to have sailed from Libya.
In Ecuador, a judge has ordered the arrest of three army and police officers in the nation's first trial involving alleged crimes against humanity.
India's army says its troops have been fighting Pakistan-backed armed militants in Indian-administered Kashmir for more than a week.
In Myanmar, at least five Muslims were killed by Buddhist mobs in the Burmese state of Rakhine on Tuesday. Reports say terrified Muslims are hiding in fear of their lives. The renewed violence comes as President Thein Sein visits Rakhine.
Tanzania is one of Africa's biggest gold producers but according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), many thousands of children, some as young as eight, are risking their health by working in the country's small-scale gold mines, inhaling mercury fumes while extracting gold from the ore.
It's a great big world we live in. It can be overwhelming to think about. But World Communion Sunday--which is celebrated across the globe this week--is a chance to remember our deep connections to one another, to feel the pain of brothers and sisters we may never know but who are known intimately by God, to acknowledge that we cannot ignore one another when we have been joined as Christ's body, as family.
How can we truly live in communion with one another? As we come to the table with our broken, hurting world, Nehemiah's prayer from chapter 1 might be an apt one for us to consider as a model for how we connect with the condition of our world:
When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven. I said, ‘O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments; let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for your servants...We have offended you deeply, failing to keep the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples; but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are under the farthest skies, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place at which I have chosen to establish my name.” They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great power and your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name.





Saturday, September 28, 2013

Seeing the Connections

            
Our parable for this final week in our journey through the stories Jesus tells in Luke 14-16 is one that has traditionally been called The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (though I appreciated this week one commentator who suggested it should more accurately be called The Indifferent-Man-Who-Could-Have-Listened-to-Moses-and-the-Prophets-and-Followed-God's-Way-of-Life-and-Been-Welcomed-Into-Paradise-by-Father-Abraham-But-Chose-Not-To and Lazarus), found in Luke 16:19-31. Read it here:  http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=247392268.

I have learned so much this past month on our journey through Jesus' parables together in worship and in our Tuesday night Tea and Parables conversations. I think one of my biggest takeaways, though, has been learning to read Jesus' parables in light of each other. I have always thought of the parables as largely separate anecdotes, certainly all connecting to Jesus' teachings; but I have never really thought about the extensive ways the parables connect to and echo one another.

Take this week's parable, for example. As I read it, thinking about the rich man and his brothers seeing Lazarus in need every day yet refusing to really see and help, I heard incredible echoes of the parable of the Good Samaritan, where the priest and the levite refuse to help the wounded man even when they saw him. I heard echoes back to last week's parable--this as a further illustration of what it looks like to not be faithful with wealth, and certainly to fail to use your wealth to make friends, and to live as if the present world is run by consumer standards rather than kingdom standards. And I heard even echoes of the parables of lost things in Luke 15--perhaps this story is another illustration of what it looks like to be lost? And are more than one character lost in this story, just as in the story of the prodigal where both brothers were lost in different ways? And beyond parables, I hear incredible resonance between this parable and the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus.

I think there are lots of connections to be made, and I would encourage you to hear parables with not just Jesus' other teachings but also Jesus' other stories he told and lived. What bigger tapestry is Jesus trying to weave here? How are these stories not just to be heard as self-contained units but as clues to something bigger than themselves? What have you learned or noticed and what connections have you made on our journey through the parables?


Friday, September 20, 2013

The Systems We Find Ourselves In

Our parable for this week is perhaps the most perplexing and challenging one Jesus ever told--Luke 16:1-13, which can be read here.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been thinking about systems a lot. Namely, I have been thinking about the deep brokenness of the systems we live in. As I have talked with people who are caught up in government bureaucracy, who are trying to navigate the criminal justice system, who are fighting to receive what they need in the healthcare system, who are struggling under massive debt, who find themselves on the cusp of homelessness, I have grown more and more discouraged and found myself crying out for justice. No matter where you are politically, you have to admit there is deep brokenness in the systems of our nation and our world.

I feel like Jesus, in his mystifying parable this week, is offering some commentary about the systems of the world, the way the world works, and how we as Christians are to live in light of these systems. I have been reacquainting myself this week with the writings and work of one of my seminary classmates, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who has made it his ministry to challenge systems that oppress in a variety of ways, and read this quote from his book God's Economy that, for me, resonated with this passage of scripture:

Whatever steps we take to live the abundant life that Jesus has made possible, we can’t ignore the fact that we live in the midst of political systems that affect us and our neighbors. Beloved community happens here and now, but it never happens in a vacuum. God’s economy intersects with the economies of this world. We pay (or don’t pay) our taxes and our tithes with bills that bear the images of dead leaders and the inscriptions of nation-states. Wherever we find ourselves, God’s people live under occupation in this world, negotiating the power of rulers who have not yet submitted all things to our Creator. Jesus doesn’t ask us to flee from the world or take it over. Instead, he invites us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. He gives us a tactic for how to live as a people under occupation until the whole universe submits to our King.

What might a universe looks like that submits to our king? And how might we participate in that present-and-coming kingdom even now, in the midst of the broken systems that try to ensnare us? I think these are the challenges, among other things, with which this parable presents us. Read it and consider: what is Jesus really challenging and inviting us to here?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Give me an object...any object...

Our text for this week as we continue in our series on the parables is Luke 15:1-10, which can be read here: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=246031043.

   
One of my all-time favorite movies is "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Among the many humorous story lines in the movie, the father, Gus, has a fixation with helping his three children stay connected with their Greek heritage even as they grow up in America. He paints the Greek flag on their garage door. He quizzes them on Greek history at the dinner table. And he has a game that he loves to play with them: "Give me a word," he says, "any word, and I will show you how the root of that word is Greek." Even when some of his daughter's snarky middle school peers challenge him to find a Greek root in the word "kimono," Gus finds a way to make the connection. Every moment was a teachable moment; every word, a teachable word.

It's a very rough analogy, but I think Jesus used a very similar teaching strategy. When he wanted to help people understand what it meant to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven, he would take very ordinary, earthly objects, occupations, and practices that they saw every day in the world around them and show them how, at the root of that ordinary thing, one could see an extraordinary connection to who God is or what God's kingdom is about. Whether it was a tiny seed, a coin, some yeast, a field, fruit, sheep, salt--all these things became symbols of life in God's kingdom, a way to connect earth-bound people with the things God was doing. 

"When casting the meaning of God’s sovereign realm in parables," John Indermark writes in his book Parables and Passion, "Jesus does not turn to lofty symbolism accessible to a limited few. To a culture closely connected to the earth, Jesus speaks through the ordinary of seeds and fruit trees. To individuals who kneaded bread and swept floors, Jesus offers images of God’s purposes in yeast and misplaced coins." It was almost as if Jesus was saying, "Give me an object, any object, and I will show you the deep roots of God's kingdom right here, right now, among you."

In our Tea and Parables gathering Tuesday night, we each chose a random object from my living room and used it to share some insight with one another about the nature of God or God's kingdom as can be seen or taught through that thing. We talked about God in river rocks, in pencils, in pinecones, in the ability to Skype face-to-face with someone miles away. Try it this week--choose an object, any object. Choose a word, any word. Choose a moment, any moment--a relationship, any relationship. How does this teach you something about the nature of God's kingdom? How are the workings of our mysterious God closer to home than we might initially think?


Friday, September 6, 2013

Counting the Cost

Our main scripture for this week is Luke 14:25-33, which can be read here:  http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=245486402.

In the parables Jesus tells in this passage, he encourages any who would follow him to count the cost of discipleship and consider whether they are willing and able to pay it. This got me thinking about cost this week, as Broadneck prepares to celebrate its 31st anniversary as a worshipping body. What sort of costs were part of our lives in 1982, when our church was begun? According to my internet research, in 1982...

Average Cost of new house $82,200 
Average Monthly Rent $320.00 
Cost of a gallon of Gas $0.91
New Car Average price $7,983.00 
US Postage Stamp $0.20
Cost of a dozen eggs:  $0.84 
Cost of a gallon of Milk:  $2.24
Cost of year's in-state tuition to a 4-year university: $2,344

                   

How does this compare to the costs of the same things today? Well, roughly, in 2013 (and some of these truly blew my mind)...

Average Cost of new house $322,700
Average Monthly Rent $1,109.73
Cost of a gallon of Gas $3.52
New Car Average price $31,252 
US Postage Stamp  $0.46
Cost of a dozen eggs:  $1.83
Cost of a gallon of Milk:  $3.45
Cost of year's in-state tuition to a 4-year university: $8,655

This is all interesting...but what does it have to do with Jesus' parables, and our life as a church? Well, it got me to thinking about how we react when costs increase. What costs are worth continuing to pay? What do we do when things that used to not be costly suddenly involve sacrifice? And how do we answer these questions when it comes to discipleship? Now, I am not talking about the literal cost of things like Bibles or church budgets or utilities on our building. I am talking about, what do we do when following Jesus asks more of us than it ever has in the past...when being church requires us to sacrifice in new ways...when we have to reconsider our commitment to things in which it used to not cost much to invest, but that now could prove costly in terms of time, letting go of personal preferences, opening our minds and hearts, sacrificing for others, etc. Do we see following Jesus and being Christian community as worth the price even when it becomes more personally costly to us?

Think on these things, and let's talk about them together on Sunday.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Our primary text for this first Sunday of five where we study Jesus' parables (brief stories he told to illuminate what God or the kingdom of God is like) is Luke 14:1, 7-24, which can be read here.

Our parables this week are parables about our dinner tables that are told by Jesus around a dinner table. Which made me think that a good starting point for thinking about this parable could be, who do we eat with at our tables? What sorts of meals do we share together? Who is usually present for these meals? Who is missing?

I don't have pictures of all of you sharing meals in your private homes, obviously, but what I have done to start our reflecting is make a collage of artistic renderings of these parables together with pictures I have of meals we have shared together as a congregation. Take a while to reflect on these images that I have put together into one great image. Who is present in them? Who is absent? How do these images reflect the kingdom of God? Where is the kingdom of God needed to break in upon us in these pictures, and what might that look like?

Let your imagination and observation roam free...


For additional compelling feast images to get you thinking, check out this site that has some really amazingly provocative portrayals of the Last Supper:  http://exclusionandembrace.blogspot.com/2012/06/last-supper-for-everyone.html

Saturday, August 24, 2013

What is Sabbath?

Our texts for this week are Luke 13:10-17 and Acts 3:1-8, which can be read at http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=244361577.



Our Gospel story for this week, an instance where Jesus heals a bent-over woman in the synagogue,
leads to controversy over a question that, I think, we are still asking today:  what is Sabbath?  What does it mean to follow the fourth commandment, one of the ones we most often break--to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy?

As we approach our Christian Sabbath day tomorrow, I offer a few quotes to spark your thinking. What is the Sabbath day to you? What is the importance of a day set aside for worship, rest, and honoring God? What should such a day look like?

See if any of these ideas resonate with you:

The Sabbath is a "day of promise…a glimpse of God's dominion, a little slice of the messianic age dropped into the midst of regular time." -Richard Swanson

"There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.” -Abraham Heschel
"Like a path through the forest, Sabbath creates a marker for ourselves so, if we are lost, we can find our way back to our center." — Wayne Muller
What sort of Sabbath does your soul need? What does the Sabbath day look like in your life?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Being Jesus' Restless Ones

Upon returning home this afternoon after preaching on Luke 12:49-56 and Acts 17:1-8, I saw where one of my colleagues had posted this blessing from the Franciscans that seemed to fit beautifully with our sermon conversation today. I share it to further your reflection on Jesus' challenging words and the example of an early church that lived out its call to holy chaos, to turning the world upside down!

A Four-Fold Benedictine Blessing

by Sr. Ruth Fox, OSB (1985)
May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Blog Hiatus, and Art for Thought

Hello Faithful Readers-

You may notice a bit of a regular blog hiatus over these weeks; I have been out of town on a vacation that included an intentional internet Sabbath, and am preparing to head out on our annual Intergenerational West Virginia Mission Trip next week and will be on a forced internet Sabbath as we lodge at the lovely but very low-tech 4-H center of Barbour County.

However, as I regroup between these adventures, I came across a couple of pieces of art that go with the parable found in our Gospel text for this Sunday, Luke 12:16-21.  Give it a read here, then reflect on the artwork below.  How do these shed light on what Jesus may have been seeking to teach us in this short but powerful story of a man and his barns?

 Hofheinz-Döring, Margret, 1910-1994
Miser
, from Art in the Christian Traditiona project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.


Jim Janknegt’s "rich fool"
a project of www.rejesus.co.uk




Thursday, July 11, 2013

Being Jesus'...Bowels?

Our texts for this Sunday, as we continue our series from Luke-Acts on "Being the Body" that explores how the church enacts and embodies the teachings of Christ, are Luke 10:25-27 and Acts 15:1-18, which can be read here.

OK, weird blog post title. I know. But that's because, as I thought about which part of Jesus' body this Sunday's Gospel invites us to be, I was struck by this line Jesus spoke about the traveller we now call the Good Samaritan:

"when he saw him, he was moved with pity."--Luke 10:33

The word "pity" here can also be translated "compassion," or the fantastically graphic Greek word "splagchnizomai" (try saying that one out loud, just for fun) which means, literally, "to be moved as in one's bowels." It sounds weird to our modern ears, but the bowels were thought, in Jesus' day, as the core location of love and pity, that which compels one to action on behalf of another.  In other words, when he was "moved with pity," the "Good Samaritan" was not acting out of some sort of moral obligation, societal responsibility, or some sort of condescending do-gooder spirit; he felt an empathy and compassion towards this stranger that was so deep, he felt it in the lining of his intestines.  It was profound, to his very core, too compelling to ignore.  He was with the man he was reaching out to.  He was drawn to him as with an undeniable magnetic force from somewhere deep within.

I know it's kind of gross to think about it in this literal way...but think about it.  To be moved that viscerally on behalf of total strangers?  What would it be like to show compassion with this sort of passion and physical connection with others who are in pain?  What if this is the deep, embodied way Jesus wants us to express empathy in action even towards those who may be our enemies?  How would this change the way we show love and care to others?


Friday, July 5, 2013

Being Jesus' Feet

As we get back onto the lectionary schedule of readings (sort of--I will be pairing the Luke reading
with complementary readings from Acts, because I have decided we simply don't read Acts enough!), our texts this week are Luke 10:1-11 and Acts 6:1-7, 13:1-4, which you can read here.

In my reading for the sermon this week, I was intrigued by the words of a blogger I really respect, Dan Clendinin, who writes at Journey with Jesus.  In considering our Gospel text, he commented:

One of the fascinating things about the Jesus story is how far and how fast it spread. The book of Acts begins in Jerusalem and ends 1500 miles to the west in Rome. The wild fire also burned to the east. By the year 635 believers confessed Jesus as Lord in China. A hundred years after that, Syrian believers had spread the gospel to Baghdad, Tibet and India. The apostle Paul traveled 10,000 miles proclaiming the good news of God's love. How did this happen?

It is a good question indeed.  How did the story of Jesus spread when he was a peasant from a small town with only 12 original uneducated followers, in a day where there were no cars, planes, interstates, phones, email, internet, or other means of long-distance connection and communication?

Well, it began with people who were willing to go, as the seventy did in today's reading--into isolated villages, forgotten corners, wherever Jesus needed them to go to eat with others, befriend others, and, in relationship with others, share the good news of God's Kingdom and how it was very near to them, right where they were.  Anthropologist Margaret Mead once famously said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."  This was how Jesus began changing the world; and this is how it still happens today.

I think about our "group of thoughtful, committed people" at Broadneck and am amazed at how we are changing the world--and how far we are making our impact.  I think of two members of our congregation who left today to travel to Zimbabwe with JourneyPartners, taking along a dear friend of mine from college whose life has already been impacted by her Broadneck connection and whose life will now be shaped even more.  I think about how two members of our congregation spent the last year in Prague as volunteers at International Baptist Theological Seminary, interacting with the ministers and future ministers that make up a student body holding citizenship in 30 different countries.  I think about another congregant's ongoing connection with Baptists in the Republic of Georgia, about a former participant who is headed later this month to spend time in India teaching at a seminary, about our congregation's ongoing relationship with small towns in West Virginia that we will renew in August on our mission trip, about participants who are spending the summer in Brazil, about our connections with Kenya and with neighbors we encounter once a year when we spend a week giving our time to their kids at Music and Arts Camp, about seeing one of our Winter Relief guests riding around Annapolis on his bike greeting people when I was downtown for the Fourth of July yesterday.

I could go on and on, but the point is I have no doubt about it:  we are part of how Jesus is continuing to scatter the seed of his message far and wide, starting with groups of committed people.  And this, my friends, is worth celebrating!  How can we keep being messengers of this good news, the feet of Jesus wherever we travel?




Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sacred Scriptures: A New Day for All People

Tomorrow will be our last Sunday focusing our time together in worship on the scriptures that people in our congregation named as sacred to them--verses and stories that have shaped them in their faith, that have stuck with them over time. Because five weeks is not enough time to cover all the stories and passages people named, each day (except Sundays) through this series one passage that was named by some people but that did not make the "Top 5" has been featured here, with an accompanying image and questions for reflection. As you read this final passage from the final book of the Bible, may you continue to seek to re-encounter long-known texts and to discover new ones that are sacred to others and may become sacred to you!

From Revelation 21 and 22

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.


  • Imagine a new heaven and a new earth.  What would you keep the same from our present world?  What would you want to change?
  • Which image in this passage speaks to you most powerfully?
  • What might it look like for the nations to be healed, with God making God's home among them and acting as their light?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sacred Scriptures: Entertaining Angels

We will spend one more Sunday focusing our time together in worship on the scriptures that people in our congregation named as sacred to them--verses and stories that have shaped them in their faith, that have stuck with them over time. Because five weeks is not enough time to cover all the stories and passages people named, each day (except Sundays) one passage that was named by some people but that did not make the "Top 5" will be featured here, with an accompanying image and questions for reflection. May this be a chance for you to re-encounter long-known texts and to discover new ones
that are sacred to others and may become sacred to you!

Hebrews 13:1-2

Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.


  • Consider Genesis 18, the back story for this word of exhortation to the early church.  What do you think compelled Abraham to offer such extravagant welcome?
  • When have you been challenged to show hospitality to strangers?  What sacrifice or trust does this require of you? 
  • Why might hospitality be a crucial practice for those calling themselves Christian?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sacred Scriptures: Heroes of Faith

We will spend one more Sunday focusing our time together in worship on the scriptures that people in our congregation named as sacred to them--verses and stories that have shaped them in their faith, that have stuck with them over time. Because five weeks is not enough time to cover all the stories and passages people named, each day (except Sundays) one passage that was named by some people but that did not make the "Top 5" will be featured here, with an accompanying image and questions for reflection. May this be a chance for you to re-encounter long-known texts and to discover new ones that are sacred to others and may become sacred to you!

Hebrews 11

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.
3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks.
5 By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
7 By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
17 By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, 18 of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” 19 He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
20 By faith Isaac invoked blessings for the future on Jacob and Esau.
21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, “bowing in worship over the top of his staff.”
22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions about his burial.
23 By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days.
31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

  • How would you define faith? 
  • Of all the characters named in this litany, which ones do you most relate to?  Which ones would you like to know more about?
  • In what way or ways have you lived, as these did, "by faith"?