Compelled

I continue to be constantly amazed at how the lectionary reaches deep into our lives and teaches us lessons that are timely, accurate, and humbling. I have said before that I went years without giving the lectionary much attention because I was serving in churches that chose not to follow it. (The lectionary is a three-year program of assigned scriptures for every week to be used in preaching and Christian education.) I once worked with a senior pastor who liked to preach either in a series, or as “the spirit led.” He was a wonderful preacher and his methodology certainly blessed the congregation.

But today’s lectionary speaks so closely to my heart and my current situation, I could have penned it myself, though clearly not with such eloquence. But every word in this passage resonates with me about why I get up early every day and slog through writing At Water’s Edge. I have been criticized, praised, supported, and dismissed. None of that matters. When Paul says, “I’m compelled to do it, and doomed if I don’t!” I rise up in my chair, raise my coffee cup and yell, “PREACH IT BROTHER!”

I apologize if this is somewhat self-absorbed, but I bet there is something in here for you, too.

Are you in a family situation where your beliefs have separated you from your loved ones? Do you struggle with those who discredit you for your faith? Are you surrounded by meticulous moralists? Paul GETS YOU.

1 Corinthians 9 (The Message)

15-18 Still, I want it made clear that I’ve never gotten anything out of this for myself, and that I’m not writing now to get something. I’d rather die than give anyone ammunition to discredit me or question my motives. If I proclaim the Message, it’s not to get something out of it for myself. I’m compelled to do it, and doomed if I don’t! If this was my own idea of just another way to make a living, I’d expect some pay. But since it’s not my idea but something solemnly entrusted to me, why would I expect to get paid? So am I getting anything out of it? Yes, as a matter of fact: the pleasure of proclaiming the Message at no cost to you. You don’t even have to pay my expenses!

When we accept the call to be witnesses for Christ in our lives, it is necessary to do exactly what Paul describes: to enter the world of those who haven’t encountered Christ yet, but to not take on their way of life. To keep your bearings IN Christ while trying to experience things from other people’s point of view. To become whatever sort of servant God can use to lead others to him.

19-23 Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!

The lesson today is to be like Paul. Don’t just talk about it…get in on it! You too will be criticized, supported, praised, or dismissed. So be it. If God is for us, nothing can harm us. NOTHING can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus.

Don’t just read the message…be the message.

A New Day by Michelle Robertson

Pitching Tents in the Land of HOPE

Every day that goes by during this pandemic brings a new set of numbers, reports, opinions, plans, sorrows, and sometimes even words of hope. Trying to keep up with all of it is overwhelming. Taking a news-fast helps, but every driveway conversation with our neighbors as we walk the dog brings new information and more speculation into our thoughts.

The lectionary passage for the second week of Eastertide absolutely nails it. Again, the ability for the lectionary to speak directly into our situation continues to blow me away. I was accused of cherry-picking my texts (which I don’t do, if you understand how the lectionary works.) But if I was a cherry-picker, honey, I’d have picked this bright red cherry for us today:

Acts 2 (The Message)

22-28 “Fellow Israelites, listen carefully to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man thoroughly accredited by God to you—the miracles and wonders and signs that God did through him are common knowledge—this Jesus, following the deliberate and well-thought-out plan of God, was betrayed by men who took the law into their own hands, and was handed over to you. And you pinned him to a cross and killed him. But God untied the death ropes and raised him up. Death was no match for him.

What jumps out immediately is that Jesus was following the DELIBERATE and WELL-THOUGHT-OUT plan of God. That took me back to an earlier lectionary passage where we discovered Paul’s words of encouragement to persevere as we run this race, which is “already marked out” for us. We take that to mean that this pandemic has a beginning, a course of moving forward, and a finish line. There is hope in that! Every day we are one day closer to the end, thanks be to God.

Today we are reminded that God’s plan for dealing with this is deliberate and well-thought-out. Jesus followed it. So should we.

Did you know that God’s plan includes the death of death? He untied the death ropes from Jesus, and death was no match for him!

David said it all:

I saw God before me for all time.
    Nothing can shake me; he’s right by my side.
I’m glad from the inside out, ecstatic;
    I’ve pitched my tent in the land of hope.
I know you’ll never dump me in Hades;
    I’ll never even smell the stench of death.
You’ve got my feet on the life-path,
    with your face shining sun-joy all around.

I would love for us to make David’s words our prayer. Pray this today if you need a little boost:

Gracious and Loving God,

Today I have decided that nothing can shake me. YOU are right by my side.

Knowing this brings me gladness from the inside-out!

And so today, I will choose to pitch my tent in the land of HOPE.

I know that I will not be abandoned to the hell of death, because You have my feet walking the path of light.

Father, I raise my joy-bright face toward heaven and loudly proclaim:

NOT TODAY, SATAN. Amen.

Thank you for pitching your tent next to mine. Together, we will get through this.

Sunrise in the Land of Hope by Michelle Robertson

Lent Rules

Let’s talk about the Lectionary for a moment.

The Revised Common Lectionary is a prescribed set of scripture assignments in a three-year cycle. The purpose of the Lectionary is to provide preachers with a compass. Those who follow it will be sure to draw from a wide range of readings, as opposed to choosing what to preach on each week based on our own preferences. Trust me, we would all like to stay in the safe waters of the Gospel of John or the Psalms, but the Lectionary throws us into the deep depths of Amos and Revelation as well. Those are books a smart preacher avoids like the plague! So following the Lectionary ensures that the entire Bible gets preached.

A Lenten discipline that I am practicing for the second year now is to do these devotionals following the Lectionary. Usually when I sit down to write, God has presented a topic that has captured my attention and I find a scripture that speaks directly to the issue. During Lent, the scripture will find me instead, as I will be following the four prescribed weekly assignments for Year A. (Fridays will be writer’s choice!)

Yes, this is a harder approach. But Lent is designed to stretch us, challenge us, and allow God to teach us his wisdom into our secret hearts. So come along with me as we allow the Lectionary to drive this train!

Matthew 6 (The Message)

“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding.

2-4 “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.

Isn’t this an appropriate text for our first week in Lent? It lays out the rules: don’t make a performance out of being good. Don’t call attention to yourself when you are doing something for someone else. Don’t show your compassion only when someone is watching. Don’t focus on how you look when you are helping someone.

Be quiet. Be unobtrusive.

Pray with Simplicity

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

This last verse nails Lent: go to your quiet and secluded place and JUST BE THERE as simply and honestly as you can manage, and shift your focus to God.

Ponder that as you move through your day. When and where can you quiet down your life so that you can sense God’s grace today? When and where can you enter into God’s presence and shift your focus to him?

Lent is calling. Go into your prayer closet and shut the door. Shut down your ego, shut the door on your need for attention, and especially shut out the clamor of the world around you…and simply BE.

https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=23