May 28 Devotion

Greetings,

This week’s devotion is a bit different than most.  It is more of a summary of what’s on my heart with regard to recent news items.  I spent much of  last night trying to put my thoughts into words:  for a Facebook post.  During my 30 years ministry I’ve been a police chaplain for 15.  Just last week I was called out around midnight to share with a death notification.  Overall, I appreciate the work they do, like overall I appreciate the work of my pastoral colleagues.  That said, sometimes pastor’s cross serious boundaries they should not, as do police.  Because of their profession, when that happens the damage done is worse because of their professional responsibilities.  So, these thoughts on Police, Racism, Covid-19, and Prayer.

5/27 – Grand Forks police officers were serving civil paperwork when a man opened fire without warning. Four shot, two dead–an officer and a civilian. I deeply appreciate the risk officers take every day, a free choice to follow their calling.
Skin color, however, is not a choice! Sadly it’s still a risk-factor in the US in 2020. Seeing an officer with a knee on the neck of an unarmed, non-combative, handcuffed, black man for over five minutes while the man apparently suffocates to death is why it is vital to say specifically, “Black lives matter.” What we’ve seen in the video footage was not right, not a split second error in judgement, not respect for another’s humanity. It was horrific. Breath… breath… basic, simple breath… is a human right.
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Two weeks ago a black jogger was shot by civilians who felt entitled to be jury, judge and executioner of a stranger they mistook for someone else; again, race was clearly involved. My heart aches for all who feel vulnerable, through no choice of their own, because of the ongoing, brutal sin of racism.

Physicians are telling us the best way to counter Covid-19 at this point is for me to wear a mask to protect you, and you to wear a mask to protect me. Perhaps if Covid-19 can teach us anything it is that it does not care a one bit about race. It recognizes all colors are fully-human. It reminds us we will only survive and thrive as human beings when we choose to respect, protect and serve one another.
God help us…respect, protect and serve…God help us. (so ends my Facebook post)
What I wish to add for you today is one image of the God who longs to help us is from Isaiah 55.  “All of you who are thirsty, come to the water. … Listen, and come to me and you will live. …  Seek the Lord when he can still be found; call God while God is near. … Let the wicked abandon their ways and the sinful their schemes.  Let them return to the Lord so the may receive mercy, from our God who is generous with forgiveness.”
 
Today, I invite you to join me in taking a moment to be in God’s generous presence.  I will be asking God to reveal the places where I still need to grow in acceptance and understanding of others whose skin is a different color than mine.  I invite you to do the same.  I will ask God for the courage to stand with and speak up for my Black, Asian and Native friends when needed.  I invite you to do the same.  I will ask God to teach me how to respect, protect and serve my neighbors.  I invite you to do the same.  I will ask for healing for this nation and this world, and ask God how I can be a part of that healing.  I invite you to do the same.
 
In the Spirit of Christ,
Pastor Roger   

May 8 Devotion

Greetings,

 Recently I read the line, “Freedom does NOT mean you get to drill a hole in the boat we are all sitting in.”  As you may have guessed, the line has to do with Covid-19 precautions.  This last week a store manager was physically attacked for asking a woman to wear a mask she already had hanging around her neck; a DNR/Park Ranger was pushed off the dock into the water while asking people to socially distance; a Family Dollar security guard was shot and killed after asking a woman to refrain from entering the store without a mask; a bus-driver was spit upon for asking a rider to put on a mask pre-boarding as per policy; a police officer was spit on after asking a person to put on a mask.  

 
Every instance named above resulted in felony-level charges from assault to murder.  Each alleged perpetrator had defenses that ran from “it’s a free country, to you disrespected my wife, to it’s unconstitutional to make a person wear a mask.”  A non-legal way of defining such “assault” would be, “if I don’t like someone or some policy, I will do something to hurt someone.”  Such assaults are considered felonies because the attitude is dangerously destructive.
 
As someone who has sometimes been asked to put on hospital masks, and gowns, in health-care settings for over 30 years, I am perplexed.  There are a myriad of conditions where the least little virus or bacteria could infect another and kill them.  I’d never want that on my conscious, so I happily mask up. There are also some highly contagious super-bugs I’d never want to take home to those I love.  So, I happily put on the garb.  Further, I follow a man who was willing to wear a crown of thorns for me.  I follow a man that girded himself with a towel and washed his followers feet and called me to serve my neighbors too, and love them as myself.  
 
Grace UMC’s leaders will be creating a re-opening plan.  Likely masks will be in that plan.  Masks are uncomfortable.  But, I’ve always considered wearing a mask a privilege–because there are times in medical situations when only health-care workers, immediate family, and pastors are allowed—sometimes only with masks.  Right now, we are dealing with a virus so transmittable that even immediate family and pastors don’t have the privilege to visit in-person in hospitals even with masks.  The risk of doing harm is that high.
 
As we go through this Covid-19 experience, I ask us to breathe, close our eyes, and imagine Jesus wearing the crown of thorns, (or as some have described the crucifixion, “putting on our sin and shame”).  Then, when we open our eyes again, all the little precautions we are asked to take won’t seem so difficult.  In fact, we can put on a mask and whisper, “Jesus, I do this for you, and those you love.”  Every precaution, every frustrating Covid-19 nuisance that takes away a bit of our daily freedom, “Jesus, we do this for you, and those you love.”  
 
God’s Peace and Wellness, 
Pastor Roger          

April 30 Devotion

Greetings,

You are the first to see my personal, hand-held, Covid-19 protection-shield. Micro-droplets are caught before they even reach the mask. In the words of a famous song, “I will survive.” In the words of a Bugs Bunny vocal warm up cartoon, “Me, me, me, me, me, me, me.” Actually, I’m not carrying it around. It’s just an old motorcycle windshield. The real truth about Covid-19 comes from another commercial — “that’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works.”

If anything good can be found in this Covid-19 pandemic, it’s that we are reminded surviving this pandemic is only possible if we embrace a mind-set that asks, “how can I keep from spreading this virus? How can I keep from catching this virus is NOT enough?” Our health, wellness and ability to thrive as individuals begins with us striving keeping others healthy, well and thriving.

The Covid-19 world insists we are not self-sufficient. We’re super-dependent upon an endless array of “essential-workers.” Sure, some of us nearly bald fellows can cut our own hair; as can some of you talented folk. But I cannot fill all the potholes on my daily commute, manufacture my own toilet paper, or raise my own cow. So, I need to be concerned about the health and working conditions of meat plant workers–and every essential-worker. I can’t whip up own prescriptions from scratch or create electricity to energize so much of my life. I can’t stay well, without others who are acting “as if” they have the Novel Corona virus. More importantly, others can’t stay well, unless I act “as if” I have the virus and take precautions to protect them—because we spread the virus for days before we know we have it. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in a myriad of complex ways.

I believe Jesus’ teachings and way of life were meant for times like these. Jesus said, “All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them.” (Luke 9:24) Jesus’ teachings and actions reveal his mindset that the world is a safer, better place when our daily focus is on serving others rather than protecting ourselves. That is why Jesus’ taught his disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” In heaven selfishness has no place. And, that is part of Jesus’ dream for earth. The more deeply we show love to our neighbors, the better we will get through this.

I invite us to pray with a servant mindset, “God, help me be part of keeping others people safe and well everyday through my considerate actions. Amen.”

Blessings and May You Be Well,

Pastor Roger

April 23 Devotion

25 years ago this week, (April 19, 1995) 168 people were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing.  After 25 years that day is foggy.  But, I do recall a deep horror that daycare children died in the bombing.  Logically, all those killed, whatever age, were God’s children.  Emotions don’t always follow logic.  Like with other national disasters and acts of terror the whole nation went into mourning–though most of us didn’t know the people who died.

    As I type these words the “Worldometer” is recording 49,651 deaths in the USA from Covid-19:  people of all ages, one of whom was my friend.  If all the deaths happened on one day, I believe we would be planning national service of mourning.  But,  our losses are slow motion like a war–that is not over yet.  And we can not ever gather.  How do we mourning and keep on moving forward?  How do we mourn: and go through the processes of filing for unemployment; and wash our masks and our hands and go do essential jobs everyday; and help our kids with at home schooling; and navigating working from home, and navigate the new ways of shopping; and learn virtual ways of meeting; and seek to meet our God in worship far from church buildings and each other?
     2000+ years ago those who the hoped most in Jesus’ suffered the greatest when he was crucified.  They hid for fear of being arrested and suffering a similar fate.  Many were in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, yet had to return home to their lives sometime.  One of the stories we have is that of two people walking home to a town called Emmaus.  At Sunday’s virtual worship, we’ll ponder their journey more.  For now, remember a stranger arrived to walk with them (the risen Christ who they didn’t recognize).  During the walk they poured out their hearts, re-told their hopes and their hurts.  The stranger listened and told them all the places he glimpsed God’s presence in their memories.  Looking back at the day’s end, after recognizing Jesus, the walkers said, “did not our hearts burn within us…on the road.” (Luke 24:32)
     My prayer for all of us, and for each of us in our socially distanced, separated lives, is that the healing power of the risen-Christ will come into our daily walks.  I know, our daily walks are mixed with losses, to-do lists and this-isn’t-over-yet.  I also know humans are biologically pre-programmed to exist in families and tribes.  So, here’s a suggestion.  Each day pick one stranger whose lost to Covid-19 and lift that person (and family) up in prayer.  Pick one story of kindness you witness or hear about and give thanks that you glimpsed God’s grace at work.  Pick one.  Share one.  Share one story of hope with another person by phone or an e-mail.  Pick one.  Share One.  Place one.  Place one foot in front of the other, knowing somehow, though the Grace of God, the Easter God is still at work in this world, in Jesus’ name.  Pick one loss.  Share one sign of God.  Place one foot in front of the other in faith.  Jesus walks with us in this.
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Blessings,
Pastor Roger