October 22 Devotion

  “Come to me, all you who are weary of struggling and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.  Put on my yoke; Learn from me (I am gentle and humble); and you will find rest for yourselves.  My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

     What’s tough for you right now? Tuesday started out tough for me:  waiting for word from my Dad about the results of his mid-morning CT scan specifically searching for masses in the chest or lung area.  Along with everything Covid, everything political, the everyday empty church parking lot (a symbol missed conversations, connections and care), along with all those tough things, I was waiting to hear from my parents.  The Doctor promised to call Dad with results by 2 PM Tuesday.  Dad said, “When the doctor called at 2:05 PM, I could tell by the sound of his voice it was good news before he said a word about the scan.”

     When I heard the news, I was amazed how much lighter I felt.  It was still snowing.  Covid-19 was still spreading.  The church parking lot was still empty. The politics of the day were still uber-mean and often ridiculous. Still, I felt lighter. A load had been lifted for my parents.

     Today, 10/22/2020, I listened to a CBS interview with a nurse in one of five Covid-19 units in a Milwaukee hospital, in a city where they’ve set up tent hospitals to face the rising winter tide of Covid-19.  Nurse Ashley Bonus is young–but has type I diabetes and is 17 weeks pregnant.  Ashley works in the critical care unit with the most critical patients.  She said it was a hard choice to decide if she wished to continue in the Covid-19 ICU. She spoke in terms of war and battle—with a smile of all things. “You have to figure out what you are fighting for and keep it at the forefront.  This community, these patients, their families are who I am fighting for.”  “The emotional support and camaraderie in this unit is my strength.”  Like most nurses Ashley has a deep calling.

     None of us knows how this Covid-19 pandemic will unfold or when it will end.  I felt much lighter, however, after listening to Nurse Ashley.  She reminded of something critical, “figure out what you’re fighting for and keep it at the forefront.”

     At the end of the day Ashley is not ranting on Facebook.  She’s not encouraging distrust of other Americans.  She’s not chasing conspiracy theories.  She’s not finding ways to skew numbers or skewer those who disagree with her.  She is fighting the good fight for the sake of “community, patients and their families.”  She is fighting to bring healing, blessing, and caring to the world.

     What brings us down?  It is usually the things that lead us to neglect community, to dismiss people or belittle human needs.  Rants, mistrust, arguments, focusing on ourselves—those things burden us.  They are like spiritual cancers.

     Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary of struggling and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.  Put on my yoke; Learn from me (I am gentle and humble); and you will find rest for yourselves.  My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

     Ashley says, “Figure out what is worth (it)…and keep it at the forefront.” (Then she lists community, the needs of others and building camaraderie.) 

     Today, I invite us to name what is tough…remembering Jesus wants to lighten our burdens and offer a lighter way to live life.  There are a lot of tough things right now.  Jesus knows that, and cares deeply about the heavy loads you and I are carrying.  Accept that gracious care and be patient with yourself.

Today, I invite us to remember the most delightful feelings in the world are:   1) helping another along the way;   2) celebrating others’ good news;  3) caring for a person when they most need someone at their side.   In the end, those are things we will never regret.  We will “rest easy” for being like Jesus, “gentle and humble.”     

Blessings, Pastor Roger

September 4 Devotions

Mary Oliver’s words are so true–“only if there are angels in your head will you ever, possibly, see one.”  We can only see what the mind allows as a possibility.  Mary’s quote is much like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.  Hate can not drive out hate, only love can do that.”  What is inside of us shapes how we see the world–be it a sense of “angels among us,” “an ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” or “the capacity to love in a world filled with hate.”  When Jesus was accused of working for the devil in Matthew 12:24-35, Jesus said, “Kingdoms divided against themselves fall,…Why would Satan send someone to cast out demons and thereby destroy himself?”  The pharisees saw what was a good thing, a God thing, but lacking love and hope inside themselves, all they could do was express an inner fear that Satan was attacking.
We are in the midst of difficult times in this world.  We don’t need to look far or listen carefully to find fears of the worst.  Mistrust, cynicism and hate abound.  Two thousand years ago in a world based in fear, because it was ruled by the Romans who used fear every day to maintain their power, Paul wrote a letter to the early Christians.  He said, “Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love one another. … The commandments, ‘Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have,’ and any other commandment, are all summed up in one sentence, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ Since Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor, love fulfills the law.” (Romans 13:8-10).
I think Paul was telling Christians who lived in a world of fear, don’t let the distrust and hate get into your heart and head.  Do not let suspicions and frustrations rule your soul.  Focus on Christ and just keep living a life of love.  Nearing an election, in a year of pandemic, with highlighted racial divides, and coping with “living in a nation of two Americas,” choosing love is not an easy.  But, it is a necessary.  Today, and everyday in the near future, we must ask ourselves, How can we bring out the better angels in each other?  When can we be part of God’s light shining in the darkness?  Where can we show love in a world with much hate?
Today I pray for you, me, and Christ’s church.  May we have angels in our heads, light in our souls and love in our hearts.  
Sunday, our Facebook Live worship service will focus on Labor’s of Love.  I hope to see you there.  
Be Well and Be a Blessing,
 Pastor Roger    

July 24 Devotions

     What a week.  In Portland the mayor meets with protestors and ended up being tear-gassed.  In Florida, Texas, Arizona, Georgia and elsewhere new Covid-19 records were set in terms of # of cases, # of deaths, # of hospitalizations.  Closer to home, Clay County, MN has the distinction of being the county with the first infant to die of Covid-19 in the state.  For those interested in the math 1- 986 infants were diagnosed with Covid-19 in MN.  So we have a Covid infant death ratio of 1 in 1,000 ratio–.1% of cases.  Better than 1-3 out of 100 with adults, but still not a comforting statistic for parents or grandparents.

     It would be nice if “What a Week” didn’t seem to be every week lately.  My personal challenge of the week was much smaller, but time consuming.  This week Sharon will be away on Sunday, so worship won’t exactly be live-streamed.  Instead, several live pieces of worship are now stitched together and set to “premiere” on the Church’s Facebook page.  It will look and act like Facebook Live.  We’ll be able to greet one another and make comments along the way.  While setting up a premiere for the first time beats getting tear-gassed in Portland, it did become a very long day of trial and error.  And, in the end, worship will Premiere on Sunday morning at 10 AM and I will watch it with the other watchers.

     However, that thirty-five-minute worship service won’t bring a Clay County infant back for the parents and family.  It won’t solve the racial problems in our country.  It won’t end “mask wars.”

     It will call us to hope, nonetheless, by focusing on a powerful parable Jesus shares.  Jesus says “the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in the field.  It is the smallest of all seeds.  But, when it is grown, it … becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its branches” (Matthew 13:31-33).  Worship sometimes seems like a small thing in a deeply hurting world.  Like a small mustard seed, worship may also become a marvelous, sheltering home for our spiritual selves.  Worship may be that place where we find renewed strength to be part of fulfilling our Lord’s prayer, ”Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

     I hope worship is that for us this Sunday.  (Frankly, part of me just hopes it arrives on time from Facebook’s mysterious Premiere cloud).  I also hope we find ways to be in worship each day of the week.  After the sun sets, standing outside for a few moments under the starry skies, sharing our main hope or our main worry, asking God to hold it for the night is an act of worship.  Pausing to feel a mid-day breeze that has just crossed a lake and hearing water stir, as it has done for centuries before us can be a moment of worship.  It reminds us God is larger than our anxieties.  Any moment, we can pause to be aware and worshipful.  It may not change the world—but it may change us in the best of ways.

May you have a worshipful week.

Pastor Roger