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

June 18 Devotions

John Wesley encouraged Christians to check in with each other with the question, “How is it with your soul?”  Sometimes there is a pause as people think—discerning how it is with their souls, assessing if they wish to share how it is with their souls.  Often, some souls are hurting while some are rejoicing, some are weary while some are hopeful.  Mid-May 2020 I am going to venture a guess many of us might have said, “My soul is like an Easter ham left in the oven just a bit too long.  It is overcooked, singed a bit, and needs out of the heat, before the smoke starts curling out of the oven door.”  That was when Covid-19 seemed our only big issue.  Mid-June 2020, we are pressed to see and search out a solution for centuries of unhealthy racial divisions in this country; plus, the pandemic is surging now in many southern states.

     Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, wrote, “There is a place in the soul where we feel God’s embrace.  It is found whenever in this life we meet truth, love, gentleness, forgiveness, justice, and innocence.  In the presence of these, the soul feels right.”  I have a hunch your soul, like mine, longs for moments of feeling God’s embrace in the midst of all that is going on.

     Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul.  Be afraid of the one who can destroy both the body and soul in hell.  Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet, not one of them falls to the earth without your Father knowing about it already.  Even the hairs of your head are all counted.  Don’t be afraid.  You are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28-31)

     Those words are meant to invite us into God’s embrace:

1)     God’s embrace for white people seeking to be their best selves, while knowing they’ve much to learn about their Black neighbors;

2)    God’s embrace for Black people falling under the weight of injustice;

3)    God’s embrace for the myriad of diverse people in this world trying to keep hope alive for a better day for themselves and their children and their children’s children.

     Wherever we find truth, love, gentleness, forgiveness, justice, and innocence our souls find God’s embrace.  Whenever we find truth, love, gentleness, forgiveness, justice, and innocence are absent, if we work for these things, hope for these things, encourage one another through these things, we also find God’s embrace, by sharing it.  The embrace part is hard right now with physical distancing.  Still, rest assured the God who knows when a single sparrow falls knows our struggles.  Do not be afraid.  When we share the ingredients of God’s embrace with others whose souls are weary, their souls and ours are restored.

      Pray to feel and to help others feel God’s embrace today.

      Be Well & Be Blessed,

     Pastor Roger

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.
.
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