November 17 Devotion

Greetings,

Friday afternoon I went out to get a furnace air-filter.  Ace Hardware’s Moorhead lot was empty.  A door-sign said, “Out of an abundance of caution we are closed…”; Ace was dealing with a positive Covid-19 case, testing all their employees, and taking appropriate precautions.  Later, I noticed Altony’s restaurant was empty and its name removed.  Monday the Tires Plus lot was empty and re-opening in 14 days.  Perhaps effects of the pandemic.  Friday morning I was aware of 13 active cases (people I know or relatives of people I know).  By Saturday eve that number increased to 19 cases, plus one awaiting test results.  Cases, deaths, and hospitalizations have rapidly risen.  Health-care workers worldwide are distressed as health-systems overload.  When I read Minnesota’s daily death toll exceeded 50, one day, I felt sick to my stomach for a bit.  Most are feeling the stress in one way or another.  Even those who are not convinced Covid-19’s real feel the stress of its effects on the world.  It is a lot to take in.

History and legend remind us “the first Thanksgiving,” came on the heels of a stressful, loss-filled year.  Still, they sought to tend a spirit of gratefulness.  Psalm 100 invites us to practice gratitude: “Know that the Lord is God—the Lord made us; we belong to God.  Enter the Lord’s gates with thanks.”  Practicing gratitude is especially vital in stress-filled times.

Rory Swenson (friend and pastor at Grace UMC – Burnsville) recently shared words from author Diana Gibbons. Her writing overflows with gratitude.

I can say nothing of God, except I saw the red flames of a cardinal against the snow this morning as I drank tea.

     I can say nothing of God, except the warm smell of potato soup and the sharp tang of cheddar cheese shimmied up my nose when a friend made lunch for me.

     I can say nothing of God, except two nights ago a cricket sang a funny song in my closet amidst the socks and silence.

     I can say nothing of God, except stones can speak, deer can fly in my dreams; a strange child smiled at me in the supermarket, that each blade of green grass wears a locket with God’s face inside, and that on every hair of my cat’s face is written, “alleluia.”

     I can say nothing of God except the rough texture of grainy bread on my tongue and the sweet liquid acid of grape in my throat are a bittersweet memory of compassion and a taste of heaven.

Every day between now and Thanksgiving, find a reason to be grateful—however small it may seem.  (If you are inclined, take a moment to write down whatever brings gratitude. Perhaps start your sentence with “I can say nothing of God, except…”; Read your list on Thanksgiving).  One way or another, before closing your eyes for the night, take a moment to be in God’s presence with a word of thanks.  Every moment of Thanksgiving becomes strength for the journey and blessing for the soul.

“The Lord made us.  We are God’s.  … Enter the Lord’s gates with thanks.” (Psalm 100:3b & 4a)

May You be Well, Blessed and Grateful, 

Pastor Roger

October 29 Devotion

The etched-glass image above is from a roadside chapel in Nebraska that my wife and I paused at a few years ago.  I find myself drawn to the stillness.  Sun, rain, snow, wild prairie winds, still their faces remain peaceful.  The lines of every part of the etching remain softly rounded.  It reminds me of the wise words one of Grace’s members posted on Facebook this past week.  “There are two types of tired!  One that requires rest.  One that requires peace.”  Nearing election with virtually every form of media replete with argumentative statements, watching Covid-19 numbers surge, praying for essential-worker friends and family, noticing daylight grows shorter and nights grow colder, many may be experiencing both types of tired.  Many may long for both rest and peace.  However, as you may have discovered, it is possible to have a good night’s sleep or a quiet day and still feel tired.  That is the tired that aches for peace.

 

Look at the child-Jesus in the etched glass above.  Although the artist missed the first century, middle-eastern facial features, the artist captured a peaceful awareness in the expression of the child-Jesus.  This Sunday during Livestream worship we’ll pause to hear Jesus’ speaking to the crowd on a day when he seemed keenly aware of the “tired that needs peace.”

 

Blessed are those who are weary, because the kingdom of God is theirs.

Blessed are those who grieve, because they will be gladdened.

Blessed are the humble, because they will inherit the earth. 

Blessed are those who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.

(See Matthew 5:1-12 for the entirety of the blessings).

 

What I am hearing in Jesus’ words today is “blessed, happy, rested are those who face difficulties now, because God’s last word will bring them peace.”  What I am hearing today is an invitation from an understanding Christ to lean into peace and the things that bring us a sense of peace.  For me it might be a cup of hot coffee, two creamers, one sweet and low, and a Johnny Cash version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” from his last album.  What would whisper a few moments of peace into your life today.  Make time for it–even if it’s just five minutes.  Take another couple of minutes to read Matthew 5:1-12.  What blessing speaks to you most today?  What blessing do you dearly wish for a friend who is struggling?  Wrap up your time with a prayer–something like, “Loving Jesus, grant me the peaceful blessing of remembering God will have the last word, and the last word will bless those who hurt.  Amen.”

Be Blessed and Be Blessing,

Pastor Roger

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

Greetings, 
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