Friday – September 4, 2020
God said to Moses: “Stretch your hand to the skies. Let darkness descend on the land of Egypt—a darkness so dark you can touch it.” Exodus 10: 21 (The Message)
A Word of Hope
I admit there are times when it seems darkness is covering everything. Sometimes the feeling is fleeting. But there are other times when it seems as though light has been extinguished for good and the darkness has seeped inside me. A darkness that can’t be penetrated and is so real it can be touched.
Today’s assigned scripture (Exodus 10: 21 – 29) is about this kind of darkness. It is the ninth plague in the exodus story. The plagues are central to the recounting of God’s liberation of God’s people. As a kid in Sunday school I found the whole plague thing troubling. It seemed to me at 10 years old that God was being very mean and there were better ways to get the Jewish people out of Egypt. Couldn’t God incapacitate the Egyptians in some way without really hurting them so the Israelites could just walk out? Why all the suffering and intimidation?
Many decades later I still don’t fully understand the plagues. But I do understand, a little, about darkness and troubling times. The contrast between light and dark is common throughout scriptures. The novella of Job (a man who knew a thing or two about plagues) has at least 10 references contrasting light and dark. He asks the philosophical question toward the end “Do you know where Light comes from and where Darkness lives? So you can take them by the hand and lead them home when they get lost? Why, of course you know that. You’ve known them all your life, grown up in the same neighborhood with them!” Job 38: 19 – 21
Yes Job, we know light and dark. We live with them both.
And when the darkness is more than metaphorical, when it is so real I can touch it, I turn to the Psalmist who reminds me that God is present in both light and dark. Psalm 139 declares with confidence that “Oh, [God] even sees me in the dark! At night I’m immersed in the light!” It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to [God]; night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to [God].”
God of my being. Darkness is real. And so is light. Help me to live in both.
Thursday – September 3, 2020
“Let all bitterness and…anger…be put away from you…. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
A Word of Hope
The other day while was using the electric hedge trimmers to tame some unruly holly bushes, I cut into the cord. After a brief on again, off again, it stopped completely, the connection severed. It’s not the first time I’ve damaged a cord or run through one. Though I think I am paying attention, I get so absorbed in the task that I get careless. Sometimes the cut is superficial and can be restored with electrical tape, but sometimes it can’t be repaired.
So too with relationships. Over the course of my long life, I have experienced the tearing of relationships which were once close—sometimes abruptly with no sense of the reason (only to find out the cause years later), sometimes because thoughtlessness or selfishness opened up a schism in the family or friendship, sometimes because of the betrayal of a deeply held virtue. Occasionally, with God’s grace, loving intentions, honesty, and the slow painful work of forgiveness, the threads can be rewoven.
The story of Jacob and Esau is an archetype in this matter. Jacob violates the sanctity of family bonds by stealing his older brother’s birthright and paternal blessing. Esau is so filled with rage over the loss that he threatens to kill Jacob, a death avoided only because Rebekah sends her favored son to take refuge with her brother Laban in Haran. After many years, years in which both men have prospered, Jacob needs to pass through his brother’s kingdom on his way back home. When Jacob hears that Esau is advancing with 400 men, he believes he still bears the wounds of the past and is out for vengeance.
But his dealings with his brother are different this time. First he prays, acknowledging God’s abundant blessings and steadfast love. Then he confesses his unworthiness and his fear, asking for deliverance for himself and his people. As well, he sends ahead generous gifts. In the accompanying message, he humbles himself, saying they come from “your servant Jacob” and are a present to “my lord Esau.”
That evening Jacob wrestles with the angel/God/his shadow self, a struggle which leaves him wounded but awakened and christened with a new name, signaling the inner work of transformation.
We don’t know how Esau has processed the hurts of the past, but it is clear that, with God’s help, he has released the rancor in his heart. When he sees Jacob approaching with his extended family and bowing seven times, he runs out to meet him, embracing him and kissing him. And when Jacob makes his offering, he says truly he has enough. Jacob urges him further, saying that simply to see his face “is like seeing the face of God.” The renewal of their bonds is a sacred gift.
With all the stress of this time we are living in, it’s easy to “get crossways” with one another. May we hold our relationships dearly, working to restore any cords that get frayed along the way.
Let your Love guide the repairing of the breaches in our lives, O God, now and forever. Amen.
Dr. Pat Saxon
Wednesday – September 2, 2020
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
A Word of Hope
The opportunities which come into your daily life may spring forth from different sources. From whom or why are they presented to you? Some are derived with evil intent of others. Some may be alluring, but have danger below their surface presentation. Some may be no more than a waste of your precious time. It’s important to give attention to the source of your opportunities.
Look for those which are divinely sent to you! But, how do I recognize if God’s will and Purpose are part of a particular opportunity? Ask! Yes, it’s that simple. Just seek the will of God in it. You can easily do that by an unspoken moment of conversation (prayer) with God. Just outline what’s happening and ask for divine guidance. Our loving and ever-supporting God wants you to talk about your daily activities and those questions you may have. Then be quiet, stay in neutral gear about any action, and listen for divine direction. If you really seek it, the message will come to your spirit.
Since God’s message will be through your intangible spirit, you will sense it, “feel it in your bones”. The few moments which you spend ascertaining the source of the opportunity will pay big dividends as you become involved in action. You may ask, where do I start to do God’s ministry this day? Sometimes, people try to foresee in advance their response to an opportunity. Others may feel unworthy or inadequate for the task. However, God has a plan.
Just show up and be willing to hear what God tells you to do or say. It’s that simple. Ministry is really your response to God’s request to be a witness of divine love and care to others. The opportunity will become apparent and you’ll be given the love words to speak or the necessities to assist someone. God will provide both. If money is involved, just remember who gave you the strength to earn your money.
By your kindness, you are being God’s presence in this world and meeting its needs. You are truly God’s hands and voice to others. These opportunities often happen unexpectedly. Afterward, you may be amazed at how God cared for others with and through you. Be thankful!
I rejoice in the opportunities you give me, O Christ! Bless You, Holy One for allowing me to serve with God in ministry to others. This day, keep my eyes open to see these unexpected opportunities of ministry.
Donald Luke Day
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
Tuesday – September 1, 2020
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and those who dwell therein.
A Word of Hope
Don’t Define Me
From nothing comes everything. Nothing is not the absence of something, rather, it is no thing. To prove this, consider the following question: what is the face of a man? We have all decided that the face of a man is his appearance from the top of his forehead to the bottom of his chin. Isn’t it ironic that our civilization has made a universal definition for something that is anything but universal? For everyone has a face, but everyone does not have the same face. Thus, there are different faces, but one definition for it. Therefore, the definition of a face is no one thing, or appearance, but encompasses everything we know about faces. It is nothing, but everything.
There are many different shades of black, however, I am not characterized by my complexion; I am merely referred to as black. The sky has a plethora of appearances, but regardless of whether it is day or night, the air above is referred to as the sky. Rainbows come in a variety of different sizes, but they are all rainbows. No single thing in these cases is black, the sky, or a rainbow. Humanity’s propensity to generalize our definitions has often brought everything that is similar under the same explanation.
If we focus too much on our differences, then we become divided. At the same time, if we do not focus enough on our differences, then we lose our individuality. There has to be better alternatives to prejudice and conformity. Humanity has to do the work in finding a better path. The first step is realizing that things that are different and new are not inherently evil or a threat. We must stop homogenizing based off of generalizations and start recognizing and appreciating the gift of uniqueness. Let’s stop judging people before we get to know them.
Help us to not be so close-minded. The gates of our hearts are closed to the stranger. We perish because we are divided against ourselves. Nothing ever changes because we are afraid to be different and we punish those who are. Please, let our common love win over common hate. Show us the way Lord. We are not unwilling to learn, but give us a hunger for wisdom. In you God, we do trust. Bless You for everything that You are and everything You made us to be. Amen.
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
Monday – August 31, 2020
New International Version
To the Church in Sardis
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life but will acknowledge that name before God and the angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
A Word of Hope
The Book of Revelation finds itself as the last book of the Holy Bible and is highly debated among theologians as to its content and implications. Some say it is a prophetic writing that details the end of the world, while others say that it is John’s second “Gospel”, full of imagery and allegory, detailing John’s visions.
What we do know is that the Book of Revelation was written as a letter and circulated among the Christian churches at seven important cities in Asia Minor, a region of the Roman Empire that is now the western part of the country of Turkey. There had been several waves of persecutions of early believers by Roman authorities and the vision offered encouragement and assurances that God was still in control; that the forces of evil would eventually be wiped out.
Some have attempted to turn the Book of Revelation into propaganda, associating it with various events today. However, it seems clearer that John is specifically addressing the Roman Empire and its emperors.
The third chapter is addressed to the church in Sardis, which was the ancient capital of Lydia and was the home of Aesop and King Croesus. It forms part of the letters written to the seven principal churches and each message praises the church for its strengths and encourages members to correct their weaknesses. The entire book ends with an assurance that Christ is coming soon and that there will be an eternal reward for their faithfulness.
This idea of an eternal reward has been a driving force and motivator for Christians throughout history. I mean, why would anyone want to spend eternity in hell when you could spend it in heaven? And yet, the notion of eternal life is not something that comes after death. It is something we can live in the here and now. Nor is it something that happens to us. It is about our transformation, from the inside out.
Eternal life begins with a change of heart and works itself outward so that all our lives, the inward and the outward, reflect the values and goodness of God. When we make the decision to be a follower of Christ, it is then that the Holy Spirit intervenes in our humanity, allowing us to be Christ-like in all our ways, not just some.
It is this encouragement to which John points the seven churches. But in this encouragement, he also offers a warning: When our humanities and egos takes over, empires and emperors become gods.
Today, we see this reality in our own world, in our government, in our institutions, and yes, even in our churches. In the Book of Revelation, John warns us of the coming end: not an end that Jesus ushers us into, but an end in which we are devoid of God.
As we begin this new day, I pray that we might take a moment to evaluate our own lives considering this Good News. Are we being changed from the inside out, bearing the hallmarks of Godly living and values? If not, how can we change course, repent, and decide today to step into the eternal life that God promises?
I close this invitation to be changed with the words of the last chapter of the book of Revelation Chapter 22: “I am the alpha and omega, the beginning, and the end, the first and the last and closes with these words, “The grace of Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen”
Personal note: Today also marks the 23rd anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I take a moment to honor her life and to note the ways in which she modeled Christ-likeness in her compassion and kindness toward many and specifically those who were, in her day, rejected and ostracized due to the impact of HIV/AIDS.
Rev. Dr. Neil G. Thomas
Senior Pastor Cathedral of Hope UCC Dallas
5910 Cedar Springs Road
Dallas, TX 75235
Toll Free: 800-501-HOPE (4673)