Wednesday – February 3, 2021
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him anymore, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So, he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
Words of Hope
Do I believe in demon possession? Not in the supernatural sense, but in the spiritual sense I do. That is why this story resonates with me.
How many of us have personal demons? Demons in the form of unresolved issues we are holding chained inside ourselves that we allow to eat away at our serenity. I know I have had them, and one in particular had me howling and literally bruising myself, so I can identify with the man who Jesus healed.
It is no accident that the first step toward freeing myself from it was calling it by name. Mine was named Addiction. My powerlessness over it made me feel a lot like this man possessed by an unclean spirit. Naming it started me on the road to recovery, and giving myself into the care of my Higher Power led me to the steps of recovery that lead toward sobriety and serenity.
It is a daily process, but one that has been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
Tuesday – February 2, 2021
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
A Word of Hope
Today is Groundhog Day, traditionally the day a small animal’s fear determines the arrival or delay of spring depending on whether it emerges from its deep burrow and flees from its own shadow or not. Coincidentally, it’s also a day that several small towns on the east coast, notably in Pennsylvania, sponsor huge, high-profit events centered on anxiously awaiting the early morning movements of a pampered captive groundhog (or woodchuck) in the town square. The rest of the year, the prophet becomes the prey when the same people spend a lot of their time trying to trap and kill the same animals to protect their flower beds. We are a nation of ironies.
No one knows exactly when and where the tradition of shadow-shocked groundhogs started and, truly, its own shadow is probably the last thing the little woodchucks would fear. In the wild, they avoid the usual list of small predators such as foxes, wolverines, and coyotes, but humans are the primary danger to their survival. It is much more likely that the woodchuck in the town square is hiding from a crowd of the world’s most dangerous predators rather than from its own shadow.
The little animal is actually a projection of our own fears and these days we have a generous collection of them; fears of serious illness or death, fear of loss of financial security, fear of the unknown. High on the list of the fears of many is the fear of learning something new that might threaten the comfort they maintain by hiding in the deep burrow of their own ignorance. Their fears are science, higher education, and anyone who looks somehow different than they do. I’m sure you can easily add to the list.
I personally don’t fear a lot of things. I have experienced and survived my share of harrowing or uncertain times that have left me with the certainty that “God is with me wherever I go” but I do have a healthy fear of ignorance and its predominance our recent history. In “A Christmas Carol”, Dickens depicts the Ghost of Christmas Present lifting his robes to reveal two gaunt and cowering children. The spirit says to Scrooge, “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy.”
Whether it’s a belief in the magical predictions of a small animal or the unquestioned ramblings of false prophets, ignorance is the scourge of our time. Dickens’ warning must not be ignored. Always beware that boy but, be willing to relieve the suffering of that girl. We can be the instrument of change. As we work together to sustain and educate others, we must never lose faith that God is always there beside us.
May we hear and listen to your commandment. Make us steadfast and courageous on our journey together with you.
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
Monday – February 1, 2021
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
A Word of Hope
These few verses are found in Luke’s account of Jesus’ passion on the cross. He had been crucified with two thieves hung on crosses beside him. The holy Jesus had suffered the exhaustion of his betrayal, trial, torture and now the pain of being nailed to the cross. Death of his body was close at hand. And yet, he must endure ridicule from one of those thieves and many individuals who traveled by the site of the crucifixion. It seemed almost too much to deal with. Almost a time to curse and spit if there had been only enough energy left in his body. Maybe it’s a time to sink within one’s own body and shut out all the noise and evil action around.
However, one of those thieves recognized Jesus’ holy nature and pleaded that Jesus would remember his confession: “I have been condemned justly but this man (Jesus) has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus could have been consumed with his own agony, but instead, he responded to that thief: “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
There’s a real lesson for us in these few verses. In times of deep pain and loss in our life, there usually are others around us who also are in agony and may not have an adequate relationship with God. They may not have the assurance of that divine loving presence which can lead them through the current trial. In such difficult and self-consuming moments, we are still servants of Christ, and still asked to witness to God’s loving and forgiving care. It is during such moments, that our words and actions have their greatest strength to tell of divine grace. It is then that we can extend to others God’s offer of peace to a weary humanity. As followers and proclaimers of the blessed love of God, never do we have the right to “crawl into our own shell of comfort” and ignore the pain of those around us! May we always take the example of Jesus’ promise given to this dying thief. We can do no less than Jesus!
Gracious God, as we reflect on the example of Jesus’ experience, strengthen us to be more faithful and consistent in our life’s witness to your redeeming love. Open our eyes to the opportunities in which we can help others find you as a rich source of comfort and guidance for their life. May this week be filled with God-given opportunities for us to express God’s love.
Donald (Luke) Day
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
Friday – January 29, 2021
Psalm 111. 2-5
Great are Your works;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.
Glorious and majestic are Your deeds,
and Your righteousness endures forever.
You have caused wonders to be remembered;
God is gracious and compassionate.
You provide food and remember Your covenant forever.
A Word of Hope
The Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is organized into 5 books or sections.
According to scholars the first 41 chapters make up the first book and emphasize how God is beside us. The second takes us through chapter 72 and here the writer’s attention goes to a God who is before us. Book three runs through chapter 89 and addresses the God who is all around us and book four takes us to chapter 106, focusing on the God who is above us. Finally, the fifth book takes us to the end of the Psalms, chapter 150 and spotlight a God who is among us.
Our reading today, from chapter 111 falls into the fifth book or section of the entire Book of Psalms and therefore continues the writer’s emphasis on the God who is among us.
Just a brief reading of this Psalm gives us an overview of the kind of God that David, the assumed writer had relationship with – the same God that we are invited into relationship with today. David gives glory and honor to God, recognizing the God who has been with him from the beginning of time. He speaks to God’s compassion and provision for God’s people and the covenant that was established between God and God’s people that has produced faithfulness and everlasting praise.
This covenant is a theme of Jesus’ ministry as well. The covenant established with the Hebrew peoples, however, is extended to Gentiles (non-Jews) and, through Jesus’s life moves from covenant by law to covenant through grace or love.
This grace is not earned or secured through affiliation to a particular group or ancestry. It is not bought or sold to the highest bidder. This grace is a free gift that we either accept, or not. And, even if it not accepted at first, is not a “once in a lifetime opportunity” but is available to us whenever we choose to accept it. It is unconditional.
This is the kind of God that David knew as he wrote down his experience of God through the Psalms. The God beside us. God going before us. God around us. God above us. God among us.
This is the God who welcome us in – today – and establishes holy covenant, holy relationship with us with all of our doubts, fears, gifts and freethinking. A God who has our back and relates to us as divinely loved children of God.
This is the God I can believe in and the God that has been the focus of our new year sermon series here at Cathedral of Hope.
I hope you can believe in that God, too.
God of the generations before us and the generations to come. God who is beside us, going before us, around us, above us, and among us, help us this day to sense Your presence as we say YES to this gift of grace and love that you so freely offer. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Neil G. Thomas
Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ
Thursday – January 28, 2021
“Practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now.” ― Jack Kerouac
Words of Hope
I was recently diagnosed as having COVID-19, and though I feel lucky that my infection did not require hospitalization, I can say that it was one of the most severe illnesses I have ever had. More than once I pondered whether I would survive another day. Each night I would go to bed feeling like it might be my last day on earth.
It gave me time to think about my life and what would come after. Would it be Heaven? Would it be something else? Would it be nothing at all? I turned to reading to calm my anxieties and found that my pondering was not unique. Reading also allowed me to realize that no matter how much I worried about it, I had no control over my health with the exception of following my doctor’s suggestions.
I came across that quote by Jack Kerouac and realized he was saying essentially the same thing Jesus said in his great commandment, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
He also lets us know many times that it is up to us to do the work of bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth. He encourages us to do the work now, without worrying about what may come next. It is a wonderfully practical way to live and to make our world better for everyone.
May we continue to listen to the words of Jesus and let them guide us each day in our effort to bring the kingdom or heaven to earth. Amen.
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