Saturday, April 8, 2023
Jesus will meet you there
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome brought spices. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid. - Mark 16:1-8
I love to tell this story, but not why you might think. Yes, this is the Easter message of resurrection, and a tale of women. Just as Mary was the first to know of God’s plan for incarnation, Mary and the others are the first to know the fulfillment. That would be enough. So why, if not for these reasons, do I love this story?
God breaks into a mundane, heavy task of life, and places where we too wonder who will move this heavy weight? Where we too only see a dark tomb.
God intervenes to encourage us- fear, doubt, grief and pain do not have the last word.
God intervenes with reassurance when we cannot remember what we were told.
God provides people and moments drawing us out of ourselves into what God wants to share.
The messenger does not leave the women with “you are looking in the wrong place, try again.” God gives them direction to the next moment. Jesus will meet you there. And in each moment.
Because none of us can simply flip a switch and change our whole perspective, especially in challenging spaces. Later writers tried to add on to make the story resolve because they felt uncomfortable. I love that the original ending leaves room for uncertainty and for all of God’s possibility. Because in moment after moment when we need to be reminded that resurrection life is real, we will be met there. The truth is so amazing that even in a moment where the first to hear it blinked, the Holy Spirit moved to ensure the good news would be told and embodied. Now God has chosen us to go and tell - for ourselves and a world desperate for all the stones of life to be rolled away.
Thank you, Jesus. AMEN.
Pastor Carolyn K. Hetrick
Friday, April 7, 2023
Some were watching at a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, Joseph and Jesus. Mark 15:40
For the three years of Jesus’ ministry, Mary Magdalene followed Jesus. She loved his life – overflowing and abundant – living life flat out at 100%. Wherever they went, she proudly told her story. Here it is:
Mary grew up in Magdala, a prosperous seaport. She wasn’t prosperous. How could she be – possessed – occupied by seven demons, an emotional illness that controlled her thoughts. She begged for mercy. None was given. But then came Jesus and he wasn’t repulsed by her. He came near. As he did, Mary felt a great light forcing her dark away. Suddenly her companions – delusions that possessed her- they were begging for mercy – none was given. And Mary was healed – restored. Everyone in Magdala was amazed at the change.
How could Mary respond to this man, Jesus? How could she not love him? Since that day, Mary decided to be there to support Jesus and his ministry. Mary of Magdala decided to show up for Jesus.
Now, fast forward three years. The religious and political leaders were stung by Jesus’ truth telling. And together they decided to do away with him. They whipped him until his flesh was filleted and then hung him on a cross. Mary was there. However hideous was his suffering, Mary was there. He cried out in pain, Mary was there. He died and they placed him in a tomb, Mary was there. Where were the disciples? They were hiding in fear. Mary was there. Mary showed up!
Mary responded to Jesus’ love by showing up. The grace that saves Mary saves us. Jesus showed up for us by suffering and dying.
Mary showed up for Jesus. You can too. Jesus needs you to show up. How? Love God and Love Neighbor!
Prayer. Dear Lord, please give me the courage to show up. Amen
P. Stevens Lynn, Pastor Emeritus
Thursday, April 6, 2023
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39)
The words above from the end of Romans 8 are a favorite Bible passage for me. It is often read at Christian funerals. One of my first exposures to it came when I received it written on a small card from my seat mate on a plane from Cleveland, Ohio back home to Pennsylvania when I was in my twenties. My father had just had a severe stroke and I was rushing home. The woman sitting beside me knew I was upset and offered me comforting conversation and this small card with a picture of Jesus on the front and the above words from Romans on the back. I have that card to this day. That woman does not know how much she touched me.
I can picture the Apostle Paul writing these words. He certainly had been through a lot of trouble: persecution, imprisonment, a shipwreck, a thorn in the flesh, and so much more. Yet, he remained confident that God’s love knows no end.
Look at that list of worse things in the verse. It covers a lot. Can you add some worse things you are experiencing to that list? How about estrangement from family members, illness, rejection, abuse, COVID, political division, personal failure, worries? Know that NOTHING can separate you from the love of God through Jesus Christ. This is true for today, tomorrow and a thousand years from now.
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for these words of the Apostle Paul. Thank you for your love through Jesus that knows no bounds. Teach me to love completely. Amen
Wednesday, April 5, 2023
1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:1-5)
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This story tells how God called Moses to be a leader of Israel. It contains all sorts of interesting details, like an angel’s appearance and a flaming bush that doesn’t burn. But of all the amazing things God says and does in this story, what I want to highlight in this devotional is how God directs Moses to remove his sandals because “the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
I used to exclusively think of holy ground as a place where the holiest of God’s people walked and dwelt. Holy ground was found in places like Jerusalem and Galilee. Holy ground was in buildings like ancient churches and monasteries. I realize now, however, that holy ground is all around us. It’s holy not because of what people have done there, but because of what God has done.
Is Grace’s sanctuary holy ground? Absolutely. But so is my childhood backyard in Kane. God was there too, forming and shaping me. My backyard in Halfmoon Township is holy ground too. God is there, in the forest, the woodland creatures, and holy conversations I’ve had with my friends and neighbors. You too are surrounded by holy ground, because God is likewise present in all the places you have been, all the places you are, and all the places you will one day go.
So wherever you are right now, symbolically take off your sandals. Honor the holy ground where you sit or stand right now, because I promise you that God is also there, right next to you.
Holy God, open my eyes to see how you are present with me everywhere I am, and that your presence makes the ground around me holy. Help me to reverence it as a way of reverencing you. Amen.
Rev. Scott E. Schul
Tuesday, April 4, 2023
What We Say Matters
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
Every sermon I heard as a child included this line, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of Christ Jesus, Our Lord.” For twenty years, I thought this was just a line my pastor included as a prayer. I thought it was his creation. I heard it so often it became ingrained in my memory. In college when I began to read the bible on my own and grow in my faith, I came across these exact words in Philippians 4:7. Here were the words of my childhood faith and they were in the bible! Go figure that words that were said in church came from the bible! This verse became my absolute favorite.
So, I encourage you to listen to the worship service. What phrases in our worship liturgy are actually scripture? How much of the bible are we surrounded with every time we gather? God’s Word envelopes us much more than we think.
Monday, April 3, 2023
It greeted me every week as I entered my first grade Sunday school class. There it was tacked on the wall bulletin board at the front of the room—a colorful poster with a baby in a basket floating in water nestled among reeds. The baby being rescued from the Nile River by the Pharaoh’s daughter was just the beginning of the incredible life of Moses.
God had plans for this special baby. God wanted Moses to be a leader for the Israelites. Moses saw God’s plans as a job full of difficulties and challenges. He was reluctant and afraid, making excuses by imploring God to send someone else.
In the last forty years of his life, Moses finally found courage by listening to God. He became the leader that God knew he was by leading the Israelites through the parted Red Sea and bringing the Ten Commandment tablets down from Mount Sinai.
Sometimes we find ourselves thinking only of the challenges we face in our daily lives. We are too busy with what we want to do to take time to listen to God. Maybe we are afraid to change what we have always done to serve God in new ways. We make excuses and expect that someone else will answer what is needed.
You may not see God in a burning bush as Moses did but be assured that God is always with you. It may only be a whisper. It might be through a neighbor in need or perhaps a ministry team request. God has plans for you. During this time of Lent, open your heart and let God’s call lead you to new ways of showing and sharing your faith.
Dear Lord. Help me to take time to listen to your call. Like the story of Moses, you are always with me guiding me with love to serve you more fully. Amen
Saturday, April 1, 2023
Reflecting The Light
4 in Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of all people. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:4-5
My brother, Steve, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease (lymph system cancer) in the summer of 1956. The prognosis was 3 years, but he lived 8+. The doctors attributed the extra 5 years to Steve’s spirit. He had life experiences in that short time that some people do not experience in a much longer life. His appreciation of life showed in his immersion in studying faith through the Bible. His guiding passage was 2 Corinthians 4:6-18. He passed away in January 1965, with his last words being “Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday – to everybody.”
In his 80-page write-up of my brother’s life, my father included Pastor Walt Smith’s meditation given at the funeral. The following are excerpts: “The Life of God has become most real and evident to men in the person of Jesus Christ, for as John says, He is the very Word of God become flesh. Only Christ is truly Life as God intended mankind to be.” . . . “there are lights which are the lives of saints and pioneers; and these in their turn are not originators of light, but rather reflectors which give light to us because they themselves are turned towards the source of light.” That source is the Light of Christ.
These two verses from John will always remind me to recognize the reflection of Christ’s Light on those who turn to God and to make that turn to Him, especially when His guiding light is needed.
While the 2 Corinthians passage is too long to place in this devotional, I recommend reading it as the prayer for the day.
Friday, March 31, 2023
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-9
My favorite Bible story comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. During my childhood I had the same two pastors, they didn’t baptize me, but they were called to the church before I can remember. The one pastor ended every sermon she preached with, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). As a kid and teen, I found comfort, hope, and joy in these words, even when I had no idea what the sermon had been about. Perhaps some of the joy was knowing that we would soon sing the Hymn of the Day, one of my favorite parts of a worship service. Now that I am a bit older, with four kids of my own, I wonder if God had planted a seed within my heart and mind all those years ago to help me find God’s peace in all circumstances.
God’s peace finds me especially when I least expect it. The peace can calm me in my anxious moments, my moments of worry or fear, and God’s peace finds me in when I am overjoyed. This peace is hard to explain, but I hope you have experienced this peace that guards us with God’s love and comfort. And if you have yet to recognize God’s peace in your life, know that it is with you always.
Let us pray, Holy God, thank you for your peace that defies our understanding and keeps our entire being safe in your love. Strengthen us to live our lives in your way of love for all people, through Christ we pray, Amen.
Pastor Becky Horn
Thursday, March 30, 2023
Trusting God and Choosing Joy
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him. Psalm 28:7
This passage reminds me of one of my dearest friends, who passed away last year after a three-year battle with stage IV lung cancer. Her name was Star, and never was a name more befitting of a person. Although tiny in stature, she had a huge, sparkling personality. We became friends during college and remained close after graduation, staying in touch over the years despite living many miles apart.
It took almost a year of mounting symptoms and missed diagnoses before doctors finally found a large tumor in Star’s lungs. By this point, the cancer had spread. A wife and a mother of two, she was not quite 50 years old. She had never smoked a day in her life. It was simply not fair. Star had every reason to feel hopeless, distraught, and angry. Instead, not long after her diagnosis, she shared with me a song by King & Country called “Joy,” quoting the lyrics: “I choose joy!” She said she had made a conscious decision to turn the rest of her life over to God, trusting Him completely, allowing Him to be her strength and her shield throughout whatever suffering almost certainly lay ahead.
In doing so, she achieved a sense of peace. She also gave a great gift to everyone who knew her.
Although social media has its drawbacks, Star used it to regularly share what she called “GratiTuesday” and “Thankful Thursday” posts, in which she praised God and gave thanks for blessings big and small. She wanted everyone to recognize the love of God all around them and to learn to choose joy, even during the worst of times. It wasn’t always easy. As she once told me, “It’s not like I sit around feeling joyful all day. It’s hard to choose joy when you’re in pain.” Yet, right up until her dying day, she was a shining example of how to do this.
Dear Lord, help me to trust that even through life’s difficulties, you are always with me, bringing me strength and peace. Help me to always recognize and be grateful for the many blessings you provide, and help me to choose joy every day. Amen.
Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Growing in Christ
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favor.” Luke 2:52
Do people usually have bookmarks in their Bible? I have several.
The bookmark that is most special to me is a yellow ribbon with a blue morning glory sticker at the top. Hand-written on the ribbon is “Luke 2:52, He grew in wisdom and in stature”, and of course it stays on the page of this passage. The Bible, with its broken spine held together with scotch tape, was given to me in 1960, by the Grace Evangelical United Brethren Church, in Naperville, Illinois.
For me, the words of this scripture provide the complete direction needed for a young person to grow into the honest, respectful, caring person that God knows we can be. An individual has the potential to fully develop in each of these key areas: physical, mental, social, and spiritual.
For my confirmation, at Grace EUB Church, I had my Bible open to this scripture as I knelt for the confirmation blessing. I knew this passage would encourage and direct me throughout my life.
Although Jesus was unique, he had a normal childhood and went through the same progression as we do. He grew physically and mentally, he related to other people, and he was loved by God.
While this passage guided my path when growing up, I also found it relevant to my years as a mother, when raising our sons. I always said I just wanted them to be good human beings – who were of good character, honest, hard-working, and who cared about others. Of course, taking our four boys to church every Sunday was part of the plan, and reinforced all that we, as parents, were teaching them.
ps: My second favorite Bible bookmark?
A hand-made tatted cross marking the 23rd Psalm.
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
Jesus appears to the Disciples
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. John 20:19-31
Every year, the Sunday after Easter brings the same gospel reading. It is a beautifully written and translated story where Jesus appears to his disciples on Easter Sunday evening as they are behind locked doors and then appears to them again a week later. The first time, Thomas is not there. The others try to tell him that they saw Jesus and Thomas insists that he needs to see for himself. When Jesus returns, he shows Thomas the physical signs of his death on the cross. After seeing this proof, Thomas declares, “My Lord and my God!” which is the clearest, boldest, and most emphatic statement of faith in all of John’s gospel. Jesus does not criticize Thomas. Instead, he offers words of encouragement for those of us who have “not seen, but yet have come to believe.”
Thomas’ story reassures us that as we follow Jesus, we are not required to set aside our critical thinking skills. Our minds, the ability to wonder and doubt, as well as to question and ponder are among the gifts from God that we use as we love and serve our neighbor and the world. Doubt and faith go hand in hand. Questions and uncertainty can lead us to a deeper understanding, a fuller knowledge.
Go ahead and wonder. Feel free to ask questions. Keep exploring what you don’t understand about God, other people, the world, and yourself. We will probably not find the kind of proof that Thomas gets, but that is no reason to stop thinking critically. Do not let your doubts frighten you or make you think they mean you don’t believe. It is no accident that Thomas’ story is used in worship the Sunday after Easter every year. People of faith have been raising questions and experiencing doubts for over 2000 years. You are in good company.
Deacon Alicia Anderson, Campus Minister with Lutheran Campus Ministry
Monday, March 27, 2023
7 On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. 9 A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. 12Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted. Acts 20:7-12
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I’m forever wondering how the early church decided which stories to include in the New Testament and which were better off not shared. I’m guessing they stuck this one in when Paul was away on business or sleeping in on a Saturday. You can almost hear the discussion between Luke (the primary author of Acts) and his friends. “Oh that Paul. Such a smart guy. Faithful guy. But good grief does he ever shut up?! Remember that time he preached so long that a guy actually fell asleep, fell to his death, and had to be miraculously resurrected? We’ve got to include that one as a reminder to Paul and every other future preacher that a sermon doesn’t have to be long to be good!”
There was a time not so long ago when pastors were viewed as larger-than-life, perfect, unapproachable demi-gods. I suppose the Church in its “wisdom” decided that the world needed examples to inspire greater faithfulness. All it did was reveal human hypocrisy and drive the poor pastors crazy with an unrealistic expectation of perfectionism. Fortunately, the church of the first century had a much healthier view of the clergy. When Paul literally bored a man to death, it wasn’t evidence that the Church was deficient; it was evidence of the greatness of God. Because if God could manage to work through a blowhard like Paul, then God could work through anyone. Even us! Thank you, God for making us perfectly imperfect.
Gracious God, help me to embrace and appreciate the person you created ME to be. Don’t let me make an idol of some mythical perfect version of me. You made me unique for a reason. Reveal that to me, and use me and my quirks to touch and bless others. Amen.
Rev. Scott E. Schul
Saturday, March 25, 2023
“Hi-Yo Silver, away!" Revelations 19:11-16
Growing up in the mid-west, our Saturday morning was filled with my favorite shows: The Lone Ranger, Sky King, and My Friend Flicka. You got it … I couldn’t get enough horses in my life!
When I received my first bible (an original Revised Standard Version) I was thrilled when I found the Concordance. Predictably, I looked up those passages containing horses. Imagine my wonder when I found a verse that talked about the Lone Ranger!
Revelations 19:11: Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
Surely, the stories about my TV hero were learned from the Jesus stories in my Bible. The Lone Ranger always came in on Silver and he corrected injustices. And Jesus would always come back on his white horse to save us. Then came the next verse …
Revelations 19:12: His eyes are like flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he had a name inscribed that no one knows but himself.
As a third grader, I am pretty sure that I didn’t know what all of that meant, but I did imagine Jesus just as I saw the Lone Ranger, with a big white hat and a mask to obscure his identity. We all knew that a white hat meant that he was a good guy, and he had to hide his identity so that the bad guys couldn’t find him.
As I got older, I forgot about these verses, but the pages are dog-eared and my bible appears well-used. It could be that we got a Good News Bible in middle-school; and that’s about the time when we stopped investigating The Bible and started studying the parts that we had to learn. Maybe it is time to take another look …
Dear Lord, Maybe now is the time for us to forget our old ideas about parts of The Bible and re-read them as a child might, with innocence, naiveté, and dreams. Let us see the new meanings of words that have evolved over the centuries, and let us feel the light of your salvation as we bring these words to life in our lives. Amen.
On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Friday, March 24, 2023
The Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11)
Lately, I find myself involved in the tango of parenting. You know how it goes: you encourage your child to try new things, like a new activity, habit, or make a new friend; then your child pushes back with their own opinion of how the situation is going to unfold. Many of you know that this is much easier to do when they are young. As children grow into teens and young adults, parenting can be challenging. Most of us recognize that there is an expiration date for arranging sleepovers, birthday parties, and playdates. Forget about clothes shopping and haircuts- parental approval is not solicited or advisable. What seemed like a blink of an eye, you get thrust to the real stuff: “what are you going to do after graduation?” What happens when the plan changes and resembles 52 card pick-up? What if what your child identifies other than the gender assigned at birth? Read on to find all the answers!
I found answers in the Wedding at Cana. Mary attends the wedding with her son, Jesus. Notice, she did not suggest he shower, shave, or put on a suit. Clearly, she loves the couple getting married and notices something wrong (they have run out of wine) and wants to help her friends avoid embarrassment. Mary knows her son is both human and divine and has the ability to rectify the predicament. Jesus pushes back on this idea. Instead of an argument or further discussion, Mary informs the servants to be helpful to Jesus.
Mary has raised her son. Their close relationship has come with strings attached. From his inception, God and angels have been part of their faithful trusting relationship with God. Mary has suggested to and given an affirmation to Jesus. Now is the time. You got this. This is the beginning of acknowledging his own path.
Like our children, Jesus needed to come to his own decision. The love and respect he has for his mother as well as his love and responsibilities to God have culminated in this starting point of the first miracle. I mentioned that there are answers to the above questions: love, respect, and prayer. We cannot predict the path our children will take. However, our relationship has been woven with love, respect, and prayer; these are tools needed for the journey.
We ask you for guidance. The journey … parents and kids…can be an unfamiliar path and sometimes our actions do not appropriately communicate the profound love for our children. Help us to demonstrate our unconditional love and help to repair hurt that we may have been caused by our words and actions.
In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Thursday, March 23, 2023
The parable of the good Samaritan
My favorite bible story is “The parable of the good Samaritan”. (Luke 10:25-37.) A lawyer asked Jesus what should I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus tells him to love God and his neighbors. So, the lawyer says, “Who is my neighbor?” Hence the parable is told. There are four main characters in the story, the robbers who stole the traveler’s money, the priest, and the Levite who passed by the fourth character, the victim, who lay in the ditch by the side of the road. The Samaritan had compassion on the victim and bound his wounds and took him to an Inn and paid for his care.
I can identify with three of the characters in this story. How often I pass by someone broke down along side of the road and I don’t stop to lend a hand. I look in the rear mirror and feel guilty. Hoping that someone else will stop. I also have been a victim and been desperate for a way out of a bad situation many times (although never been beaten!) I have been robbed. When a crisis arises, I can’t handle always someone arrives to solve the problem for me. For instance, we were returning from a camping trip towing a used single axle trailer when suddenly the left rear wheel came off and rolled past us and into a ditch. I pulled over with the trailer leaning left on a brake drum and it was pouring down rain. As and I was standing with the wheel wondering what to do I noticed a car stopped on the opposite side of the highway and the driver rolled down his window about one inch. He shouted, “Take two lug nuts from the other wheel”. Then he drove off. Why hadn’t I thought of it? He was my Good Samaritan!
There are other stories like this involving being in Georgia at my first job down to our last dollar, A broken shower faucet and the water shut off and no plumber in sight (this past week) and other crisis. Always someone helped me get back on track.
So in light of all the victim stories I decided to become a good Samaritan myself and pay back all who have helped me. I volunteered for then Helping Hands missions to New Jersey to help flood victims from Hurricane Sandy. I volunteer at the Emergency Department at Mount Nittany Hospital twice a week. I help sick people get from their cars to a wheelchair and get registered at the desk. I escort relatives back to the treatment rooms to visit patients. All of the doctors, nurses and employees show compassion for the patients. It is a gratifying experience for me and others working there.
Jesus asked, “Now of the three in the parable, thinkest thou who was neighbor unto him that fell among thieves?” The layer said, “He that showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said unto him, “Go and do thou likewise.” Let us pray that we all become Good Samaritans when the need arises! Amen.
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
What are you doing here?”
9 At that place he came to a cave and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind, and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire, and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 1 Kings 19: 9-15a
Many years ago, while in a former congregation, we were faced with a polarizing decision whether to build a new modern church or stay in an older limited building with a second floor sanctuary. I had purposely avoided entering the debate for quite some time because to do so would have opened me up to hard feelings and scorn from the opposing side.
One Sunday, during this time, the appointed Old Testament Lesson of the day was this text from 1 Kings. I had an overwhelming sense that God was using this text to speak directly to me and ask, “Why are you sitting here when there is so much to be done?” Certainly, for Elijah there was the risk of vulnerability outside that cave just as leaving my cave opened me up for possible difficulty, but I believe that is just where God chose Elijah and me to be. To keep this story short, I will say I went on to be appointed chairperson of the building committee. This was certainly no easy task as the opposition was very strong and many decisions hurt feelings and caused pain. In retrospect I see I really had no other option than to leave the comfort and safety my cave offered as there was much needed work to be done. This text should speak to all of us constantly as God is always asking each of us "What are you doing here, Elijah?" There is so much work that needs done in the world to have any of us sitting in our respective caves. Yes, leaving our cave may probably make us uncomfortable and possibly sometimes vulnerable but our mission is outside.
Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Thoughts on Habakkuk:
Many years ago, I attended a Bible Study on the Book of Habakkuk. I don’t think I had even heard of Habakkuk until then, it is not one of the oft quoted books in the Bible. However, that study, so many years ago, has stayed with me. Basically, the book of Habakkuk offered guidelines on how to handle turbulent times in our lives. Chapter 1 opens with Habakkuk’s lament to the Lord: O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law becomes slack. and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous; therefore judgment comes forth perverted.5 Look at the nations and see! Be astonished! Be astounded!For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told.
In other words, be patient. Habakkuk insisted the Lord was everlasting and too pure to look on evil and tolerate wrongdoing, but he would wait and see. Chapter 2: “I will stand at my watchpost and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me and what he will answer concerning my complaint.” OK, I’m waiting, explain yourself, God. As chapter 2 goes on, the Lord says help is coming: “For there is still a vision for the appointed time, it speaks of the end and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” Help is coming in the Lord’s time, when the time is right. In the third and final chapter Habakkuk prays, ending with the familiar verse: “Though the fig tree does not blossom and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the foldand there is no herd in the stalls,18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will exult in the God of my salvation.” The lesson I learned from Habakkuk was, when troubles arise, I should:
1. Make my complaint to the Lord. 2. WAIT for His answer or action and, finally, 3. Be joyful in the Lord my Savior regardless of the circumstances knowing that help will come when the time is right. Lord, during the days of Lent, while we wait to celebrate the resurrection, may we have the patience and faith of Habakkuk. May we stand on our ramparts and wait and praise your name. Amen
Monday, March 20, 2023
Psalm 23:4 – Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
As a child, I feared the dark. We lived in an 1808 Colonial home my parents were renovating, with many dark corners and squeaky floorboards. Outside my bedroom window a walnut tree cast shadows, compounding bedtime worries. Since Mom cared for Scott and me all day, Dad usually put us to bed, read a Bible story, calmed us, and helped us say our prayers.
When I was ten, Dad suggested I could memorize Scripture to guide me through life. He promised to help me learn whatever verses I chose. Three suggestions resonated with me: Psalm 23 (The Lord is My Shepherd…); 1 Corinthians 13 (If I speak with the tongue of men and angels but have not love…); and Matthew 6:28b-33 (Consider the lilies of the field…). Psalm 23 spoke most strongly. Every night I recited a few verses until the psalm became part of my being.
One day I blurted out, “I don’t want to walk through the valley of the shadow of death!” Dad responded that even though life is a blessing, we all sometimes face events that are dark and scary. If I would memorize some Scriptures, during those times I would be able to rely on God’s words to calm myself. (I doubt Dad envisioned me climbing squeaky staircases in our house and reciting those words, but I did…and it helped!)
Years later I read a Philip Keller book that describes shepherding and gives a line-by-line interpretation of Psalm 23. I learned the staff has a unique shape, allowing a shepherd to insert it into dangerous places and pull a particular sheep to safety quickly. I then imagined God doing the same with me: walking ahead, watching for danger, and rescuing me (even if the ‘rescue’ was spiritual rather than physical).
During the pandemic, verse 4 regularly blessed me with reassurance. Usually I recited it while washing my hands. When I would reach its sister verse at the end (“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever”), I often felt my burdens lessening.
These words have been a lifelong comfort, and I am grateful!
Saturday, March 18, 2023
30 There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet, but they shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” 32 Jesus stood still and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him. Matthew 20: 30-34
I sit in a season of caregiving, a season familiar to many others who too have lingered there. For some, caregiving is not a season but rather a permanent vocation or even calling. Caregiving is hard, frequently unseen and often reduced to a series of tasks that the care receiver cannot do independently. Caregiving at its base is rooted in connection and compassion. This relatively simple bible story offers a beautiful biblical blueprint of Jesus’ compassion and care.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem with plenty to occupy his thoughts. As he passes two blind men, the crowd dismisses these people who seek his attention and his healing mercy. Jesus stops. Jesus listens. Jesus is moved by compassion to touch their eyes and heal them. While the world wishes to silence these blind men who are nothing but an irritation, Jesus wants to hear what they have to say. And he feels it. And he responds. Jesus is not too busy to stop and offer compassion to two people who desperately seek it.
There are many among us who pour out unheralded compassion to those who may easily be dismissed. Direct Support Professionals spend their days enabling our brothers and sisters with disabilities to live life as fully as they are able. Nurses, childcare workers, home health workers work diligently each day to support people who need their assistance. Family members reorganize their lives to accommodate the demands that illness or injury inflict on a family member. All offer time, care, and the touch of compassion.
Our Lord is a compassionate God. He is there for those in great need; he is there for those who minister to those in great need. We are all His beloved.
Ellen Herman Campbell
Friday, March 17, 2023
Shiphrah and Puah
18So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ 19The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’ 20So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Exodus 1:18-21
Most of us are familiar with the characters of the book of Exodus. We know about Moses and his siblings, Aaron and Miriam. We are probably aware of Pharoah and his daughter, who rescued Moses as a baby from the Nile. We maybe even know about Joshua, who led the Israelites into the promised land after Moses died. But do you know about Shiphrah (shif ruh) and Puah (poo ah)? They are mentioned in Exodus 1:15-21.
Shiphrah and Puah were midwives in Egypt. Their job was to deliver babies. In this passage they receive orders from Pharaoh to not let any Hebrew baby boys live. For Pharaoh the Israelites were growing in number and becoming too powerful. This was happening even though the Israelites were under slavery and oppressed. Pharaoh wanted their number to decrease, and he asked the midwifes to help him.
What did Shiphrah and Puah do? Did they obey Pharaoh? No. They let the Hebrew babies live and, on top of that, they lied to Pharaoh. They told Pharaoh the Hebrew women are too good at birthing babies. The babies arrive before the midwives arrive!
I think the midwives were in a difficult place. It was a hard choice. Should they disobey their leader or should they follow their conscience? Because they feared and respected God, they chose to allow the babies to live. As a result, the midwives were blessed and the Israelites multiplied.
When faced with a difficult choice, as hard as it may be, we need to follow the midwives’ example and choose right over wrong, love over hate. We also need to be advocates, to take risks to help someone needing help. What difficult choice are you facing? Who needs you to be their advocate? May you be reminded of Shiphrah and Puah as you face these questions.
Prayer: God thank you for midwives. Thank you for the ministry of Shiphrah and Puah. Help me fear and respect God in all my decisions. Help me be an advocate for all people. Amen
The people of Grace share their favorite bible stories for the 2023 Lenten Devotional: I Love to Tell the Story. Each day's devotional will be automatically posted so come back daily after 7 am for a new reflection.