1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

These verses have always been troubling for me. There are times when it is simply too difficult to rejoice – or give thanks. But then, a dear friend reminded me that the verses does not suggest that I give thanks FOR all things, but IN all circumstances.

In the midst of difficult circumstances – like this current pandemic, or hearing of family members with heart attacks, or reading news headlines of a young man gunned down while jogging near his home because he was black, or… the list is long – Paul encourages us to find things to be thankful for.

That’s tough – sometimes – impossible.

Those are the times I rely on God working within me. When I cannot find hope, gratitude or joy on my own I AM grateful that I can turn to God in prayer for those things.
You, too, church, can turn to God and ask that the Holy Spirit fill you with joy, peace, and hope!

Let’s pray:
Gracious God, remind me that when I cannot find hope, joy or gratitude, YOU will fill me with your Spirit. May the power of your Spirit ground me in hope, joy and peace.
Amen.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

It is widely believed that this is the 1st letter that Paul wrote to the early church communities in the area around the Mediterranean Sea.
The letter to the people in Thessalonica (located in modern day Turkey) begins with Paul and Silas giving thanks to this young Christian community. These were Greeks, non-Jews who had been sitting on the sidelines of the Jewish community, hearing about their God who freed them from slavery and who answered the prayers of barren women. They listened to the stories of this God who called people by name – and they wanted to be a part of a community that worshiped a God like that. But the Jewish community would not let them in – and then came Paul and Silas, teaching that God had sent the Messiah – the One suffered, died and rose again so that they too might be brought into relationship with this same God. They were all in – followers of Jesus, giving radical hospitality to Paul and Silas in those early days.

Paul opens this letter with a heartfelt, sincere prayer of gratitude. Grateful for the Thessalonians faith, steadfastness and love.

So, here’s my question.

Who are you thankful for? Do they know? Have you told them? If there is one thing we’re learning in this time it is that we don’t know when we will get the opportunity to jump in a car and visit someone. We don’t know if we are going to be able to be with them if they get sick. We don’t know – a lot of things! But, what we do know is that there are people in our lives for whom we give thanks. Let’s be sure to tell them!

Let’s pray:
Gracious God, we are grateful for all the people you have placed in our lives. Give us the time, the words and the means to let them know how grateful we are! Amen.

Acts 3:2-5

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

As Peter and John approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money. Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. Acts 3:2-5

We continue with the story from Sunday. The story of John and Peter on their way to the temple and stopped by a beggar.
This beggar, unable to walk since birth, has only one way to make a living. He has chosen his spot – outside the temple where people of faith and compassion travel daily.

He was asking everyone for help, not really noticing who he was speaking to.

And then came Peter and John.

“Look at us”! they said, intently.

He looked – but he saw only from his limited perspective.

Peter was trying to say… Look at us, we don’t have any money.

Look at us, we’re not the typical people that come into this place.

Look at us, we actually have something MORE to offer, if you’re willing to see it.

What Peter and John had was the power of the Holy Spirit to transform the life of that beggar.

It is the same power that we have, River People. It is the same power that sends us out into the community to transform lives.

I see this power at work in you every day. Just a couple of hours ago I saw the Nelson family sharing their gift of music with all of us as they shared Beer and Hymns from their living room. It was their voice, their music – but the Holy Spirit working through them that transforms a community, physically distanced by this quarantine but united as one church!

I see this power at work in you when you share your gift of sewing to make masks for those who need them.

I see this power at work in you when you call to check in on people, or write letters or give financially to those who are in need.

God is at work, River people, transforming lives through YOU.
May we see God at work in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

Let’s pray:
Gracious God, thank you for the privilege of working with you in transforming lives around us. Give us eyes to see you at work, and increase in us a desire to share your transforming love, generosity, compassion and mercy in new and creative ways. Amen.

Acts 3:1

Monday, April 27, 2020

Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. Acts 3:1

Rituals are important. Morning rituals revolving around prayer and coffee, lunchtime walks, watching the 10 pm news, these are all a part of my typical day. One day of missing these routines isn’t a problem, but missing them for several days makes it difficult to differentiate one day from the other.

If you’ve ever spent times sick in bed or in a hospital you know that the days start to run together.

Isn’t that what is happening to us right now? Our rituals have been forced to change, but it is still possible to order our days.

Peter and John had their worlds turned upside down Jesus’ death, resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. They were fully empowered by the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead – and yet the continued to follow the rituals of their youth. Daily prayer at 3 pm.

Rituals order our days. They point us toward what’s really important in our lives.

So –here’s my question – what routines are ordering your lives today? We know that faith is formed by routines of reading Scripture, prayer and being in community with the people of God.

I pray that you will find time – every day – to read Scripture – perhaps the verse that is posted in the River of Hope page each morning. Beginning the day with God’s word of love, hope and mercy helps to orient us and the words we hear throughout the rest of the day.

Find time to pray every day. Praying helps us place our fears and our joys in God’s hands, remembering that there is precious little we actually can control – but nothing is outside of God’s care.

And remember to be in community. That is challenging right now, but there are creative ways to make it happen – like this – devotions on Facebook! Like worshiping virtually in community on Sunday – bad sound and all – and joining tomorrow evening with Beer and Hymns.

All of those creative ways helps keep us physically distanced, but socially, and spiritually connected!

May we order our days and our thoughts so that each moment helps us grow closer to each other – and to the God who loves us more than we know!

Prayer:
Loving God,
We thank you for the gift of this day and each day. Help us to order each of our days so that we might grow in our faith and be equipped to go out and transform lives in your name.
Amen.

Acts 1:4

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. “ Acts 1:4

I’ve read this verse many times. I’ve preached on this section of Acts several times – and today this verse stood out.

They were told to wait. They had spent 3 years wandering around Jerusalem with Jesus. Telling all who would listen that the kingdom of God had come to earth. God’s dream of love, peace, mercy and radical justice was here! They didn’t sit around with that information – they were on the move!

But then – everything stopped. Jesus died – and their world turned upside down. They no longer traveled around – but remained, in hiding at first, and then with the resurrected Jesus for 40 days. After they see him ascend in a cloud, they wait – they don’t know how long it will be. They are just there – waiting.

Does this sound at all familiar?

Being told to wait, to not leave a place, happens for a lot of different reasons. You might know someone who needed to be on bed rest during pregnancy. Waiting.

Or, perhaps you have sat by the phone waiting for a phone call with news – either good or bad.

Both of those times of waiting have an end point in sight.
For the disciples they have NO IDEA how long they must wait. They simply know that the Holy Spirit will come to them when their waiting period is over.

In the same way, we really have no idea how long we wait until we can gather together again in worship. How long we must wait until we can see loved ones. How long we must wait until – for some – our jobs return.

I don’t know about you, but it does give me some comfort knowing that this experience waiting is something that Jesus understands. More than that, we don’t have to wait for the Holy Spirit to show up – the Holy Spirit is already here. We do not wait alone!

The Holy Spirit is with you, giving comfort – guidance – and direction in this time of waiting – and always!

Let’s pray.
We thank you for your presence in this time of waiting. Show us how we can encourage those who are finding this time of waiting a struggle. Be with those who worry about family members who are ill. Be with those who are unemployed or underemployed. Use us to help those who are unable to put food in their tables. For all those who are hurting in this time of waiting, dear Lord, use us to provide healing and hope.
In Jesus Name, Amen.

Acts 1:8-11

Tuesday April 21, 2020

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” Acts 1:8-11

When I was 9 years old my family moved from Minnesota to Arizona. We piled up in our 1972 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser and left our home in St Louis Park and went all the way – to Dawson. 3 hours west on Highway 7. It was our first stop because that’s where Grandma and Grandpa lived. I don’t remember leaving our house. I really have no memory of packing up my bedroom or 3rd grade belongings. I remember leaving Dawson. Why? Because I can still see Grandma and Grandpa standing in their front yard, waving goodbye until we turned on Highway 212 and headed west. They told me years later that they stayed there, looking toward the highway wondering if we might turn back. Eventually they realized that we were really gone and they went on their way.

This is the image that comes to mind when I hear the story of Jesus’ ascension. The disciples have just witnessed Jesus disappear into the heavens and they, understandably, remain there – looking up. Wondering – where did he go? Will he be back? Now what?

They needed a wake-up call, so to speak. So, two “white-robed men” asked them a simple question – “Why are you standing here staring into heaven?”

Not unlike my grandparents, the disciples stood there – stuck – wanting just one more glimpse of Jesus – but Jesus was no longer there.

I think that sometimes we “leave Jesus” at church. It’s ok to talk about our love for Jesus when we gather together, physically or virtually, on Sunday morning, but then go about the rest of our week without another thought.

What if, rather than thinking of Jesus as in one place that we visit every now and then, we grasp a hold of the truth that – where ever there are people gathered, Jesus is there.
People who are struggling – Jesus is there.
People who are celebrating – Jesus is there.
People who are grieving – Jesus is there.

And YOU – people – Jesus is with YOU. You are the hands and feet, voice and compassion of Jesus out in the world.
May we open our eyes to see Jesus – not in the heavens – but right here, in the presence of God’s people.

Let’s pray,
Gracious God, give us eyes to see Jesus in the people around us. Use us to share the love and compassion of Jesus to the people we meet. Amen.

Mark 16:5-6

Thursday April 16, 2020

When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body.” Mark 16:5-6

We’ve spent this week focusing on the last chapter of Mark – at the tomb with the women and this “young man clothed in a white robe”. We don’t know who this man was, but he has been defined as “an angel.”

It seems that when angels meet people one of the first things they say is some version of “do not be alarmed” or “do not be afraid”. Well that makes sense to me. The women went expecting to see a large stone that they would have to move. The rock was gone.

They expected to see Jesus. Jesus was gone.

They did NOT expect to see whoever this man was. But they didn’t really have time to process this.

Jesus was gone. The proof they were given was “Look, there is where they laid his body.”

These women were given a lot of information in a short amount of time and told to not be alarmed. Really? Just how do you do that?

So – that’s my question – just how do YOU do that?

I mean, haven’t we been overwhelmed with information lately? Do we allow ourselves to “not be alarmed” or “not be afraid”? Can we maintain that “non-anxious presence” in the midst of this pandemic?

I know – the situations are completely different. One is a resurrection from the dead, and the other a world wide health crisis – but aren’t the feelings the same? Don’t we also feel afraid, anxious, apprehensive, worried, or even afraid just as the women did? Don’t we have good reason for those feelings – just as the women did?

So, if our feelings are the same, perhaps how we resolve those feelings can also be the same.

We can trust in the promise given to us – just as the women trusted the promise given to the women – trust that Jesus will be there waiting for us in the places we go – just as Jesus was in Galilee, waiting for them 2000 years ago.

Let us pray,
Gracious God, thank you for your promises that go with us when we are anxious or afraid. May your love carry us through this time of the unknown. May we find creative ways to share that love with everyone we meet. No exceptions.
Amen.

Mark 16:7 part 3

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

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. Mark 16:7

Promises are tricky things. They are really only promises once kept. Before the promise is kept – it’s just a sentence.

The sentence given by this angel to the women who went looking for Jesus’ body is directed not to the women, but to the disciples – and particularly Peter. The last time Peter saw Jesus he heard a rooster crow. When Peter hears these words, will they seem like a promise of good news or scheduled condemnation?

The only way we can predict future behavior is by examining past behavior.

For Peter, he had a lot of past behavior to anticipate what this angel was saying. He had witnessed Jesus heal his mother in law. He had witnessed Jesus cure a women who had suffered bleeding issue for 12 years. He saw a young girl raised from the dead. He was there when compassion led Jesus to feed thousands of people with minimal resources. The list goes on and on – in fact, there is precious little evidence of Jesus condemning anyone – except for those who put rules over relationships.

Jesus did not have a lot of time for the religious leaders who sought ways of keeping some people away from God’s grace and mercy while others were granted free access. He used the word “hypocrite” to describe them.

So, even if Peter could trust Jesus’ past behavior as an indicator that meeting him in Galilee would be GOOD NEWS, perhaps Peter didn’t trust himself. Perhaps Peter thought of himself as a hypocrite.

Here’s the thing – can any of us say that we are not hypocritical? Can ANY of us say that we haven’t set up walls that limit God’s love? That God’s love CERTAINLY can’t include “those” people – whoever that might be.

What Peter – and the rest of us – have yet to learn is that Jesus’ promise to meet us where he promised is not dependent upon our words – or our actions – or our inaction.

In fact, Jesus’ promise to be with us is dependent ONLY upon what God has already DONE, through Jesus.

People – Jesus promise to meet Peter, and all of the disciples in Galilee is the same promise that Jesus makes to us. For Peter and the disciples, Galilee was familiar. It was home.
I don’t know what your Galilee is – that place that feels familiar, that place that feels safe – that is the place where Jesus promises to meet you.

It is a promise you can trust – not simply a set of words. You simply need to look around and see all the times that Jesus has met you in your life and know that this promise is one that will continue to give you hope and comfort.

Let us pray,
Dearest Jesus, thank you for meeting us in our deepest needs. Open our eyes to see the many ways you meet us – and all people – every day. May this promise of your presence give us strength and hope. In Jesus name, Amen.

Mark 16:7 pt 2

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

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. Mark 16:7

Promises are tricky things. They are really only promises once kept. Before the promise is kept – it’s just a sentence.

The sentence given by this angel to the women who went looking for Jesus’ body is directed not to the women, but to the disciples – and particularly Peter. The last time Peter saw Jesus he heard a rooster crow. When Peter hears these words, will they seem like a promise of good news or scheduled condemnation?

The only way we can predict future behavior is by examining past behavior.

For Peter, he had a lot of past behavior to anticipate what this angel was saying. He had witnessed Jesus heal his mother in law. He had witnessed Jesus cure a women who had suffered bleeding issue for 12 years. He saw a young girl raised from the dead. He was there when compassion led Jesus to feed thousands of people with minimal resources. The list goes on and on – in fact, there is precious little evidence of Jesus condemning anyone – except for those who put rules over relationships.

Jesus did not have a lot of time for the religious leaders who sought ways of keeping some people away from God’s grace and mercy while others were granted free access. He used the word “hypocrite” to describe them.

So, even if Peter could trust Jesus’ past behavior as an indicator that meeting him in Galilee would be GOOD NEWS, perhaps Peter didn’t trust himself. Perhaps Peter thought of himself as a hypocrite.

Here’s the thing – can any of us say that we are not hypocritical? Can ANY of us say that we haven’t set up walls that limit God’s love? That God’s love CERTAINLY can’t include “those” people – whoever that might be.

What Peter – and the rest of us – have yet to learn is that Jesus’ promise to meet us where he promised is not dependent upon our words – or our actions – or our inaction.

In fact, Jesus’ promise to be with us is dependent ONLY upon what God has already DONE, through Jesus.

People – Jesus promise to meet Peter, and all of the disciples in Galilee is the same promise that Jesus makes to us. For Peter and the disciples, Galilee was familiar. It was home.
I don’t know what your Galilee is – that place that feels familiar, that place that feels safe – that is the place where Jesus promises to meet you.

It is a promise you can trust – not simply a set of words. You simply need to look around and see all the times that Jesus has met you in your life and know that this promise is one that will continue to give you hope and comfort.

Let us pray,
Dearest Jesus, thank you for meeting us in our deepest needs. Open our eyes to see the many ways you meet us – and all people – every day. May this promise of your presence give us strength and hope. In Jesus name, Amen.

 

Devotions Live, Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Posted by River of Hope Lutheran ELCA – Hutchinson, MN on Tuesday, April 14, 2020

 

Mark 16:7

Monday, April 13, 2020

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. Mark 16:7

Words have power. If you listen carefully to what is actually being said, not bring in your own interpretation or expectations but attend to what is actually said, the power is even greater.

I remember living in Los Angeles as a director of an Early Childhood program. We took the students on a field trip to see Rose Parade floats being built. The group was filled with 4 year olds and the tour guide had an expectation that that they understand directions intended for adults.

Raise your hand if you wish to speak.
Don’t touch the floats.
Please don’t shout.

None of the students were able to follow those rules, naturally, except for Matthew. Matthew raised his hand. Matthew stayed where he was supposed to – and most importantly, Matthew listened. He heard every word that tour guide said.

So – when we came to the float with a WORKING roller coaster Matthew raised his hand and asked, “can we see it work?”

The guide was charmed, but said no. “The person who runs the roller coaster isn’t here today.”

Without skipping a beat, Matthew raised his hand again: “Can we come back tomorrow?”

I had a difficult time not laughing out loud! The tour guide, however, was silent. It took him a minute to figure out that, in fact, the whole building was closed on that day – so, no. But for a split second a 4 year old had bested an adult in a discussion.

Now, any parent or teacher will be able to tell you that this is not a unique story – it happens all the time. What it requires is what children do naturally – they are present in the moment. They are not worried about what was just said – they aren’t planning their next second. They are in the moment.

I think that the 26 words in the verse from Mark 16 have always disappointed me – and many others – because we expect more. We are looking to hear the words of Jesus directly. Or perhaps we want to hear the reaction of the other disciples.

But, if we remain in the moment and hear what the angel is saying – “don’t keep this good news to yourself, tell others and go find Jesus in the places he said he would be” – then this is a pretty amazing statement.

Tell others that you have seen the risen Lord in the lives of people who find hope in the midst of hopeless situations.

Tell others that you have seen the risen Lord in the lives of people who find joy in the midst of the most horrific pain.

Tell others that you have seen the risen Lord in the laughter of friends, family and “framily”.

Tell others that you have seen the risen Lord in the shared tears when we grieve together.

The point is – go – and tell others that the tomb is empty and Jesus is here!

Let’s pray:
Gracious God, give us eyes to see you in surprising places – and then give us the words to tell others that you are here.
Amen.