Key verse: (35) “Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you.”
Reflection: This week the temperatures have taken a little drop, and that cooler air in the evenings and mornings is one of my favorite signs of the seasons changing. With fall coming and the heat (hopefully!) on the way out, one other sign of the changing seasons is less daylight. What seemed like just a few weeks ago I was cutting the grass at 8:30 p.m. and tonight I was racing the sunset as I finished a run around 7:30 p.m. Even with electricity lighting our homes and streets, we can still feel within our bodies and the rhythms of our lives the effect that sunlight has on us.
In our passage for today, Jesus the Son, talks about the importance of walking in the light. In the Gospel of John where we find ourselves, we too are in a season change, a time when Jesus recognizes that his earthly ministry is nearing an end. This season change is not without question and confusion from the disciples, wondering why Jesus must suffer, wondering where he is going, wondering why they can’t go with him. I wonder if the disciples’ questions to Jesus are like youthful attempts to hang on to the last signs of summer, trying to hold on to not only the late nights but also the carefree schedule of the summer? Were the disciples not wanting to see what was ahead of them, enjoying their present too much to let go?
In many ways, this move from summer into fall is not the only season change we are going through right now. In our world, perhaps change seems like the only constant right now. We are going through the season changes of a world in a pandemic, living virtually and at a distance, we are in the season changes of an election year, and the winds have been blowing since last spring of the season changes of racial equity and justice in our nation. How have you been feeling in this season? Change can be frightening; change can be welcomed. Perhaps in all of these changes we are trying to hold on to the last days of summer, perhaps we are trying to hold on to a schedule of life that seemed more “normal”, where we felt in control, where perhaps we were a bit more carefree.
However, just as sure as summer turns to fall and the daylight gets shorter, so too are we in a season of change, we are in it. In this time that may seem directionless, or perhaps the world is moving in a direction you aren’t comfortable with, may we find comfort and direction by holding fast to Christ, the Son, the light of the world. For when we hold fast to Christ, no matter what season we are in, we are walking in the light.
Prayer: God, often times we try to ignore the changing seasons around us, and we wind up walking in the dark. Bind our hearts to Christ, that we may forever walk in the light, through all the seasons of life. Amen.
Key verse: (25) Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
Reflection: What do you enjoy doing on your free days? I enjoy long walks with my wife and our dog. I delight in sunny days by the pool and stormy nights with a good book in hand. I love good food, cooking a meal and serving a meal. What do you enjoy in this life?
In verse 25 Jesus uses hyperbole to make his point — as he does in many occasions. It is not that we should hate the life we live here on earth. Jesus is not saying we should hate the sunny days, or hate the walks with family and friends, or hate the vacations to the beach. What Jesus is saying here is that our highest priority in life and our first desire should be to serve him and follow him. Our priority should not be self-centered or self-serving, but instead we should delight in serving the Lord in all we do. It is when we give up our selfishness for a life of service that we find that which is of eternal value.
I wonder how we might turn our walks, our vacations, our pool days or stormy nights to moments of Christ-centered service. I wonder what that looks like for you. Could you be challenged to read a book that stretches your faith. Maybe the walks we take provide times to reflect and talk about the things we are grateful for each day. If you enjoy cooking, what would it mean to cook with a servant heart?
By introducing this idea with “those who” in verse 25 and “whoever” in verse 26, Jesus is saying that this applies to all who choose a life of faith. Imagine when we begin to find the joy of Christ in all we do, we may also find Christ there too, living and serving in joy alongside us.
Prayer: My Savior, in life you call us to set aside our selfish ways in order to serve with the humility and love you have shown. It is you, Christ, who is my redeemer and friend, the one who died to give me life. Help me to live as you live. Amen.
Key verse: (3) Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
Reflection: Do you every find yourself so caught up in the world that you can’t think about other things? I frequently find myself in this position. Early in the quarantine days, I noticed myself spending increased time on my phone, reading the news a lot, and feeling overly burdened by the weight of the world. 2020 has been a year for the books – full of uncertainty, unrest, and deep grief – I needed a way to get out of my head and connect with something greater. I started taking long, intentional walks. This was a practice I had enjoyed in other periods of my life but let slip away during my time in seminary. So every afternoon or evening I got out to walk around my neighborhood. This spiritual discipline not only gave me some daily exercise and time away from screens but I found myself remembering the One who carries our burdens for us. I felt my physical body praying in ways I never imagined and I began to release some of my worries about the world that were too heavy for me to bear alone.
We live in a world that continually calls our attention to earthly and physical matters. Materialism prevails; we find ourselves putting our resources into possessions, ideals and leaders. We become overly consumed by negative media and are disappointed when worldly things let us down. Even so, we are reminded that our faith calls us to be in the world and not of it. Jesus teaches us throughout the Gospels that we are called to serve the Lord and others and to keep our faith in him not earthly leaders, as our focus verse for today reminds us as well.
Today’s psalm refocuses our attention from the world around us to God’s faithful actions in the world. We are called to remember the great works of God when we begin to focus too much on ourselves. As Christians we are searching for the balance of serving God by actively participating in the world around us, loving and serving our neighbors, and also keeping our faithful relationship with the Lord. Walks help me to center myself around this type of faithful balance. I wonder what helps keep you balanced in your faith and how these practices might draw us closer to each other and to God.
Prayer: Ever-present God, we often come to you bearing the burdens of this world. Remind us that we do not bear any burden alone and renew us so that we continue to trust and praise you. In your holy name. Amen.
Key verse: (36) “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing”
Reflection: After teaching and proclaiming the word of the Lord to the believers in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas have a “sharp disagreement” over who they should take with them on their next trip. Barnabas wanted to take Mark, but Paul objected. Apparently, Mark deserted them on another trip and Paul doesn’t want to risk this happening again. They couldn’t agree, so they part ways. Barnabas sails to Cyprus with Mark and Paul and Silas go to Syria and Cilicia. Their goal was to encourage and strengthen the congregations that were in that region.
Church communities need encouragement, especially now. We haven’t been able to worship or meet together in person. Many people feel disconnected from the community of faith and from God. Too often, we focus exclusively on this separation and worry what will happen to our church. There are so many unknowns. The early church didn’t have beautiful stone buildings to worship in on an expansive campus. During times of persecution they worshipped in secret out of fear of the authorities. They worshipped wherever they could find a safe place, usually people’s homes. Church building construction was discouraged since it was believed that Jesus would return soon. The word church in Greek is ecclesia, which means “the called out ones”. The church is not a building but the people who are called to follow Jesus Christ. In the face of our current challenges, we need to continue to support and encourage one another through prayer and loving action. One day we will be able to gather together again in the fellowship and worship we enjoy. In the meantime, we need to speak more words of encouragement to each other, as hard as that can be some days. Our faith is being tested in ways we never imagined. We have been given an opportunity to look inward and reflect on our lives which can be uncomfortable without life’s many distractions. We have been given an opportunity to continue to live out our faith in new ways by supporting our ministry partners who are providing food and shelter to families, lunch for children in school, and Wi-Fi for those who can’t afford it so their children can learn from home. We can deliver a casserole, volunteer at a food drive, call someone who is isolated at home, and pray for one another. Let’s not become weary proclaiming the life giving word of God – a message of hope and love. These things are at the heart of the Gospel. Let us, like Paul and Barnabas, lay aside what is bothering us and strengthen other believers with compassion and encouragement.
How might you do this today?
Prayer: Gracious God, we give thanks for those who have gone before us setting a good example of faith. May we learn from Paul and Barnabas how to support and encourage one another. Help us to proclaim your Gospel and when necessary, use words. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Key verse: (44) The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Reflection: Nineteen years ago I was sitting in my office when a church member came in and told me that a plane had struck one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Many of us remember where we were that day and how we reacted to the unfolding news of a terrorist attack. We heard the stories of heroes, of first responders who ran into the buildings, of ordinary folks on the street who helped one another, of generous people who offered food or shelter to displaced people.
When I read the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, I am struck by today’s key verse. Lazarus came out of the tomb, with the stench of death, wrapped in the cloth used for his burial. Jesus called on those gathered to “unbind him, and let him go.” Jesus needed some first responders. People who would step forward to offer help to a fellow human. People who would move toward the stench rather than away from it. People who would help Lazarus remove the trappings of death so he could live again.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to a ministry of compassion and care. We are called to move toward the stench of the hurting so that we can offer help. We are called to recognize our shared humanity and to admit that none of us can remove the bindings of pain alone. Lazarus couldn’t take off his own burial cloth. He needed help. And Jesus chose to ask the bystanders to step forward. Perhaps today you need to admit you need help from someone else. Or perhaps today you need to reach out to the person you know is hurting. We are united in our humanity and in our pain, and God will use us.
Prayer: Risen Lord, I give thanks for the gift of life and for the promise of eternal life. I give thanks for the ways you have shown me your grace and transformed me. Give me courage to admit when I need help. And give me courage to offer help when I see need. Amen.
Key verse: (28) When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”
Reflection: At dinner each night, we check in to see how everyone is feeling. It is usually hard for me to identify a “feeling” word but I am working on it. I usually choose a noun or adjective and we have to get out the feeling chart (Yes, there is one right beside the dining room table!) and the feeling chart helps me find a word to describe where I am. We are all over the chart from agitated to inadequate, furious to cheeky or creative to nauseated. Most days we find ourselves at some place of contentment. Regardless of where we are, we reach out to hold hands and take a deep breath to pray and we know we are held in the arms of God.
“The teacher is here and is calling for you.” In a few words one can read and maybe even feel the compassionate and empathetic nature of God. The invitation to not just go to Jesus but to bring every anguish, grief, anger, perplexity, and pain. Mary got up and went quickly to Jesus.
God doesn’t only empathize with our many pains and sorrows. God also acts. Jesus wept. John 11:35 is the shortest verse in scripture but powerful beyond words. Jesus wept when Mary came to him, out of compassion and I would even say love. These are his good friends grieving, in pain and Jesus was moved to tears.
Whatever we are feeling these days, we can take comfort in this: When we suffer, Jesus suffers with us. When we grieve, Jesus grieves. May you know that you are always held in the loving arms of a God who knows your deepest pain.
Prayer: Jesus, thank You for meeting us right where we are, even in the depths of our pain. Thank you for your tears, reminding us we’re never alone. AMEN.
Key verse: (32) “Jesus replied, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?’”
Reflection: What is your first reaction when you encounter something you don’t understand? Do you seek deeper understanding, do you take a posture of curiosity, or do you discount it, react in fear, or lash out in anger? Throughout Jesus’ ministry people reacted in all of these ways to the words and actions of his life. Miracles? Some followed in awe, others plotted Jesus’ demise. Parables” Some turned their lives around, others called Jesus crazy.
In our passage for today Jesus was confronted by an angry mob with stones raised, poised to kill Jesus. What had Jesus done to deserve this treatment? Jesus turned water into wine, healed people, and freed them from their sins. He also called out societal norms and gave a scathing rebuke of the temple system. In other words, Jesus’ actions and words were new, confusing, and didn’t fit into many people’s world view. While it’s easy to paint the Jews in this passage who want to kill Jesus in a bad light, we’ve all been there. Okay, maybe not with literal stones raised, but we’ve all raised the metaphorical stone to throw at that which threatens our understanding of the world, to that which confuses us. We’ve all been in the place where our first reaction to that which is different than us is fear and even anger.
What would it take for us to put down the stones so often raised and respond in divine curiosity or seek deeper understanding when confronted by that which we don’t understand? What would it take? Faith. This is not a shallow faith in pithy sayings, but a trust in something and someone outside of ourselves, a faith that decenters ourselves and recenters Christ in our lives. When we take the leap to set the trust in our lives on Christ, we are free to be confused, we are free to be confronted by that which is different and new to us, we are free to be wrong. When we truly have faith in Christ, our lives are not based on our being right or wrong or our way of doing things. Instead, with eyes fixed on Christ we are free to trust that we are following the perfecter of our faith, the one greater than ourselves, the one calling us to a new future. May we put down our stones and open lives to the openness and curiosity of faith.
Prayer: Loving God, open our eyes that we may see your open arms, welcoming us into your loving grace. May our faith in you show itself as trust bigger than ourselves. By your faithfulness in the world, may we be surprised by your presence in our lives. Amen.
Key verse: (27) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
Reflection: There is a fun group game that I love including in team-building initiatives. It is called “Blindfold Maze.” This is a team icebreaker where all participants will be blindfolded and have to get through an obstacle course with only instructions from one leader. All the participants that are blindfolded will begin in a straight line, one behind the next, with their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. The leader then guides the group through the obstacle course / maze. The leader shouts instructions like “turn left … walk 2 steps forward …” so on and so on. You can also do this as a partner team-building game, where one person is the leader and the other is blindfolded in the maze.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” It is not easy to listen. We get distracted by things around us, we sometimes focus on what we want to say, and sometimes we are concerned about the things we may run into without trusting our leader or partner in getting us through the maze. Listening also takes time and attention. To hear the voice of the Good Shepherd is to be attuned to his Word.
“I know my sheep and my sheep know me,” says the Lord. On this side of the phrase is the invitation to follow. We listen and hear, but do we follow? It sometimes feels as if we are walking through life just like we are in the Blindfold maze, not knowing where we are going. But we are called to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and hear the voice of the one who speaks of peace, the one consoles our heartache, the one who eases our fears, and the one who teaches us the way that is the truth about life. Who do we listen to in our daily living? May each day we wake and turn our ears to the Lord, saying, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
Prayer: Lord, your words ease our aching hearts and calms our anxious minds. You know us; you lead us; you are the Good Shepherd. Give me ears to hear as you direct my steps this day. Amen.