Lent 2021 Resources for Personal Devotion

Lent is often a season when we take intentional time to work on our relationship with God.  There are many resources available for personal devotions, but, with so many choices, how do you know which is the right one for you?  This post highlights some of the resources that I have used through the years, along with fresh new resources from trusted sources.  I pray that this list will help you to find faithful devotions which can accompany you through these forty days.

Poetry and the Word:  The Salt Project

The Salt Project has published several Lenten devotions linking poetry to the themes of Lent.  My favorite (which happens to go perfectly with the texts for Lectionary Year B), is a weekly devotional entitled “The Poetry of Lent:  Mary Oliver’s Devotions.”  It costs $10.00 for a personal use license, and is a digital product that you can download to a tablet or computer or print out on paper.

Other items required include your own Bible (or online access to one) and Mary Oliver’s book “Devotions” (or online access to the specific poems cited).  You can find this resource here: https://www.saltproject.org/the-poetry-of-lent/the-poetry-of-lent-a-lenten-companion-to-mary-olivers-devotions-individual

Here is a link to the Salt Project’s other Lenten resources:  https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2018/1/8/spring-is-coming-lent-customizable-short-films-and-print-resources

also available from the Salt Project:

  • Emily Dickenson and the Poetry of Lent
  • Wendell Berry and the Sabbath Poetry of Lent
  • Practicing Lent

Coloring and the Word:  Illustrated Ministry

Illustrated Ministry is a consistent, trusted resource for all ages.  They are famous for their giant coloring pages, colorful stickers, and children’s bulletins (my family is using these), but did you know that they also publish fabulous devotional resources?  They have published several new resources for this year, and I am suggesting “Where Your Heart Is” for personal devotion.  It is an all-in-one, weekly resource that you download, print out, and color, write on, and doodle through.  It is $10.00 for a personal use license, with a sliding scale for use by congregations. 

Although it has one devotion per week, I believe that there is plenty to work on through the week, so it becomes a bit of a hybrid, big bang for your buck, resource. You can find this resource here: https://store.illustratedministry.com/collections/lent/products/where-your-heart-is-an-illustrated-devotional

Here is a link to Illustrated Ministry’s other Lenten Resources:  https://store.illustratedministry.com/collections/lent?sort_by=created-descending

also available from Illustrated Ministry:

  • Psalms Devotional Guide
  •  An Illustrated Lent (Focus on Giving, Prayer, Fasting, and the Heart)

Spiritual Elders and the Word: The 40 Day Journey

This resource is an extensive collection of books, and you are invited to choose a Spiritual Elder whose work speaks to you.  It is a daily devotional that assumes that you will spend a good chunk of time with it each day.  It is a commitment, but definitely worth it.  In the past, I have explored Kathleen Norris, and this year I am planning to journey with Joan Chittister.  This is a print resource (also available on Kindle for $10.99), and the editors suggest a separate journal and pen or pencil for exploring the journal prompts. 

You can find the link to both the print and Kindle versions here: https://smile.amazon.com/40-day-Journey-Chittister-Beverly-Lanzetta/dp/0806680318/  

Here is a link to the other books in the series:  https://www.augsburgfortress.org/store/search?ss=40+day+journey&c=0

also available:

  • Kathleen Norris
  • Julian of Norwich
  • Maya Angelou
  • Martin Luther
  • Parker Palmer
  • Dietrich Bonhoffer
  • Madeline L’Engle
  • Howard Thurman

I hop you enjoy exploring these resources; drop a comment to let me know which one you are planning to use this Lent!

Sustaining Peace: Dwelling in the Word November 29, 2020

Advent Candles by lapenn on flickr.com

Bible Reading:  John 14:22-31 NRSV

22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to [Jesus], “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.  25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.  This is the Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to You, O Christ.

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about?

2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why? 

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story intersect with my life? 

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?

Dwelling in the Word

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you and peace, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Since the very beginning of the pandemic, Patrick has been leading Morning Prayer online three days per week with a small group of regulars.  Each time, we pray, listen to music, and dive deep into study of the Word of God and what it means in our lives.  My favorite part of these times together, however, comes at the very end.  We end by wishing peace to one another, and then someone always says, “Blessings for your day.”  Wishing peace can be a powerful thing, can’t it?  It can bring calm to a storm, healing to relationships, and a firm anchor to which we can tether our lives.  And that is exactly what Jesus is giving to his disciples in our text for today.

         This section is not usually read during the first Sunday in Advent, but it does go with the Advent theme of peace, and perhaps especially peace in our time.  It comes from a section of John called “The Farewell Discourse,” and is basically Jesus’ final sermon on Maundy Thursday, meant to strengthen the disciples and give them direction after he is gone. 

One of the disciples asks why it is that they, the disciples, get to see Jesus as he really is, and not the whole world.  Jesus answers them by reminding them of the commandment to love.  This mutual love, which the disciples have for Jesus, for one another, and for the world, will result in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  God will abide, make a home, in the disciples.  They will always be with God, and God will always be with them.  The Holy Spirit will teach, remind, and empower them to do God’s work in the world.

         Then, Jesus gives the disciples the gift of peace.  It is more than a standard greeting, or a signature sign off phrase.  It is the peace of Christ, the type of peace which Paul describes in Philippians 4 as “the peace of God, which passes all understanding,” which will “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  It is a deep abiding peace, a peace which, as I said before, provides an anchor to tether to, even amidst the roughest storms of life.

         The disciples don’t realize it yet, but they are really about to go through some times of storm.  Jesus is going to be arrested, tried, and killed as an enemy of state.  They will scatter, and hide, and be faithless.  They will see the miracle of Easter, and still not understand.  The going is about to get incredibly rough.  And these words will sustain them.  These words will get them through.  The abiding peace of God in Christ, dwelling in and among them, will lead them out the other side and give them the courage to found a Christian Community of Care which abides, even to this day.

         So what does this have to do with you and me, with our lives in this time and place?  This gift of peace in Christ is ours to claim as well.  It is the Holy Spirit working in and though us, to bring calm into the storms of our lives, and the lives of those whom God puts in our path.  This gift of peace in Christ has the power to heal our relationships, to help us to put aside combative words, to reach out to one another in love, maybe especially when we cannot do it by our own power or might.  And this peace holds us fast to Christ, so that the waves do not overwhelm us, the sting of death does not overtake us, and we are able to look up, and out, in hope of a brighter tomorrow.

         Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  Peace be with you, dear sisters and brothers in Christ, now and in every tomorrow.  I promise to hold you, in prayer and in love.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

In Christ, Pastor Breen

Companions on the Journey: Dwelling in the Word November 15, 2020

Walk for Water September 2018

Reading:  Luke 24:13-35 (NRSV)

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiahshould suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.            28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about? In this text, I am challenged that the eyes of the disciples were kept from recognizing Jesus.  This is not unique among Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances; there is something about Jesus that is different, changed, unrecognizable.  Perhaps it is that they never expected to see him again.  Indeed, in this text, they even have all the information that they need, they even say that the women saw that the tomb was empty, and they do not yet believe.  I think that sometimes our eyes are shut, as well.  We cannot see, or believe, without the help of others who come alongside us.  Who are your companions on your faith journey?

2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?  I really delight in who Jesus is for the disciples in this text.  First, he comes alongside them.  Then, he asks questions, “What are you discussing?” and “What things?” and really listens to their answers.  Next, he opens their minds to understand the scriptures.  He explains to them God’s entire plan of salvation, right down to the moment in which they find themselves, running away from Jerusalem on the Emmaus Road.  Finally, he is revealed at the table, in fellowship, in the breaking of the bread.  Where do you find delight in this text?  What about the risen Jesus is comforting to you?

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story intersect with my life?  As I have walked alongside the Tri-Saints over the past eight years, this story has become a model for pastoral ministry for me.  When I arrived, I was a stranger to you.  It was my job to ask questions, to hear your stories, to learn which roads of life you were walking along.  I have continued to walk alongside you, and have striven to open your minds to the scriptures, to hear your faith stories, and to connect the work of God to your daily work.  And we have gathered, in so many and various ways, to break bread together, to find mutual consolation, and to meet Jesus in the Word and the Sacraments.  We have been companions on the road for a good long season.  What stories would you tell about our past eight years?  What memories will you hold onto?  Let go of? Treasure?

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?  We have arrived at the point in our mutual ministry where it is time for me to travel on down the road.  Through much prayer and discernment, I have discovered that I am being “called to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.”  I pray that God will “give us faith to out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (ELW pg. 317)

In Christ, Pastor Breen

The Long Wait: Dwelling in the Word November 8, 2020

Earth Day lanterns by briggs48 on flickr.com

READING: Matthew 25:1-13 NRSV

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about? I am challenged by the callous nature of those who are labeled “wise” in this parable.  When the bridegroom comes, and the bridesmaids get up and trim the wicks on their lamps, and the foolish ones find that they do not have enough oil, I honestly expect the wise ones to share.  They have enough, and more than enough, and although it is not maybe wise to share, I would think that the law of love who call us to expand our circle and help those in need.  I know that I have received undeserved generosity from others in the past, and that it truly felt like a miracle.  Perhaps it is helpful to think about it like the instructions you are given before your plane takes off, to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.  You must have enough oil to survive in order to help on another day.  Where do you struggle with this text?  Do you consider yourself in the wise camp, or the foolish one?  Why?

2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?  As I am certain you already know, I am a person who lies to be prepared.  I have lists.  My list have lists.  I have plans.  My plans have back up plans.  At the surface at least, this story seems to reward those who are prepared.  But even more, it rewards those who pair their preparation with patience.  All of the bridesmaids wait so long that they grow drowsy and sleep.  But they don’t give up and go home.  They wait, in hope.  And when the bridegroom comes, the wise ones are ready to go at a moment’s notice.  They don’t worry about what they have, or don’t, they just get up and go.  They greet the bridegroom and are welcomed into the feast.  When was a time when you were prepared?  Unprepared?  In what ways did your preparation or unpreparedness have an effect on your circumstances?

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story intersect with my life?  I am writing this devotion on the morning after the election, when there is still no decisive winner.  It is tough to wait.  Through the pandemic, in many ways, we have unintentionally also entered into a long season of waiting.  Waiting for test results.  Waiting for the wave to arrive.  Getting impatient with waiting, and struggling to see where God is acting.  I have never felt more camaraderie with the original audience of Matthew’s Gospel as I do today.  The first disciples truly believed that Jesus would come back and usher in the end of the world in their lifetimes, and, by the time of the writing of Matthew’s Gospel, the Christian community was getting tired of waiting.  The horizon of their liberation kept getting farther and farther away, until it seemed that there was no end in sight.  When I start to despair of seeing the horizon of all the major issues of our time, I take comfort in the knowledge that the bridegroom WILL come.  In fact, the bridegroom is already with us, sustaining us, uplifting us, giving us the bright, though tiny, light of hope.  Where do you find hope in this text?  What are you looking forward to, even when the horizon seems far away?

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?  When I consider where I am being called by this text, I am drawn back to the image of the flask of oil.  What is the spiritual oil that I have to sustain me during a long season of waiting?  What practices can I lean into?  Where does God consistently speak to me, and how can I take time, make time, to listen? 

I pray that the oil in your lamp of faith will continue to sustain you.  If you need help finding some more, please know that I am willing to share (even if the parable said I shouldn’t 😊).  Christ, be our light, our source, our hope, now and in the long wait to come.

In Christ, 

Pastor Breen

God’s Children Now: Dwelling in the Word November 1, 2020

Reflections by dosmosis on flickr.com

Reading:  1 John 3:1-3 (NRSV)

1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about? My challenge is in the phrase, “The reason the world did not know us is that it did not know him.”  Being Christians means that we act differently than the status quo of the world.  It means that we are a people of love and forgiveness and hope, even despite all evidence to the contrary.  It means caring for the last, the least, and the lowly, the vulnerable, the estranged, and the endangered.  And when we act this way, the world will have a hard time recognizing us, because it has a hard time recognizing Jesus.  What aspect of the Christian faith is challenging to you?  In what ways would you sometimes rather side with the world than with Jesus?

2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?  I am comforted by the phrases “when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”  Martin Luther wrote, “In the good we do, we are just “little Christs” to each other (Luther’s Works, Vol. 31, pages 367-368).  We are reflections of Christ’s love, one to another, and in being those reflections, we actually see Christ for ourselves, here and now in our daily lives.  I am so glad that we are called to be like Christ, to forgive, and love, and heal.  And I am doubly glad for all of those who work to forgive, love, and heal me!  Who has been like Christ for you this week?  In what ways has your life reflected the love of Christ?

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story intersect with my life?  My imagination is captured by the phrase, “what we will be has not yet been revealed.”  It reminds of the progression of our Confirmation students through our four year course of study.  When they begin, they are in 5th grade, full of the wonder and questions (and goofiness and energy) of children.  By the time they finish their 8th grade year, they have matured, both in faith and in life, and I get a true sense of the kind of adults that they will grow up to be.  We are all constantly becoming, growing, discerning who we are, both in this world and as Beloved Children of God.  I am blessed to get to be a part of the journey of revelation alongside you.

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?  When I truly rest in this text, I do not believe that it is calling me to do or to be anything.  Instead, it calls me to deeper awareness of my identity in God’s eyes as Beloved, as Child of God, as a reflection of Christ to the world.  What does it mean to you to know that you are all of these things, and more?  I pray that you will connect to Christ’s love in a deep way in the coming week, especially in a world so intent on dividing us.

In Christ, Pastor Breen

Refuge, Strength, and Stillness: Dwelling in the Word October 25, 2020

Rapperswil Castle at Dawn by lschlagenhauf on flickr.com

Reading:  Psalm 46 (NRSV)

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
    God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
    see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about? I am challenged by all of the chaos in this psalm.  The earth changes.  The mountains shake.  The waters roar and foam.  There is desolation.  There are weapons of war being crumbled to dust.  Although it is probably an accurate description of life here on earth, I certainly wish it wasn’t so.  I wish that being a believer meant that nothing bad ever happened.  I wish it meant that we are guaranteed smooth sailing.  This psalmist doesn’t let us off the hook into the land of wishing though; the psalmist confronts the real chaos of life head on.  Where, in your life, do you experience chaos?  Violence?  Unsettling forces beyond your control?

2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?  Last year, we used this Psalm for our first quarter of Sabbath Sunday, with verse one as our memory verse:  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  I hope that it is familiar to you, and something that you have taken to heart in your own life of faith.  This time as I read it, I most noticed the word “strength.”  Usually, when I come to this Psalm, I emphasize the “refuge” aspects of God.  God as a place to turn, to run to, to hide away in.  When I instead emphasize the word “strength,” it reminds me that God is the source of my strength.  This empowers me, not just to go to God to run and hide, but to be grounded in the strength beyond ordinary human strength that comes from God alone.  What words or phrase stick with you?  How do these images for God resonate with you?

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story intersect with my life?  Another familiar phrase in this Psalm comes from verse 10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  This command reminds me most of the natural world.  I remember times when it has been incredibly windy, and then wind stills.  Or times during dawn or dusk, when even the animals seem to take a deep breath and be still.  I remember being at our lake cabin in the summer a marveling over the water when it is as still and reflective as glass.  When, in your life, have you had the opportunity to be still?  What was that experience like for you?

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?  This week, God is calling me to remember that God is both refuge AND strength, and a very present help in trouble.  I am also reminded of an amazing centering practice with verse ten, where you slowly (one syllable per inhale or exhale) say the words, “Be still and know that I AM God.”  Each time that you cycle through the verse, you remove the last word of the sentence, until you only have “Be” left.  It is a great way to slow down, to come to stillness, to really dwell in a fragment of scripture.  I commend the practice to you.

May God continue to bless us with places of refuge, of strength, of stillness and knowing, both now and in the days to come.

In Christ,  Pastor Breen      

Psalm 46 retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=psalm+46&version=NRSV

Daily Bread: Dwelling in the Word October 18, 2020

Concrete Romain Coin, Colchester by howardlake on flickr.com

Reading:  Matthew 22:15-22 (NRSV)

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about? I am challenged by the ulterior motives with which the Pharisees send their disciples and the Herodians, to “entrap him in what he said.”  They have already made up their minds before the encounter even begins, and, instead of being interested in dialogue, they only want to trick Jesus.  We are used to seeing the Pharisees as the bad guys in this Gospel, but last week I preached that we, as life-long, established Christians might be the closest thing to Pharisees that still exist today.  And if we are, indeed, Pharisees, where does the beginning of this story leave us?  I can certainly think of times when I have gone to God in prayer with the express purpose of wiggling out of the law of love, or the hard, uncomfortable work to which I am sometimes being called.  When have your prayers included ulterior motives?  How can we approach God with open hearts, ready to listen to what God has to say?

2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?  I love that Jesus’ final answer turns the entire world upside-down.  He says to, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  At first, this might sound like Jesus is falling into the Pharisee’s trap.  Pay taxes?  Participate in a system of oppression that is becoming very precarious for the Jewish people in Jesus’ time?  It can sound like giving the best to the worst, and giving what is leftover to God.  However, I am reminded of the meaning of the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (give us this day our daily bread) in Luther’s Small Catechism:

What then does “daily bread” mean?

Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, field, livestock, money, property, and upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. ( Luther’s Small Catechism, pg. 23)

Everything belongs to God!  And, everything that we have, relationships included, is given to us by God’s gracious favor. So when we give to God the things that are God’s, we recognize that it all belongs to God in the first place, and give back from a sense of thankfulness, blessedness, and joy.  And we participate in civil society, and vote, and serve on boards, and make sure that the last, the least, and the forgotten in our communities are cared for, because God loves us first.  What are you thankful for today?  In what ways do you consider yourself blessed?  What is bringing you joy?

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story intersect with my life?  The closest thing that I can come to of understanding all the ways in which God cares for me that I don’t even recognize on a daily basis was the time of life when I was in high school and college.  I was beginning to be more independent, I was earning my own money, I began to live away from my parent’s house for the first time.  I had so much that I was providing for myself with the work that I myself had done, that I think I forgot just how much my family supported me through that time.  I bought the car, but they paid the insurance.  I lived on my own, but their work paid my rent.  I could go to school, and to the doctor when I needed it, and my parents made that possible. 

As adults, we work.  We pay our way.  We nurture our relationships.  We participate in our communities.  And we sometimes forget that the source of all of it is God, and God alone.  Stories like the one in Matthew help us to reorient ourselves to see the world, at least in small glimpses, from God’s point of view.  When, in your life, were you able to make it because of the help and support of others?  When, in your life, have you leaned hard on God?

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?  As I reflected on my experience as a young adult, I was also reminded that not everyone is as loved and supported by their family as I have been.  We are not able to have a Mission Festival this year due to the pandemic, and I was remembering that Oaks Indian Mission in Oaks, Oklahoma, is a serving arm of our Nebraska Synod.  Oaks Indian Mission is “called to care for abused, neglected or abandoned Indian children, guiding them on a path that will allow them to live fulfilled, successful lives.”  They are the Christian community of care which surrounds young people during the most difficult chapters in their lives, and commit to giving them love, safety, food, clothing, education, and a fresh start.  One of the ways that we can be Christ’s hands and feet in this world is to participate in the work of providing daily bread for those who cannot access it, and I urge you to learn more about this important mission.  Learn more here:  https://www.oaksindianmission.org/our-calling

I pray that you are able to count God’s blessings in your life, each and everyday.  And I pray that you might always have enough (and some to share!).

In Christ,  Pastor Breen       

Beggars at the Feast

Tri-Saints Lutheran Parish Dwelling in the Word: October 11, 2020

“place settings” by sharynmorrow on flickr.com

Reading:  Matthew 22:1-14 NRSV

The parable of the unwelcome guest

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about? I am challenged by all of the violence in this parable.  The invited guests are violent, the king is enraged and burns down the city, and even one of the guests is thrown out into the outer darkness for wearing the wrong kind of robe.  What in the world is going on here?  I did a bit of reading on this, and remembered that the fate of many of God’s messengers, the prophets, were rejected, and suffered, and were even killed.  At the time of the writing of Matthew’s Gospel, the people of God were living with the reality of the destruction of the Temple by Roman authorities, so they would have know what it was like to have a king burn their city to the ground.  The guest is a little more tricky, and I am thankful to the Salt Project for some help (see link below). Because the guests were brought in unexpectedly, and from everywhere, it is reasonable to assume that the king provided the clothing for the wedding banquet, and that this guest refused to wear it.  In other words, the guest came in to eat and drink, but wasn’t willing to be an actual celebrant at the feast.  When have you been reluctant to celebrate?  When have you refused an invitation?  Where do you have questions about this text?

2.  What delights or comforts me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?  In this parable, I am delighted both that the king keeps on inviting guests until the entire banquet hall is full, and that the original, more focused, invitation expands to include everyone, both good and bad.  Those who are originally invited might be considered to be the important ones by the metric of the world.  They own land, and businesses, and are strong enough to subdue messengers.  Those who end up coming to the feast are in the streets, both good and bad, and answer the call to come and celebrate.  When have you accepted this kind of invitation?  In what spaces are you fully welcomed, both good and bad?  Where have you experienced persistent invitation, and finally found yourself joining the party?

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story intersect with my life?  There is a song in the musical “Les Miserables” called “Beggars at the Feast.”  The Thenardiers, who we learned earlier in the musical were the extremely unethical tavern and hotel owners who used one of the main character’s children as an unpaid servant, have bounced back in the wake of the failed revolution, and now find a way to get into a fancy wedding banquet.  They extort the groom, steal the silverware, and then sing about how, no matter the circumstances, they always look out for number one, and always come out on top.  I wonder if it’s characters like these that we are meant to see when we think of the underdressed guest in this week’s parable.  Those who think they belong in the feast of the kingdom of God, and yet live by the credo of only looking out for themselves and what they deserve and what they can get out of people.  Jesus reminds us to beware of this kind of self-serving righteousness, that God can see through it, and that this kind of living will be cast out into the outer darkness.  When have you experienced self-righteousness?  When have you felt like you didn’t belong?  What sin does this parable ask you to confront?

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?  I pray that, during this Wilderness time in our collective journey, our ears might be opened to heed God’s call and invitation above all others.  That we might lay aside that which makes us cling to the world, and put on the righteousness of Christ.  That we might find cause to celebrate, in small ways, the great feast that God calls us to participate in, each and every day.                              

In Christ, Pastor Breen


In the Wilderness

“Wilderness” by bopacasi on flickr.com

Tri-Saints Lutheran Parish Dwelling in the Word: October 4, 2020

Reading: Nehemiah 9:6, 9-15 (NRSV)

And Ezra said: “You are the Lord, you alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. To all of them you give life, and the host of heaven worships you. 

9And you saw the distress of our ancestors in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea. 10 You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted insolently against our ancestors. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day. 11 And you divided the sea before them, so that they passed through the sea on dry land, but you threw their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters.  12Moreover, you led them by day with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire, to give them light on the way in which they should go. 13 You came down also upon Mount Sinai, and spoke with them from heaven, and gave them right ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments, 14 and you made known your holy sabbath to them and gave them commandments and statutes and a law through your servant Moses. 15 For their hunger you gave them bread from heaven, and for their thirst you brought water for them out of the rock, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you swore to give them.


Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.      

I have been thinking a lot lately about how to make sense of this pandemic time that we are living in.  I have talked with many of you, and the questions that I hear sound like “Why this?  Why now?  Why still?  How long?”

At the beginning of the pandemic, a friend sent me to an article describing the stages of a global event like this as a blizzard, a long winter, and a little ice age1.  At first, we prepped as if for a blizzard.  Then, as things got worse, we settled in for the long winter.  Now, as we pass the sixth month mark, it is more like a little ice age, where our patterns of behavior and social interactions are indelibly changed.  This article was helpful to me, but it didn’t necessarily have room for a perspective of faith.  Where was God in all of this?  How is God showing up?  What is God up to?

The text from Nehemiah gives us at least one framework.  The story of the Exodus is pivotal to the Jewish people, and the place where they return to, time and time again, to remember who they are, whose they are, and what God has done for them.  We, as Christians, share this story, and I wonder if it might help us as we navigate this in between time, this wilderness time, together.

Exodus begins as the Israelites cry out to the Lord because they are enslaved.  God raises up Moses, who confronts Pharaoh, and the ten plagues are the result.  When the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, is imminent, God instructs the people to pack up and get ready to go.  They are to eat unleavened bread, and eat roast lamb, and paint the tops of their door frames with the blood of the lamb.  On that night, the angel of death passed over the Israelites.

This sounds a bit like us, doesn’t it?  At the beginning of the pandemic, we prepared in a hurry, and it seems like the world ran out of toilet paper.  We hunkered down, and banded together, apart.  And God was with us.  In telephone conversations and online worship, in mailings and check ins, in everyone doing the same thing for the same purpose, albeit a dangerous one.  And the first crisis passed.

After the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh decides to let the people go, but later changes his mind and sends his army to chase them, all the way down to the shores of the Red Sea.  It seems to the Israelites as if there is no way, but God makes a way.  The Sea is parted, the people walk through on dry land, and the waters swallow up the army.  They are safe! And free! And they celebrate!

The journey through the Sea reminds me of this past summer.  It became clear that this pandemic was here to stay, that it would take longer than two weeks, or a month, or six weeks to clear up.  And God was with us.  Some of us had to remain locked down.  Some of us were able to cautious venture out. Some of us returned to a simpler life, learning to appreciate talking on the phone, or taking a drive, or precious time with family.  Some of us learned new ways, reconnecting to old friends and family members through the computer, or the simple joy of taking a walk, or planting a garden for the first time.  And we passed through the second crisis.

The celebration of the Israelites quickly turned to complaining as they realized that they were not directly in the Promised Land, but rather in the Wilderness.  The Wilderness is a difficult place to be.  There is no food.  There is no water.  There is nothing to do, or to see.  There is no permanent place to lay your head, but instead just a long journey of travel and rest, travel and rest. 

Pastor and writer Daniel Erlander calls this time in the life of the Israelites “Wilderness School.”  They learned to rely on God for food and water and wayfinding.  The received God’s laws for living with God and one another in the Ten Commandments.  They learned about sabbath, and God’s loving kindness, and not to hoard the gifts that they had been given.  And it took forty long years.

God willing, our time in the Wilderness will not be forty years, but I believe that the Wilderness is exactly where we find ourselves right now.  We are in a time when everyone is trying to make the best decisions, and no decision is completely right.  We are in a time when we fear for the lives of those who are the most vulnerable, while chafing under the restrictions that are necessary for us to live in community.  We are in a time where it might feel easier to complain, or give up, or hurl arrows into the abyss, because it makes us feel better to blame someone or something beyond ourselves.  We are in a time that feels a lot like despair.  But I am here to tell you that God is still with us.  God hears our complaining.  God walks with us as we try to choose a path, or a way, or even the next step.  God gives us what we need, moment by moment, because God holds us tight in the Wilderness times of our lives most of all.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a shut-in member of the church.  She asked me to name the actual date when this pandemic would be over.  I said, “I wish I knew.”  And she continued to press.  All of us would like to know, wouldn’t we?  All of us want to cross the river and make it to the Promised Land.  And it is coming.  But not yet.  I urge you, in Wilderness time, to take this opportunity to draw closer to God, instead of pushing God away.  To spend more time in prayer, and scripture, and reaching out to help and having a care for the last and the least and the lost.  To recognize the working of God in your life, even now.  To rest.  What do we have left to learn?  Perhaps that God is with us, all along the way.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

In Christ, Pastor Breen

1 Leading Beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization Is Now a Startup, by Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchardhttps://journal.praxislabs.org/leading-beyond-the-blizzard-why-every-organization-is-now-a-startup-b7f32fb278ff

Wilderness: Dwelling in the Word March 2020

photo of Painted Desert National Wilderness Area by Breen Sipes

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11 (NRSV)

1Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written,
 ‘One does not live by bread alone,
  but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
  5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
 ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
  and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
 so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
  8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
 ‘Worship the Lord your God,
  and serve only him.’ ”
11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

1.  What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?  What do I have questions about? 

This is the text which comes directly after Jesus’ baptism.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus comes up out of the waters, the heavens are ripped open, and the spirit alights on him like a dove.  Then, a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.”  This is an auspicious beginning to Jesus’ earthly ministry.  However, the very next line is this:  “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Not a very auspicious beginning.  Straight from baptism to temptation by the devil?  I find this very challenging.  Why is this how it works?  Why not a trail period, or a chance for Jesus to do some good things, some easy things?

          Perhaps I am challenged by this because I also fear that it is the shape of our baptismal life.  When one of my mentors would baptize, she would always say that baptism doesn’t promise us a life without rain or storms, but rather that God goes with us, through them.  Maybe it is a mark of Jesus’ true humanity that he was tempted, just as we are.  Maybe it is a mark of Jesus’ humanity that he spends time in the wilderness, just as we do when we have lost our way.  And maybe this episode reminds that Jesus is also the Son of God, able to resist the pull of the devil in ways that we would find unimaginable.  He is God, and we are not.

2.  What delights me in this text?  What is my favorite part, and why?

I love how dramatic this story is.  I can imagine this face off between the devil and Jesus, with the devil as slick as a snake and the soundtrack rising to an uncertain climax as we await each of Jesus’ answers.  It is a battle of epic proportions, and fought only with words.  It is even a tale with a happy ending, and the arrival of angels to top off the victory!

3.  What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?  How does this story connect to my life? 

This story reminds me of the time that my husband Patrick and I spent in the Painted Desert during our honeymoon.  We had visited lots of National Parks during our trip (The Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, etc.), and it seemed that National Parks were a place for a lot of rules:  Don’t stray off the path!  Don’t touch anything!  Don’t feed the animals!   Park only in designated areas!  By contrast, our trip to the Painted Desert seemed freeing.  It is designated, not as a National Park, but as a Wilderness Area, and as such, there were no paths to follow or places to park.  But with that lack of rules came dire warnings:  Tell a Park Ranger where you are planning to go, so if you don’t come back we know where to begin searching.  The sun goes down quickly in the desert; keep track of the time so you don’t get stuck somewhere remote overnight.  And my favorite:  Bubonic Plague is a reality; don’t get friendly with the wildlife.  This experience in the wilderness gave us a sense of freedom with just a hint of danger.  Do what you want, but beware that your consequences have actions.  I still can’t wait to go back!

4.  What is God up to in this text?  What is God calling me to do or to be because of this message?

          God is with Jesus just as God is with us.  God gives Jesus the strength to endure, just as God gives Jesus the strength to endure.  God sends to us to the wilderness to learn and to grow, and has angels waiting for us on the other side. 

          I am looking forward to learning alongside you through this familiar text this month.  May God bless our Lenten journeys into the wilderness, as well.

In Christ,

Pastor Breen Marie Sipes

Check out our other Lenten Devotional Resources here:

Easter Vigil Wednesday Night Devotions: https://pbsipes.files.wordpress.com/2020/02/easter-vigil-devotion-book-2020-website.pdf

Lent Prayer Journal: https://pbsipes.files.wordpress.com/2020/02/lent-prayer-journal-2020.pdf

Sunday Gospel Devotions: https://familygodtime.wordpress.com/tag/lent-2020/