Bright Cloud: Dwelling in the Word February 2020

“Cloud Lovers” by moonjazz on flickr.com

Matthew 17:1-9 (NRSV)

1Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

  9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

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

I have always thought that this was a very strange text.  Sometimes, I think, we accept texts like this because we have heard them so many times over the course of our lives.  But, seriously, think about it.  A hike up a high mountain, Jesus is transfigured, his face like the sun, and his clothes dazzling white, and then two people who have been dead for centuries show up.  Not only all of that, but the voice of God!  If I were one of the disciples, I think I would wonder if I was dreaming at the least, and worry about my sanity at the worst.  Maybe that’s why Jesus brought three of them.  Each could corroborate the other’s story, when the time came to tell it to others.

I am also challenged by this text because although I have heard many peoples’ stories of their physical encounters with God, it always seems to me that mountaintop experiences don’t last.  They give us lots of energy and drive in the moment, but that excitement, that certainty fades away with time until we wonder if it ever really happened at all.  Why does God gives us these experiences, if they fade in this way?

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

One thing that I never noticed before was that Jesus brings the same disciples that he first calls from being fishermen to being fishers of people (with the exception of Andrew…maybe he was sick that day).  Those who are with him at the beginning are still with him at the end.

          Another thing which delights me is that the words God says in Jesus’ Baptism still hold true just as he is about to enter Jerusalem and endure the cross.  He has been at the business of ministry for three years, and God still claims him, still loves him, is still well pleased with him.  For the benefit of the disciples, God adds, “Listen to him.”  We know that what Jesus is going to have to say is going to be hard to hear, so I wonder if this command is also encouragement.  “Hear him,” God says, “and take heart.”

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

          This episode in Jesus’ life reminds me from a scene in the movie The Neverending Storyhttps://youtu.be/73dqr81DDyc The main character in the fantasy world, Atreyu, has to face his true self in a magic mirror before he can go through the gate.  Who he meets is the little boy reading the Neverending Story book in the attic of his school.  It makes me wonder who I would see if I had to face the same mirror.  It also makes me thankful for the promises given to us in baptism, where God names us, claims us, forgives us, and saves us.  Maybe, like Jesus, when we are transfigured, we will reflect the face of God!

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

          In this text, God is revealing Jesus’ true identity to his closest followers.  God speaks, and names Jesus as Son and Beloved.  God commands the disciples, and us, to listen to Jesus.  And Jesus himself tells the disciples to “Get up, and do not be afraid.”  Perhaps this story can help us, too, to get up and cast away our fear, to witness the love of Jesus and to tell others what we have heard and seen.  As we conclude the season of Epiphany light, may your light shine with the love of Jesus for the sake of the world.  I am looking forward to seeing where God leads us in our Dwelling in the Word together this month!

In Christ,

Pastor Breen Marie Sipes

Come & Follow: Dwelling in the Word January 2020

Kerala by sandeepachetan on flickr.com

Matthew 4:12-23 (NRSV)

12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
  on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16the people who sat in darkness
  have seen a great light,
 and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
  light has dawned.”
17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

  18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

  23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

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 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 connect to 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?

Epiphany 1: King Herod

Here are the complete resources for the first Sunday after Epiphany in our Jesus’ Birth from A to Z series.

Get the entire Advent-Epiphany Daily Devotion Book here: https://pbsipes.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/jesus-birth-a-to-z-devotion-books-2019-pdf.pdf

Weekly Reflective Coloring Page

Weekly Bible Story

The Escape to Egypt: Matthew 2:13-15 NRSV

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

The Massacre of the Infants: Matthew 2:16-18

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Daily Questions & Prayers

Sunday:  Matthew 2:13a

Joseph is dreaming again!  Have you been paying attention to your dreams this season?  What do they have to tell you?

Dear God, help me to listen to you, no matter how you choose to speak to me.  Amen.

Monday:  Matthew 2:13b

Have you ever had to get up and go without advance notice?  What was that experience like?

Dear Jesus, my time is not always your time.  Help me to follow your lead, even when it interrupts my plans.  Amen.

Tuesday:  Matthew 2:13c

What do you think it would have been like to unexpectedly have to move with a two-year-old for Mary and Joseph?  What would it be like for you?

Dear God, sometimes unexpected things happen to me.  When I am in the middle of something unexpected, help me to you that you are present with me.  Amen.

Wednesday:  Matthew 2:14

Have you ever traveled to a foreign country?  What was that experience like for you?  If you could travel somewhere, where would you go?

Dear God, today I pray for those who are traveling because of the threat of war or violence.  Keep them safe on their journey, and help them to know that they are always at home in you.  Amen.

Thursday:  Matthew 2:15

What would it have been like for Mary and Joseph to learn a new language, customs, and even cuisine?  What would it be like for you to do so?

Dear God, today I pray for those who live far from home.  Sustain them as they learn new things, and comfort them when they miss what is familiar.  Amen.

Friday:  Matthew 2:16

King Herod’s actions against the children in Bethlehem are similar to Pharaoh’s in Moses’ time.  Why do you think he chose to do this?  Where are there places in this world where something similar is happening, even today?

Dear Jesus, today I pray for all children in the world, in our country, and in my community whose lives are threatened by violence.  Help me to see this danger and act to bring peace.  Amen.

Saturday:  Matthew 2:17-18

Have you ever been so sad that you didn’t know if you would ever stop crying?  What was that experience like?  What do you think it would have been like to lose a child to violence?  How can you make a difference in the lives of those who are mourning loss?

(Pray in your own words for people you know who are sad, mourning, or in pain today.)

Epiphany of Our Lord: The Wise Men

Here are the complete resources for Epiphanay of Our Lord in our Jesus’ Birth from A to Z series.

Get the entire Advent-Epiphany Daily Devotion Book here: https://pbsipes.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/jesus-birth-a-to-z-devotion-books-2019-pdf.pdf

Weekly Reflective Coloring Page

Weekly Bible Story

The Visit of the Wise Men (Matthew 2:1-12 NRSV)

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Daily Questions & Prayers

Sunday:  Matthew 2:1-2

What do you think it would have been like to travel all the way across the known world because of a sign in the stars?  Where is a place to which you would like to travel?  What journey is God calling you to take?

Dear God, guide my journey of faith.  Keep all who are traveling safe, and give me the courage to go where I have never been.  Amen.

Monday:  Matthew 2:3-4

When Herod doesn’t know what to do next, he seeks knowledge from the wisest people he knows.  Where do you go to seek wisdom or knowledge?  How do you know which sources to trust?  For whom are you a source of wisdom or knowledge in your life?

Dear Jesus, give me wisdom and knowledge.  Help me to trust, that I may be guided in your way.  Amen.

Tuesday:  Matthew 2:5-6

Bethlehem is a little like the towns that we live in.  What would it be like if someone famous was from your town?  What would you like our towns to be famous for?

(Pray for your town using your own words.)

Wednesday:  Matthew 2:7-8

When is a time that you can remember searching diligently for something?  Did you find it?  How did you find what you were looking for?  What do you think God is calling you to search for?

Dear Jesus, I know that you came to save the lost.  Find me when I am lost, and help me to have the diligence to seek that which needs to be found in my life.  Amen.

Thursday:  Matthew 2:9-10

What would it have been like to get to the end of such a long journey?  When is a time when you have been overwhelmed with joy?  How does God bring joy to you?

Dear God, I thank you for the end of long journeys, and the gift of joy.  Fill me with a sense of joy that never runs out, that it may overflow to those I meet.  Amen.

Friday:  Matthew 2:11

The wise men bring gifts to show that Jesus is king, God, and sacrifice.  What do you think Mary and Joseph thought of these gifts?  What is the best gift you ever received?

Dear Jesus, thank you for reminding me of just who you really are.  Help me to be generous, both in giving and receiving.  Amen.

Saturday:  Matthew 2:12

When is a time when you had to take a detour, or travel by an unfamiliar road?  What was it like for you and your travel companions?  What do you suppose it was like for the wise men?     

Dear Jesus, sometimes you ask me to travel on unfamiliar roads.  Give me courage to persevere, and an open mind and heart to follow where you lead.  Amen.

Christmas 1: Simeon & Anna

Here are the complete resources forthe first Sunday in Christmas of our Jesus’ Birth from A to Z series.

Get the entire Advent-Epiphany Daily Devotion Book here: https://pbsipes.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/jesus-birth-a-to-z-devotion-books-2019-pdf.pdf

Weekly Reflective Coloring Page

Weekly Bible Story

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple (Luke 2:21-38 NRSV)

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon[i] blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Daily Questions & Prayers

Sunday:  Luke 2:21

One of the important parts of circumcision is that it places a child on the family tree.  Who are some important branches of your family tree for you?  Where would Jesus fit on your family tree?

Dear Jesus, I thank you for placing me into a family.  Help me to learn and to grow, both as a child of my family and as a child of God.  Amen.

Monday:  Luke 2:22-24

In the Bible, birth order is often very important.  In what order were you and your siblings (if any) born?  What makes your place in your family special?  Annoying?

Dear God, I know that I was born at just the right time.  Help me to see the advantages of my place in my family, and to live according to your Word.  Amen.

Tuesday:  Luke 2:25-27

This reading mentions that the Holy Spirit rested on Simeon, and that Jesus’ arrival was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit.  Have you ever experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit?  In what ways do you see God in your life?

Dear God, send your Holy Spirit upon me.  Reveal your will to me, and guide my life.  Amen.

Wednesday:  Luke 2:28-32

What difference does light make to a dark room?  What kind of a difference do you suppose the light of Christ is making in our dark world?  How are you being called to let your “little light” shine?

Dear Jesus, you came to be a light to the whole world.  Help me to see your light in dark times.  Empower me to reflect your light in those places that need it most.  Amen.

Thursday:  Luke 2:33-35

What do you think it was like for Mary and Joseph to meet Simeon?  What would it be like to know that, because of your son, your future will sometimes be difficult?  What prayers would you have for your child?

(Offer a prayer in your own words for your children, future children, or children who are dear to you)

Friday:  Luke 2:36-37

What do you think it would have been like to meet Anna?  How do you think she might be different from other older women that you know?  How would she be the same?

Dear God, I thank you for the wise saints in my life.  Open my ears, that I might absorb their wisdom.  Open my heart, that I might offer what I can to those of older years.  Amen.

Saturday:  Luke 2:38

Anna had been waiting for many years for Jesus to arrive on the scene.  What are you waiting for?  When you wait, is it with patience or impatience, despair or hope?  What does God have to do with us while we wait?

Dear Jesus, make me patient when I have to wait for something that is dear to my heart.  Help me to wait with hope.  Cast out my impatience and despair.  Amen.

Christmas Eve & Day: Shepherds & Angels

Here are the complete resources for Christmas Eve/Day of our Jesus’ Birth from A to Z series.

Get the entire Advent-Epiphany Daily Devotion Book here: https://pbsipes.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/jesus-birth-a-to-z-devotion-books-2019-pdf.pdf

Weekly Reflective Coloring Page

Weekly Bible Story

The Birth of Jesus:  Luke 2:1-7 NRSV

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels:  Luke 2:8-20 NRSV

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Daily Questions & Prayers

Sunday:  Luke 2:1-4

What are some advantages of your hometown?  Disadvantages?  Where do you think God is at work in your hometown?

Dear God, I thank you for the town that I call home.  Bless and keep all of the towns that are close to my heart, and help me to be a good member of the community.  Amen.

Monday:  Luke 2:5-7

What would it be like to have a baby in a barn?  What do you think that it means that Jesus was born, not just to humans, but also to the animals?  What do you think that it means that Jesus, the King of Kings, was born in the opposite of a palace?

Dear Jesus, I am thankful that you were born on earth, and that you came to all creation.  Help me to remember your humble birth in the midst of all of the holiday joy.  Amen.

Tuesday:  Luke 2:8-9

Why do you think that the angels came to visit the shepherds to tell them about the birth of Jesus, before anyone else?  Who in our time do you think that the angel would have come to?

Dear Lord, I thank you that you are not afraid to bring the message of your love all the way to the edges of society.  Help me to be brave in proclaiming your message.  Amen.

Wednesday:  Luke 2:10-12

What is the best news that you have ever received?  Who gave you the news?  What was your reaction?  How do you think the shepherds felt?

Dear Jesus, I thank you for being the good news of great joy of Christmas.  Make my words and deeds reflect your joy, from the inside out.  Amen.

Thursday:  Luke 2:13-15

Shepherds did not usually make midnight trips to town.  Why do you suppose that they left their responsibilities that night?  What kind of good news would be enough for you to drop everything and go?

(Spend a bit of time being quiet, and listening for God’s voice)  Dear God, when you call me, help me to drop everything and go.  Amen.

Friday:  Luke 2:16-18

Tell about a time when you talked to someone else about Jesus.  Who else could you tell today?

Dear Jesus, I thank you for being born as a real human being.  Help me to not keep this miracle to myself, but to share it with those whom you have prepared.  Amen.

Saturday:  Luke 2:19-20

The shepherds just can’t get enough of Jesus!  What is something wonderful that you want to experience again and again?  How can you invite God into that experience?

 Dear God, thank you for wonderful experiences in my life.  Help me to treasure them, and to meet you there.  Amen.

Advent 4: Joseph

Here are the complete resources for week two (the Second Sunday in Advent) of our Jesus’ Birth from A to Z series.

Get the entire Advent-Epiphany Daily Devotion Book here: https://pbsipes.files.wordpress.com/2019/11/jesus-birth-a-to-z-devotion-books-2019-pdf.pdf

Weekly Reflective Coloring Page

Weekly Bible Story

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 1:18-25 NRSV)

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Daily Questions & Prayers

Sunday:  Matthew 1:18

What are the promises that people make to one another when they get engaged to be married?  What would it be like to think that your significant other was lying to you about something very important?

Dear Lord, help me to keep the promises that I make, and make me faithful in all my relationships.  Amen.

Monday:  Matthew 1:19

What do you think that you would have done in Joseph’s situation?  What are some ways that you can do what is right, but also what is merciful?

Dear God, help me to know the right thing to do in sticky situations.  Help me to show mercy to others, as you show mercy to me.  Amen.

Tuesday:  Matthew 1:20

What do you dream about?  Do you listen to your dreams?  Has God ever sent you a message through a dream?  What was that experience like?

Dear Jesus, you are with me when I am awake and when I am asleep.  Grant me peaceful rest, and an open mind to hear your voice.  Amen.

Wednesday:  Matthew 1:21

The name Jesus means “God saves.”  Why do you think that this is an important name for the Son of God to have?  How does Jesus save us from our sins?

(Take a few moments to think about the ways in which you have sinned and want forgiveness)

Dear Jesus, I ask you to forgive me completely, and to save me from my sins.  Amen.

Thursday:  Matthew 1:22-23

What does it mean that “God is with us” in the person of Jesus?  At what times and in what places do you know that God is present in your life?

Dear God, I thank you that you are present in my life, in the good times, in the bad times, and everywhere in between.  Help me to know that this is really true in my life.  Amen.

Friday:  Matthew 1:24

Tell your favorite story of a wedding. What do you think that it means that Joseph and Mary are making a lifetime commitment at this point in the story?

Dear God, I thank you for Joseph and Mary, and the commitment that they made to one another in uncertain times.  Help me to reach out in love towards others.  Amen.

Saturday:  Matthew 1:25

In Bible times, when a father named a child, he was claiming it as his own.  What do you think of Joseph for claiming Jesus as his son on earth?  Who do you claim as your own?  Who claims you?

Dear Jesus, I thank you for claiming me as your own in the waters of baptism.  Help me to walk as a child of your light, now and always.  Amen.

The Whole Thing: Dwelling in the Word December 2019

Jesus’ Birth from A to Z

It was three years ago at a Women in the Middle Bible study that the idea for Jesus’ Birth from A to Z was born.  I had just introduced Anna to the women, and many of them had never remembered studying her.  “Wouldn’t it be amazing,” they mused, “if we could spend Advent reading the whole story of Jesus birth from beginning to end in order?”  “Why not?” I thought, “Where else will we learn this story, if not gathered together at church?”  What has resulted has been several years of walking through this story together, and the opportunity to not only expand the story, but to find ourselves in it.  As we prepare to embark upon this story once again, I invite you to take some time to reacquaint yourselves with all of the amazing people who worked together to bring our Savior to the world (their roles in the action are below).  Who leads you?  Who can you learn from?  Who do you recognize, either in yourself or in your own life?  May these grandmothers and grandfathers, sisters, aunts, and cousin in the faith lead and guide you as you prepare, once again, to receive Jesus in the joy and wonder of Christmas. 

In Christ, Pastor Breen               

Jesus’ Birth A to Z:  An Expanded Nativity

Mary is a young woman from the middle of nowhere.  When the angel tells her that she will be the mother of the Son of God, she responds, first with questions, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34), and then with faith, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  (Luke 1:37) This statement of faith and the belief that “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37) changes the entire course of the rest of her life.

Joseph is the adopted father of Jesus.  He is engaged to marry Mary, but they are not yet living together, when he finds out that she is pregnant.  We learn that God chose Jesus’ step-father well when we learn that he is both righteous and merciful, planning to dismiss her quietly.  When he dreams of an angel who explains “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 1:20) he believes the angel, takes Mary as his wife, and claims Jesus as his own.

Zechariah is an old man who has given up on having children.  Then, an angel appears and tells him that he will be the father to John the Baptist.  He finds this message hard to believe, so the angel gives him nine months to think about it.  He says, “Because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” (Luke 1:20)

Elizabeth is Zechariah’s wife and Mary’s cousin.  It is to Elizabeth’s house that Mary flees once she agrees to be Jesus’ mother, and at that house receives the warmest of welcomes.  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” (Luke 1:42) Elizabeth cries.  She celebrates the birth of a longed-for child in her baby, John, even as she welcomes the mother of the one who is to come.

Shepherds are the last people you would expect to receive the first news of the birth of Jesus.  They live out in the country, they are poor, and they are on the margins of society.  And yet, God chooses the least, the last, and the lowly, to reveal God’s plan of love and forgiveness for all.  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors,” sings the whole multitude of the heavenly host.  (Luke 2:14).  The shepherds believe, go and see for themselves, and just can’t stop telling everyone they meet about the miracle of Christmas.

Simeon and Anna are prophets who have waited their entire lives to meet Jesus face to face.  When Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple for the first time, they know that their life’s work is complete.  “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word,” Simeon sings, “for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” (Luke 2:29-31).  Anna shared this good news with anyone who would listen, thankful for a long life well lived, a precious hope at last fulfilled.

The Wise Men remind us that Jesus was not just a miracle for the people of Israel, but for the entire world.  They see the sign of the star and follow, past the edge of their known world, to meet Jesus face to face.  “They offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh,” (Matthew 2:11) because these people from a foreign land knew that he was king, God, and sacrifice.  They bring this message to the nations, even as they return home by another road.

King Herod is the one who is directly affected by the rumors of a new king who is not from his family.  Willing to protect his throne at any cost, “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.” (Matthew 2:16) Just before the massacre, Joseph dreams of the danger, and he, Mary, and Jesus become refugees in Egypt until it is safe to return.

Bonus: You can color your own expanded “please touch” nativity here:

Thankfulness: Dwelling in the Word November 2019

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“Thanksgiving Cornucopia” by paullew on flickr.com 

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 (NRSV)

1When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, 5you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.  8The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. 11Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

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

This is a celebration of harvest text, and will be our Old Testament reading for Thanksgiving this year.  One thing that is challenging to me as I read this is that I can sometimes be proud of my own accomplishments, especially when I have worked hard to achieve them, and I can forget that its source is God.  God is the one who gives me strength to persevere.  God is the one who opens my heart and mind to understand and care.  God is the one who gives the growth.  We live in a culture that glorifies personal accomplishment, and this text flies in the face of this.  To whom do you owe your strength?  Your accomplishments?  Your wealth?

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

One thing that I love about this text is the reminder that I stand in the long line of history.  I grew up hearing the story of my great-grandmother’s immigration to the U.S., alone, when she was only 16.  Her courage and desire for a better life made a better life for my grandmother, and my mother, and for me and my children.  Where do you stand in your family’s history?  For what in the past are you thankful?  What are you hoping for the future?

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

When I was a child, Kirby Puckett was a famous player for the Minnesota Twins.  I remember that, each time that he came up to bat, he crossed himself and pointed to heaven.  He was an example to me of public praise and thankfulness to God, and helped me to be a little bit more brave about showing my own thankfulness in public.  Who has helped to encourage you in your faith?  For what do you have to give thanks?

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

November is beginning, and, with it, the cultural race through the holidays.  Maybe we all need a t-shirt that says “Thankful! Thankful?  Thankful.”  Sometimes, it seems others are ordering us to be thankful, when we just don’t feel like it.  Sometimes, we wonder if we really have anything of substance to be thankful for.  And sometimes, just sometimes, our daily practice of thankfulness leads to an underlying attitude of gratitude, which lead to the joy which is not happiness, but which sustains us in the long haul.  I am looking forward to diving into this text with you this month.

In Christ, Pastor Breen

Healing: Dwelling in the Word October 2019

namaan

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c (NRSV)

1Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. 2Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 7When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”
8But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! 12Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 13But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
15a-cThen he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”

ELCA Book of Faith Devotional Questions:

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

In the last month, my family and I have spent a lot of time being sick.  It’s back to school time, and everyone shares all their germs with everyone, and before you know, everyone is sick.  I have to admit that when we are sick, going to the doctor is kind of a last resort.  If there is no fever, or acute symptoms, we treat with rest and fluids and more rest.  When we do go to the doctor, we expect the doctor to DO something.  I can empathize with Naaman in this respect.  He decides to take drastic action by going to a miracle worker of his enemies, and Elisha won’t even meet him?  And all he has to do is wash in the Jordan 7 times?  Sometimes, something so simple is hard to believe.

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

I have two favorite parts of this text.  First, I love that the solution comes from an outside source.  This very powerful man is cured because of the advice of a captive Israelite girl, and encouraged into the cure by other servants.  It reminds me to listen to unlikely sources when I am stuck, and to hear the voice of God from unlikely messengers.

My other favorite part is that the cure is so simple.  Namaan doesn’t have to do anything special or hard or painful to be cured.  Elisha calls on God’s power, and it is freely given.  Isn’t it amazing that God works through ordinary things, and offers help and hope and healing, to everyone, regardless of creed or origin?

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

When was a time in your life when you got good advice or encouragement from an unexpected source?  When was a time when the cure was unexpectedly easy?  When was a time when you sat back and thought, “Whoa!  God really is good!”?  This story reminds me of the many times that I have sat in meetings and someone presented an amazing solution that I had never considered before.  I give thanks for those times, and the way the God speaks through sometimes unexpected sources.

I also remember times when my doctor couldn’t give me a quick fix, and I felt frustrated, tired, and scared.  I am so grateful for the support of tireless medical professionals, family and friends during difficult times.  They are the ones that keep putting me back in the ring, and help me to persevere, even when things are really hard.

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

God is working all over this text, right?  My take-away this time is to give medical professionals a break, to accept good advice from unexpected sources, and to support those who find themselves in frustrating situations.  Where is God calling you?  As always, I am looking forward to diving deeply with you into this text over the course of the next month.  Who knows where God might lead us into healing?

In Christ, Pastor Breen