A Sacrament of Fellowship :: Throwback Thursday

Scripture: Nehemiah 8.10
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Reflection: A Sacrament of Fellowship :: Throwback Thursday
By Martin Luther — 1519 AD

The significance or purpose of this sacrament is the fellowship of all saints, whence it derives its common name synaxis or communio, that is, fellowship; and communicare means to take part in this fellowship, or as we say, to go to the sacrament, because Christ and all saints are one spiritual body, just as the inhabitants of a city are one community and body, each citizen being a member of the other and a member of the entire city.

All the saints, therefore, are members of Christ and of the Church, which is a spiritual and eternal city of God, and whoever is taken into this city is said to be received into the community of saints, and to be incorporated into Christ’s spiritual body and made a member of Him.

If any one be in despair, if he be distressed by his sinful conscience or terrified by death, or have any other burden on his heart, and desire to be rid of them all, let him go joyfully to the sacrament of the altar and lay down his grief in the midst of the congregation and seek help from the entire company of the spiritual body; just as when a citizen whose property has suffered injury or misfortune at the hands of his enemies makes complaint to his town council and fellow citizens and asks them for help.

Therefore, the immeasurable grace and mercy of God are given us in this sacrament, that we may there lay down all misery and tribulation and put it on the congregation, and especially on Christ, and may joyfully strengthen and comfort ourselves and say: “Though I am a sinner and have fallen, though this or that misfortune has befallen me, I will go to the sacrament to receive a sign from God that I have on my side Christ’s righteousness. If I die, I am not alone in death; if I suffer, they suffer with me. I have shared all my misfortune with Christ and the saints, since I have a sure sign of their love toward me.”

This is the benefit to be derived from this sacrament, this is the use we should make of it; then the heart cannot but rejoice and be comforted.

*Translation J.J. Schindel, edited for length.

The Request for Presence
Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name. — Psalm 86.11

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 8 (Listen – 4:07)
Acts 18 (Listen – 4:06)

Extremism as a Discipleship Problem

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4.6
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

Reflection: Extremism as a Discipleship Problem
By John Tillman

Audiences have long been fascinated with extremism and the process of radicalization. This month a TV series will premiere retelling events surrounding the 1993 raid that killed David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, reminding us that radicalization is not merely a third-world or a Muslim problem.

Radicalization has been imagined in fiction as psychological manipulation, as brainwashing, as bribery, and has even been sympathetically redressed as the rational actions of those with legitimate grievances. But the radicalization of persons in any religion or belief system often comes down to an education problem. Christians would call it a discipleship problem.

Islamist terrorists such as, Sayfullo Saipov, who carried out a truck attack in Manhattan, are often motivated by a faith that in the end is little more than a political and ethnic identity.

“That’s not what we teach,” is often said by both Imam’s and Christian pastors after acts of violence from their members. Whether these statements are true or not, they are a confession of poor discipleship which has far wider ranging effects than the infinitesimal percentage of Christians (or Muslims) who resort to violent attacks.

Poor discipleship in Western faith is allowing Christianity to become little more than a political distinction and in some cases, a racial one. Our brand of moralism is a hair’s breadth off from the Pharisees of the New Testament. Like the Pharisees, we are not above using our moralistic interpretations of scripture to justify denying assistance to the needy. We are not ashamed to make embarrassing political alliances to ensure that we don’t lose our place of cultural influence.

We can find hope, however, in today’s readings in Acts. Though the Bereans are called “more noble” than the Thessalonians, it is the Thessalonian church that is more well known to us through the letters Paul writes to them. First Thessalonians is a joyful celebration of those who were left in a difficult situation, without Paul who introduced them to Christianity. (And without Google.) Yet through diligence, faith, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, persevered and blossomed in faith.

Even in a culture dominated by a brutal empire, those willing to devote themselves to prayer, Bible reading, and connecting to the Holy Spirit, can not only survive our culture but continue the process of transforming it one life at a time.

The Call to Prayer
Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him! — Psalm 34.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 7 (Listen – 6:37)
Acts 17 (Listen – 5:28)

Taking Advantage of the Desperate

Scripture: Nehemiah 5.9, 13
So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?…I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!”

Reflection: Taking Advantage of the Desperate
By John Tillman

There is a reason economically disadvantaged neighborhoods often contain payday lenders and abortion clinics, but few doctor’s offices or grocery stores—monetization of desperation.

From a business perspective, the noblemen confronted by Nehemiah were simply following the market. Payday lenders would describe it as filling a “financial service void.” As lien-holders, the noblemen could have denied responsibility. As long as customers make loan payments, who cares how they get the money? If they can’t pay, it’s their problem.

But as fellow humans, as children of God, Nehemiah challenged the rich to see their actions as directly causing the continuing, systematic enslavement of their brothers and sisters. Systemic poverty was literally tearing families apart.

The economic system these families were trapped in was socially acceptable, market based, and entirely legal. What Nehemiah challenged the noblemen to do was economically nonsensical, entirely compassionate, and was an investment in the community.

It would be easy for us to dismiss this scripture in Nehemiah as being about the evils of big business, or payday lenders, or “Capitalism.” We are much more comfortable pointing fingers at faceless entities or ideologies. But if we reflect long enough, there are many ways this comes home to us. The undocumented workers who make our groceries cheaper. The millions of workers who must work two jobs—being separated from family—to make one income.

How are our socially acceptable, market based, and entirely legal interactions with humans dehumanizing them? How can we compassionately invest in our communities, relieving some of the financial pressure that those around us experience and short-circuiting systems rigged to extract as much money as possible from the pain of marginalized brothers and sisters?

As the church, we can be difference-makers, rebuilding the broken in our society. To do this, we must engage in economically nonsensical, entirely compassionate, community investment. Let us pray for churches, political leaders, and ourselves to innovate in this space—to create ways to lighten the burden of the oppressed and to set free the captives.

Today, on Martin Luther King day in the United States, we acknowledge that the systems that create economic disparity affect minorities disproportionately. Economic disadvantagement isn’t racist, but minorities are statistically more affected by it. The church must continue to move compassionately to the aid of all disadvantaged people regardless of race.

The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 5 (Listen – 3:29)
Acts 15 (Listen – 5:43)

Blind to Injustice, Deaf to Oppression :: Worldwide Prayer

Scripture: Acts 13.38-39
“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.”

This prayer was first published in 1998 mere months after nationwide unrest and riots that killed over a thousand people in Jakarta and other regions of Indonesia. Many modern, Western democracies would do well to take up this prayer’s wrenching confession of obsession with wealth and power at the expense of the disadvantaged.

Reflection: Blind to Injustice, Deaf to Oppression :: Worldwide Prayer
A prayer of confession from Indonesia

O Lord our God,

Our nations need your forgiveness. We bow deeply before you.

We have betrayed you Lord and done evil before you.

We have stolen, plundered, raped, killed, and oppressed your people and your churches.
As a result of our sin, our forests burn, locusts destroy our crops, disease strikes, poverty lurks, and our political life is corrupt.

We were fascinated by the lure of prosperity and closed our eyes to injustice and our ears to the cries of the oppressed.

Now we plead for your forgiveness from the bottom of our hearts.

We cry aloud to you oh God. Forgive us according to your promise. Forgive our government and our people. May we humble ourselves and realize that without you we can do nothing.

Dear God, we cannot predict tomorrow but we know you hold tomorrow in your hand. Show us your love and mighty power.

Oh Lord Jesus Christ, please help us. Give us your strength day by day.

In Jesus’ holy name we pray.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

The Request for Presence
Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me.
You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” Your face, Lord, will I seek.
Hide not your face from me, nor turn away your servant in displeasure. — Psalm 27.10-12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Nehemiah 2 (Listen – 3:42)
Acts 12 (Listen – 3:49)

This Weekend’s Readings
Nehemiah 3 (Listen – 5:43) Acts 13 (Listen – 7:36)
Nehemiah 4 (Listen – 3:38) Acts 14 (Listen – 3:54)

Radical Outreach to Outcasts :: Epiphany

Scripture: Luke 4.25-28
“I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

Reflection: Radical Outreach to Outcasts :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

The backlash that Jesus experienced in response to his Nazareth sermon was sudden and violent. One second they are talking about how well Jesus spoke, and the next they are shoving him toward a precipice, attempting to take his life.

What did Jesus say that was so divisive that the congregation went from friendly hometown crowd to murderous mob in a heartbeat? “God’s blessings are for your enemies, not just you.”

The characters Jesus holds up as examples of the types of people who would experience “the year of the Lord’s favor” represented everything his audience feared as “other.”

The widow of Zarephath was a foreigner, living in Sidon, one of Israel’s great enemies. Naaman the Syrian commander was even more controversial. He served the king who was oppressing Israel at the time he was healed. In today’s terms we would call Naaman a terrorist, a child-kidnapper, a human trafficker, and a war criminal. These are the kinds of outsiders that Christ celebrates as examples of who the Kingdom of God is available to, of who he will manifest himself to.

It is when we are the closest to Jesus that he will challenge us most directly. It is when we know him the best, like the Nazareth crowd, that he can surprise us the most. Everyone is pleased with Christ’s words when we agree with them. When he is blessing us, helping us, healing us, and promising us the kingdom, we listen affectionately. But if we listen long enough, Jesus will say something that makes us want to throw him off a cliff in anger.

He will ask us to allow someone in, whom we would prefer to keep out. He will ask us to accept someone we don’t want to accept. He will ask us to risk our safety to help outsiders who may be dangerous. He will ask us to share our blessings with people who do not deserve them. (Of course we don’t deserve them either…)

Jesus chose to announce God’s kingdom in his backwater hometown that most young men would seek to expunge from their résumés. He chose to go out of his way to reach out to despised people—tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, Roman Centurions, lepers, adulterers, foreigners. If we are to participate in Christ’s Epiphany, we must choose to manifest his same radical love and outreach to outcasts.

On January 6th, tomorrow, the church celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany — the manifestation or revealing of Christ to the Gentiles. May we celebrate the manifestation of Christ, not as a national conqueror who strikes down our human enemies, but as a personal liberator who strikes down the enemy of sin within each of us.

The Call to Prayer
Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. — Psalm 105.4

– From Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Ezra 5 (Listen – 3:02)
Acts 5 (Listen – 6:49)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezra 6 (Listen – 4:24) Acts 6 (Listen – 2:35)
Ezra 7 (Listen – 4:39) Acts 7 (Listen – 8:49)

Spur a spiritual rhythm of refreshment right in your inbox
By joining this email list you are giving us permission to send you devotional emails each weekday and to communicate occasionally regarding other aspects of the ministry.
100% Privacy. We don't spam.