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Wednesday Words, March 10, 2021

Wednesday Words
March 10, 2021

We're sharing this reflection by Rev. T. Denise Anderson from the Again & Again Devotional as it connects to worship from last week, and the Gospel of John. It offers a chance to reflect on Sunday's message.

Again & Again, Sanctified Art Devotional
Rev. T. Denise Anderson
Commentary on John 2:13-22

What does it take to believe?

Even as the gospels attempt to tell the same story, each has its own motivations. John’s gospel is invested in Jesus’ divine authority and kinship with God. The cleansing of the temple is only the second vignette in John’s narrative and shows Jesus disruptively asserting authority over temple activities. He upends the business of the sellers and money changers, objecting to these things happening in the temple (or perhaps at all). He’s effectively inciting a riot, and the religious leaders demand of him a sign to prove that he has any standing to do this. In John’s gospel, Jesus is divine and powerful, but doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone, particularly those who insist on being intransigent. He often rebuffs calls for signs and answers, choosing instead to turn the proverbial tables on the inquirer. We'll see this happen again in the coming weeks’ readings as we stay in John.

Remember, John identifies Jesus as the Word that has always been and through which all things were made. Since the Word has always been with us, it shouldn’t need to prove itself. It should already be familiar to us. We’ve been taught righteousness for generations. Failure to respond probably won’t be corrected by a sign. 

The Akan principle of Sankofa¹ holds that it’s not wrong to go back to get what you need to move forward. Taking inventory of our life, where have we let other values encroach upon our spiritual identity? What everyday miracles and lessons do we need to revisit before we ask for new ones? Do we welcome the Savior’s authority, even if it upends everything around us? Again and again, we are shown the way. May we fearlessly and with gratitude receive what we’ve already been given. 

1 The Sankofa is a symbol, often depicting a mythical bird reaching back to retrieve an egg from its back, used by the Akan people of Ghana. It represents how the Akans seek to carry wisdom gleaned from the past into the future.

Wednesday Words, March 3, 2021

Wednesday Words
March 3, 2021

We're sharing this reflection by Rev. T. Denise Anderson from the Again & Again Devotional as it connects to Pr. Cathy's sermon from last week discussing the elephant in the room, and the Gospel of Mark. It offers a chance to reflect on Sunday's message.

Again & Again, Sanctified Art Devotional
Rev. T. Denise Anderson
Commentary on Mark 8:31-9:8

I’m a Black woman who does antiracism education and advocacy in a very white denomination. I do that work often in the face of fierce opposition from fellow Christians, but it’s not hard to understand why. Think of the times we’ve tried to quiet a friend who was going through a tough time, or averted our eyes away from someone asking for money at a street corner. Approximately 75% of sexual assaults in the U.S. go unreported for a reason. We don’t exactly incentivize the telling of hard truths.

Hard truths trouble the waters of our understanding and challenge notions of what is real. For Peter, hearing Jesus foretell his agonizing death and resurrection must have made no sense. Just before this, he had named Jesus “Messiah” (and, according to other gospels, Jesus in turn named him “Peter”). How could the Christ talk like this? Peter wants to quiet Jesus. Jesus would instead quiet him.

At Jesus’ transfiguration, a sight that may have been more in line with Peter’s Messianic imagination, he wants to build altars to mark the event. But again, Peter is quieted. He is told to listen.

The Lenten journey calls us to examine the things in which our hearts are invested. How important is comfort to us? Would we be willing to listen to hard truths and be changed by them even if it proved to be difficult? Or are we committed to the status quo because, though it may be imperfect, it’s at least familiar?

Again and again, we are implored to listen, especially when what we hear is unsettling. Repentance means changing direction. Like a heavenly GPS, Spirit is highlighting a new path. May we tune our sensors heaven-ward, despite the difficulties along the way.

Wednesday Words, February 24, 2021

Wednesday Words
February 24, 2021

We're sharing this reflection from the Again & Again Devotional as it connects to Pr. Paul's sermon from last week discussing Genesis, and offers a chance to reflect on Sunday's message.

Again & Again, Sanctified Art Devotional
Rev. Lauren Wright Pittman
A Reflection on Genesis 9:8-17

In the beginning God filled the formless void with color, texture, light, flavor, time, and life. God scooped the clay and carefully molded it, breathing life into the nostrils of humanity. These are the images of a tender, imaginative God who loves Creation limitlessly.

Following the Creation narrative, humanity quickly spirals into violence, corruption, and power-hunger toward the total destruction of Creation. God becomes deeply aggrieved and even regrets creating humanity (Gen 6:6). God decides it best to return all of Creation to the chaotic void, though God finds hope in Noah’s family. I’ve struggled with this narrative, but I find myself feeling a tremendous amount of compassion. I can only imagine how painful it is to watch the work of your hands devolve into brutality. 

God offers Noah, his descendants, and every living creature an all-encompassing promise, vowing never to flood the earth again. Despite humanity’s destructive role, God limits God’s self and alone is held accountable in this covenant. God requires nothing of humanity or the entirety of Creation in return. God gives humanity a chance to start fresh, and the opportunity to choose a different path. If we model our actions after God’s, then we would humble and limit ourselves in order to better love God and care for Creation. Sacrifice and selflessness pave the new way. 

In this image, God’s hands hold various animals and plant life, and are surrounded by the bands of the rainbow, shielding Creation from the swirling waters of chaotic destruction. I chose not to image humanity because the hands are at once God’s and ours. We must respond to God’s covenant by protecting and keeping the earth. It is our responsibility; it is our calling. God meets us where we are—utterly dependent and bound toward self-destruction—with a promise sealed with a bow bursting with the endless spectrum of colors light holds. 

PRAY

Breathe deeply as you gaze upon the image. Imagine placing yourself in this scene. What do you see? How do you feel? Get quiet and still, offering a silent or spoken prayer to God.

Wednesday Words, February 17, 2021

Wednesday Words
February 17, 2021
Again & Again, Sanctified Art Devotional
Rev. T. Denise Anderson
Commentary on Matthew 6:1-21

As I write this, millions have been affected by a disease that was unknown to humans just a year ago. It has stolen loved ones and changed us in ways we are still discovering. On Ash Wednesday 2020, it hadn’t yet had the global impact it eventually achieved. You probably marked the occasion by having ashes imposed on your forehead as a sign of lament and repentance, showing you intend to turn things around in your living. 

That was when we could touch, hug, or just be with each other without face masks and an imaginary tape measure. 

I’m sure lament is easy to find today. There is also much we still need to turn around. 

Collectively known as the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s anthology of Jesus’ teachings begins with the Beatitudes, a litany pronouncing blessings upon the unsung folks. The poor in spirit, the meek, the mourners, the peacemakers—these are called “blessed.” Jesus shows himself here to be countercultural. The kind of religion he promoted wasn’t performative, as so much of religious life can be. We give because it is necessary. Prayer prioritizes God’s will, not our words. Fasting produces spiritual, not physical evidence. What we value is different. 

There’s something poignant about this in a time when we cannot rely on most of the social norms we’ve used our whole lives. Even facial cues fail us because of the masks we must wear! Performative interactions with God and others will similarly fail us in these times. They simply won't be enough. We must go deeper. 

Again and again, God invites us into fuller ways of being. There is no better time to accept that invitation than now, when so much is different. Maybe no ashes mark our foreheads today, but they can still mark our hearts.

Wednesday Words, February 10, 2021

Wednesday Words - Dazzle

February 10, 2021

Pr. Paul Cannon

And (Jesus) was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Mark 9:2-3

I have a useless party trick that I occasionally bust out when the time is right: I can spin a basketball on my finger.  It makes me feel pretty cool until I see actually talented people.  I recently saw a video of a street performer who did his routine at a stoplight. When the cars were stopped, he strung up a wire between the posts, climbed it, balanced himself on one foot and then proceeded to juggle pins, spin a ball on a stick between his teeth while whirling around a disk on his free foot (and gets down all before the light turns green again). Some people are just showoffs. 

I don’t often think of Jesus as a “showoff” but the Transfiguration might be the one exception.  Jesus goes up to the Mountaintop with Peter, James and John and suddenly his clothes become a “dazzling white.”  Usually, there is some practical purpose to miracles in the Gospels: a leper is cured, people are fed, a threatening storm is calmed. But here on the mountaintop, there is only one purpose to Jesus’ transfiguration: to dazzle. 

The Transfiguration’s one and only purpose seems to be to inspire awe.  It should make your jaw drop.  It should make you make you ask, “What is going on here?” It should make you wonder, “Who else could this be, if not the Messiah?” In that way, it actually answers the question Jesus poses to Peter not long before this, “Who do you say that I am?” 

Peter answers correctly, “You are the Messiah” but he doesn’t actually have an idea of what that might mean.  Jesus explains that the “Son of Man must undergo great suffering … be rejected … killed … and rise again” (an answer that Peter rejects off the bat). 

But all that will come later in the story.  First, they need to understand who Jesus is.  The Transfiguration demonstrates that very thing, so in that sense it serves a theological purpose, even if it doesn’t serve a practical one.  It announces that Jesus isn’t Moses or Elijah returned (as some people assumed) but that he was someone new.  He was not the Messiah they were expecting, but is in fact greater than their expectations. 

On this final Sunday before we jump into Lent, maybe you can find yourself dazzled by Jesus just as Peter, James and John were, and wonder, “Who else could this be, if not the Messiah?”

Wednesday Words, February 3, 2021

Wednesday Words
February 3, 2021
Pr. Cathy Daharsh
 
The month of February is designated as Black History Month. In recognition of this month, I would like to hold up a Black leader in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Pastor Kara Baylor. I first met Kara 20 years ago when she was beginning her ministry as a pastor in Racine. She was seminary roommates with the pastor of the congregation where I served as Director of Youth and Family Ministry in Sheboygan. Kara and I have crossed paths through the years through different conferences and through friends. She is currently serving as the Campus Pastor at Carthage College in WI. This summer she created a blog called Pissed Off Pastor where she reflects on her journey of faith and racism. She loves the Lutheran Church and through her love for our church, she helps our predominately White ELCA Church see the church from the perspective of someone of color. I have randomly posted Kara’s blogs on our Bethany Facebook Page but I would like to encourage you to read her blogs to learn about her insights of racism in recognition of Black History Month. Here is the first entry in her blog that she wrote in June:
 
 
"God is the Color of Water
 
POSTED ON JUNE 19, 2020BY PISSEDPASTOR

There are books on my shelf that will always be there, even if I never read the book again. Books that touched my heart, helped me see the world in a new way, or captured my imagination. These are the books I want to see when I walk by. Just seeing the titles there in my shelf keeps me grounded and reminds me what is most important to me.
 

One of those books is The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride. The quote that helps me understand God and helps me explain God in us is this,
" . . .one afternoon on the way home from church I asked her whether God was black or white”. . . . .”What color is God’s spirit?” “It doesn’t have a color,” she said. “God is the color of water. Water doesn’t have a color.”
PAGE 50-51
 

God doesn’t have a color. God is the color of water and water doesn’t have a color. When I first read these words, it made me think of being at a lake in northern Minnesota and looking at my reflection in the water. Well, you could kind of see your own refection. It is not a like a mirror that reflects a clear image. Looking at yourself in water gives you a wavy image. It reflects a lot of your image, but because of the movement of the water, there are parts that will never be fully revealed.
 

Growing up, God was an old white guy in my mind. If Jesus was the white dude with long brown hair than God must be a white guy, too, if he is the dad of Jesus. We did sing that Jesus loved all the little children, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. But we didn’t reflect Jesus or God in any other image but white or light skinned. So reading the idea that God was the color of water meant that the image of God could reflect me as well.
 

One of my favorite things to do when I taught confirmation was to invite in a member of the congregation who was a world traveler to join us. In every country she visited, she would purchase a nativity set. When she came to talk to the confirmation class, we would line the sanctuary with nativity sets from around the world so the students could see the Holy Family depicted in a way that reflected the culture in which the nativity set was created. It was eye opening for me and for the students as well. If I think Jesus looks like me, than others can think Jesus looks like them.
 

Why do we need to think of God in a dualistic way? God as black or white. God as male or female. God as gentle or strong. God is so much bigger and more creative then what has been written in scripture.
 

Did you know that there are over 40,000 varieties of bean seeds in the world genebanks? 40,000 ways of being a bean. Why do we think that God would limit humanity’s ways of being to just one, best way? A way, which in America, we most often have seen as white, male, wealthy, and Christian.
 

There are 8 Billion ways to be human and water reflects them all. Well, water doesn’t fully reflect it. Our reflection in the wavy surface of a body of water does not fully reveal who we are, it leaves some mystery. The mystery of the presence of God who dwells in us."
 

To read more of Kara’s writing click here: https://pissedoffpastor.org/blog/
 

We are called as a church to open our arms wider, to know and hear the stories of those who are different than ourselves. This month let us be intentional about reading and hearing the stories of our Black brothers and sisters.
Gracious God, we give you thanks for the gifts, accomplishments, influence and witness of our Black neighbors and siblings in Christ — we stand together to glorify God as partners in the gospel, doing God’s work in the world together. Though we are unified as siblings in Christ, we ask God to guide and help our church as it recommits to the work of racial justice, socioeconomic equity, racial reconciliation and ending racism. Amen.

Wednesday Words, January 27, 2021

Wednesday Words – Chiastic Structure

January 27, 2021

Pr. Paul Cannon

 

“I know who you are, the holy one of God.” 

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!”

- Mark 1:24-25

Are you ready to get nerdy with me?  The Gospel passage for this Sunday from the Gospel of Mark has a chiastic structure

But before I tell you what that is, I need to tell you about Pr. Deb.  She was my supervising internship pastor when I was still in seminary. And I have this very distinct memory of her geeking out about chiastic structure, every time it came up in the Bible. On the surface, it was kind of strange. Pr. Deb was is one of the most personal, down-to-earth and relatable people you could meet – not the type that you would peg to be a geek for Greek grammar (say that ten times fast).

But anytime we hit a passage that had chiastic structure, she would light up like a tree on Christmas. Because whenever you notice chiastic structure, you can catch a glimmer of exactly what the author wanted you to know. No guesswork involved! 

Here’s how it works:

Chiastic structure is a “literary device in which a sequence of ideas is presented and then repeated in reverse order” causing a “mirror effect”.  But in the middle of that repeated pattern, is a central idea or a main point that the author is trying to convey.  Structurally, it looks like this: Point A à Point B à Main Point à Point B à Point A.  See the mirroring effect?   

And this is what it looks like in our story today:

(A) Jesus comes into the synagogue 

(B) Jesus teaches with authority and people are amazed 

(C) A man with an unclean spirit cries out 

(X-main point) The demon recognizes Jesus is the holy one of God. Jesus commands him to come out.

(C’) The unclean spirit cries out and leaves

(B’) People acknowledge Jesus authority and are amazed.

(A’) Jesus leaves the synagogue

In the structure of the writing, we can see what the author wants us to know!  Point “X” tells us that who Jesus is (the holy one of God), and proves the point by Jesus casting out the demon.  Cool right? … Right? (*crickets*) Well, maybe ‘cool’ wasn’t the right word, but it is interesting

The chiastic structure tells us exactly what the Gospel writer wants us to know.  Who is the Jesus? The holy one of God.  How can we know it’s really him? Because he can cast out demons. 

I think that’s pretty cool. 

To learn more about Chiastic Structure, click here

To learn about how it applies to this passage, click here

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