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UNITY Lutheran Church
Lent Devotionals

Bless this Mess in our Home, Church, and Community!

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UNITY Lent Devotionals

Stay engaged with our church community this Lenten Season with our 7-week devotional series written by our members starting Ash Wednesday through Holy Week.

Online Worship

1. in This Pandemic: February 17-23, 2021
2. in Our Health & Well-Being: February 24 - March 2, 2021
3. in Our Relationships: March 3-9, 2021
4. in Our Faith Life: March 10-16, 2021
5. in The Community: March 17-23,2021
5. in Differences: March 24-30, 2021
7. in Holy Week: March 31-April 6, 2021

Week 1: February 17-23

Light

Messiness in this Pandemic ~ Chris Keim

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" ~ Romans 8:35

During the Pandemic, we have all been touched in varied ways by this disease. Certainly some have been affected by the loss of life, the loss of loved ones, the loss of health, some by the loss of employment and the loss of financial stability. Some people have had to work increased hours in the community setting or in hospitals putting themselves at higher risk of getting the disease.  Many of us have been isolated, in our homes, isolated from family and friends.  Some have been in hospitals or healthcare facilities without having loved ones present while they are suffering. In the church, we have been affected by the loss of physical fellowship and the kind of worship we have known for as long as we have been coming to church.  The collective loss is truly immeasurable.
Romans, chapter 8 is a chapter that speaks a truth about God’s love for us that I find very helpful.  When I read it, I am reminded of some of the people that I have met through my connections at Hephatha Lutheran Church, which is one of our partners.   The people that come to mind are people who have experienced unfathomable hardships and yet through their hardships, they have received comfort and strength in their faith in God’s love and have praised and worshiped God.   I will tell you about one woman who lived the last 6 years of her life in a healthcare facility.  She was younger than me, had 11 children, had become blind and bedridden and could not care for herself.  As a part of Hephatha’s work ministry, I would visit her with four or five youth. We would stand around her bed and she would listen to the children talk about what they were doing in school or activities they liked.  She would interact with them and ask questions and smile and laugh and encourage them like they were like her own. When we would pray, she would pray for the homeless, the hungry, the sick and the suffering and praise God for his mercy and grace. Her hardship and suffering were very real and yet she was comforted by God’s love and certainly by our presence to her in her suffering.  Her faith and strength, through her suffering, has influenced me and strengthened my faith in God’s love for all of us.  He is with us; each of us and nothing will ever stop that love. He knows our personal and collective suffering and wants us to know His love and be comforted in it. I believe he wants us to share the hope we find in that love with others, especially those whose suffering is profound.
Heavenly Father, Help us to know the depths of your love for us. Help us to be comforted in our most difficult days and to share Your love and compassion and the faith we have in you, with others who suffer greatly. Amen.

Messiness in this Pandemic ~ Kiley Keup, age 11

"Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, LORD, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me." ~ Psalm 24:3

The coronavirus pandemic has affected all of our lives in the past year. The pandemic may have taken a burden on you, but we shall not let it bring us down. We should bring the light of hope to this dark shadow, for that shadow will soon be the Past, and we will carry on our light of hope into the Future.

Gracious God, Please help us to remember the hope and strength you bring to our world, and guide us so that we may bring light to the darkness we encounter. Amen.

Messiness in this Pandemic ~ Carole Syse

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." 
~ 2 Timothy 1:7

On 3/14/20, my every week work travel came to an end.  I realized traveling and entertaining clients had taken a toll on my health. The only one who could take charge of my health was me.  I started moving more, drinking more water, and eating more responsibly.  Almost a year later, my health is at the top of my priorities.  Don’t get me wrong – I miss traveling, and entertaining, and certainly going to events where great food is everywhere.  Through my acceptance of change, I’m much happier and healthier, even through the challenges of a global pandemic.

Heavenly Father – may we all find a way to make sense of the isolation we feel through this pandemic.  Thank you for the ability to move and power through tough situations, including working our bodies and minds.  May we find a sense of strength through a feeling of self-care and discipline. Amen.

Messiness in this Pandemic ~ Nicole McCumber

"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." 
~ Philippians 4:13

This has been my mantra through this pandemic. Trying to find strength however I can, and leaning on my faith to get me through it all. The year 2020 and this pandemic, have been some of the hardest times for myself and my family. There have been times of deep despair and darkness, and my faith has certainly been tested. I have many unanswered questions in my faith journey, but also know that my faith is being strengthened by the mere fact that I am still a believer. I have learned that I cannot give into these dark times, and have to focus on the times of joy amidst the sadness. These times have definitely made me stronger as a wife, a mother, a friend, a teacher, and a Christian woman. I know that I can overcome anything in life, and I am teaching my daughters that there will always be setbacks in life, and the comeback is always greater than the setback. I am learning a new appreciation for all of the little things in life, and hope to become a stronger version of myself when this pandemic is over.

Dear God, Please continue to guide me and lead me during these times. Please give me strength in times of weakness, faith in times of fear, and power when I am powerless. In your name I trust. Amen.

Messiness in this Pandemic ~ Mike Tostrud

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace."  
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Boy, this is a big one to tackle. The pandemic has created a “new normal’ none of us could have contemplated. We have been isolated from family, friends, colleagues, and clients; we are limited in our opportunity to visit places that enliven and restore us. Countless loved ones, others we know of - and some we don’t know at all - have lost their lives, or have had their lives forever altered.  
Yet, in midst of the challenges some have found new ways to connect personally, returned to old hobbies or discovered new ones, and hopefully found a little more time for contemplation in our days.  
I miss seeing my Mom as much as I did before; I miss my friends; I miss seeing my work peers; I miss traveling with my daughters. But I am grateful for my health. I cherish the deeper connection I’ve found with loved ones; I pray harder for unity, empathy, and justice to blanket the world. And I pray the pandemic will end. Our lives will not be the same when it does but I hope we hold on to some of those things that have awoken our love for one another, brought peace to our hearts and minds, and unified us in ways we had not witnessed before.
I think this season may be best summed up in the reflection from Ecclesiastes 3:1  “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heaven”

I pray you find peace and perspective in whatever season you find yourself in. Amen.

Messiness in this Pandemic ~ Jeff Key

"God is our Refuge and Strength, an ever-present help in trouble" ~ Psalm 46:1

 So what does that verse have to do with the topic for this week? I think it has everything to do with this topic and a few others in the coming weeks of Lent. Like it or not this pandemic has touched, or will touch, every person on the planet in some way or another. It will have a greater impact on some of us, but it will have some impact on ALL of us. Personally it has given me an even greater respect for the caregivers and health care workers in this country. In the past few years I have watched as these heroes cared for my aging parents in ways I never could—and that was before the pandemic hit. Mom passed away almost two years ago, but Dad is still with us, and his caregivers are incredible.  It has been hard on my family because we can’t see him face to face much, but he keeps us up to date with daily texts. It is hard not being able to see him or hug him, and I know I’m not alone in this, believe me.  I take great solace in the verse above knowing God has his earthly angels watching over Dad and all the rest of us.

Dear Lord, we know you stand with all of us as we go through tough times, whether it is this pandemic specifically or any other hardship we encounter.  Remind us that you are constantly there for us offering comfort and strength to carry on no matter what strife we may face.  Help us to be one of your angels on earth by showing us how to use our talents to help people in need. Amen.

Messiness in this Pandemic ~ David Patterson

“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” ~ Daniel 9:3

On Ash Wednesday, when we receive the ashen cross on our forehead, it serves as a sign of our fragile humanity, our grief in that our sinfulness caused Jesus to take upon himself our punishment, guilt and shame, and it also helps us recall our baptism when we were marked with the sign of the cross. As we begin our Lenten series on “Messiness”, we are mindful of how this pandemic has jumbled things up, and challenged us to muddle through the disarray of an uncertain time. I recall another “messy” and frightening time - the 911 attack on the Twin Towers. This was a time when debris was strewn about, rubble of bent iron, broken lives and brick was everywhere, and we asked how can we ever dig out, repair and recover. But as the survivors, on-lookers and heroes at ground zero, all covered in a gray covering of ash, worked together, digging through the debris; as patriots who loved our country enlisted; as we prayed together as one nation, out of the mess and charred remains came a new beginning. As a nation, we were wiser, stronger, more appreciative, kinder and more united than ever. Like 911, from the ashes and debris of this terrible lingering pandemic, the world is beginning to recover because heroes have arisen, because we are praying and working together, because we are growing in wisdom, patience and kindness.

God, Creator and Redeemer, while from dust we were born, and to dust we shall return, we give thanks that you have overcome sin and death. Amen.

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Week 2: February 24-March 02

Light

Messiness in Our Health and Well-Being ~ Chris Keim

"Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."
~ Galatians 6:2

I am a nurse in the community near the Bread of Healing Clinic.  The Bread of Healing is a free clinic supported by grants and partners. Its main clinic is located in Cross Lutheran Church near 16th and Walnut in Milwaukee. In my work as a nurse in the community, I have sent many people who do not have insurance to the Bread of Healing to get care. One of the things I really like about the Bread of Healing is that they hold the lives of people they serve in reverence. It’s more than just giving healthcare. It is even beyond respect, it is a holy importance. It is the faith in action of Jesus’ commandment to love thy neighbor. It’s a really important place for many people who have no other access to healthcare; pandemic or no pandemic.
As a healthcare worker in the community, I was eligible for a COVID vaccination from the Bread of Healing. They have taken on the huge challenge of vaccinating as many people as they can get vaccines for in the community.  It is an act far beyond their normal capacity.  When I went there, I was so moved to see a UNITY member welcome me at the door and take my temperature.  Then another UNITY member did my paperwork. A third UNITY member drew up my vaccine and then yes, a fourth UNITY member who is a nurse gave me my vaccination. They were all volunteering to help. Volunteering at the Bread of Healing is faith in action; it is the act of loving thy neighbor.
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for the Bread of Healing Clinic and all of the people who work there and volunteer there. Help us in this pandemic and always to look with reverence on all people and take faith in action to show them love and care. Amen

Messiness in Our Health and Well-Being ~ Kim Keup

“Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God- what is pleasing to him, and is perfect.” ~ Romans 12:12

On New Year’s Eve, I wrote a page full of resolutions. Of those resolutions, only a couple changes have continued into the month of February. My theme for 2021 could be titled, Consistency. My first resolution was to consistently get 7 hours of sleep or 49 hours within the week. It forces me to call it quits earlier at night than I would like. Yet, I’m able to wake up refreshed. My second resolution was to exercise 150-180 minutes each week. As many of you know, I like to run. However, with all the cancelled races, I needed to branch out and recruit people to join me. The www.52hikechallenge.com caught my eye. We took this challenge a step further and instead of being limited to hikes, we ski them with whoever is willing to join us. It’s quite fascinating to explore your favorite park in all seasons. I highly recommend Lapham Peak and Scuppernong. Get lost in the woods. Smell the pines. Cherish God’s beauty in creation. 

So, the next time you reach to open the refrigerator door looking for something, and you’re not even hungry, try opening a real door and walk outside. Soak in the sunlight and feel the crisp air. If you don’t have time, simply stand, pause and breathe. In this Lenten season, remember every new day is another chance to start anew. Set an intention, find your positive mindset, or work on something as simple as sleep. Try a new activity and feel the transformation of the mind with accomplishing something you have never done before or return to something you enjoyed in the past. Encourage a friend to join you. Be accountable. After a month, shape it into a healthy habit that you can’t live without, or let go of a habit that doesn’t feed your soul. Take small steps to your goal. Accept a day of rest, if getting up and dressed is the best you can do. Dive into a devotion. Color in your Bible. Listen to a Belief Beat podcast. When you feel depressed, call a friend, write a letter, or check in on a neighbor or relative. Take time to recharge. Take a power nap.

Dear Lord, During this Lenten season, please heal us to feel whole again and provide continued protection of our physical, mental and emotional health. Lift us up, when we feel we can no longer walk, and wrap us in your everlasting love until we find our footing again. In your name we pray, Amen.

Messiness in Our Health and Well-Being ~ Carole Syse

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…I can do everything through him who gives me strength." ~ Philippians 4:12-13

As a sales leader, my role is ensuring the team feels psychologically safe and supported in successfully reaching their goals. Our company provides furniture in offices, hospitals, and education facilities.  With people working and learning primarily from home, clearly sales have been affected substantially.  What we’ve found is an even greater need for sharing research and conversations around what could be for employees and employers alike post pandemic.  I’m proud of how the team has found greater ways to connect even while dealing with their own fear for what may come in uncertain times.

Dear God – thank you for creative teams who work together and find faith for the future.  We hope to be together very soon and find ways to succeed.  Be with us when we are overwhelmed with uncertainty.  In those times, may we hear your voice of comfort and strength to sustain us. Amen.

Messiness in Our Health and Well-Being ~ Nicole McCumber

"For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline." ~ 2 Timothy 1:7

In these times of high stress, it has been important to care for ourselves, and others, in any way we can. Now, more than ever, our family is focused on caring for ourselves both physically and mentally. As a family, we have enjoyed spending time outdoors, camping trips, going for lots of walks, bike rides, sledding, going to parks, the zoo, etc.  It has been a blessing to be an active family and has helped our mental health to stay active. Also, we have tried to focus on caring for others by being kind, offering grace to people at work and at school, and acting as role models to help others stay active. Being a support for others during these times has helped our family to heal from things we have gone through as well. There are many aspects to well-being, and we try not to take it for granted that we have been given this life on earth to live and to treat it as a gift.

Dear God, Thank you for the many gifts you have given me. The gifts of good health, strength of heart, and grace. Please continue to guide me on this path of healing and self-care. In your name we pray. Amen

Messiness in Our Health and Well-Being ~ Jessica M. Schrieber

"The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?" ~ Psalm 27:1

The COVID-19 Pandemic has caused messiness in health care on a systemic and personal level for both patients and health care providers.  In addition to the normal challenges associated with navigating a complex system, the pandemic has forced us all to face new challenges in accessing and providing quality care.

As an ophthalmologist, I am not a frontline worker nor am I involved in healthcare administration. For those who are, I am grateful for your unwavering service, even at great cost to your own physical and mental health. But, even in my position in healthcare, we’ve dealt with increased disarray over the last year, including acknowledging changed or missed opportunities, managing altered patient expectations, and working to prioritize and allocate health care resources. None of this has been comfortable.

We’ve also seen a shift in how we provide care.  In my office, we’ve had to limit visitor and companion access to appointments, which has resulted in patients getting both good and bad news alone.  We limit physical touch, including handshakes and hugs.  In an attempt to bring increased order, we’re working hard to make telehealth feel personalized and accessible, and to keep patients’ family members engaged through technology.  Not everyone has appreciated new safety efforts, and navigating this new normal has been messy and humbling for providers and patients.

While the emotional, mental and physical challenges of seeking and providing health care are likely to continue for many months to come, there is light and help ahead, as we all continue to work to make our new systems more manageable, safer, and more comfortable.

Lord God, please help us accept and move through the mess before us with courage, hope, and grace, by focusing on your light and strength, even during darkness and danger. Amen.

Messiness in Our Health and Well-Being ~ Jeff Key

"A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones"  ~ Proverbs 17: 22


I’d like to say I knew about the verse I used for a long time, but I haven’t. I found it doing a search for a relevant verse for this week’s topic.  When I saw it something struck me about it. These times we are going through certainly can crush the most optimistic spirit---if we let them!! A pandemic, lots of snow and cold weather, losing family and friends, and our routines completely thrown out of kilter. All of that and more can contribute to crushing our spirits. Now to what the beginning of the verse says about a cheerful heart.  We are children of God!!  That statement right there should give us cheerful and thankful hearts. No matter what happens here on Earth we have a Father in Heaven that knows us, cares for us, loves us, and looks out for us.  If we can find and maintain a cheerful heart we can and will make it through anything the world can throw at us.  Best of all if we have a cheerful heart, we can draw others to us and pass some of that on to them and they can take it and pass it on and maybe we can spread that feeling faster than any old pandemic. Why not try it? What is there to lose?

Heavenly Father we stand at the beginning of another Lenten season.  Who knew that last year instead of some of us giving up something, we would all be giving up a lot of somethings? As we move through this Lenten season from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week finally arriving at Easter and Your Glorious Resurrection guide us, protect us, nurture us, and strengthen us to follow Your ways and spread Your love here on Earth. Amen.

Messiness in Our Health and Well-Being ~ David Patterson

"Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well." ~ 3 John 1:2

The pandemic has affected us all physically, mentally, and emotionally. The pandemic has been especially difficult because our main way for receiving support - socialization, being with others. is limited. If we are hospitalized, our families and pastors cannot visit. If we are in a long-term facility, we can’t have contact with outsiders. If we have a celebration, we have to limit our get-together. We cannot be with others for worship, and be strengthened by the singing, watching faithful parents struggling with their crying infants, and sharing refreshments and conversations during fellowship. The pandemic has hurt us all in various ways, and created a mess in our bodies, minds and spirits. I like what one of the Pastors here at Unity said, that has helped me when I am feeling down. Instead of fear, God offers us faith. Instead of panic, God gives us a peace that the world cannot give. Instead of worry, God gives us His Word. Instead of hopelessness, we have a living hope. I have had several ongoing health problems since the pandemic hit. The long path to resolving these health problems has further created emotional and mental problems. One day as I was listening to Unity’s Worship Service online, I heard my name mentioned in the Prayers, and that simple thing, renewed my spirit, reminded me I wasn’t alone - God and God’s people were with me, and I received spiritual healing and strength to persevere. I encourage you to let the church know if you, or someone you love is struggling in any way, and need pastoral support. God and the church want to help you become the whole person in body, mind and spirit that God intends you to be.


Abiding Savior, thank you for calming the storms within, and bringing us safely through the trials of this life. Amen.

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Week 3: March 03-09

Light

Messiness in Our Relationships ~ Chris Keim

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them." ~Luke 8:32

Luke 6:32 is one of those bible verses that always catches me by surprise every time I hear it.  It makes me a little uncomfortable.  I think about the people I meet, or know or those I am related to that see the world from a completely different perspective than I do.  I tend to feel a little hot under the collar when I hear their points of view.  Jesus is asking us to evaluate how we handle those relationships. Casual or familial, easy or difficult, He calls us to love them.

I find myself, at times asking; how can I love them when they infuriate me??!  The prayer attributed to St. Francis or as they call it at Hephatha, the Peace Prayer, is a prayer that I have found to be instructive for this very situation. I will write it below for meditation.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is discord, union;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved, as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life”

Amen.

 

Messiness in Our Relationships ~ Kiley Keup

“Then we will shout for joy over your victory and celebrate your triumph by praising God. May the LORD answer all your requests.” ~Psalm 20:5

Relationships are important. They are why teamwork is so good. No one is completely independent through their whole life. Some are more independent than others and fight off loneliness like a warrior protecting a kingdom. Relationships are hard to keep and we are always changing, but so are others and sometimes, it is hard to accept change. With any change, it brings good and bad, light and dark, either putting a shadow over most of the change or a shine on it. Every relationship has hardships, and that is why some of them are so strong, because you fight the pain against another, but also with them. Relationships are so complicated that not everything is clear to everyone involved. As people age, conflicts in a relationship may worsen, but we are more prepared to face them over time. People say “with time, brings knowledge”, but what time brings is experience. Life is built up of many relationships and are very important to life because they teach us about each other and, also, ourselves.

Dear Jesus, In this messiness with relationships, please help me to be the friend I would want when I am lonely. Though I may not understand why friendships wither, guide me to reunite with those who were always there in the shadows, who cheer me on in my successes, and pick me up when I have fallen. Amen.

Messiness in Our Relationships ~ Carole Syse

"No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light." ~Luke 8:16

Without the distraction of sports, no work travel, and my husband’s retirement, our Waukesha empty nest was different during quarantine.  Early on, we only saw our adult children on a Sunday Zoom call, even though both live in Milwaukee.  As a couple, we committed to finding ways to be better roommates and spouses without all the distractions.  We found comfort in experiencing dinner together every night with no media other than occasional music.  We talked about the day’s news and our life together. Our conversations were sometimes filled with laughter, while others were more serious.  What we rediscovered was respect in the daily dialogue.  Relationships are hard, and finding light together makes the challenging times worth it.

Loving Creator – couples need time together and time alone.  Finding balance during this pandemic has been tough.  Help us find the light we may hide.  Help us share light even when we’re feeling vulnerable and tired.  Be with us in all relationships where love and light must be central. Amen.

Messiness in Our Relationship ~ Nicole McCumber

"So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." ~Matthew 7:12

During this pandemic, navigating relationships has been challenging, Relationships with immediate and extended family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors, have all been tested  It has been heartbreaking as a parent to see my daughters struggle with not being able to get together with their friends, and early on in the pandemic when their school abruptly closed, the sadness they endured was unbearable.Finding new ways to celebrate birthdays, holidays, have playdates, etc., has been new and challenging, yet not impossible. We have prayed often for guidance on how to handle this as a family, and how to make the right choices to stay safe yet maintain a social life. We have certainly gotten much closer, not just because we had to quarantine together, but because we have had to lean on each other in ways that we never did before, We have gotten creative in how we spend time with people, and have come to accept the current challenges of keeping relationships strong. We have also learned that when this pandemic is over, we will enjoy getting together with people so much more than we did before, and truly appreciate all of our relationships, and not take them for granted. We will celebrate birthdays and holidays with new traditions and newfound appreciation for being able to get together and have a house full of people!!

Dear God,  Please guide us and lead us. Offer us your wisdom to make safe and smart choices. Give us the hope that we need to continue to stay strong. With the coming of spring may we see your light and know that everything will be ok. In your name we pray. Amen.

Messiness in Our Relationships ~ Mike Tostrud

“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”Jesus replied:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the words of the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” ~Matthew 22:36-40

Relationships are both the heartbeat and the heartbreak of our lives. When they are functioning well they bring vitality, joy, and peace; when broken - they bring pain, confusion, and heaviness. I am far from a relationship expert. But I know the Bible is a great relationship guide! We are routinely encouraged to look at our heart because if it is pure, that will spill over into other areas of our life – especially relationships. In other instances, we are given insight into the qualities we should embrace for healthy relationships - patience, kindness, humility, forgiveness, grace, love to name just a few. They are beautiful words that, when put into action, can make for beautiful relationships. Other than the relationship we have with ourselves, our other relationships require a minimum of 2 people (often, they include many more). And everyone in the relationship must embrace these characteristics to achieve the ideal state. Pretty lofty isn’t it? While the Bible provides many examples of what contributes to a great relationship, it may be best defined by Jesus’s response to the Pharisee who asked - what is the greatest commandment?  Imagine the possibilities if each of us, and our world, embraced this teaching? I’m certain you see, as I do, an immediate remedy to challenges that plague us personally, nationally, and across the globe.

Gracious God, you gave us the guidebook but so often we look elsewhere for answers.  During this season, we pray you will bring us back to your word and its teachings. Help us absorb these truths. More importantly, help us live them so we might have healthy, safe, restorative relationships with you and others. We pray this not only for ourselves but for all your people. Amen.

Messiness in Our Relationships ~ Jeff Key

“A new command I give you:  Love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  ~ John 13:35

Follow the command of Jesus and relationships are easy. I think we all struggle with that though because we sometimes put conditions on our love before we give it. We use our love as a bargaining chip with friends and family which leads not to healthy but strained relationships. If however, no matter what we face we can use the love God has for us and remember that his love is unconditional we can follow his command to love others as ourselves. We should remember to be spreaders of love to all as he commands us.

Dear God, Help us live into your command to love one another as You have loved us. Your command is to love one another without conditions. Let us put that love into action as we look for ways to help each other find our way through these trying times together. Amen.

Messiness in Our Relationships ~ David Patterson

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” ~Isaiah 52:7

The pandemic has strained relationships, and made get-togethers impossible as we all try to flatten the curve. I am thankful that technology has allowed us to overcome distance and separation. Because of Covid, I have learned how to Zoom, and feel good when I have attended group/family/church virtual meetings. I’ll photo bomb my wife when she is face-timing with the grandchildren on the phone, and it’s almost like being there with them (and to be honest it’s a lot less messy and tiring than when they are actually with us). We have gone on the computer to watch virtual Christmas Pageants, graduations, funeral services and other family events. We have attended several outside family events, and perhaps because of the pandemic, we appreciate these more than ever. Phone calls, emails and texts with photos have helped us keep in touch. We looked forward more than ever to getting Christmas letters through snail mail. If this pandemic hit several years earlier, I don’t think we would have had the technology and know-how to bridge the barriers that physically separate us from family, church and loved ones. Perhaps God had something to do with this timing. When I think of our Father in heaven, I am in awe that he overcame the chasm of sin that separated and isolated us from Him. He didn’t do it virtually, but came physically to dwell among us. That meant he would become infected with our sin, shame, guilt and punishment, which would lead to his death, a death that he gladly accepted so that we could become members of his family, his precious children. You don’t need Zoom, a phone, or a computer to speak with God. He’s there in your heart and all around you, and God has given each of us the gift of prayer. Keep your family, church, friends, the less fortunate and your loved ones in your prayers.

“God with Us”, who has taught us to pray, thank you for communicating in various ways that we are saved by grace through faith. Amen.

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Week 4: March 10-16

Light

Messiness in Our Faith Life ~ Chris Keim

“Be still and know that I am God.” ~Psalm 46:10


Before the pandemic, I would have argued that being still was not in my nature.  At the beginning of all of this, I felt very antsy staying home all of the time.  It was very strange, not going out, not going to church, and not doing my parish nurse hustle and bustle for Hephatha.  Suddenly thrust into the world of virtual church, it was a little disorienting.  I am however; very thankful for virtual church because it has kept me connected to worship and to others in the church.
I will say that in this last year, my faith has been strengthened.  I have made myself take time to sit and be still in the morning; praying and meditating.  There has been a lot of fear mongering in the media over the last year and I knew if I paid too much attention to what was going on in the news, I would struggle with anxiety, and so I turned to God in the quiet of the morning. Making a regular practice has helped me to look to God for the answers and the solutions to the issues that come up in my life.  I have found that my mind DOES NOT have the answers.  It’s a new and very amazing realization that as I sit with the expectation in prayer that God does indeed have the answer and that he will let me know what it is; more times than not, the answer just seems to show up.  This has really strengthened my faith that God knows me, is with me, he hears me and answers me.  This has been a humbling experience too because I used to believe if I just thought hard enough, I could come up with the answers.
So this has brought me to a place of not being thankful for the pandemic, but thankful for the time to be still.

Dear Gracious Lord, You are my God.  Help me to be still and bring my worries to you.  In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

Messiness in Our Faith Life ~ Kim Keup

"Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, The LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." ~Deuteronomy 6:4-5

If you feel that your faith life is waxing and waning, listen and watch the youth at UNITY Lutheran. The word is alive as God’s love is evident in their hearts. 
Without hesitation, my daughter said yes to writing these Lent devotions when I didn’t have the courage to volunteer. I follow her lead. She is in 6th grade. You will find her writing her notes with a pencil on paper. She hands them to me to type. Sometimes, I ask her for clarification because her handwriting can be as messy as mine. Just as she was taught in Sunday school, my daughter is adding sticky note bookmarks and highlighting passages, placing stars at verses she finds important in the Bible and hearts next to her favorite passages. 
As a family, we broadcast virtual church recordings on our television. Almost one year ago, we began this new way of worship with waving palm leaves in our living room. Our dog even participates by singing hymns (barking) with us. Josef takes a break from his confirmation c-mail to serve us communion, consisting of orange juice and hot dog buns. For the Lenten season, Flat Jesus, otherwise known as FJ, has blessed us with his presence in our house and when we are at Kiley’s basketball games or hiking in the park. Instead of sharing soup dinners at UNITY’s sanctuary on Wednesday nights, we bring out our weekly Lent challenge sheet to share our day as guided by blessings bowl topics during our family meal. 
On Wednesday evenings, if you go to our basement, you will find my son on Zoom for confirmation. This trimester included the 7th and 8th graders writing and committing the above verses to their memory. What we all learned together, confirmation students and parent volunteers, is that this compilation, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Moses speaking to the Israelites. It is called “The Shema”. The confirmation students will tell you the Hebrew word, Shema, means “listen”. Listen, O Israel! He is catching their attention for his important message as we should be applying this prayer today. My son’s confirmation studies have been the cornerstone in our family’s church life this past year. This solid foundation, his diligence to study and learn, with a commitment to revisit the familiar and dive into the Word to see it in a new light, has sprouted the seeds of faith.

Dear God, When we hear your Word, open our hearts and our minds to root and grow our relationship with you. Strengthen our faith as we find creative ways to praise you. May we rejoice in your love for us. Amen.

 

Messiness in Our Faith Life ~ Carole Syse

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." ~Hebrews 10:24-25

I’ve missed being in community together under one roof singing hymns, hearing scripture, experiencing sermons, praying, and communion. Before quarantine, the number of volunteers needed to make worship happen every week was daunting.  During quarantine, people have volunteered their gifts in unique ways. Our pastors and music leaders have been creative in bringing us together. Honestly – I’m inpatient for the time we can physically worship together; yet we are a family of believers no matter how or where we worship. The day will come when we can experience faith in our beautiful sanctuaries together. Won’t that be amazing?!

Spirit of Truth – it’s hard to be separate. We are social beings and when we share faith together, we leave sanctuaries with great energy. When we celebrate faith together, it renews our spirit. Please keep us safe so we can worship together soon to share faith and leave filled with your word and truth. Amen.

Messiness in Our Faith Life ~ Nicole McCumber

"For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there', and it will move, for nothing will be impossible for you." ~Matthew 17:20

As much as life is a journey with ups and downs, it is the same for our faith life. During times of trial, it is ok to ask God why are all of these bad things happening, and how can my faith stay strong? A poem we have hanging in our home sums it up perfectly. An excerpt from the poem, Footprints in the Sand, Author Unknown: "Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you the most you would leave me.

The Lord replied, "my Son, my precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."
Dear God, Help us to carry one another during this time of uncertainty and doubt. May our faith be made stronger by continuing to follow in your ways. In your name we pray. Amen.

 

Messiness in Our Faith Life ~ Mike Tostrud

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” ~Matthew 6:5-15

Messiness in faith feels like a trap.  It certainly doesn’t feel right to acknowledge that there is messiness in our faith life. With the messiness everywhere else in life, this is supposed to be our safe harbor! But, if we are being honest, this is a reality we all face. There are times we may question where God is, whether God is hearing us, or at times if we have alienated ourselves from God. We often come to God for love, support, and insight to our most desperate concerns. God is supposed to be our best and most loving relationship.  But, when we don’t feel his presence, or we don’t receive a response to a dire question, we can be left crippled. I’ve been here, more often than I care to admit, but I know many others have too.  
So, how do we resolve the challenge? Faith; vulnerability; trust; patience; hope. Each of these either independently or together, likely form the answer. The challenges will always be present but in these moments we need to lean on each of these things. We need to lean on others as well. I often find myself looking for answers down so many avenues when, in fact, I know the answer is found in God and his presence, in his timing. But I have also come to know, he wants our messiness; he wants to hear those desperate pleas; he wants our anger, frustration, confusion, and awkwardness. We needn’t hide. He wants us vulnerable and transparent. Not putting on a face to him and the world trying to demonstrate that everything is okay. 

Father, our lives are messy and at times this makes our relationship with you messy. We pray for your patience, grace, and understanding as we struggle through these moments. Regardless of how things evolve, always lead us back to you. Help each of us lean on your spirit and the teachings of your son. And help us understand that you want us vulnerable, not putting on a face of strength when we are weak, or a façade of having it together when we are secretly falling apart. We pray this for ourselves and all of your people. Amen.

 

Messiness in Our Faith Life ~ Jeff Key

"Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you…"  ~James 4:8

Prior to COVID drawing near to God was a lot easier. We had a schedule. Sure we could and should pray anywhere and anytime and maybe we did, but let’s be honest before covid it was really easy to be with God in his house. We had regularly scheduled times for worship, Sunday school, choir practice, First Communion classes, and small group meetings. We made time to draw near to God---then COVID hit and things got down right messy. No more schedules and it wasn’t just the church schedule that was affected—life was turned upside down. It became difficult to draw near to God. We all had to adapt to a new reality of fluid schedules and changing rules. All of this made it tougher to draw near to God but through all that we found ways---First online services, then small backyard neighborhood services, then outdoor backyard and parking lot services at the CTK campus, then a few indoor services at the COL campus and now we are trying indoor services again. All this is us making an effort to draw near to God.  We don’t need buildings for that, we just need believing hearts because he is always there whether our lives get messy or not.

Almighty Father, especially now, helps us to see that we can draw near to You at any time and in any place—that drawing near to You is a lot easier than we think because you are always near to us. Amen.

Messiness in Our Faith Life ~ David Patterson

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  ~Matthew 7:7

There have been times during the pandemic that my faith has been shaken. I have wrestled with God, and asked angrily, why did you allow this terrible virus to happen? It has destroyed lives, businesses, relationships, and congregations. When I feel this way, I am comforted by the fact that God did not condemn Jacob for wrestling with God, or Mary, when she asked the question, “How can this be?”, when told by Gabriel that she would conceive and bear a child. When I get down on myself for questioning and doubting, I remember how Martin Luther in the Small Catechism made asking questions alright, when he asked, “What does this mean?”. Perhaps it is in the Catechism that Martin Luther gives us some answers as to why such bad things happen and this evil pandemic continues. He writes in the explanation of the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “God tempts no one to sin, but we ask in this prayer that God would watch over us and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful self may not deceive us and draw us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins.” God did not bring about Covid, it was Satan, the world and our sinful flesh. While God did not cause this terrible pandemic, God has promised to make all things, even Covid and its devastation, to work together for our good. God has promised that we don’t have to get through it alone - God will never leave us nor forsake us. And finally, God promises that on a future day all things will be made new, and there will be no more suffering or pain, and we will no longer see through a mirror dimly, but rather fully know, as we are fully known.

God, the Way, the Truth and the Life, help us fear, love and trust you above all things. Amen.

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Week 5: March 17-23

Light

Messiness in the Community ~ Chris Keim

“One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see!”  ~John 9: 25b 

Community can be defined in a number of ways. We can talk about the neighborhood we live in, the town, the county or beyond. We can define it. If we talk about the greater Milwaukee area as a community, we will include people who do not necessarily look like us. Physically, we may see that they have darker skin and different hair. We may see that their lives look very different too. We may see they live in substandard housing. We may see they have less access to quality healthcare. We may see they have increased incidence of illnesses and health issues such as asthma, diabetes and lead poisoning. We may see that they struggle more in school and often drop out before graduating. We may see that they end up being incarcerated at higher rates. We may see that they end up working a minimum wage job, without benefits or healthcare. We may see that they end up on welfare.
During the pandemic so much has happened. A few of the things that have come to light in the community at this time are:
- We have seen people of color in our community experience higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death due to COVID.
- We have seen, on video, a white police officer in the context of his official duty, put his knee on the neck of a black man, to the extent that he could not breathe and the black man, George Floyd died.
- We have seen the expression on the white police officer’s face as George Floyd told him he could not breathe.
- We have seen the spread through the community of a new. understanding of BLACK LIVES MATTER and an increase of white people in the community supporting it and speaking it and living it out.
We can see this new understanding as the Holy Spirit and Jesus' Light working and moving and healing in our community. It works through seeing that our thoughts, our words and our actions about others in our community matter. It works through seeing that the healing needs to take place in all parts of the community. We can see that the community is the Body of Christ, and once it includes all unhindered, Jesus’ healing flows like a river through all of it.

Dear Heavenly Father, You sent your Son to forgive and heal us. Open our eyes, our hearts and our minds to include ALL in the community as the Body of Christ. Bring your Kingdom through us in this way. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Messiness in the Community ~ Kim Keup

"Love each other with genuine affection, serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality." ~Romans 12:1-13

One year ago, the world shut down. Life as we knew it screeched to a sudden halt. We were told to shelter in place, practice social distancing 6 feet apart, and wear a mask. In the midst of all this, our neighborhood decided to decorate our windows with hearts. Neighbors took walks at different times to view the window art. One such art piece stuck out for me and is yet on my neighbor’s door, as my daughter had pointed the decorated door out last week. It is a clear cross made with window paint resembling stained glass. During March, we reached out to our neighbors, and those without technology and living alone, we checked in on a bit closer. We became a closer community navigating virtual school for what we thought to be a temporary 2 week solution and what was to become 12 weeks. As parents, we were deemed essential workers. We went to work, while our kids tried to stay on task with their virtual studies. We quickly interviewed a college student who assisted them until the end of the school year as she worked on her nursing studies. 

As the world stood still and I was called back to work as the lone nurse in the clinic, I looked at the neighbor’s door to find strength that Jesus had shown to us in the living flesh. Upon arriving at Children’s Hospital, on March 30th, we stood on a X taped to the floor 6 feet apart, waiting to have our temperatures checked. I had to answer a few questions before I could enter my work space. Due to restrictions, the reduced number of people working made it seem too quiet, almost eerie. I missed the hustle and bustle of a busy clinic with patients and families, providers, nurses, and medical assistants, a social worker and dietician all collaborating. I was searching and praying how to help when feeling helpless. 

I thank those in the UNITY congregation who sent us cards of encouragement, lit a candle for the healthcare workers, and felt the flood of prayers giving me courage to persevere. Do you see the word, “unity” inside our community? I think of our brothers and sisters in Christ from El Salvador. The member of our congregation had just completed another mission of healing February 2020. Now, we have this newfound connection with live-streaming on Facebook, sharing our faith from afar. 

Since December, I felt there was more I could do. I had received my first dose of vaccine and was feeling guilty that I qualified, but my parents had not. Fast forward to now, my parents had just received their 2nd doses. Within one week of another, both church and work had posted community needs. I reconnected with a nurse that I had travelled to El Salvador with 10 years ago. We were part of the UNITY volunteers vaccinating the people at the Bread of Healing and Cross Lutheran in Milwaukee County. Friends, go into the community and break that bubble.https://www.signupgenius.com/go/30E0D4AACAB28A7FF2-bread

Almighty God, who gives and maintains life, provide us with the strength to conquer each day’s tasks. Make us brave, patient, and kind. Let us reflect your boundless love. Be near us always to guide and help us, to utilize our talents to serve those in need. Amen.

Messiness in the Community ~ Carole Syse

"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." ~Matthew 18:20

In the summer of 2020, the Syse deck hosted small weekly outdoor socially distanced gatherings with our immediate neighbors.  These Sunday afternoon sessions provided a sense of normalcy in a time of great uncertainty.  We are blessed with neighbors who live their faith and genuinely look out for each other every day.  Currently our deck is covered with 4 feet of snow.  The snow doesn’t keep us from being together as we see each other on daily dog walks, or as we snowblow sidewalks, or text each other to check in.  We remember the days of the deck with fondness, and yet haven’t lost that sense of normalcy and togetherness because of our relationships. We have built friendships through trust and caring whether we are on the deck…or not.

Lord of all – we feel your presence at the intersection of Misty/Melody Lanes. Help us choose to be in community with those around us. Thank you for neighbors who become family, sharing their daily lives. May we all feel blessed and safe whenever we gather. Amen.

Messiness in the Community ~ Nicole McCumber

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching." ~Hebrews 10:24-25

In the early months of the pandemic, when everything seemed to be going wrong, community was vital to our family.The support we received was touching. Small gestures, such as flowers left on the porch from a neighbor, or groceries from a co-worker, were such blessings during dark times. Our faith was deepened by knowing that there were still good and kind people in the world, and that we would make it through and pay it forward when we were able. We are now able to help others in our community, and it has been wonderful to give back in small ways. Community is vital to life and we need to do all that we can to keep it strong.

Dear God, Help us to help others, as others have helped us. Help us to be a shining light to those that may need it. May we continue to push onward. In your name we pray. Amen.

 

Messiness in the Community ~ Mike Tostrud

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  ~Galatians 6:2

With the community challenges we experienced in 2020 this may be the toughest topic to write on. The pandemic has fundamentally altered our communities in the past year. We are not able to live or worship in community as we were before.  When we go into the community, we face restrictions for masks, space, or other safety measures which stamp our new normal. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others challenged our sense of community and who feels safe when out.  And it was further challenged through political divides which turned violent in our nation’s capital as we turned the corner into 2021.  
Each of these circumstances challenge our personal beliefs and then our communal interaction. It’s a lot to consider how to bridge the health challenges, racial divide, or differences in political affiliation. Communal challenges aren’t unique to us. Jews and Gentile had different viewpoints; Pharisees and Sadducees had differing opinions; Pilate, a government official, washed his hands sealing Jesus’ fate; a convicted man was freed of his crimes in trade for Jesus’s conviction and crucifixion. These aren’t parallels to our current challenges, but they speak similar tones to our divides amongst individuals, religions, politics, and communities.  
So, where do we go? We turn to a loving, supportive God who adores his children and provides guidelines for community. Love your neighbor; care for the orphaned, widowed, and destitute; know God is with you in moments of persecution or in the valleys. Each theme is found in the bible and offers us context and assurances.
Yet, these are big challenges. I am overwhelmed by them. But I have to believe – I just have to believe – the words of the Bible are true. Answers to community challenges, maybe not in their entirety but certainly to some degree, can be found in it. Community begins with every individual, extends to family, then friends, neighborhood, cities and beyond. But the heart of it for us can be God.  
I hope those who have been unfairly persecuted found God in their final desperate moments. I hope the persecutors find God as well. I hope every individual could set aside personal gain for the betterment of the community. But I fear as I write this someone may be offended. That is so far from my intent. I’ve intentionally attempted to leave my personal feelings out of each powder keg topic. I offer no bias in race, religion, or politics. Only the hope that with these differences – ones that can and maybe ought to remain – that we could value and honor both love and support of one another as much as we do these other freedoms.

Father, we are challenged for answers to the divides and challenges that accompany our communities. And while communal challenges are not unique to our generation, they do have a unique stamp at this time. We pray you will inspire, humble, and provoke us to address these as fairly, diplomatically, and justly as we can – not by our own standards but by yours. Amen.

Messiness in the Community ~ Jeff Key

"So we, being many, are one body in Christ and every one member’s one of another..." ~Romans 12:5

So, we walk a fine line these days when we try to reach out to others. Should we or shouldn’t we?  If we reach out, will our gestures be accepted or rejected. At points in the last year we have been told repeatedly not to reach out to others outside of our family unit. For many of us that felt wrong and went against the teaching of the verse I chose. Because we are all one body in Christ, then we are all one family unit. In that spirit we did find ways to reach out to others--donating to food banks, blood drives, making masks, taking time to visit with someone virtually or even by picking up the phone. While some steps were and are necessary to protect us and others, God's people are called to help one another through tough times and we find ways to do that rather than disappear behind a closed door. Even though we had to change the ways we did things, we never stopped trying to reach our extended family members that were hurting. I hope we never stop finding ways to be part of someone else’s solution when difficulties arise in their lives.

Dear Lord, Help us look inward to find the courage and strength to reach out to our fellow members of Your body. May we find it in us to realize we are better together than alone. Help us to remember that strength in numbers will give us the ability to overcome many problems in our world today. Amen.

Messiness in the Community ~ David Patterson

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another." ~Romans 12:15-16

Perhaps the pandemic has made us aware that as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”  During this pandemic, when we hear of people dying, our hearts go out to their loved ones. When we read of businesses having to close, we lament this painful loss. When we read how children are falling behind in school, we ask how can this be fixed? When the under-employed and unemployed are facing difficulty in trying to keep their homes and provide for their families, we weep. When we see people selfishly putting their needs and rights ahead of ensuring the wellbeing of those who are most vulnerable, we rightfully get angry. These are trying and “messy” times. But when we are ready to give up, we see a healthcare worker risking her life to provide care to the sick. We see a police officer, or a member of the National Guard standing in the midst of an angry crowd, doing their duty to keep the peace. A store cashier worker greets us as we purchase our groceries. We hear the muffled laughter of children who have innocently accepted wearing their masks. A neighbor stops by, checking to make sure you are all right. We receive word that a prayer has been lifted up on our behalf. And light overcome the darkness, right prevails, and we are given strength, perseverance, and assurance that together we’ll get through this.

God in whom we, who are many, are one body, thank you for the good people who reflect your love and light. Amen.

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Week 6: March 24-30

Light

Messiness in Differences ~ Chris Keim

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  ~Galatians  3:28

There is a saying in 12 step recovery programs that is suggested to newcomers at meetings; look for the similarities not the differences. Doing this is supposed to help the newcomer to relate better to others in the program and see themselves in others' stories. If you talk to people who have found success in 12 step programs, you will hear that looking for the similarities really helped them in early sobriety. 
It seems like this is good advice in everyday life too. It would be helpful if we looked for similarities, especially when we run into people, who look, think or act differently than we do. When we look at the differences, it polarizes us. Once polarized, the fingers start pointing and the minds start closing to the other’s point of view.  When we look for similarities, it helps us to see that we may have common ground. Common ground can then be used as the foundation for the relationship. Common ground has a balancing quality to it. 
For Christians, looking for similarities goes right along with the idea that we are the body of Christ. The human body is made up of hands, feet, eyes, fingers and so much more. These parts are all very different. They look different, they do different things and yet, they all make the body work better and more efficiently. Just like every part of the human body is important to the whole, every part of the body of Christ is important to the whole. Paul teaches us that everyone makes up the body of Christ; EVERYONE. Our differences are actually what make us important to the whole. Jesus’ love, God’s love for all of us, is the common ground for the body of Christ. When this love is the foundation, motivation and focus of our thoughts, words and actions, the differences in the world take on a beauty and a relevance that cannot be found in a polarized world.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for your love for us. Thank you for your grace and mercy.  Help us to look for the similarities as we walk through this world. Help us to use the love that you give freely to us to be the common ground on which we relate to others. Help us to transform the fear and hatred found in our perceptions of this polarized world into beauty and relevance. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Messiness in Differences ~ Kiley Keup, age 11

"Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise." ~Romans 12:16

People are different-physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. 

A difference should not define a person. Differences should not change a person’s power. Differences should not influence shame. Shame should not be one’s shadow, nor should excessive pride. The world does not need more shame, fear, envy, disgust, or anger. These feelings control us to manipulate others. 

With age brings a sense of power, you feel wiser and responsible. That does not mean elders are not as wise, but it means not to label younger people as lesser. 

Everyone is different.

We need to accept and be aware of our similarities and differences. A difference should not set us apart from others. Responding to differences is a part of defining who we are. People of different ages, gender, religion, race, culture, education, or health are just as important as you. You must speak highly of others, as you do of yourself.

Influence may affect how you respond to differences. 

Rather than always looking for a similarity between you and a friend, search for differences. A difference should not change a person’s power. It should be respected and valued.

Dear Jesus, Let us live in peace like you had while here on earth. Give us intelligence to live peaceably with friends, family, and everyone. Help us to be thoughtful and considerate, to explore differences and similarities. Let us invite everyone to your table of forgiveness. Amen.

Messiness in Differences ~ Carole Syse

"Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble." ~1 Peter 3:8

ARGH!  When did I become the oldest person in the meeting?  In the past few months, I’ve realized I’m becoming the old timer on my team.  Point of reference:  it never fails to bring a smile or laugh when the Syse landline rings during a work Zoom meeting. In seriousness, what we experienced globally in 2020 was a heightened sense of differences, and thank goodness many found grace in those differences.  It’s easy to be discouraged as division becomes reality.  If we embrace the differences we find in others, there may be a better sense of common ground. This doesn’t mean we give up our beliefs or morals. Instead we find ways to welcome each other into a respect-filled dialogue. How can we be better together if we don’t listen and learn?

King of Kings – we are different and unique. We can find goodness in others and common ground.  Help us choose to be better than our differences and find empathy in our mindsets. Help us listen first to understand better. No matter what our bias, help us love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.

Messiness in Differences ~ Nicole McCumber

"Judge not, that you not be judged." ~Matthew 7:1

It can be such a simple concept, yet not so simple as well. There are many signs hanging in the elementary school where I work, and I find myself repeating them in my mind during the day. A few that stand out to me are: Before you say it, THINK, Is it TRUE? IS it KIND? Is it NECESSARY?,Throw kindness like confetti, or one we have in our classroom, it's a picture of a bumblebee bee and it says BEEEEEE KIND!! These signs for the children and staff to see everyday make it seem so simple, and truly it can be this simple!! The world would be a better place if we stopped seeing differences in one another, and instead embraced others for who they are and what makes them unique. Try not to see others as different, and find ways we can come together. Even if we can do this in our small part of the world, at the school where I work and the neighborhood where I live, it will make a difference.

Dear God,  Thank you for making us just as we are. May we learn to love everyone as you have taught us, and to shine your light where it is needed. In your name we pray, Amen.

Messiness in Differences ~ Mike Tostrud

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” ~Galatians 6:2

It seems our differences – individually and communally – are on greater display than ever.  The challenge of our age seems to be how we embrace individualism while also achieving alignment in communities.  

All our lives we have been asked to embrace differences.  But it seems the number of ‘differences’ have increased the past few years.  We ought to respect the uniqueness of individuals, but we must also find a way to come together, work together, and succeed together.  The notion of this happening seems oddly Pollyanna though which troubles me - I am not sure if that makes me a pessimist or a realist.

So, the problem statement is likely something we can agree on, but where do we find answers?  I know for myself I am guilty of being over simplistic.  But it is likely a matter of motive.  Are we interested in unifying?  Or is our motive to continuously define how we are different? 

The name of our congregation provides some inspiration – Unity!  Who knew a few years ago the name and mission for our congregation would highlight what is needed more broadly today?  What I’ve always loved about our congregation is the community.  There are times I have come to church to celebrate all that was going well in my life; there are times I have come to church out of obligation, not feeling that same level of inspiration but rather the obligation of routine; and there have been times where I have come to church because I desperately needed the love and support the community provides.  But in each phase I have always been embraced.  And maybe we continue to foster it amongst ourselves and ask for the courage to carry it into the world.

Father, the challenges of our age certainly seem bigger than each of us.  But we pray that you might use us, to bring our communities together for our own well-being and for your purpose.  You gave your son to change the world, please use our congregation to change even a small part of it.   Amen, amen, amen…

 

Messiness in Differences ~ Jeff Key

"For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all..." ~Romans 10:12

Ok, so we can divide ourselves into many different categories—some based on physical factors and some based on factors we create. So some divisions are just natural and others are arbitrary. I am a 61 year old, overweight, white male—can I change any of that?  Yes, I can lose weight.  My age will keep changing—God willing. The rest is pretty much out of my control. There are many more categories I can and do fit in—most of my own choosing. We all have the ability to make choices, but here is the thing once we make a choice that shouldn’t be the end, we should be able to continuously reevaluate and change based on new information. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to become so rigid in our way of thinking that we are closed off to new information. The bottom line for me I guess is we should remember that no matter how many categories we fit in, we all fit into one category—We are God's children created in His image and we should remember that when we look at another person whether they look like us or not, we are looking at the face of God.

God of all, You made each one of us different & unique and we should use those differences to work to your glory. You gave us unique skills again so we could and would have to work together. Even though we walk different paths, show us how all those paths meet at one place--Your loving arms, Amen.

Messiness in Differences ~ David Patterson

“There is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” ~Colossians 3:11

During the pandemic, I believe that hate groups, some politicians, and some within the media, out of self-interest and for personal gain have sought to separate and create barriers of fear amongst people.

  • The Bible makes it clear that as Christians we are to love and respect all people. (Matthew 7:12)

  • We should not show partiality. (Acts 10:34-35)

  • We should not be sexist. (Galatians 3:28)

  • We should not judge people based on the color of their skin. (1 Samuel 16:7)

  • We should welcome and help foreigners.  (Leviticus 19:34)

  • We are to care for the poor and less fortunate. (Matthew 25:40)

  • We should put the needs of others before our own self-interests. (Philippians 2:3-4)

  • We are to help the afflicted. (Jeremiah 22:3)

  • We are to strive for righteousness and justice. (Amos 5:22-24)

  • We should listen to others who differ from us. (Proverbs 18:2)

  • We should strive to be one as our Triune God is one. (John 17:20-21)

God’s word clearly teaches that the barriers of fear, bigotry and prejudice, that we sinfully erect, will be overcome in the heavenly Kingdom, when God says “people from every nation, tribe, and language, will stand before the throne and before the Lamb”. (Revelation7:9) With love and kindness, perhaps we can experience heaven here on earth.

Triune God, help us fulfill your desire, and the dream of liberty and justice for all. Amen.

 

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Week 7: March 31-April 06

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Messiness in Holy Week ~ Carole Syse

"When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home."
~John 18:26-27

Good Friday: first devotion subject I ever attempted. It was 1997 and I was a first-time leader at the New Orleans National Youth Gathering. Pregnant with our daughter and new to high school youth ministry, I wasn’t sure my thoughts would resonate. And yet Good Friday stayed forefront. In reflecting on the importance of Christ’s death for our sins, I challenged the group to consider why we should not look past Good Friday as important to our faith. There’s so much about Good Friday we should reflect on. Jesus was shamed, suffered, and saved our lives for all eternity. During all that pain, he found a way to comfort his mother, finding a caregiver for her.  I’m struck by the story and the great care Jesus showed while suffering. This is an incredible example of who we can be and how we can care for others. No excuses. We must be better for those we love most.

Loving Savior – how can we express gratitude for your unselfishness? If we’re made in your likeness, how do we best honor you? None of this is easy. Please be with us in our lowest moments, pointing us to those who can provide support. Please help us listen for direction from those who provide hope and strength. Thank you for wisdom and love in unconditional ways. Amen.

Messiness in Holy Week ~ Ryan & Nicole McCumber

"And my soul shall be joyful in the Lord: it shall rejoice in his salvation." ~Psalm 35:9

The Story of Holy Week is a story of inspiration through enduring judgement, sadness from loss, and joy from salvation. How does knowing what Jesus endured help us when we are struggling with our own personal issues today? His experiences while in the flesh are great examples for us to ponder. Depending on where you are in life, re-living these experiences through the prayer and celebration of Holy Week may touch you in many different ways. It makes me grateful that He experienced such human things during this time in a similar way we do. Meditate this week with the word and let it wash over you and comfort you that we have such an enduring, judgeless, and joyful savior that is true. Ask God to comfort you with this truth when it feels like no one is understanding your pain. Jesus promises to always be with us.

Dear God, Please bless our community as we reflect on the amazing journey of Jesus during holy week. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Messiness in Holy Week ~ Mike Tostrud

“Be kind and compassionate with one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
~Ephesians 4:32

I guess when we think of messiness this week there are many angles. My mind goes to Judas based on a question my nephew posed last weekend -  was Judas forgiven? Eeessh, don’t you want to build more lego trucks or something kid? I responded – “well, Judas took matters into his own hands and did not ask for forgiveness. But if Judas had sincerely asked God for forgiveness it would have been given.”

There are some who may debate the theological accuracy of my response.  But, in the context of messiness, forgiveness is one of the most messy topics we find. It crosses so many themes we have touched on in the last few weeks. But forgiveness is key to our well-being. It is a key to our relationship with God. Asking for the strength to forgive is something I have desperately prayed for and have been granted; I have also desperately prayed to be forgiven for my sins. 

What wrongs do you need forgiven?  What forgiveness do you need to offer?  Big questions but today – Good Friday – is the perfect day to lay these before the cross.  To ask God for help and to open ourselves to receiving it.  

I pray forgiveness finds you.  It is freeing.  Just as Jesus freed us from our sins and opened our relationship to the Father, forgiveness does something similar.  Find the humility to ask, or to give it.  And let God free you.  

The solemness of Good Friday is overcome by the glory of Easter Sunday.  May the weight of unforgiveness fall away and be met with his glory.  

In just a few days we rejoice in the resurrection, and shout “hall…”  Ah, but wait my dear friends, for the key to messiness is recognizing it is often resolved in his timing, not ours.  Happy Easter…

Father, please forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.  These words have rung true across generations.  Please fill us with both.  Amen, amen, amen…

 

Messiness in Holy Week ~ Jeff Key

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world;  but that the world through Him might be saved" ~John 3:16-17

Those two verses kind of sum up Jesus life and death here on Earth. He was sent by the Father to take away our sins and the Father didn’t limit that to a few select people—that promise was and is given to everyone. We started to walk with Jesus on His journey to the cross this past Palm Sunday and will continue to go with Him to His death and glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday. Whatever we think about the last days of Jesus life, it was the Father’s love for us that sent Him to us.  That makes things messy for me—How could God the Father love us more than His own Son?  Maybe that’s not the right question, maybe a better question is, why don’t we love Jesus more than we love ourselves sometimes? See Jesus came to save us.  He is the path to the Father—whatever happened in the last days of His life happened to make salvation possible for all of us. We don’t need to dwell on the messiness of the next few days—we need to concentrate on the one clear truth of Jesus life—He was born and died to save all of us from our sins. He blazed an unmistakable path to his Father’s glorious place in Heaven for all. Let us put the messiness aside and concentrate on the Easter message—He is Risen!!!—He is Risen, Indeed!!  All_ _ _...Sorry that word is for Sunday and we all know what happens after we say it All_ _ _..., WE RING BELLS LOUD AND CLEAR FOR ALL TO HEAR!!!!—Goodbye messiness—hope you stay buried or hidden for a good long while!!!!!!!!

Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your love and thank You for sending Jesus to save us. Help us be messengers of the Easter proclamation to the ends of the earth and to use whatever abilities You have given us to spread Your message of love and forgiveness far and wide. Give us ears to hear, eyes to see, and hands to hold the needs of the members of Your family here on earth. Amen.

Messiness in Holy Week ~ David Patterson

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” ~1Corinthians 1:14

The betrayal, the arrest, the angry shouts, the beating and the bloodshed, the stumbling on the street, the release of a convicted criminal, the sun being blotted out, the violent crucifixion, made Good Friday more frightening and “messier” than the many violent protests and riots we experienced this past year. But in the seven dying words of our crucified Savior, we see as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught: “Right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

1.  While Pilate washed his hands and showed no mercy towards the innocent Jesus: while the soldiers crowned the “king” with thorns; while it was our sins that caused him to die; grace prevailed as Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

2. While Jesus experienced our shame, guilt and punishment on Calvary, he proclaimed that sin and death do not have the final word, as he promised, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

3. While Judas betrayed him; the disciples fled; Peter denied him; the crowd turned on him; love prevailed as Jesus looked down and said, “Dear woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.”

4.  While the Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus, are one; our Lord reminded us that when we suffer, feel alone and abandoned, God is with us and understands our anguish, as the cry went up, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

5. While he could walk on water; while he could change water into wine; while he cured people with water; while he is the giver of living waters; with parched lips and teary eyes he cried out what so many of the less fortunate experience, "I am thirsty."

6. While there were still those who had not heard the good news; while there were still those who needed healing; while there were still those who were in bondage and poor; Jesus knowing that he had done enough, completed the work of redemption for which he had come to earth, and that his disciples would take up the ministry and mission yet needed, the carpenter’s son said, "It is finished."

7. With pierced and bloody hands nailed to the cross, while people mockingly shook fists at him; while Satan and the powers of darkness were exchanging congratulatory fist bumps; the sacrificial Lamb of God, who remained faithful to the end, delivered a knockout blow and the final victory was won, as the whisper was heard, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

Living Word, speak to us anew, so that we may be united with Jesus in a death like his, and be united with him in a resurrection like his. Amen.

 

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