Archive E-Devotions

Weekly E-Devotions Archives

 

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Weekly e-Devotion: November 2 Edition

John 11:32-44
Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Nov 4 2018
32
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

   Saints are popularly assumed to be Christians who have risen to greatness in some way. Perhaps they were extraordinary teachers or mentors, had special healing or prophetic abilities, led lives of deep prayer or were set apart by God from the usual entrapments of the world in order to “do something special” for God.
    Many Christians shy away from “sainthood” as these attributes are not currently on their religious resume. And yet, we know that we are all saints. We have it designated in the name of our congregation and we rely on scripture to provide our justification.  The word “saint(s)” is the word used most often in the New Testament to describe the followers of Christ (the word “Christian” was actually a word of derision in the early Church period). People who spend hours mining biblical statistics have noted more than 60 references to saints in the New Testament; 44 in Paul’s writings alone!. In Romans 1:7, Paul referred to all those loved by God as saints or holy people. “Loved by God,” not by any other requirement! We are saints because of Christ’s atonement, not our attainment.
   
Even so, the church still recognizes and honors specific saints. According to the Augsburg Confession, the term "saint" is used to denote a person who received exceptional grace, was sustained by faith and whose good works are to be an example to any Christian. Lutherans do believe that saints pray for the Christian Church in general, and we honor them by thanking God for them and using them as role models for developing our Christian character. 
   
Yes, we are saints, thus have the privilege and responsibility of acting like saints!  It always brings me up short to remember the time someone said, “If you were the only Christian a person ever met, what would that person decide about God through you?” 1 Peter 1:15-16 enjoins us to be holy in all we do because God who called us is holy.  We are being restored to the full image of God as we conform ourselves to Him and allow ourselves to be shaped back into the fullness of our original identity as a son or daughter of God. Isaiah 64:8 says “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  If we don’t roll off the potter’s wheel for good, He will eventually re-create us completely as whole and holy.
   
Sunday’s gospel tells the story of Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life… in effect, unbinding him from death. That is exactly what he does for each of us.  He will certainly do it when we die and, even now, as we allow God’s spirit to work in us and on us each day in those ‘practice rounds’ we all have of death and resurrection. He longs to unbind us from the deadly garments of disobedience and rebellion that trip us up and make us fall away from the grace he has given us. But, the shackles of sins done to us can be just as binding and God stands ready to release those death grips as well. Notice in this story that Jesus asked those gathered around the tomb to “unbind” Lazarus. So, saints, we too have a role in the unraveling of death!
   
On All Saints’ Day, we are given another glimpse of those who have gone before us, described in the book of Hebrews:

“…Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (12:1-3).”

    Who have been great saints in your life? This is their day…and ours!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at dhoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: October 19 Edition

Mark 10:35-45
Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Oct 21 2018

35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” 

   The cheek of James and John!  I imagine them standing, arms akimbo, legs wide apart, feet planted firmly, double-teaming Jesus and telling him, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  On this occasion, those so-called “Sons of Thunder” were certainly living up to their name! They wanted a corner office in the kingdom and didn’t hesitate to ask for it!  What part of “the first shall be last” did the disciples not yet comprehend?
    On one level, who can blame them?  The only sort of power they knew was the Roman version… conquest and intimidation.  Jesus told them that the opposite was true in the kingdom of God.  The disciples might not get their earthly-oriented demand, but they would indeed participate in the “fellowship of his sufferings (Philippians 3:10).” Overlay on the image of James and John the image of Jesus on the cross, with a thief hanging on either side of him.  When Jesus told them they would drink the same cup (of suffering) and be baptized with the same baptism (by fire) as Jesus, it was not idle talk. Herod eventually killed James with a sword, and church tradition has it that his brother John died in exile on the island of Patmos.
   
William Willimon, a popular speaker, writer and bishop in the United Methodist Church, tells the story of a time when he was in campus ministry at Duke University.  He participated in the baptism of a graduate student from China who became a Christian while at Duke.  He decided to commemorate the occasion by taking pictures.  Willimon recounted that the group was a bit shy and awkward during the picture-taking. The campus minister later told him why they were less than enthusiastic:
 “… now that he’s baptized, his life has been ruined. His parents say that they will disinherit him. The government will probably take away his scholarship. He can’t show those pictures to anybody back home. His life as he knew it is over; he’s been baptized into Jesus.”
   
Each of us has been guilty of asking God to help us worship our idols, i.e., replacing God with what we really want and then asking him to provide it—even when we are asking for something good. It is completely possible to worship the good rather than God! I am quite thankful to God for showing us the dim-headedness of Jesus’ band of disciples.  It gives me hope. Jesus did not condemn James and John for their audacity; instead he used this teachable moment (one more time) to paint the picture of the unimagined reversal of power that was about to come to fruition with his death and resurrection.  Earthly powers were about to be in thrall to eternal love and the very thing James and John desired would eventually happen...the last will one day be first.
   
Ever since we chose to “be like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5),” our temptation has been to replace love with power. Henri Nouwen once wrote, “The long painful history of the church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led.” Nouwen also talked about the “downward mobility” that ends at the cross.  But the power of that cross to transform and redeem is immeasurable.
   
Jesus came not to be served, but to serve (v. 45) and has instructed us about the redeemed ambition his followers develop as we get more acquainted with him: “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink (Matthew 25:35-36).”  In order to be a disciple, we must be a servant to all.  Those are the marching orders for a life of true power, authority but, most of all, joy!  The “corner office” is just a distraction from the mansion reserved for us in heaven!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at dhoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: October 5 Edition

Mark 10:2-16
Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Oct 7 2018

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7’’For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.11He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” 13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

    When Moses received the tablets with those ten rules for living together in peace (aka, the Ten Commandments), they were to serve as guideposts and boundaries for acceptable, life-giving behavior for the Israelites. As we know, this set of instructions—while still posted in various courthouse buildings—has lost most of its bite. Just think for a moment how some of these proscriptions resonate in our culture today: You shall have no other gods. (Okay, I don’t really see a need for a god at all, so no problem there.) Don’t take God’s name in vain? (Again, no god? No problem!) Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t bear false witness. Don’t commit adultery. Media participants are immediate witnesses to the fact that at best, these are suggestions, not commandments. The Decalogue may be foundational to our western ethical (if not legal) system, but the context in which these commandments are to be lived out has almost completely disappeared from the cultural landscape.
    When we come now to Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees around the issue of adultery, we know that adultery was not the real issue. They were trying to trip up this upstart rabbi who was continually throwing spanners into their works! But Jesus, of course, is always a step (or several) ahead of their tactics and responds by reminding them why this commandment was written in the first place…“Because of the hardness of your hearts (v. 5).” And we all are painfully, embarrassingly aware that Jesus could say the very same thing to us. While God intends good for us, we are bent toward evil. We can find 1,001 rationalizations, justifications and obfuscations for why our self-serving behaviors are just fine and, if you squint, really do look like God’s will. The prophet Jeremiah had it right… “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is (Jeremiah 17:9, NLT) ?”
   
Later (and, as usual), Jesus had to continue to help the disciples who were having their predictably difficult time grasping this piece of Jesus’ ‘kingdom-speak.’ He uses the teachable moment of children seeking to approach him to display for the disciples the remedy for the hardening of their spiritual arteries. Those the disciples wished to turn away, Jesus not only embraced, but enjoined them (and us) to become like them.
   
Nothing softens the hardened heart like the embrace of a child. But what about the other people we seek in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways to also remove from our consciousness, if not our country? The reign of God includes the outcast, and when we embrace the outcast before us we, at the same time, embrace the outcast within us…the unaccepted child from a hard-bitten childhood; the battered one who could not stay committed to a union of abuse and neglect; the person who feels like a motherless child or the man without a country. As the Rev. Suzanne Guthrie has written, “Hardness of heart keeps me safe in my place. But that’s another irritant of Christianity. Do you really have a ‘place’ when you follow the man who said, ‘foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head?’ If Christians have a ‘place’ it must be on the prophetic margins of discomfort in empathy with the marginalized.”
   
Our world is, today, a swirling mass of fear, prejudice, hatred and injustice. Not that things have changed since we all landed east of Eden! But since the Ten Commandments failed to soften our hearts, God tried again. He sent us Jesus. With His Spirit coursing through our spiritual veins, we are suddenly graced with a heart for God, for others and for our own self. His shed blood has removed the plaque of sin and replaced our hearts of stone with ones of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Any residual hatred or closed-armed fear of “the other” (whatever that means for each one of us) can now be transformed to an open, grace-infused embrace. Jesus modeled it for us by sweeping up those kingdom-seeking children, laying his hands on them and blessing them. Who (and how) can we likewise bless today?

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: Sept 21 Edition

Mark 9:30-37
Gospel Lesson for Sunday Sept 23 2018

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

     “They did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” I am so aligned with the disciples on this reluctance to hear uncomfortable truth! Jesus had told his disciples before (and would tell them again) that he was to suffer and die but it was not computing… to the point that they just didn’t want to hear it. I wonder if their argument on the road about who was greatest wasn’t about which one of them was greatest, but perhaps was there another prophet—who didn’t feel the need to suffer and die—on whom they should pin their messianic hopes!
    Here Jesus is still in the process of teaching his disciples what they will need to know to carry on in his (physical) absence. Perhaps they had entered the second stage of the five stages of grief—anger—which led to their contentious conversation on the road. (I take Peter’s rebuke of Jesus [Mark 8:33] as stage one: denial!) Apparently, what Jesus wants them to understand right now is that leadership looks very different in his kingdom than in the kingdoms of this world. In God’s kingdom of peace, a little child can lead wild animals around without fear (Isaiah 11:6), just as Jesus asks his disciples to prepare to face and conquer evil in His powerful name.
   
Choosing a child as the symbol of our response to Christ is very revealing. Children then, as now, are the hope of the future and an expensive, time-intensive, albeit precious, investment in that future! They should be seen and not heard, quip those “sage” adults. Jesus proclaims that they and all the rest of God’s “children”—many of whom we don’t even want to see, let alone hear from—are the very ones he came to earth to bring into his kingdom. He seeks the powerless, dependent, naïve, ill-behaved, adorable or abhorrent ones among us, whether in our first or second childhoods! If we have welcomed, served and cared for the “least of these” said Jesus, we have done these things unto God himself (Matthew 25:40)! Hebrews 13:2 makes this kind of welcoming a great adventure, for who wouldn’t want to “entertain angels!”
   
We have all known people who can eyeball a roomful of people at a party and hone in on the “rich and famous,” ignoring everyone else. Jesus is letting us know that true leadership—servant leadership—means to go directly to the persons sitting shyly in the corner of the room convinced they arrived at this party by mistake! Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all (v. 35). Those clamoring for power have less chance of entering the kingdom than those who can center themselves in a child-like posture, openly trusting, freely receiving (Matthew 10:13-16).
   
What Jesus is talking about reminds me of the billboards summoning us to “Start seeing motorcycles.” Start seeing children. Start seeing women (Luke 7). Start seeing those who heretofore have been invisible to us as we have sought status rather than service, power instead of presence. If we cannot see (read: ‘welcome’) those among us who fly far under our social radar, we run the risk of missing Jesus himself. As Mother Teresa put it:

“Sometimes it is more difficult to work with street people than with the people in our homes for the dying because the dying are peaceful and waiting…but it is more difficult when these people are drunk or shouting to think that this is Jesus in that distressing disguise. How clean and loving our hands must be to be able to bring compassion to them!"

    Bonhoeffer wrote, “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” Jesus says, “Are you still looking for me? Welcome the children.”

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: Sept 7 Edition

James 2:1-10
(11-13);14-17
2nd Reading for 
Sunday Sept 9 2018

2My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say,” ‘Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

     I consider Jesus’ brother, James, and his one canonical book to be a valuable corrective to any view that right belief and great faith cover a multitude of sins.  In fact, it is love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).  And love is not recognizable except through actions. We can say “I love you” all day long but our actions do truly speak louder than words.
    James is apparently addressing his remarks here to the equivalent of what we still think of as the middle class, i.e., those who are not considered poor, but who are just “poor” enough to be tempted to curry favor with those wearing the designer clothes and the “bling.” Those, as James puts it in 2:6, who get the big tax breaks and haul others into court to leech even more from threadbare wallets.  Yes, they (and we) are very tempted to make sure the rich notice us while we scurry away from those “others” and seek to make sure the poor (the alien, the addicted…) remain as unseen as possible.  James goes so far as to say that any acts of favoritism belie any faith in Christ (2:1).  
   
I remember childhood warnings about “stranger danger.” I sometimes wonder if, as we grew up observing and absorbing all manner of prejudice (many put nearly every kind of stranger into the “dangerous” category), we lost touch with our common humanity and our common need for God’s forgiveness and grace.  ‘Xenophobia’ was a word I learned in grade school, a word meaning an intense or irrational fear of people from other countries or cultures. I learned the word, but only much later found the antidote in Christ.  But even with the cure available, the disease lingers.
   
Favoritism is based on selfishness and fear. The world calls it “sucking up” and we see it everywhere, including within ourselves and even in our Christian communities. Good manners may take care of the “superficials” of life, but any of us can base far too much on a first impression rather than an authentic encounter. God has chosen the weak of this world to shame the strong and foolish things to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27); yet we still want to cozy up to the principalities and powers of this world who only seek our demise.
   
In this world, we must pass laws to mandate equal treatment.  In God’s kingdom and with the power of His Spirit, the law of love prevails and each of us is and will be seen and treated as the royal sons and daughters of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  As the writer of Proverbs reminds us, “The rich and the poor have this in common… the Lord is the maker of them all (22:2).” In Christ, all artificial categories are tossed out and we have the upside-down-gospel world where the last shall be first and we who lose everything for God’s sake will find it all again…and more besides
    C.
S. Lewis wrote in his essay, The Weight of Glory:
“It is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.

    If, as James says, we see someone in need and all we do is say, “God bless you,” instead of being that blessing, our faith is dead. In the same essay, Lewis also said, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” It is apparent in Ephesians 2:8—10 that we may not be saved by works, but we are surely created to do them for our fellow immortals, lest our faith wither and die from lack of exercise!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: August 24 Edition

John 6:56-69

Gospel 
Reading 
for 
Sunday 
August 26 
2018

56"Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.” 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. 60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

   There have been times when we have had doubts about all sorts of things. Including God. Right? It’s not just me, I’m sure. Recall the worst disappointment in your life. Were you doubt-free then? How about when you had prayed so hard for something and God gave you something else altogether…or perhaps you thought God had nothing to do with it at all. Doubts? You bet. We don’t even have the alleged advantage of seeing God in the flesh like Jesus’ very first disciples did. “Alleged” because it didn’t stop even some of them from bailing because they just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) believe the hard sayings and embarrassing implications of this One who came among them in the name of God. When Jesus saw some of his followers drifting away, he gathered his beloved twelve and asked point-blank if they too wanted to go away. It is an interesting turn of phrase, ‘go away,’ for it alludes to walking on a different path, in a different direction and with someone other than Jesus.
    Jesus knew he was a treasure-trove of hard sayings and counter-cultural head-spinners at cross-purposes with all that seemed to make earthly sense both then and right now. As C. S. Lewis remarked, “If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” Who among any of us has not—ever-so-timidly perhaps—wondered if there might be less truth to what we’ve been taught than we used to think… or become so tired of not living up to what we know Jesus expects of us and unsure how to continue on this oh-so-narrow path? No, we cannot look at these disciples with anything like disdain, but rather with one question on our hearts. ‘So, what did they decide about Jesus and why?’ And a decision was definitely called for. We cannot be a passive follower of Christ; we won’t last! God has been challenging his people since the beginning: “Choose this day whom you will serve (Joshua 24:15).” While it is imperative that we choose, God has, at the same time, empowered us with the ability to choose so that we don’t even begin to imagine we are accomplishing our own salvation!
   
We often sing a short hymn during worship that begins: “Lord to whom can we go?” The disciples didn’t choose to stay with Jesus because they were towering spiritual giants or had some sort of gnostic inside track on truth. Peter had enormous struggles throughout the gospel story, not to mention the fact that they all fled Jesus at the end—at least for a time—when their presence would have meant so much to Jesus. No, those who then chose to stay with Jesus were not special but they were committed and they had discovered the one truth to which they would ultimately cling until death… Jesus had the words of eternal life. There was nowhere else to go; no other path led anywhere but back into darkness, deceit, defeat and death. Actually, they couldn’t have gotten away from his Presence if they had tried, as Psalm 139 would have reminded them: “Where can I go then from your Presence?” Where indeed could we go from that Presence that so troubles us at times and, at other times, fills us with overflowing joy?
   
After all our doubts and temptations and disappointments and rebellions, can we still say, “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God?” Take heart and listen to Maya Angelou as she gives voice to where some of us might be living right now as we make one sometimes difficult choice right after another to follow the Lord. She said, “I’m trying to be a Christian. I’m working at it, and I’m amazed when people walk up to me and say, ‘I’m a Christian.’ “ I think, “Already? Wow!” Already. Not yet. From the beginning of time. For all eternity. All we have to do is choose God who has already, in His infinite love, chosen us.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: August 10 Edition

Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Epistle Lesson for 
Sunday August 12 2018

25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

   In this passage from Ephesians, Paul is serving up a catalog of practical Christian virtues and urging us to live our lives in this way as a conscious response to what Christ has done for us. This consciousness of our redemption drives a grateful response and purposeful living.  If we feed on Jesus, we will be nourished and sustained by his Holy Spirit and enabled to behave the way Paul is teaching us in this passage. Otherwise, we would read this list and exclaim, “How is any of this possible?” To which God might reply, “I am only asking you to be who you already are, who I have already created and empowered you to be through my Spirit!”
    This is our baptismal reality: to shed the filthy rags of self-righteousness and put on the garments of grace and peace. This is the ‘rubber-hits-the-road’ dimension of being reborn and knit together into the body of Christ, only possible because God first forgave us and we, in turn, accepted that forgiveness. Thus, we are enabled to discern Paul’s call to holy living not as an impossible catalog of virtuous behaviors but as promises, as gifts rather than restrictions, as graces rather than goals. This is what it looks like to live the Christ-like life!
   
At first, trying to imitate God feels like wearing ill-fitting clothing. With practice, we will suddenly discover we are wearing our favorite outfit! We are summoned to put on our new identity, to “act as if” until it is no longer an act! (See Ephesians 4:22-24a as well as 1 Corinthians 15:31) We know this isn’t our natural inclination, which is why God has situated us in a community of like-Spirited folks where we can practice new behaviors, becoming spiritual parents, mentors, coaches and role models in the Faith. Our childhood imitations of our parents are reprised by imitating Christ to learn to be a child of God’s! Instead of learning polite manners at the family dinner table, we are learning how to eat and to serve at God’s banquet table!
   
Our biggest imitation overhaul may be how we handle anger. It is a troubling condition for most Christians. Some of us have even been taught that anger is a sin. But Scripture tells us that God himself gets angry; he may be slow to get there, but he has and will display righteous anger (Psalm 103:8) at violations against his infinite love. Anger is a feeling like any other, but one that we must harness and deal with or it will fester and infect us with physical and emotional illnesses and tatter the body of Christ with rancor. Nursing anger is not so different from fanning flames or sticking a finger in your own eye! If you’re angry, deal with it before day’s end! The Holy Spirit is grieved when anger crowds God’s love out of our hearts (Ephesians 3:17).
   
Christians have managed to promote “niceness” to the level of a Christian virtue; possibly to avoid the anger we aren’t sure how to handle! The consequent reluctance to be “unpleasant” results in anger harbored and festering in our hearts and in our relationships, creating a life of détente rather than one filled with the peace of God. And what makes us angry? Everything and everyone not yet forgiven within us. Anger is a secondary emotion arising out of our hurts, grief and pains, sometimes so deeply embedded that we don’t even connect them to what is currently triggering our anger.
   
Forgiveness may be the hardest work we do, but forgiveness is the only antidote to anger’s poison. The first step toward acquiring a forgiving spirit is to recognize how very much we ourselves have been forgiven. If we refuse to forgive (or refuse even to work toward a willingness to forgive), we are the ones who suffer the consequences. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” we pray each week. Do we mean it?
   
Let’s pray for courage to be who we are, live in God’s love, and get ready for what God has in store!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: July 27 Edition

John 6:1-21

Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday July 29 2018

6After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.  2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 55When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.

    The world hunger statistics for 2016 are staggering. Here are a few mind-numbing figures to ponder: 7,665,000 people die every year from hunger. 1,250,000 of them are children. 21,000 people will die of hunger today at a rate of one every 3.9 seconds. I won’t even trouble you with the number of people starving and suffering from malnutrition at this moment. And Americans, with all of our food-related health problems, still manage to throw away a good $165 billion in food each year.  0
    Notwithstanding the fact that world hunger is a bit more complicated than simply donating a few dollars to some centralized agency, it does make me wonder if we use Jesus’ words, “The poor you always have with you (John 12:8, Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7)” as an excuse to ignore their plight!  Being good Americans, of course, we all struggle to balance ‘American rugged individualism’ with our responsibilities to each other.
   
The disciples, and Philip in particular, are no different than we moderns are when it comes to having difficulty imagining beyond our status quo.  For Philip, there was no earthly way that they could feed that crowd with so little food.  Just simply no way!  And yet, Jesus, in his compassion and abundance, had a different vision.  With the help of his disciples who, in effect, acted as deacons for this Passover/Eucharistic meal, all were fed with leftovers to spare. In a world where scarcity and fear dominate the world’s approach to most things, this miracle is stunning in its display of God’s largesse. And here, too, we see how God employs his children to “distribute the miracle!”  
   
The entire Gospel of John focuses us on abundance as Jesus’ gift to us, whether it is the wine at the wedding in Cana or the bread recounted here.  Many believe in a God of abundance, but often live as though it is entirely appropriate to hoard their goods against some dark day ahead. That is not the Gospel and it certainly doesn’t attract anyone to Christ.  Frederick Nietzsche’s influence might have been profoundly different if he hadn’t had experiences with Christians that led him to remark, “Christians will have to look more redeemed if people are to believe in their Redeemer.”
   
We are bombarded on every side with the relentless temptation to believe we need things that we really and truly do not need.  We may decide we want them, but only because advertisers “have our number!”  So, by the time we wade through all the static recommending all the false needs, our need for God is perhaps the last thing we realize. A “still, small voice” is hard to hear underneath all the voices clamoring for our dollars and our souls. 
   
When the crowds realized what had just occurred—their miracle meal—they began to chase after Jesus with the intention of making him their king right on the spot!  After all, who wouldn’t want a miracle worker as their sovereign who could feed them so effortlessly? But Jesus was holding out for more—to be the Bread of Life (eternal life)—and so he fled from their short-sightedness, perhaps so that they would have a chance to reflect more deeply on what they just had experienced.  
   
When we face something in our lives that seems impossible, perhaps we can remember how Jesus tested Philip (read: each of us) to give him an opportunity to learn something more about himself and about the Lord.  Someone once said, “A test is used as much to reveal the student to the student, as the student to the teacher.”  Perhaps when Philip saw the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 his faith was expanded and his understanding of Jesus’ ministry was made clearer.  The next time we are overwhelmed with a seeming impossibility, may we look around with a keen eye because Jesus is always waiting to make his presence known where we least expect it. He loves to feed us with holy surprises!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: July 13 Edition

Mark 6:14-29

Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday July 15 2018

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18For John had been telling Herod, “‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

   There are so many parallels between what happened to John and what happened to Jesus.  The key resemblance is their courage and commitment to speak truth to power. Both initiated their ministry with almost the same message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near (See Matthew 3:2 and 4:17).”  And it is even more interesting to note that both Herod and Pilate were fascinated with John and Jesus respectively while, at the same time, they were very upset and frustrated by these men.  As Mark 6:20 has it, “When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.”  This verse is an indication that the Spirit was at work in Herod, but he had not yet allowed the Spirit to have its perfect work with him. John had made it clear to Herod that marrying his brother Philip’s wife was not a good thing and it was said that his wife seethed with rage over John’s pronouncement.  See Mark 15:1-15 for a similar dynamic (different circumstances) with Pilate and Jesus.  Truth does have consequences. 
    No one knows if Herod complied with his wife’s desire to behead John because he was drunk or because he thought he would lose face with everyone who had heard him make an outrageous promise to his step-daughter, a promise that his wife took advantage of to get rid of the moral voice of John in her life. Whatever the reason, the expediency of getting rid of John to further marital harmony didn’t work out so well for Herod.  The text for this Sunday begins with news about Jesus whom Herod decided must be John the Baptist raised from the dead.  Clearly, what he had done continued to weigh on his mind and heart.  We don’t know if his wife’s conscience engaged or not.
   
Herod’s story would have been completely different if he had taken John’s message to heart instead of simply listening to him like he was a religious curiosity.  Yes, there had been no prophets of God for about four centuries, so John was a unique voice. But the voice was aligned with all previous prophetic utterances and he was ultimately treated as so many of the prophets were treated. For Herod, as for us sometimes, the concerns and relationships of this world overshadowed the ultimate relationship he should have been cultivating with God.  And so, John’s voice was silenced.  Except that it wasn’t.  John’s prophetic presence continued as a backdrop to everything that was to come.
   
In the Old Testament (2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19), we read about another kind of dance altogether! You might call it a liturgical dance because David was dancing in joyful abandon before the Lord wearing perhaps even less than Herod’s daughter! David was dancing along with the entire house of Israel because they were bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the city of David, an ark that brought life to the people but death to those who neglected to take it seriously! In the midst of such utterly high and holy ceremonies, the people of Israel were so filled with joy that dancing was the natural result!  Today, particularly in church, if we feel that urge, we cross our legs and sit on our hands until it passes and we can return to pious quietude.  I imagine the Lord of the Dance is hoping that we would rather choose to gambol before him like innocent children or frolicking lambs. 
   
We have two dances set before us in these biblical stories… a dance of joyful, holy abandon before God or a dance of seductive manipulation and death to satisfy the lusts of the flesh. It is wise, therefore, for us, God’s children, to choose our dance partners with great care.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: June 29 Edition

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Epistle Reading for 
Sunday July 1 2018

7Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something—11now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’

   There are those faithful who believe that we must assure salvation for someone before helping with their temporal needs. Other Christians believe that by helping with someone’s needs we are opening them to the Gospel message. These two vantage points have remained in tension in the Christian church in America for decades.
    This week’s passage from Paul in his second letter to the church in Corinth is a follow-up to an ongoing need in the Jerusalem church.  Paul is encouraging surrounding communities to engage in the sort of divine generosity that they have already experienced in Christ and, in this way, to display their faith for all to see.  Paul is calling on the church to share freely out of its abundance as witness to the grace it has been given.  Someone once penned this fitting acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense = GRACE.
   
It is hard not to see our country as one huge rich man, outrageously affluent, who has decided to worship mammon. Matthew 19:24 reminds us all that "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Americans have reached “system overload” about the cognitive dissonance between our abundance and the world’s travail; one can only see so many traumatized children, mud huts or bomb-blasted towns on television and the internet before the heart hardens and the mind says, “No more!”  “Live simply that others may simply live” is a statement variously attributed to Gandhi or Mother Teresa, but whoever coined the term could have no more accurate target than America and American Christians. We are the precise people to whom much has been given and, therefore, from whom much is expected.
   
“Consider the lilies of the field” (Matthew 6:28) remains a benchmark for each of us as uber-consumers. We are not called (in this passage at least) to “sell all” and give to the poor.  Here Paul is just talking about simple balance within the Christian community so that “the one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little (2 Corinthians 8:15).”  Who we are in Christ (i.e., his heirs) is what determines what we have on earth and how we steward it. Yes, the word is “steward,” not “own” because all things in heaven and on earth belong to the Lord; we are to be the guardians of all of that…earth, animals and each other.  Ownership is provisional at best; it helps us order our communities, but it is not supposed to be our goal. 
   
He or she who has the most toys, not only doesn’t “win,” but has slid into a fundamentally disobedient stance to God and God’s grace.  We are to be conduits of generosity, not bottlenecks. We are given abundance so that we might also give abundantly (see 9:8). And the giving is of ourselves, not only our goods, lest this be mistaken as simply an issue of dollars and cents.
   
When God provided manna in the wilderness (see Exodus 16), these same principles applied.  It was provided for each day (“give us this day our daily bread”) and when anyone attempted to hoard it, it turned to rot.  With all the advanced ways to “preserve” things, we may not notice the rot right away, but that rot begins at a soul level before it hits our pantry! Walter Brueggemann once wrote, “When people forget that Jesus is the bread of the world, they start eating junk food.” When the Hebrews went from having their needs satisfied to demanding their wants also be satisfied, the Psalmist recounts that God “sent leanness to their souls (Psalm 106:15).”
   
According to chaos theory, small changes in one place can yield massive changes elsewhere.  It’s called “the butterfly effect” because the famous theoretical example is of a hurricane's formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before.  Christians can foster that same butterfly effect in our churches and in the world with the smallest of adjustments to our lifestyle for the sake of the Kingdom. As Peter said in Acts 3:6, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you.”  What adjustment can we make?

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: June 15 Edition

Mark 4:26-34

Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday June 17
2018

26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. 

    My grandma used to talk about “volunteer” plants and trees that would sprout here and there on her property.  She explained that the birds had inadvertently scattered those seeds as they flew from tree to tree with a beak full of food. These new plants didn’t necessarily appear in an expected location (no formal gardens at grandma’s house!). I visualized this as I read Mark’s Parable of the Growing Seed.
    As each of us does the work of the sower (scattering the seeds given us according to our gifts), the wind of the Spirit will send those seeds exactly where they need to be, regardless of our best-laid schemes!  Our part in this process is to be sure we are scattering those seeds, i.e., following the will of our Lord day-by-day so that our words and actions draw others toward God.  And as we go about our days, we “sleep and rise” while the seeds take root and grow.  It is not our role to hover over the seeds we have scattered as a young child might do, pulling up the new shoots to see if the vegetables are growing. We are not to fret about the “fruits of our labors” but to allow the Spirit to do the work of implanting the seeds into the hearts of men and women because that is God’s work to do.  God asks us to participate with him, but we are not “in charge” of the process, nor could we be in our finitude and short-sightedness. As the parable says, we don’t know how the seed grows, only that it will.
Here is how Luther handled Mark 4:26: “After I preach my sermon on Sunday, when I return home, I drink my little glass of Wittenberg beer and I just let the gospel run its course.”
   
We have been enjoined to be rooted and grounded (Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 2:7), then commissioned to scatter seeds of faith, love, hope, forgiveness, mercy and grace, showering the whole endeavor with prayer. In our age of ‘instant everything’ what a profound reminder that the conversion of a soul takes time! God’s time, not ours.  It is God who created the seed that we broadcast and only God can properly till the soul’s soil to bring that seed to life in each of our hearts.  
    But we do get to participate in the harvest!  Eventually, the growth that has happened within the hearts and minds of those around us will begin to be seen and we have then (to mix the metaphor to a fare-thee-well!) the glorious role of shepherding, discipling and be-friending the new growth, the re-born in the family of God…sharing the milk of salvation with babes in Christ as we once were (1 Peter 2:2). Many times, we are harvesting where another one planted (John 4:37).  Likewise, we may not see the direct fruits of our own labors during our lifetime.  This is yet another dimension to the mystery of being part of the Body of Christ.
    As we labor with faith and confidence in our God-given vineyard, we can join the apostle Paul as he proclaims, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: June 1 Edition

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)

Old Testament Reading for 
Sunday 
June 3
2018

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11Then the Lord said to Samuel, “ See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” 15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.”18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” 19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

    During a chapel address in my college days, one of my theology professors caused an uproar among students and faculty when he challenged us to respond to the currently popular lyrics of a song sung by Peggy Lee entitled “Is That All There is?” Here is the refrain:

“Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is.”

    It would have been scandalous enough if he had been promoting the idea of breaking out the booze on this teetotaling campus or dancing in this ‘no social dancing’ sub-culture. But that wasn’t his point. He was asking us to reflect on the song’s title because at the time he himself was experiencing a spiritually dry season and God’s voice had grown particularly faint. His chapel address was as much a call for help in discerning God’s voice again as it was a questioning of God’s existence. This was also the era when the “death of God” movement was rumbling through the theological community. Add to that the upheaval of many American cultural norms in the 60s and the picture is painted; God’s voice was elusive, if not completely abandoned.
    Things aren’t so very different today as we reluctantly identify our society as post-Christian and wring our hands over the “graying of the Church.” Samuel’s call comes in the context of a culture where “All people did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).” We are experiencing a cultural decline in Christianity in the West even as the movement of the Spirit has exploded in the “Two-Thirds World.” In this way, we can view this passage from 1 Samuel as a tale of old Eli… senses in decline, giving way to young Samuel who will become the conduit for God’s voice once again being heard in Israel.
   
This passage begins with a verse that my college professor would have identified with: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread (v. 1).” In fact, people were not really listening to God in those days and so God was not doing much talking! God is all about relationships and it is no accident that silence has often been viewed as a form of divine judgment. Israel was headed for disaster if it did not begin to seek God’s voice. (See these few passages for examples of how God deals with those who stop listening: 1 Samuel 28; Psalm 74:9; Isaiah 29:9-14; Micah 3:6-7; also Proverbs 29:18).
   
As blogger Daniel Clendenin wrote, “It's a chilling thought to imagine that God might grant humanity's request for autonomy, that He could honor our insistence that He leave us alone, or that He would stop speaking as a consequence of our not listening. Perhaps His last, terrifying word to us might be, ‘I have answered your prayers and now grant you the horrible freedom you have craved. Since you are so disinterested as not to listen, I will no longer speak. From now on, the only voices you will hear will be your own.’”
   
But thanks be to God! We are loved and we are called (Romans 8:29) and, when we are faithful, we do try to listen. Samuel answered his call with the help of his master Eli. And Christ came to give back to us the ability to answer our call. We have been baptized into the life and call of God; yet sometimes the call is drowned out by the exigencies of our lives, and his voice can blend into voices that veer us off God’s path. May we attune our ears, sharpen our eyes and align our hearts anew to the voice of God in our lives because God is patiently listening for our voice to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: May 18 Edition

Acts 2:1-21 &
Romans 8:22-27

2nd Readings for 
Sunday 
May 20
2018

Acts 2:1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 
17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,  and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ “

Romans 8:22 "We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

    Tertullian, an early church father, is famous for saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”  On Pentecost Sunday, we are awash in red which, of course, also symbolizes the tongues of fire which danced on the heads of all present in the upper room when the Spirit came upon them in power. Jesus had asked the disciples to remain in the city until this happened and they obeyed (Luke 24:49).  Their patience and their obedience allowed God to begin the next chapter in his story of redemption and renewal!  
    And I’ll bet those bewildered ones were stunned by the immensity of what happened.  Everyone was “lit up” by the Spirit as though drunk on “spirits,” hearing, speaking to and understanding those of every tongue and nation represented on that day when the ‘Tower of Babel’ was razed. The very breath of God sailed into that room and exhaled new and eternal life into those awaiting it, with (might I say it?) bated breath! Even as God breathed life into Adam, so again, He breathed new life into those who would obey him and share with others their witness to this new and abundant life.
   
The Holy Spirit (Advocate, Comforter, Counselor, Sanctifier, Intercessor…) still comes to us even as God lives within us.  As Paul says in Romans, “…the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now… (8:22).”  We have been given God’s Spirit and yet we are still earth-bound, subject to “the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to (Shakespeare, Hamlet’s soliloquy).” And so we live a paradoxical life.  On the one hand is the hope of our salvation and, on the other, the trials and tribulations we both experience and observe in our fallen, struggling world.
   
But Paul proceeds to give us confidence when he says, in Romans 8:26, “...the Spirit helps us in our weakness.”  We may be bowed down by pain; we may have an empty tank of hope or patience at the moment, but God’s Spirit is interceding for us with prayers that are truer and more needful than anything we can come up with on our own.  He does, indeed, know us better than we know ourselves and wants better things for us than we can ever imagine. We are never alone; we always have God’s Spirit praying within us and we have the church universal, as well as the church triumphant rooting for us and standing with us. Whether we always see it or not; we can count on the truth of it. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7),” so that from our baptism by water to our baptism by fire, we will grow up into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).
   
Why, then, does it seem as though the tongues of flame have been reduced to a flickering light and the winds of the Spirit have calmed to an almost eerie stillness? When the Spirit came upon them in that room so long ago…that place where they had waited until the Advocate (or Counselor) arrived (John 15:26), the first thing they did was speak! They were infused with the ability to tell the Story to all and sundry, using whatever language would lay bare the hearts of their listeners! Proclaiming the Good News became the natural next step when God’s Spirit blew through the door! We have been given our voice and the breath of God to speak about God’s deeds of power (Acts 2:11b). And, we can just as easily quench the fire of God’s Spirit by keeping our mouths shut.
   
The anointing of the Spirit has bestowed gifts for each of us to steward. So, on this Day of Pentecost celebration, let us set our sails to follow the wind of the Spirit, take a deep, Spirit-filled breath, and proclaim Him to the world in word and deed!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

 

Weekly e-Devotion: May 4 Edition

John 15:9-17
Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday May 6 
2018

9 "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

    “If you keep my commandments,” Jesus said, “you will abide in my love.” He also said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:30).”  And, in John, we read how obeying God is the key to our most profound joy and abundant life. This is the kind of obedience that reaps rich rewards, not the kind that is the result of soul-killing subservience or robotic adherence to a set of rules. Galatians 6:2 enjoins us to “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  And so the “labors of love” that arise out of our obedience to Christ are not a burden, but a great and satisfying joy. This is the divine exchange…God’s life for ours…for us and for the life of the world.  
    Friends might have some rules of engagement, but rules are superseded and adjusted by mutual regard and respect. Jesus calls us his friends, of all things!  We are the friends of God Almighty! According to religious historians, John’s readers would have recognized friendship as the highest form of love!  In C. S. Lewis’ book, The Four Loves, there is a passage about the dignity and lofty nature of friendship:

“ Lovers are always talking to one another about their love, friends hardly ever about their friendship. Lovers are normally face-to-face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros (while it lasts) is necessarily between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for friendship, is not even the best. And the reason for this is important. ... In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. ...Hence true friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, ‘Here comes one who will augment our loves. For in this love "to divide is not to take away.’ ”

    We are to love others as Christ has loved…the tax collectors, the outcast Samaritans (insert contemporary marginalized group here), the leprous, the prostitutes, the ever-failing disciples (that would be us!), the constant stream of enemies, both personal and, these days, political. How do we do this? “Imitate God like dearly loved children. Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us (Ephesians 5:1-2).”  Real love and true obedience are two sides of the same Christian coin. Sacrificial acts arising out of our own self-interests are typically burdensome and become toxic soil in which resentments flourish. Those acts are obedience to something other than love. 
    But each seemingly small sacrifice of our ego, our time, and our cherished priorities bears eternal fruit that we may never see or, if we do, the fruit might seem small indeed.  But from God’s vantage point, that fruit has an entire vineyard’s worth of value to him, to the recipient, to those who might see or experience benefits from that work and, of course, to us as well as it brings us deeper into Who love is and how love is experienced.
   
The Dalai Lama tells the story of a Tibetan monk who, when asked what he feared most while in prison, responded, “I was afraid I might lose my compassion for my torturers.” If we cannot fathom loving this radically, we can use the prayer of martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero as he faced his inevitable assassination: “I can’t. You must. I’m yours. Show me the way.” Amen.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: April 20 Edition

John 10:11-18

Gospel Lesson for Sunday April 22 2018

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

   Jesus wants us to know him as the Good Shepherd. The responsibilities of a good shepherd include feeding and watering, grooming and shearing, delivering lambs and, of course, guiding, leading and protecting the flock. From that we can deduce that a bad shepherd would neglect the care and feeding of his sheep, allow them to go hungry and thirsty and to appear bedraggled and dirty.  A bad shepherd would not care enough to protect the sheep from predators and would lead them into anything but the “still waters” of Psalm 23. 
    So much of scripture extends the metaphor of sheep and shepherds as archetypes of God and his people.  It was a readily identifiable way to communicate their relationship with the Almighty in that ancient time. Today, we find it quaint and think mostly of pastoral scenes from art history class. Ironically, “pastoral,” as a mode of literature, art or music, is sometimes described as one in which the author or artist employs various techniques to place our complex life into a more simple setting. To me, that is a gospel way to see pastoral imagery!  Christ is giving us not only an abundant life, but ah, a simpler one. Good news times two!
   
The early readers of John would have had a rich context in which to place Jesus as shepherd, notably David, the shepherd king, and the Psalms, as in this week’s Old Testament reading, Psalm 23. However, their understanding of shepherd was not without contradictions.  Shepherds lived on the periphery of society and were a rather disheveled, sometimes even unscrupulous bunch… grazing their sheep on someone else’s land, for example. In other words, given a choice, sheep would no doubt choose a good shepherd over a bad one.  We must then ask ourselves if we have made the same choice!
   
Yes, we claim to follow Christ and, yet, we also follow many other shepherds, those wolves in sheep’s garb who, in fact, seek to lead us very far from Christ. We all too often “follow the money” in our pursuit of happiness and security rather than believing that God, in Christ, will provide our every need. (See 1 Timothy 6:10 for how this plays out!)  I do not mean that we sit back and passively wait for all things needful to land in our laps; rather, the pursuit of money should take a back seat to the pursuit of God.  To reverse that is to lose both God and any “rich,” abundant life, regardless of our apparent “success.”
   
The great divide between those ersatz shepherds (see Ezekiel 34:2-6 for a vivid description of these false, misleading shepherds) and the Good Shepherd is this one thing: Jesus laid down his life for us wayward, easily distracted sheep.  Unconditional, profoundly unselfish, and indiscriminate love for each one of us—regardless of what “flock” he finds us in—is how we recognize our true shepherd.  I remember the old RCA Victor logo of the dog peering into the “speaker” of an old gramophone with the tag line “The Master’s Voice.” That dog, like the sheep in God’s pastures, recognized his master’s voice and patiently sat down to listen to it.  Our Shepherd has laid down his life for his sheep, for us.  He has fed us with spiritual food, given us the waters of life, shorn from us all vestiges of sin, made us truly “whiter than snow,” and now leads us into all truth and empowers us to be imitators, to be good shepherds for others…whether we are teachers, pastors, friends or parents! The hireling will take his money and run; the good shepherd will spread the wealth of God with any who have need (1 John 3:18).
   
This week’s Gospel describes our Good Shepherd. This week’s Epistle (1 John 3:16-24) describes his flock! God himself is seen in the outcast Samaritan, the dubious shepherd, the stranger with nowhere to lay his head and, then, the sacrificial lamb. We would do well to be on the lookout for these kinds of characters because, when we listen very closely to them, I think we will hear our Master’s Voice.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

 

Weekly e-Devotion: April 6 Edition

John 20:19-31
Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday
April 8 2018

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 

   Those who have traveled the road of Christian spirituality for a long time are mostly of the opinion that the road is ultimately easier to traverse if you allow doubt its rightful role in the process. If you journey without ‘doubt’ as one of your navigational tools, you will be subject to taking any set of directions literally and stubbornly, and that might just land you in a ditch—or worse! Without allowing the full range of normal human reactions to incredible events (doubt, as much as wonder and joy), we are much more likely to fall for all manner of “fake news” even on the religious front! 
    I have thanked God more than once for the inclusion of Thomas’ story in the gospels, especially having grown up in a religion of black-and-white certainties. There is nothing more death-dealing than a set of ‘rights and wrongs,’ ‘shalts and shalt nots’ that allows no shadow of doubt, nuance of meaning… or even room for God’s Spirit to intervene. It is no sign of weakness to admit that we all doubt from time to time. It is closer to a sign of deepening wisdom. We’ve all experienced it; one day our faith can be robust and invigorating and the next day…whomp! Yesterday’s certainties are fodder for today’s doubts and uncertainties.
   
Our illusion that those great exemplars of the saints of God could not have doubted has been repeatedly shattered by simply reading their memoirs. C. S. Lewis had great doubts as his wife lay dying of cancer; Mother Teresa had a virtual backdrop of doubt as she went about doing good year after year; St. John of the Cross spoke of the dark night of the soul, giving expression to many who might otherwise have despaired. Martin Luther doubted. A lot!  
   
Anfechtungen is the German word Luther employed to describe those spiritual attacks that he said “kept people from finding certainty in a loving God.” What Luther did with these repeated seasons of doubt was to turn them into opportunities of grace, to choose to fall back into the arms of his Father and rely on God’s Word alone. Instead of allowing any complex of feelings and ill thoughts to defeat his faith, Luther purposely re-focused and re-centered his attention on the eternal God. Luther also used distractions (including a couple tankards of ale!), Christian fellowship and the perspective-adjusting, curative powers of nature to restore him to his humanity and to remind him of God’s true presence even as he felt most keenly God’s apparent “absence.”
   
And by all accounts, Luther had some rather tortuous and prolonged bouts with doubts about his faith - his standing in Christ, his eternal reward, even whether God was still listening to his prayers - to the point that his friend, Philip Melanchthon, said his terrors became so severe that Luther almost died! That is truly wrestling with one’s demons! And yet that was exactly the period during which he wrote “A Mighty Fortress is our God!”
   
The Reformation could be said to be the result of Luther’s doubts as much as his faith because his doubts about his ability to please God through his own efforts resulted in the realization that it was only because of God’s gift of grace through his Son Jesus that any of us become righteous! And what an abundance of grace and mercy was unleashed through Luther’s struggles with his doubts! In the midst of the inevitable periods of spiritual dryness and discouragement that are part and parcel of the human condition, may we like Luther…and like Thomas…seek our assurances from the God who has already so richly blessed us and who (as Isaiah 49:16 tells us) has engraved our names on the palm of his hand!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

 

Weekly e-Devotion: March 23 Edition

Mark 15:1-39
Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday
March 25 2018

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” 3Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed. 6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.9Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort.17And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. 25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ 27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him. 33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

    Not unlike Hamlet did Jesus “…suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as he experienced the fickle nature of the humanity he loves so much.  He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, the ironic conquering hero, with shouts of “Hosanna” (transliterated: “save us”) ringing in his ears; shortly thereafter came the cry, “Crucify Him” as they draped him in purple and mocked him with the title, “King of the Jews” because this was in no way the kind of King or savior they wanted or were expecting.  Nor, left to our own sin-ravaged devices, is he really what we would prefer. We, too, might look for someone who would save us only from our enemies and not from ourselves.
    We see in Mark’s gospel the jealous politicos, the swollen egos, the fearful leaders and even a traitorous follower, all conspiring to make sure that this Jesus does not get any more popular with the people or take any more authority away from them than he already has.  Oh, if they only knew with whom they were dealing!  In true gospel fashion, the only one who seemed to “get” who Jesus was during this passion narrative was the Roman centurion who crucified Jesus and watched him die!  He declared, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39). This humble Son showed us the Father...who he is and how he acts and how we are to imitate him.  And so from now through Good Friday, we travel from swaying palms to bloody passion, from Christ as hero to Christ as suffering servant. We watch Jesus literally “love us to death” and beyond.
   
I remember the first time I participated in a recitation of the passion narrative.  It was the congregation’s role to act as the mob who yelled out those fateful words, “Crucify Him!” I remember being embarrassed and ashamed to actually give voice to the words that sprang from that rabble as the chief priests incited their mob-like passions.  I could hardly raise my voice above a whisper.  And yet, those are the very words each of us must repent of because they are the words that announce themselves with each thought and action that is not a fruit of our relationship with God in Christ. We risk siding with the rabble when we neglect to follow our Lord to the foot of the cross and then, with God’s help, to stand up and go forth to do those things he has commanded us to do. 
   
The passion story of our Lord is filled with intrigue and a plot that thickens beyond all imagining that should have us flipping the pages of Scripture and wondering, in classic reader’s mode, “What will happen next?” And yet, it all too easily becomes more tiring than inspiring through the re-telling.  ‘Bible language’ may be part of the reason, but I also suspect the story can lack punch for us to the degree that we don’t see ourselves as participants.  This story is not only about Jesus; it’s about us.  It is his passion for us and it is our passion as we seek to rip away the cords of death that bind us and embrace the newness of life promised to us in our baptism.  When we read this age-old story without understanding that this is “the greatest story ever told” and that it is the story of our lives - as much as it was for those who experienced it in the year A.D. 33 - we have completely missed the essence of the plot.  Our “What will happen next?” will be proclaimed next Sunday and it is the most wondrous ending to any story.  EVER!  Read it and ponder where you fit in God’s great drama.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

 

Weekly e-Devotion: March 9 Edition

John 3:14-21
Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday
March 11 2018

14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”* 

    This Sunday’s Gospel passage contains what is perhaps the most famous, oft-quoted New Testament verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” The entire passage from John dovetails almost seamlessly with the Pauline passage from Ephesians.  And since we are more than halfway through Lent, it’s probably time for a little grace!  Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).” What a relief! In fact, even our faith is a gift from God.  We have done absolutely nothing to earn God’s unmerited favor toward us. We have nothing to offer God but our repentant hearts. 
Ephesians 2:1-10 is a template in three parts for any story of personal redemption.  It is interesting that speakers at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (a group based largely on Christian understandings), employ a similar template: (1) What it was like, (2) What happened, and (3) What it’s like now. So, here is our story:

  1. Our beginning state is summed up in Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We choose to sin; no one has to train their children to do the wrong thing, just the right thing!  To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, hell is a door locked from the inside.  Peel away the rationalizations of peer pressure, “keeping up with the Joneses,” or the ever-popular, “I’m the victim here!” and we see Satan at work…making sure our desires for the things of this world trump any longing for God and grace that is struggling to grow in us like a flower that wants to push up from a small crack in the cement! It has been said that often when we run from God, it is not that we’re running from his punishment so much as we are running from his rescue! We’re really not sure we want the things of God more than the things of this passing-away world.
  2. What God does about our predicament: God goes relentlessly after us until we have that wondrous, miraculous moment where, by faith, we decide to let God be God in our lives and save us from ourselves! In the midst of our defaced, disgraced, rebellious out-of-whack life, comes a “But God” moment where God, in his infinite mercy, picks up the divine paintbrush and begins to restore and re-create us back into his master work!
  3. What it’s like for us now: As God’s “work in progress,” he sends us back into the world to bring other damaged “works of art” back to him for restoration!  He would like to put his master signature on each of our lives.

    We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works (v. 10).” The answer to the age-old question, “Why was I born?” is here stated… We are created for good works. Our good works won’t save us, but they do proclaim the fruit of our faith (see James 2:17). 
    May we see our lives not as our personal agenda fraught with many interruptions, but, as Henri Nouwen came to understand, as comprised of and defined precisely by those very “interruptions!”  Frederick Buechner expressed it this way: “…little by little, compassionate love begins to change from a moral exercise or from a matter of gritting our teeth and doing our good deed for the day, into a joyous, spontaneous, self-forgetting response to the most significant aspect of all reality, which is that the world is holy because God made it and so are every one of us as well.”
   
If Lent can afford us a “holy death” unto resurrected life, it will have served its purpose.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

 

Weekly e-Devotion: February 23 Edition

Mark 8:31-38
Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday
February 25 2018

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

    Peter had been with Jesus long enough to have absorbed quite a bit about him… his attitudes, his responses to things, his wisdom and his mission.  But when Jesus began to share the first details of God’s end-game with Peter and the other disciples, it came as such a shock that Peter did what Peter often did; he led with his mouth! And Jesus, knowing who had whispered in Peter’s ear, rebuked Satan who had entered Peter’s heart and mind (and mouth) and attempted, yet again, to tell Jesus he couldn’t or shouldn’t do what he came to do. 
    The frightening thing is that, without realizing it, we also can be “Satan” to each other. How often have we discouraged someone from taking a course of action, even though we don’t have all the facts.  Perhaps we are afraid for our children as they attempt to spread their wings. Maybe we think we know better than someone else how they should live their lives.  Whatever it is, we run the risk of speaking words to others that may not be God’s words to them. We may speak words of death, not life, if we, even for a moment, forget who we really are before God.
   
The disciples had signed on to follow Jesus and that meant they were “all in” as the saying goes.  Maybe they hadn’t yet played out the scenario where they might actually have to die for him.  They’d heard the parables but perhaps had not attached the ultimate price tag to their commitment. When Jesus asks us to take up our cross and follow him, he is asking us to nail to his cross our self-created identities and let us be of the same mind as Jesus regarding the non-sense of clinging to our mortal lives at the expense of our immortal souls. The cross we take up with him is one he helps us to carry.
   
Giving up our evening libation for Lent is one thing; giving our lives as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) is quite another.  I know I have crawled off many an altar out of fear of the “cost of discipleship” (cf., Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book by the same name). Bonhoeffer reminds us that when Christ calls a man (or woman), he bids him come and die.  And, in Bonhoeffer’s case, that is exactly what happened.  
   
I think we would rather not consider that it isn’t enough to say we follow Christ if there are no indentations on our shoulders from the cross we carry in his name.
   
We do tend to learn more from our struggles than our easy wins. The hard times are what separate the pilgrims from the tourists!  It’s relatively easy to be a Christian when no one is bugging you, no illness has felled you, and all is well with your world.  When the harsh winds of change begin to blow, the pilgrim who is committed to The Way has the necessary gear to withstand whatever forces swirl along the pilgrim path. The tourists will merely change their destination.
   
Lent reminds us that the path to resurrection runs right through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus told us he gave his life in exchange for ours.  And our call is to do the same. A tourist might buy a cross to wear as adornment; a pilgrim carries Christ’s cross as both sacrifice and transformed life. One will tarnish, the other will transform.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: February 9 Edition

Mark 9:2-9
Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday February 11 2018

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

   Our scriptural journey of faith has brought us from the distant pinpoint of a guiding star all the way to the magnificent radiance of a mountaintop transfiguration! Light abounds, guiding us on our way as we seek to follow our Savior. With this last ‘epiphany’ before Lent begins, we read a story about the ups and downs of discipleship…times when we see clearly and times when we must stumble faithfully along a path with, at best, flickering light. I am guessing that most of our spiritual lives are experienced in “ fits and starts” of blinding light and overpowering shadows.
 After this overwhelming “reveal,” Jesus asked his disciples to keep this piece of their story to themselves until they had the final chapter…his resurrection! Considering their terror at this dazzling sight, they probably thought it would be a very good idea not to tell too many people…especially since words were failing them anyway!
     Ever since the Transfiguration, “mountaintop experiences” have stood for those special times when we saw ourselves and our Lord more clearly than we seem able to see down in the muck and mire of daily life. And who among us would not want to build a lean-to and continue to breathe that rarified air as long as we possibly could?
     The Transfiguration was the way God chose to make abundantly clear to Peter, James and John that Jesus was not just the latest and greatest in a long line of pseudo-saviors, rebel rabbis or political poseurs. Jesus was on an equal human footing with the likes of Moses and Elijah, those pillars of Judaism.  With one difference. God announced that Jesus was his beloved Son and they were to listen to him. God didn’t negate or minimize Moses and Elijah; he put them in perspective vis a vis Jesus. And with those words ringing in the disciples’ ears, they descended the mountain to continue on the Way.
     That’s what happens with these experiences.  During my convent “mountaintop,” I thought I would be able to live in sublime monastic seclusion for the rest of my days, but God had other plans!  The disciples, perhaps still stumbling a bit from the change in light, had to come down from their mountain as well.  But that does not mean that, like Mary, they - and we - do not ponder these things in our hearts forever. In 2 Peter 1:16-18, Peter reflects on his mountaintop time. “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain (v. 18).”  This was not theory; they experienced something that has been shared for over 2,000 years!
     Hikers know it is more difficult to descend than ascend a trail, much harder on the legs, for sure. As we spiritually and emotionally descend the mountain of holidays and epiphanies to enter into the darker regions of Lent and Good Friday (in fact, the darker regions of our lives), we can find deep comfort in the fact that God descended not just from a mountain, but from heaven itself to be with us in our darkest places and offer to light our way, lighten our loads and give us the candlepower, if you will, to enlighten our world! In the process, we might just catch a glimpse of our fellow sojourners transfigured before us to add joy and strength to our days.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: January 26 Edition

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Epistle Reading for 
Sunday January 28 2018

1Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone ho loves God is known by him.4 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 55Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— 6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling-block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall. 

   We live in a culture that is “all about me.” The concept of a “selfie” should tell us something about the fact that the earth no longer revolves around the sun, but around each one of us!  So, to read Paul instructing Christians to defer to someone else’s convictions on something as seemingly trivial as a menu choice is pretty tough sledding for most 21st century American Christians. Truly, we have mostly lost sight of the concept of boundaries inherent in any social contract which (in simplistic terms) presumes that my freedom is limited precisely at the point where it intersects with your freedom. Freedom and obedience can only work together in a sentence that includes Christ! 
    Paul, in this wonderful teaching epistle to the young Corinthian Christians, is attempting to form their spiritual character and conscience amidst a diverse set of cultural norms and expectations, which we can surely identify as similar to our society today.  Our world is hamstrung on the one hand by “political correctness” and, on the other, by a lack of social parameters around appropriate behavior.  We need Paul’s guidance as much as the Corinthians did. Paul is attempting to introduce what I think of as “moral etiquette” into our interactions with our fellow Christians and also with the world as Christians are forced to defend or explain other Christians’ actions on the public stage.
   
What is juxtaposed in this passage is our freedom in Christ with our responsibility toward others or, better said, the knowledge we have with the love we share.  The thrust of it all is that people are more important than practices and there is more involved in any issue than simply winning (or being “right”). Doing the right thing, even if we must sacrifice something (often a bit of pride or convenience) to avoid hampering another’s faith, seems to be the lesson here. As any parent knows, you love your children more than those things you give up for their sakes. To be able to say we will never again do something if it jeopardizes the faith of a “weaker” brother or sister is Christian maturity—agapé love—in full flower.
   
Never, in my lifetime at least, has it seemed more imperative that Christians act with forbearance and forgiveness to those others in the faith community with whom we have profound disagreements. If we cannot serve the world from a position of unity and hospitality, I fear the voice of Christ will continue to be dangerously muted and unintelligible to those he came to save. James 4:17 says this about an arrogant disregard for the convictions of others (or the avoidance of living responsibly from our own convictions!): “Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.”
   
As it turns out, one of the gifts of the ecumenical movement has been knowledge of how other groups of Christians have responded to various issues and challenges of life and how that can help us more fully discern God’s will in the world. This is an antidote to becoming imperious “know-it-alls” who even repel Christians from Christianity! God’s ways are not our ways; therefore, we must impose love - not judgment - in our dealings with each other. We are not called to give up our convictions but to truly listen to the convictions of others and devise a path where each may walk with integrity, without becoming a stumbling block (Romans 14:13). May our only goal be to do the (sometimes) hard work to clear the path for others to come near to God.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: January 12 Edition

1 Samuel 3:1-10

First Reading
for Sunday 
January 14 2018

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

    Is there anyone in the world who feels adequately loved and appreciated?  I have spent precious years of life in creative attempts to fill that which Pascal referred to as my “God-shaped vacuum” with everything under the sun so that I won’t despair or be forced to face any sort of existential aloneness. St. Augustine, alas, had it right: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”  
    However, as anyone in any significant relationship knows…as much as we desire intimacy, we also run from it.  We don’t actually want anyone to know absolutely everything about us.  As soon as Adam and Eve ate that fateful fruit, they hid from God and abandoned the intimacy they had experienced with the Almighty. We, in fact, often hide the truth of ourselves from ourselves! 
    The Samaritan woman called for everyone to come and see the Man who told her everything she had ever done.  I don’t recall a long line forming.  One of the reasons our forebears joined the chorus to “eliminate” Jesus was precisely his laser-focus on who we really are; humanity in its fallen state does not want to be “hemmed in” (Psalm 139:5) by God.
    Francis Thompson’s poem “The Hound of Heaven” captures this sense of our futile quest to find an easier god than God.  From the first stanza: 

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears 
I hid from Him,

But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’

    Luther wrote that whatever we fear or love or trust the most is, de facto, our god.  And if that is not God himself, inevitably, it will fail us.  To paraphrase Thompson, ‘All things betray us if they substitute for God.’ The Living God will be God in our lives, one way or another. The very thing we fear most (intimacy with God) is also the thing we most need.  As someone once said while going through extreme trials, “At times like this, I am glad I don’t have to go to God as a stranger.” 
    Foolish children, we who flee from our own salvation!  God knows us down to our fundamental particles—all the quarks and the quirks of us—from the first moment of our conception and before. And still he loves us with an all-surpassing, all-encompassing love we cannot even pretend to understand or fully apprehend. How freeing it is to know that we cannot hide from God!  Psalm 139 is a declaration that we are never alone, never unloved, never unknown and never misunderstood. 
    The sanctity of life has been under attack since Cain murdered Abel. Before abortion, capital punishment or euthanasia became pitched battles in the culture wars, the Psalmist David was extolling the preciousness of human life… each one of us, unique as a snowflake, beloved of God.  What self-esteem issues can stand in the face of such honor? If you look in a mirror and don’t like what you see, look very carefully because Jesus is beside you and he is smiling!
    Paul was convinced that absolutely nothing on earth or in heaven could separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). And Jesus—Love Himself—said, “Lo, I am with you always (Matthew 28:20).”  For God’s loving, relentless pursuit of us, thanks be to God!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: December 29 Edition

Galatians 4:4-7

Epistle Lesson for Sunday
December 31 2017

4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

   We have just celebrated the birth of our savior, our best brother, the son of God, the one to whom we owe our salvation and our adoption as God’s children. I am guessing that not one of us skated through childhood without a few bumps from the sidewalk where our parents were concerned. If we were most fortunate, those bumps did not leave lasting scars but, instead, became touchpoints on our journey to maturity.
    Many of us, however, were not so fortunate. Some of us incurred such deep scarring from the very ones we saw as our earliest “gods” that those scars became shields against trust, against intimacy, against the real God who is the only one who can heal us, help us and truly love us.
    In this epistle, Paul is focusing on the monumental difference between our pre-Christ status as slaves to the law, to our worst selves, to the principalities and powers…and the amazing liberation of now being God’s very own children! He is our “Daddy” (for that is the translation of the “Abba” we find in scripture) and we are co-heirs with Christ who, as our elder brother, first employed that term of endearment. How nervous, uncertain or fearful that makes us is a touchstone for us in the ongoing healing of our souls.
    But isn’t it awfully hard to give up title to all the accomplishments, achievements, self-styled virtues and goodness that we have racked up in our years on earth as the badges we wear to proclaim ourselves worthy before God? In abject fear, we have bowed before God and said, “Lord, will this be enough?” Paul was quite clear that if we do that—present anything other than ourselves, our souls and bodies to God in absolute surrender—“Christ will be of no benefit to you” (Galatians 5:2).
    If you were blessed with children, you know that they need give you nothing more or other than themselves. That is all our Abba wants from each one of us. The heart-cries of a child… ‘Daddy, I scraped my knee. Daddy, they are making fun of me. Daddy, do you love me? Daddy, thank you, thank you, thank you! How did you know this was what I always wanted? Daddy, I love you.’ These are earthly versions of what God yearns to hear from each one of us.
    “The Law” conjures images of imperious judgment, unbridgeable expectations, frustration and failure. Christ has superseded that law with freedom, mercy and love in all of God’s infinite abundance. Christ has come that we might stop living “under the circumstances” and come forth into God’s marvelous light with new vision. As Hamlet most famously said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
    This Christmastide, let us reflect anew on the redeemed world we are commissioned as his children to help inaugurate. We kids are now neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free (Galatians 3:27-28)—dare I add Republican nor Democrat—and have been adopted as God’s children and heirs to everything a good Father longs to give his cherished progeny. Of all the gifts Christmas has given us, remember what the gospels tell us again and again, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13)
    The law was the old, rule-bound way to determine who was “in” and who was “out”. Christ has come to clean the slates and gather us all back together as one. The fulfillment of the law made possible by Christ, comes down to just this: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Matthew 22:37-40). That is what family does.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: December 15 Edition

 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

2nd Reading for Sunday December 17 2017

16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise the words of prophets, 21but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22abstain from every form of evil.23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

   This passage reminds me of my mother calling out to us kids as we were getting ready for school: “Don’t forget your homework; be nice to your classmates; look both ways before you cross the street.…”  “Yes, Mom. Okay, Mom. Sure, Mom.” There is always a list of things we are responsible for doing or not doing and it is often in direct competition, if not opposition, to the things we actually want to do!
    Here, the Apostle Paul is giving us a bullet-point list of exhortations on the activities of the faithful life:

  • Rejoice always!  (Even when things are awful?)
  • Pray without ceasing! (How is that even possible?)
  • Give thanks in all circumstances! (Does he really mean ALL?)
  • Do not quench the Spirit.  (I won’t, if you tell me what that means.)
  • Do not despise the words of prophets.  (How do we recognize a prophet from a crank?)
  • Test everything and hold fast to what is good.  (What’s the test?)
  • Abstain from every form of evil.  (Should I just stay in bed from now on?)

    Okay, that’s a bit flip…but not really.  Don’t we all have that kind of response when we are faced with what radically submitting to God actually entails?  And yet, v. 24 gives us courage to go forward because in actuality, it is God who is faithful.  It is God who accomplishes this in us as we seek to do God’s will in all things. One of AA’s slogans is pertinent here: “Let go and let God.” Since we know only God can accomplish this, what stops us?   
    There is a book entitled The Practice of the Presence of God, which is a compilation of writings and sayings of Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century French monk.  In this short book, we are given great insight into precisely how it is that we can fulfill the exhortations delivered above by Paul. Brother Lawrence shows us how to align our attitudes with God’s heart and our hearts with God’s.  In this way, we mature in faith and God’s will becomes ever more fully our will.  Suddenly, we find that we have been transformed, by the renewing of our minds. We will know what is right and want to do it! (Romans 12:1-2) Our lives will embody an “attitude of gratitude.”
    Brother Lawrence saw God’s glory while he was washing dishes in the monastery kitchen.  Here is vintage Br. Lawrence: “The most excellent method of going to God is that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing people but purely for the love of God.”  And again, “We ought not to grow tired of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”
    The Benedictines made this their motto: “Laborare est Orare:” to work is to pray.  This focus begins a process whereby the dividing walls that compartmentalize our lives begin to crumble.  Eventually, we won’t have a spiritual life, a personal life, a work life…we will have a life and it will be an abundant life, as Christ has promised (John 10:10).
    Through these means—these alternative activities—we will come to desire to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, to give thanks in all circumstances and all the rest of those precious admonitions.  Our love for our Lord not only demands it, but makes it possible! We will know deep in our spirits that whatever we see of this world’s triumphs or tragedies, they are not the last word God is writing.  We are helping God write the next pages of the salvation saga. May this Advent season be also the advent of a new faith-born activity in our lives!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: December 1 Edition

1Corinthians 1:3-9
Epistle Lesson
for Sunday December 
3 2017

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

   American Christianity has experienced some hard knocks in the past couple of years. There is a vast array of opinions and proof-texts on whether we should focus on the kingdom of God to come or the kingdom of God that we might legislatively create in America during any given election cycle. Where we fall on that spectrum affects everything from our politics to our family relationships. The number of memoirs being written about believers who have exited one denomination for another, traveled from the conservative end of the faith to a more moderate or liberal group, or even said goodbye to us altogether has grown noticeably. 
    One would think, considering the issues Paul was confronting with this group of early Corinthian Christians, his praise and thanksgiving for them would have been tempered a bit.  In fact, when you begin to list out the issues he addresses in this epistle, it could just as easily be addressed to the contemporary church… divisive loyalties to competing leaders within the community, notorious sexual misconduct, Christians suing Christians, contention over the use of spiritual gifts, unequal treatment of people depending on social status, and heterodox practices in worship. It does call forth the lament, “How long, O Lord?”
   
But Paul understood (as we also need to understand) that the worth and meaning of those called by God comes from God alone, not from anything we are or do in and of ourselves.  As Paul tells the Philippians (2:13), “It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” He is emphasizing that even these notorious Corinthians will be “blameless” at the end, but only because of what Christ has done for all whose faith is in God. Paul reminds and encourages the Corinthian Christians (and us) to recognize that God has given us every gift and skill we need to do God’s will and to persevere until we meet God face to face.  That is our legacy and promise from God. In these contentious times, this may be one of the big mysteries to ponder as we seek to repair the jagged rifts in our church and culture.
   
One of the errors Paul set out to correct in this letter is the complacency that is all too easily acquired when it feels as though everything we need has been provided—and in abundance. The question becomes, “Why should we even think about the end of the age or anything beyond the present?”  Without a definite sense of the ultimate end and purpose of our earthly lives as God’s children, we will see the same mistakes in our lives as Paul was pointing out to the Corinthians… a focus on self rather than community, no sense of urgency toward deepening discipleship, no rootedness in justice or peace in the here and now. Being too certain of our salvation may make us too complacent about everyone else’s!
   
Paul is challenging the Corinthians (and us as their successors in the faith) to live lives faithfully in a culture that makes that exceedingly difficult. God is faithful (v. 9) even when his children are not. God has called us out from the culture into a community of the faithful, and it seems we need that very community to reinforce our faithfulness.  As Prof. Dwight Peterson (Eastern Univ.) put it, “Faithfulness is a team sport that requires the unity of the church.” I believe there will never be détente in the “culture wars” until Christians of every stripe lay down the placards, quiet the rhetoric and, instead, choose to shape our lives around the life and example of our Lord while we wait patiently and prayerfully for his “Well done.”

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: November 17 Edition

Matthew 25:14-30

Gospel Lesson
for Sunday
November 
19 2017

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.166The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed;25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”

 

    Scripture abounds with declarations from angels and from Jesus to “Fear not!” But I’m guessing that much of our lives are lived out of a complex mixture of motivations, with fear as a common additive.  Certainly the slaves of the absent master in Matthew’s rendition of this parable represent how God feels about our fears when it comes to building his kingdom!  This tale is about how we are to live “in the meantime,” the meantime between the “right now” and the “finally!” of the fullness of God’s kingdom.  This and the two previous parables in Matthew (The Faithful & Unfaithful Slaves and The Wise & Foolish Bridesmaids) feature a master who was on site, then departed with an unknown date of return.  Faith, patience, trust, hope and dedication are all attributes that either thrive or wither in this meantime that we all share. 
    I have spent much too much time on fear-filled roads, often wondering if I have veered off God’s road for a highway with more wayside attractions! Jesus continues to beckon from a far distance asking me to risk traveling a very narrow road that will end up with the best view EVER! But sometimes fearing the Lord actually means being afraid of him! Too many of us carry that lingering image of the father who perhaps abandoned the family or the father you might have wished had abandoned the family, which makes it precious difficult to follow that father God into unknown, risky territory!
   
Our primary image of God often, if not almost always, determines how we see God working in the world and in our lives. A judgmental God is constantly putting stumbling stones in our path. A loving God is giving us a whole lot of leeway. A vengeful God just makes you want to stay in bed all day! And in this parable, the idea of God apparently leaving the vicinity and bequeathing all the hard work and tough decisions to his employees is anxiety-inducing indeed! What image of God might be determining your response to his call?
   
In every one of these ‘absent-master’ parables, rewards come to those who remain faithful, doing the work they have been given to do.  Particularly in this parable, the sense is that the punishment meted out to the slave with only one talent to “invest” is in many ways a self-inflicted punishment.  He was given “equal opportunity” to use the gifts he was given to benefit his master and, thus, himself and chose instead a fearful avoidance of his responsibilities. Faith evaporates and fear reigns when anyone hunkers down and hoards not only their goods but themselves.  That is when judgment falls (see 1 Thessalonians 5:3). Doing the will of God carries the invitation to enter into the joy of the Lord. Setting off on our own path is a bit like hiking off-trail in the Himalayas.  It may be a good time for a while, but it will not end well. 
   
Our faith must be tested so that we ourselves know who we are.  Is the God of your thoughts and feelings, a God worthy of your worship and service?  If not, it might be time to eschew the false messiahs created out of our imaginations and fears and seek the living God who loves us more than life itself and proved it by giving his life for ours!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: November 3 Edition

Matthew 5:1-12

Gospel Lesson for All Saints Sunday
November 5 2017

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

   We Westerners have become almost exclusively enamored of and distracted by celebrities rather than heroes, be they business successes, sports figures or the music/movie industry darlings du jour. These are our pantheon of gods and goddesses against whom we measure our own successes. These are our idols and these are our role models and these are our saints—even when their flagrant transgressions are proudly on display!
    I am with Luther (and 1 Peter 2:5) in an insistence that we are all saints, we who follow God and seek to do his will. There are even those out in the world doing saintly things who have no idea that ‘saint’ is an adjective that would apply to them! The young girl whose answer to her cancer is to start a foundation; the young man who befriends the elderly in his neighborhood, mowing their lawns and making sure they are okay. That one on a fixed income who still gives a portion of that “widow’s mite” to charities that touch her heart. The successful professional who decides that philanthropy is integral to true success. Saints are often among us as surprises and in disguises!
    In this passage, Jesus is teaching us about the (be) attitudes of his kingdom to which we must aspire as we continue to live and grow in our relationships with God and each other.  This is what saints look like!  And these are ways of living and being that make us happy!  Modern translations of this passage sometimes use the word “happy” rather than “blessed” to describe lives lived out of these decisions to approach life with meekness and mercy and hunger for God.  Could it be that the framers of our country had this kind of happiness in mind when the Declaration of Independence called happiness a right we should pursue?
    A concept that contemporary American spiritual seekers find very difficult to swallow is the Christian emphasis on “deferred gratification.” I certainly grew up with a big dose of Matthew 5:12 which told me that my reward will be great in heaven. Life might be rough now, but just wait! I will have a crown bejeweled with my redeemed “accomplishments” to set before Jesus’ feet one day (Revelation 4:10). It is intriguing that this passage crafts the promises of the beatitudes in the future…you will be comforted, filled, you will obtain mercy, see God. Jesus begins his reflection by saying that those who are poor in spirit (or, according to Luke, just “poor”) already inhabit the kingdom of heaven. Not every person who is poor would buy that line for a minute, although many are more in tune with their need for God than those of us with more cushions against temporal disaster.  But if we are poor in spirit, it means we are not so full of ourselves that we ignore our primary need for God in our lives.  Minus God, we are, each of us, ultimately destitute.
    We can be enamored of the rich and famous, envious of their lifestyles, their manufactured beauty and lush surroundings.  But when the camera pans around to a Mother Teresa or a Desmond Tutu living authentically from the very core of their being in response to God’s love, the superficial trappings of celebrity collapse like a house of cards, and we are reminded of what really matters and what an authentic life looks like. The salt and the light emanating from the lives and actions of all the saints is, to turn the phrase, the leaven in the loaf, the catalyst that shows the world that it is good to follow Christ.  Indeed, it makes us supremely happy!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: October 20 Edition

Matthew 22:15-22

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
October 22 2017

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

   Last year’s unprecedented display of political gamesmanship and the disheartening religious engagement in those games comes to mind as I read this passage. The Pharisees have double-teamed with the Herodians in an attempt to entrap Jesus by asking him another seemingly impossible-to-answer question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?” (The Herodians were those who had aligned with the Roman occupation of Palestine and the Pharisees were observant Jews, offended at having to pay taxes to a foreign government. But in this instance, they came together, conniving to foil Jesus. A take on the dynamic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”)
    Jesus asked them for a coin. He asked them whose image was depicted on said coin and then suggested that they give it to the one to whom it was due.  What he didn’t say, but what we Christians can discern from this passage is that the image stamped on each of us is the image of God. We may contribute our money, our stuff and even some of our time and effort into temporal and political concerns, but in the realm of God we owe absolutely everything that we are and have toward the worship of God. We worship by serving those he most especially cherishes: the sick, the lonely, the elderly, the children, the poor, the prisoner, the hungry and the homeless.  Because we are citizens of God’s realm, our entire perspective on our political lives must be adjusted away from the American status quo of self-reliance, self-aggrandizement, and yes, the belief that certain religious biases should have pride of place at the heart of our government. 
    In these fraught political times, what we pay out to Caesar can come back to haunt us!  Last year, my Facebook page was practically weaponized with one-off comments from one end of the political spectrum to the other, pitched out of context, disregarding facts, and, for the most part, shots across the bow intended only to defame or debunk “the other side.” I am as guilty as the next guy of falling for this substitute for true political and religious engagement. As expected, these political salvos backfired and made the sender appear either naïve or misguided or just plain mean-spirited. As we all learned last year, the one thing they never do is encourage cooperation, consensus or Christian charity!  
    God has never rescinded his commandment that we have no other gods before him.  We do not actually own anything; we are stewards entrusted by God to manage and tend both ourselves and our world. If we try to own something, it eventually (and inevitably) owns us instead. We have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). Jesus says, “pay Caesar,” (see also Paul’s arguments about submitting to the powers that be in Romans 13:1) yet the undertone is more nuanced, relativizing and subverting the power of government in God’s overriding kingdom. We would do well to imagine the eye we see on the dollar bill to be God’s own, assessing how we are spending Caesar’s coin!
    Wall Street, Madison Avenue, Washington, DC and all the ‘powers that be’ will ultimately fail us, but in God’s economy there is abundance in the midst of need and blessing in the midst of calamity. As citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20), we must be able to stand courageously in the realm of “Caesar” and proclaim by word and example to Whom we pay ultimate tribute. Praying “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth…” means we must be vigilant, considering what we give to whom…and why.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: October 6 Edition

Matthew 21:33-46

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
October 8 2017

33 ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 41They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’ 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes?’ 43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

   This passage continues Jesus’ responses to the question, “By what authority do you do these things?”  This week’s parable speaks to the difference between ownership and stewardship, whether of our lives or our ‘vineyards’ (our vineyards include those places where we are called to bear fruit: home, church, world). 
    The Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 5:1-7), commonly referred to as Isaiah’s “Song of the Vineyard,” appears to be the original story on which Jesus offers commentary.  This story works as an allegory, i.e., the owner of the vineyard is God; the vineyard itself is the House of Israel; the wicked tenants are the religious leaders; the servants sent to collect the owner’s fruit are the prophets who were slain for their prophesies; and the owner’s son is Jesus who will, in short order, be killed as well.
   
As the story progresses, we hope against hope as we read, “They will respect my son.”  But they didn’t. During their ongoing tenancy, the tenants (read: religious establishment) developed a proprietary interest in the vineyard, confusing tenancy with ownership; they enjoyed the fruits of their labors instead of stewarding the harvest for the real owner.  What kind of tenants are we?  Do we know for whom we labor?  Are we producing the fruits that God requires?  Or have we settled in and decided that instead of stewards, we are the owners, entitled to the vineyard and thus able to run it however we want?  And, furthermore, any servants (prophets, pastors, parents, friends) who dare to say differently will be dealt with appropriately!  This all-too-common behavior has been called “functional atheism,” this idea that we are actually in charge of things and are answerable to no one beyond ourselves!  The old saw, “If you want to hear God laugh, start making plans” applies here! 
   
As writer Enuma Okoro puts it, “Like the tenants in Matthew 21, we can turn from receiving God’s gifts with gratitude and obedience toward having a false and foolish sense of entitlement.  The sad and desperate truth is that when we feel entitled to something we can justify going to any lengths to have it.” The Pharisees had a variety of motives for wanting Jesus dead, chief among them was their jealousy of the favor he was garnering from the people, as well as the threat he was to their very livelihood and religious stature. It appears they feared the crowds much more than they feared the Lord.
   
God does not easily give up on the tenants in this story; nor does he give up on us.  But there is an accountability factor to being a tenant in God’s vineyard.  God expects a harvest of righteousness from each of us. And we cannot produce fruit if we cut ourselves off from the vine (Christ), as though a branch off by itself will do anything other than die!  See John 15 for an elegant description of Christ as vine and we as branches.
   
When we feel ourselves “withering” spiritually, we can ask God to restore us to the Vine and help us to heed the words of the prophets God has placed for us along the way.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, “If you dismiss the word of God’s command, you will not receive the word of God’s grace.”  
   
The question for each of us is, “Whose vineyard is it, anyway?” 

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: Sept 22 Edition

Matthew 20:1-16

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
Sept 24 2017

1 ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” 

   When we read the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, we might decide we’re reading the story of another economic quagmire where this boss just does whatever he wishes, regardless of needs or fairness.  Especially fairness! Do your kids (or perhaps, you?) exclaim, “That’s not fair!” approximately every hour on the hour?  God loves each of us equally, even when it really doesn’t look that way.  Some kids never make peace with how their parents apparently loved their siblings more or differently than they were loved. Most parents do indeed love their children equally, but also individually so, of course, it might not appear to be “equal” to a child on the receiving end.
    We mortals can’t help but waste precious time and strain relationships engaging in invidious comparisons! But from the infinite heart of parental love and most importantly, God our Father’s love, there is no “favorite;” we all are favorites and most beloved. It is simply more apparent sometimes that, while the wages of sin for the believer have become instead “the wages of grace,” some appear to be receiving their wages sooner or in more abundance than we think is fair!
   
This parable has also been dubbed “Grumbling about Generosity.”  Grumble as we may, God’s ways are far above our ways (see Isaiah 55:9).  Notice that the landowner only offered a specific wage to the first group of workers; after that, he either said he would give them “whatever is right” or, with the last group, there was no mention of pay at all!  So, at the end of the day, when wages were being distributed, this guy could have avoided all the grumbling if he’d paid first the workers who started first so they could go on home.  No one would have been the wiser about the fact that he paid everybody the same amount of money whether they worked 12 hours or one! 
   
Instead, the story makes sure that everyone sees exactly what the generous heart of God is all about.  We can grumble and exclaim “Not Fair!” but we cannot escape the message that our reward with God is not based on anything we have accomplished or how long we have been accomplishing it!  It is entirely up to the grace, mercy and generosity of God whose upside-down kingdom where the last are first and the first are last is repeatedly displayed in scripture… where the least of these are chosen to sit at the head of the banquet table.  I believe God wants to make sure we get this concept even if we can’t at first make any earthly sense of it! God’s economy will never fit on a spreadsheet!
   
A wondrous quote from Dante’s The Divine Comedy (Paradise III: 64-85) includes this response from an inhabitant of a “lower” dimension of heaven:

“…our love has laid our wills to rest,
Making us long only for what is ours,
And by no other thirst to be possessed… 

…His will is our peace.…”

   
Oh to be so divinely content with what God gives us and what God withholds from us! Do not be envious, God says, because God is generous. One day we will all have eyes to see and hearts to fully know how much he loves us all.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: Sept 8 Edition

Matthew 18:15-20

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
Sept 10 2017

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

   What happens when people stop paying attention to one another? When subdivisions build walls instead of front porches? When we erect barriers rather than promote gatherings?  Various statistics exist, but it is estimated that only about half of us know our neighbors by name and only about one-third of us know our neighbors at all. I remember the day we had a fire down the street. That event got us out and talking to one another but the connection lasted only as long as the flames! Right now in Houston we are watching with joy as strangers become neighbors. But we also see evidence of our society’s isolation on the news every night. “Yes, he lived down the street from me, but I had no idea…”  No, we don’t! Not anymore. Couple our well-orchestrated anonymity with our culture’s values-free view of behavior, and this week’s Gospel lesson could not be more relevant…or more foreign to many ears. 
    Jesus is talking about nothing less than, as one writer puts it, “the extravagant discipline of forgiveness.”  In the context of the rest of Matthew’s 18th chapter, this is yet another scenario of how to behave in the kingdom of God.  Here, Jesus puts into place a modus operandi for reconciliation, restoration and accountability.  When we have been offended, it’s natural to want to run and hide in a dark corner of resentment and hurt, but Jesus calls us to forgive and be forgiven.  This may be what prompted G. K. Chesterton’s famous comment, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it’s been found difficult and not tried!”
   
In our day and age, accountability is a strained and rare commodity.  If someone is “called on the ecclesiastical carpet,” so to speak, it is all too easy to simply disappear into the congregation down the street.  Even if that person never repeats the offending behavior, community and relationships have been ruptured. The point of these instructions on forgiveness is not to win a battle but to regain a soul.  (See Matthew 18:6 for Jesus’ strong words about what happens when we fail at this!) When we lose the ability or desire to hold each other accountable in our ongoing discipleship, community suffers and eventually disappears.  
   
Our greatest comfort and treasure on earth is authentic Christian community.  It is no accident that Jesus sets the attendance bar low here:  “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  In that intimate Spirit-led gathering, we are given all the power on earth and in heaven to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” The keys Jesus has given us are meant to unlock justice and peace through love and to lock away forever anything that seeks to prevail against God and God’s children.
   
This is so important to God that he will “hold our supper (Matthew 5:23-24)” until we have made peace, not with those who have offended us, but with those we have offended! There is no way to be patronizing in our approach to another when we are the offenders! Are we ready to give and receive God’s “tough love?” A fellowship of forgiveness was what first attracted people to the followers of Jesus. Jesus taught us this holy exchange—the only petition in his prayer that comes with a condition—Forgive me, Lord, just as I forgive others. Are we ready for that challenge? Our neighbors are waiting for us.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: August 25 Edition

Matthew 16:13-20

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
August 27 2017

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

   In our ongoing love affair with the natural beauty of Southern Utah, we explored the canyons and vistas at Capitol Reef National Park this summer. On our last day, I decided to take off alone on a walk through Capitol Gorge. I was stopped in my tracks repeatedly as I gazed upon the grand expanse of rocks and rock formations. It was quiet on this walk—the quality of deep (one might almost say “insistent”) quiet that you can only experience in nature’s back ways. In that profound quiet, those rocks cried out to me (Luke 19:40). I felt the solidity of God, the everlastingness of God and the stability and surety of my place in the family of God. It was quite a nature walk! 
    It matters a great deal to theologians whether verse 18 of this gospel passage is indicating that Peter is the rock, Peter’s confession is the rock, or Jesus himself is the rock. On those kinds of theological reflections, entire denominations are birthed. But instead of focusing on ecclesiastical issues of organizational structure, it might be more edifying to reflect on how Peter’s declaration of faith and belief was his (and eventually the disciples’) transition from merely walking around with Jesus to becoming his faithful followers.
   
“You are my rock” is a common term of endearment. But there is a transition moment or a slow realization when you arrive at the awareness that someone else is your rock. And at that moment, everything changes. Making verbal this kind of proclamation validates what we are thinking and feeling, brings it into the external world and makes all the difference. So it was for Peter and the disciples.
   
This moment also becomes a line drawn in that desert sand between Jesus’ active ministry on earth and his preparation for his crucifixion (and our salvation).  So, to make sure his disciples are ready to begin the next stage of their journey with Him (and their journey post-Resurrection), Jesus asks his disciples to tell him what people were saying about him… “Who do they say that I am?”  Then, he gets down to it with the disciples:  “But who do you say that I am?” 
   
As usual, it was Peter who spoke first (for all of them) in tones more of worship than merely of response: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus assured them that His Father had revealed this to Peter (and, by extension, to all the disciples).  This is no longer about Jesus being an earthly king or even an earth-bound savior (as we so often want our politicians to be!).   This is about the advent of the church as we have eventually received it; the body of Christ, the kingdom of heaven (‘on earth as it is in heaven,’ for which we daily pray).
  
The keys to the kingdom- keys of authority and purpose- were verbally presented to Peter and, two chapters in Matthew later, to all the apostles (Matthew 18:18). We, who make the same claim that Peter made, are all a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9)!  We all carry a set of God’s keys, empowering and enabling us to proclaim with our lips and show forth in our lives that Jesus Christ is Lord. 
   
We too must allow this realization of who Jesus is to descend from our minds to our hearts and ultimately out into our worlds in salvific ways. God’s foundational question remains for each of us to answer:  “Who do YOU say that I am?”

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: August 11 Edition

Matthew 14:22-33

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
August 13 2017

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake.26But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

    Jesus and his disciples have just had a miraculous meal with 5,000 of their “closest friends.” He was bone-tired and, having just heard of the death of his friend and precursor John, he was grief-stricken as well. So, following this miracle meal, He sent the disciples to sea, dismissed the crowd, and retreated to a mountain spot to pray.
    Soon, the disciples were caught up in a bad storm and the fishermen among them would be the first to exclaim that this is not the kind of water they wanted to be near, let alone in!  Jesus and his disciples had been in this “distressed-at-sea” situation before (see Matthew 8:23-27). Jesus would have known in the depths of his being that this storm was going to happen. So He had a reason- probably several reasons- for giving them the ‘opportunity’ of facing this storm.  But remember… He sent them into danger, and he went into prayer, no doubt for their safety during the tumult.
    So, Jesus let them be buffeted about for most of the night. Finally, they perceived someone apparently walking effortlessly on the water!  The disciples could not have had a wink of sleep trying to fight the wind, so of course they had exhausted, sleep-deprived thoughts like, “It’s a ghost!”  But as the figure drew closer, they saw that it might actually be Jesus!  Peter, impetuous man that he was, decided to find out for sure; “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  And so Jesus bid him. Peter, never taking his eyes off Jesus, climbed out of the boat and took a few tentative steps.  Everything was just fine until he sort of “came to” and took a look around at what he was actually doing—how wildly improbable it was—and began to sink like a stone. 
    I remember a sermon from many years ago, only because of its clever tag line: “What are you doing ‘under the circumstances?’ ”  Christians are “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) and the circumstances of our lives should take a back seat to the reality of our relationship with God in Christ Jesus. Even as it appears that Peter was asking God to prove himself, God was giving Peter the same chance. As long as we live our lives focused on Christ, we will be amazed at the stormy seas we too will tread. When we take our eyes off our Savior and Lord, that’s when we begin to sink “under the circumstances” and lose our spiritual and temporal footing.  
    In both stories featuring Jesus, the disciples, wobbly boats and bad storms, it is notable that Jesus ended up in the boat with them.  He doesn’t calm our storms and walk away; he calms our storms and comes even closer to his friends. His very incarnation is his way of getting into our boats and helping us row our way to shore! Jesus was actually inviting Peter (and each of us) out into the swirling uncertainties and knock-you-over tidal waves of life so that, whether we begin to sink or are able to swim, God will keep us afloat and, in that process, we will finally know who Jesus is with and for us. When we reach our own limitations, that is when God bids us walk with Him. That ‘walk’ will almost certainly include deep, troubled waters as well as placid seas. To each of us for all our lives, Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”


If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: July 28 Edition

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
July 30 2017

31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

   Mustard seeds…miniscule little seeds from which bushes appearing as trees can sometimes reach ten feet (or so I have read).  Most of us know about small beginnings, but at the same time, we have been schooled in the predictable results.  Imagine when Jesus first spoke these words concerning the mustard seed.  Scholars say those hearing it were ones who had already committed themselves to following Jesus.  Being “first generation” followers, they had yet to see very much harvest.  I can imagine them perhaps having a few disconcerting moments pondering whether they might have accidentally hitched their wagon to yet another charismatic traveling evangelist… one who might be “pulling their legs” about this kingdom of heaven thing. They had no reference points from which to measure kingdom growth.
    Many times, as I observe what goes on in our culture, I cannot believe Christianity has made the impact it set out to make. (If you doubt as I sometimes do, a great antidote is John Ortberg’s book, Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus, which chronicles the unlikely and pervasive global influence of this “small beginning!”). But just as yeast permeates the whole loaf of bread, so the Holy Spirit is abroad in the land, in ways both seen and unseen, drawing God’s own toward God’s self.  The time of uncertainty between the planting of the seed and the appearance of the tree is the in-between time of our earthly existence.
    The parables of the Pearl of Great Price and The Hidden Treasure provide two more ways to approach this earthly ambiguity.  For the person who found the treasure hidden in a field didn’t really appear to be looking for it!  He (or she) was like someone who casually filled out the Publisher’s Clearing House entry forms and, having completely forgotten about it, is met at the door a few months later with balloons and a super-sized replica of a check worth an unimaginable amount of money!
    However, the one who found the pearl of great price was, in fact, a diligent seeker.  When this pearl was found, its ultimate value was recognized and all good stewardship was put in place for its protection and care.  With both the one who fortuitously falls into his inheritance and the one who tries everything until he finally finds it, the Spirit seems to work in a hidden way as the kingdom grows.
    This passage is constructed as though Jesus was pitching one parable after another, trying to make sure that if the disciples didn’t get the picture from one, they would from another. He ends this series of scatter- gun parables with the question, “Have you understood all this?” They had more nerve than I when they answered, “Yes!” (v. 51)
    Just as Jesus instructed his disciples, therefore, to use what they have learned for the good of others, we should always also be bringing from the storehouse of our faith, the treasures we have sought and found, both new and old, to share with each other and the world. Ours is not to yearn for the ten-foot tree so much as it is to plant, nourish and tend the seed from which it will grow. And all that is hidden will be revealed…in God’s good time.


If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: July 14 Edition

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
July 16 2017

13That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake.2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

   One of several surprises I had when I moved to the desert Southwest was the color of the soil.  Having grown up with the rich, black soil of Iowa, I was unprepared for our dusty, beige caliche-ridden soil that always seems to triumph over any non-weed plant that attempts an appearance!
    Jesus not only delivered this parable, but in an unusual move, explained it as well, thus emphasizing the importance that his hearers prepare the soil of their hearts for his message.  Soil is easier to analyze than the human heart.  Not even a DNA test will unearth all the soils we embody. The sadness in this story is how much soil remains unprepared, untilled and neglected, thus sloughing off the seeds of new life.
   
Unlike modern farming, with GPS-powered mechanisms to deliver seeds precisely where they need to land, Jesus’ sower flung a profligacy of seeds in hope that more will take root than be caught by the wind and sent to places where growth is impossible. 
   
We live such frantically busy lives that the seeds snatched up by the birds of our neglect are fairly easy to imagine.  Most of us reserve very little time for meditation, contemplation, biblical study and prayer, so it is safe to assume that any “still, small voice” seeking our ears has little chance of being discerned above the din of voice mail, streaming video, twitter storms, and talk radio. No one can successfully treat Scripture as though it were a divine news crawl at the bottom of a screen or a particularly lilting sound-byte from above. Paul assures his readers in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that Scripture is not immediately understood but must be spiritually discerned.  If the seeds hardly reach the ground before we are off to the next thing, there can be no grounding in God.
   
There are those who immediately hear comfort and joy in the message of Christ and happily embrace the good news…until the good news becomes the serious news, the difficult news or the impossible news or, these days, perhaps the alternative news!  Then, it’s back to the search for good news that stays upbeat and demands of us nothing particularly difficult or painful. The stirring of a powerful preacher will fade if the hearer is only beguiled by words instead of convicted by truth.
   
The image of soil actually choking the word reminds me again of caliche. Jesus speaks of this as the soil covered over and packed down with the weight of our “stuff,” the cares of our world, the “pursuit of happiness” – as Americans have defined it—all conspiring to make the good news only some news competing with lots of other news and nothing that would stop us in our tracks.
   
Finally, Jesus described the good soil where the seeds are nurtured so that a harvest of faith and righteousness results.  And the harvests vary in size, which is great comfort to those of us whose fields are small.  Before we can sow, we must allow God’s seed to die and rise anew within us. Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it will only be a seed. (John 12:24) Seeds allowed to germinate within our hearts will break open and become the fruit of righteous lives. When we turn the soil of our hearts, what emerges?  Do we find the hard caliche of sin, the asphalt of worldly ambitions, empty seed pods dried to dust from utter neglect?  Or do we find tender growth nourished in love and faith?  Time for a soils test?

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: June 30 Edition

Romans 6:12-23
The 2nd Reading for Sunday
July 2 2017

12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.15 What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.    

    Independence Day!  A day dominated by fireworks, parades, patriotic sound-bytes, a few remarks on how fortunate we are not to be enslaved to repressive regimes, and a nod to our forebears who broke away from political and religious bondage to form “a more perfect union.” This is the day freedom is top of mind! In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation provided another level of freedom in our land. We are struggling to find good ways to repair our immigration system so that we can continue to enjoin the world to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”   
    This is the perfect day to ask ourselves, “What have we done with our freedom?” All earthly gatherings of people need laws and rules in order that the social contract—that trade-off of certain “freedoms” so that we can live peacefully together—is not broken apart. These days, we find ourselves trying to mend a fraying social order, even as the right and the left of both church and state (!) relentlessly play tug-o-war with the fabric of our laws and values.
   
Paul understood this need for law because he understood fallen human nature. We got into this dilemma near ‘day one’ when we decided we could frolic in the Garden without answering to anyone about anything! St. Paul was plagued with his process of “becoming” as he wrote in Romans 7:14-15, “For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
   
How, then, do we experience being “dead to sin” as Paul says we now are through our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ? Partly by practicing the reality of who we wish to become (in this case, who we really are, by God’s grace). With the Holy Spirit residing within us, we have all we need to shed our old life of sin and put on a new life of obedience to God. 
   
Our salvation from sin and death does not mean that we can freely live our lives however we want. Paul warns more than once. “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.” (1 Corinthians 10:23; see also 1 Corinthians 6:12). Our salvation means our allegiance, loyalty, commitment, priorities and love have been transferred from death to life!
   
The word “obedient” in this passage comes from two Greek words, one meaning “under” and one meaning “to hear,” understanding that obedience is hearing and placing ourselves under authority.  For us, that authority is Christ who is God.  But there remain many other seductive voices, many words and many calls for obedience.  Some of these lead us closer to God; other siren songs call us to obey voices that can mask or distort what God says to us.
   
Paul concludes this passage with a summary verse that juxtaposes the “wages of sin” with the “free gift of grace.” Bob Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody” and we cannot serve two masters. Joshua’s departing words to the Israelites (Joshua 24:15) remain words for us: “Choose this day whom you will serve!” St. Augustine once said, “Love God and do as you please.” If we love our Lord, we will be prone to do as he pleases.  And that is where we find true freedom.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: June 16 Edition

Genesis 18:1-15

An Alternate Reading for Sunday
June 18 2017

18The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” 7Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.8Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. 9 They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh;” for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”

    There have been so many situations in my life that have called for patience, but I don’t know of any that rise to the level of the 24 years Abraham and Sarah waited for the fulfillment of God’s promise to give them a son (and - down the line - nations and kings!). Wisdom says that what we become while we wait for something may be just as important as the thing we await. But I’m guessing that, as Abraham and Sarah waited for this particular fulfillment, they probably rotated through the five stages of grief more than once.
    Some churches who join us in following the Common Lectionary will be reading this Genesis passage on Sunday. Because I am several years into my AARP eligibility, I was immediately struck by this story of what might be called “Sharing God’s Last Laugh!” I have been told that as we grow older, we begin to lose our sense of humor. There is some truth to that as things that were funny in our youth might now call forth something closer to wistfulness than laughter. On the other hand, with age comes an added lens to see the absurdity and the humor in so much of what those lacking the perspective of longevity still take so very seriously.
    So, hearing this visiting stranger reiterate the promise of a son within the year, Sarah is transported out of her usual cycle of grief and right into the world of bittersweet humor! “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure (18:12)?” Seriously? Now that it is apparently too late, grace arrives? Have any of us ever asked that question, either through laughter or through tears? God’s loving response, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” is also our question. The way we respond displays whether we really believe God will act in our lives.
    Pastor Ben Patterson has written, “When Sarah laughs, she is laughing the laugh of a cynic ... She is laughing the laugh of despair that will not see anything but the ultimate incongruity of her life. Her long waiting has sapped her of her humor. Take surprise away from your sense of the incongruous, and all that remains is a bitter chuckle. That is why God’s response to Sarah has such force. When he says to her, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” he is inviting her to have a really good laugh and let surprise back into her life. He invites us to do the same. It is only when our sense of the incongruity of our lives meets God’s great surprise of grace and promise that we are enabled to live our lives with the hilarity he intended. There’s a version of pop psychology whose slogan is ‘I’m OK, You’re OK.’ With the gospel, it is different: It is ‘I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK, But It’s OK!’”
    When Sarah finally realized that God wasn’t kidding, then she could really laugh! The harsh laughter of bitterness became the lilting laughter of grace and faith and surprise. To add irony to the story, these laughing old saints named their child Isaac which, in Hebrew means, “he laughs.” And so Sarah brings us all (God included) into the tent with her saying, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me (21:6),” and we all can have a great big belly laugh at the surprising and wondrous love of God!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: June 2 Edition

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

The 2nd Reading for Sunday
June 4 2017

3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

    The feast of Pentecost is the day we celebrate the manifestation of the Church in the world through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all believers. God’s Spirit not only empowers our ability to love and serve each other, but to proclaim by word and deed God’s grace and mercy to the entire world (verse 3).  St. Paul “coined” the term ‘Body of Christ’ and he employed the image to quell the dissension over leadership and identity in their ranks in the Corinthian church. The Holy Spirit is the one who creates one body out of all of us. As St. Augustine put it, “What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church.”
    What has happened to the Church in the ages since believers shared all things in common and there was no one needy among us?  Without the empowerment and guidance of the Holy Spirit and our willingness to be empowered and guided, the work God intends us to perform has no chance. Verse 7 provides a key to understanding the essence of the Church. The gifts, talents and opportunities the Lord provides each of us are not for our gratification, comfort or advancement (although that may happen) but for “the common good.” Political definitions and priorities for the common good are on a two-to-four-year cycle of priority but, if the Church flounders on biblical ethics and our moral compass, the common good suffers and the Body itself grows feeble and muted.  
    Christians participate first in a baptism of water, but at Pentecost we remember that we will grow up in the faith through various baptisms of fire!  Those flaming tongues were not only “foreign” languages; they were also the fires of purification and renewal.  It is the peace “that passes all understanding” that gives us the courage to face those profound challenges and deep hurts that come our way. Both our triumphs and our sorrows can only be mediated and moderated by the Spirit of God operating in our lives.
    The institutional church’s greatest challenge is to channel the work and power of the Holy Spirit for the common good in such a way that the Spirit is not quenched or its vessels shattered in the process.  Without teaching about and cultivating discernment so as to recognize the blowing winds of the Spirit, this isn’t even possible.  Thus the world has seen too many ruined churches and crushed followers as the bureaucracy of one church group or another appropriated and sought to control the work of the Spirit. Perhaps the watchword for today’s institution is the same as it was in Paul’s day as he counseled the Body in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21), “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good.”
    Every gathering of God’s people contains within it the gifts necessary to do the work to which God calls it (either gifts actively in use or yet to be awakened). As Jesus began his ministry, his Pentecostal words echoed the prophet Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18).”  “Veni, Creator Spiritus” has been the heart-cry of believers throughout the centuries.  May we together experience God’s creator Spirit on this Pentecost Sunday, and, for the rest of our days, be God’s co-creators in ways God has entrusted only to you and me…for the common good and the health of our souls.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: May 19 Edition

John 14:15-21

The Gospel lesson for Sunday
May 21 2017

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

    “If you loved me…” How many times and for how many reasons has this exact sentence - or something like it - been thrown at you as yet another way you are asked to prove that you love someone? “If you love me, you would__(fill in the blank).” “If you love me, you never would have__(fill in the blank).” Who knew that even Jesus made this comment! “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (In John 21:17, speaking with Peter, it was “Do you love me?” “Feed my lambs.”) Between our weaponized, “If you loved me” and the Lord’s, there is a fundamental difference in intent. We want proof of love for our ego’s sake. Jesus wants to know that we aren’t just playing games with his salvation but, instead, are passing it on to those others he came to save.
    It is well known that the English language has a paucity of synonyms for ‘love.’ Sanskrit is said to have 96 words for it; Persian 80; Greek 3, but English only 1. And, oh, what burdens of meaning that one word has to bear! We can love a bean burrito and, in the same breath, we can proclaim our love for our children. The only way to differentiate among all our various ‘loves’ is by our actions, isn’t it?
    And so it is that Jesus tells us exactly how he will know of our love. And just as important for our fragile earthly selves, we can gauge our love for God by this same index. What have we done for God lately? If our love has grown cold or complacent, we should be able to read by our actions, decisions and intentions just what our spiritual temperature is. Do we need to fan the Pentecostal flames? Apparently, the way we begin to do that is precisely by keeping God’s commandments. Jesus says here that, as we do that, he will provide the Holy Spirit to abide with us forever. As the saying goes, “If you don’t feel near to God, ask yourself who moved?”
    Verses 15 and 16 are nothing less than a dance of love. With intent toward finding and loving God, we begin to act in Godly ways. God, in turn, blesses and strengthens us with the Holy Spirit who empowers us toward more Godly acts. And so the dance deepens as the spirals widen, bringing more and more of the world into God’s loving embrace. They will know we are Christians by our love and we will know we are Christians because God will make himself known to us as we love others.
    If we are keeping God’s commandments, we are always focused on love. Jesus summed up all the commandments in Mark 12:30-31: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
    Twentieth-century Jesuit priest, Pedro Arrupe wrote a poem that helps me take my spiritual temperature! Perhaps you will find it helpful as well as we each continue to participate in all that Love is and does.

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Everything!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: May 5 Edition

Acts 2:42-47
The First Reading for Sunday
May 7 2017

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

    Several months ago, I decided to have my DNA tested. I was fairly certain of the results although there were a few family tales that I wanted either validated or put to rest. It was fascinating to read about the many places on the globe that have gone into the creation of me! When I ‘return to dust,’ it will be international dust, to say the least!
    There is something about this passage from Acts that reminds me of genealogy because here we have a snapshot of the earliest community of Christians gathered around the leadership of the apostles. It was a heady time indeed! And this is what our early ‘family’ looked like:

  • They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching.
  • Their joy was to fellowship with each other.
  • They refused to neglect gathering together to break bread and to pray.

    And here is what happened because of these commitments:

  • Many wonders and signs occurred among them
  • They sat so lightly to their possessions in the face of ‘so great a salvation’ that no one in the community was left in need
  • Their praise of God and full hearts for all people attracted a daily influx of new members to their community.

    This is the church of our dreams, right? The church where everyone is “all in,” doing God’s work in God’s world, loving and serving one another and rejoicing as each and every day more people are attracted to Christ because of his presence and power manifested in his people.
    What this snapshot leaves out is also part of the church. There were a number of instances referenced elsewhere about embezzlement (Ananias and Sapphira), Paul’s endless admonishments to church communities regarding their conflicts and confusions, racial biases, bad leaders. In other words, while all the glory of following God was happening, the reality of our fallen-ness was happening right alongside it… the sheep grazing with the goats, the wheat growing up around the chaff, the sometimes maddening jumble of hearts learning together how to live out the newness so graciously poured out upon “them” (i.e., “us”).
    Rather than being the counter-cultural phenomenon it was at its beginning, today we find much of that sense of community has been lost as we live individually in a buffet-style world. We pick and choose what aspects of community appeal to us. Sadly, we also have our favorite approaches to the words of Jesus, letting us live more comfortably than God may actually require. And that has become our great loss because what this passage of Acts is describing is the work of the Spirit among believers. To the degree that we avoid or deflect the urgings of the Spirit of God, to that degree we miss out on the activity and the joy of living in the Spirit of God, the will of God, and the community of God. Living in a bubble of like-mindedness stifles growth and suffocates joy.
    In this short passage we are given a glimpse of what an encounter with the risen Christ can do to ordinary expectations of human community. As John reminds us (10:10), Jesus came that that we might have abundant life. And God promises us that he will never give up on his bride, his church (Philippians 1:6). How will embracing this Reality change us today? How will we channel the winds of God’s Spirit for the “goodwill of all the people?”

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: April 21 Edition

John 20:19-31

Gospel Lesson for Sunday
April 23 2017

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin*), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

    It would not be hard to dub Thomas the “Disciple of the Digital Age” for he certainly reflects the need for certainty that we need when faced with an internet of infinite “authorities.”  Whether it’s an authorization by Snopes.com that what we are reading online is not a fabrication, or a forensic conclusion that a bizarre photograph was not “photo-shopped,” we live in an era of necessary skepticism.  By the same token, we also live in a very credulous age where we are willing to believe anything that tantalizes or reinforces our favorite opinions.
    By that measure, Thomas is a realist who is longing (as we all are longing) for something we can see and feel, and hear and touch—something or someone who will make us new!  As a child once put it, “I want a God with skin on.” He is the object lesson that reminds us that we always run the risk of not recognizing Jesus until we reach out our hands in love and compassion to those around us. He is the truth of the old saying, “God has no grandchildren.” Someone else’s faith will never satisfy my soul.
    Many of us had Mother Teresa of Calcutta on our spiritual radar screens for decades. She served even non-Catholics and non-Christians as an exemplar of a holy life and one which must have been filled with great certainty…or so we thought. How else could she have done the rugged work with the poor and dying that she did for so many years? And yet, not very long after she died, we began to learn that Mother Teresa was a consummate doubter! She is known as a Christian saint who doubted, but persevered, whose dark night of the soul was not a complete blackout but a backdrop to the faith that she maintained and lived out. She is a contemporary example of how a Christian can doubt in the midst of a commitment to living a faithful life.
    Doubt is actually a boon companion to faith.  Mindless faith is what cult leaders promote and what Nazism required. Being unable or unwilling to doubt, question, evaluate and hesitate makes everyone a possible candidate for any seductive group or charlatan that crosses our paths! Without doubt in our repertoire, we all become fundamentalists, trapped in a certainty no longer grounded in the whole truth, losing track of God whose ways are not our ways and, most assuredly, surpass our understanding.
    Sixteenth-century mystic, St. John of the Cross, is famous for adding the phrase “dark night of the soul” to our spiritual lexicon.  Ironically, this darkness, as John and so many others have understood it, is a special signifier of God’s presence. In that merciful darkness, what we thought we knew of God is gone and in that abject absence, we come before God, finally empty of our beliefs and assumptions and ready for the real God to speak to our real selves.
    John did not share Thomas’ journey from skeptic to worshipper that we might have more facts, but that we, too, might believe. And to believe is to see and experience reality in a brand new way. This story is the climax of John’s entire book, his final anecdote (out of so many more he said he could have added) in an effort to bring all who are willing to the same declaration as Thomas: “My Lord and My God!”

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: April 7 Edition

Philippians 2:5-11
2nd Reading for Sunday
April 9 2017

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And, being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

   Jesus’ entire earthly sojourn, humanly speaking, amounted to a career path that spiraled from great expectations to apparent utter failure.  The Jewish community expected their “messiah” to be a temporal savior.  Even today, we sometimes wonder why God didn’t just do in his first arrival what he promises to do in the second…sweep in and mop up the remnants of evil and create a new heaven and a new earth for his whole creation to enjoy forever.
    Jesus spent a lot of effort trying to disabuse his followers about the sort of king and ruler he was going to become.  As he rode into Jerusalem on that donkey, it is hard not to see this as an ironic send-up of the triumphant arrival of royalty. 
    The reading this week from Philippians offers us a description of what Jesus did, which is at the core of what Jesus wants each of us to do.  And it is all about humility; fundamental self-forgetfulness. That donkey ride is a great symbol of “kenosis,” a theological term for the “self-emptying” that Jesus chose to do in order to be with us bodily as a man and yet as our God.  He could have entered the world stage as a great and glorious king (which he plans yet to do, in fact). But we would have missed the main point of this arrival.  He wasn’t in town to rescue anyone from Roman rule, but from the rule of Satan and all the powers of darkness.
    But in order to do it the way God wanted it done, Jesus humbled himself (in effect, put completely out of mind for a while who he was), took the form of a servant and became perfectly obedient even unto death in order to undo death!  This is our model even today.  Scripture reinforces this for us more than once (see, for instance, Matthew 23:12 or Luke 14:11): whoever humbles him (her) self will be exalted. 
    The original imago Dei has been perverted by the “fun-house mirror” of self-preoccupation into an image of ourselves “as like a god.” The enduring theme of so much of what Jesus shared with the world while he walked among us was that the first eventually would be last. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard.”
    Our original attempt to grasp divinity resulted in abject slavery. We abjured humility and adopted a stance of arrogance and so fell from having open, teachable spirits to a hardened “I am the captain of my fate” stance that has no room for grace, truth or a change of mind. Jesus arrived to restore the friendship with God we so foolishly threw away in our attempt to be God rather than to be with God.
    Jesus is asking us to empty ourselves of our futile attempts at self-fulfillment so that he can fill us to overflowing with his grace and truth. He cannot fill us up with him if we are full of ourselves. Jesus is asking us to use his power to empower others. Jesus is asking us to take another look at some of those people who, in worldly terms, have “come in last.”  When we find them, we might be very surprised to find Jesus already there waiting for us to join the festivities! In our heart of hearts, we have known all along we would find him among the last and the least because isn’t that where he found us?
    If we are to imitate Jesus, we know our career path—it is strewn with palm fronds—and we need to hold each other close as we follow him all the way to Easter.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: March 24 Edition

John 9:1-41

Gospel Lesson for Sunday
Mar 26 2017

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (which means Sent).” Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.14Now it was a Sabbath Day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped him. 39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see’ your sin remains.”

   Victimhood. A game the whole family can play! To listen to the voices of our culture today, nobody is really responsible for their own situations.  It is our parents’ fault, or, perhaps the President’s, our boss’ or our neighbor’s.  Never ours! “The devil made me do it.” “I was tricked.” “This is not my fault.” Without a consciousness of our own sin, we can only believe that we are the victims of someone else’s. When we see the “other” among us (in this case, a blind man; but, these days, a person who is homeless, gay, an immigrant, or whatever we most fear), we tend to categorize these other ones as societal or political phenomena—groups of people who need to get their act together—not as individual children of God through whom his grace is meant to flow. We enjoy our free will, but in our fallen-ness, we are ever ready to question how others use theirs! Truth be told, we are all outliers and rebels from the perfection God desires and we will be to a greater or lesser extent until we see God face to face.
    Read what Jesus says about everyone’s misfortunes in John 9:3: “He was born blind (feel free to substitute your own troubling condition here) so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Wow!  It’s not “all about us” after all.  It is all about God who loves us completely and does not inflict pain as punishment! As my favorite devotional writer, Oswald Chambers, noted, “We shall find that the spheres God brings us into are not meant to teach us something but to make us something.” Anyone who says following Jesus will take away our earthly troubles hasn’t deeply pondered this tale (or their own life)!
    It is very disturbing, yet very familiar, that this blind man was ever-present in the community as a beggar and yet no one “knew” him. He had become part of the backdrop of daily life and since he had been born “that way” there was no need to get involved in his plight. Can we honestly say we have never participated in that same social dimness of vision? Since we faithful ones are now light bearers (see Ephesians 5:8), we must choose to shine Christ’s light of grace and love into the lives around us or hide our light and cast shadows of judgment and gloom.
    As Lent draws us ever closer to a celebration of the resurrection, I would like to ponder, as pastor Suzanne Guthrie does, how to pay better attention

“…so that the whole of my life might incrementally draw me toward the kind of heightened sense that would recognize Jesus with bodily eyes or without. And looking forward to the stories after Easter, perhaps, like his friends after the resurrection, I might learn to recognize him in more obscure forms.”

    No one can see Jesus through our eyes, but they just might be drawn to him by seeing how we live our lives. Jesus told us in Matthew 5:16, “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” The childlike, straightforward witness of this man born blind says it all: “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” Amazing Grace indeed!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: March 10 Edition

John 3:1-17

Gospel Lesson for Sunday
Mar 12 2017

3Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

   Nicodemus came to Jesus in the dead of night, that in-between time when we often have our sleepless struggles with ourselves and with God. Nicodemus was a practical, logical man, a man on his way up and with authority to make things happen.  He came to Jesus asking a lot of “how” questions because that’s the way he was wired.  In the church of my youth, his questions would have been answered in formulaic terms…trying to fit cosmic questions into a one-size-fits-all response.  Jesus was keenly aware that Nicodemus’ questions had answers that were not quantifiable…answers about meaning, not achievement; faith not formula; identity not titles.
    Nicodemus asked questions that he (and we) hoped would be answered with clear achievable steps. Nicodemus thought he was going to have a theological discussion and instead was faced with incomprehensibles! Jesus responded with heavenly words only received as much by the spirit as by the mind and lived out by grace and faith sometimes with uncertain steps on unfamiliar terrain. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God initiates our life; we do not give birth to ourselves no matter how many “makeovers” we have attempted.
    We “veteran” Christians might be lured into thinking we know all there is to know about Jesus, about God.  We’ve heard John 3:16 perhaps for decades, memorized it; maybe we have it needle-pointed and framed on a wall.  As with Nicodemus, God still asks us to set aside what we think we know and listen again to what he wants to tell us.  Romans 8:13 warns us that to live “according to the flesh” is certain death, but to live according to the spirit is life indeed. Luther was right, of course, that John 3:16 is the “gospel in a nutshell.” “For God so loved the world” not “for God was so angry with the world.” We begin not so much as sinners who are lost but as children who have been found.
    Dysfunctional families spend an enormous amount of time manipulating each other, setting up quid pro quos. “If you do ‘x,’ I will do ‘y.’ God, on the other hand, simply saw that we were broken and powerless and dying and sent his Son to fix it.  We cannot manipulate it, make it look like something it isn’t, or define the terms of God’s acceptance.  God has already saved us. Our response to God is not to manage our salvation but to bear God’s message of love for each one of us. Instead of setting boundaries based on our fallen perceptions, we need to remember John 3:17: “…God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world.” If we don’t accept his love, we judge ourselves and remain spiritually orphaned and homeless. In the face of this glorious love how can we not pay forward this great salvation?
    Being born from above is to be made part of a family for whom dysfunction is not the defining adjective! Being born from above means getting to do life differently, based on unbounded love rather than puny anxieties.  Who would not leap at a second chance to be not just a better person, but a brand new one? Re-boots and do-overs belong to our most gracious heavenly father and are God’s great gifts to us. If you got to begin again, what would your “new birth” look like? Seek and you will find out!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: February 24 Edition

Matthew 17:1-9

Gospel Lesson for Sunday
Feb 26 2017

1Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.  8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

   It must have been very hard to be impetuous, shoot-from-the-hip Peter. His response to his privileged presence at the “parting of the veil” was to build a shrine to capture the moment as though in amber. In the midst of his carrying on, a voice from a cloud broke through and asked Peter, James and John to be quiet and “just listen, already!”  And, to cap it off, Jesus told them not to say a word about their remarkable encounter until Jesus was resurrected (as though they comprehended that remark!). It cannot have been easy for any of them to be disciples of Jesus even though we sometimes envy them.  After all, they were walking and talking face-to-face with the Jesus we can only summon in our imaginations and our spirits.
    Dear Peter often provides a cautionary tale about our human foibles!  As with any spiritual experience that pushes credulity, we are liable to do just what Peter did. No one can dispute that the church has made a few too many “booths” out of the faith, many times domesticating and containing the sometimes overwhelming movements of the Spirit. We can use even the holiest string of words to garble and blunt the ineffable. When that voice from the cloud told Peter, in essence, “Please just stop it and listen,” those are words for each one of us.
    My “busyness” can be as much about blocking out God’s voice as responding to it. That’s why God sometimes tells me (in a twist on the old saying), “Don’t just do something, stand there!” After I stop running on my hamster wheel, I am able to see more clearly and respond authentically rather than merely react. In his book Out of Solitude, Henri Nouwen wrote, “In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.”
    We are right to be cautious about ecstatic spiritual experiences because not all of them end well.  “Test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) in order to receive true spiritual riches, not counterfeits. But by no means should we decide to avoid even the hint of the unexplainable in our spiritual lives or we will miss all those “thin places” as the Celts called them, those translucent junctures where this world and the next come closest to being one. Those are the places where we are most able to see God for who God is and to be transfigured ourselves in the process!
    The moment of transfiguration is an obvious tableau of Jesus as the fulfillment of everything Moses trekked to his mountaintop to receive, including all of God’s glory. With Moses representing the law and Elijah the prophets, Jesus stands with them as the ultimate fulfillment of their missions. And placed where it is in our readings, it is a clear bridge between the light of Epiphany and the dark road of Lent we are about to travel with our Lord.
    The essential things we need from God are not things we read in “How to be a Christian” manuals.  They are provided “by revelation” (Matthew 16:17). So, if we stay in the flatlands and avoid the mountainous treks, we run the risk of missing God’s transfiguring moments, which, for us as for Jesus, are signposts and supports along the Way. After their time of being still and listening, Jesus finished the message to his disciples, then and now: “Get up, don’t be afraid and, now, let’s get moving!” Off the mountaintop with you! Even though he knew he was descending only to arrive at a hill named Golgotha to be lifted even higher, he enjoined his friends and followers to walk with him… down to the valley where his work - and ours - is waiting.  The moments of transfiguration God graces us with are lights for the journey through our valleys. And we will shine like the children of light that we are, trailing clouds of glory as we go.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: February 10 Edition

Matthew 5:21-37

Gospel Lesson for Sunday
Feb 12 2017

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘Whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
27
 ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
31
 It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
33
 Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.*

   If the Israelites thought the Ten Commandments were difficult to obey, what about the uber-obedience of the heart that Jesus requires?  It is not all that difficult to appear righteous, upstanding and obedient, as long as no one can listen to our thoughts or suss out our true intentions, right? I remember Jimmy Carter’s famous (and, to the biblically-challenged, perplexing) comment, “I have committed adultery in my heart many times.” Admitting our fallen and “temptable” state should be a no-brainer, but we know it takes courage and humility to admit to being, in St. Paul’s term, “a mere man.”
    A key thing the Law and Jesus have in common is that they both focus on how we handle relationships, whether with other people, other nations, or with the earth itself.  Eugene Peterson declared his conviction that “… the church will continue to decline on the left and become rabidly rigid and rule-bound on the right, until we realize that the gospel is not about rules…it is about relationship.” As Gandhi reminded us, in a world of “an eye for an eye,” all are eventually blinded.
    From a Christian perspective, we know that no amount of good legislation will accomplish what only the redemptive power of God can work in the human heart.  We look at the Ten Commandments with fear and trembling and then read this passage and throw up our hands as if to say, “Now, I am really in trouble.”  And, of course, yes, we are all in big trouble because without the Holy Spirit operating in our hearts, not only can we not hope to live in this redemptive, restorative way, we won’t even want to try! Jesus came not to abolish the law (Matthew 5:17), but to fulfill it. Its fulfillment is abundant life for all, even for those who may not be seeking God (see Matthew 5:45 or Luke 6:35)! Now that his Spirit has written these laws on our hearts, they can permeate our intentions and our actions in a radical obedience, simply not sustainable without God’s help.
    No one is capable of perfect adherence to the law, but God is concerned with the intention of the heart, even when we sometimes miss the bar. While not committing murder or adultery may make me feel good about myself, I need to know that is a very low bar indeed, especially if in the very next breath I commit a “character assassination” at work!  One day, with true hearts, our “yes” and our “no” will be spoken with no reservations or irony. 
    Matthew 23:27 and its metaphor of the ‘whited sepulchre’ is perhaps the quintessential definition of hypocrisy. That sort of duplicity did not end with the last living scribe or Pharisee!  It continues in some way or another in each of us. In 2006, when the Amish folks in Pennsylvania extended almost immediate forgiveness to the man who shot ten of their children (killing half of them), the entire country was taken aback, as much by the forgiveness as by the atrocious act that called it forth.  How different from the usual cries for vengeance. But they are the first to tell you that they work on this forgiveness each and every day.  They extend it by faith and live courageously into the promise of restoration.  And that is how our hearts are converted.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: January 27 Edition

Matthew 5:1-12

Gospel Lesson for Sunday Jan 29 2017

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

   Micah, Old Testament prophet that he was, still nailed the essence of the gospel: “…do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.” What have we done with this simple (not easy!) mandate?  We have allowed it to be taken over by political parties and pundits who have become ersatz theologians, instructing the rest of us on how to define justice in the world. Micah has God lamenting our injustices, beseeching an answer from us… “What have I done to you?” What has God done to elicit such fickle behavior from his children?
    We may have to actually become those who mourn, who are powerless, who hunger and thirst and are poor in order to find out exactly what the blessing is that God is offering in Matthew 5:1-12.  It is a bit more obvious to perceive the blessings derived from mercy, purity and peace because we expect to be rewarded with righteousness when we seek and live it. But very few of us actively seek the experiences associated with grief, poverty, persecution or injustice. How then, can Jesus teach his followers that those of us experiencing these sorts of dire circumstances are actually “fortunate”  or “honored” (for those are perhaps more accurate words than “happy” for the Greek word makarios ordinarily translated as “blessed”)? 
    The answer contained within the question is the kingdom of heaven. This is God’s foundational message for all time; his kingdom is the last word; his kingdom is now, not “pie-in-the-sky,” and our citizenship in that kingdom gives us the strength, courage and perspective to persevere and, yes, even to rejoice, in the midst of seeming calamity. These “beatitudes” are actually grand declarations of the hope of the gospel and the guarantee that our hopes have been and will be fulfilled in Christ. This is the gospel that turns everything we expect upside down so that we can actually feel deeply blessed even as we mourn, sense our kinship with Love itself as we seek peace with ourselves and everyone else. Each statement both describes a gospel posture and then the reward that yields in our relationship with God and God’s kingdom.
    Here’s the thing: Jesus did not expect something of us that he didn’t expect of himself; he knew he would be persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  He knew we would be as well if we were faithful. These blessings or declarations of our good fortune were given to us before we had a chance to earn or achieve these states of being. We are not being exhorted to do anything to earn a blessing, but to be something that only God by his grace can empower us to be—and therein lies the blessing.
    Jesus proclaims blessing on everyone, whether we are mourning right now or not…poor or rich, meek or full of ourselves—however we find ourselves in any given moment.  In fact, God probably wants to bless us more than we want that blessing! But once we experience God, we will have a great desire to share God with someone else.  Williams Sloan Coffin once invoked this blessing; may we take it as our own:

May the Lord Bless you and keep you.

May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.

May God give you grace not to sell yourselves short,

Grace to risk something big for something good,

Grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love.

May God take your minds and think through them.

May God take your lips and speak through them.

May God take your hands and work through them.

May God take your hearts and set them on fire. Amen.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: January 13 Edition

John 1:29-42

Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Jan 15 2017

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

   Throughout my career, I have been impressed with how important titles are.  They determine salary, responsibilities…even whether you get a window cube or an office! And we all know that, from the outside at least, titles and perks can sometimes seem inconsistent or undeserved. In this week’s Gospel, John announced Jesus’ title/identity and, later in the reading, Jesus announced a new and symbolic name for Simon… Peter. And yet, John himself eschewed all titles but one…he was a ‘Voice in the wilderness.’  That title would not even get you a desk in any office I can imagine! As a matter of fact, John could not be less 21st century as he proved by his later declaration, “He [Jesus] must increase but I must decrease (3:30).” Explain that part of your resume to your next potential employer! Yet, in Kingdom terms, that is the precise definition of a Christian leader and, in fact, of any of us who have met “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and follows the heavenly mandate to share that fact.
    When Jesus asked two of John’s disciples (who—upon hearing John’s declaration of Jesus’ identity—began to follow Jesus), “What are you looking for?” their response is provocative. They didn’t say, “Well, as a matter of fact, we’re looking for you, if you are the true Messiah.” Nor did they request “eternal life” or tips on “how to be a perfect Jew.’”  Instead, they wanted to know where Jesus was staying. Pretty intimate question, actually, and not the first thing we ordinarily ask a new acquaintance. I think this spirit-inspired question was weighted with a lot more than an inquiry about his local address.  There are few more basic requirements to sustain life than a place to stay… to be.  So, when these folks asked him where he was staying, I think they were asking for an address for themselves, hoping they would find a true home there.  And, of course, Jesus delivered the answer of relationship and intimacy…“Come and see.” What he offers us also, even before we know enough to ask! 
    This is the kind of God we truly want, right?  He did not exact correct doctrinal adherence before they could see where he lived; there was no hint that perhaps they should put on better clothes before their visit.  All he offered was (and still is) an open invitation to come and see. Knowing Jesus, he was hoping that, after they saw, they would stay.
    Ever since humanity was banned from our first home and sent “east of Eden,” we have been wandering in search of a place to be.  We have created all sorts of ersatz abodes…titles, achievements, serial relationships…all in an effort to find our true home. Jesus bade us “Come and see” and, for those of us who did and who stayed, perhaps “come and see” are the only words we need to offer others if our lives reflect the life of Christ. As St. Francis reputedly said, “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.” As the gospel chorus puts it, “They will know we are Christians by our love”…not our titles.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: December 30 Edition

Matthew 2:13-23

Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Jan 1 2017

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’ 16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 

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

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.” 

   The saying, “God draws straight with crooked lines” is no more evident than while reading about this journey that began with “the flight into Egypt,” that purposeful season of exile before Jesus got to go home. I don’t think we have much concept of what it would be like to live under any of the five despotic Herods who populated the years of Jesus’ life. And yet, this is the very time God had in mind to bring his salvation into the world.
    Our preparations for Jesus’ birth are usually filled with excitement and anticipation (and a bit of holiday preparation fatigue). What we don’t want to intrude on this season is unpleasantness of any sort.  But Jesus’ entry into the world was filled with it because Jesus was entering into the fallen, death-dealing culture that we still inhabit to this day. What is certain is that with Jesus’ entry onto the world stage, the culture of death has met its match and the lights are being turned on in the kingdom of darkness!
    This season can still be the most difficult season of the year. Many remember those dear to them who have passed away; others realize that they are completely alone during this oh-so-family-oriented holiday time.  It is no wonder the suicide rate peaks even as most of the rest of us are wrapping packages and receiving guests. But this is precisely where Jesus belongs; the holiday season is a season of grief as well as joy, both in his day and in ours. We still have our slaughter of the innocents, whether it happens in Newtown, Connecticut, or Darfur in the Sudan.  And in a very short time after we merrily receive the infant Jesus, we will see him nailed to a cross—the very slaughter a power-mad Herod so desired.
    Theologian Stanley Hauerwas wrote, “Perhaps no event in the gospel more determinatively challenges the sentimental depiction of Christmas than the death of these children. Jesus is born into a world in which children are killed, and continue to be killed, to protect the power of tyrants.” A somber mood during the festivities is perhaps not so out of place after all. Once again, Jesus is our example, carried ‘helplessly’ by his parents through his own treacherous season as a refugee. As we follow the Lord’s sometimes circuitous paths we too can find ourselves on an unexpected road, feeling at times like a foreigner in a very strange land.
    The angel/messenger from God told Joseph to get up and go home for those who sought to kill Jesus were themselves dead (v. 20). The journey home was in sight! For us too, every principality and power that seeks our life has also been rendered just as powerless by the power of Christ. The path we are on with God—the path that is at times so bewildering—is the only way to get to our true home, the one from which our fallen nature has exiled us!
    Every ‘flight into Egypt’ God may ask us to take has a reason and an end. And he guides us every step of the way.  He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). We may face our dreaded version of Herod, but we can join the writer of 1 Chronicles 16:31: Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The Lord is king!”

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: December 16 Edition

Matthew 1:18-25

The Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Dec 18 2016

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him ‘Emmanuel,’ which means, “God is with us.” 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

    The fate of us all turned on—of all things—a dream! An angel appeared to Mary while she was awake, and Joseph had to rely on an angelic dream visit to help him decide the fate of Mary, the child and the world itself!  And then, of course, he had to swallow the “virgin birth” aspect of his situation. I wonder which was harder to digest, the angel or the angel’s news? The first Adam and Jesus (called “the second Adam”) both came into the world through God’s direct intervention.
    The secular world looks upon all of this as a myth and, by myth, they mean fiction.  But the original meaning of the word “myth” is that it is a vehicle to convey deep truth.  It was precisely this view of myth that brought C. S. Lewis to faith in Christ! J. R. R. Tolkien instructed his friend Lewis that the use of myth was perhaps the best, if not the only, way to begin to communicate otherwise inexpressible truth. Lewis later wrote that Christianity was the “true myth” supplanting and completing every other story of our origin and destiny.
    Angelic visitations, whether they occur during sleep or during the day, are foundation-shifting occurrences that not all of us have had the honor of experiencing. But in one way or another, every child of God has had some experience of our faith transporting us out of the way the world appears and into the way the world really is, from God’s point of view.  And that certainly includes wild, improbable happenings like those we encounter throughout scripture!  Our faith is not so easily divided into the every-day rationalist, materialist slog from Monday till Saturday and then sixty minutes of other-worldly super-reality on Sunday morning.
    By one count, there are twenty-one different stories in scripture where a dream is the main vehicle in a story with major consequences!  In fact, Joseph was the recipient of four of the five dreams recounted in Matthew’s gospel regarding Christ’s birth and childhood. 21st century rationalistic sensibilities find this all discountable and easily explained away as projections of our unconscious. Who needs dreams or angelic messages about children if you have the entire internet universe to guide you? To rely on a dream rather than objective fact or observable circumstances is foolish and wrong-headed… or so say those who have not had any encounter with God and God’s ways!
    Imagine going to bed one night convinced of a course of action, only to awaken the next morning after a very troubling-but-convincing dream that radically changed your mind. Joseph chose to adopt a stance of faith and patience as he waited, first for nine months for Jesus to be born and, then, for years after as Jesus grew up and began to live into his mission.  And since Joseph isn’t heard from much after “Christmas” in scripture, we don’t even know for how long he was part of Jesus’ life or if Joseph died too young to really see the fruit of his faith!
    Two parents—each bearing a dream—came together to birth and nurture their dreams and ultimately ours as well!
    Because Joseph believed his dreams, our whole world is being made new. “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him… (v. 24).” What kind of dreams are you having these Advent days? Can you believe them?

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: December 2 Edition

Matthew 3:1-12

The Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Dec 4 2016

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2””Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness; Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ 4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor;’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

   It is amazing what a mere punctuation mark can do to a sentence.  We are accustomed to hearing Matthew 3:3 as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord.’” But if we revise it just a bit, we are offered an enhanced perspective: “The voice of one crying: ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.’”
    America’s law books contain The Wilderness Act of 1964 which defines “wilderness” in part as a place “…in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, [and] is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” This earth is indeed not our final home (Hebrews 13:14 and 2 Peter 2:11-12). As long as we remain on this parched and fallen landscape called earth, we will be wandering and navigating in and out of wildernesses, geographical, relational and spiritual. And everyone to whom we share the love of Christ will be receiving our words from a wilderness of their own.
    John was the lone billboard in this ancient wilderness, announcing the arrival of the one who would bring at once great judgment and great joy.  To follow him and experience that joy, there must be heartfelt, soul-deep repentance and a metanoia, a turning around on our path to head in an entirely new and divinely-appointed direction. No one can simply say “I’m sorry” and yet continue on in the same dead-ended direction and call that conversion!  But we need help to see our new path. Most wildernesses are uncharted; many don’t appear even on Google Earth, but there is a perfectly calibrated compass for the wildernesses in which we find ourselves… Jesus the Christ.
    The metanoia that John speaks of is a word for us when we get complacent in the faith, when we think that being “sons and daughters of Abraham” will somehow shield us from any wrath to come.  It is a perilous thing to become a pew-warmer in the house of God! As Annie Dillard shares so graphically, “It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.”
    John makes it clear from the beginning that the fruit of our lives is the evidence of our commitment. This passage seems awfully harsh as we approach Jesus’ humble entrance into the world but, to paraphrase Lutheran pastor and teacher David Lose, we dare not end up preparing for Christmas rather than for Christ. Jesus the Christ comes with open arms and a winnowing fork.  Justice tempered with mercy.  We are the ones who decide whether we fall into his arms or onto that fork!
    As we traverse and seek to leave our wildernesses, be encouraged by the fact that Christ walks beside us and, if we reach for his hand and listen to his voice, he will lead us on a safe path out. Someday, every wilderness will be a place of absolute peace as the vision in Isaiah 11:1-10 so lovingly shows us.  In our Advent time filled with shopping, eating, drinking and partying, try to find an empty, wild, perhaps untended place in our hearts where hope for our deliverance can flourish, even as a flower in the desert…or a shoot from the stump of Jesse.   

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: November 18 Edition

Luke 23:33-43
The Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Nov 13 2016

33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

   I would lay odds that most of those who shy away from Christ or his Church do so because of what C. S. Lewis called “the problem of pain.” All kinds of reasons are offered…science versus “myth,” the inconsistency of Christian witness across denominations (and by individuals), the apparent discrepancies in Scripture and on and on.  But if you dig a bit deeper, there is very often some unaddressed and unrequited pain in life that seems to morph into impenetrable barriers to a relationship with any so-called deity who might conceivably allow such suffering. If we are honest, we’ve had our own spiritual tantrums (not unlike Job’s in Scripture) where we demand that God either explain himself or leave us alone.
    In Luke’s passage for Sunday, Jesus is on the cross, flanked by a criminal on either side of him with mockers and gawkers nearby. An ironic sign has been affixed to the top of Jesus’ cross, “This is the King of the Jews.” The Jews actually saw the fulfillment of scriptural prophecies in Jesus’ arrival on the scene, but he kept deflecting any idea that the temporal king they desired was the king God intended to give them. No wonder they were infuriated and often raged against him.  The most telling line in this passage comes from one of the criminals in verse 39: “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” Isn’t that what each of us really wants?  We may not easily admit that only God can save us from ourselves or our pain, but when he doesn’t do it (at least in our time and our way), we can sure join the jeering throng in a hurry.
    While so many mocked his alleged “kingship,” one of his crucified companions admitted that for him and his friend, “…we are getting what we deserve for our deeds.” He recognized that in Jesus he had met an innocent man. So while human justice was being meted out, divine justice was operating as well.  Jesus inaugurated his kingly reign right from the cross as he granted this sinner (who saw Jesus for the ultimate king he was) a place with him that very day in Paradise! A royal pardon he waits to grant each one who asks.
    It is a daunting thing to consider taking up a cross and yet we each bear one, willingly or not.  It is the cross of our fallen humanity which plays out uniquely for each one of us.  When that criminal in verse 39 asked for salvation, he was asking for a respite from the punishment he had earned.  Jesus had something so much better in mind for him as he does for each of us. This man, with nothing to lose and eternity to gain, was given grace to pierce the veil between “King of the Jews” and “King of Heaven” and received the answer to our plea that God’s kingdom come to us on earth as in heaven.
    We are members of what Peter described in 1 Peter 2:9 as “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.”  With that comes our mandate to proclaim his mighty acts because we have received his great mercy (verses 9-10). Our king demands great things from his followers, but he also rides with us into each of our battles. We are Christ-bearers, carrying his banner into battle to defeat evil and inaugurate his glorious and everlasting kingdom. And as Solomon (Song of Songs 2:4) proclaimed, “His banner over us is love.”

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: November 4 Edition

Luke 6:20-31
The Gospel Lesson for
All Saints Sunday
Nov 6 2016

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

   The Golden Rule. We’ve heard it all our lives as a homespun admonishment about how to act toward others. Luke 6:31: “Do unto others…” Yes, the marching order for the saints of God! Luke’s bare-bones version of “The Beatitudes” is an ironic twist on what our human nature would consider the definition of being blessed! In Matthew, we are blessed if we are poor in spirit. In Luke, we are blessed if we are poor. Period. In Matthew, we are blessed if we hunger and thirst for righteousness. In Luke, we are blessed if we are just plain hungry. We are blessed if people hate us, exclude, revile or defame us because of our faith. And all those who are rich, well-fed, loved and admired now are in great peril… for this may be all they get! And, yes, this is considered Good News!
    God does indeed have what the church has termed “a preferential option for the poor,” a special seeking and serving of those in distress on earth. Whatever we do for the least of those among us, we do directly for Christ (Matthew 25:40). As many missionaries have observed, it is very difficult to talk about the love of God to someone who is starving or shivering or begging for shelter. As we know from the life of Christ, God completely engages with his children even before they realize they are His. So, to be beatified (blessed) is to be one of God’s saints and, to be one of his saints, is to be a blessing for others.
    The old adage “There, but for the grace of God, go I” is what we might murmur as we pass any person, place or thing that we fear could befall us. Yet, all of us are paupers and lost souls until we find our rest and peace within the loving and redeeming arms of God. And once there, God’s Spirit energizes us to go forth and bring others into that same grace-filled fold. If we cannot see ourselves as poor and hungry and naked and afraid, what would motivate us to fall to our knees with grateful hearts? What common ground would we ever be able to find with those we are called to serve? On his deathbed, Luther is supposed to have said, “We are all beggars. That is true.” And yet he also believed we are all priests to each other and the world.
    Theologian Bruce Epperly wrote, “Today, we need the vision of saints. Greed abounds; individualism carries the day; violence is beneath the surface; fears abound, and earth is in the balance as we face the realities of global climate change. We need to claim our humble role as saints, healers of the earth, for our time and place.”
    There have been many saints in my life…people who took time to listen to me or to offer a bit of advice or hang with me through a rough patch. Sainthood isn’t about having certified miracles under your belt. It is about communicating to the world and the person next to you—in thought, word and deed—exactly what you have received from Christ.
    Who are your saints? Who has helped to shape your life? Who is out there redeeming our world? As an old English hymn concludes, “…for the saints are folk like you and like me, and I mean to be one, too.” What kind of saint is God calling you to be

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: October 21 Edition

Luke 18:9-14

The Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Oct 23 2016

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’13But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

    I grew up in the free-church tradition and ‘free’ (sometimes ‘free-wheeling’) is a good descriptor. When I discovered liturgical worship and the set prayers (prayers that had been prayed untold numbers of times through centuries by the faithful around the world), I was overjoyed. They were like old, treasured books that you want to read again and again. My Baptist friends told me these were examples of “vain repetition” but I found nothing vain in either the words or the experience of praying those carefully-crafted words. Unlike the rambling pastoral prayers I endured as a child, these love letters to God are not veiled parish prayer lists, or sanitized newsletters made to feel like prayers instead of announcements!
    I am having a hard time not picturing the super-sized hubris of some political candidates as I read this Pharisee proclaim the many ways he is superior to absolutely everyone else on the planet! Politicians aren’t praying when they proclaim to be in a class by themselves because their frame of reference is no wider than themselves and their constituencies. It is for God to decide if such self-assessments are accurate. Similarly, it seems to me that the Pharisee isn’t praying as much as testifying to his own importance and fully anticipating God’s applause at the end!
    How ironic it is that God prefers the much-loathed tax collector’s humble self-assessment and plea for mercy rather than the recited resume of righteousness offered for all to hear by the puffed-up Pharisee. Frankly, I couldn’t be more relieved that God prefers that approach because it is the only one I have to offer. The version of Scripture called “The Message” nails it with the wording used in Romans 12:16: “Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.”
   
Eventually, we each must make our own confession that we too have stood where the Pharisee stood and proclaimed ourselves better than any number of other people, be they the indigent poor who we feel are draining our economy or the obnoxiously amoral who we believe are destroying society. Each of us from time to time can forget that we are all sinners and, without repentance, we will perish (Luke 13:3). All have sinned. All fall short (Romans 3:23). Nothing pleases our Father in heaven more than when we acquire a realistic view of ourselves and are able to stand before God, not on the basis of our own merits, but because of the saving grace of Jesus Christ who brought us home to our Father.
    Back to well-worn prayers, there is a prayer from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer called “the prayer of humble access” usually prayed prior to the reception of Communion. It is drawn from Matthew 8:8 and Mark 7:28 and begins like this: “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy…”
   
When we pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” we have removed the need for both self-accusation and self-justification. Our lives are “hid with Christ in God” and the burden of self-proclamation is gone! Gone too is the need to compare ourselves to anyone other than Jesus who alone grants us the power to be who we are meant to be.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: October 7 Edition

Luke 17:11-19

The Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Oct 9 2016

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

   In the endearing way of Luke, this Sunday’s passage showcases that, once again, it is the Samaritan in the story who “gets the message!”
    All ten lepers called Jesus “Master,” which, heretofore, in Luke had been a designation only the disciples had used. When Jesus spoke healing words to them and instructed them to go to the priest for the examination that would lead to their reintegration into society, they all obediently set forth! And it took faith to do it because they were not healed until they were on their way! So, before we write off the nine lepers as among the ungrateful, we should note that they did exactly as Jesus instructed. 
    What separates the tenth leper, the “foreigner,” from his friends is not the healing, for all were healed…at least physically.  It was his deeper appreciation and gratitude for a healing that he realized had transcended the merely physical. Even the original language indicates that this one also experienced spiritual healing and he returned to thank and praise God. Jesus informed him that his faith had made him well, using a word that means “saved.” He had been made very well indeed!
    Many in the recovery community, when feeling out of sorts, drop everything and create a gratitude list. It is primarily a tool of remembering because we get so used to our comforts and privileges that we forget the ‘attitude of gratitude’ that should surround and inform our days. Perhaps the nine who obediently took off for the priest simply felt they had been given their due and now they could get back to their “real life,” not stopping long enough to experience any of the feelings that would ordinarily attend a healing…praise, joy, thankfulness…. If we haven’t felt any of this lately, perhaps it’s time to stop in our tracks and begin our own “thank God” list. Each new day is sheer gift but, so often, we approach it with dread instead of with God, an assumption of entitlement rather than a posture of thankfulness. A short poem by R. S. Thomas expresses this superbly,

“I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way and forgotten it but that was the pearl of great price, the one field that had the treasure in it. I realize now that I must give all that I have to possess it. Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. It is turning aside like Moses to the miracle of a lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.”

    John Milton said, “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” It would be so much easier to notice all that is gratitude-worthy if we were not so very rushed and over-scheduled, under-rested and over-committed. A slogan from my ‘Youth for Christ’ days (penned by C. T. Studd) went like this, “Life is short; ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” What is done in and for Christ arises from our grateful hearts in response to (as James 1:17 puts it) the Giver of every good gift

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: Sept 23 Edition

Luke 16:19-31

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
Sept 25 2016

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

   The prosperity gospel has confused people about the crucial difference between doing good and doing well. Being rich is absolutely no barometer of anything beyond, well, being rich. It is not a sign of righteousness; it is not even a sign of superior intelligence. It just is. And it, like everything else, happens to the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45)! The other inevitability that doesn’t change based on net worth is that we all die, rich or poor. And no one takes anything with them beyond the legacy of our lives to present to God.
    As Luke tells it, the poor man has a name (Lazarus) and the rich man does not. In our world, it is evermore the opposite. The ‘great unwashed’ remain nameless because to know their names is to begin the painful, converting process of empathy! And empathy is the mortar that bridges the chasms of class, race, and all the “isms” we use in our impossible search for peace and safety!
    Luke is illustrating here the unbreachable chasm we create by the cumulative acts that form our hearts. This is not easy reading for the soft-hearted among us who would like to think that patterns of selfishness will be forgiven post-mortem with God’s “There, there, now, it’s alright” even without any intention of remorse! The entitled one in this story is clueless even after death as he persists in treating Lazarus like his inferior, requesting from him a drink of water even as he fries in the flames of his own selfishness. The rich man asks for water, but not the water of life; he wants mercy but without paying the price of repentance.
    It isn’t enough to feel bad for the poor or even to think of your guilty conscience as somehow redemptive. The poor are still poor; the hungry are still hungry; the homeless are…and on and on. The chasm that has been fixed between heaven and hell has its origins in the chasms we create on earth to separate us from those we can’t or won’t see as our kith and kin. Even with those who have little or no interest in lending a hand to others, there still remains some degree of concern for immediate family as evidenced by the rich man’s concern for his brothers. But, as the story plays out, it is quite clear that the rich man was “hard of listening” about mercy and justice. Even now that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, too many remain in a self-induced state of stubborn denial.
    Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul? Those ancient Egyptian tombs littered with riches, petrified food and amulets are evidence that we can’t take a thing with us into eternity. It will just be each of us, alone before God, but in the background will be a crowd of witnesses—both rich and poor—as testaments to our tender hearts or our self-destructive ‘heart problem.’ 1 Timothy 6:10 warns that an eagerness to be rich (which usually also means an unwillingness to be generous) leads to all sorts of radiating pain; the consequences begin with the wealth-seeker and spread out into the world in a spiral of parsimony and heartlessness.
    We who believe what God says in his Word and in our hearts are children and heirs of that One who owns everything and shares it with abandon. Others will choose to place their hopes on the uncertainty of earthly riches. Who will ultimately be destitute? Moses, the prophets and Jesus have words for us. Will we listen?

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: November 9 Edition

Mark 12:38-44
Gospel Lesson for Sunday Nov 11 2018

38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.43Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 

   Scarcity and abundance are the twin faces in any conversation about money with very little middle ground. We are well into stewardship season in the church.  In whatever way we frame our conversations on funding our ministries, scripture tells us repeatedly that the values of this world are in stark contrast to Kingdom values.  Our fallen nature has a huge struggle juggling these two value systems, particularly with regard to money. The cultural message we imbibe from infancy is that we should strive to be independent; God’s message to us is one of utter dependence on him.  No wonder we are sometimes riven in two with conflicting priorities.
    This week’s readings deal with two different widows: the widow of Zarephath in the passage from 1 Kings and the story in Mark, commonly referred to as “the widow’s mite.” Widows are a recurring group in ancient Israel who were to be cared for; in fact, they required that care as, having been completely dependent on their husbands, they were destitute without them. They continue to be powerful symbols for those who have no choice but to participate in and contribute to the very systems that oppress them.
   
The widow of Zarephath was hunkering down to prepare a “last supper” for herself and her son and then to settle in to die.  The prophet Elijah came along, obeying a directive from God who told the widow that she was to feed Elijah. He arrived and asked her to bring him bread and water. She would either have to sacrifice her own last meal or that of her son to accommodate this stranger.  Apparently, she didn’t receive or understand the message God told Elijah he had delivered to her. Elijah announced to her that often-heard angelic pronouncement, “Do not be afraid.” And he assured her that her obedience to this request would result in unending sustenance as long as the drought endured. Her fortunes turned on a dime, as it were, from scarcity to abundance. 
   
Then, in Mark, we read the story most of us hear when the stewardship drive kicks into high gear.  Picture Jesus today sitting in the IRS office reading through everyone’s tax returns and coming upon someone who decided to do exactly what a cartoon once suggested, “What did you earn this year? Turn it in.”  Jesus noticed this widow’s two copper coins clanging into the till and made sure the disciples saw the comparison between giving out of abundance and giving out of poverty.  It’s as though Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “This!”
   
Jesus was focused not on condemning or minimizing those who gave out of their abundance; rather he rejoiced at the widow’s interior freedom and faith to be able to give, not just until it hurt, but until there was nothing left to give.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27).” It is possible to be subjective about what “all” might mean in most cases, but not when it comes to a quantifiable thing like money.  It’s “all” or it’s not “all.” 
   
The most provocative aspect to this story in my view is the fact that the two coins this widow offered the temple treasury—even if they were her last two coins—were not going to get her out of poverty.  They probably weren’t even going to get her lunch!  This was someone who was not relying on her money, but on the grace of God and the righteous response of her neighbors. That is what Jesus wants from each of us regardless of our bank balance.
   
We are stewards, not owners. Therein lies our freedom. May we seek this freedom of the widow to rely on God alone. That will loosen our grip on so many lesser things. And less in this case is most definitely more… more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at dhoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: October 26 Edition

Mark 10:46-52
Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Oct 28 2018

46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. 

   James 5:16 (along with Ephesians 6:18 and any number of other scripture references) enjoins us to pray for one another. Any prayer chain worth its salt has a long list of those who are seeking physical, emotional or even financial healing. Occasionally, we are gifted with the apparent answer to our corporate praying. Someone’s cancer is in complete remission…what was thought to be terminal is now treatable…and so on. Then there are the ones that break our hearts (and we have each known someone or been that someone), those whose prayers were not answered in the way they so fervently hoped.
    This Sunday’s gospel tells us the story of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar and inadvertent author of the famous ‘Jesus prayer:’ “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Bartimaeus has a special role in his community, even in his lowly and mostly despised state. He is the symbol of, sitting at the doors of the city, the inhabitants’ responsibility to give alms to the poor. Perhaps that is not too dissimilar to the shaggy, sunburned folks waving their cardboard signs on the curbsides of Phoenix, which is annoying but easy to ignore…unless they jump in front of our vehicles or tap on our car doors. Then the response is likely to be a few shades darker than annoyance.
   
But this is essentially what Bartimaeus did with his shout-outs to Jesus to have mercy and return his sight to him. This was no demur prayer, “If it be thy will.” This was an in-your-face, ‘I-know-who- you- are, I-know-what-you-can- do- and-I-am-asking-you-to-do-it’ beseeching prayer! I imagine Jesus being secretly thrilled with Bartimaeus’ holy audacity. I remember James’ stark comment, “You don’t have because you don’t ask (James 4:2b).” Remember, too, the persistent widow who Would.Not.Shut.Up (Luke 18:1-8)! Luke used her as a role model for ceaseless, hopeful praying.
   
The disciples, meanwhile, were focused on getting out of town so this beggar was indeed annoying them. Jesus well knew that his journey was going to be defined by its “interruptions” and unexpected byways and so he asked the disciples to bring blind Bart to him. Jesus not only wants to heal in this story, but he was also capturing another teachable moment for his disciples. Typically, a beggar would approach a potential almsgiver with ‘bowing and scraping,’ not Bart’s exuberant springing up and doffing of his cloak! I think he was already sensing the new life and new sight to come to him through this encounter. Nor did Jesus stand on ceremony. No pious review about how to ask for healing or who should ask for healing, or even what the healing process should be. Jesus simply responded to the bold faith of a man in need. Then, after checking to make sure he really wanted to be healed (v. 51), Jesus gave him what he really wanted which went so much deeper than physical sight.
   
The followers of Jesus were more interested in continuing on their way, silencing the interloper, and keeping things on track and on schedule. How like us they are! And even when we pray for healing, are we sure we can handle it if it arrives? Do we pray with a spring in our step and a willingness to toss our cloak to the curb and run to the source of our new life? What stops us from forthrightly facing our Lord and begging for the wholeness we are offered? Could it be that our spirits need new sight more than our eyes might? All we have to do is ask. We may not receive a physical healing right away, but God will in no way refuse to give us the great gift of resurrected life (John 6:37)! That is something I know I want to see!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at dhoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: October 12 Edition

Mark 10:17-31
Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Oct 14 2018

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 17Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’”  20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” 

    Half my life ago, I was a postulant in an Episcopal convent. The greatest struggle I had there was not that I had to sell my red Camaro or divest myself of possessions only recently acquired post-college.  In fact, as the years have accumulated, so have my possessions and so has my attachment to them. I have had no lack of issues with prosperity and the call of God. 
    Convent life, while providing basic needs, was not a place where much luxury was to be had.  The heat was turned down excessively low (I was in Wisconsin at the time), much of the food was grown in our garden or donated from food pantry overflow. The re-sale store was the go-to shop for our wardrobe (having doffed the habit some years before I arrived).  A $25 per month allowance was plenty for the pared-down needs of this “sister.”
   
Separated from the striving for goods and services, pay and raises, I was stripped down to the basic tug-o-war between Being and Doing. No longer a noticeable consumer, I had a fundamental identity crisis about my intrinsic worth.  I was not at all convinced that I had any worthwhile identity apart from what I could contribute to the market economy. That is how mid-century children were reared, after all.
   
Thinking about the “rich young ruler,” I imagine each of us could substitute for “rich” whatever it is that distracts us and defends us against openness to God. This young man saw eternal life as simply another acquisition, a commodity he could do something to obtain.  And Jesus loved him too much not to tell him the Truth.
    C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us…like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.” And we are far too easily frightened by grace. Not the cheap variety, but the grace that, if received, leads to freedom from whatever binds us, whatever prevents us from being whole, whatever provocative voice tempts us, saying, “Keep your possessions because you never know what God might ask of you.” A wise person once said, “Who knew that the opposite of ‘rich’ was not ‘poor’ but ‘free!’ “
   
A gospel of ease and convenience does not resemble the gospel life of Jesus or any of his followers.  But the good news of abundance is always proclaimed as an antidote to the pain of divesting ourselves of what is already passing away to gain the One who will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). If you have not yet appropriated the grace of God and still believe you can earn your salvation, ask yourself this… When will you know you have paid in full your debt to God?
   
This story is about each one of us because God will inevitably ask each of us a question we don’t want to answer.  And as Jesus reminds us, we don’t have to answer it in our own strength…because we can’t. As Harvard chaplain Peter Gomes has written, “With us, nothing works. The good suffer, the wicked prosper…Our wealth does not make us rich; our poverty doesn’t make us virtuous. Our power does not heal, our knowledge does not enlighten. Peace is fleeting, and the grave seems ultimate and eternal. The gospel of wealth, pleasure, power, and sensation has no capacity to save us for and from anything. With us, nothing is possible. But with God, all things are possible.” 
   
Only when we open our hands and let earthly things fall from our grasp, will we be free to hold on to Jesus. According to Luke 12:32, he loves us so much that he cannot wait to give us the Kingdom. Nothing we lose today can surpass those riches.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at dhoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: Sept 28 Edition

Mark 9:38-50
Gospel Lesson for Sunday Sept 30 2018

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. 42 “If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. 49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

    How many times have we wanted something that was so far out of reach that all we could mutter was “That would cost an arm and a leg!”
    When I was an employee of the church and we dealt with ecumenical issues, it was almost always the case that lay people didn’t really think about boundaries when it came time to do the work of Christ; they just got it done together across (and sometimes in spite of) denominational lines.  “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40) means little unless we are able to leave our comfort zone, peer over all the man-made barriers and see if the work of Christ is being done in, perhaps, surprising places by unexpected people. Paul, in Philippians 1:15-18, doesn’t seem to care about the motives behind the Message; he only rejoices that the Message is being proclaimed. And Jesus seems to be saying in Mark 9:39 that after someone has performed a work of power in his name, they will have a very hard time denying him!
   
Jesus said in John 15:5, “…apart from me you can do nothing” so it stands to reason that if Christ’s work is being done, and we don’t immediately recognize the worker, we cannot therefore assume this is not one of Christ’s own.  We don’t get to make that call (see the cautionary tale of the Sheep and the Goats—Matt. 25:31-46). Our call is to make sure the altar of God is large enough for all God’s children to fit around it.  “…We are here to be companions (a wonderful word that comes from cum panis… with bread). We are here to share bread with one another (Robert McAfee Brown).” The banquet feast of God has a place setting for each one of us and I am absolutely certain we will be sitting next to people we never thought we’d see at the table. The hospitality of God is focused on very different things than we sometimes are when planning a party.
   
Anne Lamott said in her book Bird by Bird, “You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
   
Christians can (and many do) persist in being one-person inquisitions for what are believed to be inspired reasons: We must defend the faith; we must take “God’s side” in whatever argument is on tap; we must make sure OUR take on Christianity remains THE take on Christianity…and so on. I would never say that we should not stand up for the “faith once-delivered” but I do think that Jesus is trying to impress on his followers the need to have our arms of acceptance spread just a bit wider than we might find comfortable; otherwise, we begin to enter the realm of lost limbs! In-fighting, religious grudges and ecclesiastical battles all break the heart of God. 
   
Standing with others in their journey is not about retreating from our convictions and believing anything, thereby believing nothing at all.  Rather, it is the loving, open-armed stance of our God who asks us to be his arms and his legs in seeking and reaching out to the lost and nurturing and discipling those who are trying to join the fold. If we cross our arms in belligerence, rejection and a lack of forgiveness, we can’t be shocked that Jesus is willing that we lose those evil limbs! 
   
So, what we want might cost us an arm and a leg; what God wants from us might cost the same if we are not willing to surrender ourselves, our souls and bodies to God to use as he will and for whom he will.  Our model is the outstretched arms nailed to a cross—open for each of us to embrace. Be willing to amputate whatever keeps you from God.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: Sept 14 Edition

James 3:1-12
2nd Reading for 
Sunday Sept 16 2018

3Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

     I love words.  But what trouble they can cause.  In this week’s passage from the Book of James, we are given a serious essay on the power of the words that flow from our mouths! The childhood refrain, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me” could not be further from the truth. Job, for example, pleads with his counselors to stop breaking him in pieces with words (Job19:2). I am guessing that each of us has a memory of a compliment or a disparagement by a parent or a teacher that is branded into our consciousness and had an impact on our formative lives.  Words can either wound or heal—such is their impact.
    It has been many years now since I first participated in a silent retreat.  Prior to that (except for times when I was sound asleep), I doubt seriously if I ever sustained that many hours in a row of complete silence.  But oh, the racket in my head! I realized for the first time what a swirling mass of words are at the ready to tumble from my mouth on a moment’s notice!
   
By comparing the tongue (the formative organ of speech) to other small things that have a disproportionate effect on much larger things (i.e., a bridle in a horse’s mouth or the rudder of a ship), James makes clear that while we may consider what we say to be insignificant, it can produce as much damage as a Western wild fire!  We don’t have to listen very long to the evening news before we are faced once again with the implications and consequences of playing fast and loose with words. The ethics of speech have not quite made it into politics. This all reminds me again of Job, responding to one of his “friends” when he said (in 13:5), “If you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom.”
   
Last week, James presented us with the reminder that faith without works is dead.  This week he wants us to understand that our words are also a determination of the reality of our faith.  “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing…this ought not to be so (v. 10).” Perhaps that is why he recommended the discipline of being “quick to listen and slow to speak (v.19).”  It gives us a chance to weigh our words against truth and faith before we speak rashly, ignorantly or harmfully.
   
This is the season when we recruit our church school teachers. I would hesitate to use James 3:1 as an incentive!  “Not many of you should become teachers…for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” When our words are not only spoken, but spoken with the authority granted to the position of teacher, it only makes sense that even more care should be used in the manner and the content of our speech. A teacher said once that every time he read that verse he was tempted to take a vow of silence!
   
And yet, as James declared, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13); and, as an example of that, Peter’s words of confusion and denial (in this week’s Gospel passage) were redeemed as the suffering servant became his longsuffering Savior and Lord. We cannot take back the words we speak, but we can seek forgiveness and begin to amend our past unfortunate words. Otherwise, the ominous words of Jesus should haunt our speech: “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter (Matthew 12:36).”  Now, I want to take that vow of silence!
   
As Paul wrote to the Philippians (4:8), “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” What is cherished in our hearts and pondered in our minds is what is most likely to come forth from our lips!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: August 31 Edition

James 1:17-27

Epistle
Reading
for 
Sunday 
Sept 2 
2018

17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.25But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. 26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. 
    Words, words, words.  We are awash in words. Moses, in Deuteronomy, enjoins the Israelites in verse 4:1, “You must neither add to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God.”  And oh, how many, many words we have added to those original “Ten Words” given to God’s people to guide their lives in righteousness.  Someone once said that we should not put words in God’s mouth, but put God’s words in our mouths. For, as Jesus taught, it is from within that the condition of the heart is revealed, whether in words or actions. Jesus is the Word, the culmination and redemption of all words ever used to reach out for God and salvation.
   
The words of Psalm 15:1-5 are almost haunting in their implicit judgments against the entire political and legislative landscape we inhabit. And the passage in James reinforces all we have heard and read in this week’s lessons with the admonition to be doers of the word, not just hearers (v. 22). He does emphasize that we should listen first and then take our time before speaking. There comes a point when we have heard things one too many times; even good things can begin to fade into the background from over-use.  This happens often in religious circles as we hear repeatedly what we should be doing and yet see so few evidences that anyone is following through on all these “shoulds.” And so Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah saying, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Mark 7:6).” Lip-service versus a life of service.
   
I remember the tale of “Snow White” and how the wicked queen would gaze into her mirror and ask that most narcissistic question, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall: Who is the fairest one of all?” James invokes a mirror many of us will understand.  He says that those who hear the word and do not proceed to respond to it in their actions are like those of us who look in the mirror and don’t really see ourselves …or, who only give a passing glance as we rush by the mirror because we really don’t want to see what it will reflect.
   
In verse 26, James lays it out in no uncertain terms: “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” Then he proceeds to describe pure and undefiled religion: to care for orphans and widows and keep ourselves unstained by the world.  “Orphans and widows” in our day translates to whomever we find to be the most vulnerable in society, as widows and orphans were in James’ era. And since we must leave our comfort zones to do this work, James also wants us to be careful to protect ourselves from the wiles of the world as we seek to make the holy difference God’s children are empowered to make in the world.
   
Pharisees (of every age) are focused on rules, not relationships. The rules God puts in place (in our hearts and in our scriptures) are there to foster and protect our relationships with God and with each other. But we add to these rules from our limited perspectives, we parse the language, we prevaricate, and we mostly end up doing not very much for the kingdom besides adding more noise and dimming the Light.
   
The church can be a place where we measure ourselves by God’s mirror—Jesus himself—as we seek to live what James calls “the law of liberty (v. 25).” The great commandment is this… “Love God, yourself and your neighbor.” Few words, righteous work. Amen.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: August 17 Edition

Ephesians 5:15-20
Epistle Reading for 
Sunday August 19 2018

15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise,16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

   In 1985, Neil Postman published a book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death. He describes the ways television has altered how we communicate, how we relate, the length of our attention spans and even our ability to entertain alternative viewpoints or discern among competing “facts.” Postman is also convinced that we are addicted to entertainment. Nothing about this serves us well as we struggle to lead faithful, focused Christian lives.
    In this week’s brief passage from Ephesians, Paul presents a similar challenge against the prevailing culture of his time. Verse 15 sums up the challenge: “Be careful then how you live.” Paul cautions the Galatian Christians similarly (see Galatians 3:3) not to abandon the Spirit-led life for one ruled by the surrounding culture.
   
By the time the “music wars” hit evangelical churches, I was attending a mainline church, which was resplendent with beautiful, albeit ancient, music and liturgy. I was startled that there was even an interest in allowing “rock bands” and rock music into churches. My reactions were a-historical. Organ music and many of our sacrosanct hymn tunes came straight out of secular culture (just very old secular culture), old enough that we now consider it ancient Christian tradition! Verse 19 tells us to sing all manner of songs to the Lord, affirming St. Augustine’s belief that whoever sings, prays twice.
   
Christians always live with the challenge of displaying for the world what the abundant life in Christ looks like while not engaging in a wholesale rejection of all modern culture. On the other hand, it is wise to understand our current celebrity culture as it butts heads at every turn with how Christians are taught to live! Examples abound: the celebrity culture worships youth, beauty, wealth, sex, extreme sports, risky behavior and absolute freedom. A moment’s reflection reveals the end-game of living with those values!
   
By now, we are seeing the fruits of our cultural slavery to media and those who have claimed the media spotlights. Whether it be the copycats who see a serial killer’s face on television day after day or a celebrity being given great political power with less than stunning credentials, we have traded image for substance and continue to reap the results of that kind of trade-off.
   
Jesus’ disciples couldn’t clearly discern who Jesus was because they were only seeing him through their cultural lenses, expecting him to be their earthly king rather than their heavenly Messiah. We are called always to wear “spiritual bifocals” so that what we see before us can be refocused through the lenses of spiritual wisdom. Paul is asking three things of us: to be wise, sober, and thankful. The list is short, but if our inner compass is oriented around these guideposts, we will one day see transformation in ourselves and in those with whom we interact each day.
   
Paul instructs us to make the most of our time (v. 16) which probably doesn’t refer to the frantic multi-tasking of 21st century America. Rather, we are to make every minute count for God by being open and available to be used by God as God directs us. The days may be evil but those are the best days to set out with God on divine reclamation work! (See 1 Peter 4:12) Socrates told us that the unexamined life is not worth living. Paul would agree. He is reminding us that the Holy Spirit is always available to provide wisdom and grace for each step we walk on our daily path. And as we walk, our thankfulness becomes the spring in our steps!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: August 3 Edition

Ephesians 4:1-16
Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday August 5 2018

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’ 9(When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

   I once participated in a series of interviews to fill a position at work. I decided to go online to see if there were any good lists of provocative interview questions (‘provocative’ meaning they would provoke useful answers!) to pose to the candidates.  I came away with one which I used each time and it “provokes” each time.  The question is: “After you leave your current position, what will your supervisor/colleagues miss about you the most?”  I have decided that this question brings forth what the candidate really feels is his/her strong suit; i.e., their particular talent or gift.  And the candidates all moved from “interview mode” and began to speak passionately.  It’s a wonderful question! 
    This week’s lesson from Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians is a beautiful description of how we are to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called (v. 1).”  In fact, it’s all about being the Christians we proclaim to be “with all humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with each other in love and making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Now, there is a job description! As jobs descriptions do, it goes on to list the qualifications required for this…with one big difference.  These are not qualifications that we dutifully must have developed on our own; they are the grace-filled gifts God has bestowed upon each one of us!  We are not so gifted that we might feel self-satisfied or consider ourselves better (or worse) than someone else who is gifted differently. These gifts are given for the sole purpose of “equipping us for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (v. 12).” As Peter put it in 1 Peter 4:10, “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” And as Paul wrote in Romans 12:6, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”
   
There is an old story from the Jewish tradition that illustrates Paul’s teaching on gifts: There once was a man named Simon. Simon wanted to be more like Moses.  He consulted his rabbi about this concern and the rabbi told him, “Simon, God will not ask you why you were not more like Moses.  God will ask you why you were not more like Simon.”
   
Paul goes on to admonish us as we exercise our gifts to continue to mature in faith and life. He employs here the body metaphor that, in Corinthians chapter 12, he so elaborately details (and which culminates in the next chapter with the magnificent “love chapter”). The body cannot function if some of its limbs or organs are weak, rebellious, or sick.  The body of Christ is no different.  We cannot fulfill the law of love all by ourselves; we need each other and we, all of us, need to be on a spiritual growth path. 
   
We need to be intentional to first understand what and why we believe so that we can be effective witnesses to the truth for others. The “one faith” referenced in verse 5 denotes an objective body of belief (the Apostle’s Creed, for instance). To return to the job analogy, one way to determine if you have a good employee is how they pursue career development during their employment.  If they simply do the minimum, they won’t be the ones to whom employers look when more work with more responsibility is being offered. 
   
Aristides, a second-century apologist for the Christian faith, wrote this to the Roman emperor Hadrian about believers in his day:

They love one another. They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If they have something, they give freely to the man who has nothing; if they see a stranger, they take him home, and are happy, as though he were a real brother. They don’t consider themselves brothers in the usual sense, but brothers instead through the Spirit, in God.”

    With God’s help, let us work for the day when, once again, the world will say about us, “Behold how they love one another (see also John 13:35).”  That is the one gift we have each been given.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: July 20 Edition

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday July 22 2018

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

   Most of us aren’t on a fast-paced road of constant ministry… healing, teaching, traveling and serving for the cause of Christ.  Some are called in this way but most of us are on a less intense path.  Jesus and his disciples, however, found themselves on a crash-course toward exhaustion more than once.  In this Sunday’s gospel, we see a picture of the disciples as they reported in, so to speak, on their first missionary journeys without Jesus, and he responded by suggesting they needed to rest from their labors. Jesus was, after all, a master at work/life balance! (See Mark 6:46) But before that plan could be put into place, the crowds found and followed them. Jesus could not refuse them because Jesus is the very essence of compassion and selflessness. He knew that their need for spiritual food was more important than his and the disciples’ need for physical food and rest at that moment. Jesus saw them as “sheep without a shepherd” and knew it was his work and joy, and that of his disciples, to shepherd those who sought him.
    It is a poignant picture painted in Mark’s gospel of crowds of people who saw Jesus and the disciples and hurried to beat them to their destination, so that even if they only touched the “fringe of his cloak” (v. 56) their hope was thereby to be healed. What is interesting here is that Jesus doesn’t immediately start to physically heal, but instead, “he began to teach them many things (v. 34).” This sets Jesus apart from the many wonder workers and itinerants who went about creating a celebrity persona for themselves by duping people in various ways with artificial miracle-working (or, worse yet, demonic sideshows).  Jesus wanted to teach people so that any subsequent healing would be recognized for what it was…a great gift and grace from God. Jesus wanted to make sure that these precious sheep recognized their real need…not for food, not for healing, but for God.
   
Shepherds in the ancient world were usually from the poorer classes of society but the term also referred to the role of kings. How apt that Jesus considered himself the good shepherd (John 10:14). Flocks of sheep only survive because of the faithful shepherd who keeps them from danger and repeatedly returns them to the right path.  A bad shepherd will destroy or lose the flock entrusted to his or her care.
   
Our role is to learn shepherding. To do that, we must learn to know Jesus and how he shepherds us, even when we don’t immediately recognize him.  He is there, making sure we don’t stray too far in our anger or our grief or our pain. To really learn and allow Jesus to work in our hearts and souls, we must be willing to “come away and rest.”  We cannot expect Jesus to hop in the car with us and instruct us in wisdom, love and compassion while we are distracted with errands!  He wants our full attention, not just a momentary thought while we wait for a green light.
   
In Barbara Brown Taylor’s book An Altar in the World, she notes that in China, the appropriate response to the question, “How are you?” is not “Fine,” as it is in this country, but rather, “I am very busy, thank you.” That sounds more like what Americans should be saying, driven as we are. Our secular worth is calculated precisely on the level of stress and activity we can claim. 
   
I like to think of myself responding to Jesus’ invitation to “Come away to a deserted place…and rest a while” and finding, in that rest, a renewed love for Jesus and new energy to follow Him as a sheep trusts and follows the shepherd.  When I stay in the mainstream of life, it is too easy to focus on what is wrong with everything and everyone else.  When I am alone, with God as my only companion, I begin to see my true state and my heart yearns for compassion for myself and for the world.
   
If you have not yet taken a vacation this summer, perhaps you can plan a get-away that is something other than “vacating” our hectic lives with another version of busy.  May we each determine how to “come away and rest a while” with Jesus.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: July 6 Edition

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Epistle Reading for 
Sunday July 8 2018

2I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. 3And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— 4was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.5On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. 6But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, 7even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. 8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me 9but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

   “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me (v. 8).”  Most of us have heard about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” although no one knows exactly what it was.  Paul, however, says it kept him from becoming too elated.  As though the calamitous life he led for Christ wouldn’t have the same effect!  Paul was addressing the church at Corinth, a people who, like their surrounding culture, measured their holiness and virtue by outward signs and results.  Paul was no doubt tempted to tell them just how much more he had done and experienced than they could even imagine…hence the thorn perhaps to help him avoid spiritual one-upmanship.  
    Paul is telling his listeners that when he is weak, then he is strong…because of God’s power in him and not because of his own virtues or achievements.  The thorn was a felt reminder that he did not accomplish anything lasting unless he allowed God to do it through him (Ephesians 2:9).  He saw his affliction in a Job-like way, even calling it a “messenger of Satan (v. 7).”  And like Christ, who asked three times that the cup he was to drink be removed, Paul’s three requests to remove his thorn were similarly denied.
   
“When I am weak, then I am strong” would have sounded like gibberish in the Greco-Roman world of that time.  And, really, how close to gibberish is it to us, whether we work on “Wall Street or Main Street”? These days, as in those days, power is power and weakness is weakness and getting to the top by dint of one’s own efforts is still lauded and magnified as a crowning virtue of the American Dream. But it is God’s power that is made perfect in weakness.  That’s the point.  God can’t do anything through our self-sufficiency, only through our surrender.  
   
The Church struggles with issues of power and weakness, with image and reality, with addressing our culture or accommodating to it.  We don’t always get it right, but the message of Christ remains our one true benchmark.  Even the 12-Step community has focused on this truth: “I admit I am powerless over (fill in the blank), that my life has become unmanageable.” That is the first and foundational step to putting a ‘thorn in the flesh’ into perspective and ultimately using it for personal growth and awareness.  The second step is where the rubber begins to hit the road: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us…”). Those 12 Steps were fashioned on biblical principles. Paul would instantly recognize the dynamic of giving up our power to gain Greater Power…through our weakness.
   
Each of us, I’m guessing, has a thorn (or a “cross to bear”).  And you can bet I have asked the Lord more than three times to remove mine from my life.  But, alas!  I imagine I will struggle with mine until all struggles cease!  But at the same time, I get many glimmers of why my “thorn” is ultimately good for me.  I know that even this devilish reminder of my mortality is a way for me to experience that “all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).” I am certain that each of us, upon some deep reflecting on our “thorns,” will discover “saving graces” that we might not immediately recognize as we struggle to remove or adjust our various afflictions. 
   
Ernest Hemingway, in A Farewell to Arms wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” God may not plan our particular “breakings,” but it is absolutely true that he will sustain us in them if we allow Him to do what we can only feebly and futilely attempt.  And maybe because of our weakness (not in spite of it) we are the very witnesses to His grace that God needs us to be in this fearful, thorn-infested world.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: June 22 Edition

Mark 4:35-41

Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday June 24 2018

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

    When the disciples finally woke up their ‘Teacher,’ frightened as they were by the tumult in which they found themselves, Jesus commanded the wind and the sea to be still.  Commentators who study the original language of this passage concur that not only did Jesus use words also invoked to rebuke demons (reminiscent of his remark to Peter: “Get thee behind me, Satan”) but that he was probably telling his followers to “be quiet” as much as he was telling nature to calm down.  No wonder they were suddenly filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him (Mark 4:41)?” They were suddenly getting a bigger vision of who this man Jesus might be! But for Jesus, the question was “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” How often I have asked the disciples’ question, “Do you not care that we are perishing?!” How often Jesus has calmed my self-churned seas! 
    Most of us have prayed some version of the Breton Fisherman's Prayer: “Oh God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.” Reading this passage, my impression is that Jesus wanted his followers to understand that even if they were floating on a log in a typhoon, his grace would be sufficient.  But, in my own on-again/off-again trust, I still hear the signature tune from “Jaws” at the same time that I believe his grace IS sufficient.  It’s just that life is what is right in front of us and sometimes it is completely unnerving. And, on the surface, it does not, in fact, look like everything is or will be well, which prompts most of us to ask the Lord in our distress if he really doesn’t care (this time) about our trials and tribulations (Mark 4:38).
   
This is not a story of God doing for us everything we want and in the way we want it.  Rather, this is a story of God being with us when life comes at us like a battering ram or when the will of God defies the logic of man. That is when faith and trust must kick in.  And the only way to have built up a sufficient “deposit” of faith and trust for the hard times is to begin with the baby steps of faith and trust when times are relatively calm.  It’s easy to stay on a diet if you’re not hungry, but when the hunger comes, that’s when the commitment to the goal is sometimes all you have until the storm of wild appetite has passed.
   
So it is with faith.  When all is apparently well we can glibly say, “Yes, I believe.”  (See Matthew 26:33 & 26:70-74 for how well Peter managed this!) When times grow grim, as they will for each of us at some point, our Lord expects that we will have been with him in prayer and fellowship long enough to maintain our “Yes, I believe (‘help thou mine unbelief’’—Mark 9:24). Jesus desires to help us with our unbelief.  If we stay connected to him (our life boat in the stormy sea), we will find that his grace is more than just sufficient.  His grace will change our minds and hearts about what is happening to us.  He will give us the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7) in exchange for the fears and anxieties that face us. God may rock our boat, but he will also steer it safely to shore because he is in that boat with us and promises never to leave us (Hebrews 13:5).
   
Frederick Buechner wrote, “Christ sleeps in the deepest selves of all of us, and whatever we do in whatever time we have left, wherever we go, may we, in whatever way we can, call on him as the fishermen did in their boat to come awake within us and to give us courage, to give us hope, to show us, each one, our way.”  Jesus truly has overcome the world (John 16:33) so, stay in the boat with him. The perfect storm is the storm we weather with Jesus at the helm.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: June 8 Edition

Mark 3:20-35
Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday June 10
2018

20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”’— 30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” 31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” 

   Jesus’ family found itself in a culture and time of multi-generational—not nuclear—families.  The members of these families subscribed to very rigid gender roles that brooked little openness to the American uber-value of choosing one’s own path!  So one can imagine why Jesus’ “birth family” tore after him when they heard that people thought he had gone crazy; they wanted to protect their son and, no doubt, their family honor as well! I can imagine them grousing as they went forth on their familial intervention, “Jesus is at it again and it sounds like he’s in more trouble than usual. Let’s go take him home where he will be safe.”  But “safe” wasn’t really in Jesus’ vocabulary… not when it meant choosing safe over choosing obedience to God. Any culturally constructed set of family values are to be subsumed by the call of God, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be to adopt eternal values over temporal expectations.
    God wants a family; in fact, he wants the kind of family where its reunion would strike fear into most of us because of all the crazy aunts and uncles that would be in attendance!  Repeatedly, Scripture shows God seeking out the souls of those who fit least comfortably into a human family of any description.  A few years ago, I read a provocative sermon by United Methodist Bishop William Willimon entitled “Jesus the Home Wrecker” wherein Christ is depicted on the cross, his last act being to promise yet another ne’er-do-well a place in God’s family.  Let me share two sentences from it:

“On Good Friday, as Jesus hung on the cross, he performed an amazing last act of invitation and adoption. Having been deserted by most of his family, the crucified Jesus, in a last, wild, desperate act of inclusion, invited a thief to join him in paradise—a stunningly defiant rebuke to the ways the world gathers people. Only a Savior like Jesus would parade into Paradise arm-in-arm with a criminal, some great trophy for his painful rescue operation for humanity.”

    Churches are very careful to promote themselves as having a family ministry. These days, that is a treacherous claim, for there are families that some Christians have great difficulty accepting as such.  (You know who you are.) Anyone who takes a careful look at any congregation’s makeup will discover that the configurations and understandings of what constitute a family in 21st century America have only superficial resemblances to the benchmark, gold standard nuclear family of mid-20th century America. But before we lay claim to any romanticized version of biblical family values, please read the scriptural tales about how some of these biblical families behaved! 
    The Church, in its congregational particularity, is fond of calling itself “family” but sometimes that isn’t very good news!  This is a crucial challenge for the contemporary Church and for each of us who wish to serve Christ in all people. Our great mission is to be God’s family as Jesus defined it… those who do the will of God. The family Jesus was and is gathering to himself is a family that heals us and restores to us whatever our original family, in all its frailty, good intentions, and sinfulness, simply wasn’t able to give us.
   
We have been welcomed into the ultimate extended family of God. We bring our dysfunctions with us but they are met at the entrance to our new home with the love, grace, mercy, and healing of God. As Richard Bach is quoted as saying, “Rarely do members of one’s family grow up under the same roof.” The roof with a steeple, though—where we gather for worship, prayer, teaching, fellowship and service—houses those of us who have been joined to God’s family.  Here is where we get our divine re-parenting so that we can truly become God’s children.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: May 25 Edition

John 3:1-17

Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday 
May 27
2018

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

   The first Scripture memory verse of my life was John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  This has been a verse I have clung to since childhood as the surety of my eternal destiny.  The verse that has been somewhat neglected follows right after: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world…(v.17).” That sentiment is easily forgotten as we seek to discern the principalities and powers, sift out the sin from the sinner and deal with all the various vagaries of seeing “through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12).”
    The entire context surrounding John 3:16 is about Nicodemus—a religious leader—struggling with the concept of being born again.  He came to Jesus in the dead of night, that betwixt and between time when we often have our sleepless struggles with ourselves and God.  Nicodemus was a practical man, a man on his way up and with authority to make things happen.  He came to Jesus asking a lot of “how” questions.  In the church of my youth, his questions would have been answered by “The Four Spiritual Laws” or some similar formula for salvation.  Jesus was keenly aware that Nicodemus’ questions had answers that were not quantifiable. He was seeking answers about meaning, not achievement; about faith not formula; about identity not titles. No bullet-points for success, but rather the unimaginable invitation into life with God!
   
We veteran Christians might be lured into thinking we know all there is to know about Jesus, about God, about how to live the Christian life.  We’ve heard John 3:16 perhaps for decades.  As with Nicodemus, God still asks us to set aside what we think we know and listen again to what he wants to tell us.  Romans 8:13 warns us that to live “according to the flesh” is certain death, but to live according to the spirit is life indeed. Luther was right, of course, that John 3:16 is the “gospel in a nutshell.” “For God so loved the world,” not “for God was so angry with the world.” We begin not so much as sinners who are lost but as children who have been found.
   
This Sunday is the day on which we celebrate a theological concept—the Trinity.  Concepts can be hard to engage because, by definition, they are cerebral rather than experiential or emotional…unless you have already experienced the reality that the concept reflects.  In the case of the Trinity, that reality is the ever-present activity of God in the world and in our lives. Three specific realities of how we experience God are contained in the Trinity: God the Father and Creator of all things, God the Son, our Savior and example, and God the Holy Spirit in us and with us, sustaining all creation and empowering our ability and desire to be God’s own. As love is the core of our God, so the Trinity expands that vision to a “family of love” and we know ourselves to be God’s adopted and beloved children and heirs!
   
God initiates our life; we do not give birth to ourselves no matter how many “makeovers” we have attempted. Pr. Tom Long, reflecting on the ministry of fellow Presbyterian pastor John Buchanan, once shared a story of Pr. Buchanan’s baptism of a two-year old boy. After addressing the child in Trinitarian language, “You are a child of God, sealed by the Spirit in your baptism, and you belong to Jesus Christ forever,” the child looked up at him and responded, “Uh-oh.”
   
We laugh…and then we may be forced to agree with that assessment! For baptism is the moment when we are born anew into the family of God, even as that first water in our mother’s womb carried us out into the family of humankind. As we ponder this most elusive mystery of God, one-in-three, let us not forget that God is also Abba! Father! to those of us re-born by God’s Spirit. For God so loves the world…

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at phoeger@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.866.9191 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: May 11 Edition

John 17:6-19
Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday 
May 13 
2018

6‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

    Is there anyone who professes Christ who has not also despaired at the lack of depth of and commitment to their prayer life? I will certainly raise my hand to that! This Sunday’s gospel reading lets us participate in one of the prayers of Jesus. But as Methodist Pastor James Howell reminds us, “…this isn't Jesus' last prayer, but it's the last one the disciples actually heard.  When he prayed in agony, ‘Let this cup pass from me--yet not my will but your will be done,’ they had fallen asleep; and when he cried out on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ they had forsaken him, fearing for their own safety.” That feels all too uncomfortably familiar to me. And yet, our loving Lord prays for his wayward, wobbling friends then and now for us, the disciples’ very descendants in the faith!
    He prays that the disciples will “be one.” God is still in the process of answering that prayer! We are so NOT one, especially these days with multitudes of denominations and each one with their internal bickering about all the minor stuff that plagues church life (as it plagues any family or community). And now that some corners of the faith have aligned themselves so closely with partisan politics, that one-ness is even more dangerously threatened. Perhaps, though, we need to step back from all the contentiousness—not only within the Church but in our relationship with the entire world—and determine whether ‘being one’ means being identical to each other or whether it just might mean living from the stance of God’s love. To do the latter has the end results of bringing us together, something only love can do.
   
If we were very fortunate, our first experience of God’s love was the sacrificial love of a parent or close family member. It may be only a distant memory now, but it can be called upon to renew in us a taste for the kind of love Jesus is asking the Father to encourage in our words and deeds in our family and in our world. And the best part is that he shares a great secret in this prayer. All of this seemingly impossible, painful, ego-shattering love has a grand payoff… that we may have God’s joy complete in us (v. 13)!
   
It is so easy to read Jesus’ prayer and instantly begin to put caveats around it…it is Jesus praying, after all. He is praying lofty things to His Father and we read about it for our edification. But aren’t these petitions to the Lord a bit “pie in the sky?” After all, just look at the state of things! Yes, that is the point. This is a prayer that we are to participate in answering! When the disciples originally asked Jesus to “teach us to pray,” we were taught a very pragmatic prayer, a prayer with tasks for us to do with God’s help… forgive others, be satisfied with our “daily” bread, praise and hallow God’s name.
   
I recently put a rather snarky post on Facebook to the effect that heaven will not have red and blue neighborhoods so we’d better work on getting along now! I was posting this for my own benefit as much as “preaching” to anyone else. But it speaks directly to one of the ways we become the answer to Jesus’ prayer! After all, what stuns me is that Jesus is actually acknowledging to God the Father that we are his gifts; Jesus didn’t choose us, but God gave us as gifts to partner with his Son in ministry to the world. That is a fall-on-my-knees moment, recognizing that Jesus is praying for all of his disciples down through the ages who will stay right here, struggling to be in the world and not of it, continuing his work as his hands and feet and mouth, mind and heart. As St. Teresa so famously told us, “…Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” But mine. Let us make Christ’s prayer our own, that we may be one.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: April 27 Edition

John 15:1-8
Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday April 29
2018

15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 77If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

    I am not sure why there is an assumption abroad in the land that we humans have nothing to do with climate change or global warming, even in the face of our greedy and short-sighted behavior toward our environment! Can we have forgotten that when humanity first fell from God’s grace, our fore-parents had been planted squarely in a Garden from which they were summarily removed because they had unleashed what Paul described in Romans 8:18-22 as the “groaning of creation?” The earth indeed suffers profoundly from our rebellion. But God is the great gardener and continues, as John says in 15:2, to prune his vineyard and remove the vines producing no fruit. 
    The 70s had a catch-phrase (one of so many): “Bloom where you are planted.” And we are most definitely planted, even in our mobile society. We are planted with neighbors, with co-workers, with all manner of alliances and allegiances as we move through our days. Life’s rich potting soil is community where so many different root systems seek the same water and become enmeshed and entangled on that journey! Things go wrong in the worst ways when we, entwined as we are with so many others, cannot learn to love those with whom we are so connected but rather seek to uproot each other in so many devilish ways.
   
Catherine of Siena, a 12th century Doctor of the Church, wrote:

“Keep in mind that each of you has your own vineyard. But everyone is joined to the neighbors’ vineyards without any dividing lines. They are so joined together, in fact, that you cannot do good or evil for yourself without doing the same for your neighbors.”

   How we need that word spoken forcefully today in our fractured world where it seems the trampling of one another’s vineyards is an Olympic sport! 
    The spadework of the Christian in tending the vineyard God has given each of us begins with tilling the soil of our hearts with the word of God. Jesus said, in 15:7, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Living in such a rooted and grounded way means that what we ask of God will already be aligned with what God wants for us.
   
Anyone who has tended a garden probably knows that there is a lot of back-bending work involved, as well as some hard decisions to make about plants or crops that simply aren’t thriving. To arrive at a vineyard worthy of the finest wine or a field of grain worthy of the finest loaf of bread is to have worked very hard and for a long time. Growth in the Christian life is the same… “a long obedience in the same direction,” as Eugene Peterson wisely titled his book on contemporary discipleship.
   
May we soak our roots in this prayer ( again from Catherine of Siena) as we remember Who so wisely and lovingly and with such long-suffering patience, tends us day by day:

“And you, high eternal Trinity, acted as if you were drunk with love, infatuated with your creature. When you saw that this tree could bear no fruit but the fruit of death because it was cut off from you who are life, you came to its rescue with the same love with which you had created it: You engrafted your divinity Into the dead tree of our humanity. O sweet tender engrafting! You, sweetness itself, stooped to join yourself with our bitterness.”

    And so we make our choice to abide, to stick with God through thick and thin. We may get nicked by the divine pruning shears, but those wounds will result in more fruit…fruit to feed the world and a beautiful flowering vine soaking up the Son, swaying in the Spirit, thriving in the field of the kingdom of the Lord.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: April 13 Edition

Luke 24:36b-48

Gospel Lesson for Sunday April 15 2018

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.”

   Jesus rose from the dead with our kind of body—a body that could eat fish with his friends! He displayed time and again the importance of feeding the body as well as the spirit by sharing meals with people.  The focus of our weekly liturgy is on that most magnificent meal whereby we encounter God, each other, and even our own self around the altar of his sacrifice for us.  He is known to us in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:35).  Luke reported that Jesus calmed the fear the disciples had upon seeing him and, as he had with Thomas, bid them to touch him and see that he was no ghost.  Then he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”  And he ate. After that he taught them and “opened their minds to understand the scriptures (v. 45).”  He showed them (and us) definitively that each of us is to be a witness in the world of what he has done for us all and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is our proclamation. 
    One of my favorite prayers from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer goes like this:

“Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.”

    Inwardly digest.  There are scriptures that I have been chewing on for years; some could last me a lifetime (and, to play with the image, some are “quite tough and hard to chew...if not swallow!”).  I think one of the nuggets of wisdom inside this prayer is not just to hear the surface level of a piece of scripture (or, worse, not to hear it at all!), but to take the time to internalize God’s Word and let it nourish us.  We are taught to chew our food thoroughly; how much more should we make sure Scripture is properly ingested! One of the ways we will know if we have let in a word of scripture to do its transformative work (see Romans 12:2) is when we allow it to “read us” even as we read it. If we can sail right through a scripture reading—unscathed—we have probably not let it in where it can actually feed us and build us up, instruct us or change our minds.
   
Tragically, most of our world is in starvation mode. And not just for food for their bodies. We see daily the manifestations of those who are starving spiritually. We see it in despair, violence, hatred, confusion, addiction and all manner of exploitation. It is good for us to feed those who are physically hungry; we are also mandated and commissioned to provide spiritual food—in word and in deed—to those who may not yet realize their spiritual hunger or malnutrition. 
   
 Jesus wants to feed us with himself so that we might become hungry in the very same ways he is hungry… hungry for new life, for companions on the Way, for worshipful spirits and compassionate hearts.  His body and blood both satisfy and tantalize; both give us new life and summon us onward, upward, inward and outward in ever-widening circles of challenge and grace. He came back to announce that God is keeping his promises and to instruct us one more time, while in his fleshly garb, on what he came to do and what he wants us to continue to do in his name. That “last supper” was by no means a finality!  We still gather to receive spiritual and physical food in his name.  We still betray him from time to time by not doing what he clearly asks of us. We still bow before him and humbly ask for forgiveness and another chance to get it right. And he keeps feeding us his wondrous food for the soul so that our hungry hearts will be filled, eager to bring others to his Table.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

 

Weekly e-Devotion: March 30 Edition

Mark 16:1-8
Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday
April 1 2018

 


16
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. 

    After these weeks of growing anticipation, one would think that the Easter story of Resurrection would be told as one grand and glorious affirmation of everything predicted since the fall of humanity! The Old Testament prophets foretold this; the angels announced it more than once and God already had set eternity in the hearts of mankind (Ecclesiastes 3:11). What in the world makes John’s rendition (and to a lesser extent, Mark’s) such a chronicle of confusion? The women who went to anoint Jesus’ body and found an empty tomb did not immediately say “He is risen.” They thought someone had stolen the body! Mary was so not expecting resurrection that she didn’t recognize Jesus as he stood by her until he spoke her name (and, oh how we can relate to that as we seek to see Jesus amidst the worldly distractions that hide him—in plain sight—before us). Mark’s gospel shows the women running from the tomb in fear.  Fear of what?  Fear that Jesus was really dead or fear that Jesus had actually arisen?  Both could strike fear in our hearts for very different reasons.  Later in Mark, we read that Peter and John did not yet understand that Jesus must rise from the dead (20:9).  As many have quipped, “This is no way to run a Resurrection!”
    I think perhaps this oh-so-human depiction of how the disciples responded and how we also likely would have responded to such transformative news adds to the truth of things.  For we, with our post-resurrection, 2000-year old eyes, who have heard this story backwards and forwards… still don’t really know what it all means. We cling to every inch of grace by faith and pray fervently that God will help us in our unbelief (Mark 9:24) and forgive our continual turning aside to the gods of this world with all their bling and allure.
    But we are not left comfortless, then or now. As the story continues, Jesus has gone on ahead of us and will meet us where he is (Mark 16:7).  Implicit in that is we are to follow him.  He has things to tell us and to show us; he has love to give us and he has work for us to do in His name. As Isaiah says, “It will be said on that day, ‘Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation’ (25:9).” Or hear the Psalmist, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (118:24).”
    This Easter day that began for the disciples and for Mary Magdalene with confusion and fear is the very day that they began to replace fear with faith, silence with witness, confusion with commitment.  This is indeed the day that the Lord has made and he has made it a resurrection day for everyone who chooses to trust him. As Paul exclaimed, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:19-20a).”
    Paul picks up this theme later in the same chapter when he recites these wondrous words: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Oh death, where is thy victory? Oh death, where is thy sting? (verses 54b-55).” Without the resurrection, those verses are the ravings of a mad man. With the resurrection of Christ, it is a paean of praise to God for having one foot on the devil’s neck and his arms around his children!
    Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we have left the sepia-tones of our old, fear-driven life for the Technicolor vistas of the eternal city of God! Christ’s resurrection has manifested itself as a 3-D, big-screen blockbuster to which we have been given major character roles! We’re not just hearing or reading this story, we are IN it! What part do you want to play as we each begin again our Easter lives? If you’re not sure, just ask him which part he made you for!  He is calling you by name and waiting for you to pick up your script!  Expect miracles.  Hallelujah!  He is risen and so are we!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

 

Weekly e-Devotion: March 16 Edition

John 12:20-33
Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday
March 18 2018

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour. 27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

    This week’s gospel is such a rich portrayal of Jesus’ struggle with his identity and mission and the resolution that his hour has come, and all—both Jew and Gentile—would be drawn to him through his death on the cross. In this passage, Jesus chooses us over his earthly life.  As one writer put it, “He can save his life or He can be our savior, but he cannot do both.”
    Verse 24 is one of the multitude of agricultural images used in scripture and by Jesus to signal a divine truth.  Evidently, scientists concur that seeds do, in fact, die when put in the ground but, given the right conditions of soil, temperature, and moisture, these wonder-workers “turn on” again and begin to grow and produce more than we even should expect from one tiny seed hidden in the ground.
    Jesus connects this metaphor to our most important “death experience” in the very next verse (25): “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  Hate?  The life we have been given?  Yes, because in its unredeemed state our life is not what God intended or envisioned.  If we cling to earthly perceptions of the good life, we will completely miss the “abundant life” God has promised us. And, irony upon irony, what we fear the most will never happen because, as we kill off and surrender each attitude and action that does not spring from our relationship with God, we discover ourselves more alive and joyous than before. St. Francis knew this well and wrote, “It is in giving that we receive… it is in dying that we are raised to eternal life.” (See also Luke 6:38)
    The greatest insight in all of spirituality is the necessity of letting go.  It is a letting go of our flawed and selfish sense of who we are and deciding to really believe that our true self is “hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).” Maybe this means letting go of a career to answer a call; letting go of our notion that our bootstraps will lift us to glory and, instead, embracing the fact that the Holy Spirit is our guide into our true God-planned destiny.  And yes, this will definitely feel like dying.
    Franciscan retreat master, Fr. Richard Rohr, has written that this process of letting go is to lead us to the experience of an “identity transplant.” He writes, “…what characterizes the mystics and the sinners who have done that great collapse (back into a deep sense of who they are in God) is as Paul said it, ‘I live no longer.’ This self that I used to think was myself is precisely the self that I’m not and I stop believing its pretenses.  I stop posturing and posing and pretending and living up to this image that this little self that I took so seriously for so many years could ever be perfect, could ever be right, could ever, by itself, think well of itself.” What grace to release our failed selves into the loving arms of our Savior.  Rohr continues, “…the essential spiritual question is, ‘Where do we abide?’”
   
Those who approached Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” were told by Jesus: “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also (v. 26).” As they say in real estate, “location, location, location.” And the best location of all is to abide with Him.  Is there a move in your future? 

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

 

Weekly e-Devotion: March 2 Edition

John 2:13-22

Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday
March 4 2018

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

    There aren’t too many examples in Scripture of Jesus getting angry. But there are some. Paul’s admonishment in Ephesians 4:26 to be angry but without sin would certain seem to point back to some of Jesus’ more emphatic words and actions. There were moments when Jesus expressed what amounted to anger about such things as spiritual pride, hypocrisy, hard heartedness, greed, and lackluster commitment to God. In this week’s gospel, we see him really getting after those who were mixing commerce with religion, turning his Father’s house into a marketplace. He literally fashioned a whip to send them and their goods flying! This was not a picture of Jesus making a gentle suggestion that we reorganize our priorities. 
    One would hope that this is about more than a small bookstore in the narthex of a church, although who knows? But he continues on to deliberately conflate the temple that was being defiled by an ancient version of corporate corruption with himself, his body as the temple that would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days. There is more than one level of meaning at play in this story.
   
In fact, another level to this story, and the one that may hit closest to home for many of us, is that these money-changing temple defilers are precisely the same people Jesus will shortly be dying to redeem! They are one version of us; he sees through their false piety and the cover-ups they employed to throw a veil over their real motives… just as he sees through our pretexts and pretensions. And he loved them even as he was strongly opposed to their behavior. That whip he fashioned was the exclamation point on his denouncement of their actions, not their being. A lesson we Christians still need to learn about ourselves and those around us.
   
With whip flying, my sense is that Jesus was not so much interested in driving out those money-changers as he was committed to an upheaval of the status quo. For the fact that complicates a simple ‘good vs evil’ reading of this story is that those money-changers were actually an integral part of facilitating worship in the temple! Those who came long distances without the proper currency (currency with images of Caesar could not be used to pay temple taxes) or without a sacrificial animal to offer were serviced by these merchants and bankers. Jesus’ wrath broke forth because this whole worshipping apparatus was corrupt, insufficient and unsustainable and he was there to bring it to the ground! What had once been a conduit to God was increasingly becoming a great barrier. Jesus came to break down the barriers once and for all between God and humanity. This action of his (whips and all) was a great symbol of divine renewal and reconstruction!
   
Dan Clendenin, in his blog post, “Subtle as a Sledge Hammer” wrote:

I read the cleansing of the temple as a stark warning against any and every false sense of security. Misplaced allegiances, religious presumption, pathetic excuses, smug self-satisfaction, spiritual complacency, nationalist zeal, political idolatry, and economic greed in the name of God are only some of the tables that Jesus would overturn in his own day and in ours.”

    One of our Lenten tasks is not only to think of our personal “temple cleaning,” taking the whip to some of our own bad practices. We must also carefully consider the ways in which our churches and our communities become barriers rather than entryways for those who seek God and God’s love, grace, mercy and peace. Let us join God in overturning those barriers wherever we find them.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: February 16 Edition

Mark 1:9-15
Gospel Lesson for 
Sunday February 18 2018

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 

    Ah, Lent!  That great “Forty Days.” Days often used to re-set our derailed New Year’s resolutions and re-brand them as our Lenten discipline.  It is said to take about forty days to imprint a new habit into our brains and make it something we do as part of our routine every day.
    Mark, in this passage, doesn’t let us catch our breath as we read in a few short verses God’s ringing endorsement of Jesus upon his baptism, then ‘immediately’ (as Mark loves to say), God’s catapulting Jesus into the wilderness where we see him fighting the wild beasts (of evil) while being attended to by the angels (of God).  Finally, with startling suddenness, John is arrested and Jesus is preaching his first sermon in Galilee.  Eugene Peterson’s contemporary voice of scripture called The Message renders Mark’s urgent telling this way: “Time’s up! God’s Kingdom is here.  Change your life and believe the Message.”  It doesn’t get any clearer than that.
    And so we each begin our Lenten journey through our divinely-appointed, individually-crafted wilderness.  It’s not as obvious as giving up chocolate for forty days or committing to reading the Bible every day (although both are commendable!).  This is about repeating in our lives and in the corporate lives of our Christian communities the pattern of death and resurrection pre-figured in the Old Testament with the Israelites’ forty-year sojourn in their wilderness and, then again, with Jesus’ temptations in his ordained wilderness.  These wild, barren, parched times do not come to any of us by accident.  They come to us from the hand of a loving God who will use whatever means are at hand to coax us back to himself.
    When I first moved to Arizona 27 years ago, I saw the desert as exactly what that word conjures… a barren, hotter than you-know-where place with scrubby little hills the locals referred to as mountains (of all things!), and dangerous critters (of both the animal and vegetable varieties) that made walking barefoot in your own yard a hazard. I suddenly identified with every desert reference in scripture in a very personal way.  Having now clocked some years and miles on my “wilderness experience,” I can gaze at a sweeping desert landscape and see profound beauty; I can bend down to investigate a flowering cactus and see glory looking back at me.  What changed?  I did.  I began to learn about all the diverse life in the desert that my Midwestern eyes were not trained to see.  This desert wilderness has been a learning experience on any number of levels.
    And I think that’s what is going on when God brings us down from the Mount of Transfiguration into the wilderness of our challenges, temptations, sorrows, addictions, diseases, enemies, and failures.  We are there to learn; we’re there to grow closer to God. Israel needed forty years’ worth of teaching and learning before God ushered them into their promised land. How long will we wander?
    Join with the Psalmist as he prayed in Psalm 25:4-5: “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.”  All Lent long. All my life long. May this season of reflection produce at its end a great and glorious Hallelujah!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: February 2 Edition

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Epistle Reading for 
Sunday February 4 2018

16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel. 19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

   It is a daunting thing to consider becoming, as Paul claimed to have done, “all things to all people, that I might by all means save (v. 22).” Paul felt compelled by God not only to proclaim the Gospel by example but to engage in a deep identification with each person with whom he dealt.  Last week we read that Paul would never eat meat again if, by eating it, he was making it more difficult for someone to find God.  In this passage, Paul displayed his com+passion… his willingness to “suffer with” another in order that each might find God as he had.   
    Do we share with Paul this urge to tell others what God has done in our lives?  If so, what stops us? If not, it’s time to reflect on our life in Christ and find the story he has given us to share! It is not news that in any community there are essentially two kinds of people… those who need help and those who need to help or those who heal and those who need healing. Any of us might be on one side of that equation today and the other tomorrow. But when I have been healed it is not for my own sake only but so that I can be placed back into a position to participate in the healing of others.  There is a divine dynamic at work.  We read of it in Jesus’ healing of Simon’s mother-in-law; he took her hand, lifted her up, healed her fever and she then began to serve them.  “Healed to serve” isn’t a bad tag-line for each of us, whether we have been spiritually or physically healed.
   
When something exciting happens to us, we share it, whether we use Facebook, an e-mail, a blog, a phone call, or we tap someone on the shoulder and start a conversation!  It is as though we can’t stop ourselves because we are bubbling over with our good news and good fortune!  That may be the closest analogy to what Paul is trying to tell us about his compulsion to communicate the life of Christ to the world. He was completely willing to accommodate his own ego, his cultural preferences, his attire, diet and social status if it would make his message of salvation more understandable and relevant to his hearers.  He didn’t compromise the Gospel, but was willing to compromise his comfort zones to share the Gospel.  He may be the origin of the phrase, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do!”
   
As a new creation in Christ, we have the power to freely interact with people where they are, not where we might prefer they be, and to be with them—as midwife—in their struggles to be re-born. We can identify with all people in their brokenness, even as we are broken. With the heart of our loving Savior, we can walk with them toward their salvation. Paul was not without his own mixed motives for sharing the faith.  He said in verse 23 that he did it for the sake of the Gospel and so that he could share in its blessings. If you have found God working in your life…a physical healing, the healing of a relationship, the resolution of a dilemma…if you can proclaim that the Lord has lifted you into new life, tell somebody!  You will be amazed at the blessings of the Gospel, multiplied for the world and made real to you by sharing your piece of the Gospel story! Discover your story. Tell your story. Live out of that story because our lives are little Gospels—lives filled to overflowing with God’s Good News!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: January 19 Edition

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
First Reading for 
Sunday January 21 2018

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2"Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
10
 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it

   Everybody likes a good story, especially if it is laced with wisdom and a dose of humor.  The Book of Jonah delivers on both counts.    
   Here’s the story in a nutshell:  Our protagonist, the reluctant prophet Jonah, was given the unenviable task of proclaiming doom to Israel’s most fearsome oppressor and enemy, Assyria, and to do so in the midst of its biggest, most forbidding capital city, Nineveh. Upon hearing of his assignment from the Lord, Jonah promptly took off—in the opposite direction!  He freely told his shipmates that he was not only fleeing Nineveh but the Lord himself.  (At least Jonah was self-aware!)  But as the ship begins to pitch, Jonah—in a moment of selflessness—told his mates to throw him overboard as he was no doubt the cause of their distress.   
   
Since God wasn’t quite through with Jonah, he arranged for a whale-taxi to swallow up our prophet and courier him right straight back to where God wanted him to be in the first place to confront again his dreaded prophetic assignment.  Accepting his second chance, Jonah took off for Nineveh, stepped nervously into town and delivered the most feeble (almost “under his breath”) proclamation of doom ever recorded as a prophetic utterance.  Amazingly, he got results Billy Graham in his heyday could only dream about. When all was said and done even the animals in that town were decked out in sackcloth and ashes.
   
Okay, that should have made Jonah very satisfied.  Nope.  He was furious. Jonah threw a whale of a tantrum (sorry; couldn’t help it) and said, “I just knew you would be merciful to these guys.  That’s why I didn’t want to warn them in the first place.  They repented, you forgave them, and I’m mad.”  He stalked off.  God sighed and grew a tree for Jonah for rest and shade. When it wilted and died the next day, Jonah got ticked off again and decided, in true high dudgeon, that he’d be better off dead.  God just had to be smiling at this high-maintenance prophet of his. So, God gently explained to Jonah (as a mother might explain to her mulish child) all about his mercy to this city “in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals.” If you aren’t chuckling by the end of the Book of Jonah, you need a humor transplant! 
   
Stories, if they are good stories, draw us in and, before we know it, we’re identifying with at least one of the characters. It is way too easy to identify with Jonah! How like him we can be when confronted with even an inkling of what God expects of us! And when we then discover we are to minister to a person or situation that frightens us or that we feel should, by rights, remain in its distress, how like Jonah we are as we run away or stamp our feet or pretend we didn’t hear a thing.  We pray for God’s will to be done every Sunday, but what if that meant we had to do something that scared us nearly to death or offended our very sense of how we believe the world should work?
   
I can identify with Jonah…his reluctance to give God his all, his disappointment that God doesn’t see the world the same way he does, the aggravation that mercy trumps justice, my annoyance that things can’t just go my way for a change…all of it.  And yet, I find our great, compassionate, patient Lord working with me and around me to accomplish his purposes.  God knows I will get it eventually.  I’d better. The alternative is probably messy, smelly and dark!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: January 5 Edition

Genesis 1:1-5

First Reading
for Sunday 
January 7 2018

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

    This scripture evokes the experience of sitting in a dark theatre waiting for the curtain to be raised, the orchestra to swell and a great story to begin!  Vast, formless darkness, a great encompassing wind (ruach in Hebrew) swooping and sailing over the waters of the earth like a majestic bird…all in an attempt to display for an early generation of Hebrews the magnificence of our very existence and the God who called it into being! Some biblical scholars describe the entire creation narrative as a confession rather than a recitation of facts, a poem instead of a documentary. And that is where trouble can begin! 
    In modern days, there is a special assortment of litmus tests for one group of Christians to evaluate another group and one is how we believe God created the world.  Created the world… not allowed it to evolve, or sat back and lit a fuse on the “big bang.” And, by the way, how many hours were in each of those creation days?  If, in fact, a day is as a thousand years to the Lord (2 Peter 3:8), those were mighty long days indeed to accomplish the birthing of the world.
   
There is a big difference between truth writ large and “just the facts, ma’am.” If the word “myth” were not so fraught with the connotation of fiction, it would be a good word to use for this creation story as it also connotes the sense of uber-truth: the truth behind and beyond any mere facts that can be collected and recited by our finite efforts.
   
Those who are unyielding in their requirement that the Bible be a literal history; a spreadsheet of spirituality, so to speak, are often those who unintentionally divert others from the faith.  Pope John Paul II is quoted as saying, “The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the Universe…the Bible does not wish to teach how the heavens were made but how one goes to heaven.” (www.Brittanica.com)
   
Any who cling to literalism in all things biblical, run the risk of inserting human understandings into God’s revelation rather than allowing God’s story to be the story of infinite meaning and grace that it actually is.  The sin of pride (hubris in the Greek) can infect even our reading of Scripture. We daren’t ‘adjust’ scripture to our preferred beliefs, but humble ourselves and ask for God’s truth to be revealed to us through God’s Holy Spirit.
   
This creation passage is linked with Sunday’s Gospel lesson in Mark relating the story of Jesus’ baptism.  Again, we have water and the Spirit of God bringing order out of chaos, life out of primal elements, redemption back into God’s kingdom, the Light of the World dispelling the darkness of sin.  The creation story comes full circle as God (who never abandoned his creation) has done everything to bring us back to himself and make us a new creation. Read the Thanksgiving at the Font (ELW, p. 230) for a beautiful prayer recounting these connections for us.
   
That same water, the wind of the Spirit and the Light present at the beginning of the world are given again to each of us who give ourselves back to God through his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. As at the beginning, God brings order out of chaos for each of his children. These elemental realities (and the vehicles of Baptism and Epiphany) are both fact and, more than fact,… the very essence of new and eternal life with God.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: December 22 Edition

Luke 1:26-38
Gospel Reading for Sunday
December 24 2017

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin? 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

   The first two chapters of Luke contain some of our most treasured songs/prayers, all of which have been included in liturgies for centuries.  The Magnificat (1:46-55), the Benedictus (1:67-79), the Gloria (2:14) and the Nunc Dimittis (2:29-32). These canticles joyously express the entire scope of salvation history, from the first Advent of Jesus to the second Advent when Christ returns in glory. 
    Luther wrote about Mary in his Commentary on the Magnificat:

“Tell me, was not hers a wondrous soul? She finds herself the Mother of God, exalted above all mortals, and still remains so simple and so calm that she does not think of any poor serving maid as beneath her.  Oh, we poor mortals! If we come into a little wealth or might or honor, or even if we are a little prettier than other men, we cannot abide being made equal to anyone beneath us, but are puffed up beyond all measure.  What should we do if we possessed such great and lofty blessings?”

    But, we DO possess such great and lofty blessings because, even as Jesus physically entered into Mary that she might bring him forth as God’s Son on earth, so he enters each of us as, by faith, we accept the call of God in Christ Jesus.  We are called to be like Mary, en-fleshing God’s love for the world. Meister Eckhart put it most bluntly, “We are all meant to be mothers of God.” 
    Mary’s Song harks back to Hannah’s Song in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 2:1-10), voiced on the occasion of her dedication of her son Samuel to God. Both are songs of praise to a God who not only provides, but who provides and sustains those who are least able to sustain themselves. “His mercy is to those who fear him (v. 50).” It is the “upside-down, tables-are-turned” Gospel message of God’s faithfulness and provision for his children. And it is sung by each of us as it was sung by Mary, that is, by any humble servant who is willing to receive the Word of God.
   
We not only sing these realities, we are called to help enact them by our participation in God’s activities in the world.  Mary’s “Yes” was anticipated by all of creation and it inaugurated the entrance of the Kingdom of God into our lives and into our world. Our “Yes” to God continues the Holy Spirit’s activity in the world.  It is not a cliché to remind ourselves that we are the hands and feet, eyes and ears, head and heart of God.
   
Noted author Kathleen Norris writes about this passage:

“It is the barren Hannahs, the young Davids and the innocent Marys who hear and believe, and further God’s reign on earth.  As many times as we turn away from their witness, God has put us together on the road to Jerusalem. It is never the right time, and we are never ready. We have other, more important things to do and places to be.  The burden is too great for us to carry.  But once we say, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord,’ the angel will depart, and the path will open before us.”

    In Luke 1:37, the angel declares that nothing is impossible with God.  That was proclaimed to Mary but, as fellow bearers of the image of God, we also must hear that declaration and live faithfully out of its Truth.  God waits for us to join with Mary who responded, “Be it unto me according to your word.” May Christ be born in each of us today.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: December 8 Edition

2 Peter 3:8-15a
2nd Reading for Sunday December 10 2017

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness,12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. 14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

    Every road trip we took as I was growing up included some version of an “Are we there yet?” chorus from the back seats of the family car. We kids couldn’t determine from the road signs if we were one minute or three hours from our anticipated destination. Truly, for us, “a day was like a thousand years,” but we firmly believed we would eventually arrive where we planned to go.  
    This week, we read Peter reminding the believers in Rome that God lives completely outside of and beyond our concepts of time, making our time-bound impatience about how and when God might do this or that, or how and when he might return, very much beside the point!
   
This question of “When are you coming back?” began very early in the Christian era.  As the original followers began to die off, so did the hopes and expectations of some believers.  This is what Peter is addressing in this passage.  The reasoning seemed to be - If there really isn’t going to be an imminent return (or perhaps any return at all) - then we really are on our own and can pretty much do whatever we want… no judgment expected.  How very familiar this sounds, even today!
   
Peter is affirming God’s righteousness when he emphasizes the certainty of the Lord’s return even as he admits it will come like a thief (See also, 1 Thessalonians 5:2 where the return is as a “thief in the night;” Matthew 24:44 and Luke 12:40).  Because the Lord’s return hadn’t happened shortly after Christ’s resurrection (and, of course, has yet to happen), Peter reminds us that God’s time is not our time.  What we think is taking “forever” is, for God, like a day. As Peter states in 3:9, God prefers to tarry until as many as possible come to know and trust him.  As the psalmist says in 90:4-12, “For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night…so teach us to count our days, that we may gain a wise heart.”
   
 The depiction of the fiery end of all things is not so much to strike fear in our hearts as to give us a graphic picture of the end of all unpleasantness, evil and misery. The image invokes the refiner’s fire of Malachi where all will be purified, the dross removed and all that will remain is Love and righteousness. Peter delivers in this passage the admonition to live as though this has already taken place because indeed it will. 
   
This summer we watched helplessly as the northwest burned up, the southeast flooded out, the citizens of the nations rioted, protested, and most of us lived with some level of anxiety or outright fear of the future. Mark 13:8 helps us to understand that even these kinds of things, while they may be portents, are not the end but the beginning of what God plans to do to create a new heaven and earth. When, in God’s good time, the day of the Lord is at hand, then the crooked paths of evil, deception and disappointment will be made straight; all our tears will be wiped away, and the answer to our heart’s desire will be, “Yes, we have finally arrived! We are home.” While we wait for the return of the Prince of Peace, let us practice living in His peace right now.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: November 24 Edition

Matthew 25:31-46

Gospel Lesson
for Sunday November 
26 2017

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” 

   We are accustomed to presidents, not kings.  We elect them and in the next election cycle, if we’re not happy, we boot them out!  Kings don’t come and go so easily. With kings, it’s the subjects who get the boot if they are “unprofitable servants (cf. Luke 17:10).”  As Christians, we are asked to participate in two worlds, e.g., the earthly world where we engage a government that often disappoints or betrays our trust, and the Kingdom of God where we are full citizens with responsibilities to carry out that fulfill God’s desires for both “worlds.” So, if Christ is our King and we are his humble, obedient servants…why are the hungry not fed, the sick not healed, the prisoners not visited…at least in numbers that encourage others to find and serve our King along with us? 
    I have never understood how the more progressive end of the church is consistently maligned by conservatives for promoting a “social gospel.” It seems obvious to me that if I am starving to death, rotting in prison, wandering the streets or captured by terrorists, I would want my immediate, critical need met before I would be able to pay very much attention to what might happen to my soul at some future date. In fact, the meeting of any temporal need becomes the natural opening for a spiritual conversation!
   
In this final judgment scene, both the “sheep” and the “goats” are equally surprised by God’s decision about their actions (or inaction), and, rather than feeling “sheep-like,” feel, at the very least, “sheepish!” Consternation abounds: “Lord, when was it that we saw you…?” which sounds suspiciously like a fatal unfamiliarity with their supposed “shepherd.”
   
Martin Luther once wrote, “God doesn’t need your good works; your neighbor does.”  Each time we choose to feed the hungry, visit the sick or those in prison, shelter the homeless or clothe the naked we are exercising our spiritual muscles doing the work of discipleship. When we neglect or refuse to participate in what have been called these “corporal works of mercy,” we become weak and ineffective Christians and, as this gospel passage suggests, subject to a judgment we would rather avoid.  Each decision we make takes us further down one road or the other.  The road “paved with good intentions” has a great and dreadful sinkhole at its end.
   
God’s love and desire for his people is seen with the most light when we are imitating Christ in his compassion for others.  It is our vocation while on this earth to be the hands and feet, the head and heart of our Lord to the rest of his children.  The old adage, “Charity begins at home” is actually quite wise.  For most of us, that is our first experience of unconditional love.  Being able to receive the gifts of that love and then learning to give that love ourselves, we begin to understand what God is asking of us.  When we live out of God’s unconditional love for us, the world will know in whom we believe. When our King returns, will he find us busy with kingdom work? The Talmud reminds us of the core of our mandate: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: November 10 Edition

Matthew 25:1-13

Gospel Lesson for Sunday
November 12 2017

1Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaidstook their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.6But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise replied, ‘No! There will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”   

    As I read this passage, a childhood gospel chorus came back to me:

“Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning (burning, burning)
Give me oil in my lamp, I pray
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning (burning, burning)
Keep me burning 'til the break of day

    This parable is included in what is called “the eschatological discourse” (meaning parables and stories about the end times). Here we have ten bridesmaids whose wisdom or foolishness is measured by how they planned their day! The key, however, is that it is the Bridegroom who made the judgment, not us.  The church on earth is filled with both wise and foolish bridesmaids (and, as the Bride of Christ, all Christians are tagged as “bridesmaids”). When the foolish young women called out, “Lord, Lord, open to us,” it is poignant indeed because they must have thought that they could just coast through life and ‘slide into home base’ as it were at the last minute (or the minute after, in fact) and all would be well. In fact the little gospel song I recalled seems to indicate that God will provide the oil!  The Bridegroom in this story disagrees.  We have heard this before in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” 
    One of the tasks of the faithful Christian is to balance the desire for the coming of Christ’s heavenly kingdom with the activities that bring in that kingdom!  In other words, to pine after the “end times” instead of working for justice and peace right now is simply un-biblical. (My elders called that being so “heavenly-minded as to be no earthly good!”)  Similarly, to work ONLY for social justice with no kingdom-focus is equally futile and short-sighted.  So, how, in fact, do we prepare for the coming of the Bridegroom?  Well, to quote a popular catch-phrase, “What would Jesus do (aka: WWJD)?” If we read the Great Judgment (25:31—46) and the Great Commission (28:19-20) passages in Matthew, our marching orders are clear. In fact, to boil it down to the essentials, read Micah 6:8 for all we really need to know to take the next right step!
   
More than one psychiatrist believes that the only therapeutic question worth posing is, “How are you planning to spend your time?”  Paul instructed the Thessalonian Christians on how to approach living in the “in between times” (cf., 1 Thess. 5:1—11). Vigilance and perseverance are required during the great expanse of the “now and not yet” in which we live; the kingdom of heaven appears intermittently, almost like a dream. It is the dream for which we are asked to “Keep awake!”  That is our faith task.  In the long wait, it is too easy to lose heart, to forget to replenish the oil of our spiritual lives by spending it on doing God’s will in our world. We too easily allow the distractions of this passing world to dissipate our hope for our true heavenly home and the eternal banquet with our Lord and the redeemed of all creation!
   
We can no longer watch the news without wondering if we might someday be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But whether our time on earth ends abruptly, prematurely or over a long haul, Rabbi Eliezer’s teaching, "Repent one day before your death," remains apt. Answering his students’ query, "How will we know when that day is?" he replied, "All the more reason to repent today, lest you die tomorrow." Our bodies may need rest, but spiritually, “Keep awake!”

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: October 27 Edition

John 8:31-36

Alternate Reading for Sunday
October 29 2017

31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free?’ ” 34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

   On this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, perhaps we can appreciate anew the genius of Luther and his “five solas.” Christians have become so skittish about being religiously incorrect or insensitive and fearful of appearing presumptuous enough to announce that we have the bone fide answers to life’s questions. Ironically, without doctrines, we would resemble spineless jellyfish rather than disciplined followers of Christ. To capitulate to the current cultural lie that truth is completely subjective is to deny what scripture so clearly shows us about Jesus.  He embodied objective Truth.  We can either accept or reject it, but we cannot deny its existence without entering a spiritual hall of mirrors from which no truth is reflected. 
    So, these five solas are the Reformation’s backbone, if you will. They are the guardrails of orthodoxy, the signposts that keep us on the right path, the light guiding the journey. Luther didn’t invent any of this; he rediscovered it. These precepts combine to keep us upright as life and the devil swirl around us: 

Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone
Sola Fides – Faith alone
Sola Gratia – Grace alone
Solus Christus – Christ alone
Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God alone

    Jesus’ words in today’s gospel were addressed to Jews “who had believed in him.” They were taken aback and highly offended at the thought that Jesus considered them ever to have been slaves.  As a citizen in “the land of the free,” many of us might have a similar response.  And yet, we know that Israel had been enslaved in Egypt and we also know there are many, even in our “land of plenty,” who are enslaved by addictions, dysfunctional relationships, the grinding demands of poverty… in short, the world as we know it. 
    But Jesus is referring not to a political bondage but to the root of all bondages, i.e., sin.  Sin is what we all too easily forget causes all our “un-freedoms.”  Any person, place or thing that distracts and draws us away from God is by definition drawing us toward bondage and away from freedom.  Lots of temporal things (money, good health, living in America…) can give us the illusion that we are free, but Jesus makes us “free indeed.”  We are slaves to sin (John 8:34) until Jesus sets us free (transforms us, in fact) by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
   
Jesus proclaimed himself objective Truth… the Way the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6).  This is perhaps THE most counter-cultural message we can proclaim.  And we had better be spiritually fit to proclaim it because the world will denounce the message and increasingly suppress the messenger. There is no freedom without commitments, sacrifices, disciplines and struggles! The old joke’s answer to “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” remains “Practice!.” Grace is free but it costs everything!
   
St. Paul gives us the only positive image of slavery there can be (Romans 6:18), for having been set free from the bondage of sin, we are now slaves of righteousness.  The children of Abraham embarked on the exodus from slavery in Egypt. We who believe are, as Frederick Buechner put it, “...free from imprisonment within the narrow walls of [our] own not-all-that-enlightened self-interest. Free from enslavement to [our] own shabbiest instincts, deceits, and self-deceptions.” Only in Christ can we even desire to be bound in that kind of freedom!  I think Luther would rather enjoy the image of “shackles of grace.”  May we always be bound to Him!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: October 13 Edition

Matthew 22:1-14

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
October 15 2017

1Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless.13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”

   What if you gave a party and nobody came?  And to compound the disappointment, what if all you received were lame excuses about why… “We just can’t make it; sorry!” Most of us have had the experience of weaseling out of a party we really didn’t want to attend.  We also may have had the experience of throwing a party where the people we most wanted to attend didn’t show up. Many through the centuries have refused God’s gracious invitation, perhaps because they were not offered a very attractive banquet or a very authentic invitation by God’s ‘staff.’ 
    This week’s gospel is yet another parable/allegory Jesus spoke against the chief priests and Pharisees during the last week of his earthly life. Weddings and banquets are both common metaphors in scripture to depict our relationship with God.  When Jesus throws a party, he IS the party!  He is the Bread of Life, the Bridegroom and the one who clothes us in righteousness through our baptism (the proper attire for his party). Scripture tells us that our righteousness is as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) but God clothes us with his glory!
   
But like last week’s evil tenants, the initial invitation list—the chosen guests—can just as easily become the “unchosen” if they refuse to come to the party.  God, in this story, was very angry that his chosen people would not be part of God’s wedding party.  So, God went out “to the highways and byways” to bring in both “good and bad” (both Jews and Gentiles), those willing to be God’s guests...not with a sense of entitlement but because this was the best invitation to the best party they had ever received.  Back in Billy Graham’s heyday, the televised rallies always concluded with the singing of “Just As I Am ”  I always hear that hymn as background music to this story because the people God went out searching for probably didn’t have time to get on their best outfits or fix their make-up, literally or spiritually.
   
Once we accept the invitation, there are certain behaviors that assure we are a proper guest.  In this case, we are required to participate in this grace-filled event, not just show up and assume we can get by with sitting around in our sloppy clothes and refusing to be sociable.  That goes far toward explaining why God threw out the one who was not dressed properly.  He was there under false pretenses.
   
We each are invited to the banquet, but we must change in order to stay!  Grace is free but it will cost us our lives!  We have the freedom to show up or to condemn ourselves by refusing to attend.  In the 1980s, there was a book entitled Miss Manners, which was a snarky take on the etiquette books of old. Miss Manners is still syndicated in The Washington Post.  A recent column of hers was titled: “No response to invitations? Stop sending them!”   But God will never stop, regardless of the vehemence with which his invitation is rejected or the passivity by which it is ignored or simply taken for granted.
   
Contemporary Swedish hymnist Ylva Eggehorn wrote a hymn called “The Farmer Takes a Sheaf of Grain” and it reminds me how to respond to God’s invitation:

“The farmer takes a sheaf of grain, his harvest, And lifts it up in gratitude to God. So I will lift my daily work and troubles And leave them, unadorned, before my God.

My faith bears nothing more, I bring no treasures And come without adornment to your house. My life is naked longing, flesh and blood. So dress me in your grace. You are my God.”

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: Sept 29 Edition

Matthew 21:23-32

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
October 1 2017

23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 ’’Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “‘If we say, ‘From heaven’, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’ 28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not;’ but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir;’ but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

   The conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees have been heating up as we have progressed through Matthew’s gospel.  Between cleansing the temple and telling disturbing parables that don’t exactly paint a glowing portrait of the religious “powers that be,” the contrast between earthly authority and heavenly authority is being drawn in increasingly sharp contrast.  
    Thinking they could invalidate Jesus’ message and actions by determining which rabbi gave Jesus his authority and, thereby, retain their lofty positions as keepers of the keys to God, the Pharisees posed the question, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” As usual, Jesus turned this on its head and asked them a question that they could not answer without invalidating their own authority.
   
The parable of the two sons seems perfectly placed as a further indictment of the chief priests, scribes and all others who clung tenaciously to the religious status quo, even when God was asking for something else! But before we self-righteously condemn these ancient members of the religious establishment, we may want to reflect on how the church—both we as members of the body of Christ and the institution itself—can still fail to perceive by whose authority we act and with whose will we are aligned. The fig tree Jesus cursed for bearing no fruit (Matthew 21:18ff.) probably looked fine, but it wasn’t producing what it was meant to produce. We, too, can “look just fine” and yet be ‘barren’ as far as doing what God asks us to do.
   
“Faith without works is dead” pronounced Jesus’ brother James (James 2:17). Words without deeds are just as dead. Jesus always advocates a straightforward response, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’, and your ‘no’ be ‘no’ (Matthew 5:37). Christians can become passive-aggressive because we see “being nice” as a Christian virtue when often it simply masks our reluctance to be honest. We don’t want to offend, neither do we want to admit where we are spiritually, and so we say one thing and sometimes end up doing another. In a sense, both sons exhibited aspects of this kind of behavior, and both disrespected their father by the misalignment of their actions and intentions.
   
In the ancient world, the son who outwardly agreed would seem the better son even though it was the son who said “no” who ultimately had a change of heart—a conversion—and obeyed. Both sons needed a change of heart. Each time we either say one thing and do something else or agree to something just to get someone “off our backs” (even if that someone turns out to be God himself!), we need a change of heart.
   
Words can be cheap, but faithful actions are beyond price and are the demonstration that we have indeed entered God’s kingdom.  Matthew 7:24-27 contrasts those who only hear with those who hear and do. “Do as I say, not as I do,” is a common parental admonition, but our goal as Christians should be to align both our words and our deeds so that our witness in the world will be transparent and consistent and others will see and know that we are indeed followers of Christ Jesus…and they will want to join us!  
   
Jesus tells the church officials of his day that their unbelief is preventing their entrance into God’s kingdom; they are serving God with their lips, but not with their lives. Jesus asks each one of us, “Which of you is doing the will of the Father?”

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: Sept 15 Edition

Matthew 18:21-35

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
Sept 17 2017

21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him;25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made.26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. 31When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt.35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

   This week, we discover just how perpetual, permanent and priceless is the mandate to forgive.  Jewish leaders in Peter’s day taught that a person should forgive someone three times and then their duty was done.  So Peter probably thought Jesus would be pleased by his “upping the forgiveness requirement to seven!” But Jesus was trying to share an attitude of the heart that no calculator of offenses could handle. Some versions say we must forgive 77 times; other translations magnify it to 70 times 7. Either way, that’s a lot of forgiving. 
    Just forgiving once, even for a minor offense, is not enough.  In order for forgiveness to really sink in at a soul level, perhaps 490 is just a starting point! “Fake it till you make it” comes to mind.  Forgiveness is not something we do based on how we feel; it is a disciplined alignment of our hearts with God’s who has forgiven us everything and asks us to do likewise. In the original Greek, the word for forgiveness can be rendered “to let go.”  To forfeit our ‘right’ to hang on to our grievances in self-righteous high dudgeon! As a multi-layered process, forgiveness is more an act of will than surge of emotion, and we must often face the fact that we don’t forgive because we have already judged our ‘trespasser’ guilty!  Paul gets into this in Romans 14:10-12 when he asks the church in Rome, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? … Each of us will be accountable to God.”
   
In Genesis (50:19), Joseph is in the process of extending enormous forgiveness for enormous injustices committed against him by his own brothers.  Even as they are expecting to become Joseph’s slaves as punishment for their misdeeds, Joseph responds to them by saying, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God?”  Asking ourselves that very question (perhaps 77 or so times a day) will keep us in balance. Joseph continued in verse 20, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”  Oh, how we need to believe that about the slings and arrows hurled at us from so many different directions.  If we can learn only to take it all in, ask Christ to neutralize the poison and then, as writer and theologian Barbara Brown Taylor suggests, “Suck it up…and turn it over to God, so that when you breathe out again the air is pure.”
   
As the Psalmist says in Psalm 103, God forgives all our iniquity.  We have no other path that leads to everlasting life than the path of forgiveness—the path cleared by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Read all of Psalm 103 the next time you need forgiveness (or need to get into an attitude of forgiveness).
   
The wicked servant, in Jesus’ parable, was forgiven an outrageous, un-repayable debt, but turned right around and refused to forgive someone else for a pittance outstanding.  That is not the economy of love and grace, but it is a fair portrayal of human nature. Our unredeemed default is to exact revenge, bring a lawsuit, refuse to accept or deliver an apology.  God through Christ has forgiven us our outrageous, un-repayable debt of sin. Our task is to forgive ourselves and all who offend us. Twentieth century preacher, Lehman Strauss said, “We cannot be right with God when we are wrong with others.”
   
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we pray.  Immediately after giving us the model for our prayers, Jesus warns the disciples that if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us (Matt. 6:14-15). Forgiveness is the master key to the Kingdom of Heaven. Lord, give us the courage and humility to turn that key and unlock your grace and forgiveness in our hearts.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: Sept 1 Edition

Matthew 16:21-28

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
Sept 3 2017

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” 27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

   In the space of about four verses of scripture, Peter goes from being praised by Jesus for his confession of Jesus’ Lordship to a resounding and rather frightening rebuke!  I can’t think of anyone who would want Jesus to confuse them with Satan. I rather think Jesus was gazing into the middle distance as he said that to Peter… reminded as he must have been about the last time Satan tempted Jesus with temporal power, worldly goods and worship, knowing he would not have deserved it if he had accepted Satan’s terms. Essentially, Peter’s response was Jesus’ reminder that he had more work to do with “Peter & Co.” as they began the long walk to Golgotha. 
    For us, Peter is the archetypal Christian.  I know I find comfort in his mixed example!  One day I will be completely at peace and thanking God for the abundance of this life; the very next day, I find I can hardly believe what I say I believe!  Running hot and cold like that has a lot to do with my perspective du jour… earth-bound or heavenly-minded?  The first will drive you nuts, but the second gives you peace that passes human understanding. 
   
The minute Jesus introduced the idea of sacrifice and suffering, Peter responded (as most of us would), “God forbid!”  St. Augustine reflected, “What does it mean to take up one's cross? It means bearing whatever is unpleasant—that is, following me. Once you begin to follow me by conforming your life to my commandments, you will find many to contradict you, forbid you, or dissuade you, and some of these will be people calling themselves followers of Christ.”
   
Tom Long, a professor and theologian, has said, “A life that is spent soothing the pain of the sick, caring for children in need, hammering nails in houses for those without shelter, sharing bread with the hungry, visiting those in prison, and denying oneself may seem like a squandered life in the economy of a self-centered age, but in the storehouse of heaven, it is a lavish treasure.”
   
Micah 6:8 has given us our marching orders on “losing our lives in order to find them” when the author writes: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  We can choose “the good life” now, or we can choose abundant life now and add eternal life into the bargain!  
   
The divine exchange: Christ died that we might live.  We must be willing to undergo that same loss of our old, sin-stained selves to gain the real and rich life God desires each of us to live. Jesus set his face toward his cross. John Chrysostom asked centuries ago that believers join our Lord in that same determination:

“Never leave your house without making the sign of the cross. It will be to you a staff, a weapon, an impregnable fortress. Neither man nor demon will dare to attack you, seeing you covered with such powerful armor. Let this sign teach you that you are a soldier, ready to combat against the demons, and ready to fight for the cross of justice. Are you ignorant of what the cross has done? It has vanquished death, destroyed sin, emptied hell, dethroned Satan, and restored the universe. Would you then doubt its power?” God forbid!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: August 18 Edition

Matthew 15:(10-20)21-28

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
August 20 2017

10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding?17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

   This passage is a “tale of two hearts.”  In the first set of verses, Jesus again wants his disciples to understand how vain is the attempt to reach God with rules and regulations rather than faith. He employs the very earthy analogy of what goes into and out of our mouths.  What goes in is natural and follows a natural process. No harm there. But what comes forth from each of us is another story entirely!  All that we think, say and do originates in our hearts which, left to our own devices, are “desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).”  
    Jesus here coins the phrase, “the blind leading the blind” to indicate how futile is any journey we take on the wrong road with the wrong leader!  Elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus used the image of “whited sepulchres (23:27)” to depict the hypocrisy among the Pharisees and teachers of the law who were acting pious “in public” while maintaining a distant, rebellious heart toward God. When someone accuses the church of containing hypocrites, we should agree wholeheartedly!  For without hypocrites, the church would be an empty, echoing place; but most of us fill the pews and bend the knee precisely to be rid of that hypocrisy; to exchange our “telltale hearts” with the pure heart God offers us.
   
On the heels of this lesson, Jesus travels toward Tyre and Sidon—places he has earlier put into the same category as Sodom and Gomorrah; in short, these are areas that are inferior, trouble-making zip codes with people not central to Jesus’ earthly ministry…yet. Jesus was about to have his own horizons widened as he journeyed along with his Father into another dimension of his earthly ministry.
   
Our nation—and in fact, the entire world these days—is in the throes of an of illegal immigration debate which in some areas of the world has reached crisis proportions.  At root, this is the recurring dilemma of how we understand family and community, i.e., who is in and who should be out!  The disciples are right there with our notoriously divided hearts in this story.  In fact, Jesus even provides a few responses that give the disciples faint hope that he feels as they do about anyone not of the House of Israel. 
   
But!  This pleading, persistent ‘nobody’ from outside the Jewish fold, this Canaanite woman, of all possible people, comes to Jesus, declaring him the Son of David, bowing down in worship, realizing her complete unworthiness to ask a thing of this Jesus. But ask she does anyway!  Faith seeking mercy! And with her true heart of love and trust laid bare, Jesus responds in kind. How could he not? He praises her great faith and heals her daughter and gives us all a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.
   
Perhaps her entreaties brought to mind this passage from the prophet Isaiah (56:1,6-8):

“Thus says the LORD: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant-- these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.”

    What human justice might forbid, divine mercy chooses to embrace.  This is nothing else but the infinite grace of God displayed for us and always available to us as our hearts are turned toward Him.  May we ever seek to have God’s heart transplanted in us to transform us. How else can we hope to embrace the foreigner in our midst or even more essentially, within ourselves?

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: August 4 Edition

Matthew 14:13-21

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
August 6 2017

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 177They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

    Jesus had just lost his cousin John, that one who traversed a wilderness eating bugs and wild honey, announcing the advent of salvation.  Beheaded.  No wonder Jesus wanted to get out of town to think, to cry, to pray.  But just like a swarm of paparazzi, the crowds figured out his destination and were waiting for him when he arrived.  Sigh. Many a tired, grieving, troubled minister (clergy and lay), seeing that crowd, would have ducked behind the nearest tree or boulder, no one the wiser, and then cautiously made for home, trailing equal parts guilt and relief along the way. Jesus, having no “fallen” hesitations against receiving strength and power from His Father, saw the crowds and had compassion on them, healing the sick and mingling with those who had made the effort to find him.
    This miracle meal is the only miracle of Jesus that is related in all four gospels—a good clue about its importance. Each telling has its own literary tweaks but, every time, the disciples made this a problem about money. “How can we afford this?” they asked (Mark 6:37; Luke 9:13; John 6:7). In Matthew’s account, they simply stated: "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish (14:17).”
    The disciples were merely being reasonable, using earthly mathematics, simple ‘supply and demand’ to conclude that they should either send everyone home to eat or direct them to the nearest village deli.  Jesus wanted them to stay with him and he wanted to feed them, both physically and spiritually. Possibly, in his grief, he found comfort in their company and in assuaging the grief of those who suffered illness.
    After this meal, there remained twelve baskets still full of food.  How can we not see this as symbolic of the fact that these (twelve) disciples could give of themselves beyond what they even thought they had to offer and, afterward, find they were still full to overflowing with the grace and gifts of God!  As disciples today, we can count on those same replenished baskets as we give, as Paul beseeches in Romans 12:1, “our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto the Lord, which is our reasonable worship.”Laced throughout every political and geopolitical decision is the fear that the more we give away, the less we will have.  God’s economy of abundance runs precisely in the opposite direction and Jesus’ practice of that assumption of abundance led to his death because of our fear.  Frederick Buechner wrote, “Greed is the mathematical truism that the more you get, the more you have. The opposite of greed—the selfless love of God and neighbor—is based on the truth that the more you give away in love, the more you are.”
    As the story is told, a rabbi arrives in hell to see people trying to eat with utensils so long that they cannot get the food to their mouths and thus are starving.  The rabbi then travels to heaven where he sees those same long spoons, but instead finds everyone eating heartily and enjoying themselves because they are feeding each other across the table.  Whether we carry spoons short or long, we are called to be God’s serving team.  He has set the table and he waits for our loaves and fishes to begin the feast.


If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: July 21 Edition

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
July 23 2017

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

   The convent I was part of in Wisconsin was located on 32 acres of what had once been a college.  The grounds needed constant tending to abide by the city’s “noxious weeds” ordinance. More than once, I noticed what looked like a very attractive flower or plant only to be told that it was on the weeds list and had to be removed.  I am still not always clear on why something is considered to be a weed, especially when it is so attractive!
    Jesus, the master gardener, told a story about weeds growing up amidst the wheat he planned to harvest, reminiscent of the story of the fall where evil slithered into Eden and planted sin and death in the midst of innocence and life.  And from that point until now, there has been no separating the two. For every seed of regeneration and life that is sown, Satan sneaks in dropping seeds of death and destruction, hoping to choke out with the weeds of his deadly intent the fruit of what God has sown.
   
Last week’s lesson concerned the various kinds of soil (symbolic of the state of our hearts) that co-exist in us as we seek to grow up in Christ.  This week, we see that the gardens of our hearts produce both good fruit and weeds. Even the Master Gardener does not summarily uproot it all from us now because it is all so intertwined in the complexities of our “fallenness” and His image in us. If God uprooted it all now, we would be missing all the lessons to be learned, chiefly compassion for ourselves and others.
   
We know the frustrations of trying to “weed out” the sin within us, only to have a new version spring up the very next day.  We dare not saturate our garden with weed killer unless we want to destroy both the weeds and the flowers! What might be most difficult to accept is that leaving the weeds and the good plants together is something God tells us to do.  God sends rain on the just and the unjust and he will harvest it all when he is ready, not when or how we think it should happen. And we are notoriously bad at discerning what a weed actually is anyway.
   
I think of this parable when I ponder various ways Christians respond to the social ills and conundrums of our day. There is always a segment of the population convinced that with the right social program or the right amount of money (or if everyone in Congress could be replaced) we could finally and forever fix whatever “weed” has choked life from some part of society. If, instead, we were able to employ only the love of God in seeking solutions to social crises, no more could we look at someone and proclaim that he or she was “100% weed,” a blight on the social landscape, a problem to be solved instead of a child of God who is as blighted by sin as we are. Dostoyevsky once said, “To love a person means to see him as God intended him to be.” 
   
Theologian Helmut Thielicke, in his wondrous book The Waiting Father, wrote, “Let him who stands take heed lest he fall; and above all let him not judge when he sees others fall, but reach out for his brother with compassionate hands…the last judgment is full of surprises…but one thing will remain… love.”

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: July 7 Edition

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
July 9 2017

16 “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, 17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon;’ 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”    

   One of the most common challenges of contemporary life is managing stress.  And we aren’t very good at it!  We are too susceptible to the “come-ons” of advertisers who don’t just tout the advantages of their product over their competitor’s, but seek to convince us that our lives will vastly improve if we buy what they are selling. And so we are seduced, which increases our debt, does little or nothing for our insecurities, but inevitably increases our stress. And so the cycle continues. In our efforts to succeed, achieve, thrive and impress, we gradually hand over our freedom to things, to other people, to elusive goals and to unrealistic expectations.  We yoke ourselves to heavy, needless encumbrances, strapping ourselves to things, people and roles we mistakenly believe we require.
    Jesus lamented the excessive burdens and bondage of a political and religious system that, to give but one example, prescribed over 600 regulations regarding working on the Sabbath!  Who among us can keep even one “law” regarding Sabbath observance over the long haul, let alone hundreds of them? Jesus thoroughly rejected these onerous burdens (Matthew 23:4), declaring that, in him, the law and the prophets had been satisfied and thus God freed his people from the impossibility of the law’s demands. A great deal of rabbinic writing used the phrase “yoke of the law.” Jesus knew that Pharisaic Judaism had abandoned the spirit of the law (in other words, the reason for knowing and obeying the law to show our gratitude to God and to please him with our obedience), putting in its place a tremendous and intolerable burden that could never be lifted.
   
Jesus announced his yoke easy and his burden light. In order to be yoked to him, we first have to be unhitched from other competing things, people or goals, lest we allow His best for us to be held hostage to the good we have already found!  He was careful to say, not that there was no burden involved in following him, but that it was a light one.  And it is light because he has already walked and prepared the road for our travels (Psalm 23:3). He carries our burdens along with us and, many times, for us. He has already carried and allowed himself to be yoked to the cross so that now we have the power and will to receive the burdens we carry in his name. 
   
The Sermon on the Mount—that great exposition of how the Spirit of Christ within us internalizes the Law and writes it on our hearts in new and radical ways—could be perceived to be even more burdensome than the Law itself!  On the surface, it might appear that we could more easily keep ten objective commandments than to avoid even the thought of adultery or murder or covetousness.  In Romans 7, we read that Paul knew all too well that the very things he wanted to do, the very things he knew were the right things to do, were the very things he just simply didn’t and couldn’t bring himself to do.  Not without the power of God.
   
Jesus gives us both the will and the way forward; for we do not carry our crosses alone, but in the blessed company of all believers.  “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).” The burdens we bear in love and for Love do not chafe as chains that imprison, but grace us with precious gifts and restful souls.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: June 23 Edition

Romans 6:1b-11

The 2nd Reading for Sunday
June 25 2017

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

    I remember hearing Ethel Waters on television soulfully singing her signature gospel song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” Even before I had paired them to Scripture, those lyrics comforted something deep within my child’s heart. Bullying hadn’t been tagged as a social issue yet, but we certainly had our version of it. Kids can be heartlessly cruel, and mantras like “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me” were recited more to reinforce shaky courage than to taunt those who ridiculed us.  To know that I am more valuable than many sparrows and more loved and protected by God helped me to survive some things young children should not experience.  And God’s abiding love only grows more precious with each passing year. 
    Taking up our cross has been trivialized to account for things like, “putting up with Aunt Dotty” or “repairing my rattletrap car.” The cross Jesus is asking us to carry is as radical as his was and leads to a death as real as his…death that signals a whole new life. Jesus died to sin (Romans 6:10-11). That is the death he is asking of us because that is the way to life in God. This is not Scripture for the faint of heart or for pew-sitters hedging our bets, waiting to see if this is really the best “good news” out there.  We are asked each day to hang on to the cross of Christ which doesn’t leave hands and hearts able to simultaneously grip the things of this world! We have been baptized into the very power we need to take up the cross presented to us. Use this cross as a shield against all that would seek to harm us and employ it to clear the path Satan seeks to litter with obstacles and distractions along the Way.
   
As we carry the cross of death and new life into the ministries to which we are called, we will sooner-than-later-encounter people who operate out of hurt, pain, old wounds and bad attitudes.  Our best posture in these encounters is to be the “non-anxious presence” in the room.  This is only possible if we have been practicing God’s presence and absorbing all the love we can from our relationship with him.  That is what we need and what we need to share with each hurting soul God brings to us. Ephesians 3:16-19 relates Paul’s prayer as we set forth, in Henri Nouwen’s term, as wounded healers: “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in …[the]  love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
   
Even before Dr. Kevorkian became famous for his offer to assist the suicides of terminally ill people, a movie called “Whose Life Is It, Anyway?” focused audiences on our “right” to die when we decide all is lost. Without God, it makes some sense to consider those kinds of decisions.  Jesus, however, gives us the power to live when all has been lost because our life and all we have given up and given away for him are safe in God’s good hands.  Whose life is it, anyway?  God’s. When we lose that life for God, we find it given back abundantly. So, when we feel discouraged, bullied by the world and trekking along seeking fellow travelers to share our load, the lyrics Ethel Waters sang to us still give comfort to our child-like hearts. “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.” And you.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .

The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: June 9 Edition

Matthew 28:16-20

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
June 11 2017

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

    The religious climate during biblical times bears certain similarities to our world today, particularly as we Christians find ourselves working for precision in how we speak of God.  After all, the Islamic and Judaic traditions assert one God. The very words used to describe God have led and still lead to misunderstandings, ‘holy wars,’ and death. Words are dynamic, impactful and convey meaning. Yet, in the end, words are only signposts, metaphors, similes and suggestions about reality.  Since they are crucial vehicles to communicate what we know in our hearts and minds about God and our relationship with God, we need to choose our words carefully and prayerfully.
    The enigma of the Trinity (three-in-one and one-in-three) emphasizes the fact that God is fundamentally “other” and we are limited in our comprehension of God’s essence, not able to fully grasp it until we meet God face-to-face. Meanwhile, Jesus charged his followers to go forth, make disciples and baptize them in this Trinitarian formula signifying a God who is ultimately relational and seeks a relationship with each of us. We are baptized into a community of the redeemed created by a God who is known to us in three inter-related ways…Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, as some term it. Our God is a three-fold community of love, always seeking to welcome home another prodigal!
    I recall many times in my earlier life being preached at about “getting saved” or “avoiding eternal damnation” or any one of a number of coercive, fear-laced responses to the Great Commission.  It would have been better if those evangelizers had silently gone about the work God gives us to do and let that be the attraction to Christ.  As it was, they did little but scare me to death and hand me a skewed view of the Lord.
    The Message contains a most helpful rendering of the passage we call “the Great Commission:” “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life…” He did not say, “Go out and make sure they all use the same words” or “Go out and make sure they think this [particular] way about who I am” or even “Go out and make sure they join our church.” Rather, Jesus’ mandate is to bring everyone we possibly can bring to the love, mercy and grace of God by the example of our lives using the wisdom of our experiences with God and God’s people.
    Jesus continues to assure us that he is in charge, he has given us what we need to do his will, and his Spirit will be with us through it all (not to “lord it over us” but to companion with us and to guide us). All that’s left for us is to “go forth!” We don’t have to be theologians; we can be caregivers.  We don’t have to be eloquent; we can be simply useful.  Our witness is our life. Then, when they ask, we will be able to give an answer for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).
    If we are unsure how to share our faith, our best preparation is to love God more than any words about God and to allow that relationship to shine through us. Jesus is the Word spoken to each of us. And that word is Love. And that love, God says, is with us always… as Father, as Son, as Holy Spirit.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: May 26 Edition

John 17:1-11

The Gospel lesson for Sunday
May 28 2017

17After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
6
 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

    Lutherans know something about schisms and splits. How many synods does it take to make up the entirety of Lutheranism? I don’t know either, but it’s a lot! Christians can certainly take to heart the image of Christ as the vine and we as the branches (John 15:5); metastasized branches, in fact! One estimate, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia, is that there are 33,000 Christian denominations in existence.
    My first extended experience of church was as a Baptist; many kinds of Baptist, in fact. My image of that group of folks has been that they split like amoebas! And often, the splits are over very minor issues of theological understanding or perhaps cultural differences! In my journey, I have gone to Catholic masses where, of course, I am not yet welcome at the Eucharistic table (although, you can find congregations where that breach has been mended). So, why are we Christians so very far from being “one body?” Or…are we one body in ways we haven’t fully explored or imagined yet? I believe Scripture and my own experience support the latter!
    Theologian Bruno Barnhardt calls this prayer of Jesus “The consecration of the new temple.” What he means is that we, the fragmented, fractious, frivolous, fearful, faithful people of God are the temple wherein our God resides and presides. While feuding and fussing goes on around us, we sing at the top of our voices, “We Are One Body.” We sing it in hope, in faith, and we sing it as though we could thus bring it into existence. And it is a present, albeit fleeting reality. Don’t we have moments of apprehending this unity as we watch our friends and family and strangers approach the Body and Blood of Christ each week?
    We have become complacent about our many differences and have simply categorized denominational preference as yet another consumer choice. And yet Jesus prays against this laxity. He fervently prays to his and our Father that God guard our unity so that the world might believe that God sent Him (17:21, 23). It is no small matter to give the impression to the world that we are simply a social club, based on like-minded preferences with a religious veneer. Our calling is to do the difficult bridge-building, listening, accommodating and healing necessary—in the power of the Holy Spirit—in order to present to our fragmented, fraught and failing world the love that God has for each one of us. We cannot possibly communicate that Reality with any Spirit-driven power if we are not even of one mind and heart with those Christians most “like” us! As Scott Bader-Saye has written, “The solidarity of the church not only enables our witness, it is our witness.”
    Our world already lives and suffers with constant and ever-changing divisions. Can we, as God’s temple, bring the light of unity and reconciliation into that deranging darkness? Are our lights on? Are our doors of fellowship and acceptance unlocked? We may have to do difficult things to ready our temple; we may have a lot of forgiving and asking for forgiveness. But, if we want to be one as Christ and God the Father are one, that holy work is worth our best efforts! Part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer is illustrated by Acts 4:33-34: “…with great power the apostles gave their testimony…and great grace was upon them all.” When Jesus’ prayer has taken root in us, we can echo Galatians 2:20; “the life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God.” May we be one indeed!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: May 12 Edition

John 14:1-14

The Gospel lesson for Sunday
May 14 2017

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going." 5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"          6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him." 8 Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

    I don’t know about you, but I have been in any number of adult education classes through the years, and there was always something specific that prompted my attendance. It might have been the topic offered, or the presenter, or perhaps a friend was going to participate too. Often, though, it was an interior case of ‘Spirit calling to spirit’, asking me to go deeper and learn more.
    Jesus was the quintessential teacher and yet he had a disciples’ class filled with what sometimes appear to be pretty remedial students. In story after story of their bumbling or misconstruing of Jesus’ meaning, don’t we (a bit smugly) imagine we would have figured things out much quicker? How could they get it so wrong so often? They walked and talked with him every day! At this point in the gospel, Jesus was laser-focused on driving home his main points. The end of his time on earth was growing very near and it was imperative that his first-generation followers know The Way. As he began to reiterate his promises and in turn received a series of “wait a minute, when did you tell us that?” responses, Jesus patiently continued to lay out for them (‘them’ is also us) what God promises and also what God expects.
    In just this short passage, Jesus promised that he had prepared a place for them in his home of many mansions and will come back and take them to himself to dwell with God forever. He assured them that by knowing Jesus, they indeed knew God. And the kicker: “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these” (14:12). But he prefaced that with the promise to do whatever we ask in his name (which assuredly included asking for his help in doing these greater works).
    When I was ten years old, I “accepted Christ as my personal Saviour” in a Southern Baptist church. It was a combination of real faith, wanting to please Mom, a certain amount of “scared straight” (hellfire and damnation sermons were de rigueur in those days), and I loved that church and its community life. But, for a number of years after that, I was a pretty self-assured little Bible thumper. I was not mindlessly rigid or hateful about it, but I was awfully certain about things that were really beyond my ken. I am quite certain that if I had been in the shoes of the disciples and Jesus had told me some of the things he told them, I would have had my own, “wait, what?” moments with the Lord.
    But Jesus never leaves us with our questions; actually, he never leaves us at all. Sometimes we leave him, or our attention to his presence in our lives is drowned out by the daily grind. Let us seek anew to make good faith with God and consider, not only God’s amazing promises to us, but how we can walk in his will and respond to his calling in our lives as he asks each of us, "Will you lay down your life for me?" (13:38). "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me" (14:10). Because Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, becoming rooted and grounded in that Reality is all we really need.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: April 28 Edition

Luke 24:13-35

Gospel Lesson for Sunday
April 30 2017

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

    It’s hard to believe that Cleopas and his companion did not recognize Jesus as they walked the road to Emmaus.  After all, they had probably seen him (or at least heard in great detail about him) at another famous biblical meal…the feeding of the 5,000.  Perhaps they walked along thinking, “This man seems awfully familiar….”  Jesus’ disingenuous ignorance of what had just happened (to him!) caused these disciples to question whether he’d been living under a rock!  As they continued walking back to their daily lives, absorbed in theological speculations, the very reason for their concerns walked beside them. Jesus began carefully to remind them of the prophecies of his life, death and resurrection. The more he said, the more they hungered and so they offered to shelter and feed Jesus so the conversation could continue. Then, when Jesus broke bread with them, their arguments and wonderings ceased and they finally recognized him “in the breaking of the bread.” Their talk about Christ led to an experience of Christ!
    Jesus loved food. He was even accused of being a glutton (Luke 7:34). So many events in scripture revolve around a meal; even the heavenly banquet is a key descriptor of what we can expect in eternity. A few generations ago, people in America lived very close to where and how their food was produced.  Today, it is ‘created’ in mega-farms and mega-factories using chemicals, hormones and preservatives so that we can have whatever we want to eat whenever we want to eat it. I grew up with the adage that I should “eat to live and not live to eat.”  Sadly, gluttony may be one of the most visible ways we display our abundance as the world watches us with ill-disguised disgust and great hunger. Americans are the cautionary tale of those who “are what we eat,” and the diet and fitness industry couldn’t be more pleased!
    Every time we go to worship, we partake of a meal in two courses… the scripture/sermon and the Eucharistic feast of bread and wine.  Jesus asks Peter and every one of us timid, hungry disciples if we love him.  If so, he replies, “Feed my lambs.” But, we cannot feed them if we are starving ourselves. The Book of Common Prayer has one of my favorite lines, blending food and scripture together: “Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” it.  When our hunger and thirst for God is satisfied, we become like Cleopas and all the disciples in our urgency to share this richest of food and drink with those God puts on our path.
    Dos Equis’ “most interesting man in the world” employed a great tag line, “Stay thirsty, my friend.” We do well to stay thirsty and hungry so that God has an opening in our hearts. When we break bread with others, do we know them to be God’s children? If not, perhaps we’re not hungry enough or we have unintentionally turned even the Lord’s Supper into fast food. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “At the end of our lives, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in.’ …This is Christ in distressing disguise.” Perhaps when next we offer someone a simple meal or a couple of bucks to go find one, our eyes will be opened and we will see Jesus through any distressing disguise he might adopt!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: April 14 Edition

Colossians 3:1-4

2nd Reading for Sunday
April 16 2017

1So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

    Mary Magdalene became the first evangelist as she ran at top speed from the empty tomb to announce to the disciples that she had seen the Lord. So began the displacement of Eve’s initiating humanity’s courtship with the evil one. Mary introduced the risen Christ to her fellows, telling them all that he had shared with her about this new, resurrected life.
    Christ’s resurrection is such a well-worn story that we can almost become immune to the dazzling implications it has for the lives of us who claim Christ as Lord. The short passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians appointed to be read this Easter Sunday sums up so succinctly what our resurrected life is to be. And it involves a death to self just as surely as Jesus emptied himself to come among us and die so that we could finally live.
    In Paul’s Colossae, as in our secular society today, we are faced with constant choices and opportunities to discern between what is life-giving or death-dealing. And sometimes it is not that apparent which is which! Eve was seduced by the good which almost destroyed the best… were it not that God loved us more than death itself.
    The Message states it thus,

 1-2 So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

3-4 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.

    Confession: I love to shop. I love to shop for clothes and all the accessories that attend them. I spent a lot of years wearing “plus sizes” and those shopping trips were not unalloyed fun, for my shopping mates were regret, shame and embarrassment. But here’s the thing! Christ beckons us to shed our filthy, sin-filled rags (of whatever size) and allow him to clothe us in his resurrection light.
    It sounds great, doesn’t it? But it means some very painful, difficult things. It means to take off the shirt of pride, the pants of power, the hat of entitlement, the layers of duplicity and deception, the coat of luxury and privilege in order to put on God’s robe of righteousness. And so, with Luther’s comment that ‘anything coming between me and God is an idol’ nudging me along, I must strip off all of the filthy rags of sin and self (some of my favorite clothes) and stand spiritually naked before God, willing to put on God’s apparel.
    Christ left his death wrappings in the tomb. He is asking us to do the same. Our baptism cleansed us to make us ready for his divine garments, and it is he alone who can empower us to change the fabric of our lives! Let us put on our ‘Easter bonnets.’ We won’t need ever to shop for anything newer or better or more flattering!
    Colossians 3:9-11 sums up our Easter reality:

“You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.”

    Eve was reduced to a covering of fig leaves. Resurrection Day is upon us and we, God’s children, are clothed in glory! Hallelujah!!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: March 31 Edition

John 11:1-45

Gospel Lesson for Sunday
April 2 2017

1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “ Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep.36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

   As years go by, we will find ourselves losing more and more people (family, friends, entertainment icons of our youth, political leaders)… in short, those who have made up our earthly audience and populated the backdrop of our lives. With each loss, there is some diminishment of us. Anglican poet John Donne said that so well in his sonnet:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. …any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and, therefore, never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

    Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus (their brother and Jesus’ beloved friend) was ill.  Jesus delayed his return to Bethany “so that the Son of God [would] be glorified through it (v. 4).” He waited until Lazarus was good and dead before that powerful command, “Lazarus, come out!” Jewish understanding was that the soul left the body after three days, and Lazarus had been in the tomb four days when Jesus arrived. Mary and Martha were surprised and a bit accusatory that Jesus didn’t make more haste. They had faith that if Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have died.
    Just like us, Mary and Martha had their own ideas about how and when God should act.  Their faith, like ours, was tempered by earthly priorities. Yes, it sometimes seems like God takes his sweet time delivering us from our bodies of death (Romans 7:24) until we understand that his time and his purpose are greater (and better) than our immediate desires. 
    Knowing this story from beginning to end doesn’t prevent us from our own occasional bouts with hopelessness.  We might come to the edge of financial ruin or lose a job we desperately sought. A loved one might not return to full health or return at all.  There are many ways we come to our “fourth day” before God, hopeless and in despair.  The Psalmist echoes our own pain, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord (Psalm 131:1).” The very hardest, yet most necessary, time for us to listen for his voice, his comfort, and his reassurance is during these times when he seems farthest away.
    In John’s telling, this resurrection event became the last straw and the impetus for the final plans to put Jesus to death.  Raising Lazarus was perhaps the most straightforward indication that death would not be the final answer where Jesus was concerned.  Scripture says that many believed, but it doesn’t say all believed.  Each of us knows what it is like to be skeptical in the face of what others say is irrefutably true. Luke 16:31 declares, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
    In each of our daily “dyings and risings” (the small deaths that we undergo in preparation for the main event), what brings us back to life?  It is the voice of Jesus, the same voice that brought Lazarus from his tomb. Jesus’ call to “come out” is how he summons each of us out of our death-dealing ways, our self-defeating patterns and our decisions to be ‘like God’ instead of ‘in God.’ 
    Jesus wept…for Lazarus, for us, for the sins of the world that initiated death. No one weeps at the grave of someone they don’t love. As we approach Easter, we are faced in this Gospel with the evil and cruel irony that Jesus died precisely because he brought real life back to us! He knew even as he called forth Lazarus from a tomb that he would soon enter one himself. This was a drama not simply of one man being returned to life but of the divine exchange of death for life that Jesus was about to undergo for our sakes.
    Lazarus had to die again at some point. I am guessing that, like those who have had a near-death taste of glory, Lazarus did not dread his earthly death because he knew when he opened his eyes again this time he would see and hear the God he loved saying not, “Come out” but “Come here, my beloved; you are unbound and you are home.”

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: March 17 Edition

John 4:5-42

Gospel Lesson for Sunday
Mar 19 2017

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband,’ 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (who is called Christ). When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?’ or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest?’ But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

   Being “evangelistic” about anything is often perceived as being a bit too pushy or enthusiastic; it often devolves into an embarrassing or awkward encounter. But John’s story of the Samaritan woman is a classic story of untainted, agenda-free evangelism.  Simply put, this woman had an authentic experience with Jesus Christ and her heart response was to share it with her fellow Samaritans.  I think what led them to come to Jesus and ask him to stay and talk with them is that she didn’t manipulate the circumstances of their meeting with Christ… or tell them how to conduct themselves… or threaten them with certain doom if they declined her invitation. She merely said, “Come and see a man…” And John reports that many believed because of her testimony.
    Then, after they had their own encounter with Christ, it was no longer because of what this woman said to them that they believed, but because they had heard him themselves.  Instead of judgment in this encounter, Jesus offered them and the Samaritan woman (as he offers each of us) the kind of ultimate intimacy for which we thirst. This might explain, in the woman’s case, the many men in her life and, likewise, our own dead ends at dry wells! Here again is another story of the character of God…that love trumps judgment and love is what draws us to God. Shame, regret, sorrow and disappointment may propel our search, but the love of God is what saves and transforms us and can give meaning to what we have endured. When we see ourselves through his eyes, we can begin not only to ask his forgiveness, but to forgive ourselves. And so the cycle of sharing and receiving God’s good news has continued down to this moment.
    Jean Vanier wrote, “Jesus is revealing that if we drink from the fountain of the love and compassion of God, we become a fountain of love and compassion. If we receive the Spirit of God, we will give the Spirit of God. The life we receive is the life we give.” And each of us has a story about how God ‘told us everything we have ever done’…and we became undone and reborn. The testimony that moves hearts is the testimony of how and by whom we broken ones have been mended and restored.
    Jesus is calling us to take a sip of living water because, when we do, we will be compelled to issue our own invitations and fill a jug for another! And, lest we forget, Jesus himself initiated this conversation because he was thirsty. In other words, he wants us more than we, finally, want him! The next time we read of him thirsting, it will be from the cross where he shed water and blood for you and for me.
    So, leave behind the jar holding all the stagnant water of everything that does not satisfy and go out to share what you know and Who you know and, perhaps, even how you know. What Jesus did for this woman he does for everyone who wills; He shows you all that you have been and all that you are and takes you in his arms and says “I love you.”  If that doesn’t make you drop your old jar, nothing will.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: March 3 Edition

Matthew 4:1-11

Gospel Lesson for Sunday
Mar 5 2017

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ’’ 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ’’ 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 100Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ’’ 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. 

   Last week we heard the story of Transfiguration, the glory of God on a mountaintop, shining through the clouds.  This week we see Jesus making decision after decision against fundamental temptations to disobey God as he prepares to set his face toward Jerusalem.  It would be difficult to identify a starker contrast of life’s changes and chances than this trek from the glorious mountaintop to the barren valley, from a grand and illuminating time of worship to the dark struggle for identity and purpose.
    Matthew did not create some starkly obvious caricature of a haloed, fasting holy man facing a horned red monster with a pitchfork tail. The reason these challenges from the evil one are called temptations is precisely because there is just enough of the good mixed in to give them some credence. Satan is called an ‘angel of light’ precisely because temptation begins with apparent good, glamour, and reward. People who smoke (or ‘used to’) weren’t tempted to do it by seeing people in a hospital bed attached to oxygen and coughing up a lung. The lure and the hook were more likely those glamourous movie scenes where the beautiful people lit up in a sexy haze of smoke.
    As theologian Fred Craddock wrote, “Recall the lure to Adam and Eve: ‘You will be like God.’” Could any goal be loftier? So Jesus has before him three excellent offers: Turn stones to bread (in a world of unbelievable hunger, why not?); Leap from the pinnacle of the temple (in a world callous to sermon and lesson, why not a coercive shock into belief?); Enter the political arena (in a world of slavery, war, oppression and disregard for life and rights, why not?). Satan presented good things in an attempt to thwart God’s greatest things!
    There is grace in our temptations when they move us to seek God’s presence in prayer and scripture, asking for protection, healing and salvation. This is where we can most identify with the walk toward maturity in faith that Jesus modeled for us. Hebrews 4:15 is strangely comforting when it reminds us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are.  Because of that fact, we know that in him we have the power, authority, wisdom and strength to resist evil (and especially those “lesser goods” that trip us up even more often than outright evil). It is mercy and grace we seek in our times of need and those are the things Jesus longs to give us…died to give us, actually.
    Each of the responses Jesus had for these temptations is a call for us to go deeper, to not respond from our fallen sense of self but, instead, from our identity as children of God. It’s a bit like a Christmas list.  We can either make a list of things we want or things we really need.  Usually these lists bear little resemblance to each other and it takes some doing not to focus on the “wants.”
    We enter Lent not as a marathon to be run, but as a time to step aside from the hectic day-to-day and internalize the new life we have been given so we can relate to others with God’s grace, not our egos. Instead of a temporary exercise of ‘giving up’ or ‘taking on,’ Lent is the perfect ‘forty days’ to offer God all of our vulnerable, hurting humanness and watch him bring forth yet more new life as the days lengthen into spring and all manner of resurrection begins!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: February 17 Edition

Matthew 5:38-48

Gospel Lesson for Sunday
Feb 19 2017

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

   Therapists have dined out on Matthew 5:48 since therapy began!  “Be ye perfect” indeed!  What possessed the translators to take a ‘perfectly’ good Greek word (“teleios”) and turn it into something so daunting and off-putting?  I would blame it on the Puritans but they already get a bad rap for so much else that I will give them a pass on this one.  Teleios actually means "brought to its end, finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness, perfect, full-grown, adult, mature."  A word study on the uses of “perfect” in scripture will uncover hope. We will find, as we often say in our own defense, “no one is perfect.” We will also find that God is perfect and we’ll read of the magnificent ways he has bridged that vast gap to bring us into his perfection.
    I already know I’m not perfect and have no earthly hope of getting there. Without being flip, if we see perfection as a Martha Stewart-style home or a runway model figure (or, for the guys, a fabulous six-pack as well as a six-figure income), we are of all people, most miserable. Even if, by some cosmic lottery, we attained everything we imagined would equal perfection, I think we would know in our deepest selves that it still remained just out of reach. If in doubt, look at all the unhappy Hollywood or NFL millionaires.
    Of all the things in this passage that might concern us, why is it the concept of perfection that so often preoccupies us? The story of the rich, young ruler (Matthew19:16-22) is actually instructive on this as, in the wake of the ruler’s sorrowful disappointment that his conscientious adherence to the commandments wasn’t “enough,” Jesus tells his disciples that, yes, it is all impossible…for us. But, not for God! In that story, perfection lies in “selling all” which we can obviously interpret to be about our stuff, but perhaps it’s really about our whole life as we currently understand it. We cannot be filled with God until we are emptied of ourselves.  And in typical ironic fashion, only when we are emptied of the self we have crafted can God restore to us the self he had in mind for us “before the foundation of the world!” 
    I have read articles from sincere believers who write that we are commanded to be perfect, indicate that we can’t do it, and then tell us eight ways we should try anyway.  I say, “enough.” Therapy is expensive.  God has accomplished our perfection. “Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).” I spent a lot of years trying to pour new wine into old wineskins. That is to say, I kept trying to be perfect in my own strength and my own way with my own definition of perfection.  No wonder there was so much breakage and seepage! It wasn’t until I began to finally soak in the very good news that God loves me just as I am that the striving for perfection began to abate.  Even better, I discovered Luke’s take on Jesus’ words in 6:36 where he writes, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” While I was beating myself up for not being perfect, God was being merciful…to me!
    God is not Frank Sinatra crooning to us through the heavens, “Do… Be… Do… Be… Do… Be… Do.” Rather, he asks us to rest in him (Psalm 62) and the perfection he accomplished by his obedient suffering (2 Corinthians 13:5-14 or Hebrews 13:20-21).  God only sees us through his Son who loves us to death and back! Augustine invited congregants to the Lord’s Supper, “Receive who you are. Become what you’ve received.”  Perfect.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: February 3 Edition

Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b – 12)
1st Reading for Sunday
Feb 5 2017

Shout out, do not hold back!  Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. 3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day, and oppress all your workers. 4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them,  and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,  and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. 

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. 

   When I was a child, there was a periodic thrust within the churches I attended to pray for revival.  It got rather fervent at times and was usually triggered by the apparent decline in morals or respect for Christianity evinced in the culture around us. We were assured that the country was headed for certain disaster if revival didn’t happen very soon.  And so we prayed; some fasted. Sermons were preached, special speakers were engaged and prayer meetings lasted a long, long time.
    Isaiah 58:1 accurately describes what those revival meetings were like!  There was a lot of shouting and many pronouncements about sin, as any revival worth its salt provides.  Tears and repentance did occur. Lives were put back on track. People were anxious to be “right with God” and apparently were excited to attend these services even though they probably made them a bit uncomfortable and unsettled.  Judgment is a bitter and embarrassing pill, after all. 
    American Christianity hasn’t really changed since then; we are still in the midst of the false dichotomy that keeps conservatives and liberals from participating in Christ’s prayer that “we all might be one…” personal piety versus “the social gospel,” the next world versus this one. And didn’t we just see this same jittering divide as the Republicans and Democrats each served up plates of certain doom to each other for most of last year?
    What stopped me in my tracks while reading the Isaiah passage is that all the righteous posturing and the apparently sincere humbling before God is not what God wants to see.  All the “sackcloth and ashes,” the lamentation about the state of godless society doesn’t seem to scan with the Lord.  A righteous fast has very little to do with food, except for the food that we must share with the hungry. You can hear God moaning in verse 3, “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.” Apparently, the false dichotomy between personal piety and the state of the world falls apart right here!
    In Matthew 5, Jesus calls his followers ‘salt’ and ‘light.’ Psalm 34:8 enjoins us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” If we lose our saltiness or hide our light, of what possible use can we be to God and his kingdom? Isaiah illustrates what a true fast looks like, and it has everything to do with offering food (and we all know what food without salt is like). This is how we model and experience his undeserved and unimaginable love.  This is when his promises of protection and provision are realized as a surety.  And this is when Jesus’ startling words become reality…our righteousness will exceed the scribes and Pharisees and we will know ourselves to be in the kingdom (Matthew 5:20).
    C.S. Lewis’ noted that humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. As we determine to do the next righteous (read “sometimes difficult”) thing, God’s light increases as if on a divine rheostat. This passage from Isaiah cannot be rationalized, temporized or minimized. Gandhi had it exactly right: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Our proper response to this, as to all our baptismal vows, remains, “I will, with God’s help.” Re-read Isaiah 58:10-12 and thank God for the wondrous things that happen to those who feed others the bread of life and shine forth the light of salvation. 

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: January 20 Edition

Matthew 4:12-23

Gospel Lesson for Sunday Jan 22 2017

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15
 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him.21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23 Jesus* went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

   Matthew is determined at every turn to underscore the fact that Jesus’ geographical moves were each a fulfillment of prophecy.  This move to Galilee is no exception and appears to be the direct result of Jesus learning that John has been arrested.  In addition to fulfilling prophecy, it is a prudent move on Jesus’ part as he realized just how serious Herod was about putting out the light that was shining brighter each day (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16). In what might be called holy defiance, Jesus landed in Galilee and began to proclaim the exact words of John, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus’ ministry of teaching, preaching and healing was now in full swing.
    I can imagine Jesus walking along the shore, leaving sandal prints in the sand to be washed away with the tide.  It was still dark because Simon (Peter) and Andrew were just casting their nets when Jesus showed up and offered them a “new job.” Jesus’ spirit probably outshone the rising sun as he approached them so it would be no surprise to read that the responses to his offer included such words as “immediately” and “at once.” No returning home to discuss with family, no season of pondering pros and cons…just the immediate response to the great light that had dawned on them. And, as with anyone who spends enough time with someone, the disciples began to take on the attributes of Jesus so that he could tell them (and us), “You are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).”
    For whatever reason, Zebedee stayed in the boat as his sons, James and John, left to begin a brand new journey.  It is intriguing that he didn’t join them and we have no idea why he didn’t. Whatever the reason, Matthew leaves Zebedee in the boat which suddenly, to me, seems like a perilous place to be. And yet, how many times have I chosen to stay in the boat, seasick as I might be, rather than climb out and begin a journey of unknown dangers (and equally unknown joy) with God?
    Discipleship is not something we can understand from the beginning.  It unfolds for each of us in a God-ordained way. If they had known “the end from the beginning,” who knows what they would have chosen. But Jesus’ beckoning must have been exactly what these men had been seeking.  Their immediate response is the essence of repentance, which is not necessarily an emotion of sorrow for sins as it is a decision to change our minds, hearts and life directions.
    Being a fisher of men and women is not on a list of optional spiritual practices; it is the heart and soul of any disciple of Jesus Christ. And each one of us is worthy of that call, regardless of what we are doing when we hear it.  It doesn’t depend on our talents, our good looks, our bank account, our current profession.  It depends on the grace of God and God’s desire that each of us abandons our leaky, self-driven boat and join him on the most amazing journey there is. My prayer is that I will receive each day the strength of will to untangle myself from the things of this world—to “leave my nets”—and experience the exhilaration of simply following the Lord.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: January 6 Edition

Matthew 3:13-17

Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Jan 8 2017

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

   The rite of baptism pre-dates Christianity. It was definitely a part of the Essene tradition, and, according to Jewish scholars, a rite that John would have fully observed. Matthew pitched his gospel to the Jews of his day so perhaps when Jesus told John that he must be baptized by him to fulfill all righteousness, he was referring to how the Jewish community would understand the rite… a rite of penitence, purification and dedication to God and the community. John’s resistance to baptizing Jesus may have come from the same consideration: John’s was a baptism of repentance and cleansing, and a man with nothing to repent and no need for cleansing had no apparent need for baptism. But Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness and this part was crucial.
    The Jewish community understood, as we do, that baptism restored the unclean to the state of a new-born child and was a requirement for entry into the community of the faithful. It was part of the process of sealing identity and bringing each “under the wings of the Shekinah.” And what happened right after Jesus identified with humankind (Philippians 2:5ff) and obeyed all requirements of the Jewish initiation?  The spirit of God descended as on the wings of a dove to pronounce God’s benediction on his son and empower him to begin his ministry of presence and reconciliation among humankind.
    This ritual act (fraught with so much fragmentation of understanding as to cause the creation of new denominations around its practice) is our obedient response to God. We are saying, in essence, “I submit myself to my Lord and, by this act, I accept the washing away of my sinful nature through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. As I rise from these cleansing waters, leaving my sin to dissolve away, I accept God’s Holy Spirit into my heart and life—not for my own pleasure but for my salvation and the salvation of the world.” Even words of commitment and intention such as these aren’t ours; they are given by God as he washes and remakes us into the new creatures that once again have the capacity for relationship with him. Just as Jesus shed his blood for us, Jewish tradition included the shedding of blood as part of their incorporation into the community. Baptism is rich with tradition and truth and marks the pivot point— the faithful act—that opens the baptized to all of God’s grace.  And for Jesus to step first into those renewing waters is another way for us to be assured that he stands with us, he who humbled himself so that we might be lifted up.
    Christ’s baptism was the moment that marked his identity and empowered him for ministry; and so it is for us. Some traditions grant “baptismal names,” but God has given us our baptismal name: “Christian.” No name that we have ever been given (or ever been called) carries this kind of power and authority. The Spirit descends on us as on Jesus and for the same purpose: that we might fulfill his great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and continue to baptize until all who will are clothed with Christ (see Galatians 3:27). As a baptized child of God, each of us is sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as God’s own forever. If we listen very closely, we can hear a divine whisper in our spirits, calling us by name and telling us just who and whose we are. God is as “well pleased” with you and me in our obedience as he was with his son who made our obedience possible!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 
602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: December 23 Edition

Colossians 1:26-27

Alternative reading for
Sunday Dec 25 2016

26The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but it is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27To them God has chosen to make known the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ is in you!”

A Christmas Eve Reflection for Young Mothers by Sommar Nelson
   
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Andy Williams says it is because this is the season when people talk of good cheer; visits to loved ones are made; cards are sent; stories are shared, mistletoe kissing commences; many are singing and love is glowing. Yet, it strikes me that we are rejoicing in the birth of a child whose life was created and given… to suffer and be sacrificed. The reality is Jesus was born to die so that we might have abundant life.
    As a young mother during the season of Advent and at Christmas, my thoughts often drift to Mary. She was so young. Life and traditional roles were very much different in her time than they are today. I try to imagine Mary’s life and how difficult it all had to be. The Lord, indeed, blessed Mary so abundantly in choosing her to be the mother of Jesus, but I wonder if that’s how she viewed it each day? Can you imagine going to your parents at such a young age (really at any age!) and explaining to them that an angel appeared to you and said you’d be giving birth to the Messiah? In addition, Mary also had to deal with the judgment and shaming of her community! Just to live through Mary’s advent of Jesus’ coming is hard to comprehend! The strength and courage and massive amounts of faith this very young woman had are difficult to fathom.
    Then Mary was tasked with raising this child – the Son of God! I can’t help but wonder if Jesus threw tantrums or if he was a picky eater? What games did he play? Did he sleep well through the night? Mary and Joseph taught their son about God and religious traditions, even though he entered this earth all knowing. There are days I do not feel worthy of being a mother to my beloved little beings; sometimes I think they deserve better or, at least, more than I am or can offer them. I wonder if Mary felt this way, or was she able to trust that God’s decision to place Jesus in her care was enough to make her not only worthy but capable?
    The trials, tests, acts of love, fear and loss that Mary survived all began with the conception of Jesus. She was given the perfect child. Do you think this made her strive for perfection in herself? Was she as hard on herself for her imperfections as a mother as we tend to be on ourselves?
    Can we imagine entrusting our children so wholly to God that we could live each day knowing that one day his/her life would be given in sacrifice for generations of lives to come, for people we would never know? Mary, did you know? What kind of faith does that take?
    As we complete this exciting season of Advent, along with the anxiety, joy and stress it tends to bring, and enter into Christmas, I hope young moms especially will take time to be gentler on themselves. Parenting is hard work and, while it may not always look the way we might want it to look, we have been given the most amazing gifts… our precious “littles.” God gave them to us because he believes WE are amazing. He essentially is saying to us, “I trust you; you are worthy; trust in me. Love came down and the world was changed. In Christ we have been born to live, to love and to rejoice. Let us walk in that love and give thanks.

If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: December 9 Edition

Matthew 11:2-11

The Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Dec 11 2016

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’  11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

    Poor John, languishing in prison, began to hear amazing tales of Jesus’ activities.  He sent his own disciples abroad in the land to find Jesus and ask him point-blank, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another (v.3)?” All that prophesying John did about the coming of the Lord and even his baptism of Jesus were not enough for him to realize fully with whom he was dealing!  His question probably was one of re-affirmation.  He wanted to make sure that the prophecies were really being fulfilled by this man and not just rumors from the fever-dreams of misplaced hope.
    Jesus responded with words from Isaiah 61 that the blind were seeing, the lame were walking, and all those other miracles were indeed occurring.  What is significantly left out is the affirmation that prisoners were being released.  How was John to fully believe that prophecy when he, a prisoner, was yet to be set free?  And isn’t that the human condition in a nutshell?  We hear the glorious promises of God and we sometimes hear them in the midst of a situation that is anything but promising.  And then we ask, not “Why me, Lord?” but rather “Why not me?” Am I part of these promises and prophecies or am I just an observer yearning to experience what you do for others? I wonder if John had similar musings as he continued in prison… even as others were being set free in all kinds of ways. No one wants to be the one who misses the blessing, right?
    The passage from James (5:7-10) begins with the admonition to “Be patient…until the coming of the Lord” and connects that to the farmer who waits for the rains to come. Rain may come late or come in ruinous ferocity, but it is also the rain that allows the crops eventually to grow. Events that seem like attacks or punishments or random acts of horribleness, can be used by God for our good and eventually for our joy! It’s a matter of Advent hope becoming deeply embedded in us. God teaches not in a disembodied, theoretical way but precisely through those things that make up our earthly experience. We live “between the rains.” When it does rain on us, for good or for ill, there is nourishment and sustenance to be had if we trust that “all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).” This may not make it easy, but it makes it possible to persevere.
    “What did you expect from a prophet? Did you think he would come to you in fine robes giving you easy news?” Jesus asked the crowd. Each of us may still be in a dry wilderness, wandering around learning the same lessons again and again like the Israelites of old.  But the rain will come and with it will be a surprising new shoot of abundant life that only God can deliver and we can receive if we hope in the Lord. As the first part of Isaiah 40:31 promises, “but those who keep waiting for the LORD will renew their strength.”  Jesus asks each of us to prepare a way for him in our hearts and our lives, clear away the debris of sin and get ready because anything can happen!  He will be with us, for he has come, is always with us and will come again in great glory. Be patient.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: November 25 Edition

Matthew 24:36-44

The Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Nov 27 2016

36 ‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

(first published November 29, 2013)

   Yawn much? Numerous sleep studies conducted on us worn-out Americans over the past few years indicate that a great many of us are over-tired.  In addition, our exhaustion is now clearly tied to some serious health conditions.  Ironic how “burning a candle at both ends” give us not more light but the dimness of sleep deprivation and a compromised ability to see the signs of the times!

Both the Romans and Matthew passages for this beginning of Advent caution us to stay awake! As the days grow ever shorter, it is easier to sleep as darkness falls and more difficult to start the day before the light dawns.  But stay awake we must to fight the darkness because the end really is near and it matters tremendously how we live our lives! These passages remind us not to sleep-walk through our earthly sojourn, allowing the everyday to supplant the eternal day. 

Jesus speaks of the advent of his return in Matthew’s passage and it happens in the midst of “everyday life.”  He notes the sudden (although predicted) flood in Noah’s day as God swept in with cleansing and judging waters, washing away those many who assumed this was a day like any other.  He then tells a cautionary tale (one that sends fear into most of our hearts) of a thief breaking into our homes while we sleep.  If we knew in advance when this would happen, we would only stay awake until the danger was gone; then we would sleep on.  God wants us on the watch with him more than just an hour (Matthew 26:40)! We cannot further his cause if we’re dead on our feet.

The word “advent” refers to the coming of some person or event that we await.  And for the next four weeks, we are in a waiting mode for the very son of God to enter the human arena.  It happens every year but, for forgetful humankind, the church year affords a renewing and a reminding of what we all await…our salvation and our eternity with God. But I know from experience that the longer I have to wait for something, the less ready I can actually become.  I get bored, or irritated or angry or cynical or deflated of any hope at all that what I tap my foot waiting for will actually arrive. I am a child of the culture and our multi-tasking, internet-instant society is not into any waiting games!

As Paul told the Romans, so he tells us: “You know what time it is…wake up!” Let us live in anticipation, fully awake, having put on the armor of light (Romans 13:11-12) to fend off the works of darkness. And, as we faithfully wait (if we are very, very still) we might just hear the snapping and swishing of angel wings, the distant fanfare of a thousand trumpets and the still, small voice of God saying, “Here I am.  Love has come. All shall be well.” Hallelujah.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: November 11 Edition

Luke 21:5-19
The Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Nov 13 2016

5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.” 9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”
12
 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

    In the wake of so many so-called “100-year disasters” in recent years, many have begun to add “-pocalypse” to the end of their descriptors (as in “snow-pocalypse”)… as though the most recent event was a signal that nothing could be worse! Even this past political season was interpreted in stark, apocalyptic terms on both sides! This passage from Luke is clearly written in an apocalyptic tone and like those who first heard this message, if I only had today’s hyper-media as reference, I might well conclude that the end of the world was very close indeed. All around us are examples of the unhinging of both eternal and temporal “verities.”
    What gives me pause, however, is this other aspect of the ‘end times,’ the persecutions that will ramp up because we are Christians.  This passage is as much a vivid “heads up” about discipleship as it is a checklist of end-times predictors!  The lives we live, dependent upon God, are the lives through which Jesus will deliver the words we are to use as we “testify” of God’s sustaining grace even during our worst nightmares!  This is sobering news, as I am a typical American Christian, hesitant to be politically “incorrect” or to land on the “wrong” side of a social issue. God is asking from each of us the measure of courage that meets the escalating need for our witness.

All of those scriptural predictions that signaled “the end is near” didn’t happen quite the way they initially read. Yes, the temple collapsed in A.D. 70. An aura of “apocalypse now’’ continued into the apostolic era as St. Paul warned against getting married because the time was so short. All manner of millennial-style end-times prognostications were swirling and some were fulfilled then, while others seem to be pending even unto the present day! But, as theologian William Willimon wrote:

“It is the Christian belief that we have already seen ‘the end,’ that the world has come to a decisive crisis in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth…At that moment, when he was nailed to a cross, the conflict between life and death, good and evil, God and Caesar was resolved in favor of God’s lordship over existence.”

    Thus, we have been freed to witness in and to the world with faith not fear because we know who holds the future. We have already seen “the end.” It was apt that Jesus said, “Do not be terrified (v. 9)” for we are in the palm of God’s everlasting hand. Luther might have been thinking of this passage when he said that security is the ultimate idol. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 for a vision of real apocalyptic surprise!) If our security is only in earthly ‘temples,’ we will surely faint with fear and despair as they crumble to dust. Jesus has given us peace that the world cannot give (John 14:27). He once wept for Jerusalem because it did not know the “things that make for peace (Luke 19:41-44).” Now we know. So knowing, we must live the words we pray.

“O God of unchangeable power and eternal life, look favorably on your whole church, that wonderful and sacred mystery. By the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation. Let the whole world see and know the things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by Him through whom all things were made, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer)

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: October 28 Edition

John 8:31-36
The Gospel Lesson for
Reformation Sunday
Oct 30 2016

31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free?’ ’’ 34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there for ever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”   

    Even though I come from solid Lutheran stock, I didn’t grow up in the Lutheran church. Therefore, the concept of the Reformation was not something that I heard much about, other than in world history class and occasionally at church when there was an alleged reason to denounce something Roman Catholic! It wasn’t until I went to college and began to study church history that the length, breadth and depth of the events and tenets of all things “Reformation” began to open up for me just how complicated Christianity could be!
    In the decades since, both the Roman Catholics and Lutherans have come to a number of accords, agreements and apologies and, while still at variance on a variety of theological nuances, our liturgies since Vatican II have become quite similar!
    So, do we still need to set aside and designate one Sunday every year as “Reformation Sunday?” After all, many worry that modern Christians are so Bible-challenged that adding an additional level of confusion by focusing on events in church history isn’t worth it! And that in itself may be the most compelling reason to commemorate the day! Ignorance of things religious is not bliss and has, in fact, landed us in a morass of collapsed distinctions, muddied theological understandings and a dramatic rise of the popularity of such remarks as, “All truth is relative,” “All roads lead to Rome,” or “It doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.”
    In 1985, sociologist Robert Bellah wrote a provocative book entitled Habits of the Heart. That book introduced “Sheilaism” into the lexicon of both sociology and popular religion! He interviewed a woman (pseudonymously named Sheila) who described her do-it-yourself religion with these tenets of her faith: “I call it Sheilaism. Just my own little voice. It’s just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself. You know, I guess, take care of each other. I think God would want us to take care of each other.” She couldn’t remember when she had last been to church but she did retain a belief in God. Religious belief has become so hyper-individualized and private that we can say with some certainty that the people with whom we worship each week have a wide variety of understandings of God and of the Lutheran strand of the Faith!
    Jesus taught much differently about these things. In John 14:6, He said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Now there is a hard saying for these times! The ‘Religion of Sheila’ is comprised of “her own little voice.” Jesus is the Word itself before there was a human soul to speak of him. In today’s gospel, “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ ”
    Isn’t it worth considering that if, in our commitment to “freedom of religion,” we might be verging on the real possibility of freedom from religion? Even as our wandering, cross-country-commuting selves have lost the moorings of generations-old community, so too it seems that our religious tethers are fraying as well. We cannot serve God and mammon; we cannot simply create our own comfortable religious identity. If we believe in God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, there are boundaries, requirements and commitments that are inherent in our Faith and are what, in fact, set us truly free. Perhaps we can reflect on these things this Reformation Day.

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: October 14 Edition

Luke 18:1-8

The Gospel Lesson for
Sunday Oct 16 2016

1Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

  A consistent undercurrent in our society is that the criminal justice system is broken. Some say it has always been so because it is constructed and served by flawed humanity seeking blind justice when we are all peeking through the blinders with bias and animus! This Sunday’s gospel passage would make the perfect example of anyone wanting to indict corruption in the judicial system. Here we see a judge who really doesn’t care about God or the people he has been asked to serve. Perhaps he became a judge for the purposes of prestige, money, influence or ego. But apparently, rendering just verdicts or wise decisions was not what he signed up to do. It would seem odd, except that so many have similar stories to tell even today. But this parable contains a conversion story—the judge’s!
    It is difficult to call this a parable because the meaning is crystal clear and even stated in the passage: “Pray always and never lose heart.” Ironically, that is probably one of the hardest sayings we have from Jesus. When faced with the slog of years and perhaps a lifetime of praying or working for something (whether it be physical or emotional healing, resolution to a complex social justice issue, mending a broken relationship) and the results seem to move ever farther into the distance, how many of us have the spiritual muscles to persevere?
    Jesus even asked his disciples, when some of his early enthusiastic followers lost their nerve and abandoned him if they were also planning to leave him. Fortunately, they remained with Jesus even as they experienced much heartache in the midst of their joy. Regardless of our circumstances, each one of us has had or will have a time when we just don’t know if we can keep up our hope, our prayers…even our faith.
    This encouragement to pray and not lose heart is given to each of us, whether we love to pray or tremble at the prospect. It is for those of us who can’t find the words, but yet have directed our hearts Godward and for those of us who have a prayer list tacked up in every room with a regular time set each day to beseech the Lord. The key to a prayer to which God attends has nothing to do with eloquence, regularity or energy. It has to do with the perseverance that reflects our steady (or sometimes wobbly) faith even in the midst of an uncertain future.
    We are asked to engage with God as God moves throughout the ages to effect His will. Our prayers are a part of that huge tapestry of engagement and faith that we and the Holy Spirit are weaving with our ongoing prayers and entreaties. Perhaps the biggest reason we need to be reminded to persevere in prayer in the face of apparent unjust and unimaginable circumstances is that we are only seeing the backside of the tapestry of our lives. All the frayed and cut threads are showing, but the beautiful pattern is obscured. Our dogged praying will, one glorious day, become the strength that turns the tapestry around for the whole world to see. And what we see will be the Answer to all our prayers.
    Jacob wrestled a blessing from an angel (Genesis 32:26) and the pestering widow made a bad judge do good. So, don’t let go and don’t give up. Your blessing is on its way

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: Sept 30 Edition

Luke 17:5-10

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
Oct 2 2016

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table?’ 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink?’ 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”

   I can almost feel Jesus’ impatience with his disciples when they asked him to increase their faith.  After all, that very request displays some understanding that faith is a gift and not something they could manufacture. “We are saved by grace, through faith, not by works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8).” What the disciples were really asking, I think, is whether what they originally thought was “enough” faith could possibly be equal to the tasks that Jesus had been describing as “the cost of discipleship.” He answered them in true Middle Eastern hyperbole:  You have enough faith right now to throw a mountain into the sea (Mark 11:22-23) or to plant mulberry trees in the ocean!  Things won’t get any easier, and lamenting the amount of faith you have as though it were a commodity is missing the point! 
    We either have faith or we don’t; it isn’t a matter of how much, but about how much it is used!  That is the best way to read the story of the slaves, troublesome as a story about slaves might be. We can see parallels with any dedicated workers. They know their role and their responsibilities and they do their jobs, not expecting additional rewards or commendations for so doing. There is no doubt that, like muscles, we need to exercise our faith by acting on it!  Flabby faith is as detrimental to us as muscles gone to fat. The best “faith exercises” are precisely the challenges facing the disciples which Jesus has spoken of in numerous ways throughout Luke’s gospel.  These are the words that precipitated their anxious plea for more faith:

“Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive (Luke 17:1-4).”

    Forgiveness may be the most difficult task we face, and we face it often because we have too many ways, both deliberate and unintentional, of hurting and being hurt. Jesus says not once, but twice, “You must forgive.” Must!  We yearn for faith to believe that a broken relationship can be mended, that a broken people can be rehabilitated by their government, that a festering offense from childhood can be healed in the light and perspective of adult wisdom.
    But when we ask for this faith, what are we really seeking?  Courage?  Certainty of the outcome? A deep sense of God’s presence?  Whatever it is, faith comes to us not as an isolated thing, but as a dawning awareness and growing commitment as we step out into the sometimes daunting work God has given us to do.  Then we can begin to grasp the essence of Hebrews 11:1, the very definition of faith…“…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is faith and it is a matter of trust in a trustworthy Lord. It is not the size or relative importance of our work, but our faithfulness in doing it that God desires. 
    It is never the wrong season for planting mustard seeds!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Carole Becker at cbecker@allsaintsphoenix.org or 602.319.0959 .
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website or our Facebook page.

Weekly e-Devotion: Sept 16 Edition

Luke 16:1-13

The Gospel Lesson for Sunday
Sept 18 2016

16Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”

   On the surface, this is a confounding story!  It took me some time and some reading to begin to glean much more than confusion from this passage!  But on that day during the Great Recession when Detroit declared bankruptcy, the story—like so many puzzle pieces—fell into place. This is a story not only about a potential financial bankruptcy, but spiritual bankruptcy! The dishonest manager “negotiated down” the amount due his boss and he made friends with those creditors by so doing. Now, if his boss followed through on the whole firing thing, he would have resources and indebted friends to draw upon (v. 9). He had leveled his playing field and given himself a backup plan.  Way to cover your bases!
    This story follows on the heels of the story of the “prodigal son” and shares too many parallels to ignore. In both stories, we have protagonists who squander wealth and violate a trust. They each experience a moment of epiphany and see the error of their ways. Then, both conjure up a scheme to regain favor from those they have violated.  Then the stories turn to Gospel (read: Good News) as those who were betrayed have nothing but praise and forgiveness waiting for these penitents! The father abandons decorum to embrace his wayward son; the rich man commends his maneuvering manager on his shrewdness!  The devil might be in the details, but so is God and God can help anyone re-work the ledger sheets of a misspent life.
    In Matthew 10:16, Jesus enjoins his followers to “be wise as serpents; harmless as doves.” More than once, Scripture offers the insight that the children of light can actually learn useful things from “the children of this age (v. 8).” It is not Jesus’ fond hope that we will learn how to conduct a pyramid scheme, but he is assuring us that ignorance is NOT bliss and worldly wisdom can and should be baptized and used for God’s good pleasure. How we handle worldly goods is of much greater consequence than having them in the first place!
    The entire thrust of Luke’s gospel is about the upturning of tables, expectations and the social order in general. Nothing makes Luke happier than to share a story where the poor get what the rich don’t think they deserve! It is easy to describe (and so dismiss) the poor as people who have bootstraps but refuse to use them…as those who are either lazy or have adopted the identity of victim in order to victimize “taxpayers.” The prophet Amos, however, reveals a form of poverty that we mostly gloss over or rationalize away…the poor as those trampled by the rich (8:4). These folks cannot catch a break no matter what they try to accomplish.  Bootstraps?  They don’t even have boots!
    Nothing and no one belongs ahead of - or instead of - God. We can love God and create holy boundaries against worshipping our stuff, or we can love our stuff and wonder why we’re miserable in the midst of plenty. Wealth makes a very attractive prison guard. The only way out is to share that wealth. While Jesus does not endorse the economic shenanigans he talks about, he does want each of us to realize the relationship between our resources and our responsibilities. Matthew 6:21 tells us that our hearts reside with our treasures.  If you feel far from God, see if your heart is suffocating under a pile of stuff!

e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw
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