A few years ago I wrote an assignment for the Upper Room Disciplines. It was an interesting project, a week of devotionals for the lectionary readings for this coming Sunday. But as I’ve read the devotionals this week I have wondered why I didn’t edit the sentences better. They seem awkward to me, and sometimes I have thought, “I don’t use that phrase, or that word.” I bumped into my originals this week in my sermon prep and discovered why the printed version seems odd – they were edited quite a bit.
So here are my originals. Same ideas, just my own way of putting things into words.
Theme/Title: Setting Our Minds
Each of these texts address aspects of being in relationship with God. Jesus reminds us that our ways are not God’s ways; we may not see the divine vision. Paul describes for us what qualities our lives, if rooted in relationship with God, should have. Exodus shows how Moses came to understand God’s vision, God’s way – through the shock of the bush, through questions, through conversation. God was respectful, present, and engaged in that process. When we are called to live a particular way, and we are called to pick up our cross, we are allowed to push, to ask, to clarify what God really means for us. As we engage with God, with scripture, and with the community of faith, we come to see things in a new way, glimpsing the vision God has for our future. The psalmist invites us to remember all that has come before us as we try to understand what God has placed ahead of us.
Questions and Thoughts for Reflection:
Read Matthew 16:21-28. How do you ask Jesus to be something different from he is? When does your concern for security, or your vision of the future, get in the way of Jesus’ work?
Read Exodus 3:1-15. How does your understanding of yourself get in the way of what God would have you do? How do you push God to explain or reveal more to you?
Read Romans 12:9-21. Who helps you grow in your ability to practice the qualities of Christian life that Paul describes?
Read Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c. Psalm 105 recites the ways God has been faithful in the past to the people Israel. How has God been faithful to your ancestors? To you?
God of my past and my future, help me to see how you have been faithful to me and how you are leading me forward.
Monday, August 25 Scripture: Matthew 16:21-28
“You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16:23, NRSV) Jesus responds sharply to Peter’s insistence that Jesus stop talking about his coming death. Yet Peter’s outburst reveals the concerns anyone would have in this situation: life is preferred over death, safety over danger, the continuation of Jesus’ powerful ministry instead of its end. We want to protect the things we value and cherish.
In setting his mind on human things, Peter sees the only possibility he can imagine: the best possible future is Jesus as he is. Peter could not imagine how suffering and death could coincide with the hope and healing Jesus taught. He could not see a path that included death and Jesus at once.
In setting his mind on human things, Peter does not listen to what God says through Jesus. He does not hear the hint of resurrection in Jesus’ words. In refusing to hear Jesus, Peter also misses a chance to support him. This is very human behavior. We do this when a loved one who is sick asks to talk about dying and we insist they will recover. We do this when a friend expresses concerns about their work performance and we play the cheerleader instead of replying, “Tell me more about that.” Refusing to hear, we refuse to let God move into death, pain, and heartache and work something new.
It is not easy for us to set aside our perspective to make space for what God has in mind. Jesus tells us that God sees differently from us, that God’s intent comes from a vision larger than ours. God imagines possibilities humans cannot. In Jesus’ words God prepares the disciples and cracks open their minds just a bit to ready them for what is coming.
God, help me to see and to hear the possibilities your mind holds for me.
Tuesday, August 26 Scripture: Matthew 16: 21-28
It is difficult for us to take up our cross and follow Jesus when we have our mind set on human things. When we are thinking like humans, we seek not only to protect what we have but to increase it. Our human mind keeps an eye on our place in the world, gauging our status, our stuff, our social circle.
So Jesus’ words to Peter are counter-intuitive. They make no sense to the human mind. How can we experience life if we deny ourselves? How can we save our life if we lose it? Why would people follow Jesus if it doesn’t mean improving their lives and increasing their happiness? We aren’t so different from Peter, standing there looking at Jesus, confused.
Yet because of Easter, we know that God’s mind, God’s way, God’s kingdom, is based on something different from the get-ahead/fall-behind, life and death way we know so well. Because of Easter, we can see the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching. The cross, an instrument of suffering and shame, was a pathway to resurrection. Following Jesus, setting aside as much as we can the human mind of getting and protecting, is no guarantee that life will be peaceful and prosperous. But it is a pathway for a life filled with meaning and purpose, inexplicably soaked in hope and love.
When Christians give of themselves to others – teenagers building a roof for a widow in poverty, businesspeople working with a homeless man to mentor him into a job, friends taking an evening to pack thousands of nutritious meals for people they will never meet – they discover joy they could not have imagined beforehand. As we learn to release our lives into the possibilities of God’s mind, we experience a life more rich and complete than we could imagine in our own.
God, help me to let go of all that keeps me from living fully in you.
Wednesday, August 27 Scripture: Exodus 3:1-15
The call stories in the Bible are powerful windows into the way one person, thinking very human thoughts, worried about very human things, comes to glimpse a piece of God’s vision, possibility, and thought.
Moses meets God in the middle of his workday. He was moving his father-in-law’s flock from one place to the next, minding his own business, when he noticed a bush burning nearby. God invites Moses into the holy space, and introduces the ancestral history of God’s connection with Moses’ people. Then God gets down to business: after explaining what God has seen happening to the people in Egypt, God says, quite simply, “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10, NRSV)
Moses is not able to see this possibility right away. He thinks of himself as a shepherd, taking care of someone else’s flocks. Or perhaps he thinks of himself as a murderer on the run. Going back to Egypt, where he killed a soldier, seems a pretty foolish thing. But here God is, a voice in a flame on the mountainside, inviting him into a new way of thinking about himself and an entirely new future.
Sometimes it just takes a word from someone to awaken us to a new possibility. A woman in my childhood church walked up to me by the coatrack one day and told me I should consider being a pastor. That simple comment changed my life (supported, of course, by many other people and experiences over the years.) Yet sometimes we need a shock to disrupt our thought processes. Sometimes we need a jolt, a 2×4 upside the head, to help us see what might be possible. God showed up in voice and flame to open Moses’ mind to something completely surprising.
God, help me to be open to thinking about my life and my purpose in a new way.
Thursday, August 28 Scripture: Exodus 3:1-15
Meeting God in the burning bush was not enough for Moses to understand how he was going to free the Israelites. Seeing the impossible and having a chat with God was not enough for him to see what God saw in him. He could not imagine the possibility God saw ahead.
Moses asks two very important questions. The first is, “Who am I?” Moses needs to understand how God sees Moses. He needs a new way to understand himself. The answer he gets is not what we expect. First God says, “I will be with you.” It is a strange response to the question, “Who am I?”, but it means that Moses will not be alone, will not have to accomplish his task alone, and that God’s presence will be enough for him to do what is needed.
The second part of God’s answer is a promise of what is to come. “When you have brought this people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:12, NRSV) God says “when,” not “if.” God already knows Moses will succeed. God offers a glimpse of the future God sees to Moses.
Moses’ second question is basically, “Who are you?” God answers, “I Am Who I Am.” (Exodus 3:14, NRSV) Again, God answers Moses’ concerns with a promise of presence now and in the future.
Moses has more questions. The amazing thing in this story is that God is so patient with them. God listens, responds, and each answer reveals a bit more of God’s self and God’s future. This is what allows Moses to go forward. He is able to set aside his own view of things because he has seen a tiny bit of what God sees. He has had a hint of God’s mind, of divine things. And so he goes to Egypt.
God, hear my questions, be patient with my concerns, and show me a new way forward.
Friday, August 29 Scripture: Romans 12:9-21
Glimpsing God’s future, like Peter, and answering God’s call, like Moses, is not the only thing expected of us as we follow Jesus. Living fully into God’s vision for our lives means growing in two distinct directions: growing in our love of God, and growing in our love of all people as shown in the way we treat them. In Romans 12 Paul encourages us in both kinds of love, explaining in careful detail what this means. Depending upon how you sort them, there are twenty or more specific descriptions of love lived out.
I have found it very helpful to share this challenge with a group of people. Every week I meet with a small group of women in my congregation where we share how we both struggle and grow in service to others and connection to God. I find it helpful to be reminded of the need to grow in both directions, remembering that praying is not enough, nor is service to others, if I want to follow Jesus.
So every week I gather with six other women to share, listen, and pray together as we struggle with how to love God more deeply in daily, practical ways. Every week I face the questions of whether my heart has sought God’s presence, how I have prayed, studied, worshipped, and recognized God’s love in my life. I listen as the others share their experiences, and learn new things I might try. As each woman shares her stories I understand more deeply how much God is moving in our lives. I am encouraged by their faith and by their expectations that I will continue to grow, and during each week I know I am held in their prayers.
It takes practice to learn to see God’s perspective. But setting our minds on divine things is easier with friends.
God, help me find the support I need to live the life you are inviting me into.
Saturday, August 30 Scripture: Romans 12:9-21
Most of Paul’s list concerns our relations to other people. Like his words in Corinthians 12-13, these are directions for how to live with love in our community. While many Christians find it rewarding to serve others in Jesus’ name – serving at food shelves, building homes, giving money to good causes – truly loving one another is difficult. For Paul saying “love one another” is not enough – he reminds us that this means not being haughty or claiming we are wiser than we are. When he writes, “live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16 NRSV), then “live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18 NRSV), he must have known we would need to be told more than once.
The church is an amazing place to practice these behaviors. At church, we have ample opportunity to practice the behaviors Paul lays out for us. We also have the support of others who are trying to live in love as well. Like many congregations, mine has expectations for how to behave when conflict occurs and a plan for how to address it. It is called the Rule of Christ and offers biblical principles and practical steps to help us live in harmony with one another.
We practice these behaviors in the church because it gets harder when we try to follow these commands in the wider world. Paul has specific teachings about dealing with enemies – feed them, give them something to drink – that are very challenging. Practicing letting go of anger after a bad church committee meeting is actually a good preparation for letting go of getting even on the highway, or at the office, or in our families.
It takes work to set aside our ways of thinking and move into God’s way. “Setting our minds on divine things” (Matthew 16:23 NRSV) takes practice, prayer, and perseverance. The support of the church community is essential.
God, help me live with others the way you desire.
Sunday, August 31 Scripture: Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
This Sunday we join the psalmist in praise of God. The psalmist remembers Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Aaron and calls us to recall the way God intervened in the history of the Israelite people. Our experience of God is also anchored in history. Moses’ conversations with God, Peter’s struggle with Jesus, and Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ teachings, which we have explored this week, are more than just useful teachings and wise words. They are part of our ancestral history, our faith history. Like the psalmist, we remember these biblical ancestors when we praise God.
We carry the history of those who have come before us in the church. We remember those who have shaped our denominations, written our hymns, wrestled with our theology, built our churches, taught us in Sunday School, and preached to us over the years. All of these people have made it possible for us to have the relationship with God we enjoy, and they become part of our praise.
There may also be those in our families, and likely in our churches and communities through whom we know the presence of God. Is our praise of God shaped by our experiences with fellow Christians, with friends and family who are also yearning to love and follow God’s way?
All this week we have looked at how challenging it can be to see things from God’s perspective instead of our own. Today, on this day of worship, we rejoice in everything that has supported us in this effort. Today we remember all those who have gone before us, and all those who walk with us now, who make it possible for us to believe that God is present with us in trouble, that God can bring new life out of death, that following Jesus’ path of love is the richest experience we can know. Praise be to God!
God, thank you for all those who came before me who led me to you.
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