Advent -Thursday, Dec. 2

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Luke 21:25-36

Reflection: v. 31, ‘you know that the Kingdom of God is near.’

Jesus describes some wild times in this passage–the earth in distress, nations confused, signs in the sky, and the roaring sea. ‘Pay attention,’ he tells his followers, for these things will happen, yes, in your own lifetime, and they mean that the Kingdom of God is near. Now, I am not a doomsday ‘the end is nigh’ kind of preacher, but it is hard not to hear Jesus’ words and compare them to our own generation’s struggles. It is hard not to read this passage and think of the very times we too are living in. Nations confused? Check. Roaring, rising seas? Check. Fear ruling over us? Check. The earth in distress? Need I go on? You get where I am going with this. While I do not espouse a rapture-style apocalypse, it’s hard to look at our groaning planet, it’s hard to look at God’s hurting people, and not say, ‘Yeah, I see the signs in our generation, too.’ So what are we to do? Are we to succumb to fear and hopelessness as we stare into the void of climate change, war, global poverty, and violence? No. Jesus tells us we must pay attention. We must see and acknowledge what is right before us, and we must make sure we haven’t numbed ourselves to it all. We must make sure that we are alert and ready to respond however we can–which is likely with love, compassion, and action. The Kingdom of God is near. That part shouldn’t scare us though. In fact it should assure and encourage us. Look around. Pay attention. There is much to see and much to do. And when we are paying attention, we may also notice all the ways that the Kingdom of God is pouring out and surrounding us–it is within our reach and oh so very near. How can we help bring it in?

Prayer Help us to pay attention, O Lord, that we may do what we can for your planet and your people. Help us to care about your Kingdom.

Tuesday, November 30

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Psalm 25:1-10

Reflection: v. 2 ‘do not let me be put to shame’

‘Do not let me be put to shame’ the ancient writer of this psalm asks of God. I find it reassuring and at times amusing how some things never change. Some things seem inherent to human nature–always relatable. I reflect on this phenomena often when reading the psalms, so full of the wide spectrum of relatable human emotions. How could someone living in such a different context and culture so long ago convey with these old ancient words the same feelings and emotions I experience, too? It must be that some things never change for human beings. As I read this psalm today, it is the prayer for acceptance and freedom from shame that strikes me as relevant. Still today, like all those many years ago, so many of us struggle to find acceptance and belonging. So many of us plead not to be put to shame. And yet many of us are shamed for things beyond our full control–our poverty, our mental health, our gender, our bodies, our upbringing, or our addictions. We are shamed for things for which there should not be shame attached, and in turn we too often shame one another, wielding our own hurts and disappointments like a jagged heavy sword. But like shame and fear and the plethora of other human emotions that inhabit us at different times, dignity is also something that is inherent to human beings. We must remember that we are lovingly and intentionally created in the image of God–perfectly suited just as we are. And in that image there is great dignity. We must internalize the voice of our loving creator and ignore all others that would shame us. And when that doesn’t work? When the voices around us would judge us and ridicule us for being who we were created to be? We, like the psalmist, can ask God to step in and remind us of who we are. We can ask God to remind us of our inherent dignity. And in our own honest self-respect, may we too participate in the godly work of not putting others to shame.

Prayer God, do not let me be put to shame, and do not let me shame my neighbor.

Monday, November 29 – Advent 2021

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Reflection: v. 16 ‘Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety’

‘In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.’ I must confess that I have negative connotations with talk of ‘safety’ because this word is so often used as a weapon against my community. Our beloved church has many members who are poor. Some are without shelter and live on the streets and in the parks of our neighborhoods. Many of our members are people of color. Some of our members struggle with particular mental health concerns. By these standards many people that our community crosses paths with label our gatherings and worship services as ‘unsafe’ to have around. Our church is a ‘safety concern.’ Our joyful make-shift space of hospitality, comfort, creation, and care, this loving atmosphere where I bring my own four year old daughter to laugh and play and grow up, is labeled ‘unsafe’ merely because of who is gathered there. ‘It isn’t safe,’ our rich neighbors cry, as they hunker down in large warm homes. Such calls for ‘safety’ are often the thinly veiled threats of classism, racism, and privilege. For I ask you, who is not safe in this scenario? If the best place to sleep at night is under the awning of a church because it offers some protection from the rain, who is not safe? If the concrete on the backside of a church parking lot offers the most stability available to you at the time, who is not safe? If you sleep in a park and are constantly harassed by law enforcement and over-eager vigilantes, who is not safe? This Advent season I pray for the God who brings justice and I pray that my community members may live in the safety that the people of God deserve.

Prayer God who cares for us, guide us to make safe spaces for one another instead of fearing our neighbor.

First Sunday of Advent

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Reflection: v. 15, ‘he will execute justice and righteousness in the land’

As I am sitting here writing on this crisp fall morning, I find myself shivering. Today I am writing at home, but yesterday my community spent most of our day huddled under tents together as a sharp, wet rain soaked our layers and an unsettling breeze chilled our bones. The remedy for such a chill is hot soup and strong coffee, a fresh change of clothes protected in a grocery bag, warm laughing and joking with your beloved friends, and of course, shelter indoors. Unfortunately, I already know that my church community will likely face another winter outside. While many of our members have transitioned into housing, many still go without. As we actively hunt for properties where our community could afford to safely meet, we will likely celebrate this Advent season huddled near heaters, sharing warm clothing, and praying for a time when we can once again offer the hospitality of shelter from the elements to one another. Offering hospitality to one another in a world that so often leaves so many without the resources we need is the work of justice–the work of the church. This hope-filled passage from Jeremiah which imagines a coming day of the Lord wherein a righteous ‘branch’ of David will execute justice, likely makes us think of Jesus’ coming. Our Advent texts are full of themes used to point and allude to Jesus’ anticipated arrival among us. But another important theme sketched out in this description of the day that God desires, the day we wait for, is that of justice: a justice and righteousness that will bring safety to God’s people. As yet another Advent season comes upon us and we prepare our hearts with the warm comforting thoughts of a vulnerable little baby, I will also remember that God desires justice. I will remember that Jesus came to bring justice. I will remember that the Jesus we await is waiting for me huddled beside a heater outside a church building, and I will work for justice alongside him.

Prayer God who remembers those in the cold, execute justice and righteousness for my community.

Easter Sunday – April 4

Author Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Mark 16:1-8

Reflection: v. 8, ‘terror and fear had seized them… they were afraid’

The abrupt closure in the Gospel of Mark is my favorite of the Gospel endings. I love the touching relational details and interactions, the resurrection stories and reunions of the other Gospels. And sure, it can be nice to tie a big bow around the end of a story like a prim Easter bonnet and rest in the resolution that it all finished according to plan. But there is something strikingly real and relatable about the frantic open-endedness the writer of Mark leaves for us. I feel that especially this year. As Christians, some 2,000 years after Mark’s writing, we know how this story ends, and yet, we also know that the hope and promise of resurrection do not make everything instantaneously easier or resolved.

In equal parts today, I rejoice that death has been conquered by love in Christ, while I also mourn the stark reality that I do not always quite know what to do with that as I face another difficult day. I believe in resurrection, but I am also well acquainted with the death we experience here and now. I can see hope breaking like the dawn, but I do not quite yet feel its warm rays. Right now, the chill of the morning dew still feels a lot like fear and questions left unanswered. And yet, the tomb is empty. I stand before it in awe and fear. This year I feel a deep companionship with the women still vacillating between terror and amazement, running toward they know not what, filled with new hope still strongly spiked with fear. This Easter, I embrace that this is an acceptable place to be—maybe its even a faithful place to be, as we find ourselves caught up in a cautious hope that yearns and runs toward life.

Prayer May the hope of resurrection break upon us like the dawn. May we run toward you, O Lord, in our fear, our awe, and our rampant, reckless hope.

Holy Saturday – April 3

Digital Version of Devotional

Author Chad Hyatt

John 19:38-42

Whether it is because of disease or racism, political chaos or the disruption of so many ways of being community, we have experienced profound, almost overwhelming loss this year. If we are to find wholeness, we must find a way to grieve. Grief is the hidden gift— perhaps the unwanted gift—of these holiest of days, as we move from the cross to the resurrection. Sometimes we want to move so swiftly from death to the raising of the dead that we scarcely pause to pray.

But I’m not entirely sure we can sing again our joyful songs of Easter unless we stop to tend to the bruised depths of our hearts. Worship without grief—praise without lament—drifts perilously close to something so superficially shallow and hollow as to hardly be fit to call worship at all. Scripture invites us to praise God with our whole being; grief makes sure that all of me is present. It’s clear, both from common sense and from Scripture, that the crucifixion of Jesus was a major trauma for those who followed him. Some hide together, while others isolate. Some find their way to the tomb. Grief is what we do when we don’t know anything else to do in the face of loss—when we can’t do anything else, really. That’s what I like about the Gospel for Holy Saturday: here are people doing the little things they can—caring, burying, maybe even just doing the next right thing, going through the motions because there’s nothing else to go through. They couldn’t stop Jesus’ arrest, torture, and execution. They can’t raise the dead. All they can do in that moment is bury their friend—together. Perhaps in our rush to resurrection, we forget that Jesus really and truly died. If we don’t grapple with Jesus’ death—and feel the connections to our own experiences of loss and trauma—then the resurrection itself loses some of its power to heal us. I invite us to find a place this Holy Saturday for our grief. It doesn’t have to be long or drawn out, nothing extravagant or burdensome. But have the courage to bring all of yourself to worship without shame or guilt. Don’t despise your doubts or fears or feel you need to pretend that you’re not angry. If you feel like you have nothing to feel, that’s okay, too. Grief is about finding and bringing your whole self back to the table after loss has ravaged what used to feel certain. We don’t have to put on a good face or play the hero. All we have to do is just be. And that’s more than enough.

Prayer Lord, today I grieve what we have lost and trust you to heal us.

Good Friday – April 2

Digital Version of Devotional

Author Chad Hyatt

We sure do like to blame other people. It shows up in our personal relationships and makes it’s way into our politics. It helps us to hold on to destructive addictions long past the time we should’ve let them go. It leads to wars and genocide—and every other hateful, vengeful act by which we defend ourselves through shifting the blame to someone else.

We scapegoat to explain the evil we sense in the world around us by laying it upon the shoulders of others—even whole groups of people, absolving ourselves of any responsibility in the process. We can end up heroes as long as someone else plays the villain—and all just by pointing the finger away from ourselves. But if we are to be saved, we must stop finger-pointing and take a long, hard look at who we are. That is precisely what the cross invites us to do. As we look upon the broken body of Jesus hanging on the cross, we realize God will always be on the side of those who have been victimized by violence and oppression. God saves us by standing with us in our suffering, in our forsakenness, in our wounds, in our death. God not only hears our cries of anguish but cries out in dereliction with us. Everywhere there is a cross, God’s solidarity with those who suffer has made it a sign of protest against violence, torture, and death. As we continue to behold the lonely figure upon the cross, we begin to realize he doesn’t belong there. And neither does anyone else. The cross is not only a protest against injustice, it breaks open the mechanism by which so much injustice has covered the face of the earth: our willingness to make scapegoats out of other human beings in a vain attempt to save ourselves. Looking at the cross, we are called to own up to our part in the injustices of our world, in the violence that robs others of life, in the ways we bow before the idols of death in hope of comfort and security. Yes, there is misery in beholding such mercy. But God’s love will have the last word. God chose the cross we had made for others and made it God’s own—and destroyed the power of death by it. God’s love saves us; it doesn’t destroy us. The cross isn’t about punishment but delivering us from the broken ways we harm one another and ourselves. It isn’t about guilt; it’s about being honest with ourselves and about our world. Let us look again upon the cross, and let us be saved.

Prayer God of saving mercy, by your cross you have set us free.

Maundy Thursday – March 4, 2021

Author Holly Reimer

Digital Version of Devotional

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Reflection: v. 14, ‘If I, your LORD and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet’

Love transcends language. Jesus washes his disciples feet, considered one of the dirtiest parts of the body. He sits. He washes. He spends time with each one, and he reminds the disciples this is something they are to do, as well. They are to be humble in the ways they exist in the world

. They—and we—are supposed to show love in tangible ways. Love is simple, not because of words and phrases, but because of how we exist with and to one another. It’s the ways that we are present to each other. There is something about feet, about the offensiveness we feel about having to engage with someone else’s feet. It feels repulsive to us. And yet, for the person whom we sit and kneel before, we are taking time to care for their feet, to care for their physical body. We are showing love. We’re showing compassion, becoming humble. It is a way for us to be present to one another, regardless of speech. It’s not about what we do, but it is about our very presence. Words can often be found empty and unhelpful. Christ’s love is transcendent, and it is relational. His ministry was born of humility, honoring humanity and the value that each person holds to God. But the responsibility doesn’t reside solely with Christ. It is a responsibility we have as recipients of that love and grace—to pass it on, to be at the feet of scarred and broken bodies. Being present and vulnerable with another is a reminder that we are all beautiful and beloved by God.

Prayer Lord, may we be challenged to embody love. Amen.

Wednesday of Holy Week

Digital Version of Devotional

Author Bethany Apelquist

Hebrews 12:1-3

Reflection: v. 2, ‘looking to Jesus’

I have the all time worst sense of direction. I can get lost going somewhere that I have been to a thousand times. If I stop paying attention for even a minute, I am likely to get all turned around. Thank God for GPS, am I right? It’s easy to get turned around in life. It’s easy to forget who we are, to forget that we are beloved. It’s easy to get so lost that we forget what we are called to do, that we forget to love our neighbors.

I am sure that as the disciples watched Jesus carry his cross up that hill, they too felt lost. That they felt turned around, not sure where to go or what to do next. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? The author of Hebrews offers us guidance, a GPS for running the race. The author says look toward Jesus. Keep your mind ‘stayed on Jesus,’ as the old song goes. This is a powerful image, one of being focused on Jesus, leaning into who Jesus calls us to be, pressing on to love like Jesus loves. Look to Jesus in all things—look to Jesus to find love, look to Jesus to give love. Look to Jesus in all seasons, in seasons of lament and in seasons of joy. Look to Jesus when you are weary. Look to Jesus in times of certainty and uncertainty. And if you get tired on the journey, if you get turned around, remember you do not run the race alone. You run the race with a cloud of witnesses—those who have also set their eyes toward Jesus–and this cloud of witnesses will help remind you that Jesus is there, that Jesus is calling you, and that Jesus loves you.

Prayer Jesus, it is easy to get lost. Help us to look to you for all things.

Tuesday of Holy Week – 3/30

Digital Version of Devotional

Author Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

John 12:20-36

Reflection: v. 26, ‘whoever serves me, must follow me’

Just days ago, we celebrated Palm Sunday, a joyous and subversive protest proclaiming Jesus as king. Yet that happy triumph would quickly dissipate as the week escalated toward his impending death—a not so cheery, but no less poignant protest against the powers that be. Such things happen all the time—sometimes we rejoice in the image of God before us, and other times we murder it.

Sometimes we honor, respect, and care for our beloved siblings in Christ, and other times we reject their plights for our own gains. We humans, each of us beloved children of God, have the ability to love God and one another so fully, yet just as often we let ourselves get wrapped up in the wrong things—the things that hurt and kill one another. How is it that, though we want to serve Jesus and even claim him as our own, we so obviously miss the mark and forget what that means? In this passage, Jesus tells his disciples that in order to serve him, they must follow him—and where he is headed is to his death, a grace-filled giving of God’s own self for us. If we want to serve Jesus, if we claim ourselves as ‘Christians,’ we must follow this humble poor man who lays down his life. And if we find ourselves walking in the dusty footsteps of our Lord, does it not seem rather foolish that we would stop along the way to put another down? Can we walk the steps of Christ and be distracted by the folly of trying to make a profit at the expense of others? Can we climb the hill toward that state-sanctioned execution and ignore the many others who have shared Christ’s fate? ‘Being Christian,’ claiming Christ as our King, requires that we stop dealing in death and all the other ways that we keep one another from thriving. In order to serve Jesus, we must follow Jesus, a task much more difficult than any words of allegiance or songs of praise, yet the task to which we are called.

Prayer Jesus, lead the way, and help us to follow you fully.