June 18 Devotions

John Wesley encouraged Christians to check in with each other with the question, “How is it with your soul?”  Sometimes there is a pause as people think—discerning how it is with their souls, assessing if they wish to share how it is with their souls.  Often, some souls are hurting while some are rejoicing, some are weary while some are hopeful.  Mid-May 2020 I am going to venture a guess many of us might have said, “My soul is like an Easter ham left in the oven just a bit too long.  It is overcooked, singed a bit, and needs out of the heat, before the smoke starts curling out of the oven door.”  That was when Covid-19 seemed our only big issue.  Mid-June 2020, we are pressed to see and search out a solution for centuries of unhealthy racial divisions in this country; plus, the pandemic is surging now in many southern states.

     Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, wrote, “There is a place in the soul where we feel God’s embrace.  It is found whenever in this life we meet truth, love, gentleness, forgiveness, justice, and innocence.  In the presence of these, the soul feels right.”  I have a hunch your soul, like mine, longs for moments of feeling God’s embrace in the midst of all that is going on.

     Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul.  Be afraid of the one who can destroy both the body and soul in hell.  Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet, not one of them falls to the earth without your Father knowing about it already.  Even the hairs of your head are all counted.  Don’t be afraid.  You are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28-31)

     Those words are meant to invite us into God’s embrace:

1)     God’s embrace for white people seeking to be their best selves, while knowing they’ve much to learn about their Black neighbors;

2)    God’s embrace for Black people falling under the weight of injustice;

3)    God’s embrace for the myriad of diverse people in this world trying to keep hope alive for a better day for themselves and their children and their children’s children.

     Wherever we find truth, love, gentleness, forgiveness, justice, and innocence our souls find God’s embrace.  Whenever we find truth, love, gentleness, forgiveness, justice, and innocence are absent, if we work for these things, hope for these things, encourage one another through these things, we also find God’s embrace, by sharing it.  The embrace part is hard right now with physical distancing.  Still, rest assured the God who knows when a single sparrow falls knows our struggles.  Do not be afraid.  When we share the ingredients of God’s embrace with others whose souls are weary, their souls and ours are restored.

      Pray to feel and to help others feel God’s embrace today.

      Be Well & Be Blessed,

     Pastor Roger

May 28 Devotion

Greetings,

This week’s devotion is a bit different than most.  It is more of a summary of what’s on my heart with regard to recent news items.  I spent much of  last night trying to put my thoughts into words:  for a Facebook post.  During my 30 years ministry I’ve been a police chaplain for 15.  Just last week I was called out around midnight to share with a death notification.  Overall, I appreciate the work they do, like overall I appreciate the work of my pastoral colleagues.  That said, sometimes pastor’s cross serious boundaries they should not, as do police.  Because of their profession, when that happens the damage done is worse because of their professional responsibilities.  So, these thoughts on Police, Racism, Covid-19, and Prayer.

5/27 – Grand Forks police officers were serving civil paperwork when a man opened fire without warning. Four shot, two dead–an officer and a civilian. I deeply appreciate the risk officers take every day, a free choice to follow their calling.
Skin color, however, is not a choice! Sadly it’s still a risk-factor in the US in 2020. Seeing an officer with a knee on the neck of an unarmed, non-combative, handcuffed, black man for over five minutes while the man apparently suffocates to death is why it is vital to say specifically, “Black lives matter.” What we’ve seen in the video footage was not right, not a split second error in judgement, not respect for another’s humanity. It was horrific. Breath… breath… basic, simple breath… is a human right.
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Two weeks ago a black jogger was shot by civilians who felt entitled to be jury, judge and executioner of a stranger they mistook for someone else; again, race was clearly involved. My heart aches for all who feel vulnerable, through no choice of their own, because of the ongoing, brutal sin of racism.

Physicians are telling us the best way to counter Covid-19 at this point is for me to wear a mask to protect you, and you to wear a mask to protect me. Perhaps if Covid-19 can teach us anything it is that it does not care a one bit about race. It recognizes all colors are fully-human. It reminds us we will only survive and thrive as human beings when we choose to respect, protect and serve one another.
God help us…respect, protect and serve…God help us. (so ends my Facebook post)
What I wish to add for you today is one image of the God who longs to help us is from Isaiah 55.  “All of you who are thirsty, come to the water. … Listen, and come to me and you will live. …  Seek the Lord when he can still be found; call God while God is near. … Let the wicked abandon their ways and the sinful their schemes.  Let them return to the Lord so the may receive mercy, from our God who is generous with forgiveness.”
 
Today, I invite you to join me in taking a moment to be in God’s generous presence.  I will be asking God to reveal the places where I still need to grow in acceptance and understanding of others whose skin is a different color than mine.  I invite you to do the same.  I will ask God for the courage to stand with and speak up for my Black, Asian and Native friends when needed.  I invite you to do the same.  I will ask God to teach me how to respect, protect and serve my neighbors.  I invite you to do the same.  I will ask for healing for this nation and this world, and ask God how I can be a part of that healing.  I invite you to do the same.
 
In the Spirit of Christ,
Pastor Roger   

May 8 Devotion

Greetings,

 Recently I read the line, “Freedom does NOT mean you get to drill a hole in the boat we are all sitting in.”  As you may have guessed, the line has to do with Covid-19 precautions.  This last week a store manager was physically attacked for asking a woman to wear a mask she already had hanging around her neck; a DNR/Park Ranger was pushed off the dock into the water while asking people to socially distance; a Family Dollar security guard was shot and killed after asking a woman to refrain from entering the store without a mask; a bus-driver was spit upon for asking a rider to put on a mask pre-boarding as per policy; a police officer was spit on after asking a person to put on a mask.  

 
Every instance named above resulted in felony-level charges from assault to murder.  Each alleged perpetrator had defenses that ran from “it’s a free country, to you disrespected my wife, to it’s unconstitutional to make a person wear a mask.”  A non-legal way of defining such “assault” would be, “if I don’t like someone or some policy, I will do something to hurt someone.”  Such assaults are considered felonies because the attitude is dangerously destructive.
 
As someone who has sometimes been asked to put on hospital masks, and gowns, in health-care settings for over 30 years, I am perplexed.  There are a myriad of conditions where the least little virus or bacteria could infect another and kill them.  I’d never want that on my conscious, so I happily mask up. There are also some highly contagious super-bugs I’d never want to take home to those I love.  So, I happily put on the garb.  Further, I follow a man who was willing to wear a crown of thorns for me.  I follow a man that girded himself with a towel and washed his followers feet and called me to serve my neighbors too, and love them as myself.  
 
Grace UMC’s leaders will be creating a re-opening plan.  Likely masks will be in that plan.  Masks are uncomfortable.  But, I’ve always considered wearing a mask a privilege–because there are times in medical situations when only health-care workers, immediate family, and pastors are allowed—sometimes only with masks.  Right now, we are dealing with a virus so transmittable that even immediate family and pastors don’t have the privilege to visit in-person in hospitals even with masks.  The risk of doing harm is that high.
 
As we go through this Covid-19 experience, I ask us to breathe, close our eyes, and imagine Jesus wearing the crown of thorns, (or as some have described the crucifixion, “putting on our sin and shame”).  Then, when we open our eyes again, all the little precautions we are asked to take won’t seem so difficult.  In fact, we can put on a mask and whisper, “Jesus, I do this for you, and those you love.”  Every precaution, every frustrating Covid-19 nuisance that takes away a bit of our daily freedom, “Jesus, we do this for you, and those you love.”  
 
God’s Peace and Wellness, 
Pastor Roger          

April 30 Devotion

Greetings,

You are the first to see my personal, hand-held, Covid-19 protection-shield. Micro-droplets are caught before they even reach the mask. In the words of a famous song, “I will survive.” In the words of a Bugs Bunny vocal warm up cartoon, “Me, me, me, me, me, me, me.” Actually, I’m not carrying it around. It’s just an old motorcycle windshield. The real truth about Covid-19 comes from another commercial — “that’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works.”

If anything good can be found in this Covid-19 pandemic, it’s that we are reminded surviving this pandemic is only possible if we embrace a mind-set that asks, “how can I keep from spreading this virus? How can I keep from catching this virus is NOT enough?” Our health, wellness and ability to thrive as individuals begins with us striving keeping others healthy, well and thriving.

The Covid-19 world insists we are not self-sufficient. We’re super-dependent upon an endless array of “essential-workers.” Sure, some of us nearly bald fellows can cut our own hair; as can some of you talented folk. But I cannot fill all the potholes on my daily commute, manufacture my own toilet paper, or raise my own cow. So, I need to be concerned about the health and working conditions of meat plant workers–and every essential-worker. I can’t whip up own prescriptions from scratch or create electricity to energize so much of my life. I can’t stay well, without others who are acting “as if” they have the Novel Corona virus. More importantly, others can’t stay well, unless I act “as if” I have the virus and take precautions to protect them—because we spread the virus for days before we know we have it. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in a myriad of complex ways.

I believe Jesus’ teachings and way of life were meant for times like these. Jesus said, “All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them.” (Luke 9:24) Jesus’ teachings and actions reveal his mindset that the world is a safer, better place when our daily focus is on serving others rather than protecting ourselves. That is why Jesus’ taught his disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” In heaven selfishness has no place. And, that is part of Jesus’ dream for earth. The more deeply we show love to our neighbors, the better we will get through this.

I invite us to pray with a servant mindset, “God, help me be part of keeping others people safe and well everyday through my considerate actions. Amen.”

Blessings and May You Be Well,

Pastor Roger