There is a Hymn included in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship Hymnal with the title Stay With Me. The song is grouped with Hymns listed for Holy Week and the Three Days, and it has origins with the Taize Community. While a simple song -- only including the following phrases -- Stay with me, remain here with me; Watch and Pray, Watch and Pray -- it is a powerful song.
What does it look like for us to stay with Jesus as the joyous entry into Jerusalem is soon transitioned to the lonely journey to the cross? Are we able to remain with Christ through his final hours, to watch and pray? Are these same words something we cry out with as we face painful struggles, doubts, or fears?
The power in this simple refrain is that Jesus does call us to stay with him. He instructed his closest disciples to stay awake as he went off to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. Unfortunately, it was not an easy task for them as they continually fell asleep. The same may be true for us. While we believe we are capable of entering into the darkest hour with Jesus, we struggle. Instead of staying, we may try to remove ourselves.
The good news, though, is that despite our struggles to enter into the darkness, Jesus goes forth. Jesus enters that darkness, bears the weight of our sins, and experiences death. However, death is not the final outcome. Not only does Jesus enter the darkness, but is raised up from the darkness. Jesus' death is but a part. Jesus' resurrection is the fulfillment.
In this Holy Week, I encourage you journey with Christ. It isn't going to be easy and it may be a challenge. Yet, maybe this journey with Christ through his darkness will allow you to overcome and endure the darkness which could be present in your life. As Christ calls us to stay with him, may we call out to God to stay with us in our times of despair.
Finally, may the hope of what is to come sustain you through this week. May the joy of Christ's resurrection fill you with a peace. May the hope of God's love for the world -- displayed through Christ's death and resurrection -- be your proclamation.
Stay with me, remain here with me
Watch and Pray, Watch and Pray
Pastor Arlyn ><>
In the Prodigal Son story that the gospel of Luke shares, we usually read it in a generalized form. We know the different characters of the story and their responses to the different events. The father allows his younger son to take his share of the inheritance, which is lavishly spent on the "pleasures" of this world. The younger son soon realizes he has blown it and makes his way home to apologize for his actions. Despite what has happened, the father welcomes the younger son back and throws an extravagant party for the son since he has now returned. Meanwhile, the older son slaves away at the work and is now furious that his brother is receiving "special treatment" after what he did with the inheritance.
While we might grasp the over arching theme of the story -- forgiveness for one's wrong doings -- have we ever considered the full impact of what has just taken place. The younger son has just blown a significant amount of money and is left with nothing. The father, who could have been outraged at his son's actions, welcomes him with open arms. The older son questions the actions of his father -- not realizing what he has had all this time.
What does it look like to receive such a gift as the younger son receives? How much courage did it take for the son to admit his failure? Why does the father welcome the son back? Were the emotions of the older son reasonable?
In theory, these questions may appear to be simple to answer. Yet, to fully live out this story in our own lives is much more challenging. I know for myself, it is hard to admit faults and seek forgiveness. The shame and guilt of what has been done can be hard to overcome. There is a risk of vulnerability. There is a risk of of being rejected. Furthermore, if someone has wronged us in any way, there can always be a hesitancy to welcome them back. The trust we had in them has been broken by their actions. Why should I welcome them back? Finally, would we respond any different than the older brother if someone we knew received better treatment than us after making a huge mistake?
The richness of the Prodigal Son story can bring about a myriad of thoughts and reflections. I wish to leave you with a couple final thoughts on what this story may look like to our relationship with God:
1. In life, God allows us to go out into the world and experience it -- the good and the bad. Yet, no matter how much we have squandered the resources we are given, God is always willing to welcome us back with open arms. The grace and forgiveness offered by God is also for all people -- no exclusions.
2. God desires for us to be his "stewards" and not his "slaves". In life, sometimes we get caught up in the practicalities of life and we miss what God is willing to offer us if we but stop and ask him. Yes, we are called to do work, but the work we do should not blind us from the joy and freedom God desires for us all.
No matter where you are at in your life, may the knowledge of God's amazing grace and love remind you that you are never too far gone to "find your way home".
Pastor Arlyn ><>
The Lord is my light and my salvation -- so why should I be afraid? The Lord protects me from danger -- so why should I tremble? (Psalm 27:1)
The one thing I ask of the Lord -- the thing I seek most -- is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord's perfections and meditating in his Temple (Psalm 27:4)
But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior (Philippians 3:20)
Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:14)
As the winter winds blow and the snow continues to pile up in drifts, the warmth of our homes should be very welcoming. Nestling up to a warm, toasty fireplace with the crackling of the flames may drown out the howling of the fierce winds. The softness of your sofa, couch, or other seating relaxes your muscles and you sink in for the night.
It can be said that our homes are our sanctuaries. A place where we can go to find peace, serenity, and an opportunity to unwind. Of course, if you have kids of any age -- from infant to teenager -- the serenity and quiet may not always be the case. Nonetheless, you are surrounded by those whom you love -- family. Hopefully, it is a space where you feel safe and secure.
The desire to be safe and secure has always been a part of the human nature. From the very beginning, as God's creation, we were placed in a space that was safe and secure. Looking around today, safety and security are more desirable than ever -- but at times challenging. For so many outlets can easily open us to dangers or harm. Who and what to trust is not as simple.
Thankfully, God's word continues to remind us of a true sanctuary. As the Psalmist shares in Psalm 27 -- The Lord is my light and my salvation...The Lord protects me from danger...The thing I seek most is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. Our creator God still delights in us and desires for us to be safe and secure. While the world tries to lure us to things that may be "temporary" sanctuaries, God reminds us of an eternal sanctuary. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives (Phil. 3:20) declares the Apostle Paul.
We are here on earth for a segment of time. In various ways, God continues to reveal himself to us. God provides for us glimpses of the fuller sanctuary he has planned for us. It isn't always going to smooth. It may not be danger free. However, we can trust that God is with us. Through Christ's death and resurrection, redemption from the power of sin and death became our gift. Furthermore, we receive forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Through our dark times and uncertain moments, we can seek the words of the Psalmist, including a call to Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.
Lord prepare me
To be a Sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving, I'll be a living
Sanctuary, for you
Pastor Arlyn ><>
On Ash Wednesday, we hear the phrase "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return". It is a reminder surrounding our frailty. At some point, our bodies will return to dust. They are mortal and will not live forever. This can be a troublesome thought, and a person may try to do all that they can to keep their bodies from returning to the dust.
However, I encourage you to not just think about the beginning element or the ending element. While we will return to dust, we can hear the words from Genesis "God formed man from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7)". This is just the beginning. It further goes on to say "And breathed into it the breath of life. And the man became a living person". It is true that we are made from the dust of the earth; but it is the fact that we were "formed" and God breathed into us "the breath of life" or the Holy Spirit.
You are more than just dust. In your living form, we are also made in the image of God. You are comprised of a unique and complex set of qualities which God provided solely for you. No one else will be exactly like you. Furthermore, there is a promise that has now been given to you.
Despite our bodies returning to the dust and despite our human frailty of sin, God has redeemed us. Through Christ's death and resurrection, what once was broken has now been healed. God has forgiven our sin and made us new through Christ.
As we journey through the Forty Days of Lent, may we reflect upon the significance of this journey. For the final outcome of this journey is Christ's resurrection. May we be aware of our humanness, but celebrate the gift of life which was granted to us. May we acknowledge that we are dust, but embrace the fact that we were "formed by God".
Living in the fullest form God created of you, may you then go forth as disciples into this world. Christ's light can shine from you into the darkness and chaos. The hope you have can be shared with those in need. Together, we can walk this road.
We truly are more than just dust --- Amen
Pastor Arlyn ><>
The term "gospel" is typically translated as good news. Within the pages of the Scripture Gospels, the good news about Jesus Christ is shared and illustrated. However, depending on our life situations, each person may experience the gospel in a different manner.
In his song The Gospel, Christian music artist Ryan Stevenson provides us a reminder that the gospel is what can set us free. It may sound crazy, because the gospel dispels the typical understandings of our culture. However, the gospel is what provides a way for us to continue navigating through this life. As darkness continues to surround us, I would encourage you to hear the message of the gospel.
This message declares that even though we continue to mess up, continue to fall short, and continue to seek a path of our own, God does not abandon us. Out of his great love, God through Jesus Christ brings us forgiveness of our sins, the promise of salvation, and the promise of eternal life. In Christ's death and resurrection, the captives are set free, the outcasts are welcomed into God's kingdom, and the sinners are forgiven. No longer is our relationship with God based on our own works. We will never do enough to earn God's love.
Thankfully, the gospel -- God's good news -- is that we are freed from the power of sin, eternal death and separation, and we have been redeemed. God's love is as full and available to us whether we are at our highest or lowest point. In a world where are longing to find something to place our trust in, may we cling to the message of the gospel -- the good news that truly can set us free.
Pastor Arlyn ><>
Are you a fan of new beginnings? Do you enjoy the start of a new day, a new week, a new month, or even a new year? Do you see these as "new beginnings" or simply "continuations"?
Throughout scriptures, you find the phrase "beginning" in a variety of contexts. From the first lines of Genesis 1:1 & John 1:1 where we hear "In the beginning", to the Luke's gospel where we have the phrases "from the beginning" and "since the beginning" (see Luke 1:3 & 11:50 NIV). It is in these "beginnings" that various events started. Creation, ministry, and other events. Moving through scriptures we see certain events build upon each other. While there might be new "starting points", it really is a continuation of a bigger event.
Such is the case with our lives -- both on a mere human level and also on a spiritual level. We may want to completely erase our past events; and in a way they are erased as we cannot go back to them. However, with each new day, it is merely a continuation of the larger event called life. The good news is that "At the beginning", we can choose once again a new trajectory. If there were some rough spots previously, we can make the necessary adjustments.
God provides us with 24 hours to take in as much as we can regarding life. We have 24 hours to be God's disciple, steward, and servant. We also are called to be God's children. While the first roles are significant, it is in the final role where we are offered a great gift. This gift is grace, forgiveness, and love. No matter what happens throughout our days, the good news is that God still loves us -- unconditionally and completely. Each day brings God's mercy to us. Each day is set aside solely for that time frame.
I enjoy the start of new things as it is an opportunity to begin fresh. I need to embrace, though, that each day is that fresh start. I would encourage you to do the same. While we are starting a new year, each day is just as important to start first with receiving God's gift of grace. In receiving this gift, and trusting in God's promises, the events of each day will be put in that light -- a light that breaks darkness.
We can't take back that which has been completed. We can, though, start "At the beginning" with this day.
Pastor Arlyn ><>
In the book of 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah is instructed to go to a widowed woman who would provide him something to eat and drink (1 Kings 17:8-11). After hearing Elijah's request, she at first struggles. She explains that she only has enough meal and oil to make her and her son their last meal. From the woman's perspective, this is the end for her and her son. However, Elijah is aware of something greater. Thus, he includes the following in his instructions -- Do not be afraid.
When it comes to our possessions and what we value, how often do we find ourselves holding tightly to them out of fear of losing them? We have placed a certain value on our possessions and to give them up would be significant. However, I believe that the value of things also has been diminished in that it can be easier to just get something new instead of repairing or fixing our current products. The desire to have only the latest and greatest also challenges regarding what truly matters.
In the gospel of Mark 12:41-44, Jesus speaks to his disciples about a widow who gave only a few copper coins (worth a penny) into the treasury. To Jesus, this woman gave all that she had to live on, which was greater than any of the large sums of funds given by others. This is similar to the widow who was instructed to use the last of her food possessions to make something for Elijah. What is the end result of giving up everything?
For the widow, after following the instruction of Elijah, she witnessed Elijah's prophesy that she would have enough meal and oil for several days come true. When she gave all she had, she received all she needed. For the widow at the treasury, it is not made known what happens after she gives her final (2) copper coins, but she does receive the praise of Jesus.
Are we able to give all that we have been given? Do we struggle with letting go of possessions out of fear? Would we rather hold onto earthly wealth and status than give it up for something greater?
The good news is that our value to God is not measured by anything measured here on earth. Our value far exceeds this world. To God, his love for us is so deep that he was willing to give up his only Son through death in order that we might be redeemed. In Christ's resurrection, we gain new life. We gain a victory that we could not do on our own. The gift of grace, mercy, and love comes to us not by our own merit. Yet, it is a gift available to us over and over again. God's love never will run out. There will always be enough. The value of God's love will always be significant.
I encourage you to seek the greater value. The value and worth that Christ offers to us. In doing so, it may become easier to let go of the earthly possessions, status, and wealth.
Pastor Arlyn ><<>
The prophet Isaiah shares how the Lord will provide a feast of rich foods and aged wines to God's people (Isaiah 25). The Lord also will remove the veil or shroud that covers the people. Darkness, death, pain, and tears will be no more. They will be God's people.
In the vision of the apostle John via the book of Revelation, he speaks about a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21). He describes imagery that includes having the dwelling of God being with man, no more tears or pain, and that all things will be made new. The old heaven and earth has been removed. God has removed the iniquity and sin of all people. He also shares that the Lord is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
In the passages from Isaiah and Revelation, the picture being painted is that of death being overcome by life. The writers share the reality of death, but it is the imagery of life that takes center stage. This life comes to the people in the day of the writer, but this life is also for us today.
When it comes to life and death, while we are aware of our lives and what is happening, our thoughts have a way of dwelling more on the darkness and death versus life. We are haunted by our failures, guilt, and shame. We hide from our real selves because we are unaware of our full nature. We have fears about the reality of death, but try to hold onto something that can keep us from death.
There is a full reality that death will come. Death and darkness will not necessarily be pleasant and it really can stink. The good news is that death is not the finality. Through Christ's death and resurrection, death, sin, and the power of evil was overcome. There is a new ending -- and this is eternal life. We now have been given the gift of life -- even when the death of our physical bodies takes place.
Therefore, we do not have to fear anymore. We can focus on life. We can focus on our redemption. We can receive the gift of forgiveness and grace. No longer is the darkness all that surrounds us. But Christ's life and light fills us with peace and comfort even when we are faced with this pain and sorrow of darkness and death.
So may we set our eyes on the feast, the new heaven and the new earth. For Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. Our lives began in the midst of Christ and will come to a close in the same span. Christ will return and make complete that which was created. We are a segment in the span of all of creation. A segment God desires, loves, and redeemed so that it would life that becomes the focus.
I believe the number one key desire for all of humanity is to be accepted. A person that is accepted receives affirmation that who they are as a person is significant. They believe that what they have to offer has value. Finally, they are capable of reflecting this acceptance outwardly through their words, actions, and thoughts.
One would think that this knowledge and feeling of being accepted is easily attainable. After all, in the beginning of creation, when God created humanity, God declared that it was very good. God provided for humanity an opportunity to be a steward over the other parts of creation. It appeared that all was well for humanity.
Unfortunately, the experience that all was well did not last long. Today, the sad reality for many is they have a sense of being the outcast. They do not feel as if they fit in with those around them, that who they are matters, and that what they have to offer has any value. In the end, they may find themselves isolated. So what went wrong?
One of the biggest challenges facing humanity is an understanding that despite being made in God's image, humanity became separated from God when they disobeyed God's command while in the Garden of Eden. Due to the separation that took place, humanity entered a downward spiral. It would take something beyond their ability to gain the connection they once experienced.
The good news is that a way was provided for humanity to reconnect with God. For God did not desire for us to be separated. It is noted at the start of John 3:16 that "God so loved the world..." This love for all of creation never ended, even when humanity was sent out of the Garden of Eden. God continued to pursue us. When God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, God entered our world to show us more. Through Jesus' death, and subsequent resurrection, the power of death was defeated. The gift of salvation (or being saved from the power of sin), the forgiveness of our sins (what separates us from God), and the promise of eternal life with God was granted to all.
Today, God desires that we recognize how much he loves us. God accepts us for who we are, since God created us. God is aware of everything about us -- all faults and failures included. As a person recognizes that God accepts us, we then can start to acknowledge and accept who we are -- a beloved child of God. This acceptance is not what the world has deemed upon us -- for the world sees only in matters of achievements, success, status, etc. We are more than that.
I would encourage you to claim the true identity of yourself -- the unique personalities, gifts, and talents you have to offer -- just as God claims this identity. You are valuable in God's eyes and God desires for you to use all that is in you to glorify Him. As you begin this process, you will be able to then see others through God's eyes and accept them. When all of humanity embraces the diversity and uniqueness of what God has created, acceptance of each other becomes a reality.
This journey of acceptance will not always be easy, but with each day, we are able to receive God's mercy & grace to start again if we failed. In the end, it will be worth it and God's glory will prevail.
Pastor Arlyn ><>