By Our Love

Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. – Holy Baptism, ELW p. 231

[Jesus said], “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, 40 days before Easter. Lent has traditionally been a time of focused spirituality and reconnecting with self, neighbors, and God. Some people fast, or give up something, in an effort to be more deliberate about what they put into their bodies and minds. (I’ve known people to give up everything from chocolate to single-use plastics to swearing!) Almsgiving, or the practice of giving to those in need, forces us to broaden our perspective to see the suffering around us. Prayer connects us more deliberately to God. Some Christians follow the same Lenten disciplines each year; others pick something new each year. Lent lasts until Easter, about 6 weeks of focused spiritual disciplines. (If you’re wondering why it adds up to more than 40 days, it’s because Sundays aren’t counted. Weird, huh?)

In seminary, my friends and I had a silly tradition: after Ash Wednesday worship services, which we had usually been helping lead, we’d go out for dinner just to enjoy the funny looks we’d get from other diners on account of our ash-smudged foreheads. It wasn’t exactly in keeping with Jesus’ command to pray and fast secretly, not for the attention of other people, but it was oddly satisfying. Especially, we’d grin whenever another table would come in, their foreheads marked with an ashen blot, and we’d exchange knowing glances: we knew why each of us had dirty faces. It was Ash Wednesday, and for that one day, Christians were easily recognizable by the cross we wore.

Most days, there’s no easy way to tell who’s a Christian and who isn’t. Sure, you might see somebody wearing a cross necklace, or perhaps a pastor in a collar or a nun in a habit, but by and large, you can’t tell a Christian apart by looking at them. Even though we’re marked at baptism with the cross of Jesus Christ, that’s an invisible marker, not something we can look at every day. It’s also true that some of Christianity’s most visible members have also been its least flattering, from the crusaders to the Westboro Baptist Church. So how will everyone know who’s a Christian, if you can’t tell by looking and the public examples aren’t always great?

On the night before he died, Jesus told his closest friends, the disciples, that the way to identify followers of Jesus is simple: by the love they have for one another. That’s it. Not by ashy crosses once a year, not by WWJD bracelets, not by any other outward symbol: just by love. At their best, Lenten disciplines nourish love and let it grow. Whatever someone does for Lent– praying daily, giving to charity instead of their Netflix subscription, quitting smoking, you name it– these are things that matter not because they make God love us, but because in some way they show our love to the world.

Last week, Valentine’s Day reminded us that we can love only because God loves us. Jesus’ words remind us that the love we show is the firmest evidence that we are following him. The cross we wear, visible on Ash Wednesday and hidden every other day, is the promise that we are loved and chosen by God. The world will know we are Christians because of our love.

God, help me to love you, love my neighbors, and love myself. Let the cross of Christ be shown in my love. Amen.

Let it all be done in love

The Bible has a great deal to say about love. By some counts, the word love appears 365 times- enough to read a different one each day of the year. Here are a few examples:

Let all that you do be done in love. – I Corinthians 16:14

“God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

The man answered, “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

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” -Matthew 5:44

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. – I John 4:8

Love, clearly, matters to God. The letter we know as I John (which, to confuse things, is not the same as the gospel called John) goes so far as to say that God is love.Today is Valentine’s Day, so love is on the minds of many. From the kids making cards for their classmates to sweethearts sending each other flowers, from friends spending time together to family members making an extra call to say “I love you,” many people take today to share love.

There are many, many ways to show love and many, many kinds of love. Did you catch the Super Bowl ad from New York Life about love? If you didn’t, it’s worth taking a minute to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpwXQ3FdBEo

There is love between friends, the love of romance, the love of family, love that gives without thought of what it will get in return. Love shows up in all sorts of places, reflected in so many different faces.

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Now, the simple fact is that some people share love more easily than others. Some people accept love more easily than others. Relationship experts talk about love languages: the different ways we show and receive love. Some give gifts; others give hugs; still others give compliments. All give love.

As Christians, we are called to love everyone, not just the ones we love easily. More difficult still, we are commanded to “Let all that you do be done in love.” That means do the dishes with love. It means navigate traffic with love. It means vote with love. It means talk to your coworkers with love. It means treat your cashier with love. It means comment on Facebook with love. It means talk about people you don’t like with love. It means from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep, let everything that you do be done in love.

Now that’s a tall order. Every moment of every day; every thought, word, and deed; let all be done in love. How? We love because God first loved us. – 1 John 4:19

Love for our neighbors at any moment, let alone every moment, is possible only because of God’s love. The love we share is God’s love, overflowing through us. Hear this: when you feel like you don’t have enough love to share, what you need is to be reminded that you are loved. Someone you know who doesn’t seem to have any love to give needs more than anyone to receive God’s love from you. You love because you were loved first. God loves you” today, tomorrow, and every single moment of every single day.

God of love, fill me with your love so that I can share your love with others. Your love changes everything. Amen.

Salt or just plain Salty?

salty, adj. SAL-tee: tasting strongly of salt, or slang: tough, aggressive, getting annoyed out of proportion to the problem; example: “I don’t know why he was so salty about that referee’s call on the play.” or “You don’t have to get so salty about changing your plans.”

Jesus said, ““You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” -Mt. 5:13

You are the salt of the earth.

I have never heard of salt becoming flavorless. Have you? In the spirit of scientific inquiry, I decided to find the oldest salt I could get hold of and taste it, to see if there was any loss of flavor. I got up from my desk and went down the hall to the church kitchen, where I found a salt shaker with the expiration date 08-18-13. Seven years out-of-date salt seemed good enough for this experiment, so I shook a bit into a bowl. It looked like salt. Cautiously, I tasted it. It tasted like… salt.

Refined salt, the kind we buy at the grocery store, well, it turns out that it can’t go bad sitting in a container in a cupboard. The chemical makeup of pure salt, aka sodium chloride, is quite stable. There is a catch, however:

The kind of salt Jesus and his disciples used wasn’t Morton Iodized- it was impure, mixed with other minerals in big chunks rather than the finely ground stuff we sprinkle on our soup. That kind of salt, if exposed to humidity, like the climate around the Sea of Galilee, could lose its saltiness: the sodium chloride would evaporate into the moist, warm air, leaving behind a flavorless lump.

We aren’t flavorless lumps, right? No, of course not! Jesus says we are the salt, and so that is what we are. Do not worry that you are going to be thrown out and trampled underfoot: you are the salt of the earth.

As I was reminded when I tasted that out-of-date but not out-of-flavor salt, though, salt on its own is, well, gross. Nobody sits down for dinner and eats a plate full of salt. Yuck! We do not want to be too salty. This is especially true in the slang sense of the word: followers of Jesus shouldn’t be aggressive or easily annoyed, getting salty every time something doesn’t go our way. No, salt is at its best when it adds to the flavor of something out, when it enhances and emboldens good food that’s already there.

We followers of Jesus are salt for the earth. When we are in just the right balance, our thoughts, words, and actions enhance the words and actions of Jesus Christ, bringing life to the world. If there’s too much of us, Jesus can be drowned out by our saltiness. If there’s too little of us, Jesus can seem bland.

Now before you get worried about just how much salt is the right amount of salt, let me remind you of a couple of things: God created a diverse world. Some people like a lot of salt. Some like just a little. That’s okay. In Jesus Christ, you are refined and pure salt, just enough as he has made you. When we follow his call, our saltiness enhances everything we do.

Jesus, I thank you for making me salt of the earth. Help me to use my saltiness for your service and glory. Amen.

Backwards, Upside Down, and Inside Out

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? -Romans 6:3

If there is an odder question in the Bible, I don’t know what it is. “Don’t you know,” writes Paul, addressing a group of Christians he’s never met in this letter sent to the church in Rome, “that the beginning of our life in Christ is death?” Didn’t anyone tell this fledgling Christian community that life, real life, true life, authentic life, only comes after death? Haven’t they heard, don’t they understand, that for the Christian, death is only the beginning, that we join the death of Jesus through baptism?

Therefore 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. -Romans 6:4

There is something about our baptism into Christ that unites us with both his death and resurrection. We have died. And yet we are alive. In a letter to a different Christian community, Paul put it this way:

“…it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” -Galatians 2:20

If we live (and, I assume, if you’re reading this devotion, you have a pulse and some brain activity), we live because of Christ in us. Paul sees his entire life as animated by the life of Jesus Christ and the breath of the Holy Spirit alone. Death comes through baptism, then life in the body of Christ.

To be honest, I’m not always sure that I understand this. It seems so backwards. Death, then life? That doesn’t make much sense. Next thing you know, Jesus will say something like “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first,” or “blessed are you who mourn.” Oh wait. He did say that, didn’t he?

Life in Jesus does not make sense, at least not according to the world’s way of thinking. In the Kingdom of God, the losers are the winners, and the winners go home without even getting a participation trophy. In the Kingdom of God, the dead live and Jesus warns that “those who want to save their lives will lose it.”

The Kingdom of God, in other words, is backwards, upside down, and inside out. Who would sign up for being last, for being the loser, for death? Only people who have taken a look inside and realized that they are last, least, losers. When we see our sin, our brokenness, and not just our own but the world’s sin and brokenness, too, when we realize that there’s nothing about us that could make God love us, when we figure out that we cannot earn the life that we need, when we either become desperate or try to fix it all ourselves, that’s when it happens. God does it again.

God turns everything inside out and backwards. Unlovable sinner? Not to God! See, here, a beloved and forgiven child of God, all because of Christ living in them. And there, in your mirror: a beloved and forgiven child of God, all because Christ lives in you.

God, show me the ways you work that are different from my own. Open my eyes to your inside out, upside down, backwards way of doing things so that I see the life you give to me and all your children. Amen.

Praying the Psalms

The Psalms have been called the “prayer book of the Bible” because they have prayers for just about any situation. There are prayers of trust, like the well known twenty-third psalm: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” There are prayers of praise: “Give thanks to the Lord because he is good. God’s faithful love lasts forever!” (Ps. 136:1). There are psalms of repentance, too: “Create in me a clean heart, oh Lord… my sin is always before me.” (Ps 51). There are even prayers of despair:

Lord, God of my salvation,

by day I cry out,

even at night, before you—

let my prayer reach you!

Turn your ear to my outcry

because my whole being is filled with distress;

my life is at the very brink of hell.

My eyes are tired of looking at my suffering.

I’ve been calling out to you every day, Lord—

I’ve had my hands outstretched to you!

You’ve made my loved ones and companions distant.

My only friend is darkness.

-Psalm 88:1-3, 9, 18

 

Ever felt that way? In the grip of despair, it seems, someone long ago wrote a prayer that still resonates to this day with people facing grief, depression, or loss. If you have time, read the whole psalm to really hear what that writer was feeling. Have you ever felt that way? Or do you know someone who has?

This time of year–this late-January, middle-of-winter, dreary season– can be hard on a person’s spirit. Even if things are mostly okay, we can find ourselves in a funk. When that happens, whether it’s in January or July, we might feel that we need to cry out. But will God hear us?

Yes. The very fact that this psalm is included in our Bible is evidence that God expects and wants us to express our deepest sadness just as easily as we give thanks and praise. We don’t have to restrain ourselves when we talk with God. If you’re sad, be sad. If you’re joyful, be joyful. If you have doubts or questions, express them. All these emotions and more are found in the psalms, so why would we think we can’t express them to God? Your God wants to hear it all from you: the good, the bad, and even the ugly.

Then comes the hard part: trusting God with our full selves is hard. Trusting and sharing those things with other people, even at church, where we should be able to be open and authentic, is harder. But these psalms, these prayers: they remind us that we are never alone, that no part of us is too extreme for God, and that other people have felt this way, too. When we borrow the words of the psalms for ourselves, we can express what we feel and what we need, and God is listening.

Lord God of my salvation, by day I cry out, even at night, before you– let my prayer reach you! Turn your ear to my outcry. You lead me in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Create in me a clean heart. Amen.

We Cannot Walk Alone

Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

They responded, “We are Abraham’s children; we’ve never been anyone’s slaves. How can you say that we will be set free?”

Jesus answered, “I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” -John 8:31-34

“They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.” -Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream,” August 28, 1963

Christ has set us free for freedom. Therefore, stand firm and don’t submit to the bondage of slavery again. – Galatians 5:1

There are many, many examples of Bible verses that talk about freedom. God is always working to set God’s people free from the bondage of slavery, sin, and oppression. In many of those cases, God’s people are literally enslaved. For instance, the Israelites are slaves in Egypt. They are later ruled over by the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Romans… to name a few.

Now, to be perfectly honest with you, I have pretty much always made those verses about slavery figurative when I read them. I don’t mean that I doubt the historic oppression, rather that I have a hard time connecting to it. I’ve never been enslaved to anything, held captive against my will, or forced to do anything more menial than helping with yard work at my own home. (To clarify, parents making their teenagers help with chores is not in any way like slavery.) In an individualistic way, just like the Jews speaking with Jesus, I can confidently say that I have never been anyone’s slave.

And, just as Jesus said to them, he would say to me: sin makes slaves of all of us. The brokenness and wickedness of the world catches us, even without our doing anything wrong, and we are bound up in it. When this happens, we need freedom. We cannot seize our own freedom. We must be set free. This is what Jesus does. Forgiveness and love break the chains of sin.

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, I am reminded that my freedom is not enough. If I am satisfied with my freedom while my siblings languish in captivity, whether figurative or literal, then my freedom is in vain. MLK spoke of the sin of white supremacy and racism, holding Americans captive, all the while declaring that the love found in Jesus Christ could transform that evil into freedom. He spoke, too, about economic injustice. If my retirement account thrives while my neighbor cannot pay for their insulin, my freedom is in vain.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Did you notice that “us”? Freedom isn’t individualistic. Freedom happens in community, when we love and forgive one another on account of Jesus Christ. Freedom happens when we do the hard work of seeing those who are held captive and work against their oppression.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. This modern slavery impacts 40.3 million people around the world, including thousands right here in Iowa. These victims need freedom. Until our freedom drives us to set the captives free, our freedom is empty. To paraphrase MLK, our freedom is bound to the freedom of all who suffer in captivity.

We cannot reach freedom alone. We need each other. We need the grace of God shown in Jesus Christ. We who have been set free and forgiven must never submit again to slavery and sin. Not for ourselves. Not for anyone.

God of freedom, God of Abraham, God of Martin Luther King, God of me: show me your freedom and forgiveness. Make me bold to show your freedom and forgiveness to my community. Let freedom and forgiveness ring in my life. Amen.

Love over Fear

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us… And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…

We love because he first loved us.

-I John 4:7-12, 16-19a

 

Ever been afraid? Yeah, me too. Just this past week, it felt like a great deal of our country was afraid as we watched with bated breath, wondering if war with Iran was imminent. Or perhaps you were among those who fear for animals and wildlife threatened by the fires burning across Australia. Maybe you’re afraid of what the impending winter storm might bring these next 48 hours.

Or it could be that you’re not focused on those large-scale fears, but on something closer to home. Fear of disease, fear of money problems, fear of change– these might be problems that affect fewer people but are no less frightening because they are closer to home.

So what do you do, when you are afraid? Cry? Ignore it? Go for a walk? Watch Netflix? Call a friend? Pray? Eat something delicious and greasy? Try to fix it? Go shopping? All of the above? There are about as many reactions to fear as there are people. Yet, no matter how differently we react, we have one thing in common: we all get afraid sometimes.

Sometimes, when we’re scared, we get tempted to withdraw and close in on ourselves. The world seems scary, and hiding away seems like the easiest way to cope. This is sometimes called denial, pretending that our problems aren’t really there. We can also give into fear by focusing only on our fear, giving it even more power over our lives.

Faith offers a different way. Instead of denying our fear or focusing in on it, faith dares us to love when we are afraid. Love, the Bible tells us, “drives out fear.” Love sends fear packing. Love evicts fear, then changes the locks for good measure.

When we dare to love in the face of fear, we live like Jesus Christ calls us– not because we’re so great, but because God has loved us so abundantly that love pours right out of us. When we love, even with an imperfect love, we take away fear’s power. When fear threatens, we rely on God’s love for us. “God is love,” the passage says, and so it is God who drives out fear and fills us with love–God’s own loving self–whenever we are afraid.

God, you are love. Fill me with your love. Drive out my fear. Let me dare to love whenever I feel afraid. In your name I pray, amen.

Resolutions and Reconciliation

My New Year’s Resolution this year is to write 2020 instead of 2019.

You might be laughing, but I’m serious. That’s the big change I’m planning to make for the year. That’s as far as my self-improvement stretches. I’ve tried New Year’s Resolutions in the past (Learn Spanish! Write in a journal! Bake a better pie crust! Go to the gym!), with mixed success.

What I’ve noticed about New Year’s Resolutions is that they are, by and large, about making an effort to improve one’s self. Self-help and self-improvement are popular and lucrative for producers: in 2016, Americans spent $9.9 billion on books, personal coaches, seminars, and more, all in the name of being better. The trouble is that a lot of this just doesn’t work. We are not, it turns out, very good at fixing ourselves. We give up or lose interest and end up right back where we started. Resolutions tend to inward focused, and they also tend to fail within a matter of weeks. They work for some people, but not for everyone. Making a “new you” just doesn’t work.

Or does it? In 2 Corinthians 5:17-18, Paul wrote to that church: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…”

Becoming a “new you” isn’t about getting a makeover or changing your habits. That transformation happens through Jesus Christ, who offers reconciliation instead of resolutions. You don’t need to improve yourself enough to please God because God is determined to reconcile us to him, whether we make our resolutions or not. The “new you” isn’t someone you create. He, or she, or they are someone God creates, a new creation in Christ, forgiven and reconciled to God.

That’s really how reconciliation happens, after all. God sees how far we’ve drifted apart, and resolutely comes along to invite repentance and offer forgiveness. With forgiveness comes reconciliation and the “new you.” Forgiveness is all it takes, and forgiveness doesn’t cost $9.9 billion. Forgiveness and reconciliation are free to us because they cost Jesus Christ everything..

I suppose I have two resolutions, actually. I am resolved to trust God to make the “new me” through the reconciliation that comes through Jesus Christ. I am resolved to be thankful that God already resolved to reconcile humanity with heaven those thousands of years ago. I think I can live with that.

Reconciling God, I thank you for your resolution to make a “new me” through Jesus Christ. Help me to bring forgiveness and reconciliation to the world in your name. Amen.

Blue Christmas

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” -Matthew 11:28

Seven or eight Decembers ago, an Elvis Presley impersonator was performing at a nursing home. He crooned his way through “Burning Love,” “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “All Shook Up,” and “Jailhouse Rock.” As he started to take requests for the next song, one of the residents asked for “Blue Christmas.”

The mood changed as he began to sing. One by one, those residents became thoughtful and quiet. By the looks on their faces, they were thinking of missing loved ones as “Elvis” crooned:

I’ll have a blue Christmas without you

I’ll be so blue just thinking about you

Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree

Won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me

Christmas is a hard time of year when life is hard. Many carols declare “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” or implore us to “have a holly, jolly Christmas.” But when we’re missing someone, or when we’re worried about a scary diagnosis, or when our heating bill is double our budget, or when we’re out of a job, or when we can’t travel to be with loved ones, or when the cold and dreary weather takes its toll on our moods, well, we’re not usually jolly. We’re blue.

If that’s you this year, you are not alone. “Blue Christmas” wouldn’t be such a popular song if it didn’t feel so true to so many people. Many people are sad for many different reasons. Even more people have mixed feelings, somewhere between glad and glum, as the good and bad of the season make their presence known.

I’ve even heard people say something is wrong with them if they feel sad at Christmas. Not true! You are allowed to be sad. You’re allowed to have a blue Christmas. You’re allowed to feel frazzled and overwhelmed. You don’t have to have it all together to have Christmas.

As an adult, Jesus would tell the people: come, all you weary ones, with heavy burdens, and I’ll give you rest. Notice that he did not say: come, everybody who’s got it all figured out, living your best life, impressing everyone around you, and you can take a break from your Pinterest-worthy, no-filter glory.

Are you weary this Christmas? Weary from grief or worry or fear or just plain keeping track of everything in your life this month? Then go to Jesus. He gives rest. Go to the manger. Go, like the shepherds, bringing no gift, only yourself. Rest at the manger with that exhausted mother, anxious father, and newborn king. Breathe in the sweet smell of hay and the sour smell of sheep, and rest.

Come to Jesus, all you who are weary and burdened, and rest.

God, when I am weary, give me rest. When I am blue, let me be with you. When I long for my burdens to be lifted, bring me to the manger of Jesus Christ, where I will find rest for my soul. Amen.

Listen.

They will not hurt or destroy

on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.

-Isaiah 11:9

A remarkable thing happened last Sunday. I was sitting and listening to the reader speak the words of the prophet Isaiah. She was reading chapter 11, and when she got to verse 9, a strange and wondrous thing happened. As her treble voice read the words “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea,” I heard a second, deeper voice speaking, as if two voices were in perfect unison. One part of my brain said, “Huh, the sound system is acting up,” just as another part of my brain firmly said, “This is God’s voice. Listen up.” Was it a bug in the sound system or was it really the voice of God?

As my internal debate started to fire up, I heard myself repeat what a friend pointed out to me a few weeks ago when I was unsure what I thought about something: “A thing can be two things.” God can speak through a funky microphone moment. I don’t really know how that doubled voice happened, and I’m okay with it. I’m trusting the voice that said, “It’s God. Listen up.”

Of course, once I settled on that truth, I was left with a new conundrum: what should I do? No, no, not the lofty question, not what should I do about this message. I as asking a far more mundane question: should I tell anyone? Would they think I was nuts? What if I was wrong about this whole encounter? What if they didn’t think I was nuts and, worse yet, started to expect me to hear God’s voice like that all the time?

I began to feel a great deal of sympathy for Joseph, actually. Twice in the gospel of Matthew, Joseph receives a message from God in a dream, and you know what he says about it? Nothing. Joseph says absolutely nothing to anyone about these divine messages. In fact, Joseph never speaks at all in the entire Bible. I mean, we’ve gotta assume he told somebody sometime so they’d know to put those stories into Matthew, but it seems like he wasn’t eager to say anything right away. He listened to the messages, and did what God commanded, but he wasn’t telling anybody why.

I wonder how long it took Joseph to work up the courage to tell someone about his dreams. Did he tell Mary first? Or did he whisper to a toddler Jesus the story of the angel messengers? Did he question whether the dreams were really from God or if it was just yesterday’s burrito talking back to him? Was Joseph excited when the angels appeared in his dreams, or was he terrified? Maybe it was a little bit of both. He was human, after all.

The people in the Bible are people just like us. They ask questions like ours. They get scared. They get angry. They act impulsively. Sometimes, they just need a nap and a snack. They also love God. They care for one another. They do their very best to listen to God, just like we try to do. Some of them needed time to figure things out before they told anyone about their encounter with God. Others went straight into the streets to tell anyone who would listen. Both responses are faithful ones.

God, help me listen for your voice. When I hear it, help me follow you. Keep me faithful, like Joseph and Mary, like the shepherds and magi, like all your dear children. Amen.