Advent Daily Devotional


Lenten Devotional 3-7-23

Sermon on the Mount

March 7, 2023

Matthew 5: 17-19

17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Shortly after my daughter began her career in fastpitch softball, I was required to explain a particular rule to her that she simply could not understand. She was at bat. One of her teammates was on first base. There was one out. Her mighty swing sent the ball straight up in the air in the infield. The second baseman circled under the ball. … and dropped it. The umpire yelled “the batter is out!” With a look only a 10-year-old girl can put on her face, I had the difficult task of explaining to her the “infield fly rule”. That rule says that with a runner on first with less than two outs, a popup to the infield renders the batter automatically out  and all runners must act as if the ball was caught. Why? Fairness. While the ball is in the air, the runners must assume it will be caught. So, they must go back to their base before advancing. If the ball is dropped, accidentally or intentionally, it is an easy double play because the runner on first won’t be running to second yet.  Go it? My daughter didn’t. Most folks don’t. But the one word reason for the rule is fairness.

One of my favorite quotes comes from ancient Hebrew scholar and sage Hillel the Elder who lived and taught in Jesus’ day. Hillel’s students were taught “the law” (the five books of Moses along with their 613 commandments derived from the 10 Commandments) and “the prophets” (the 15 prophetic books of the Old Testament). There were also the rabbinic writings referred to as the Mishna which expounded it all. How does someone learn all that? Hillel was asked if he could summarize all this while standing on one foot. His quote:

“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Hillel then concluded: “That which is hateful unto you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary.”

I believe that is what Jesus was saying. He came to fulfill that. And calls us to do it, too. What does our faith require of us? Read Hillel. That is the standard.

Lenten Devotional 3-6-23

Sermon on the Mount

March 6, 2023

Matthew 5: 14

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Jesus says we, as his disciples, are light. Not that we are to be light. We are light. And so, Jesus is telling us we need to behave like light. How do we behave like light? 

Let’s talk about light. In Genesis, light is what God created first. Everything created later needed light. Plants can’t live without light. And what is interesting, neither can we! Human bodies do not function well in the dark. Without exposure to light, our bodies don’t create Vitamin D. Without Vitamin D, our bodies do not process calcium and we have weak hearts and weak bones. And not only do our bodies suffer, our emotions suffer. There was an article in the Post-Gazette a few years back about Seasonal Affective Disorder. The winter blues.

According to WebMD, seasonal affective disorder may be caused by a lack of sunlight. Lack of light may upset your sleep-wake cycle and other circadian rhythms. And it may cause problems with a brain chemical called serotonin that affects mood. 

Lack of light makes us sick. The treatment? Sit in bright light every morning for an hour. It is good to be in the light. It makes us feel good.

But there are other things we like about light. Without it, there is no color. Because a world without color is unnatural! We want light. Without it, we are confused. If there is no light, we cannot see. One of our senses is taken away. We crave it. Seek it. And so when we see a light, we go to it. And we can see light a long way off. We can see a candle flame 30 miles away. Back in Jesus day, people lighted their houses with oil lamps. One small lamp would light up an entire room. When everyone lit their lamps, people in the wilderness could see the town.  If it was a city on a hill, it could be seen for miles. And it attracted travelers who sought hospitality, a central obligation for the people of those days. 

Jesus tells us we are light. We need to have the same effect on the world around us. Beauty. Visibility. Nourishment. Life. That is what Jesus says we are. Whose life are you lighting up today? 

But it’s not just us as individuals who light up the world. At a meeting of Stated Clerks for the PCUSA, Grayde Parsons, then Stated Clerk for the denomination asked this question: Who does your church minister to? Most of us thought about the number of members in or congregations or those who attend on Sunday. He said, “No!” The people we minster to are all those who are touched by our ministries. A church of 20 can impact hundreds. John McMillan Presbyterian Church, with its 350 members, ministers to more people than we can even imagine. We are light in the world.

Lenten Devotional 3-4-23

March 4, 2023

Matthew 5: 13

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.

Jesus says we, as his disciples, are salt. Not that we are to be salt. We are salt. And so Jesus is telling us we need to behave like salt. How do we behave like salt? Let’s talk about salt.

Dr. David Kessler former head of the FDA reports that at every food manufacturer hires “chefs” for the research department who try to determine the “just right” combination of salt and sweeteners and fat that will make food taste good to us. And of the three, salt is perhaps the most important. It’s in everything. Apparently for good reason. It is said that salt does not just add flavor, it enhances the flavors already there.

When the FDA put pressure on food companies to reduce the amount of salt in processed food the salt industry was unconcerned. Their response? Fine, take the salt out of the food. If it is not put in the food at the factory, people will just reach for the saltshaker!

I like salt. We all do. Back in Jesus day people loved it the way we love it today. So much so that Jesus said that his disciples were salt. No like salt. Salt themselves. So, what does it mean that we are to behave like salt? We need to do what salt does. We need to enhance the flavors of the world around us. We need to enliven and brighten our world. We need to make it more enjoyable!

Our Christian saltiness is supposed to make the world a more delicious place. If it doesn’t, Jesus says, we must not be salt. And we are not worthy disciples.