Love Tough

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 148, Daniel 12:1-4, 13, Acts 4:1-12, John 16:1-15


Kindness is revolutionary.

Offer kindness to someone who has wronged you, and people will think you are foolish, saintly, or up to something. Does it sometimes seem like we seek more excuses for unkindness than for reasons to be kind? When Peter and John followed in Christ’s footsteps and (through God) healed a lame man, it helped get them arrested.  The religious leaders feared Roman authorities might consider the enthusiastic response of the crowd to be rebellious and threaten the relative autonomy of the occupied Jews. Peter asked whether “we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed.” People were excited over the miracle, but they were also excited over what it said about mercy.

In the United States, more than 70 cities have outlawed giving food to homeless people in public. In these cities you can hand a sandwich to your well-fed friend, but not to a hungry stranger. These laws are controversial and opposed by charities and churches who try to meet the needy where they are instead of where we’d prefer they be. Cities present various defenses for these laws, from food safety to not enabling the cycle of homelessness. Could it be we buy into these reasons because such laws help drive homeless people out of public spaces and out of sight to where we can forget they exist?

The problem of homelessness is not the homeless. It is a broken society, and that is more than we can comfortably wrap our brains around.

We find excuses to withhold kindness and give them names like “enablement” and “tough love” and “rule of law” because actual Christ-like kindness costs us, and we don’t want to admit how much kindness we have left undone. Jesus told the disciples, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.”

Our capacity for kindness terrifies authorities who would rather intimidate or pacify us.

Be revolutionary.

Comfort: Kindness is a sign of strength.

Challenge: Read this insightful article by a man who was homeless and addicted and broke the cycle.

Prayer: God of mercy, give me the courage to be kind. Amen.

Discussion: Do you ever make excuses to be unkind?

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Information, Please

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 99; 147:1-11, Micah 7:7-15, Acts 3:1-10, John 15:1-11


In this age of identity theft, we are more protective of information than ever. Conversely, we are perplexed when we don’t get enough information ourselves. We suspect – with good reason – that news outlets, governments, businesses, and churches not only refuse to release vital information, but actively conceal it. Knowledge is power, and when we lack it we feel helpless. When it is stolen from us (though we still retain it) we feel violated. An information balance is a delicate thing.

As Jesus prepared his disciples for his death, he told them they were no longer servants but friends because “I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” A free flow of information transforms relationships. Members of a healthy community trust each other. When a person or group within the community purposely withholds something, even if it’s benign, they are telling all the other members they are of unequal status. It’s better to resist the thrill of being “in the know” or part of some perceived inner circle, since secrets are rarely kept for anyone else’s benefit. There is truly personal or inappropriate information, but we are considering the kind that knowingly creates an inequality of power. Whether in a church, social group, or neighborhood, boards and committees who adopt the “Vegas Rule” create a knowledge vacuum which people naturally try to fill, because it makes them feel less vulnerable, and therefore less fearful. Unfortunately their assumptions can have even worse unintended consequences. We must walk a tightrope balancing a respect for privacy on one side, and a healthy accountability on the other.

Disclosure can be difficult and uncomfortable. For Jesus that meant trusting his disciples not to flee when he told them he was going to die – very different from businesses who conceal layoff plans so employees will not leave inconveniently soon. For us it may mean letting go of a little power or social advantage, or risking criticism and hurt feelings. In the long run, a community is healthier for its honesty and transparency, and a healthier community promotes healthier members.

Comfort: Honesty begets honest.

Challenge: If you feel the need to keep something secret, take time to examine your motives.

Prayer: God of truth, give me strength to live honestly and openly. Amen.

Discussion: Are you ever tempted to keep secrets you shouldn’t?

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Roots and Branches

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 99; 147:1-11, Micah 7:7-15, Acts 3:1-10, John 15:1-11


One afternoon, Peter and John were walking to the temple to pray. At the gate known as the Beautiful Gate, they encountered a man who had been lame from birth. Every day people would lay this man at the entrance to the gate, where he would beg for alms (donations). When Peter and John asked the man to look at them, he expected they would give him something. Instead, they healed him in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. The man then “entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.”

The people who laid the man by the gate and the people who offered him alms were decent souls. They did what they could to help someone in need, but they never quite improved his situation. Peter and John, empowered by Jesus, finally addressed the root cause of his misfortune.

As the Body of Christ, are we content to treat symptoms, or do we want to find cures? Do we want to pass out sandwiches and blankets to the homeless, or do we want to tackle the injustices which create poverty? It’s really not an either/or situation.  Those alms at the Beautiful Gate kept our lame friend alive until someone came along to cure him.

The church has been a body of service since its foundation. Its earliest members pooled their resources to support each other, and also helped the needy in the larger community. What we – the many branches depending on Christ as our life-giving vine – can accomplish together is miraculous. The trick is to remember that worship, charity, justice, and sacrifice are not separate activities, but different names for same love of God. When we serve, we pray. When we show mercy, we praise. When we foster justice, we declare Christ.

Spreading the Gospel means more than telling people they need Jesus. It means doing our best to embody Christ in the world whether we are comforting a friend, building homes on a mission trip, or confronting a corrupt empire. May people always see Christ in us, and may we always see Christ in them.

Comfort: We all have a part to play in spreading the Gospel.

Challenge: Are you playing your part to its fullest?

Prayer: Gracious God, may my every act be one of praise for you. Amen.

Discussion: In what ways do you feel most comfortable sharing the Gospel? Least comfortable?

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Get To It

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 98; 146, Isaiah 30:18-26, Acts 2:36-41 (42-47), John 14:15-31


The second chapter of Acts describes the Christian church in its earliest days:

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.

These are a people who are delighted to be part of the same community. We can’t help but wonder if it presents a model the church in its current form needs to reclaim. But few of us are selling our possessions to help fellow believers or celebrating communion in our homes. We can rationalize why that’s impractical, but it wasn’t any more practical then.

So what happened?

Many things, but here’s a big one. These earliest church members emerged from a culture bogged down in rules. The rules themselves were not bad, but as people tend to do, the leaders had twisted them to maintain power and control. Loving one’s neighbor – and to some extent loving one’s God – had become secondary to technicalities. When Jesus freed them from the law, suddenly they were able to understand, “I don’t have to love my neighbor because it’s a rule complicated by yet more rules; I get to love my neighbor freely.” That spring of love was waiting to burst forth.

When it comes to loving our neighbors, enemies, or the outcast do we feel like we have to or we get to? Today we often consider forgiveness a burden, but a people no longer bound to mandatory rejection found it freeing. Generosity, whether material or spiritual, is most exhilarating when it’s freely explored.

Let’s embrace that perspective. In a world that says to seek revenge, remember we get to forgive people. In a world that insists practicality is best, remember we get to love extravagantly.

We get to follow Christ. In a world that has largely forgotten, let us remember what a joy that is.

Comfort: You don’t have to. You get to.

Challenge: Pick something you feel like you have to do, such as go to work, clean the house, etc. Figure out a way to look at it as something you get to do.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for all the things I get to do in Christ. Amen.

Discussion: In what ways could you benefit from changing your perspective?

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Room Service

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Jonah 2:1-10, Acts 2:14, 22-32, John 14:1-14


Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, he sent his disciples ahead with instructions to find a room where they could celebrate the Passover meal (which would also be the Last Supper). The room they found was furnished and prepared for the coming event. At the end of a journey, isn’t it pleasant to find comfortable accommodations?

We prepare rooms for people at many stages of life. Some are used constantly, while others are mostly on stand-by. For a newborn arriving home at the end of their first journey, we prepare a room to soothe and stimulate them as needed. The ideal guest room is arranged to help visitors feel welcome and included without making them feel intrusive. When an ailing parent or loved one needs space to recover or to cross the finish line of this earthly race, we may convert a room to provide care and comfort.

A well-appointed space is nice, but the luxuries aren’t the most important element. An old couch in a one-room apartment where love and shelter are promised may provide a more peaceful night’s rest than the finest five-star hotel. The most important thing is to be sure guests can believe we are offering them not a favor but a family.

What kind of dwelling place do you hope for in God’s house, in this life or the next? If we mortals can welcome and support people in our modest homes, just imagine the limitless possibilities God has prepared for us. And note that Jesus said “many rooms” and not “a few rooms you will have to compete for.” God welcomes all of us home. We are responsible for accepting the invitation, and there are some basic house rules to observe, but family is family.

Our one true home is found in God. May our own homes reflect the love we find there.

Comfort: Our God is eager to welcome us.

Challenge: Find one change to make in your home that would make it more welcoming to guests.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for providing for all my needs. Amen.

Discussion: When you visit someone’s home, what do they do that help you feel welcome and relaxed?

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Christ the Lord Is Risen Today (He Is Not Dead)- NCC Worship

Startled by Peace

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 93; 150, Exodus 12:1-14, John 1:1-8, Isaiah 51:9-11, Luke 24:13-35, John 20:19-23

Easter readings:
Acts 10:34-43 Jeremiah 31:1-6, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4, Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18, Gospel Matthew 28:1-10


Hallelujah! Christ is risen!

The tomb is empty, the cross undone. Where will we find him?

Mary Magdalene found Jesus just outside the tomb, though she mistook him for the gardener until he called her by name and she looked at his face. Cleopas and his companion found Jesus on the road to Emmaus, though for hours they thought he was a stranger. They recognized him once “he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” After he vanished, they went to tell the disciples all they had experienced. When Jesus just as quickly appeared to the Eleven and announced, “Peace be with you!” the disciples, believing they were seeing a ghost, were “startled and terrified” until he reassured them of his presence by showing them his hands and feet bearing the wounds of crucifixion.

It seems we find Christ when we look in the face of one we take for granted.

It seems we find Christ when we welcome and break bread with the stranger.

It seems we find Christ when we accept that the wounds he bore for us – even when we could not bear to stand by him – are not a cause for shame and fear, but a source of peace.

Is it Christ who startles us, or do we surprise ourselves when we discover he’s not trapped in the Bible, the church, or the places we look for him … but on the road and at the table beside us?  Like Mary, Cleopas, and the disciples, we won’t see him if we don’t expect him. Fortunately he calls to us, too.

When we hear our name called unexpectedly, conflicting reactions may arise. We can have glad anticipation that someone we want to see has found us, and we can simultaneously be anxious about why we have been singled out. When Christ calls to us from an unexpected place, he calls us to participate more fully in the body of the resurrection. That new life will look different from our old, maybe different enough to startle us, but it promises to be one of peace.

Comfort: Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

Challenge: Look for Jesus not just where you remember he was, but where he is and will be.

Prayer: Holy and Living God, I praise your name. Hallelujah!

Discussion: What startles you?

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In The Between

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 43; 149, Job 19:21-27a, Hebrews 4:1-16, Romans 8:1-11


How do you make use of “between” time like that spent on an airplane or a train between destinations, or during Sunday evenings when for practical purposes the weekend is over but the work week has not quite begun, or in the waiting room after you’ve watched a loved one rolled into surgery and the outcome is uncertain?

Some of us cope by filling those times with activity and finding comfort in productivity. Others use the time for quiet reflection, contemplation, or prayer. Still others take the opportunity to disconnect entirely, to quietly recharge like a fallow field awaiting the next season. None of these ways is right or wrong, but if we find ourselves in a particularly stressful “between” time, we may have trouble appreciating people who prefer to pass that time differently than we prefer. The one thing we have in common is the anticipation of a destination, even when we’re not sure where that destination might be.

“Between” times are particularly prone to stress when we don’t feel we have control over the outcome. A plane ticket has our chosen destination printed clearly on its face, but bypass surgery could end in a number of ways. After Christ’s crucifixion, the disciples found themselves waiting, but they didn’t know what for. Some fled. Some stayed in Jerusalem or nearby. A very few took his body to the tomb or later returned to prepare it for permanent burial.

What events are you between right now? Like the disciples, you may be struggling to understand how you have found yourself in this place, and wondering what happens next. During Lent we intentionally enter this space of waiting, but we know the destination. In everyday life, in the face of uncertainty, it isn’t usually a space where we want to linger.

If you can, take heart on this day of Vigil and know that in the waiting, in the tomb, in the world, something stirs. However you choose to endure, the God of the living moves in the darkness and will be revealed to you in the light. Dawn will come.

Comfort: God has not forgotten you.

Challenge: Attend an Easter Vigil service, or read this evening’s scripture for Easter Vigil.

Prayer: I wait for you, Lord. Always.

Discussion: What are you waiting for?

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The Bitter Cup

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 22; 148, Genesis 22:1-14, 1 Peter 1:10-20, John 13:36-38, John 19:38-42

Good Friday readings:
Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22:1-31, Hebrews 10:16-25, Gospel John 18:1-19:42


If Jesus was in danger, would you fight for him?

When the authorities arrested Christ, a disciple near Jesus drew a sword and severed the ear of the high priest’s slave. Jesus rebuked him: “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” In Luke’s gospel, Jesus heals the slave’s ear. In John’s gospel, Peter himself draws the sword.  In all four gospels, Jesus goes peacefully with the authorities.

What if fighting for Jesus is what puts him in danger?

Ever since Christianity was adopted as the religion of the Empire, we’ve killed and died not just to enforce it among ourselves but to impose it on others. Demanding the greater portion of the population  become (or act like) Christians would have been unthinkable to Jesus and Paul. We were to be apart from the world, not its strongmen. Are we to spread the gospel far and wide? Absolutely. At the tip of the spear or gun? Absolutely not. What people do with the gospel message is completely beyond our control. Forcing compliance is a sign not of faith, but of fear. His executioners robbed Jesus of his life. When we weaponize Jesus because we fear people who don’t follow him, we rob him of love.

On Good Friday, of all days, let us reflect on what it means to do violence in the name of religion. Even self-defense is something we must consider in light of Christ’s message. Then there’s the emotional violence of rejection. And the violence of neglect. If Christ asked why we turned away or ignored the hurting stranger, who could feel comfortable explaining – to the one who sacrificed himself on a cross – there was a chance it wasn’t safe? Could we justify our willingness to punish people for not acting Christian, but not to risk laying down our own lives in love as Christ did?

Following Christ often means accepting the bitter cup when we would rather swing the sword. Going with him to the cross is how we unveil him to the world.

Comfort: …

Challenge: Identify the bitter cups you have been rejecting.

Prayer: Forgive me, Lord. Forgive me. Forgive me.

Discussion: How have you let fear override your faith?

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V Formation

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 27; 147:12-20, Jeremiah 20:7-11 (12-13) 14-18, 1 Corinthians 10:14-17; 11:27-32, John 17:1-11 (12-26)


When geese travel long distances together, they fly in what is called a “V Formation.” Each bird relies on the updraft created by the bird in front of it to travel more easily and for further distances. As the lead bird at the tip of the “V” tires, others rotate into the lead position. No one leads or trails for too long. Pilots flying in groups imitate this behavior for increased efficiency, and also because it allows them to keep other members of the group in sight.

Any single goose can fly, but staying safe and ahead of the encroaching winter requires a group effort. Any single Christian can believe all the “right” things, but justice, love and mercy require meaningful interaction with others. The synergy of a food pantry staffed with multiple volunteers can accomplish far more than the self-contained efforts of individual kitchens. A group speaking in unison against the injustices that create hunger in the first place is more effective than a collection of disjointed if well-intended messages. And a community of people preparing meals for a person or family in crisis provides not just food, but the invaluable assurance of a community in solidarity with the suffering.

Such efforts often begin with the idea or drive of a single person. If we are that leader, we need to recognize when we need to rest and let someone else lead the “V” for a while, or risk tumbling from the sky in exhaustion. If we are on the tips or in the middle of the effort, we must be prepared to step up when our time comes, knowing we will not be called to lead forever. Giving and receiving are both part of the faith experience.

When Jesus prayed to prepare his disciples for his death, he asked God that they might be made as one, knowing how much of their strength and grace resided in their ability to act together to bring about God’s realm. Let’s find the formation that helps us lift and be lifted.

Comfort: Dependence on community is a strength, not a weakness.

Challenge: In the next few weeks, ask someone for help even if you don’t need it.

Prayer: God of the journey, connect me to the people on my path. Amen.

Discussion: When do you feel the most supported by a community? The least?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group , visit comfortandchallenge.tumblr.com, or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!