Reformation Pilgrimage: back and forth in geography and time

It has been a busy few days, following Luther around Germany as well as seeing some other important sights. We went from Wittenberg, where Luther "started" the Reformation with his 95 Theses, to Erfurt where he had become a monk and a priest, to Eisenach where he had attended school as a boy yet also where he was hidden as an excommunicated/outlawed heretic (so we went backwards and then jumped in Luther's timeline, all in just a few days!). We were able to visit churches that continue to be Roman Catholic as well as a Lutheran church that now worships in the church at the formerly Augustinian monastery where Luther once lived. We had Evening Prayer at the monastery, sitting in the same choir stalls that monks used to sit in to pray 7 times each day, now filled with Protestants praying twice each day. We said the psalm and sang the songs simultaneously in English and German, and we prayed the Lord's Prayer simultaneously in English and German, and it was a lovely experience.

At the Wartburg Castle we understood more of Luther's famous hymn: "A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing. Our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing." The castle is indeed a fortress, at the very peak of the tallest hill around. We took the bus up most of the hill, but then it was still a very steep climb up stairs and a steep path, then across a drawbridge that we could not see the purpose of. We kept saying "If someone gets up here, they deserve the castle!" It is a beautiful piece of architecture, constructed over the course of many centuries, and including a Romanesque Palace as well as towers and crenellated walls, complete with tiny windows for shooting arrows and little inner rooms perfect for hiding outlawed monks who want to translate the Bible into the common language. Luther was hidden at the castle for several months, and in the course of 10 weeks he translated the whole New Testament from the original Greek into German, and in the process he basically created the modern German language. It was very cool to be in the place that sheltered him, inspired him, and made scripture in our own languages possible.

Hard to get both the people and the mighty's big. 

Hard to get both the people and the mighty's big. 

Our other day trip was to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Due to some drama at the train station, though, we weren't able to go first thing in the morning, so we instead spent the morning visiting the Old Synagogue of Erfurt--the oldest synagogue in Europe, built in the 11th century. The Jews were repeatedly kicked out or massacred in Erfurt, culminating in a pogrom in 1349 that eliminated the Jewish community. The synagogue was saved because it was built all around, so people couldn't see it from the road. In the second Jewish community that came in the mid 1400s, they used a new synagogue, as the old one had been converted to a warehouse inside. Then later it was turned into a dance hall and a restaurant, until one day in 1998 one of the adjoining buildings was falling down and it became clear that there was an old religious building there. Now you can visit and see the whole history in one building. In addition there is a collection of literally buried treasure--a Jewish family buried their treasure including jewelry and coins before the massacre in 1349, and it remained there for hundreds of years. There are stunning pieces, perfectly preserved: stacks of medieval silver coins, massive silver ingots, a Jewish wedding ring, lovely brooches and belts and rings and all kinds of beautiful things. It was amazing to see.

No photos allowed inside, so here's the outside of the Alte Synagogue

No photos allowed inside, so here's the outside of the Alte Synagogue

Having spent the morning seeing how people can be terrible to one another, and yet life endures, we then went on to Weimar and then to Buchenwald for the afternoon. To walk through the site of a concentration camp that imprisoned and enslaved over 250,000 people, of whom over 50,000 died or were killed, was sobering. Buchenwald was, by the end of the war, the largest concentration camp in the system, but also one of the few that had no gas chambers. Instead people were literally worked to death building arms and more camps and other hard labor. Thousands of Soviet prisoners were shot by firing squad in a building set up just for that purpose. Thousands more people were killed by medical experimentation with nearly every major disease known to man. Thousands more starved. The conditions in the camp were so horrific, and the place was so overcrowded, that when the Allies arrived to liberate the camp there were still 21,000 people inside and General Eisenhower himself was among those who could not believe their eyes. The other 27,000 people who had been in the camp during the weeks leading up to liberation had been "evacuated"...sent on a death march away from the advancing Allied army.

Buchenwald, where the barracks used to be

Buchenwald, where the barracks used to be

Very few buildings remain at Buchenwald now. The gate, the crematorium, and the "de-lousing" building are there, as is the Depot that once was storage and now is a chilling museum containing thousands of artifacts of the camp, inmates, and SS. Most of the housing for guards is also still standing, but there are no prisoner barracks left, only foundations. But it doesn't take many buildings to feel the horror, the pain, the fear, the despair of the place. So much human suffering, and all of it caused by other humans. It was a stark reminder of what Reformed Theology calls Total Depravity: that human beings are sinful and capable of great evil, and when we are disconnected from God's grace we act more on our own brokenness. That brokenness is never more apparent than when standing in a place were 50,000 people were killed so brutally. 


After spending a night reflecting on our human sinfulness, we moved on to Heidelberg. It is easily the prettiest little town in Germany...though to call it "little" is a bit of a misnomer, since it was probably the busiest place we've been so far. The streets were teeming with university students, military families, and people out enjoying the beautiful weather in a beautiful place. Heidelberg is the location of one of Luther's earliest disputations, when he tried to convince the church hierarchy of his theological convictions. It is also the place where Reformed theology---following more of Calvin's ideas than Luther's--began to take hold in Germany. In the late 1500s the prince of the area had Reformed leanings and he commissioned a catechism to help teach people the faith. The Heidelberg Catechism is still in our Book of Confessions today, and is one of the most beautiful expositions of 16th century Reformed theology. The first question of the catechism: "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" is answered with "That I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, not to myself but to my faithful savior Jesus Christ" and sets the stage for teaching about God's grace as seen in our broken world and sinful lives, and how we respond in gratitude through following God's commands, answering God's call, and connecting to God in prayer.


In addition to being a really important place for our faith tradition, Heidelberg also has a castle ruin. And some beautiful old churches. And a hiking path that was walked by many scholars and poets and writers and artists and theologians, as they figured out the mysteries of the universe while walking in the woods. Up at the top of the hill there is a history going back to 5000BC, including a Celtic fortress, a 9th century monastery, an 11th century monastery, and a Nazi-built amphitheater that could propagandize 30,000 people at a time. Again the layers of history, and the layers of both beauty and horror, overlap in one place. 

There is no prettier castle ruin in the world, though. (and the funicular railway used to reach it isn't bad either!)

Headed up the mountain in the historic funicular railway! 

Headed up the mountain in the historic funicular railway! 

Flat jesus loves train travel. 

Flat jesus loves train travel. 

Now we are on an ICE train, going 200km an hour through the southern German countryside, heading toward Geneva. We will spend the weekend there exploring John Calvin and his impact on the second wave of the Reformation, which became the Reformed tradition of which Presbyterians are a part. Sunday afternoon we will go our separate ways--some on to Italy for a vacation week, some to Paris, and I to Scotland to attend a conference about pilgrimage and how we can be pilgrims following Christ's call to holy walking in our daily lives. The forecast for Geneva is rainy, but since we have had a full week of sunshine all through Germany, we are trying not to be disappointed by that, even as we hope that the meteorologists are getting it wrong. :-)


Posted on April 17, 2015 .

Reformation Pilgrimage: Erfurt

We hopped on a train from the bitty Wittenberg station about 10:30, and after one very fast change of trains in Leipzig we were on our way to Erfurt, a charming city in the middle of the country. Now it is practically a metropolis--over 200,000 people here--and in medieval times it was a busy crossroads and economic center too. One of the oldest universities in Europe is here, and it is the place where Martin Luther changed his path from studying law to being a monk, and then a priest. We visited the monastery where he joined theAugustinian order, and agreed that none of us want the austerity of an Augustinian monastic life. We went to evening prayer in the church where he prayed 7 times each day. We visited the cathedral where he was ordained a priest (and I confess that my Reformed heart was a little bit pained by it, even this second time). We wandered the old town, crossing a bridge that has shops and homes built right on it (like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, only more charming) and stopping for ice cream and chocolate at the famous chocolatier of Erfurt. We ate dinner in a restaurant that *may* claim it has existed for 900 years. (the menu and the story/timeine within were all in German, so we're not 100% certain, but the timeline definitely began in the 1100s....) 

We are so grateful to Malcolm, our English tour guide at the monastery, for not only giving us Luther's story but also the history of Erfurt from the 700s up through WWII and the Soviet experience, on into today. We learned a lot from him, even as we had some debate along the way (mostly about war...which touched Erfurt and the monastery specifically in really profound ways).

Today, as you all are going to bed, we are waking up and preparing for a day spent visiting Luther's Mighty Fortress (Wartburg Castle) as well as the childhood home of JS Bach.  The clouds are clearing and we hope for another beautiful day.


German wine has to come from somewhere...

German wine has to come from somewhere...

The cathedral (Mariendom) and church of St. Severus, side by side...

The cathedral (Mariendom) and church of St. Severus, side by side...

In front of the cathedral altar. !!!

In front of the cathedral altar. !!!

Super scary door knocker, especially for a church!!

Super scary door knocker, especially for a church!!

The newly restored windows in the Augustinerkloster (the church at the monastery where Luther became a monk)

The newly restored windows in the Augustinerkloster (the church at the monastery where Luther became a monk)

Back streets of Erfurt...

Back streets of Erfurt...

Posted on April 13, 2015 .

Reformation Pilgrimage: Lutherstadt Wittenberg

As the name suggests, this is "Luther town"...the place where Martin Luther lived and worked for over 35 years. It was here that he taught theology, and therefore spent a lot of time reading scripture, and therefore realized the ways the medieval church was abusing its power, and therefore posted his 95 disputes on the church door, and got the who,l reformation ball rolling.

We spent some time here talking about the social/cultural/economic/political/religious realities of the 15th and 16th centuries, so we could understand why this time was ripe for reformation while previous attempted reformers had gotten themselves killed, often in multiple horrible ways. We visited the home of Martin and Katherina Luther, and of Phillip Melanchthon, Luther's friend and colleague in both teaching and reforming. We saw the churches where so much of this happened. We ate at a restaurant dedicated to potatoes. We saw some of the most famous reformation art pieces, including an altar piece and several other religious paintings, by Lucas Cranach the Elder. We came home to a wedding party taking place in the entire ground floor (it seemed) of the hotel. It was a pretty good day!

This morning (so odd, since it's just now 1am for many of you!), we are headed to the town of Erfurt, which was where Luther first became a monk in 1505. We will worship in the evening, instead of morning, with the church that still meets in the sanctuary of that monastery. (It's now Lutheran, of course!) 

Have a great Sunday! 


The memorial door, engraved with all 95 theses, was installed in 1858!

The memorial door, engraved with all 95 theses, was installed in 1858!

Flat Jesus knows who's in charge in this house: Katherina von Bora Luther!

Flat Jesus knows who's in charge in this house: Katherina von Bora Luther!

The pulpit itself is not the one Luther stood in (what is left of that one is in the Luther house museum), but the location is the same!

The pulpit itself is not the one Luther stood in (what is left of that one is in the Luther house museum), but the location is the same!

The Reformation Altarpiece, with "preaching Christ, crucified" at the foundation, the Lord's Supper central, and baptism and confession on either side.

The Reformation Altarpiece, with "preaching Christ, crucified" at the foundation, the Lord's Supper central, and baptism and confession on either side.

Such a lovely town.

Such a lovely town.

Reformation pilgrimage: we're here!

It took a little while, and there were some adventures along the way, but we are all here! Today we are immersing ourselves in the 16th century: what was life like, why was the world ripe for reformation, what happened and where and with whom? It's a beautiful day here in Lutherstadt for more photos coming soon!



Posted on April 11, 2015 and filed under education.

theme songs

Cheers. (where everybody knows your name...)

Friends. (clap clap clap clap...I'll be there for you!)

Downton Abbey. (ding ding dong dong dong

Star Wars. (doo doo dooo do, dododo....)

What's your favorite TV or movie theme song? What do you like about it?

One of the purposes of a theme song is to set the mood, to create an atmosphere, for the show to come. It's not just a time to run the credits, it's also a time to sort of sum up the show. Cheers is about a place you can go to get away from the hustle and bustle and demands of life, knowing that people will be there to support, challenge, laugh, cry, and have a drink with you. Just hearing the song can bring all that to mind in less than a minute. The same for Friends--the song almost defines the show for many people. And Downton's theme song is elegant, with just enough tension in the midst of the beauty to keep interest high as the tune moves inexorably toward a changed future (one with telephones and women wearing trousers and fewer houses with servants...).

For those who are classical music or Broadway musical fans, an overture functions in much the same way. It gives a hint, a taste, of what is to come--highlighting themes that will play out over the course of the show.

Sometimes characters within a show or movie have their own theme--think of the music you hear whenever Darth Vader is about to appear, for instance.

What if church had a theme song? What would be the theme song for Church (not just our congregation, but for Church universal)? What might be the theme we'd hear whenever Jesus is about to come on the scene? Or the Holy Spirit?

And if The Presbyterian Church of Palatine had a theme song--something that, when you heard it, you'd think immediately of what we are and what we stand for--what would it be? Imagine if we had a song that played at the beginning of everything we do--whether worship, fellowship, mission, education, etc--what would best sum up PCOP in music? 

(note: this theme song may be a hymn, or a praise song, or a secular song, or it may still need to be written--if it's the latter, I hope you'll work on that!)

Leave your ideas in the comments!


Posted on June 17, 2014 and filed under identity.

why church?

Last night on the patio the TOPic was "why church?" Why would God create the church? Why do we need to go to church? What's the purpose of church in general, and church in specific?

It was a great conversation ranging from the Great Ends of the Church (from the PCUSA Book of Order, F-1.0304) to Relevant Magazine to 1 Corinthians 12 and Acts 2

"you are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it."

"you are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it."

Ultimately it comes down to this: The Church is the Body of Christ. Jesus is the head, and we are each members of the body (and on a more macro level, we can consider congregations individual parts of a bigger body, and even denominations as individual parts of the whole Body, Church with a capital-C). We talked about what part of the body we see ourselves as--hands reaching out, shoulders carrying the weight, eyes seeing in new ways, legs moving us forward, digestive system taking things in and processing them into nourishment we can use. 



The Body of Christ has a mission: to do God's work. As the Book of Order puts it, that work is: 

the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;
the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;
the maintenance of divine worship;
the preservation of the truth;
the promotion of social righteousness;
the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

It's interesting to notice what is not the purpose of the church. Notice that Scripture and the Book of Order both leave out things that we often think are required to be a church. Nothing about how we have our programs, whether we have sunday school or not, what kind of songs we sing, or what kind of building we meet in. It's not even about giving our kids a strong moral foundation (which, for the record, can also be had outside the church), or about getting our needs met, or having any power in the culture or political system. It's all about being a community, serving the community, and worshipping only The One God made known in Jesus Christ. In other words, it's about living as if we are in the Kingdom of God here and now--because we are--so that others may know God's love.

The only way a body grows is by being nourished and by exercising--so we are nourished by Word and Sacrament, by gathering together and worshipping in myriad ways (not just in the sanctuary!), and we exercise by reaching out, serving others, and practicing our faith every day (not just on Sunday). It's important that we nourish the Body with good things, not with empty calories, and it's important that we exercise so the muscles don't atrophy.

The big question of the night was: who is the reproductive system in the Body of Christ? We decided that all of us need to have this role. It's every person's task to invite others into the community, to welcome everyone, to share good news (not the bad news that gets ratings). So really every individual member of the body has two roles: we may be the heart or the foot or the hands, but we are also to work on growing and reproducing--or, what Jesus called "Making disciples." 

What part of the body are you?

Posted on June 13, 2014 and filed under education.

Why wasn't there a sermon last Sunday?

pentecost sunday.jpg


On Pentecost Sunday, the sanctuary was decked out in Holy Spirit Flame Colors. The service was entirely Spirit-led, with our young people choosing numbered balloons that determined what came next, so nothing was in its usual order--we began with the prayer of dedication and ended with the Lord's Prayer, and everything in between was all mixed up, highlighting how important the flow of well-planned worship can be. 


When it came to number 11, the bulletin said "Reflection, by the Whole People of God." That's the spot where the sermon normally would be, but instead I talked for only a moment about what happened on that first Pentecost: the wind blew and the flames danced and the words tumbled over themselves in many languages, and Peter looked around and said "hey, this reminds me of something else in God's story. The prophets said that old and young, men and women, slaves and free would speak and's happening!" 

Then I asked us to look around at PCOP and think back on what we know of God's story, and see if there's anything that comes to mind as a connection. Where do we see something else in scripture playing out in our community? Is there a story or teaching or song that seems to speak to our church today? Is there anything about PCOP that reminds us of something else that has happened among God's people in days past?

We got into groups and searched our memories, Bibles, and hymnals, and came up with a few things. Two groups mentioned the story of 5 loaves and 2 fish being used to feed 5000 men (plus women and children), with 12 baskets of leftovers. One group mentioned the song "Let It Go" (from the movie Frozen). Another group talked about how they are a living embodiment of the Pentecost story, with multiple languages spoken around their circle. Yet another was looking for a story of people building something together--they started with the Ark, but later it was suggested that we think of it as building the Temple instead. One group thought the hymn "Let Us Break Bread Together" seemed fitting.

So why did we do this instead of me just talking for 10 minutes about Pentecost?

In part because it's good to live the story rather than just hear about it sometimes. In part because we are in the midst of a visioning process--where we try to discern together who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do--and a part of that is the community working together to find our place in God's story. In part because it's common to assume that a sermon should help individuals apply God's teaching to their lives, but we rarely think about how scripture speaks to the community as a whole.
And in part because this is an important part of Christian life: not just listening to the professional tell us how scripture applies to our lives, but actually learning to apply it ourselves. 

It has long been a key part of the Reformed theological tradition for regular people to read God's word in their own language. But that same Reformed tradition teaches that to simply read without discussing in community is never enough. We must allow the Holy Spirit to work among us, to speak through many voices. And we must practice--not just look at the words on the page and wait for someone to tell us what they mean, but to seek God's guidance in community together. When we all together search the scriptures for a word for our church, we are much more engaged than when one person does it for us. It is never only the preacher's job to proclaim the good news--that is the first job of The Church: all of us, together.

And if we never practice relating our lives and the life of our community to God's story, how can we play our part in God's great plan for transforming the world into the Kingdom?

Posted on June 10, 2014 and filed under worship.

At the Threshold devotion: Saturday April 12

Share: A moment from today when you felt close to God, and a moment when you felt far from God.

Read: John 19.13-16a

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

Reflect: John writes the Passion story so that Jesus is crucified on the Day of Preparation for the Passover, while Matthew, Mark, and Luke say it was the first day of Passover. The reason this matters is that John believes that Jesus is the Lamb of God (remember how John the Baptizer said that about Jesus back in the beginning?). The Passover lamb was sacrificed on the day of preparation—at the stone pavement at noon. In the first Passover, the blood of the lamb was marked on the doorposts and the angel of death literally passed over, saving the people in the house from the fate of the firstborns of Egypt. So when John talks about Jesus as the Passover lamb sacrificed for us, that means that Jesus is a symbol of God’s saving power, keeping us safe and giving us the opportunity to leave slavery and enter the promised land—the Kingdom of God.

Pray: Blessed are you, Lord our God, Creator of the universe, for you give us life and sustain us in your grace. May all who are enslaved throughout the world come to know freedom. May all who are free appreciate the blessings of your abundance. And may all of us dwell in the house of God and give thanks for your saving power and grace. Amen.

Posted on April 12, 2014 and filed under devotions, Lent.

At the Threshold devotion: Friday April 11

Share: A moment from today when you felt close to God, and a moment when you felt far from God.

 Read: Jeremiah 29.4-7

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Ponder: Imagine God saying these words to the church: “I have sent you exactly where you are—so now live fully, share grace, and grow where you are. Reach out and do what you can to help transform the place where you are, because you and your city are in this together.”

Imagine—don’t be super literal, but imagine—What would it mean for the church to “build houses and live in them”? To “plant gardens and eat the produce”? To “multiply and not decrease”? How do we “seek the welfare of the city”? What is it God is saying to us today, where we are now?

Pray: for PCOP, for Palatine, for all the northwest suburbs, for Chicago.

Posted on April 11, 2014 and filed under devotions, Lent.

At the Threshold devotion: Thursday April 10

Share: A moment from today when you felt close to God, and a moment when you felt far from God.

Reflect: The word of the week this week is POWER. What do you think of when you think of power? What does it mean to you? How do you have power? What kind of power do you want? What does power look like?

Read: 2 Corinthians 12.9

My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.

Discuss: Throughout scripture God’s power is described as creating, saving, giving vision, healing, etc. Jesus’ power is most evident on the cross, when the world thinks he is most weak. What would the world look like if we thought of power in this way?

Pray: Ask God to give you the power of the Holy Spirit—and then look for an opportunity to use it to create, save, give vision, heal, or help. Let that action be your prayer

Posted on April 10, 2014 and filed under devotions, Lent.

At the Threshold devotion: Wednesday April 9

Share: A moment from today when you felt close to God, and a moment when you felt far from God.

Read: John 19.7-8

The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’ Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever.

Reflect: Julius Caesar began a tradition of emperors calling themselves Lord of Lords, King of Kings, and Son of God. By the time of Jesus, that tradition was well-entrenched, and anyone else using similar titles was seen as committing treason—directly challenging the authority and identity of the Emperor. When Pilate hears that Jesus has been using one of these titles, he is “more afraid than ever.” There were serious consequences for him, as a Roman Governor, in how he handles a situation with a traitor. He was probably right to be afraid.

There are serious implications for those of us who call Jesus Lord, King, and God as well. What are some of those implications?

Pray: Lord God, give me courage to walk with you, even when it is dangerous to my reputation, my earning potential, my comfort, my security. Help me to proclaim my allegiance to you with my words and my actions. One day at a time, transform me into the person you call me to be, filled with faith, hope, and love. Amen.

Posted on April 9, 2014 and filed under devotions, Lent.

At the Threshold devotion: Tuesday April 8

Share: A moment from today when you felt close to God, and a moment when you felt far from God.

Read: Joshua 1.9

‘I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’

Ponder: When God said these words to Joshua, he was standing at the edge of the promised land, in front of thousands of weary Israelites, grieving the loss of his friend and mentor Moses. The people had wandered for more than a generation, learning how to be God’s beloved people, God’s treasured possession. Now it was time to build on that foundation and move forward into God’s plans for them. Yet as so often happens, there at the threshold of the future, the people were looking backward, allowing anxiety about the future to overwhelm them. Joshua gets this message from God: be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, I am with you.

When have you felt more like looking back than forward? How did you respond? What helps you to look across into the promised land and take that first step through the door?


Set a timer for one minute, and make a written list of the things that were good about the past—things you wish you could re-live.

Re-set the timer for another minute, and make a written list of the things that concern you about the future.

Set the timer for two minutes and just listen for God’s promise in the silence—a promise that builds on what is good to address what is scary.

Posted on April 8, 2014 and filed under devotions, Lent.

At the Threshold devotion: Monday April 7

Share: A moment from today when you felt close to God, and a moment when you felt far from God.

Read: 1 Samuel 8.6-9

Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.’

Reflect: The chief priests who condemn Jesus are the latest in a long line of God’s people to reject God’s leadership and insist on human leaders. God warns the people that a human leader will always be an inferior shepherd, will often work for their own gain rather than the common good, and that when we place our trust in humans rather than God, we will always be disappointed.

What are some ways that you have experienced disappointment in human leaders? Did that help you to re-order your trust, or to give up trusting, or some other reaction?

God, though, however faithless we turn out to be, is always faithful. When we fail one another, we can trust that God will never fail us. What would it take to put your trust in God?

Pray: Psalm 146

Praise the Lord!Praise the Lord, O my soul!

I will praise the Lord as long as I live;   

I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.

When their breath departs, they return to the earth;on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,   

whose hope is in the Lord their God,

who made heaven and earth,the sea, and all that is in them;who keeps faith for ever;    

who executes justice for the oppressed;who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;    

the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;   

the Lord loves the righteous.

The Lord watches over the strangers;   

he upholds the orphan and the widow,   

but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign for ever,   

your God, O Zion, for all generations.Praise the Lord!

Posted on April 7, 2014 and filed under devotions, Lent.

At the Threshold devotion: Sunday April 6

Share: A moment from today when you felt close to God, and a moment when you felt far from God.

Read: John 19.15

They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’

Discuss: When the chief priests say “we have no king but the emperor” what they are saying is “we worship our own status and security—away with this man who threatens that.” Fill in the sentence: “I have no king but _________.” Be totally honest, remembering that when we confess, we make room in our lives for God’s grace to work. What are the things that take the place of God in your life?

Pray: Ask God for help in arranging your trust and priorities in a way that reflect your faith.

Posted on April 6, 2014 and filed under devotions, Lent.

At the Threshold devotion: Saturday April 5

Share: A moment from today when you felt close to God, and a moment when you felt far from God.

Read: Matthew 7.24-27

Jesus said, ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’

Ponder: What is the foundation on which you build? Across the bottom of a piece of paper, write the core values on which your life stands. Draw a house on that foundation, and on each wall, write the ways that those core values are lived out.

Now do the same for PCOP: what are the core values of PCOP, and how are they lived out?

If the foundation-house metaphor isn’t working for you, try a boat instead. A boat is built for the purpose of sailing. If left at the dock, the boat rots. What are the values the boat is made of, and what are the sailing journeys that demonstrate those values?

Pray: God, make us doers of your word, not only hearers. Make our foundation strong, so we can be ready to serve you however you call us. Remind us to build on the past, not to live in it, for you are always walking ever on toward your goal: abundant life for all. Take us with you on that journey. Amen.


Posted on April 5, 2014 and filed under devotions, Lent.

At the Threshold devotion: Friday April 4

Read: John 10.9

I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

Consider: In Sunday’s reading (John 19.28-40), Pilate is the one who is coming in and going out. He literally goes outside and comes back in, physically moving between Jesus inside the palace, and the religious leaders outside calling for Jesus’ death. Though Pilate goes through the door many times, he is ultimately caught at the threshold of the gate. He hears the invitation, but he can’t quite bring himself to find pasture.

We all walk through many doors every day. Where do we find pasture? What is it that feeds our spirits when we come in, and when we go out? Think of “coming in” to the church community—what is the good green pasture to be found by coming in? And think of “going out” from the church community—what is the good green pasture to be found by going out?

How often do we, like Pilate, come in and go out by all our doors, yet miss Jesus’ invitation at the gate?

Pray: for the grace to hear, and to step across the threshold into God’s abundant life.

Posted on April 4, 2014 and filed under devotions, Lent.

At the Threshold devotion: Thursday April 3

Share: A moment from today when you felt close to God, and a moment when you felt far from God.

Reflect: "What is truth?" is Pilate's famous question to Jesus (John 18:38). On the one hand, it seems to be a deep and important question. On the other hand, Pilate doesn't seem to be asking the question in order to really look for an answer. Jesus does not respond, but Pilate leaves him and addresses his accusers. Pilate's question ironically marks the beginning of his resistance to the truth. Although he declares Jesus innocent, the trial continues and Pilate eventually passively condemns Jesus' to death.

"Truth makes love possible. Love makes truth bearable." Rowan Williams, Open to Judgement

Reflect on Pilate's question and the quote from Rowan Williams. What kind of truth is Pilate looking for? What kind of truth does Jesus offer?

Pray: set a timer for three minutes, and in the silence, just listen for God’s invitation that can only be heard when we set aside our own agendas. If thoughts come into your mind, simply let them float away. At the end of the time, make a list of the ways you resist a relationship with The Truth. Offer those burdens to God and consider accepting God’s invitation to a new way of life.

Posted on April 3, 2014 and filed under Lent, devotions.

At the Threshold devotion: Wednesday April 2

Share: A moment from today when you felt close to God, and a moment when you felt far from God.

Read: John 8.31-33

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’

Reflect: We are people who cherish our freedom. So, much like the people questioning Jesus, we often have a hard time thinking we need to be set free. By what are we bound? Take an honest look at your life, looking for places where you are enslaved to something. What is it you need to be set free from?

God specializes in setting people free, though that freedom does not simply mean the ability to do whatever we want. Jesus says that we will be free when we know the truth. Remember that he IS the truth—so when we are in relationship with Jesus, we will be free. What kind of freedom is that? What does freedom mean? This is not only freedom from things, but freedom for something. What is freedom via relationship with Jesus for? What is he asking of you?

Pray with the words of St. Augustine (again!): O God, you are the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the wills that serve you; help us so to know you that we may truly love you; so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom. Amen. 

Posted on April 2, 2014 and filed under devotions, Lent.

At the Threshold devotion: Tuesday April 1

Share: A moment from today when you felt close to God, and a moment when you felt far from God.

Read: Luke 1.52-53

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,   
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,  
and sent the rich away empty.

and Luke 6.20-21

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

Reflect: April Fools! On this day so many things are upside down and unexpected. Except while we play practical jokes, God kinda means it—to enter the Kingdom of God, we’ll have to be ready for the unexpected, willing to live in a way that seems to turn everything upside down. God is all about overturning the tables of our systems and rules. Yet it’s unlikely we’ll find it funny like a joke, because we are the rich and powerful in our world, while Mary proclaims that God is lifting up the lowly and feeding the hungry. And Jesus does exactly that in his life and teaching, and the powerful people of his day were decidedly unenthusiastic.

What does it mean to pray “thy kingdom come” when that may turn out to be uncomfortable for us?

Discuss: How can the church be a part of this great reversal that helps transform this world into the kingdom of God?

Pray: Lord Jesus, help me to remember that your blessing does not come with wealth and power, but with some tearing down and some lifting up. Give me eyes to see where my privilege blinds me to your will, and hands ready to lift up others even when it’s risky for me. Turn things upside down and let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Posted on April 2, 2014 and filed under devotions, Lent.

At the Threshold devotion: Monday March 31

Share: A moment from today when you felt close to God, and a moment when you felt far from God.

Read: John 18.36-38: Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

Reflect: What would a kingdom from this world look like? What are the distinguishing marks of a nation? In other words, what lets you see a nation or what helps you tell one nation from another? Is it laws, geography, or perhaps something else?

One of the distinguishing marks of Jesus' kingdom is that his disciples do not defend it with violence (John 18:36). What kind of kingdom does not need to be protected by a force?

Take a moment to look through the headlines of a newspaper. What do you see that looks like a kingdom from this world, and what looks like the Kingdom of God?

Pray: Listen to the song “Voice of Truth.” As you listen, offer to God those other voices that keep you from stepping into “the realm of the unknown where Jesus is” so there can be room to hear his voice.

Posted on March 31, 2014 and filed under Lent, devotions.