Devotional – Mark 9.37

Devotional:

Mark 9.37

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

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I just finished welcoming all of the preschoolers into St. John’s for the first day of school. Many of the students and their parents were eagerly waiting in the parking lot holding their cameras in anticipation of some precious photographs. When I finally opened the door, tears immediately began to fall (though mostly from the adults) as everyone approached the building.

From my vantage point I had the privilege of witnessing some profoundly beautiful moments as children reached up to their mothers and fathers for a final hug and kiss before the day began. I saw all the new and perfectly coordinated outfits that you would expect for the first day. I experienced God’s holiness in the children reconnecting with their friends as they walked down the hallway toward their classrooms.

As much as I enjoyed watching the children and their parents this morning, what I really enjoyed was watching the preschool teachers. From the moment they arrived early this morning, they had permanent smiles stretched across their faces in anticipation of the new school year. They expressed a deep and profound love for all the children returning, and they welcomed them with open and joyful arms.

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From my office I can hear all the students laughing and playing in the preschool and I know they are going to have another incredible year. Yet, I can’t help but ponder about this beautiful morning in connection with the way we all interact with one another. Jesus once said “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” When I saw the preschool teachers welcoming their students, I experienced God’s presence and love in the preschool.

Why is this feeling so unique and rare? Why do we only feel this kind of excitement and love on the first day of school? If we can experience God’s love by welcoming the people in our lives like the way we welcome children, then why don’t we do that all the time?

This week, as we continue to wrestle with what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ, let us strive to welcome all people in our lives the way the preschool teachers welcomed their students. Let us reject our false assumptions about those who are different from us. And let us remember that when we rejoice in love, we are making God’s kingdom incarnate here on earth.

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Weekly Devotional – 1/13/14

Devotional:

John 11.27-28:

She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world. When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

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We sat around the room, uncomfortably crossing our legs occasionally while sitting in stiff chairs. The fellowship room at Asbury UMC in Harrisonburg, VA was welcoming but something was wrong with the thermostat; the heat was on full blast and the windows were open to help offset the sauna-like atmosphere. As is common in most Methodist gatherings, conversation percolated about the weather, parking in the immediate area, and church identities.

We were all there to talk about prayer. Lay and clergy alike, someone had invited each one of us to participate in this “Kindred Project” to focus on the importance of spiritual disciplines in the lives of our churches. We exchanged the typical pleasantries, identified our positions in local churches, and then entered a time of contemplative prayer.

Our leaders began to read from the 11th chapter of the gospel according to John, repeating the line: “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” While sitting in the circle, we each looked to the person on our right and repeated the line to them, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” When the statement had finally made its way around the whole group, we entered a period of silence for 20 minutes.

Silence is difficult. Its hard to maintain focus without a myriad of thoughts beginning to sprout in the gray matter. I tried to keep focusing on that one sentence, but others ideas began to creep in: What am I going to preach about on Sunday? Who do I need to call this afternoon? etc. So, after a few moments of silence, unsuccessful in focusing on prayer, I removed myself from the circle, walked around the room for a minute and sat down on a rug in the corner. The silence weighed heavily on my heart as a tried to seek focus and contemplation. As I pushed my extra thoughts out of my mind the word teacher began to move through my head in a rhythmic fashion. Teacher, teacher, teacher.

When our twenty minutes were up, we shared our experiences and prayers with the rest of the group. This is what I said:

“I’ve been serving St. John’s for 6 months. I have embraced the role of teacher and preacher in a number of different ways and have thoroughly enjoyed my time so far. It often feels that I am supposed to be a master of the text (scripture) for the laity and provide for them concise and coherent reflections about how scripture continues to speak to us. However, during the last twenty minutes of silence, I realized that I’ve been looking at scripture and my calling to pastoral ministry a little backwards. I am not supposed to be a master of the text, but instead a servant of the Word. I am not called to be The Teacher, but must remember that I am still a student of God’s Word for me and my life.”

It never ceases to amaze me how God can use some of the most mundane moments to remind me what faith and discipleship is all about. For as much time as I spend in scripture to prepare sermons and bible studies, I must also remember my commitment to study the Word of the Lord in order to transform and shape my life as a Christian.

So, I encourage you to remember that “the Teacher is here and is calling for you.” It does not matter whether you have a degree in biblical theology, or you’ve never even opened a bible. Discipleship is about recognizing that we are forever students on the journey of faith. God’s Word is alive for you and me because whenever we approach it, it can speak a new word into our lives. So, if you have time this week, open your bibles to a passage of familiarity, read it aloud, read it silently, and dwell upon those words. How is God using them to speak into your life? What lesson is the great Teacher offering you right now?