Above Our Heads

Jewish Yarmulke

Scriptures

Isaiah 6:5 And I (Isaiah) said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Psalm 138:2 “I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.”

I Corinthians 15:9 “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God.”

Luke 5:8 “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Thought for the Day

The prophet Isaiah, the Psalmist, Paul, and Peter react to God’s presence with startle, awe, reverence, an overwhelming sense of smallness, a deep awareness of the ways they offend God, and deference to God. Isaiah experiences a profound woe of despair. The Psalmist bows toward the holy temple. Paul understands he is unfit for his ministry were it not for the grace of God. And Peter can’t hide from the knowledge Jesus has of his inner life. Even though each of them experiences the presence of God in varying ways, all of them submit to the sovereignty of God over their lives and above their heads as the Holy Spirit enables them.

Isaiah urges Israel to radical trust and faithfulness to the Lord. The Psalmist thanks God for deliverance and calls upon Israel to trust in the Lord’s continuing salvation. Paul is sent to take God’s name to the Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel (Acts 9:15). Peter becomes the shepherd of the Church after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (John 21:17; Acts 2:41).

While in Israel last week, I asked our tour guide why Israeli men wear skull caps or yarmulkes and why Israeli women wear head coverings. He said that Israeli men wear yarmulkes and women head covers as a reminder to themselves and as a sign to the world that God is above their heads. I do not know whether Isaiah, the Psalmist, Paul, or Peter wore a yarmulke as a sign that God was above their head. But we can observe from the witness of scripture that they lived out their mission in obedience under the sovereignty of God over their lives.

As Christians, we do not wear head coverings to express the sovereignty of God over our lives to the world. Nevertheless, we now belong to Christ Jesus who brought us close to God through the cross. Through our faith in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and our baptism, we now live under the sovereign Lordship of Christ. ‘In Christ,’ as Paul said to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers at the Aeropagus in Athens, ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).

We remind ourselves and bear in the world that Christ is sovereign over our lives and above our heads by daily scripture reading, study, and prayer, and by regular worship. We live out our submission to the Lordship of Christ over our lives by fostering a deep sense of connection and relationship with people, seeking ways to love and serve people in ways that bless their lives, break bread together, and share our faith to give people a glimpse of God’s goodness and unfolding love in Christ.

Activity for the week

Wear something all day this week that reminds you that Christ the Lord is “above your head” and that your life belongs to him.

Praying Psalm 138

I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything. On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul. All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth. They shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD. For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me. The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. Amen.

On Our Way – Second Sunday in Lent

Israeli landscape

Scripture

Luke 13:31-35 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Reflection

In Luke (9:51-19:28), Jesus is resolutely on the “way” from Galilee to Jerusalem to face the cross and death. The Pharisee’s, who are normally at odds with Jesus’s teachings and constantly seeking ways to discredit him, come and warn him of Herod’s intentions to kill him. By warning Jesus, they offer him a “way” out of the trouble in Jerusalem that awaits him.

It’s difficult to determine the intentions of the Pharisees for warning Jesus. Did some among the Pharisees genuinely care for Jesus’ well-being? Did they intend to intimidate and drive him away? Or, were they colluding with Herod in a scheme for Jesus’ death? Whatever the case, Jesus sends them back to King Herod rejecting their way out of impending trouble with a strong message stating that his work of liberation and healing would continue unabated and uninterrupted despite tensions and death threats.

Jesus’ grounded his mission in what he could accomplish through the way of his life on behalf of others and the salvation he would ultimately accomplish on the cross, the third day when his work would consummate (v. 32). For him, the mission to live and die in a way that liberated and healed people outweighed his human desire to live a long life. The Pharisees offered Jesus a way out of trouble with the opportunity to extend his earthly life by running away from Herod and the region. Jesus instead invested himself in freeing and healing those living in the grip of social isolation, fear, violence, and death, even when staying in the area and doing so put his life at risk. He stood firm and continued his mission, confident that God who sent him on the mission would uphold him in the mission with strength, security, and salvation.

The Lenten gospel reading for this week calls us as Christ followers to decidedly – I must be on my way (v.33) – go on our way toward the mission where we live in our rural, urban, suburban, and exurban communities. That is where we as individuals, churches, and community citizens must work – today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow (v. 33) – to make possible and visible the favor and reign of God in the places where people are feeling hopeless and forsaken. In so doing, we experience the fullness of God’s grace as we participate in our Christian mission to promote and announce, Christ, the Blessed One, who comes in the name of the Lord is with you and for you.”  

Prayer

God of our strength, confidence, and hope, you bid us listen to your Son, your beloved. Nourish our hearts on your word, purify the eyes of our mind, and fill us with joy at the vision of your coming reign and glory. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Look!

Seeing with the eyes of Jesus

Scripture: Luke 9:37-38

On the next day (after Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John) when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.

Reflection:

A nameless father shouts out from the great crowd of people and becomes a humanized before Jesus. He asks Jesus to “look” at his only son. That is, the unnamed father in the crowd cries out for Jesus’ attention. He asks Jesus to focus his attention, commit his particular regard, favorably view, grant preferred notice, and to carefully examine his only and anguished son. The father trusts that if Jesus would only fix his attention on his tormented son, Jesus would be moved to mercy, compassion, and action and he does. Jesus heals the boy and returns him back to his father, evoking astonishment or shock from the crowd at the greatness of God (Lk. 9:43a).

Perhaps the astonishment or shock among the crowd at the greatness of God has to do more with how God in Christ, from among so many people with many needs and concerns, cares for one nameless hurting father and his tormented son.

We tend to think of greatness as an accomplishment of things on a grand scale. The greater the level of accomplishment, the grander the greatness of a person or organization. Could it be that the greatness of God starts with the mercy, compassion, and goodness we apply in Christ’s name to the nameless ones that come to us seeking help, mercy, and compassion?

Prayer from Brandon Smith’s song lyrics, Give Me Your Eyes

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see,
Everything that I keep missing,
Give your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten.
Give me Your eyes so I can see. Amen.

Action for the week

Look – focus your attention, give special regard, favorably view, give preferred notice, carefully examine – at someone you normally look past and do something for them that conveys that God sees and cares for them through you.

Stay in Touch

Scripture: Luke 6:17-26

“And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.”  

Thought for the day

A cell phone battery drains frustratingly fast when the antenna works hard to find and stay in touch with a signal. A cell phone’s state of the art features and capabilities are rendered useless when it is drained of power.

Jeremiah (17:7), the Psalmist (1:3), Paul (1Cor. 15:14), and Jesus (Lk. 6:20-23) talk about the blessedness and reward of those who stay in touch with the life of God and trust in God’s promises and provision. They are deeply rooted in God’s never-ending resources. As a result, they are fearless in times of calamity, vibrant in all seasons, they fulfill their purposes, and persevere through hardships and sorrows.

When we stay in touch with the life and promises of God through meditation on his word, we grow in faith or trust in God’s goodness and provision. Our inward confidence in God’s goodness and provision directs us to draw deeper from the never-ceasing power, grace, and consolation of God. Because we have an abundance in God, we turn outward from ourselves to give and help others with the same abundance and comfort we find in God. Trust in God’s goodness and provision yields a steadfast peaceful spirit within us in a convulsive world as we strive with confident hope for tomorrow.

Prayer:

Draw us into a deeper and ever more real relationship with you, O Lord. As we listen, guide us in your truth and touch us with your power as we reach out to touch you with our whole being. Show us your righteous ways, relieve our distress, satisfy our longing for peace in a volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and uncertain world, and remember us with your love. Amen.  

Action for the week:

Pray, “Merciful Lord, heal me with your power,” throughout the day this week as a way of being present and abiding in God’s love and providence.

Acceptable Words


“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34

Thought for the Day: Words are powerful tools for declaring new possibilities for peace, relatedness, and wholeness. May we be aware of their creative power so that we choose to speak words that encourage and revive the soul, bring joy to hearts, and hope for the future.

Prayer: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

Action for the Week: Shift your language from talking about problems to possibilities.

Intergenerational Faith Sharing

“The Boy Jesus in the Temple” by Heinrich Johann Hofmann

Scripture: And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor (Luke 2:52).

Reflection: Six grandchildren have come into our lives over the past two years. They are preacher’s kids, so they attend church every Sunday with their parents, and they participate in other Christian formation activities during the week. We live in Kansas. They live in Texas. So we do not have the opportunity to regularly worship with them as an extended family, but we often receive Snapchats of our grandchildren in church settings singing songs of praise, learning, roaming around in the sanctuary, or playing on church grounds. Our grand-children are comfortable on church grounds, it is like a safe second home to them. On church grounds, they are seen, listened to, loved, cared for, included, and valued by the people who are part of their respective church communities. The church communities take responsibility and joy in helping our children shape their children’s Christian faith. As a community of faith, they love and care for our grand-children and do all in their power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.  

Jesus was at home in the temple, his Father’s house. Jesus was safe in the temple – for now. He was listened to, loved, cared for, included, and valued as part of the community. The temple teachers opened a space for a young 12-year old Jesus to join them so that he could listen in on their adult dialogue. In a society where children were to be seen but not heard, Jesus was given the opportunity to join in and ask questions of his elders and teachers. He was also valued enough to be asked for his thoughts on the subjects of discussion. His responses were respectfully received by the teachers who were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

The story of Jesus in the temple sitting among his older teachers is a fantastic story of a powerful intergenerational faith dialogue that values and includes members of a community, models how to openly share perspectives in our churches, and models how to nurture mutual understanding and appreciation for each other across generations.  The way forward for our church is dependent on seeking out and welcoming children and youth in our communities into our faith communities, especially the children that are not “our” biological or socially connected child. As we receive the children in our communities regardless of their race, nationality, or language, as we listen to them, love them, care for, include, and value them, we will be amazed at what we will learn from them and where the Spirit will lead us through them. Perhaps it will be the children whom Christ will use to increase our faith, confirm our hope, perfect us in love, and lead us forward in divine and human favor.

Prayer: O Lord, enable our churches to be welcoming, nurturing, and safe places for all of God’s children and lead us all in the increase our faith, the confirmation of our hope, and the perfection of our love.

Hope for Tomorrow, Today Third Sunday of Advent

Scripture: Isaiah 12:1-6 – You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy, you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Reflection: Have you ever longingly hoped for and spoken of a better day to come when you felt shackled and limited by your circumstance? Have you ever been at a place in life when you wondered, “How or when are we ever going to get out of this mess or recover from this catastrophe?”

Sometimes the circumstances of our lives can be so challenging, we can find it hard to even imagine things getting better anytime soon, or ever. We see it difficult to trust in or sing praises to the Lord for salvation that seems distant, even impossible when we are shackled with troubles in the present. We ask, “Where is God in all this?”

The prophet Isaiah casts a vision of a good but distant future for Israel when they in captivity to Assyria. That day to come Isaiah speaks of is seemingly impossible for a downtrodden and defeated people to imagine, much less attain from where they are historically located.  The harshness of their lives as captives had all but extinguished their capacity to hope and believe their troubled life could ever be different.

Isaiah’s vision proclaims that in the future, God will free, and restore a forgiven Israel. In that day to come, Israel will look back on their experience of captivity to Assyria and their deliverance by God from it with thanksgiving. On that day to come, they will exalt God for their liberation with joy, song, and story. But that day will happen in the distant future. For now, they are shackled in captivity to Assyria.  

Even though the lived experience of Israel in captivity is harsh and their salvation lies in the distant future, the Israelites can draw their hope from God’s well of salvation. They can participate in acts of rejoicing, praise, song, and story in their present state of captivity because they are already becoming forgiven, freed, and restored by God who is faithful. Therefore, as Walter Brueggemann says in his book, The Prophetic Imagination, the Israelites can ‘embarrassingly have hope in a good future that flies in the face of all those claims they have been told are facts. They can refuse to accept the reading of reality, daring to announce that the present is now called into question.’ The anguishes and fears the Israelites experience because of their present troubled state are rendered powerless by drawing embarrassingly from the hope of God’s deep and everflowing well of salvation, salvation already present, but not yet fulfilled.

We do not have to wait until everything in our lives, our church, or our world is perfect before we can live secure, with joy, and at peace. We may find ourselves in difficulties today, but our deep-sourced hope in our already and not yet salvation unshackles us from the anguishes and fears of our present circumstance as we trust Jesus Christ, our strength and our might, our living water (John 7:38), who has become our salvation. In that spirit of hope, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards our heart and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6).

Hymn of Prayer:

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O Come, thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and night; to us the path of knowledge show and cause us in her ways to go. R

O come, O come, great Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height in ancient times once gave the law in cloud and majesty and awe. R

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree, an ensign of they people be; before thee rulers silent fall; all peoples on they mercy call. R

O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home. The captives from their prison free and conquer death’s deep misery. R

O come, thou Dayspring, some and cheer our spirits by they thy justice here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and earth’s dark shadows put to flight. R

O come, Desire of nations bind all peoples in one heart and mind. From dust thou brought us forth to life; deliver us from earthly strive. R

Amen.

The United Methodist Hymnal, #211 (Words: Henry Sloan Coffin, 1916; Music: Thomas Helmore 1854)

The Virtual Presence of Love

First Week of Advent

Scripture:

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13:  How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and ourLord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Reflection:

After my first annual conference with the Great Plains, I decided to send a prayer note to each of the clergy that serves one of our 1007 congregations and to our clergy who serve in appointments beyond the local church as a way to be prayerfully and virtually present in love, when not able to be physically present.

I do this as my daily spiritual discipline setting aside some time each morning to open the Great Plains daily devotional email sent out each day by our conference communications team. TheDaily Devotional emails contain the picture, email addresses, and appointments of three to four of our clergy. It also features the lectionary scripture readings for the week, a daily devotional and prayer, and a list of prayer requests.

I spend some time reading and praying the lectionary text followed by praying for persons on and situations mentioned in the prayer request list then turn my attention to the clergy featured for the day. I spend some time looking at the faces of the clergy and reading the names of the churches where they are appointed. I try to remember if there have been times during my two years serving the conference when I have met and spoken to them. Often, I’ll open a map on my computer and locate the site of the congregations mentioned in the daily devotional and imagine what it is like ministering in their rural, urban, suburban, contexts. I see that some clergy pastor two, three, and even a four-point charge and I thank God for their lives and the sacrifices made by their families. Others pastor mid-sized churches, others pastors large churches and others pastor mega-churches. I try to imagine the faithful people who worship at the church, the life of their congregations, and all the good they do in the world for Christ by serving others and advocating for the vulnerable in their communities. Sometimes, I’ll search for the church’s website and click on the links to know more about the church, their people through pictures, and their ministries. If I have extra time, I’ll read an online newsletter or listen/view to a portion of an online sermon.

It is physically impossible to be with the 700 clergy, the 220 thousand United Methodists, or the 1007 congregations of the GreatPlains Conference simultaneously. But, like the apostle Paul who prayed for the church at Thessalonica, I can be present in my mind and heart with my grand community of faith as I remember the clergy and congregations in prayer each day. I can offer up to God prayers for blessings upon our clergy and congregations, praying that the Lord would empower them to increase and abound in love for another and all, just as I abound in love for them(1 Thessalonians 3:12-13). I can pray for their holiness of heart and life in all they do as they serve the Lord with joy. I do not claim to know how prayer works but I trust and experience that it does. I experience a spiritual connection in Christ through the Holy Spirit with all people throughout our Great Plains Conference. In prayer, I share in God’s character of outgoing love, and I can think beyond myself and grow in compassion for others even though I may be hundreds, even thousands of miles away.

This Advent we remember God’s ever-present love for us in Christ. Even though we cannot experience God’s physical presence, we can experience God’s ever-present and abiding love through the promised Holy Spirit and through the kindness, goodness, and love of others. 

Prayer:

Eternal and ever-present God, in your loving mercy, hear our prayers for those we lift before you. Complete their faith. Empower them to increase and abound in love for one another and all. And, strengthen their hearts in holiness and blamelessness before you. Amen. 

Faith’s Posture

Stand up, raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28)

Scripture: Luke 21:25-36 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness, and the worries of this life and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and stand before the Son of Man.”

Reflection: We begin this Advent season as a Christian community celebrating the first coming of Christ as a child in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago while at the same time expectantly preparing for and awaiting the second coming of Christ in great glory. We are a people who look back to God’s mighty acts of salvation with thanksgiving and look forward to God’s mighty acts of redemption with faith.

As Christians, we are to distinguish ourselves as people of expectant faith in God’s promises. While many are bent over and weighed down with an oppressive spirit of foreboding, dissipation, and worries over reduced expectations and limiting conditions, Christians are called to a posture of faith. We stand up straight, with raised heads, and walk with faith into God’s good unfolding future. We walk with faith aware, watchful, and attentive to God’s faithfulness toward us and all creation. We see with eyes of faith beyond the brokenness, and tumult that shake our world and discover how God is revealing his salvation, mercy, love, and goodness in our midst.

In the meantime, we are not idle. We express our faith and expectations of God’s good unfolding future in actions that advance what will be the kingdom, which has begun with the coming of the Christ Child. O Come, O Come, Emanuel.

Prayer: Pray for the grace to be aware of God’s steadfast love and goodness in your life and in the world.

Total Trust

widow

Lectionary Scriptures for this Sunday

Ruth 3:1 – Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you.

1 Kings 17:10 – When Elijah came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks.

Psalm 146:9: The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Mark: 12:41-44 -He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Reflection: 

The lectionary passages from the Old Testament, Psalms, and the Gospel for this Sunday all mention widows; Naomi, Ruth, the widow from Zarephath, the widows God watches over and upholds, and the poor widow who gave all she had to the temple treasury.

We do not know how the husbands of the widows died. We can assume that some died because of natural causes, others because of disease, others by accident, others by violence, others by war. The widows mentioned are economically, emotionally, and socially vulnerable. But, God watches over them and upholds them. Ruth gets remarried to Boaz and her mother-in-law Naomi receives a household and protection, the widow from Zarephath and her son survive the drought and famine, and the nameless widows are watched over and upheld by God and Jesus.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus takes a seat near the temple treasury to watch people put their money into the treasury. He recognizes a widow from among the crowd and is struck by the extravagance of her sacrificial offering. Jesus is so moved with sympathy by her action that he draws attention to it for the sake of his disciples who were maybe paying more attention to the large sums of offerings given by the rich donors.

One of the churches from my two-point charge in El Paso, Texas had the practice of posting the amount of tithes and offerings given by the church members on the bulletin board by the entrance of the sanctuary. The donors were listed according to the amount of their giving with those who gave the most each month at the top of the list and those who gave the least each month at the bottom of the list. The treasurer told me that the list was posted to teach and motivate people to give more. At the bottom of the donor list was the name, Albina Garcia –        $ 28.50.

I came to know Albina very well during my four years in El Paso. She widowed early and never remarried. She was formerly from the Pentecostal tradition but became a United Methodist in 1954. Albina taught Sunday School at La Trinidad United Methodist Church for over 50 years. She raised three sons on her Social Security benefit, which by the time I got to El Paso in 1997 had grown to $ 285.00 a month. She cared for her brother for 50 years, a Korean War Veteran who lived with her but never came home from the war. Albina was a woman of prayer. She taught and mentored me more about the life and practice of prayer and discernment than seminary ever could. I gathered from my visits to her home that Albina was financially distressed. Three months into my appointment in El Paso, I thought it would be pastoral to let her know that God would not mind if she kept her $ 28.50 and used it for her needs. Big mistake, huge!

Albina listened to my pastoral counsel then said to me in Spanish, “Brother, with all due respect, who are you to take away the blessing of my giving for the Lord’s work?” She continued, “I’ve always tithed, and God has always watched over me. For now, I give $ 25.50 on the first Sunday of the month, then $ 1 a week at Sunday School for the remaining three weeks of the month.  On months with five weeks, I hold the .50 cents from the first Sunday and give it on the fifth Sunday so that I have something to give to the Lord every week. I’ve been widowed for 50 years, and I’ve never gone hungry. I’ve seen miracles too numerous to mention over the years and experience the unspeakable blessing of daily and intimate communion with God. God has made a way when I thought there was no way. It was not easy, but I have raised my boys in the Lord. I do not give to get anything from God, I give because God has never left me and because God has provided.”

I left Albina’s home that afternoon, drove to the church and went straight to the bulletin board where the donor declension sheet was posted and took it down. The treasurer asked if I knew what had happened to the list when he saw me on Sunday. I told him the list was not necessary because while financially accurate, it was misleading. I said, if the list is intended to teach and motivate people to give, they could learn a thing or two by starting from the bottom of the list, with Albina, the extravagantly generous widow and her monthly tithe of $ 28.50 a month. I know I did.

Prayer: 

Most loving God defender of the widows and the orphans, we pray for the widows this day in all our world. May the precious moments and memories of their loved ones be held forever in their hearts.  Comfort them with your abiding presence in their moments of loneliness and sorrow. Care and provide for them as you have promised. Renew them with the joy of life and sustain them in faith, hope, and love. Amen.