Monday, November 22

Isaiah 9:3-4

Too many photos of fruit and vegetables fill my phone. Two days a week, my neighborhood hosts a green market with fresh local produce. During July and August, corn, apples, squash, eggplant, beans, mushrooms, kale, garlic, leeks, and more are piled high on tables and made vivid by the summer sun. The products of bakeries, beekeepers, and fishmongers wait nearby. I want to touch and smell and eat everything. Instead I take photos.

I’m fortunate to live in a neighborhood that would not be considered a food desert. I enjoy convenient grocery stores, bodegas, and assorted street vendors, supplemented by this bounteous outdoor market. God’s glorious abundance is on display for our use, nourishment, and enjoyment.

I know a homeless man named Will who is a regular at the market. I always stop to greet him and we chat. I make sure I have some cash in my wallet to pass on to him. He reminds me, amid this ample harvest, that for many people hunger is the yoke of their burden. The bar across their shoulders is the lack of affordable housing. The rod of their oppressor is the scarcity of suitable employment (v. 4).

All around us are workers who raise our vegetables, bake our bread, catch and clean our fish, and harvest our honey, and who are only one bad harvest away from disaster. I shop at the green market because at this point in my life I can indulge in the work and fun of preparing fresh vegetables at home. But I also shop there as an act of gratitude and solidarity. We ease each other’s burdens by sharing in joy at the harvest (v. 3).

Consider

How often do we stop to think about the people who labor to bring God’s bounty to our tables?

Pray

God, we pray that we will never take for granted the abundance of your gifts in all of their forms. Help us to find ways to share those gifts with others. Amen.

Sunday, November 21

Isaiah 9:1-2

“Those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined” (v. 2).

Isaiah is speaking to people who have lived in the darkness of exile and oppression. He foresees a light that is coming for them. Not just any light, but an extraordinary one that would shine on them directly.

When I think of darkness, I think of a former slate mine in Wales. We put on our hard hats and descended on the funicular. Our guide talked about the history of slate mining, noting that the workday lasted from 6 am until 6 pm. At the end of the presentation, the guide turned off the lights so we could experience what the miners faced when the power failed. The absolutely oppressive darkness was unlike anything I’d experienced. Light was totally absent; it felt as though light had been sucked out of the world. I trusted, of course, that the light could be turned back on, that soon I would go back up the funicular and back into the daylight. But that did not hold off my momentary inability to breathe, or my growing feeling of panic and helplessness—and longing for even the smallest light to break through.

But what did the miners feel? Most days they entered the mine before dawn and emerged after sunset. I imagine them aching for daylight, longing to experience sunrise and sunset, wanting to feel the warmth of the brilliant sun. Perhaps, while they worked, they set their sights on a day to come when they would spend time in light instead of darkness, hoping that their children would have a better future. Perhaps they, like the Israelites, recalled Isaiah’s words.

Consider

Why is it so easy to take light for granted? Why is it easy to take God’s loving presence for granted?

Pray

God, as we walk with you, keep us mindful that your light always overcomes the darkness. Amen.

Saturday, November 20

John 7:37-39

I ran a marathon one time. The jury is still out on whether that will ever happen again. I planned to meet my wife at strategic places along the way to receive a sports energy drink so that I didn’t have to stop at all the hydration stations and get tangled up with other runners. The last stop was Mile 20. As I approached that marker, I looked for her and our two small sons, but couldn’t find her. I stopped at every hydration station that I could find from then on, but they weren’t close enough. I could feel the dehydration setting deep into the muscles of my hamstrings, thighs, and calves. My body started breaking down. My legs seized in three different places at once. When I tried to stretch one group of muscles out, others would cramp up. My body was crying out for water.

That’s as thirsty as I’ve ever been. I finished the race, but at a pace that was a little slower than my goal. As I drank fluids afterwards, my body returned to normal and my muscles relaxed. After a couple of days, I’d fully recovered.

John contrasts the reality of thirst (v. 37) and the possibility of overcoming it with the phrase rivers of living water (v. 38). This image of God’s Spirit filling those who are empty is powerful. Many of us sense that we are thirsty, but don’t actually know the extent of our thirst. The invitation that Jesus offers us is the same one our passage declares: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me” (v. 37). This urges us to receive the replenishing, sustaining, and transforming Spirit that powers our lives with love, justice, and meaning.

Consider

When has your soul felt thirsty? How do you pray about this?

Pray

Living Water, teach me how to stay hydrated. Help me recognize my steadfast need for you and your steadfast love that will sustain me. Amen.

Friday, November 19

Joel 2:28-29

The word spirit in verse 28 can also be translated “wind” or “breath”. This is the same word that describes the powerful wind that parts the Red Sea in Exodus 14-15. This wind of protection that delivers the Hebrew people from a ravaging army and places them safely on the other side of the sea is the same spirit that Joel says God will pour out . . . on all flesh
(v. 28), irrespective of gender, age, or social status.

God’s wind, God’s spirit of deliverance will create equality and equity among those who have only known difference, and call everyone to prophesy, dream, and envision. Joel does not spell out the content of these prophecies, dreams, and visions, so we are left to imagine them. The stark turn from darkness to light in this chapter leaves us to imagine that these prophecies, dreams, and visions will lead us to a future that is better and brighter. Such possibilities are certainly rooted in the transformational spirit that God will pour out. This poured out spirit, this transforming wind, this literal breath from God will create the love and justice and beauty of God within all creation.

Once we experience this spirit and receive those visions and dreams, we can begin to live into them. God’s vision of a just and loving world shows us how we can take part in transforming the world. As the breath of God blew the Red Sea in half, this same spirit is in us, pushing us into actions that feed the hungry, cloth the freezing, and set the prisoners free. This same spirit of God continues to be poured out on all flesh. God’s Spirit compels all of us to participate in God’s work in this world through works of mercy, acts of forgiveness, and labors of love.

Consider

How is the wind of Exodus and the Spirit that Joel describes being poured out on you? What is God’s Spirit pushing you to do?

Pray

God, fill us with your Spirit, that we may envision your work in the world and know the joy of doing it. Amen.

Thursday, November 18

Joel 2:26-27

Unless we read the entire first half of this short prophetic book of Joel, realizing how bright and hopeful these two verses are will be difficult. Joel 1:2–2:14 is a lamentation for impending doom. In verse after verse, Joel calls on his listeners to mourn and wail and lament for the doom that is on their doorstep. Darkness imagery is used over and over again: the sun will not shine, the stars will lose their light. After nearly two chapters of doom and gloom, we arrive at this spectacular shift: You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied (v. 26). How far removed this is from “Put on sackcloth and lament, you priests; wail, you ministers of the altar” (1:13).

As a people, we have experienced times of lamentation and of hope. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, reactions to the invasion of the Capitol in Washington, DC still lingered. We experienced one of the most heavily-guarded presidential inaugurations in US history—certainly in my lifetime. I hope that as you read this devotion, we are all living in the Joel 2:26 space of plenty and satisfied rather than the place of “surely, joy withers away among the people” (Joel 1:12).

As you read the book of Joel, notice this dramatic shift from darkness to light at 2:13, when the Lord calls the people to “rend your hearts and not your clothing.” Joel bases this shift from wrath to abundance on the collective repentance and the turning around of the people.

What would repentance look like in our country? Could it produce a day in which my people shall never again be put to shame (v. 27)?

Consider

In times of despair what helps you live with hope?

Pray

God, help us live with your vision and desire for a time in which your people will know your great joy. Move us to work for such a time as this. Amen.

Wednesday, November 17

Amos 5:23-24

Amos 5:24 has been a beloved Scripture for many of us throughout our lives. In college, I played the guitar to accompany song lyrics based on this verse: “Let justice roll down like mighty waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” I cannot write that verse without singing it in my head. If you know the tune, you’re probably singing it in your head—or aloud—right now.

More importantly, this verse is well known in the American psyche primarily because of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” sermon. Before he gets to his thunderous cadence of “I have a dream” that inspires us to build a better society, King addresses Jim Crow oppression in the Deep South and systemic racism across America. Quoting Amos, he says, “We cannot be satisfied so long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and the Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Dr. King used that verse exactly like Amos meant it. Amos is prophesying that God will not listen to the songs of the people or the melodies of their music until they let justice roll down like waters (v. 24). When we grow so familiar with these words that we only hear them as a pretty poetic metaphor, we miss Amos’ warning and call to action. What helps us hear this passage as a call to action rather than a platitude of praise?

Consider

How are you participating in Christian service that will let justice roll down like waters?

Pray

Let the words that I say reflect the life that I lead, O God. Amen.

Tuesday, November 16

Amos 5:21-22

Take a moment to think of your favorite hymn or worship song. Now take another moment to think about your favorite annual worship service. Is it the Easter sunrise service, candlelight communion on Christmas Eve, the Agape Meal on Maundy Thursday, or something else? Finally, think about a meaningful baptism service you witnessed, maybe your own.

With these meaningful worship experiences in your mind, imagine God saying to you:

I hate, I despise your festivals and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. . . . Take away from me the noise of your songs (vv. 21, 23).

What turns our favorite and most meaningful worship experiences into events that God hates? What pollutes our sanctuaries and turns our rituals of devotion into hollow words and meaningless routines?

To Amos, the Northern Kingdom’s disconnect from God stems from their mistreatment of the poor and most vulnerable. Amos tells them, and continues to tell us, that our religious services, favorite songs, and personal piety are only as good as our commitment to caring for others and loving our neighbors as ourselves. If our familiar acts of worship and devotion do not compel us to care for each other and take special care of the most vulnerable among us (like the poor, the widow, and the orphan), then the function of all of our religious rites and music is simply to make us feel good rather than to honor God.

Consider

How do our acts of worship lead us to engage the world in transformative ways?

Pray

God, teach us that the worship you desire is the devotion that leads us to love our neighbor. Amen.

Monday, November 15

Amos 5:14-15

These two verses are thin glimmers of hope in the all-consuming fire that is the book of Amos (If you need another glimmer, look at 5:4-7). Be careful as you read these two verses to see them within the context of extreme judgment. Amos is a doomsday prophet and the only cracks of light he offers here come through an exhausted remnant: “… and that which marched out a hundred shall have ten left” (5:3). Ninety percent evaporate and only ten percent survive—barely.

Amid overwhelming violence, Amos offers this hope: Seek good and not evil, that you may live . . . . Hate evil and love good (vv. 14a, 15a). Israel’s harsh treatment of the poor and downtrodden is the evil that Amos calls the people to turn away from. Israel has rearranged its economy in a way that leaves the poor devastated while the rich drink wine in their castles. Amos repeatedly references this evil of the wealthy trampling the poor (2:6b-7a; 3:10; 4:1; 5:11; 5:12; 8:4-6).

The sliver of hope that Israel needs to grasp is this command from God that they turn away from the evil of oppressing the poor and seek good. Only then will God save the remnant, Amos prophesies, saying, establish justice at the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph (v. 15). What would this saving justice look like in our time? A justice that would create equity among the people and prevent the slide into greater human inequality. May we live for, act on, vote for, and work towards this sort of saving justice.

Consider

How will you seek good and not evil today, so that you may live close to God?

Pray

God, help us recognize the ways that lead us to life and courageously choose to walk in them with you. Amen.

Sunday, November 14

Amos 1:1-2

The “roaring” God. This image sums up the entire book of Amos. Amos, the shepherd prophet, sent from the Southern Kingdom of Judah to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, begins his prophetic denunciation of Israel. Amos is one of the earliest prophets and his condemnation comes true not many years after he pronounces it. Assyria destroys Israel and whips it off the face of the earth (see 2 Kings 17:1-6).

God’s roar in today’s passage begins at Mount Zion and reaches all the way north to Mount Carmel, making everything in between wither and dry up. These 90 miles encompassed the entire Northern Kingdom. It could take ten days to make this journey in Amos’s day, but God’s voice moves at the speed of sound. When God’s roaring dries up the top of Mount Carmel, it reminds me how Elijah calls down fire to dry up the altar and consume the sacrifices presented before God and Baal, a story of God’s power that Amos likely knew.

This is not God’s tender voice. This is a consuming fire that vanquishes everything that it touches. God’s voice through Amos will burn hot and ravish the land and livelihood of Israel. God’s judgment leaves nothing but ashes and dust. All that remains are Amos’ prophetic oracles.

How do we come to terms with God’s violence in the book of Amos? We obviously want to be on God’s side here, so we assume that the Northern Kingdom must have seriously rebelled to receive such damnation. Or, do we read against the grain? Can we envision a God that is not bent on violence, but uses it when the world refuses to comprehend in a different way?

Consider

When have you experienced the roaring God?

Pray

God, help us realize that you are not indifferent to evil and wrongdoing. Help us respect the ways you are at work and seek to understand what you want us to know. Amen.

Saturday, November 13

John 12:31-36

Several years ago, we took a family beach trip with my husband’s extended family. With their adult children gathered together, my in-laws took the opportunity to share the plans they were making for their future. They talked about retirement homes that offered graduated care and downsizing to a smaller, more accessible home in the meantime. They told us about their long-term health insurance, as well as the burial arrangements they had already made. They even brought photos of furniture, art, and other mementos so we could let them know now which things we wanted.

At first, we resisted listening. We were all a bit uncomfortable with them talking so openly about their deaths. But the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated them, not only for their planning and wisdom, but also their modeling. They were showing us, who are all parents ourselves, how to talk to our own children about death—not with fear and in hushed tones but calmly, with practicality. I had a deep sense that they wanted us to know that they were prepared and didn’t want us to be worried for them. It was a gift, really.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus talks about his death a great deal. So much so, that it does make his disciples and those listening to him uncomfortable. I think he does this out of love. Jesus doesn’t want them to be scared. He doesn’t want them to worry or for their hearts to be troubled. Jesus does his best to prepare them, not only for his death, but for their own. He invites them to stay close to him on his journey, modeling for them how to face life and death without regrets.

Consider

Talking about death, let alone planning for it, is countercultural in America. How could talking openly about your mortality be a gift to someone else?

Pray

God, you are in our beginning and our end. Help me to plan for my future with love and courage. Amen.