One of Us by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

It’s been a while since I last sent out a devotional! Molly and I are so grateful for the flexible way the congregation has allowed me to take time off for parental leave, but now I’m hoping to get back into my regular rhythm.

This week’s scripture readings include Hebrews 5:1-10, a masterpiece of Greek literary writing -- which, of course, makes it a bit of a pain to read in English. We don’t know for sure who wrote it (some people think it may have been Priscilla, one of Jesus’ first Seventy Apostles), but we do know to whom it was written and why. It was written to a Jewish-Christian community, probably in Jerusalem. And it was written because people were starting to say some pretty crazy things about Jesus.

In particular, people were starting to talk about Jesus like he wasn’t human. They were saying he only looked like a person, but really was so divine as to be nothing like us. They wanted to make sure everyone understood that he didn’t really suffer and die like a criminal.

We still get tempted to lift Jesus up to heaven without remembering that his feet walked here on earth. You’ll still hear people say “well of course Jesus could forgive his enemies and die on the cross, but that’s not something regular people like us can do!”

Today’s passage from Hebrews 5 reminds us all that for Jesus to be our high priest, for Jesus to be the one who saves us and reconciles us to God, Jesus must be human. Our sadness, our weakness, our temptation are known and understood by One who walked with us two thousand years ago and who still walks with us today, inhabiting the bodies of all those who turn their hearts towards God’s love.

Let us all rejoice that we are held and loved by Christ who truly knows what it is like to be one of us.

Grace and peace,

Andrew

Public Morality by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,
Well, they sure aren’t making it easy to read the news these days. Yes, there are some positive things happening both here and around the world, but disasters and near-disasters just seem to keep piling up.

And behind the worst of these disasters there almost always lies a moral failing of some sort or another. Whether we pin those moral failings on a given politician, a given media outlet, or on entire societies, the values (or lack of values) that lead to injustice and destruction are often pretty apparent.

So how do we change things? In the end, where do we focus our efforts to call the world to repentance? In the Anabaptist tradition we’re used to turning the focus inward, we’re used to saying that we need to take the log out of our own eye before we pay attention to the speck of dust in the eye of our neighbor.

But this week’s reading from 2 Samuel, where the prophet Nathan confronts David over his terrible sins (murdering a friend so that he could take that friend’s wife for his own), this story offers a bit of a different model. Nathan doesn’t spend much time taking the log out of his own eye -- he goes straight after David! And he doesn’t blame the priests or the courtiers that support David and spread his influence (what we’d call the media), he doesn’t blame the sins of the nation of Israel (what we’d call political or cultural failings.) No, Nathan blames David, he rests the guilt firmly on the shoulders of the person at the top. And he predicts that David’s moral failings will bring disaster.

Jesus tells us to mind our own sins first and foremost -- and I think we must heed that command from our Lord as a daily guide to our way of life. Most of us don’t have the same God-given clarity as Nathan did. But there are things that we can still see clearly enough, and I think this story from 2 Samuel is a reminder that there are times when it is appropriate to hold others accountable, especially those who are in positions of high authority, people whose moral failings are no private matter but will decide the course of nations.

This isn’t about teams. This isn’t about “what about what Bush did?” vs. “what about what Clinton did?” This is about holding all leaders accountable, including small leaders like myself, and not accepting, ignoring, or excusing the sins committed by ANY of them. Yes, individual leaders aren’t the only force in society and don’t bear every ounce of the blame for the injustice we see in the world. But sometimes it’s appropriate to start with them anyway.

May we cling to what is good, speaking with humility, compassion, and strength in the face of evil.

God’s goodness be with you all,

Andrew

The Bread of Heaven by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

For those of us who have lived with overwhelming plenty for most of our lives, it can be easy to forget that for most people food is life. When we are used to thinking of calories as a bad thing, I think we struggle a bit to see the importance of Jesus feeding the multitudes (and Elisha doing something similar in a story from the book of Kings, also in this week’s readings.)

These miracles aren’t just about convenience, or avoiding embarrassment, or providing comfort for the people. They are so much more; they are signposts saying “Look here! Here is God’s kingdom! This is what it looks like, it looks like life itself freely poured out for all.”

Because most people throughout most of history understood that food equals life at a very basic level. And so it’s very interesting to note that in both of these stories the miraculous food of heaven doesn’t just fall down from, well, heaven-- in both stories the food starts out as a gift, given by an anonymous figure who knows it won’t be enough but who lays it all out there anyway. That is the root of heaven, my friends: food that is shared.

They say “you are what you eat.” I think that’s true in more ways than one-- yes, healthy food makes for healthier bodies, makes us big and strong. But I am also convinced that shared food makes us big and strong too, spiritually big, with a broader sense of self. Shared food is no less a signpost now than it was in the Bible, a wonder that both announces and creates the Kingdom of Heaven. When we find ways to share our food broadly, when we eat with neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies, I believe we will witness miracles.

God’s generosity and life-giving grace be with you all,

Andrew

Rest by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,


Happy Friday! I hope this finds you looking forward to some rest and relaxation this weekend, a chance to take care of tasks that have been ignored during the week and most importantly an opportunity to spend some sacred Sabbath time with loved ones.

We need rest because, I tell you, life can feel like a marathon. The work just never ends, and it can, if we let it, really start to weigh us down. But God promises us rest, even commands us to rest! What a gift, what a source of peace, to know that we don’t have to be doing something all the time but can stop and just be, and it is enough.

This week the lectionary points us to one of the great psalms of rest, Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.” It’s images of lying by still waters, of passing in comfort through the valley of deepest darkness, of a cup overflowing remind me of one of the greatest spirituals of all time, “My God Is a Rock in a Weary Land.”

It’s a song that came from the lives of women and men held captive to the most hideous slavery, people for whom life was indeed an unending marathon, whose grief and hard work knew no end. And yet they heard the words of holy Scripture, and knew that God promised to bring them rest, and justice, in time.

Listen to their song. The name of the musical genius that composed it is lost. And for too long the faith, grace, and heroic perseverance of the ones who sang it have been unrecognized or taken for granted by the authors of American history. But God is indeed a rock of refuge for the weary, and God’s justice is slowly coming. If they could hold fast to that hope in the face of all the despair that threatened them, then surely we can too.

This Friday, as many of us look forward to taking the rest God wants us to have, let us remember those who were denied rest, who were denied so much, but who still held firm to Jesus, the Lord of Love. They stand as shining reminders that although we may face darkness and even despair, we fear no evil, for God’s rod and staff comfort us.

For all those who are weary, may God bring us rest. And for all those who rest, may part of our rest be to remember -- to remember our loved ones, and to remember those who suffered for the One who loves us.

A quiet peace be with you,

Andrew

Gratitude for Grace by Andrew Fairfield

Dear friends,

I look out my window and I know that this world, this life, is so much more than I deserve. How could I have earned all the goodness that is poured out daily in front of me? How could I earn the wind through the trees on a sunny day?

On the contrary, I’m keenly aware that I’ve done things, my ancestors have done things, my country has done things to deserve much worse. Far from earning all the good stuff, I’ve done a lot to earn some pretty terrible things that, miraculously, have not happened!

This week’s psalm, Psalm 130, reminds us of God’s constant grace through humanity’s mistakes and cruelty: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.”

An awareness of that grace fills me with gratitude. It lets me not take for granted any of the small joys of life, and it lets me recognize just how much I have been saved from the consequences of my sins. I wish each of you that same sense of gratitude, which enchants the world and gives glory to its Creator.

God’s grace be with us all,

Andrew