God’s Economy

This week’s devotion is written by Grace Heimerdinger-Baake, Director of Youth and Family Ministry.
 

The Seventh Commandment 

You shall not steal. 

What does this mean? 

We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbor’s money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them improve and protect their property and income. 

-The Small Catechism, Martin Luther

The seventh commandment is more than just bank robbers, home burglars, and shoplifters. Martin Luther recognized that stealing is more common than you might think. Luther recognized burglars and bank robbers aren’t the only ones who steal. Thieves are also people who run a dishonest business, such as failing to pay a living wage or allowing employees to work in poor conditions. We’re stealing when we try to get more from our neighbor than we’re willing to give them in return, or when we try to hoard our property for ourselves because we’re afraid for the future. 

God uses the relationships we have with one another to provide for our daily needs. So, we have farmers, store owners, bankers, doctors, daycare providers, and many other jobs that form our economy. With these interconnected relationships, we are able to provide for one another. When neighbors are able to trust one another, a healthy economy forms, but when businesses or individuals partake in “crooked” deals, there is a breakdown in the economy that leads to hunger, lack of affordable shelter, inadequate healthcare, education gaps, and more. Let’s look at the clothing industry. 

Los Angeles is the nation’s garment production capital with its workforce composed primarily of Latino/a and Chinese immigrants, mostly women. Last year, approximately 85% of workers did not earn the minimum wage and instead were paid a piece rate of between 2-6 cents per piece of clothing, thus sometimes earning less than $3 an hour. Most workers worked 60-70 hours a week and took home about $300. They were not paid overtime and worked in unsafe, cramped, dirty, and poorly ventilated factories.

The Garment Worker Center led a movement for rights of garment works in Los Angeles. In September 2021, California Senate Bill 62, the Garment Worker Protection Act, was signed into law. This law will now hold fashion brands and supply chains accountable for stolen wages and will outlaw the per-piece system, making a real minimum wage for workers. It is a victory for the workers and for justice, but there is still more to do to create a just economy in God’s eyes.

Gracious God, thank you for providing for us. Help us to be conscious of our transactions in this world and may they help our neighbor. Amen.



In All Circumstances

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

-1 Thessalonians 5:18

 

I was recently discussing Thanksgiving traditions with a friend. Specifically, we were discussing the ways in which our personal Thanksgiving traditions differ from the traditions of our spouse’s families. Everything from what to eat and who prepares it to how to spend the hours of the afternoon brought different answers. Growing up, my family often went to the movie theater on Thanksgiving afternoon. My husband’s family watched Miracle on 34th Street. My friend says she likes to go for a run, while her husband’s family wants to watch the Detroit Lions play their traditional Thanksgiving game.

And speaking of different traditions, food! Is the meal prepared at home or catered in? Is the turkey roasted or smoked or fried? Is the stuffing homemade or out of a box? Is it mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes or both or neither? How should those green beans be prepared? And which kind of pie will be served? 

There are a lot of decisions to be made. No wonder we all have traditions, since that helps us take a break from making decisions by simply saying, “Well, we always do it this way.”

Sometimes, circumstances force a change in tradition. A couple gets married and has to compromise traditions to make it work in their new life together. The family matriarch announces she just can’t host again, and someone else has to learn to make the turkey. A job change forces a move out of state that makes gathering in person impossible. Supply chains mean you can’t find chestnuts anywhere and you have to change your stuffing recipe. (Maybe that one is just me.)

Gratitude and generosity do not depend on circumstances, though. Our ability to give thanks to God and give from what we have to one another is based on God’s character, not our circumstances. Maybe you’ll have exactly the Thanksgiving you dream of this year, and if that’s the case, I hope you give thanks to God. More likely, something will go wrong with your day. I hope you give thanks to God anyway. It’s God’s will for us that we give thanks in all circumstances. Let this Thanksgiving be a day full of gratitude and generosity, and let all our lives be filled each day with the very same thankfulness as we experience on Thursday.

Happy Thanksgiving!



Thank You Day

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. -Psalm 9:1

We used to watch a lot of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood in my house, though my kids are starting to outgrow it. (For the uninitiated, Daniel Tiger is the cartoon successor to Mr. Rogers.) Every episode of Daniel Tiger features Daniel facing some kind of problem and resolving it within twelve minutes, accompanied by a catchy song. One of my favorite episodes is called “Thank You Day.” Daniel and his friends learn from the adult characters that the community will soon be celebrating “Thank You Day” by writing notes of appreciation for their neighbors. Daniel begins to worry: how will he decide which one person to thank? There are so many people who do so much to make a difference in their community!

It’s sort of the wrong question, though. Gratitude is not a limited resource. We don’t have to carefully allocate our thank yous. We can’t run out. It’s not like toilet paper or car parts. There’s no shortage of thankfulness. At least, there doesn’t need to be any shortage. When you notice that there’s not enough gratitude in your life, you can add some more.

The more gratitude we share, the more we have to give. The psalmist praised God, saying “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.” Thankfulness is a whole-hearted attitude. Half-heartedness simply won’t do in giving thanks to one another, and certainly not in giving thanks to God.

This season reminds us to be grateful and say thank you. For church family, for a roof over your head, for gas in your car, for hot coffee, for raspberries at breakfast, for the gift of new life through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for those blessings and so many others. With all our hearts, we thank God. 

Let every day be a “Thank You Day” in your life. With all your heart, say thanks to the people who make a difference in your life. With all your heart, give thanks to God.

God, you do such wonderful deeds for me. Give me whole-hearted gratitude for you and the people you have made in your image. Amen.



Letting Go

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20:22‭-‬23 NRSV

This is part of a conversation Jesus had with his disciples on the day of his resurrection. After meeting with Mary Magdalene at the tomb, he reunited with ten of his other disciples and gave them the Holy Spirit with the instruction to forgive sin. Jesus also says that along with the power to forgive, the Holy Spirit gives the power to not forgive. It sounds like a lot of power, and it is! To forgive, or not forgive: that’s the question.

In Greek, the word that means forgive also means release. In other words, forgiveness is connected to letting go. 

This time of year we can see an excellent example of the necessity and beauty of letting things go just by looking to the trees. Take a look at the nearest maple or oak tree: see how its leaves are turning red, yellow, and orange? They may already be falling from the branches to carpet the ground beneath them. It is beautiful and even necessary for trees to release their leaves when the season changes. 

If trees don’t let go of their leaves? Well, that’s not good. Several years ago, I had an eight-year-old maple tree in my front yard. One fall, for some reason, it just didn’t drop its leaves as the other trees did. Some of the leaves fell, but most stuck onto the branches. I was curious what would happen if it didn’t let go of the leaves. 

One day, I found out. There was a terrible storm in October that year, and the wind was so severe that the tree could not stand under the weight of its leaves. Instead, it split in half straight down the trunk, and the half of the tree most covered by leaves crashed down to the ground. If it’s beautiful to let go, it’s dangerous to hold on too long.

Nobody wins when we hold onto sin instead of forgiving it. When we forgive, we release that other person from their guilt and, equally important, we release ourselves from holding grudges, from seeing ourselves as victims, and from taking it upon ourselves to judge someone else’s worthiness. We’ve got to let it go, as Elsa says. We’ve got to forgive. We’ve got to release each other from our sin so we can move ahead without the weight of that guilt dragging us down.

The trees are showing us how beautiful it is to let things go. The Holy Spirit is showing us how beautiful it is when we let sinners go free with the simple words: “I forgive you.”

Holy Spirit, you give me the power to release or retain sin. Give me also the grace to forgive sin as I have been forgiven in Jesus Christ. Stop me from holding onto things that I need to let go. Amen.



Help me to love, Jesus

This week’s devotion is written by Grace Heimerdinger-Baake, Director of Youth and Family Ministry.

In the last four months I have driven over 8,536 miles. Many of those miles have been going back and forth to the hospital and traveling to countless doctor appointments for my little guy. 

I rely on my Spotify playlists to keep me awake and focused on these drives. There is one song that has caught my attention and makes me wonder each and every time I listen to it. The song is titled “What Do I Know” by Ed Sheeran and the chorus goes: 

I’m just a boy with a one-man show

No university, no degree, but lord knows

Everybody’s talking ’bout exponential growth

And the stock market crashing and their portfolios

While I’ll be sitting here with a song that I wrote

Sing, love could change the world in a moment

But what do I know?

 

Can love really change the world? 

Ed Sheeran, I think you are right. Love can really change the world, if we love like Jesus. 

During the celebration of the Passover and after breaking the bread, Jesus gave the disciples a new commandment, “Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another.” (John 13:34 MSG)

We know we are called to love our neighbor, but why is it so hard to love like Jesus?

Cultivating kindness and love is not easy. You can wake up and think to yourself, “I am going to be kind to others.” Then you are cut off in traffic, the barista spills your coffee, and your co-worker takes credit for something you did. Wow! It has been a crazy morning, and you try to resist the urge to retaliate. 

It is impossible to always love like Jesus. Our human nature gets in the way and even with our best efforts, we fail. We need Jesus! Jesus’ love for us is unconditional and not based on feelings or emotions. For us to love like Jesus, we can practice giving our emotions and feelings to him in exchange for his compassion and mercy. It isn’t easy but with Jesus we can love our neighbors just a little bit more and help create a more peaceful and loving world. 

Jesus, help me to live out kindness today. May your light and love shine through me. Amen.



Pray for Those People

Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. -Matthew 5:43-48 CEB

You’ve probably heard the command to love your enemies and pray for them before today. It’s part of the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” one of Jesus’ longest public speeches. Like any of God’s commands, loving enemies and praying for them doesn’t come naturally. 

Loving our friends? Sure! Praying for those who are on our side? Yep!  But loving our enemies? Praying for people who harass us? Ugh. Thanks, but no thanks, Jesus. 

Jesus doesn’t take “thanks, but no thanks” for an answer in our lives as Christians, though. There is no wiggle room here. Love those people. Pray for those people. Yes, even those people.

Well, fine. I’ll pray for God to turn their hearts and correct their wicked ways. They sure need God’s help to stop hurting me. Easy peasy.

Praying that God change our enemies’ hearts is one way to pray for them. Sometimes, this is appropriate and good. But let’s be honest— those prayers very quickly become self-righteous, further dividing “us” from “them.” It’s easy to pray for God to fix those people because it lets us keep on believing they’re the problem.

Sometimes, they really are the problem.

That is true. But let’s go back to what Jesus said- that our heavenly father sends sunshine and rain to the good AND the evil— and all out of pure, fatherly, divine, complete love. You and I receive that love, too, and we received it even when we were still sinners. Jesus isn’t asking us to distinguish between good people who deserve love and sinners who deserve nothing. Jesus is commanding us to love and pray for even those people we’d rather not.

So instead of just praying the kinds of prayers that let me keep my distance, I should pray the prayers that draw me closer to my enemies? Sounds risky.

It is risky. Loving people is always risky. It’s also the only thing that transforms community and brings the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. We can love people  in many ways, but one that Jesus shows us here is prayer.

I might need to start small. Maybe I’ll pray for those people’s kids. It’s easy for me to pray for kids to be supported and loved. Or maybe I’ll pray for those people’s health. I wouldn’t want anybody to get sick. Maybe I can even pray for their lives to be full of the fruit of God’s Spirit- you know, that whole “love, joy, peace, patience” thing.

No prayer offered in faith and obedience to Jesus is ever small. And you might be surprised to find that as you pray for “those people,” they start to feel less and less like your enemies and more and more like your siblings in God’s family. Who knows? Maybe they’ve already been praying for you.

I never thought I might be somebody’s enemy! I guess I’m part of somebody else’s “those people” without even realizing it. You know, I kind of like the idea of Christians who disagree with each other still praying for one another. It shows that we realize that our trust in God is more important than the fine print of what we believe. I’ll pray for those people. It sounds like what Jesus wants.

Amen.



Every Season

There’s a season for everything

    and a time for every matter under the heavens:

    a time for giving birth and a time for dying,

    a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,

    a time for killing and a time for healing,

    a time for tearing down and a time for building up,

    a time for crying and a time for laughing,

    a time for mourning and a time for dancing,

    a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,

    a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,

    a time for searching and a time for losing,

    a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,

    a time for tearing and a time for repairing,

    a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,

    a time for loving and a time for hating,

    a time for war and a time for peace.

-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Today is the first day of Autumn, at least by the calendar. The weather even seems to agree!

Seasons change. Little is as predictable as that. Snow follows turning leaves that follow scorching heat that follow buds on the trees. Even on sunny tropical islands, there is a season for hurricanes.

Our lives have seasons just as the climate does. There are seasons we expect: school, work, parenting, retirement. They come and go predictably. There are seasons that catch us off-guard: unemployment, heartache, illness. There are seasons that seem to last forever: ironically, both being a teenager and parenting a teenager seem to fall into this category. Even a season when everything goes wrong for a few months can seem longer than a year of business as usual.

And then there are seasons that, in a puzzling kind of way, seem to fade in and out. Just when we think the season is over, it comes right back. Take grief, for instance: it’s there and then it’s not and then it shows up again, like these summer thunderstorms I thought we were done with for the year. 

Even our faith has seasons. There may be times when we feel unshakably confident in what we believe. There may be other times when we’re in a season of self-examination, trying to figure out if what we’ve believed still works for us. There may even be times when we find ourselves in a season of doubt and feeling like we’re just going through the motions of faith. And then suddenly we may be back in a season of trust and deep meaning in faith.

Seasons come and go. God does not. God is with us in the sunshine and in the rain, at work and at play, when delighted or depressed. There is a season for everything under heaven, declares Ecclesiastes, and in that declaration we can hear that none of those seasons is too much for God. Whether we are building or tearing down, crying or laughing, loving or hating, God is with us.

O God, in all the seasons of my life, help me to trust that I am not alone, but you are with me. When I face a difficult season, help me. When I enjoy an easy season, let me give you praise. Amen.



Jesus began to weep

When Mary of Bethany came to where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. -John 11:32-35

Peter had a rough day at work. Nothing went the way it was supposed to, and his boss let him know she noticed. Peter went home and grumpily told his husband “everything was fine at work” and turned on the football game without speaking again for the rest of the night. Next door, Pam got her kids around the table for dinner and the chorus of complaints about the meal began. Managing the kids and the house while her husband was deployed was getting harder and harder, but it was simpler to pour herself another glass of wine after the kids went to bed than admit she was struggling. Across the street, Missy sat alone on her couch, realizing just how anxious and sad she felt about her life. She quickly opened TikTok to scroll through new videos. It might not fix anything, but at least she could be distracted instead of sad.

You probably know Peter and Pam and Missy, or people who sound just like them. For that matter, you’ve probably been Peter or Pam or Missy a time or two in your life. We’ve all been there- knowing that we’re feeling something that’s likely to be unpleasant and uncomfortable. Instead of feeling those feelings, we numb them instead! We’ve all done it, whether it’s with an extra drink, a mindless scroll of social media, a bowl of ice cream, whatever’s on TV, an extra exhausting workout, or a shopping spree.

Before you shift uncomfortably in your chair and scroll away to something more pleasant to read, look back to the glimpse of Jesus shared in John 11 above. Jesus is faced with the death of a friend and the grief of his friend’s sister and their whole community. This is gut-wrenching stuff. What did Jesus do? He began to weep. 

The only way through hard emotions is to feel them. Research shows that if we try to numb those unwanted negative emotions like sadness, disappointment, and anger, we end up numbing joy and hope right along with them. A couple of beers, a banana nut muffin, and a new shirt cannot fix your emotions. The thing is that your feelings don’t need to be fixed at all. When Lazarus died, and his sisters and community wept, Jesus wept right along with them. When Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, he urged them: “Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying.” (Romans 12:15)

Beloved people of God, there is a great deal going on in our personal and communal lives that raises strong feelings. We may be disappointed, sad, scared, angry, anxious, and frustrated. If that’s you- do yourself a favor and let yourself be sad without rushing to numb it. Let yourself be angry without pushing it off on someone else. The only way to stop carrying the burdens of those hard emotions is to feel them and name them. If Peter told his husband he was frustrated by his job, if Pam texted a friend that she was feeling overwhelmed, if Missy took her anxiety to a therapist—it wouldn’t get rid of the very real challenges behind their feelings, but it would help make them bearable.

We can also take our emotional burdens to Jesus, who weeps with us without ever asking us if perhaps we’re taking things a bit too seriously. Jesus, of all people, knew that death wouldn’t get the last word in our lives, and yet he cried with Mary and her friends when Lazarus died. When we honestly share our ups and downs with God, God is deeply moved. Through those ups and downs, God carries not only our heavy feelings but our very selves. You are held by the same God who wept with Mary.

Jesus, thank you for showing us that we can weep. Thank you for your compassion in being moved by our struggles. Help us to resist the temptation to numb our feelings, and instead to feel our way through our ups and downs, confident that you are holding us all the way.



Never Forget

We give you thanks, O God, 

for in the beginning your Spirit moved over the waters

and by your Word you created the world,

calling forth life in which you took delight.

Through the waters of the flood you delivered Noah and his family,

and through the sea you led your people Israel from slavery into freedom.

At the river your Son was baptized by John

and anointed with the Holy Spirit.

By the baptism of Jesus’ death and resurrection

you set us free from the power of sin and death

and raise us up to live in you.

-Thanksgiving at the Font, ELW service of Holy Baptism

In all of our lives, there are defining moments. Those moments that forever change our lives, for good or for ill. They are often events of complete change: birth or death, loss or gain, beginning or ending. If you stopped reading right now, you could quickly make a list of unforgettable moments that have changed your life: the day you proposed, the day you lost your job, the day you got sober, the day you got your dog… 

Defining moments also happen to all of us together. There are shared events that shape our society. For example, this Saturday is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. We might disagree about exactly what 9/11 meant, but no one could argue that it hasn’t redefined America for the past two decades and still will for many years to come. We have other shared defining moments: the 2015 Supreme Court ruling for nationwide marriage equality, Hurricane Katrina, Sandy Hook and Columbine, the Challenger explosion, Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon, the JFK & MLK assassinations, Ruby Bridges’ first day of school at William Frantz Elementary, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the stock market crash of 1929—just to name a few. 

Several of those shared events happened before my birth, and maybe before yours, too. Even so, they have changed our lives. We remind each other about these moments, telling the stories and repeating the refrain: never forget.

As Christians, our faith is grounded both in personal defining moments in our own lives and in shared defining moments that happened long before any of us were born. That’s why, for instance, our baptismal liturgy calls us by name alongside a never-forget litany of defining moments from God’s story: creating the world with delight, saving the Israelites from slavery, and dying and rising in Jesus Christ. None of us has seen those moments, and yet they define our faith and our very lives. 

The more often we tell these stories of God’s defining moments, the more clearly we see how God’s actions have made a difference for us. Since God has always listened to the laments of God’s people, of course we can trust that God hears our cries. Since God has always set people free from sin and death, of course God will forgive us, too. Since God has always provided enough for God’s people, we can trust that God will give us what we need. We need these stories and the reminder to never forget what God has done for us.

How will you remember God’s defining moments? Who reminds you what God has done? To whom do you tell these unforgettable stories? Maybe it’s a Bible study, by yourself or with a group. Maybe it’s through worship each week. However you do it, never forget that you are defined, named, and claimed by the Triune God as a beloved and forgiven child of God.

Holy God, you have defined us as your people, holy and dearly loved. May we never forget your defining moments for us, filled with love and salvation. Amen.



Joy in the Desert

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,

the desert shall rejoice and blossom;

like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,

and rejoice with joy and singing.

… And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,

and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

they shall obtain joy and gladness,

and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

-Isaiah 35:1-2, 10

I have a couple of containers with herbs on my patio. The basil has been growing abundantly. I have been feasting on pesto sauce and caprese salad. The last couple of weeks of August were pretty rough on my basil, though. Between the heat of the summer and the chaos of back-to-school, I wasn’t watering enough. One evening last week I glanced out the kitchen window at my basil. It was so sad. It had wilted. The leaves were curled up. It was like the whole plant had slumped down under the weight of, well, everything.

Heat and dehydration can suck the joy right out of plants and people alike. And that’s not all that can diminish joy. There are big and little things that try to take our joy all the time. Many of these things are far beyond our control. When Isaiah first proclaimed the words above, the Israelites were enduring many years of captivity away from their homes because of foreign invasion. They described their exile like being lost in the wilderness, dry and barren. Hope and joy were the last things on their minds. What hope can be found in the desert?

Back to my basil. It looked pretty terrible. When had I last watered it? Had it rained any time lately? I couldn’t remember. I went out and gave it water, hoping it wasn’t too late. The next morning, my basil was alive! It was refreshed and restored! All it needed was somebody paying attention to its needs, along with plenty of water.

Who is paying attention to your needs? I certainly hope you are, but you can’t do it on your own. My basil was left to my memory and the chance of rain. It can’t water itself. Basil needs a gardener, and you need God.

You need God because what God has done, is doing, and will do is this: bring hope like water into a desert, turning the wilderness into blossoms of joy. That joy might come in words: “I forgive you” or “I’m sorry.” That joy might come in good news: the surgery was successful or the job was offered. That joy might come in the simple act of someone sending you a funny meme when you’ve had a bad day. All these things are God’s gifts for joy.

Most importantly, you receive the joy God gives in Jesus Christ. This is the joy that revives you when you’re as good as dead, restoring you to life. It’s the joy that comes with knowing that your sins don’t define you. Only God can do that, and God defines you as worthy of joy and hope.

God, bring the blossoms of joy to the dry and dusty parts of my life. Refresh me when I am weary and worn, and restore to me the joy of your salvation. Amen.