Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Money Stories

I'm not posting here as often as I'd like. After months at home, I've a crazy-busy semester.  But here is my devotion for our church, to complement this past Sunday's sermon. 

Money Stories

Exodus 16:1-18, Luke 22:1-23

Paul Stroble 

Many of us have endured times when money was very tight. Having faith in God through financially difficult times is really hard. Worry clouds your thinking.  

Our first scripture lesson is the famous story of manna. Exodus 12:37 states that about 600,000 men on foot left Egypt with Moses, which doesn’t include women and children and, presumably, the infirm who had to ride. That’s a lot of people requiring food and water. Think of news reports about of people in refugee camps.   

The Israelites were fearful and demanding concerning their needs. The people had witnessed the power of God in the several plagues that struck Egypt, and especially in the splitting of the Red Sea which let them escape. But once in the Wilderness, they grumbled and panicked. 

The Bible says that for their entire period of sojourn in the Wilderness, God provided the Israelites a miraculous substance, manna, to feed them He also provided quail, and sources of fresh water. 

So why didn’t they trust God when times were hard? Because they were human!  

Psalm 42 captures well that human anxiety concerning God’s care. The psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness, but nevertheless feels abandoned. The psalmist knows that this is a painful but temporary emotion during a difficult time. Psalm 73 also captures the feeling. The psalmist has almost lost faith in God and behaved like “a brute beast” toward God. But God never once gives up on the psalmist and will always be a faithful source of faithfulness and help (Psalm 73:21-26). 

Our second scripture is Luke’s story of the Last Supper. We’ll focus on Judas. 

The four Gospels give us a composite picture of Judas. All the Gospels tell of Judas’ meeting with the leaders about his idea to betray Jesus. Matthew alone mentions the 30 pieces of silver, as well as his later regret and suicide. Luke and John attributes Judas’ actions to Satan. John goes farther and accuses Judas of greed and theft. Judas’ attitude toward money was an empty place in his heart that left room for temptation. 

For someone who has access to funds, theft may be a great temptation and a slippery slope. Their “money stories” turn tragic. Years ago, I knew someone (no longer living) caught siphoning from an account. The person was found guilty and punished. I wrote the person a positive letter, to keep hope for the future. As I suspected, the person did feel great regret and was glad that I wrote. 

Judas may have had another motive. Was he impatient with Jesus, who was not initiating an earthly kingdom? Perhaps Jesus would declare himself King if he was confronted by authorities in an otherwise vulnerable situation. If so, Judas was guilty of something we all do from time to time: second-guessing God’s guidance. I’ve certainly felt that way during times of struggle! 

In a stewardship sermon that I heard several years ago, the minister said that all of us can set stewardship goals even when we’re broke. Then, when income increases, we’ll be ready to give a little more, and later on, still more. The minister acknowledged our emotional insecurities about money. 

Sometimes a person needs to take baby steps in trusting God concerning money! But once we gain confidence, we become more excited about contributing. We want to address critical needs—earlier I mentioned refugees, and there are many more—and the needs of our local church and community. Our money stories gain new dimensions!  

Prayer: Dear Lord, during this season, let us give to you our worries and insecurities and grow in ways of generosity and joy. Amen. 



Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Jesus Forgives Peter

Jesus Forgives Peter 

John 21:1-19 

Both Jewish and Christian writers note that the trajectory of the Bible is toward greater inclusion and community, rather than less. Here are a few examples:  

The Korahites were opponents of Moses and thus opponents of God who were severely punished (Numbers 16). But later, Korahites were authors of several psalms (42, 44-49, 84, 85, 87, 88)!  

Men were heads of households, and women could inherit under certain circumstances (Numbers 27:1-11). In the story of Job, his daughters have even greater inheritance (Job 42:10). 

At different historical times, the Egyptians and Assyrians were enemies of the Israelites. But Isaiah depicts a time of peaceful relations with those enemies—and, indeed, those enemies are blessed by God (Isaiah 19: 23-25)! 

The Samaritans and the people of Judah had tense relations (for instance, Ezra 4:1-4). But, of course, a particular Samaritan became Jesus’ example of exemplary love (Lk. 10:25–37). 

Belief in Jesus was originally a phenomenon among Jews. But those who had faith in Jesus were surprised to see non-Jews touched by God’s spirit and sharing the faith (Acts 15). 

We can learn a lot about God’s ways from such examples, especially when we’re inclined to limit our love and welcome for one another. 

Still another example pertains to our scripture. Remember that Jesus warned, “whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven” (Matt. 10:33). By this standard, Peter—who of course denied Jesus three times—would surely be condemned. 

But what does Jesus do? After the Resurrection, Jesus returns right away to Peter and the other disciples (who have denied Jesus by their absence in his time of need, if not by their words)! No matter what your sin and failure, there is always abundant grace and love for you!  

In our scripture from John, Jesus meets a few of the disciples who have returned to their occupation of fishing. While eating together on the shore, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”

At first thought, you might think Jesus is “laying a guilt trip” on Peter by subtly reminding him of his betrayal. 

Rather, Jesus is giving Peter a new chance. He gives us second chances, and third and fourth chances, fiftieth, hundredth, and on and on. As Pastor Linda said in her sermon, Jesus offers us unending love and forgiveness; he loves us when we don’t love ourselves. 

In our story Jesus goes through this little ritual so that Peter can let go of his guilt. Peter doesn’t have to be held back by it. Jesus knows Peter’s potential. He knows that Peter has already had three years’ experience with following Jesus. He doesn’t want Peter to throw that all away. Jesus empowers Peter for even bigger and better things. 

Another lovely thing about this story is the presence of other disciples. Faith communities are full of people coming from different places and perspectives! Although Jesus speaks separately with Peter, nearby are Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John, and two others (John 21: 3). We know that Jesus responded personally to Thomas, who had questions about the Resurrection (John 20:24-29). This is the first we see of Nathaniel since he, too, had questions about Jesus, to which Jesus responded personally (John 1:43-51). 

God’s will for us is to be an inclusive, loving community, where we identify and nurture the potential in one another!  

Prayer:  Dear Lord, help us grow in Christ’s patient, guiding love in our faith communities. Amen.  

(A devotion written for our church, for this past Sunday.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Beethoven 250: Chamber Works

Miniature portrait on ivory, 1803
As I explained in the January 24, 2020 post, I purchased the Naxos collection of Beethoven's complete works, which I plan to listen to this year, leading up to Beethoven's 250th birthday on December 16.

As August ended, I made more progress, but the beginning of the semester was a busy time, so I’m just now posting about these pieces. After I listened to Beethoven’s string quartets, I listened to the remainder of his chamber works, discs 54-65. ("WoO" means "Werke ohne Opuszahl"---"Works without opus number"---and "Hess" refers to Willy Hess, a Swiss musicologist who compiled a catalogue of Beethoven's works in the 1950s.)

Disc 54 - String Quartet, Hess 32, WoO 210  

Disc 55 - String Quintets, Opp. 29 and 104  

Disc 56 - Violin Sonatas Nos. 1-4 

Disc 57 - Violin Sonatas Nos. 5, "Spring", 6 and 7, "Eroica" 

Disc 58 - Violin Sonatas Nos. 8, "Champagnersonate", 9, "Kreutzer" and 10   

Disc 59 - Dances and Marches  

Disc 60 - 3 Duets, WoO 27 / Duo for Viola and Cello, WoO 32  

Disc 61 - Septet, Op. 20 / Wind Quintet, WoO 208, Hess 19  

Disc 62 - Sextet, Opp. 71, 81b / Octet, Op. 103, "Parthia"  

Disc 63 - Preludes and Fugues, Hess 29-31 / String Quintet, Hess 40 (fragment)  

Disc 64 - Flute Sonata, Anh. 4, Hess A 11 / Serenade, Op. 25  

Disc 65 - 6 Variations on Folk Songs, Op. 105 / 10 Variations on Folk Songs, Op. 107 

If I think of it, I'll return to this post later and fill in specific pieces. But I will say here that Disc 63 contains the Great Fugue, Opus 133 that was the original conclusion for String Quartet #13 

I wrote in an earlier post: when you think of Beethoven, your mind might not go first to chamber music. But that category kind of music fills the most CDs: 31, followed by 21 for keyboard (not including the concertos), and 12 for vocal. 

Here is a quotation from a site about the composer: “Until Beethoven, chamber music was written to be played for fun and in private, by an ensemble composed usually by amateurs. Beethoven is the composer responsible for bringing chamber music to the concert hall. Even though he wrote chamber music for amateurs, such as the Septet of 1800, Beethoven’s last string quartets are very complex works which amateurs would have struggled to play. They are also seen as pushing the boundaries of acceptable harmony of that time, and are regarded as some of his most profound works. Following Beethoven in the romantic period, many other composers wrote pieces for professional chamber groups.” (https://www.all-about-beethoven.com/chambermusic.html) 

Among these pieces, that Septet stood out to me as a favorite! 

Here also are a couple of articles about the Great Fugue, which I'll soon listen to again. 



Two Are Better Than One

Beth's devotion for our church for this past Sunday. 

“Two are better than one. . .” Ecclesiastes 4: 9a

by Beth Stroble 

Those are the most memorable words of this passage from Ecclesiastes, a book of the Bible that is at once poetic and proverbial as it contains many points of wisdom and advice about how to manage through life, complete with life’s array of blessings and adversities. This passage expresses the value of facing life’s joys and trials in tandem with others. Verse 12 concludes:

“Also, one can be overpowered, but two together can put up resistance. A three-ply cord doesn’t easily snap.”

As I read these words, my thoughts first turned to the times—present and past—when I have been fortunate to have friends, family, and colleagues by my side when I faced the challenges of life, events that created risk or actual loss and danger, conflicts, grief, and injury. But then I turn my thoughts from what I need and have needed to how I can be that person for others. How can I come alongside those who need an ally, a friend, an advocate or advisor? Who are those who are going it alone and are at risk of being overwhelmed?

Two are better than one. We know this from how naturally we think of people and things in pairs, such as: salt and pepper, peanut butter and jelly, ketchup and mustard, Laurel and Hardy, Sponge Bob and Patrick, Thelma and Louise. You get the idea. Biblically, the number 2 was symbolic of harmony and strength. One commentary I read pointed to these Biblical pairs: Moses and Aaron, Mary and Martha, Paul and Silas, Paul and Barnabas, Peter and John. Luke 10:1 describes the seventy being sent out two by two.

Many of us have found strength and comfort in the words from Matthew 18:20:

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”

That was true for the Biblical pairs, and it is true for us. It is up to us to form the bonds that create the twos or threes. As I listened to Dr. Donald M. Suggs, publisher of the St. Louis American, talk about how he overcame the challenges of his childhood to gain an education to become a dentist and ultimately an esteemed leader in this city, he used the phrase “but for.” But for parents who sacrificed greatly and worked hard, but for teachers who encouraged his curiosity to learn more, but for those who provided the financial support to make college possible, and so on, his life would have been far different.

We are challenged to be the “but for” for one another-to form the bonds of comfort and joy and appreciation where our Lord is with us.

May it be so. Amen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Created to Share God's Story

Created to Share God’s Story 

Matthew 5:13-16  

A devotion written for our church to complement Sunday's message.  

Our scripture is a famous portion of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16, CEB) 

How can we be “salt and light” to the world, as Jesus teaches?  

The simple answer is that we live in Jesus through prayer, worship, study, serving others---and thus, we grow! There’s no magic wand, but there certainly is the Holy Spirit ever present in our lives, which is better than a wand anyway. That is a great comfort!

“Salt” is a wonderful metaphor. Remember that in Jesus’ time, salt wasn’t something to avoid because it increases the risk of high blood pressure. It was (and is) a seasoning that makes food taste better. When there is no refrigeration, salt is essential for preserving food. Salt was even used as a kind of currency in some cultures, hence the word “salary.” 

Salt (sodium chloride) doesn’t spoil and lose its flavor. That only happens when it is contaminated with other minerals. People threw out contaminated salt into the road, where it was just another kind of rock. I could go on for another lesson about how Christians lose their witness—even becoming scarcely Christian—when they contaminate their faith with loveless politics, prejudices, and similar attitudes. 

Salt is a symbol of permanence, as in Leviticus 2:13, where salt is an additive to the sacrificial offering and in Numbers 18:19, where “covenant of salt” means “everlasting covenant.” Sharing a meal flavored with salt was a way to seal an agreement. 

To be “salt to the world” means to bring good “flavor” to the world, to bring a positive power into our social engagements, to be trustworthy. 

Being “light” may be an easier metaphor to understand right away. Light enlightens! It makes things clear. In the ancient Greek language, the words for “light” and “truth” are related to one another. “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house” (vs. 15). What a blessing to have light! 

There is a bit of humor in verse 15, too. In those days, light came from fire. You wouldn’t put a basket over light—duh!—because the basket will burn and maybe your house, too. Sometimes Jesus made amusing observations like this. (Another example is Matthew 7:9-10).  

We can’t forget the image of “city” in this passage. “A city on a hill cannot be hidden” can be an image of light and visibility. But Jesus also refers to a community of believers who bring flavor, preservation, and trustworthy witness to the world.  It’s worth reminding ourselves a million times what John Wesley said: There is no holiness but social holiness.  

What does “salt and light” mean in the context of God’s creativity? Listening to the sermons these past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed hearing folks’ stories about ways that they serve. We all have special gifts, talents, and passions by which we are God’s beauty—God’s salt and light”—in the world. We’re all different, and that’s wonderful! Norman Rockwell didn’t paint like Monet or Caravaggio. Led Zeppelin didn’t write symphonies like Beethoven and Haydn. We need lots of expressions of creativity in our lives. God loves for us to season and brighten the world in Christ’s name through our talents and creativity. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Beethoven 250: String Quartets

As I explained in the January 24, 2020 post, I purchased the Naxos collection of Beethoven's complete works, which I plan to listen to this year, leading up to Beethoven's 250th birthday on December 16. These past few weeks I've listened to Beethoven's famous string quartets!  He is known to have composed them in three periods: 1-6 when he was in his late 20s, 7-11 when he was in his late 30s, and 12-16 during his last three years. So they're easily grouped as early, middle, and late. 

Disc 47
Quartets 1, 2 "Komplimentierquartett", and 3

Quartets 4, 5, and 6

These six are all Opus 18

Quartets 7 and 8 "Rasumowsky"

Quartets 9 "Rasumowsky," and 10 "Harp" 

The Rasumowsky quartets are Opus 59, and "Harp" is Op. 95. 

Quartets 11 and 12 (Opus 95, 127)

Quartets 13 and 14 (Opus 130, 131)

Quartets 15 and 16 (Opus 132, 135) 

I also jumped ahead to Disc 63 which has the "Great Fugue" quartet (Opus 133) that was originally the conclusion of Quartet 13. 

I used to have an LP set of the string quartets. I had read somewhere that they are such a significant aspect of Beethoven's compositions, and that he brought a growing emotional depth to the form. I "cheated" and listened to the Opus 132, 133, and 135 the most, and it's been enjoyable to listen instead to all of the pieces! My favorite among them is 13. 

Here are some articles about the quartets: 

Cover page for Quartet #13
Cover page for Quartet #13

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

We Are God's Works of Art

Here is Beth's devotion for our church for this past Sunday. 

We Are God’s Works of Art

By Beth Stroble

“Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things.  God planned for these good things to be the way we live our lives.” Ephesians 2:10

This verse from Paul’s letter to the church of Ephesus follows his explanation of salvation as gift of God, not the result of human effort or an accomplishment of which we can be proud.  Rather, we should understand ourselves as God’s works of art, created with a purpose—to do good things and for these good things to form the fabric of our lives.

Admittedly it is challenging in these times to see humankind as beautiful, magnificent creations, of the order of the Grand Tetons, the Danube, or the Sahara Desert.  And it is harder still on many days, in the midst of so many threats to life and livelihoods, to describe humanity in our interactions with each other as expressions of God’s creative forces at work in our lives. 

But even as I write these words, I feel the call to live life in creatively Christian ways—to be an agent of the good things that God intended for us.  Thinking about ourselves as creative can be a stumbling block if we think that means that we must be artists to live creatively—sculptors, painters, musicians, poets, dancers. When I was an English teacher helping students become better writers or a teacher educator helping future teachers design more creative instructional plans for their students, I needed to reframe what creativity means.

Living creatively, for me, means trying to be as open-minded as possible in how I approach what is in front of me.  It’s why I have always craved new experiences, including living in new locations and working in many different organizations.  Those experiences have given me assorted ideas to tap—a range of ways of doing things.  Assembling those bits and pieces of what I have gained from others in new and different ways is how I like to think of living creatively.  And the best ideas come from a community—sharing perspectives and strategies for all life’s tasks and problems.  

And, truly, we see expressions of creativity everywhere as we have each adapted to new ways of day-to-day life since mid-March.  More gardens have been planted, more meals have been prepared at home, more rescue pets found their forever homes, different ways of doing work and school were put in place, and old habits of going to places of business almost daily gave way to curbside and front porch deliveries. 

As members of communities, we have used new ways to stay connected with each other, used electronic networks to learn about what is going on around us, ministered to neighbors, raised funds for causes we support, and gathered with each other remotely as family, friends, and congregants. In many ways, the difficulties of these days have necessitated new and different approaches because the tried and true were not practical. For my part, I hope that some of these novel ideas persist even when we can again be in each other’s presence.

I want to find ways to increase my concern for and connections with those I do not regularly see.  I want to grow my empathy for those whose lived experiences are different from my own.  I want to keep reading and learning about global challenges in ways that shape my thinking and actions.  I want to be a catalyst for conversations that create opportunities for change. It is my hope that I will continue to find joy and inspiration in our backyard wildlife, hikes in nature preserves, jigsaw puzzles, imaginative yard signs and Instagram posts, and online music and theatre. 

Most of all, I seek to live a creatively Christian life as described in the words of this hymn, “Colorful Creator” by Carlton Young: 

God of truth and beauty,

Poet of the word.

May we be creators, by the Spirit stirred.

Open to your presence in our joy and strife,

Vessels of the holy, coursing through our lives.