"Pastor Charlie Woodward", "Charlie Woodward"Pastor Charlie Woodward writes a daily devotion for the pandemic days until things are back to “normal,” whenever that may be. As the title states, we are in the wilderness alone, but we are still together. We may feel isolated and on our own. But we are in this together. I want to make sure we have an opportunity to stay connected. Each devotion will include a Bible verse, a brief reflection and prayer.  

Find a link to each day’s devotion below, or sign up here to receive the devotions to your inbox every morning. Choose the Devotions distribution list.

This is an opportunity for us to be present with each other in the days to come. You can be present by sharing your comments, insights, prayers and pictures in response to what Pastor Charlie shares in the coming days. For we are in this together. And where two or three are gathered in God’s name, God is present, too.

Singing Praises

Psalm 92 

Thanksgiving for Vindication

A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath Day.

 

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,

    to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

to declare your steadfast love in the morning,

    and your faithfulness by night,

to the music of the lute and the harp,

    to the melody of the lyre.

4 For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;

    at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

 

How great are your works, O Lord!

    Your thoughts are very deep!

The dullard cannot know,

    the stupid cannot understand this:

though the wicked sprout like grass

    and all evildoers flourish,

they are doomed to destruction forever,

    but you, O Lord, are on high forever.

For your enemies, O Lord,

    for your enemies shall perish;

    all evildoers shall be scattered.

 

10 But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;

    you have poured over me fresh oil.

11 My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;

    my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.

 

12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree,

    and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

13 They are planted in the house of the Lord;

    they flourish in the courts of our God.

14 In old age they still produce fruit;

    they are always green and full of sap,

15 showing that the Lord is upright;

    he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
 
 

One of the things I have missed over the past four months is joining together in worship and singing praises to God as a congregation. The first three verses of today’s psalm focus on that. One of the joys of my role as pastor is to stand at the altar and hear the congregation singing praises to God.

Palm/Passion Sunday comes to mind, as we gather outside the sanctuary with palm branches in hand, remembering Jesus’ triumphant entry into the holy city of Jerusalem. After reading the Gospel account of Palm Sunday, the procession begins, and we enter the sanctuary to “All Glory Laud and Honor.” Standing at the altar is a great view for watching people half-processing and half-claiming their pew before someone else!

Christmas Eve also comes to mind. Again, standing at the altar as the candles are lit, as we sing “Silent Night,” and the light fills the room. And then for the prayer, as the candles are held on high, the light fills the room as we celebrate the Light of the World coming to us.

I think of Easter Sunday, too. As the church is filled with flowers and followers, brass and organ fill the sanctuary, and praise band’s joyous sounds fill the Celebration Center. The foundation of who we are, and what we believe as Christians, is proclaimed once again (as we proclaim EVERY SUNDAY) that the tomb is empty, and death is defeated. Christ is Risen indeed!

I miss the reflective music of Holden Evening Prayer that we share at mid-week services during Lent. I miss the musical offerings of the handbells, the adult and children’s choirs, the soloists and instrumentalists.

I imagine you do, too. It does feel like we are in exile, doesn’t it?

Even in this time of exile, I believe God is worthy of praise. God is with us in our time apart and has blessed us in ways that we never imagined. Who would have ever thought six months ago that our prayers would include, “Thank you, God, for Zoom!” or, “Thank you, God, for hand sanitizer.” or, “Thank you, God, that I was able to find toilet paper at the store!”

What do you thank God for today? Sing praises!

So, I am thankful for the many gifted people who have taken time to offer special music offerings over the past few months, pulling together many artists to compile incredible videos in this crazy time we find ourselves. I have included one that was shared back on Pentecost by the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians. The words are included so you can sing along!
 

 

I am also thankful for the opportunity to sing praises as we gather online every week. A while back, a grandmother sent me a video of her grandkids singing along to our online service as they gathered with us from the other side of the country.

I imagine God listening to our songs of praise and blending them together to a beautiful harmony that is sweet to the ear.

May we continue to sing praises to God and look forward to the day we will sing God’s praises in our churches once again.
 

Let us Pray: 

It is good to give thanks to You, O Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. How great are your works, O Lord! In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


Extravagant Sower

Matthew 13:1-9 

The Parable of the Sower

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”
 

Do you remember getting the plant seed packets in the mail? My dad would follow the directions carefully to make sure the seeds were planted properly – how deep, how far apart, how precise all the items must be!

For farmers today, technology provides GPS and intricate programs that can plant seeds precisely at the right depth and separation from others. They have even developed a planter that uses a puff of air to plant seeds, so they don’t roll around but are pushed into the soil at the right place and at the right depth based on soil makeup and many other factors.

When it comes to planting, you don’t want to be wasteful!

But did you notice how the planter plants seeds in the parable for today? The parable itself describes a sower who is ridiculously generous with the amount of seed he scatters, throwing it not only on the good soil but also on soil that even non-farmers like most of us can recognize as poor choices: thorny soil, dry soil, and even a beaten path. I mean, what are the chances the seed is going to take root in any of that? Which makes this sower not simply generous but wasteful. Seed was not cheap in the ancient world, and everyone who listened to Jesus’ parable would have recognized the sheer wastefulness, recklessness, even stupidity, of such an approach to farming.

The sower is extravagant. There seems to be no place where the seed isn’t cast. There seems to be no planning in where the seeds will go, where they will land, what the soil content might be – is there proper sunlight, moisture, and nutrients to provide for proper growth?

I believe there is a message here that is good news! The good news is there is more than enough – enough grace, enough forgiveness, enough love, enough hope.

God’s love is an abundant commodity.

A wonderful example of this extravagant love and forgiveness is shared in another parable of Jesus – the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The definition of the word “prodigal” is one who spends money or resources freely and recklessly, wastefully extravagant.

The story is of a son who wastes away his inheritance and comes back home, hoping for some mercy, and possibly a place as a servant in his father’s home. But the father refuses that – instead, he welcomes his son home – the lost has been found, the dead are alive. Let’s celebrate.

The prodigal one – the one who is wastefully extravagant – is the father. You might say forgiving your neighbor 70 times seven times is wastefully extravagant. You might say dying on a cross for the sins of the world is wastefully extravagant. You might say…          

You might say that is the way God operates.

We as the church are called to proclaim the Word of God – God’s Kingdom. But how often do we worry that there isn’t enough? We are afraid that there isn’t enough – not enough money, not enough staff, not enough resources, not enough time, not enough room, not enough…

And how often do we worry about who should get what, and how it will be received? We are skeptical of the person holding a cardboard sign asking for money. We question the motives of those looking for help. We are afraid that our limited resources we have to share will be squandered away.

God does not hold back. God is not worried about whether there will be enough seed or grace or love. God may want our hearts to be good soil, but nevertheless, God hurls a ridiculous amount of seed on even dry, thorny, or beaten soil. Goodness, but you get the feeling this God would probably scatter seed-love-mercy-grace on a parking lot! Why? Because there is enough! And, ultimately, because God believes we are enough. Enough to save ourselves? No. Enough to deserve love, dignity and respect? Absolutely.

The fundamental and unifying element in all of God’s hopes for us is that they all spring from God’s unconditional, even reckless, love for and acceptance of us right here, right now, just as we are. There is enough. You are enough. God will never give up on us. God’s love is unending. Period.

Let us Pray: 

Dear God, we give thanks for your abundant grace, forgiveness and love. May our hearts be good soil, and may your love take root in our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen