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Keeping the Faith

Keeping the Faith

Spiritual blindness

This devotion is based on Jesus’ miraculous healing of a blind man in John 9.

During the days the cell phone was becoming popular, networks were jockeying back and forth over which could provide better coverage. That prompted a now famous advertising campaign, "Can you hear me now?"

We rely on our senses to experience God's created world. Without them, our ability to smell the roses, hear the birds sing, see the sun set would all be lost. Today’s lessons relates the experience of a man who had lost one of his senses; he was born blind. Rather than act with mercy and compassion, Jesus’ disciples found fault. "Who sinned? The blind man or his parents?"

It's natural for those who have to be critical of those who have not. The disciples had their eyesight; they assumed that the reason the blind man couldn't see was someone's fault. Jesus, though, points the disciples to a different truth: "This happened so that the work of God could be displayed in his life." And then Jesus miraculously gave him his eyesight back. Jesus might well have said, “Can you see me now?”

Many people have eyes that work just fine, but are steeped in a spiritual fog that blinds them to Jesus' redeeming work. They're dismissive of God. They're skeptical of his involvement in our lives, and they resent the notion that he's guiding the direction of the world. The Pharisees were examples. Against all logic and evidence to the contrary, they refused to see that Jesus performed a miracle. They were lost. Spiritually, they were blind.

Spiritual blindness continues to be a nagging problem in our country and the world. Could it be that our present crisis is less existential and more spiritual? Many struggle to make sense of this virus. No wonder! Nothing in this world will make sense as long as you’re blind to the One who made it.

Our best scientists have no answers. Epidemiologists explain that it’s outside our control. Media pundits banter over who should be blamed or shamed. Maybe Jesus is still right, "this happened so that the work of God could be displayed."

What work is that? Well, curing blindness was no problem for the Almighty. Neither is mortality. Jesus died for sin on Good Friday, and rose to life on Easter. Songwriter Keith and Kristyn Getty put it well, “No guilt in life, no fear in death; This is the pow'r of Christ in me. From life's first cry to final breath Jesus commands my destiny.”

That blind man was doubly blind until he met Jesus. When Jesus followed up with him and asked, "Do you believe in the Son of Man? He's the one speaking with you." Jesus might as well have said, "Can you see me now?" The man said, "Lord, I believe."

Pastor Adam Mueller serves as Senior Pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Marana. He serves nationally as a consultant for at-risk congregations and leadership development. Mueller lives in Marana with his family of five.

I see your amazing grace, too, Lord. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.

— Pastor Adam Mueller, Redeemer Lutheran Church

Adam Mueller serves as senior pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Marana. He serves nationally as a consultant for at-risk congregations and leadership development. Mueller lives in Marana with his family of five.

Do Not Be Afraid

I was a junior in high school when Pope St. John Paul II was elected. When he emerged on that massive balcony to bless the world, the first words he spoke were “do not be afraid.” At the time I knew little of the significance of those words and found them odd for the occasion. With the passing of years I have grown to appreciate them all the more.

In Scripture, fear takes us where we don’t want to go, while courage casts out all fear and allows us to live as children of God. Consider a few of what I believe are many examples from Scripture. After Adam has eaten of the apple he hides from God in fear, the God who breathed his own spirit into him! The opening of the New Testament mirrors this. Wise men from the East come to King Herod to learn where the newborn king can be found. For fear of losing his throne, Herod orders the death of all the newborn children. If we consider the apostles, the night before Jesus’ death, Peter is warming his hands at a fire when a servant recognizes him. From fear, Peter denies Jesus three times. But note the difference with Joseph and Mary. When visited by angels at the time of Mary’s miraculous pregnancy, each time the angels begins the message with “do not be afraid.”

If we leave Scripture and move to the present, I would share with you an example from my experience. On the occasions women have come to me for post-abortion healing, all I’ve ever had to say was “tell me what happened?” The first words out of their mouths were inevitably “I was afraid …” (my family would reject me, I couldn’t feed the child, I couldn’t finish school, my husband would be furious, etc.). Yes, fear takes us to a place of regret and regret. Courage casts out all fear and allows us to live as the children of God.

Certainly, biblical courage is not seen in bold recklessness, ignoring consequences, or making decisions based upon emotions. No, the holy examples from Scripture are men and women of prudence, compassion, and thoughtful consideration. But above all else they are women and men of trust, trust born of a relationship with the only one who ultimately is fully and completely worthy of our full and complete trust.

Most Rev. Edward J. Weisenburger

We may have forgotten certain aspects of world history at the time of his election, but Pope St. John Paul II was elected to leadership at a time marked by threats of nuclear war, political instability, world hunger, examples of ethnic genocide, and his personal experience with dehumanizing communism. But at the heart of his life was a deep and abiding relationship with the God who made it possible for him to live a life of thoughtful and even holy courage. Let us hear his words again, words that echo the Scriptures, be not afraid.

— Most Rev. Edward J. Weisenburger is the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

Passover and Easter : The Ways That Never Parted

During the coming week, Christians and Jews will celebrate seasons of Deliverance, Easter and Passover. Seasons so symbolically interconnected, that one might well refer to them as ways that never parted. For Christians Holy Week beginning on Sunday April 5 will culminate a week later with the resurrection of Christ Jesus on Easter. For Jews, the eight day celebration of Passover will commence with the First Seder on Wednesday evening April 8.

One example of many commonalities is the passage in the Hebrew Bible, in Exodus 13:7: "No leavened bread shall be found in all your territory. And you shall explain to your son on that day, it is because of what the Eternal did for me when I went free from Egypt." Leaven represents ego, false pride and conceit inappropriate at any time, but certainly on Passover the Festival of Deliverance when Matzoh, unleavened bread is to be eaten. So too in I Corinthians 5: 8 we are told: " Let us therefore celebrate the festival not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."

For anyone and everyone, regardless of faith , the anticipation of these days of hope and blessing have been tempered by the ever present fear of Covid 19. The Angel of Death has not passed over, but hovers ominously above us. We have no idea when redemption will come. All of us remain in bondage. Consequently formal services of worship in churches and synagogues , the prospect of conducting Seders in one's home, the proverbial Easter Sunday meal have all been compromised, cancelled or activated via Zoom.

In whatever manner these coming days will be observed, let us remember that the Hebrew word for Egypt also means narrow places. When at last as it will, our bondage ends, and we have been freed from the injunctions both governmental and medical that limit our movements and keep us confined, may what we have endured together enable us all to abide by the message of the Jewish prayer book.

"O source of life, may all created in your image embrace one another in friendship and in joy. Then shall we be one family. Then shall your sovereignty be established on earth and the word of Your prophet fulfilled: The Eternal God will reign forever and ever."

Rabbi Sanford Seltzer

Rabbi Sanford Seltzer

A native of Cincinnati, and a resident of Oro Valley for nearly a decade, Rabbi Seltzer was ordained by Hebrew Union College (Reform) in 1959.  He held a variety of positions on the regional and national staff of the Union For Reform Judaism, the congregational body of Reform Judaism.  He has written or edited any number publications including When There Is No Other Alternative:  A Spiritual Guide For Jewish Couples Contemplating Divorce.  In addition to Saddlebrook, Rabbi Seltzer has also served as adjunct rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Tucson.

Easter: Hope for uncertain times

Because of uncertainty around COVID-19, we’re anxious. We don’t expect a vaccine soon and can only guess when the disease will abate. We’re left with questions: When will this end? How long can we endure financially? If we get sick, will we survive?

On the first Easter, Jesus’ followers were anxious, too. Jesus had just been executed. His followers hoped he would lead them to a better life. But Friday crushed that dream. They must have wondered if they were next.

While Jesus’ followers were recovering from the shock of his death, something unexpected happened to Mary Magdalene. She discovered Jesus’ body was missing. Mary was devastated. Then Jesus called Mary’s name. He was standing next to her! Jesus had come back to life with a message of hope.

Easter offers us hope, too. If Jesus lives, we don’t have to worry about money. Jesus said, “Do not worry. . . Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:25-33). God knows what’s in our pantry, wallet, and bank account. This pandemic didn’t take him by surprise. God saw the long lines, toilet paper shortage, layoffs, and market plunge before they happened. He never worried because he always provides for those he loves.

Jesus’ resurrection also means we don’t have to worry about dying. COVID-19 is deadly, but we have nothing to worry about. During his time on earth, Jesus healed many. Later, Jesus’ followers prayed for the sick in his name and Jesus healed them, too. One follower declared, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed” (Acts 4:10). If Jesus lives, he still heals. A close friend contracted COVID-19 in March—the second case in Pima County. After they intubated him, the medical staff told his wife he probably wouldn’t make it. But he turned the corner and returned from the brink of death. He’s now recovering at home. My friend claims he’s alive because Jesus healed him in answer to prayer.

But even if my friend had died, he had nothing to worry about. My friend told me he was never afraid because the Bible says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies” (Romans 8:11). God will raise from the dead those who follow Jesus. Even if COVID-19 kills us, Jesus will eventually resurrect us. If Jesus chooses, he can heal us. If he doesn’t, we’ll live again anyway.

Pastor David Gainey, DMin, has served as the founding and lead pastor of the Oasis at Rita Ranch since 1997. He and his wife Hope have five children. The mission of Oasis is to care for broken people so they learn to care for others through Jesus Christ.

Like us, Jesus’ first followers were anxious. They soon discovered hope lives because Jesus lives. They also learned Jesus provides, heals, and resurrects. If we believe, we’ll experience the same hope. Jesus will provide for us and protect us—or bring us back to life. This is no time to worry, because Easter changes everything.

— David Gainey has served as the founding and lead pastor of the Oasis at Rita Ranch since 1997. He and his wife Hope have five children.

What is spiritual practice?

A shorthand answer could be “Whatever has prepared you for meeting our current situation with a measure of equanimity and wisdom.” The practice might involve prayer, meditation, music, nature, or anything else that helps us regularly look deeply within and with compassion toward others.

One practice of some of our congregation's members is Mussar, a traditional Jewish form of character and spirit refinement. Our Mussar groups work with a trait at a time for two weeks, then move on to another trait. We consciously cultivate the current trait, putting it to work in our lives or noticing when we fail to do so.

In the past two months we have worked in order with calm, connection and courage. Each of these traits has strengthened us as the virus fears and responses have grown increasingly intense.

Our current middah is creativity, which comes at just the right time. As a friend said this morning: “So here we are. The question is: what do we do now?” I suggest to us all that we become creative, in whatever way works and enlivens us.

For example, I’ve been doing more adventuresome cooking. This week I took on the vegetarian protein source tempeh. I’ve avoided it for years—what does one do with it?!—and I’ve now created a lunch dish that is surprisingly delicious. I’m on a roll: whole wheat bread dough with a touch of honey is rising in the kitchen as I write.

How might you be Creative with your time and energy? It’s a pro-active approach to unexpected, unscheduled time at home. Putting our approach in the context of Creativity, we might think more expansively, we might be daring, we might finally read War and Peace! Or sit outside doing nothing. Now that’s a spiritual practice to sooth the soul!

— Rabbi Helen Cohn is the spiritual leader of Congregation M'kor Hayim ("Source of Life") in Tucson, AZ.

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