Reflections on Faith and Community

Dear friends,

In this blog, you will find weekly reflections on life and faith. My hope is that, in some way, they will prove helpful to you in your daily living. May God bless you on the spiritual journey.

Andrew S. Odom

11/13/2018 4:20 PM

Our Place

11/13/2018 4:20 PM
11/13/2018 4:20 PM

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good. (Psalm 100:4-5)

For a stretch of Thanksgivings when I was younger, a friend of mine would join my family for dinner on Thanksgiving Day. He was the youth director of the church I grew up in, and he was not always able to go home to his family. So, he came to my house. I remember going around the table saying what we were each thankful for. When we got around to him my friend said, “I am thankful to have a place to go today, to spend this day among friends and family.” It clearly meant a great deal to him.

At the very base of our faith is the assurance that we have a place to go. It is a certainty that reverberates throughout the whole of scripture. In the garden, Adam and Eve had a place. When Abraham set out, he had a place. When the Israelites were in the wilderness, they had a place. When the prodigal was lost, he still had a place. When you feel alone, you have a place. This place is not oriented around a location, but a person. Our place is with God. Whenever we give thanks, we are noting that God has given us a place by wrapping us up in the love of Jesus Christ.

Not everyone has a place to go on Thanksgiving, but that does not mean they are without a place at all. The good news is we have each been invited into the family of God. We each have a place. May you reflect that great truth this week in how you live and how you love. Be on the lookout for those who feel as if they have nowhere to go. Remind them that they have a place too.

10/29/2018 9:49 PM

Restore Us

10/29/2018 9:49 PM
10/29/2018 9:49 PM

Restore us, O God. Let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:3)

This seems like the right line, the right prayer, the right posture. I can’t begin to imagine how the families of those shot on Saturday at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh are handling this: deep grief, deep loss, renewed sorrow from the past. One of the victims was a holocaust survivor. Did you know that? To say one’s heart aches barely even scratches the surface. Restore us, O God. Let your face shine, that we may be saved.

I grew up in a neighborhood with a large Jewish community. We were all friends. People jokingly referred to my school, Hillcrest High School, as Hebrew High. It all seemed innocent at the time, just a playful phrase. I don’t think so now. When we were kids, we would banter back and forth with Jewish and Gentile jokes. We thought it was all in good fun. I don’t think that way now. No, I think of my friends in the wake of this weekend, and I wonder how they are doing. I wonder what kinds of seeds were being planted back then. What kind of world were we helping foster? Restore us, O God. Let your face shine, that we may be saved.

It has become clear to me now that the years of my ministry will be littered with these kinds of horrors, and I readily admit that I don’t feel equipped to face it. Does anyone? And then I watched the news as Rabbi Jeffrey Myers spoke about how much love they have already received from people of all religions: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and others. “Love is how we beat hate,” I heard him say. How was he able to say something like that so quickly? I also read how one of the nurses taking care of the shooter in the hospital was herself Jewish. How could she do that? How is that possible? Pictures like these stick out in my mind as examples of the immediacy of the presence of God in the midst of pain and anguish and evil. When we say, “Restore us, O God. Let your face shine, that we may be saved,” God shows us people like that and says, “I am.”

10/23/2018 8:16 AM

What Begins in the Heart

10/23/2018 8:16 AM
10/23/2018 8:16 AM

Boaz answered Ruth, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. May the Lord reward you for your deeds.” (Ruth 4:11-12)

Boaz was a landowner. Ruth was a foreigner. Their story is an unlikely one. It begins in Bethlehem during a famine that forces Elimelech and Naomi to take their two sons and seek a better life in the country of Moab. Tragedy strikes when Elimelech dies. The two sons marry, but they also die. Naomi is left with her two daughters in law, Ruth and Orpah. With no ability to provide, Naomi decides to return Bethlehem and tells them to go back to their original families. After initial resistance, Orpah acquiesces. Ruth, however, does the unexpected and makes the decision to stay with Naomi.

Ruth’s choice was no small thing. She left absolutely everything she knew: her family, her people, her religion, and any possibility for a life. This is where Boaz comes in. When they arrive in Bethlehem, Ruth gets in good with one of Boaz’s servants who allows her to pick up the leftovers in the field after they harvested. Boaz learns of Ruth and is so inspired that he makes sure she and Naomi have what they need. Whenever someone learns of her story, they are moved to do whatever they can to help. This is what giving does. It begins in the heart.

The surprise ending of the story comes when Boaz marries Ruth. They have a baby boy named Obed, who becomes the father of Jesse, the father of King David. What began with a sacrificial act of generosity from an outsider, a refugee from a foreign land, eventually set the hearts of an entire community on fire, and they found themselves giving. Had that not happened, the family line that produced King David and eventually gave us Jesus may never have been. What begins in the heart changes the very make up of who we are. It changes everything.

10/15/2018 8:57 PM

In It Together

10/15/2018 8:57 PM
10/15/2018 8:57 PM
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Sunday kicked off our annual Stewardship Campaign, and I preached on giving, specifically asking the question, “Why do you give?” It’s a great question. Why do we give? I sometimes ask that question of myself as if I’m asking it for the very first time. It’s healthy to talk about questions like that. But we all know what I’m basically doing. I’m asking you to give to the church. You know it. I know it. We all know it. What’s particularly unique for pastors, though, is that I am not just asking you to give, I’m asking myself as well. What an odd place to be.
Perhaps one of the reasons pastors struggle to talk about money, and they do, is precisely because we are both an asker and a giver. We don’t want to push too hard if we know we can’t give much more ourselves, or we don’t want to offend if we are able to give a good deal more but know that some are not in that same place. Being the asker and the giver puts one in a funny place where we have an understanding of both sides, making it tedious at best.

Do you want to know what changes it for me, though? Simply this: we are in it together. That’s it. We are in it together. That one truth reminds me that this is not some church giving competition where the highest bidder gets the prize. It’s not a Ted Talk where I’m simply trying to get my angle out to the masses. This is us: you, and me, and Jesus. We are in it together, and because we are in it together, I can relax and talk to you about money and giving. I can do so believing that, like the vine is to the branches, Jesus is present in the relationship, that our giving together not only glorifies God by allowing the church to see another wonderful hope-filled year of ministry. We’re in it together. How great is that?

10/08/2018 10:36 PM

We Do See Jesus

10/08/2018 10:36 PM
10/08/2018 10:36 PM
“As it is, we do not yet see everything, but we do see Jesus.“ (Hebrews 2:9)
On Sunday we read selected verses from the beginning of the letter to the Hebrews, which is actually a sermon originally preached to a group of second generation Christians during the infancy of the church. It starts off with audaciously grand descriptions of a Christ who seems beyond our reach. “In these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds and is the reflection of God’s glory, the exact imprint of God’s very being.” In just a few phrases, the preacher captures our feeling of a far off, inaccessible, out of reach kind of God. Do you feel like that today?
We can find ourselves in that place in life, looking out at a world we don’t understand anymore and wondering if there is a God at all. And if there is a God, we think, where is he? We can find ourselves in the place that the preacher of Hebrews seems to paint for us, a far off God who speaks to us through a Son who seems no different. But then, just when we are about to put the book down, utterly convinced that God is completely beyond reaching, in walks a line in chapter 2 that changes all of it. “As it is, we do not yet see everything, but we do see Jesus.” With just a few powerful words, the whole thing is turned on its head.
We live in a world that often seems too far gone, a world so divided and toxic that any shred of decency withers away the second a word is spoken by anyone, and we struggle to see God in it. God seems so far away that we find ourselves wondering if there is any hope to be found at all. At first, the Hebrews preacher seems to agree with us. But then, then the reminder: we do see Jesus. The one who seemed far off and otherworldly became flesh and blood. This is a God who is not unreachable but is up close and personal. This is a God we can see and feel and hear and touch. This is a God who is as close as the person standing right next to us, a God who pulls us close like family and makes us whole. Four simple words remind us of that. We do see Jesus. May these words sink into your heart today and give you hope.

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