Home Altar: Week of May 23, 2021

by Mary Peterson

Sunday, May 23
EZEKIEL 37:1-14

Dry Bones

Several years ago, the children’s ministry team at our church was tasked with teaching this passage to our kids. How do you help kids understand dry bones, bleached by the sun? Ms. Louise had the answer: seashells. As she laid her collection of seashells out on the tables in that Sunday school classroom, you could just imagine those dry bones becoming living breathing starfish moving across the bottom of the ocean.

God is reminding Ezekiel that only God can bring about life—and God can even speak life into the most unexpected places. The Spirit of God hovered over the waters at creation, and before long, those waters were teaming with life. Starfish, whales, anemones, and microbes filled the oceans with life, because that is what the Spirit of God does—brings life in the most unimaginable way.

Spirit of God who hovers over us, bring life to the places in our lives that are feeling lifeless. Grant us your imagination as we seek to join in your work to help others experience your life-giving presence. AMEN.

Monday, May 24
PSALM 104:24-35

Signs of Life

I often joke that when I retire from ministry, I want to go work at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. Sea creatures fascinate me. They can range from beautiful and peaceful to alien and creepy. All you need is a snorkel mask to catch a glimpse of God’s creativity and workmanship under the sea. The deep, wide sea is brimming with life, as this psalmist reminds us. Often we can get so busy that we fail to see the signs of life around us—the microscopic creatures busy in the soil, the buds forming on trees, or the couple down the street expecting their first baby. What a wildly, wonderful world, indeed! The writer of this psalm acknowledges the ongoing work of the Spirit of God to breathe life into creation. From the first moments of creation through today, the breath of God gives and sustains life. How are you experiencing the sustenance of God in your life this month? Over the last year?

Spirit of God, we praise you for the gift of life. Give us your eyes to see the signs of life around us. AMEN.

Tuesday, May 25
JOHN 15:26-27

Going Before Us

Earlier in John 15, Jesus teaches his disciples what it means to remain connected to him in order to do what he expects them to do: Love one another as he loved them. Then he forewarns them that things are going to get rough. People will not like them; they will face persecution. I wonder what the facial expressions of the disciples looked like during this teaching. Confusion? Horror? Terror? Unsettled? Jesus knew how they were feeling. He likely felt all of those things as the conflict with authorities continued to escalate. And so Jesus reminds them that they will not be alone. God’s lifegiving Spirit will come to comfort, advocate, and go before them. The Spirit goes before to reveal Christ to the world. I think this is an important piece to remember when we are going out to share the love of God with those around us.

The Spirit has gone before us and is already moving in people. Jesus reminds his followers to share his great love in the same way that the Spirit does.

Spirit of God, remind us that you have gone before us. Give us courage to share the love of Christ with those we meet. AMEN.

Wednesday, May 26
JOHN 16:4b-15

Not Alone

Jesus continues to talk to his disciples about his upcoming departure. No doubt they are picturing a cruise or an extended holiday. Jesus wants to tell them more, but he sees that they are filled with grief. They have no idea what Jesus is getting ready to endure. How could they imagine? It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t reassure them with theology or more Scripture verses. Instead, he reminds them that the Spirit is coming. He reassures them that they will not have to figure this out on their own, because the very Spirit of God will be coming to remain in their midst. The Spirit will help sort out sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Spirit of God brings life and holds our hands as we work out how God is at work in this world.

Spirit of God, thank you for being present to us in times of grief and confusion. Guide us as we continue to study the word and sort out what it means to follow you. AMEN.

Thursday, May 27
ACTS 2:1-13

A Great Wind

What is the strongest wind you have ever experienced? A hurricane? A snowstorm blowing across the plains? Wind catches our attention, shaking our house, stealing our hat, rocking our boat. No wonder the Spirit chose to make an appearance through a mighty, violent wind. The very breath of God was coming to get everyone’s attention.

The breath of the Spirit enabled all of Jesus’s followers to speak in different tongues so that all who were present could hear the gospel in their language. The Spirit moved amid the people to help them understand God’s great love for them. Jesus had been expanding the disciples’ vision of the kingdom during his ministry. God was coming not just to redeem one group of people, but to redeem all people—every tribe, every tongue. There would be no barriers between people and God through the work of Jesus. The intersection of nature and culture in this story reminds me that God is at work in powerful ways.

Spirit of God, catch our attention today. Give us a glimpse into the beautiful diversity of your church today. AMEN.

Friday, May 28
Acts 2:14-21

Just to Clarify

Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 is a response to a pretty hysterical assumption: “Oh, they’re just drunk.” The gift of tongues sounded ridiculous and preposterous to those casual observers on the street. Isn’t that often the case with the work of God? It looks ludicrous to those on the outside. Take a moment to make a list of all the things God asked people to do throughout Scripture that people probably labeled as crazy. It’s a long list.

Peter points out to all those listening that at 9 am, this is the work of the Spirit and a fulfillment of the prophetic words of Joel. Those are beautiful images of inclusion and welcome into the fullness of the body of God—young and old, daughters and sons, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. The Spirit of God is clarifying that God’s love is open to all who want to follow.

Spirit of God, prepare our hearts to be willing to take a crazy risk for you. Help us to look for those who need to be reminded that they are invited to join your family. AMEN.

Saturday, May 29
Romans 8:22-27

Wordless Groans

Sometimes a situation is so difficult that we are left without words. No wonder Paul uses the analogy of childbirth to describe how the earth feels, especially when childbirth is fraught with the unknowns that were common in Paul’s time and continue in many places in our world today. We wait and groan and hope for that new life, but it all feels so perilous.

Grief, confusion, and fear can paralyze us and take the wind out of our sails. Paul reminds us that the Spirit waits with us and intercedes for us, taking our wordless groans directly to God. The language of grief is translated into prayers and we are surrounded by the presence of God. The breath of God that gives life, sustains, comforts, holds our hands and groans our prayers, surrounds us in our darkest moments, and reminds us that God is with us.

Spirit of God, we give thanks for all the ways you sustain life and comfort us. Spirit, we ask you to translate our groans of grief and uncertainty and surround us with your presence. AMEN.

About the Author: Mary Peterson

I serve as the associate pastor at First Covenant Church in Omaha, Nebraska. Over the past 20 years of ministry, I have worked with youth, children, and adults, and I remain passionate about people of all ages connecting with God and with one another. I am excited to see how God will shape and grow the Church in the next 20 years. When I’m not reading a book or trying to decide whether a plant in my yard is a weed, I enjoy hanging out with my husband, Eric, and our two pre-teens, Luke and Kate. We have a goal to visit every continent as a family before the kids graduate from high school—three down, four to go!

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