Welcome to the August 2015 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, August 2015
"And they come to Jericho: and as he went out from Jericho, with his disciples and a great multitude, the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the way side. And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And many rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried out the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood still, and said, Call ye him. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good cheer: rise, he calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, sprang up, and came to Jesus. And Jesus answered him, and said, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? And the blind man said unto him, Rabboni, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And straightway he received his sight, and followed him in the way." Mark 10:46-52, ASV
I don't want to die. I don't think any of us want to. I have too much to look forward to in the coming years. I want to experience grandbabies. I would love to sell one of my larger paintings or see something hanging in a gallery. I have a couple books started that I should finish writing. There are places I would still like to visit and people I would love to see. And while my family could survive just fine without me, I don't want them to do so. I want to continue loving them and serving them in this world.
That said, I have to admit that I got a little teary eyed in church yesterday. We sang the hymn "Softly and Tenderly," which is based on today's scripture passage in which Jesus calls to the blind man to come to Him. He does the same for us. He calls us to a life in His Kingdom, a life of salvation and a life of wholeness. The life we gain when we go to Jesus is eternal. We are forgiven and transformed. We are made saints even while we are sinners. We are promised a life that will never end even though we will one day die. Jesus calls us home to Him.
It was this longing for home that made me teary eyed in church yesterday. While I don't want to die, I have to admit that I often think about how wonderful it would be to be where God has promised we will be; it would be wonderful to go home, not to my old hometown, but to the dwelling place of God. While I don't want to die, I wouldn't mind doing so because it is only through death that I will see the final promise fulfilled. Every time we sang the refrain, I could hear Jesus calling from that home where we will live forever and it made me long to be there with Him.
Of course, the passage and the hymn calls sinners to life in the here and now, not just that future home that we are promised. Jesus is not calling us to our eternal home; eternal life is in the here and now. Though our bodies will perish, we will never die. He called the blind man over and He healed him. He gave Him sight not just spiritually but also physically.
We can long for the day when we will dwell in the presence of God forever, but we are called to live in the here and now. We have so much reason to live. There are people who have not yet heard or believed the Word of God. There are people who need to be comforted and others who need us to fight for justice. There are neighbors that need us to share God's grace in ways that will show them they are forgiven and will be transformed. There are stories to tell, people to feed, pain to heal. God calls us to a great and wonderful home, but for today that home is here, in this world, doing His work until that day. I do truly long for that day with tears, but I can live in this day with joy because I know that He is always faithful.
"And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it; and without a parable spake he not unto them: but privately to his own disciples he expounded all things." Mark 4:33-34, ASV
I grew up on a dead end street. It was a quiet place and a simple life. We managed to find plenty of ways to keep ourselves busy. The street ended at a hill that was topped by a highway and a parking lot for a fancy restaurant. Our backyard led to a field and some woods. The nature eventually disappeared as more houses were built. We used the field for ice skating in the winter and caught butterflies. We climbed that incredibly dangerous hill in the winter and flew down to icy snow on our saucers. We even tried a toboggan, although it was a little long for the short hill.
We knew our neighbors, although we knew some of them better than others. My best friend lived a few doors down and we managed to find each other almost daily to play board games in her basement with other friends from the neighborhood or other games at my house. We loved to create a restaurant and we spent so much time making the menus and setting the tables that we never really got around to opening the restaurant. We hid in our umbrella tree while we spied on her little brother. We all caught lightning bugs and played flashlight tag in the summer, went trick or treating in the fall and picked lilac blooms for our mothers in the spring.
We both had swimming pools, and we spent summer days running from one pool to the other, chasing across the neighbor's yard so we wouldn't get caught. We didn't have fences dividing our yards, but the woman who lived between my friend and she didn't much like children, so we had to find a way to avoid her. She also had a dog, so we had to watch for dog poop whenever we ran that way. The couple that lived on the other side of my house were ancient but very friendly. They sometimes gave us cookies, and as long as we weren't loud at night, they welcomed our games in their yard. They had some good hiding places. The duplex across the street changed hands over the years; those families had some interesting stories.
I often thought I should write a book based on our escapades, especially when something exciting happened. I was going to call it, "It Happened on a Dead End Street." I thought we lived in an interesting neighborhood and that it would make a good story. There were moments, like when the garbage truck caught fire on the highway right near our house and when the neighbor committed suicide by shooting himself. We had one neighbor who grew marijuana in between his tomato plants. We enjoyed watching 'The Bod," the handsome single guy who briefly lived in the duplex across the street.
I know, now that I have lived a lot of years in so many places and been all around the world, that our neighborhood was really not very exciting. It was real. It was life. It was our world. We made the best of it all, learned the lessons of childhood and grew up to go out into the great big scary world.
I doubt I'll ever write that book, but I don't think I need to make my childhood into some extraordinary story. I'm currently reading a book about a woman who lived in Nazi Germany as a young person during World War II. The book is organized by year; each chapter begins with the political situation in Germany at that time. Then she tells the stories of her childhood, introducing us to the people of her life and the way they lived at that time and place. I've only made it through the first few years of her life and her stories aren't any more exciting than mine, but she offers a very unique perspective.
I suppose if I wrote that book, I would also offer a very unique perspective. We all can, and though few of us will ever write a book about our childhood, we can us our stories to build relationships with our neighbors. It is in those relationships that we can best do God's Word. We can share God's grace, speak God's Word and offer God's forgiveness to the people who know us. They can see that our lives are not that much different than theirs; even though their stories are different, they really are very much the same. We all have good times and bad, happy moments and sad, times of fear and worry. We all faced dangers with laughter and caused a little trouble. We all learned what it means to live in this world and hopefully all those lessons have brought us to maturity.
Now we are sent into the world to share what we've learned to help others come into the Kingdom that can be their forever home. Just like life in my childhood neighborhood was temporary, so is our life in this world. We are called to a life in the here and now that looks forward to the future, inviting our neighbors into our life now so that they will join us in the Day when the Lord calls us into His eternal Kingdom forever. It is through our own stories that God can touch and teach others about life in this world and in His Kingdom. Jesus did it through parables, and so can we.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 9, 2015, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: 1 Kings 19:1-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:17-5:2; John 6:35-51
"And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God." 1 Kings 19:8, ASV
The life of a prophet is not easy; Elijah's life was no exception. He had to do hard things. He had to face evil and destroy it. He had to go against the rulers of the day, to speak God's truth to a time when the people were following false gods and accepting false religion. The people of Israel, including King Ahab, were worshipping Baal. They, like so many before and after, thought it best to cover all their bases. They worshipped both God and Baal. Elijah called together the prophets and the people. He asked them how long they would divide their loyalties. See, we can't worship both God and the false gods. We have to choose.
Elijah suggested that they hold a competition. There were four hundred and fifty prophets for the false gods and Elijah was the only one for the One true God. Surely so many prophets could make a miracle happen, right? The prophets of Baal made their sacrifice first, but when they called on their gods there was no response. Elijah prepared his bull, placed on the altar, and surrounded the altar with wood, as expected. He then covered the wood with so much water that it would be impossible to burn. He called on God who sent a fire from heaven that not only roasted the bull, but burned everything from the wood to the rocks and soil and every drop of water. When the prophets of Baal sacrificed a bull and called on their gods, there was no response. It was obvious to the people which God was real.
It wasn't so obvious to Jezebel, Ahab's wife. Well, it probably was, but it didn't matter to her. She was willing to follow false worship because it suited her. Those prophets served her needs and desires, while Elijah did not. To her, the one speaking the truth was wrong because he wasn't willing to cater to her. She became extremely angry with Elijah because after the competition, Elijah ordered the people to kill the false prophets. This caused Jezebel to threaten Elijah. He ran away in fear.
Despite the positive response from the people, Elijah knew that their hearts were fickle. They might believe that the LORD is God, but how long would it last, particularly if Jezebel succeeded? Despite the failure of the prophets of Baal, it would not be long before they people were turning away from God. Elijah thought he failed. He thought he was no better than all the other prophets of God. He just wanted to die.
We lift up Elijah as a great prophet of God, and we should because he was. However, this story is a good reminder for us. We aren't much different. We are willing to do God's will, but we also get frightened by the threats of our enemies. We think we have failed. We run and hide. We forget that God is faithful and that we are called to trust Him. That's what is so great about this story. God didn't give up on Elijah.
I don't know about you, but I'm not a very patient person. If I ask someone to do something and they don't do it, I don't give them much of a chance to redeem themselves. I do it myself and then I use it against the person I originally asked. "Clean your room," I said to my children over and over again during their childhood. It never took very long for me to go in there myself and start picking up. "See how much better it is if you just hang up that pair of pants?" It isn't just children that frustrate me; I've done the same thing with people at work or on committees. Sometimes it is just better to deal with these things on my own rather than wait for them to get around to it.
God does more than give us second chances, however, when we are afraid or think we failed or run and hide. He has patience with us, encourages us, and gives us all we need to do the work He is calling us to do. He knew what Elijah was feeling; He doesn't ignore our fears or doubts. He doesn't assume (as I have done with my kids and their rooms) that we are lazy or rebellious. He takes us by the hand and patiently leads us to the place He wants us to go. It would be much easier for Him to abandon us, to get someone else to do the work or to simply do it Himself. He doesn't. He helps us to be faithful to our calling.
One of my favorite scripture passages is the story that follows today's verses. Elijah went to where God commanded him to go and there met God on the mountain. In that story we learn that God does not always scream and shout, but that He comes to us as a whisper. Today's passage is equally important because we see that He gives us all we need as we journey through this world on our way to do His Work. Elijah wanted to die, but God still had work for him to do, so God provided the strength and then whispered His grace into Elijah's life. Elijah went on to do God's Work in this world. God gave Elijah food for the journey and rest. He does so for us, too.
That's where Jesus has been leading us over the past few Sundays in the Gospel lessons. First Jesus gave the people food to eat as a sign of His authority, then He told them that the work of God is to believe in Him. They asked for a sign, refusing to accept the one He had already given. They pointed to Moses, but Jesus reminded them that the manna that they ate was not given to the by Moses, but by God Himself, and that they ate that bread and died anyway. He told them to eat the real bread from heaven. When they asked for it always, He said, "I am the Bread of Life." If we eat this bread we will never die.
In today's passage Jesus points to their unbelief. "I have told you all this but you don't believe. I am who I say I am." We can even write that "I AM who I say I AM" because Jesus was clearly identifying Himself with God. This upset the Jews because they recognized the words and considered it blaspheme. The conversation didn't get any better, because Jesus tells them that He is the Bread that comes down from heaven and if they eat of it, they will live forever. The final words were so far out of their comfort zone that it turned many away from following Jesus. "I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: yea and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world." Next week will be even worse.
See, our faith doesn't stand on pretty and popular things. It stands on the truth of God which is hard for us to accept. The idea of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ is, quite frankly, not very pleasant to consider. Yet this gift, this sacrament of Holy Communion is the bread God gives us to strengthen us for the journey. It is to this meal that we should run when we are feeling frightened and frustrated, when we think we have failed, when we simply want to die. It is through the body and blood of Christ that God helps us to be faithful to our calling.
This is too hard for the world to accept. The world does not want to experience God as He has revealed Himself, they would rather experience a god of their choosing. That's why we so easily turn to the false gods and believe the false prophets. Elijah had just done a most incredible thing. Through Him God revealed His power and defeated the prophets of Baal. Jezebel threatened revenge and Elijah was tired of it all. He ran away and asked God to let him die. He knew that the people would turn away eventually and thought he was a failure.
But God did not give Elijah what he wanted; He fed Elijah and then sent Him on a journey. He sent Elijah to a place where He revealed Himself more fully and through that encounter Elijah had the strength to continue God's work in this world. He does the same for us in the Eucharist and gives us the strength to continue to do His work in the world. It is hard to accept, but it is there where we need to put our faith and our trust most completely, because it is there that God assures us of His faithfulness. He will do what He has promised He will do, and we can know this each time we eat of the bread and drink from the cup that is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this strength we can live as God wants us to live.
That's what Paul is talking about in today's Epistle lesson. In this week's passage, Paul seems to be making a list of things we have to do. At the very least, it is a list of things we should not do. We should not lie, but we should tell the truth. If we are angry, we should not sin or we will give the devil a foothold. We should not steal, but should work hard for our living. We should not speak with a wicked tongue, but should speak in a way that will edify and build up the body of Christ. Yet, this is not a passage about works. It is a passage about our response to the work of Christ. "...even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell."
Paul's call to the Christian is not about doing good works, but rather to live the life that God has called us to live. "Be imitators of God and walk in love." This is eternal life in this world, living in the presence of God daily. We are called to become more than just a copy, but to be part of the kingdom of God that has extended over time and space. Our relationship with God is not some disconnected affiliation, but we are joined together by the living bread of heaven. Paul gives us some direction to help us live in our relationships with God and each other. These are not commands of how we should act to gain the kingdom; the Jews tried it that way and they never saw God.
Paul encourages us to share the bread of heaven by living as God would have us live: free from falsehood and anger, gaining good things in a right way and speaking encouraging words. We are to rid ourselves of negative feelings that grow into unhealthy action. Paul shows the difference, "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you." In this way God perpetuates the bread of heaven, as He reveals Himself through our lives so that others might know Him and be saved.
Jesus Christ is the bread of life. By the power of the Holy Spirit we have faith unto belief. We believe and have eternal life. We have eternal life. It is not something that will come to us in the future, but is a present reality. Eternal life is living in the presence of God, basking in His glory, sharing His love.
Elijah had a meal of bread in the desert, a meal that gave him the strength to keep going. Jesus told the gathering crowds to eat the bread of heaven for eternal life. By faith we are made part of a Kingdom that is not limited to this world, but it is a kingdom that demands our faithfulness. Will we put God first, sacrificing the old ways for the new? Will we trust that even when the things of God seem so complicated, that God is forever faithful? And will we reject the ways the world tries to make our faith more palatable? Though it seems so strange, Jesus has invited us to receive His flesh and blood so that we will be a part of His body; it is there we truly find refuge.
"Oh taste and see that Jehovah is good." At the altar rail, as we receive the Eucharistic meal, we are as close to heaven as we will ever be in this life. As we kneel together, we are also kneeling with all Christians throughout time and space. It is there we are in the presence of God, receiving His gift of life together as one body. It is there we set aside our bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, railing and malice, receiving the forgiveness of Christ that we might be strengthened to give forgiveness to others. It is there we taste and see that the Lord is indeed good, and there we find our refuge in the one we can trust to help us along the way.
"And he said unto them, Therefore every scribe who hath been made a disciple to the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old." Matthew 13:52, ASV
I did some cleaning in my office the other day. It was a task that should have been done a long time ago. Most of the materials were from the work I did at our last church, and while they are good references, they are just not what I need at the moment. I went through the piles, recycled what I didn't need and organized everything else. I stored it all properly on my bookshelves so that I can find them in the future if I need it. I collected all the Bible study materials into one notebook so that I'm prepared if I'm asked to teach a class at our new church.
The desk looks so much better. There is still clutter; I can't seem to get rid of clutter. That particular desk happens to be where we've put all our extra computer stuff. I have an old laptop that I should clean and donate somewhere as well as a desktop that I turn on occasionally. There's a monitor that doesn't work, a printer that's not hooked up to anything and the laptop I use when I travel. There's also a basket full of chargers and charging plugs.
It is a really large desk, so there is plenty of room for all that clutter and for us to use it when we work. Bruce uses it when he brings his work computer home on the weekend and I often sit there when I am study without the computer. My recent cleaning made it even better. I even dusted!
Isn't it amazing how we manage to live with things? All that extra clutter was manageable; we could still use the desk but it was unnecessary. It wasn't really in the way, but now I can spread out more when I have several references open and pads for taking notes. I have room to do what I need to do.
As an artist, clutter is a necessary lifestyle. There are times when every flat surface in my studio is covered with a project and the supplies necessary for it. I have several paintings on my drafting table with a dozen different tubes of paint and multiple paint brushes. Another table holds a painting in the final stages of work and yet another has materials prepared for the next project. There is a painting on an easel with tubes of paint. Other surfaces hold supplies for future work. Every once in a while I clean the whole thing, putting away paint and wiping down tables, but it doesn't take very long before it is cluttered again.
My clutter in the studio is a sign that I'm busy, but that is not always true of clutter. The references on the desk showed a lack of organization and focus. In one place the clutter puts what I need in easy reach while in the other place it gets in the way. The key is learning how to manage it all; the key is getting rid of the clutter that is unnecessary so that we can do the work God is calling us to do.
See, we have clutter in our lives, too, even religious clutter. How many of us hold on to the things of the past that do not serve to glorify God as we journey through this life? Sometimes that clutter is a ritual or tradition that gets in the way of sharing the Gospel. Sometimes that clutter is the lessons learned from years of Bible study which helps us to fully understand God's Word. Clutter can be bad, or it can be good.
Many people want to simply throw out everything from the past, to start fresh and create all new Christian practices, but Jesus reminds us that there is good to be found there. I got rid of some things when I cleaned my desk, but I put much of it on my bookshelves to reference at another time. Meanwhile, there's room in my life to do the work God is calling me to do today, with paint tubes and brushes in easy reach. We need to manage everything we've seen and experienced as Christians in community throughout time and space, choose that which is good and keep it as a treasure while we seek new ways to meet the needs of the world today.
"On that day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And there were gathered unto him great multitudes, so that he entered into a boat, and sat; and all the multitude stood on the beach. And he spake to them many things in parables, saying, Behold, the sower went forth to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured them: and others fell upon the rocky places, where they had not much earth: and straightway they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And others fell upon the thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked them: and others fell upon the good ground, and yielded fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He that hath ears, let him hear." Matthew 13:1-9, ASV
Stephen Powers is an urban artist whose murals are said to "humanize the urban environment." His work is a mixture of street art and community activism. He recently put up an installation of signs in cooperation with the New York Transit Authority. The signs, which are made like normal street signs, don't provide the viewer with instruction on laws or prohibitions for that space, but are colorful and thoughtful. They don't look like a stop sign, but they are meant to make you stop and think. Sometimes it is impossible not to act after considering what you have seen and thought.
One of my favorites is a small sign that simply says, "I paid the light bill just to see your face." This is a phrase Powers has used in other works, but it is a powerful statement of love. Another one shows a lighthouse with the word "YOU" shining on the word "ME" floating in the water. A third says, "Your everafter is all I'm after." While there are other signs that make different kinds of statements including political or social justice statements, these stood out to me because of the focus. They call us to think about those we love in a sacrificial way. They call us to lift others up, to put them first, to encourage them in ways that do nothing but make the world better for everyone.
Stephen Powers is a famous artist whose work is usually very accessible but unmovable. You can't buy a mural that is painted on the side of a four story building or a sign that is found on a railroad bridge. The signs in this installation in New York were attached to street lights and poles around the city as any street sign might be attached. They were placed high, seven feet, but that was no challenge for those who wished to own these works by the artist. All the signs disappeared overnight. Whether they were taken by one person or a bunch, those signs will no longer serve their purpose in the world. They might be worth money someday, but who will enjoy the thought provoking paintings until then? The exhibit was meant to be temporary, but I doubt anyone expected it to disappear so fast.
I suppose Powers must have known that it was a possibility. You can't do anything in this world without the risk of the world placing its mark on it. His murals can easily be destroyed by graffiti. His signs can be stolen. His messages can be misunderstood. In a world that is easily offended, he might even upset someone. He takes the risk anyway. He puts in the time and the resources to say what he wants to say. While we might not always agree with his message or completely understand what he means, we can learn from his bold willingness to do the work despite the risks.
Are we ever so boldly willing to do the work that God has sent us to do? Are we willing to speak the Gospel to our neighbors even though it is risky to do so? Will we share God's grace even though it might be stolen or destroyed or misunderstood by those who hear with hard hearts? Or are we willing to scatter the seeds and trust that God will make at least some of it impact the world? See, Stephen Powers is lucky to live in a time that those signs will still impact people because they will live forever in photos on the Internet. Our words and work for God's kingdom may not have the same longevity, but we are blessed by something even greater: the Holy Spirit. God will ensure that the seeds we scatter will live on in one heart or a hundred, even if some of it seems wasted. We, like the farmer in today's lesson from Matthew, must scatter our gifts and His Word generously and trust that He will make it fruitful in the world.
"I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables." 2 Timothy 4:1-4, ASV
One of my favorite childhood books was a Little Golden book called "Tootle." Tootle was an anthropomorphized young steam engine learning how to be a Two-Miles-a-Minute Flyer. He has to learn all about the rules of being a flyer which includes "Stopping for a Red Flag" and the most important "Staying on the Rails No Matter What."
The problem is that Tootle likes to play in the meadows. He loves to sniff the flowers and chase the butterflies. Of course, we know that trains can't play in the field, but the lessons of the story are helpful for children. We share this kind of story not for them to learn those specific rules, but to see that everything is better when we do follow them. In the end, Tootle became the train he was meant to be because he learned to follow the rules, and then he became an inspiration to the new, younger trains who willingly listened to his advice.
It didn't come easily because Tootle really liked to play in the meadows. Though Tootle really wanted to become a Two-Miles-a-Minute Flyer, he just had to run and play. He promised to practice following the rules every day, but the next time he was in the field, he jumped the tracks again. He thought that he did it in secret, but the townspeople, including the mayor, saw him frolicking and the train workers noticed odd things about Tootle, like grass in his wheels.
The townspeople decided that they needed to do something about Tootle's daily wandering, so they made a plan. Since Tootle seemed to understand stopping for red flags, everyone hid in the meadow with a red flag. When Tootle jumped the tracks to play in the meadow, he discovered it wasn't very much fun because everywhere he turned there was a red flag. Finally he saw the station master Bill standing on the tracks with a green flag and realized that it was better for him to stay on the tracks. He learned his lesson and it led to his maturity as a flyer.
We don't like rules any more than Tootle did. We want to follow our heart, do what feels right to us. We are usually pretty conscious of not doing things that will hurt others, but there are plenty of things, like frolicking in a meadow, that makes us feel good that doesn't hurt others. Of course, you'll have to figure out which rules you prefer to break that keep you from being the person God has created and redeemed you to be. The good thing is that we have one another to help us get back on the tracks. We have become timid about showing our brothers and sisters where they are failing. We hate to have others point out our sins and so we don't point out theirs. Yet, how many of us are missing out on the blessing of serving God fully because no one is willing to raise the red flag for us?
We have fallen into the trap of thinking that "judge not" means we shouldn't point out one another's wrongs. But would Tootle ever have learned to be a Two-Miles-a-Minute Flyer if the townspeople hadn't shown him that what he was doing was wrong? It is up to us to help one another be the best we can be. It is up to us to, as Paul says, "reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching," so that we all mature into the people God is calling us to be.
"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh. For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which shall devour the adversaries. A man that hath set at nought Moses law dieth without compassion on the word of two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were enlightened, ye endured a great conflict of sufferings; partly, being made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, becoming partakers with them that were so used. For ye both had compassion on them that were in bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of you possessions, knowing that ye have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one. Cast not away therefore your boldness, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise. For yet a very little while, He that cometh shall come, and shall not tarry. But my righteous one shall live by faith: And if he shrink back, my soul hath no pleasure in him. But we are not of them that shrink back unto perdition; but of them that have faith unto the saving of the soul." Hebrews 10:19-39
I have a laptop that I only use when I travel. That means the laptop sits unused most of the time. It doesn't get updated. It doesn't get virus checked, which is no big deal because it isn't on the Internet when I am at home. The problems arises when I do travel because the wifi at hotels is never as good as it is at home. It takes forever for updates, wasting the little time I might have to use it while I am not at home. So I always turn it on a day or two before I go on a trip so that I won't have to worry about it. Sadly, it then takes hours to do the virus update and check as well as any other updates that are available.
I know that I would be better off turning the computer on more often, perhaps on a weekly basis, even if I am not going to use it. On top of the updates, the long term storage is not good for the battery. I turned it on recently and there was a deep layer of dust on top. Months of ignoring the computer left it in dirty, terrible shape. The updates took forever and the virus check even longer.
I think this happens to all of us sometimes in terms of our faith practices. We get into good habits and keep them for a while, but then life and busy-ness get in the way. We forget to pray, we drop out of Bible study, we miss a few Sundays of worship. We get behind in our devotional reading so we give up. We have all had those periods of drought, I'm sure. I certainly have. Sometimes writing this devotion is the best blessing because it forces me to get into the Bible. Yes, sometimes I need to be forced by that sense of obligation to you, my readers, to sit down at the computer to write.
I hope my admission will help us all to realize that it is a normal human experience to let things go. Our flesh tends toward that which is easier, and it is, quite frankly, easier not to spend so much time on Bible study, prayer and worship. As we get older it seems as though there can't possibly be anything else we can learn about God and our faith. When we are young parents it is easier to miss a Sunday or two because it is hard to get the kids going or they have sports practices and games. I think most of us probably do well with prayer, but what are we praying? Are we only praying when we have a need, using God as a vending machine?
Just like my laptop, the more we let go of those devotional practices, the harder it is to get it up and going again. We end up with dust on our Bibles and in our spirits. We find worship tedious and prayer inconvenient. We might even begin to think that God won't pay any attention because we've become disconnected. Worst of all is when we slide from the life God is calling us to live, wandering down the wrong paths and following false ideas of God. We need to be constant with our prayer and praise, our study and worship, our time spent with God to remain strong in our faith.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 16, 2015, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:12-22; Ephesians 5:6-21; John 6:51-69
"And the people answered and said, Far be it from us that we should forsake Jehovah, to serve other gods." Joshua 24:16, ASV
Choose today who you will serve.
I think this is a much more difficult command than we realize these days. Joshua spoke to the people as they were beginning their new life in the Promised Land. It had been a rough trip out of Egypt. They managed to get to Sinai in just a few months, but their unfaithfulness at the foot of the mountain sent them into forty years of wandering. A whole generation died before God would allow the nation to settle in their new home.
They were unfaithful because they gave up waiting on Moses as he was on the mountain with God their Savior, the God of their forefathers. They built a golden calf and worshipped it as they had learned in Egypt. In today's passage, Joshua reaches even farther back, back to the gods that Abraham's ancestors worshipped. These are the gods of Abraham's childhood and youth, before he met the Lord God Almighty. Who are these gods? Terah's family would have worshipped the moon god called Nanna or Sin. They also worshipped Ishtar, the goddess of love, fertility, war and sex. They are represented in the symbols of the ancient lands with the crescent moon and star.
They long history of living near the worship of these other gods meant that they could easily turn away from the Lord God, their Savior. The worship of the gods of Egypt and further back to Ur, and the worship of the gods in their new home, was much more exciting than the worship of God. It was also easier to understand from a human perspective. How much better is it to have the name of a god with a specific character or purpose, a god who has an image we can see or touch? How does a woman pray to God about something so personal as fertility when there is a goddess who understands the problems of a woman? Isn't it better to focus on a god who can bring rain rather than disturb one who claims to do everything?
The people of Israel did follow Moses to the Promised Land, but they weren't completely convinced. They grumbled and complained, although I probably would have if I had been wandering in a desert for weeks. They turned away from God while Moses was gone. Many of them even carried their household gods with them on this journey.
That's why Joshua said, "Put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt; and serve ye Jehovah." It was time to let go of the moon god and sun goddess. It was time to stop turning to a golden calf. It was time to put their trust completely in the Lord because they would continue to face people who worshipped gods that were easier to trust. The Promised Land was theirs, but they still had neighbors who worshipped Baal; the threat of false promises was very real.
While we do have neighbors today who worship other gods, I think it is more difficult for us to realize the real dangers we face. I don't think anyone who reads this writing is tempted to worship Sin or Ishtar. I doubt that you are chasing after the Roman or Greek gods. There may be many Christians who have an imperfect or incomplete understanding of God, but I am pretty sure that most have a love for Jesus Christ. Those of us who are Christian, however, do have our temptations. We have things in this world that are like gods to us, things that demand more from us than we should give. We have things that we set above the Lord our God, and by doing so we make them our gods.
So Joshua says to the people as they begin to settle in the Promised Land, "Choose today who you will serve." He demands a commitment from them; he calls them to the life that will constantly reject other gods while living in trust, serving the Living God. He answers, "As for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah.
The people willingly answered with bold and confident acceptance. "Far be it from us that we should forsake Jehovah, to serve other gods..." They went on to make a confessional statement about the good things God has done. These are words that the people remember for generations, even until today. The people in Jesus' day certainly believed they were true. Yet, Israel did not always remain true to the God who was so faithful to them. They easily turned to the gods of their neighbors, conforming to the world in which they lived and forgetting the God who was their Savior and Lord.
At first it might seem as though Jesus is putting before the people a false demand, after all the people of Israel have strict rules about what to eat and drink. They would never consider cannibalism as a possibility. As we have seen over the past few weeks, Jesus has been leading us to this culmination of His claim to be the Bread of Life. We eat bread, and He calls us to eat His flesh and drink His blood. It is really no wonder that many rejected Him. His words seem to fall under the rites and rituals of the god worship we are supposed to reject!
Jesus spoke words that went way beyond what the people could understand. They liked the miracles. They liked what they saw. The liked the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah, the One who would save them from the oppression of the Romans. They liked that He filled their bellies and healed their sick. They liked that He had a large following, because with so many behind Him He would surely 'win.' They didn't always understand what Jesus had to say; the parables were confusing and the attack on their faith was strange. They weren't interested in anything spiritual, or even religious. They needed someone with practical answers to their problems. His words in today's passage are too shocking for the crowds. Those who followed Jesus were simple people. They needed practical lessons on how to live in faith, but Jesus was teaching them about life beyond today. They did not understand.
This week we get the full picture of what Jesus is trying to teach them about the Bread of Life. His words are shocking, disgusting and against the Law. This man they had followed, to whom they looked for healing and provision, was giving Himself as food to eat. They aren't carnivores. They couldn't drink human blood. It must have been frightening for them to hear these words. The man they looked to as their Messiah was turning the world upside down.
He answered their questions with an oath, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves." To the Jews who heard these words, the eating of human flesh and drinking of human blood was not life-giving. As a matter of fact, it was cause for death! This was too much for them to bear and many stopped following Him. They were afraid, but not of the God who offers eternal life; they were afraid of the consequences of the things they did not understand.
We think of fear in the negative context, and yet we are told constantly that we should fear the Lord. What does this mean, especially for those of us who have grown up in a world that rejects the wrathful, frightening God of the Old Testament? God is love, we are told, and while that is true we must also remember that God is jealous and demanding. He can, and has, done great things for His people, but He has also given His people over to their sinfulness. When the Israelites turned from Him to worship other gods, He allowed their enemies to destroy their homes and take them into exile. Yet, through all that, He never abandoned them. He forgave them. He saved them. He restored them.
We aren't much different than those Israelites. We still turn from God and chase after our own gods. While ours do not have names like Nanna or Ishtar, I think it is interesting that the other name for the moon god is Sin. Isn't that ultimately what keeps us from worshipping fully the God who is our Creator and Redeemer? Isn't that why Jesus came in the first place?
See, Jesus was not simply telling the people that they should have a feast on His body, which is an image that I suspect was going through their heads. "Does He mean that instead of lamb at Passover, we should roast up a little Jesus?" In the text, Jesus connects this idea of the Bread of Life with the Word of God. "The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life."
We are reminded of the words of Jesus when He was in His own wilderness experience: "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." The people are still thinking with their bellies, and now with their hearts and spirits. They want gods who will meet their every want and satisfy their every need. They want to be saved how they want to be saved, but Jesus came to save them from more than hunger, disease and Roman oppression.
All along we needed to be saved from ourselves. We need to be saved by our natural inclination to follow what feels good, to satisfy our flesh, to search after that which makes our lives as we want them to be. We easily turn from the God who saves us to follow the gods that serve us. No one would choose the life of a disciple, with its demands of sacrifice and suffering! No one would choose to follow a Lord who calls us to see our own failures more than that of our neighbors. We'd much rather have gods of our own making than the God who made us.
The Psalmist and Paul both tell us ways to live out our fear of the Lord. We are to speak rightly and turn from evil. We are to take advantage of time we have to do what is good. We are to avoid drunkenness. WE are called to turn away from our evil lives, our false gods so that we can trust in the God who fills us with His very Spirit. He calls us to worship Him in community with others who believe, encouraging one another in faith and service to the Lord. He calls us to live thankful lives, praising God for all He has done and experiencing the life-giving presence of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Heaven. When Jesus says, "Eat my flesh and drink my blood," He is telling us to dwell continually in Him and His Word so that we will not easily be led astray.
There are many ways we can feast on the goodness of God. Besides fearing the Lord and living rightly, we can hear His Word and join together in worship. We can serve one another in love, give food and drink to those who hunger and thirst. We can be advocates for those who suffer injustice. We can pray for those who are in pain. But today's lesson leaves little doubt what Jesus is saying. He calls us to join one another on the cusp of heaven, to eat the Holy Supper He has established as a covenant with His people.
When we gather together as simple people at the altar rails, we share in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus. We remember Jesus and receive forgiveness for our sins. He comes to us, not only in word and spirit, but in a tangible way that we can touch, see, hear, smell and taste, filling us with His presence. In prayer we ask, "Send now your Holy Spirit into our hearts, that we may receive our Lord with a living faith as he comes to us in his holy supper." These aren't words of people who do not know the Lord, but of the faithful who long to have more and more of His presence in their lives.
When we take the body and blood of Christ, when we satisfy ourselves with His Word, we have no need to turn to the other gods because we see He can truly meet our needs and fill our lives with goodness.
When the people left, Jesus asked the twelve, "Would ye also go away?" In one of his brief and inspired moments, Peter answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God." Peter confessed faith in the One who gives life as no other.
Choose today who you will serve. I suspect that we all would answer as the Israelites, "Far be it from us that we should forsake Jehovah, to serve other gods..." or as Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go?" It is easy to say the words, but it is much more difficult to live the life. The key for us is to continuously nourish ourselves with the Word of God -- Jesus -- in every way we can: prayer, worship, study and the sacraments. "Eat and drink," He says, so that we will remain constantly a part of His own body, so close that we would never want to turn away. By His body and blood, He will help us to live out the truly faithful answer, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, Nor standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers: But his delight is in the law of Jehovah; And on his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water, That bringeth forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also doth not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." Psalm 1:1-3, ASV
I posted a photo of a roll of fancy Duck tape before I left for my conference early this week with the joke that I needed to take it to hold my head together since the theology would blow my mind. As it turned out, the theologians invited to the conference this year were able to communicate their thoughts in a way that was accessible to those of us without an advanced education. Oh, there was one professor of theology whose lecture left me a little dazed and confused, but in the end I survived and even learned a thing or two. I was impressed with the passion and the knowledge of every speaker, and I am glad I went.
The theme of the conference was martyrdom, and each theologian attacked the theme from a different direction. We had an expert in New Testament studies who talked about the witness language of the New Testament. Another focused on the theology of the martyrs. A third looked at the first martyrs of the Reformation, Lutheran monks about which I had never heard. The fourth talked about the difference between Muslim and Christian martyrdom. The fifth speaker talked about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the argument over his martyrdom, asking the question, "What did he die for?" The final speaker told the stories of her martyred father and persecuted mother, a lecture which ended in tears for more than a few of us, including the speaker.
They publish the essays in a book each year following the conference, and I'm hoping that reading and rereading these lectures will help me to better understand what I learned. I'm not used to academic language or style and sometimes it is easier for me to put it all together when I can take my time with those fifty-cent words. The professor who left me dazed and confused spoke quickly and used lots of words with "isms and ologies." He talked about heresies that I've heard about but never gave me time to retrieve my knowledge. Sometimes he spoke with such passion that the words came out faster than my brain could compute and I was left in the dust. I'm not an unintelligent human being, but he blew my mind a little. Reading his lecture would give me the time to see and understand what he was saying.
People are a little intimidated by the idea of listening to a theologian for that very reason. The language can be quite difficult, especially if you are not familiar with it. They pluck Latin words out of the air and reference ideas that are ancient. Sometimes those professional theologians make the study of God inaccessible to the average person.
But theology is not something that should just be left to those who can ruminate on the "isms and ologies" of our common faith. Theology is defined as "the systematic and rational study of concepts of God and of the nature of religious ideas." Even that definition might seem too much for most of us, but the reality is that we are being theologians each time we think about God. It is interesting for me to delve deeply into the topics that excited each of our speakers, but that which we do here each day is theology. We aren't professionals, but we are theologians. We don't use fifty-cent words, but we do talk about grace and love and repentance and forgiveness. We talk about the body of Christ and the hope of God's faithfulness. We talk about what it means to live in the presence of God on a daily basis.
It is enough to believe, but it is even better when we constantly and daily pursue our relationship with the One in whom we believe. It is too easy for us to fall for the false ideas of our day if we do not keep ourselves immersed in the study and worship of the One true God. While most of us will never be noted professional theologians, asked to speak at conferences on deep and important topics, we can and should spend time in thought over the God we love and worship, trying to understand Him and the faith we confess to the world.
"What shall I render unto Jehovah For all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, And call upon the name of Jehovah. I will pay my vows unto Jehovah, Yea, in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of Jehovah Is the death of his saints. O Jehovah, truly I am thy servant: I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid; Thou hast loosed my bonds." Psalm 116:12-16, ASV
It is certainly a difficult subject to discuss. We are uncomfortable with the reality that life eventually ends, whether it is by disease, accident or violence. Death by disease is difficult and we fight it as much as possible because we know that modern medicine has made it possible to overcome many things that were beyond our control even a few years ago. Death by accident is tragic, especially since it often takes from us those who have not yet lived a full and productive life. The worst of all, however, is death from violence. We don't like war, even when there is a just and valid reason for it. Violence that happens in the streets of our cities really doesn't make sense. We cannot understand why anyone would raise a hand against a neighbor, especially when it seems to be done for frivolous reasons.
It is heartbreaking to hear another story on the evening news about a child who was caught in the middle of gang violence, shot by a stray bullet in a drive-by. Tears fill our eyes when we hear of another bombing or massacre brought on by ideological passion. For people of faith, the most frightening is the death that comes at the hands of those who violently reject what we believe. We hear stories of beheadings and other persecution and we worry if or when it might happen to us. While we understand that martyrdom is always a possibility for those of us who believe, it is a possibility we'd rather not see made real in our lives.
The theme for the conference I attended last week was martyrdom. At least a couple of the speakers were not well received by some of the attendees because they seemed to be presenting a picture meant to create fear, not to uplift the church. We are more than willing to pray for those we know are suffering around the world, but we'd rather keep them at a distance, to avoid hearing how close to home the threat really is. Here's the thing: the purpose of those lectures was not to make us afraid, but to give us strength and hope. Those who murder people of faith intend to frighten others into recanting or rejecting Jesus, but we are reminded by those faithful people that there is hope even in the violent death of martyrdom.
One of the lectures presented the lives of the first Lutheran martyrs. Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes were Augustinian monks in Antwerp who were arrested and burned at the stake because of the Edict of Worms. The Lutherans of Germany, including Martin Luther, were safe from the edict because they were protected by the state, but Esch and Voes went against Emperor Charles V who fought against the Lutheran doctrine. Other monks were arrested, but they recanted and though they were removed from their monastery which was destroyed, they lived. A third, Lampertus Thorn, stood firm with Esch and Voes, but asked for time to review the Bible. His ultimate end is uncertain; some stories claim he was executed four days later, others say that he died in prison after five years. Another confessor, Henry of Zutphen, was found guilty of preaching Lutheran doctrine and sentenced to death. Unfortunately, they execution did not go off as planned, the fire would not burn. He was eventually beaten to death and then his body burned after.
In response to those martyrdoms, Martin Luther wrote letters of consolation. In a letter to the people of Bremen where Zutphen was pastor, Luther spoke of the joy in seeing the powerful witness of faithfulness. "Most dearly beloved in Christ: Having gathered from trustworthy and upright witnesses the true history of the martyrdom of your evangelist, the blessed Friar Henry, I was unwilling that it should remain hidden or be but imperfectly known. I have resolved to publish it, therefore, to the praise and glory of divine grace, which has in these days been so abundantly bestowed upon us condemned, lost, and unworthy sinners that we not only have, hear, and read the pure Word of God and see it rise, as the sun in his brightness, upon many lands, but also perceive and experience how the Spirit of God is confirming and establishing this Word with mighty and heroic deeds, as He has been wont to do from the beginning. Above all, He has given us brave and bold hearts, so that in many places both preachers and hearers are daily being added to the number of the saints, some shedding their blood, others being cast into prison, still others driven into exile, and all enduring the shame of the cross of Christ. Now hath appeared again the form of a true Christian life, terrible indeed with suffering and persecution in the world's eyes, but precious and well pleasing in the sight of God; as it is said in the Psalter, 'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,' and again in Psalm 72:14, 'Precious shall their blood be in His sight.'"
We must hear the stories of faith that are being told in the lives of those who are so willing to die for their faith. It is in their faithfulness that we see the grace and mercy of God. It is in their stories that we get our own strength and hope, seeing that the Word of God is worth giving ourselves wholly and completely, even until death. I doubt most of us will ever come so close to being martyred, but we are all witnesses for Jesus Christ, given the faith we need to stand firmly in the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need not fear joining those whose blood has been shed for the sake of the Gospel because for us death is not the end, but the beginning.
"So then, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and questionings: that ye may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye are seen as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life; that I may have whereof to glory in the day of Christ, that I did not run in vain neither labor in vain. Yea, and if I am offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all: and in the same manner do ye also joy, and rejoice with me." Philippians 2:12-18, ASV
I once knew a woman. I didn't know her personally, I only knew her online and so in many ways I didn't know her at all. There is a certain anonymity about online relationships. You can say anything you like in words and can hide anything you don't want the other to know. This woman lied to me about something important about her life, and our relationship was based entirely upon that lie. One day I said something about her that I thought was funny and appropriate to the conversation. As it turned out, my joke was offensive because it played on the reality of her life, not the lie I thought was the truth.
She hated me. From that day she rejected me and refused to be friends. I didn't understand what I had said wrong until another friend told me her secret. It didn't matter to her that I never knew the truth; she never forgave me for the words I said. Our relationship ended completely that day despite my own attempts to reconcile. My email address must have stayed in her address book because I received an email a few years later informing me that she died. I never knew what happened, but I grieved the losses, both of her life and the relationship that was ended for no good reason.
How do you respond to a situation like this? I had more than a few people tell me that I should not waste my time and that she was not worth the trouble. This had happened in a chat room where others witnessed most of the argument, although most of them never really knew the real reason it happened. Anger could have gotten the best of me. I could have revealed her secret. I could have given others a reason to reject her. I didn't. Instead I found the grace to forgive and to even apologize for the offensive words. She did not do the same. She would not forgive me and she refused to apologize for the lie that caused it all. I was hurt but did not stop praying for my friend.
I don't tell this story to make myself out to be better than the woman online. As a matter of fact, I'm certain that others can tell similar stories about me. I get angry. I am afraid. I can be very selfish. I have been known to respond to the world without grace or forgiveness or reconciliation. I have held grudges and let my anger get the best of me. I've allowed relationships to be broken by my own sinfulness.
With martyrdom on our minds, we have to ask ourselves, "How do we respond?" How do we respond to a world that hates us? How do we respond to the rejection and to the violence that is done against people of faith? How do we respond when it seems like the world is out to destroy the body of Christ? We are called to respond with grace. We are called to be like Christ in this world. We are called to glorify God even in the midst of brokenness and destruction, for in doing so we act as witnesses to the God who has won for us the freedom to live in joy, serve in faith and look forward to the day when we will not hurt each other any longer.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 23, 2015, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 29:11-19; Psalm 14; Ephesians 5:22-33; Mark 7:1-13
"Ye leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men." Mark 7:8, ASV
I have been reading a lot of books about the days leading up to World War II. My current book was written by a woman who was a child in those years. She came from an average German non-religious Protestant family. Her descriptions of her life in the beginning sounded pretty normal, with birthdays and family, school and every day activities. As time passed and she grew older, the world around her began to change in ways she did not like. Her family did not support Hitler, although as all Germans they had to make concessions to the world that was developing around them. As she grew and matured, she became less and less comfortable with what was happening, not only because the changes were an inconvenience but because they simply were not right.
I have only reached the point in the story when war is a possibility; it will be interesting to see how life experienced during war unfolded from the perspective of a average German. The girl had heard stories from the First World War, and the thought of a second frightened her. She wasn't interested in being involved with the organizations that rose around Hitler's regime, but it became increasingly difficult to avoid it. She had teachers who were devout, who taught the propaganda. She was surrounded by it in the newspapers, on the radio and on the newsreels at the movie theater. She experienced the growing apprehension that came with ration cards and rules that didn't make any sense. While her thoughts and fears did not come from a strong and active faith, something within her knew that it just wasn't right.
We often hear Christianity, and quite frankly Lutheranism, blamed for what happened during the early part of the twentieth century in and around Germany. While it is true that Luther had problems with the Jews later in life, the use of his works by the Hitler regime was purely convenience, not conviction. No one who can murder millions of people - not just Jews, but the disabled, the sick, the old, the blacks, the homosexuals, the gypsies, the communists, etc. - is Christian. Hitler may have claimed to be a Christian, but he did not live the Christian life. He was, like many, many other Christians around the world even today, one who claimed faith by tongue but not by actions.
We often wonder how it could have happened. How did all those Germans allow the horror of the Hitler regime happen? I think this is why I'm so interested in the perspective of this woman's book. We know the stories of Bonhoeffer and others involved in the conspiracy to stop Hitler. We know about Schindler and his list. We know about the Jews who escaped and those who survived; we know the stories of those who died from the testimonies of those who did not. But we rarely see how life unfolded for the average German.
We wonder why they didn't do something, but would we? Are we any more willing to fight the culture that is determined to make us conform? Are we willing to stand up for what we believe, like men such as Bonhoeffer? I doubt it. I consider myself faithful and faithfilled, and yet I know I am about as powerful as those average Germans who did not believe they could do anything to change what is happening.
They didn't even try in the beginning because each change was presented in a way that made it seem like a good thing for Germany and her people. There was no harm to enlisting the children into organizations; as a matter of fact, it helped build them into better citizens! It was probably a good thing to limit the ability to bear children for those with deformities, for the sake of the child as well as the nation. The communists were bad, very bad, so they probably deserved to die. "We need the resources found in those territories and thank goodness someone is willing to stand up for Germany against the world that wants to keep us down!" It became uncomfortable when they were directly affected, like when there were food shortages, but they were willing to sacrifice for their homeland, and besides, isn't this exactly why we need to take back the land that was stolen from us in the previous war?
As much as we find it hard to believe, most Germans probably did not even really know what was happening right under their noses. They believed what they heard. They probably ignored the feelings in their guts for as long as they could, but then it was too late when they could ignore it any longer. It was a matter of life and death. Do I fight and die or do I hide in my own little corner of the world and find a way to survive, hoping for a better day?
I don't think we can make an exact comparison between then and now, especially since everyone and every side tries to paint their enemy as the villain. Hitler had an incredibly broad range of ideologies that cross the boundaries that divide us today, making it impossible to truly label him as 'one of them' or 'one of us.' I read about some of his programs and ideas and think, "That's what 'they' are trying to do," but then read others and think, "My guy could have said that." We have to be careful about how we deal with our own interpretation of what happened then and what is happening now.
We need to begin with ourselves. Isaiah tells us that the Lord God says, "Forasmuch as this people draw nigh unto me, and with their mouth and with their lips to honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men which hath been taught them; therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid." Do we say, "Lord, Lord" with our mouths but live our lives conformed to the world around us? Even worse is when we try to make our lives of faith conform to the way we think is best, seeking to benefit ourselves rather than live according to God's Word.
That's what was happening with the Pharisees in today's Gospel lesson. They questioned Jesus about the way the disciples did not wash their hands according to the traditions of the elders. Now, we all know that hand washing is a good thing. We have learned in recent centuries that it helps avoid the spread of disease. Lots of germs get on our hands, and while they might not have fully understood the reason for the hand washing, it was a good rule. However, they made it a standard of faithful living, a rule which one must follow to be a good believer.
Jesus answered their question with the quote from Isaiah, telling the Pharisees that they are more interested in the laws of men rather than the Law of God. Then he pointed out their hypocrisy. He said, "Full well do ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition. For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother; and, He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death: but ye say, If a man shall say to his father or his mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is Corban, that is to say, Given to God; ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father or his mother; making void the word of God by your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things ye do."
Now, on the surface the idea of Corban is good because it appears that they are committing their resources to God. However, the idea of Corban is to be much more loosely understood. See, they were committing the resources to God as a promise, but they continued to hold onto the money for their own use while they were living. They used the man-made law of promise as an excuse to not share their wealth with their parents in need while acting as if they were being faithful to God's Law. Their legalistic attention to the laws they prescribed had nothing to do with faith in their God. It was a way of grasping onto the power while rejecting and ignoring God's grace.
God doesn't need our promises. He blesses us to be a blessing. If we have a few extra dollars, God would want us to use it to help someone in need, most particularly those who bore and raised us. Corban, a promise of money, does nothing to glorify God, but obeying the Law of honoring our mothers and fathers will also honor the God who is our Creator and Redeemer Father.
Today's epistle lessons is somewhat uncomfortable for us in this modern age. We don't use language like Paul used in his letter to the people at Ephesus. Most women would scoff at the suggestions made here: "Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands," and "Let the wife see that she fear her husband." These verses make it appear as though we are expected to be like doormats, held by the power of someone deemed greater. That's not what Paul intends at all, as we can see in the context of the passage. Marriage is a complimentary relationship, both partners provide something to make the two become one. A woman is free based on God's grace to be what God created her to be, to live in the relationship with her husband who is called to be like Christ to her.
Who has the harder task? Is it the wife who submits to the husband, or the husband who must be Christ-like and love his wife more than his own life?
Of course, there have been people who have claimed faith in Christ who have used passages like this to force compliance to a misplaced understanding of the relationship between husband and wife. It is no wonder that we cringe when we hear these words. Women are abused on a daily basis, some with the justification that the man has a right according to the biblical standard. We know this is a misunderstanding and that they are ignoring the command to the husband to treat his wife with a sacrificial love, to nourish and treasure her as if her body was his own. He is to be Christ-like and the man who abuses a woman, especially his wife, is not being like Christ. He must be willing to give even his life for her sake.
Just as honoring one's mother and father honors God, so does the marriage covenant stand as a witness to the relationship between Christ and His Church. The Father loves the Son, Jesus Christ. The Son loves the Church. In response to the love, the Son submits to the Father and the Church submits to the Son. The love provides, the submission accepts. In loving and submission, the two become one body, in both marriage and in Christ.
I wish I could say without a doubt that I would stand firmly like Bonhoeffer and not conform to the world as it changes around me. I can't. As a matter of fact, I'm certain that I have conformed in some ways. I am certain that I more likely stand in the ranks of those who will find it is too late to make a difference because I am a failing, sinful human being. I fear the wrong things, I seek my own benefit. I follow man-made laws because they sound much better than the ones that God has given to us. I can't count on myself, but I can count on the God who has promised to forgive me.
The words from Isaiah sound hopeless, but there is hope. God can overcome our faithlessness. God can and does provide for us, even in our failure. God has set us free by the blood of Christ, and while we are imperfect in our living in that freedom, He will also save us from ourselves. We are called to respond to God's saving grace with fear and trembling. In the end we will know true joy in the relationship He has made between Jesus Christ and His bride, the Church, between Jesus and you and I. We will fully know and experience that joy as we dwell in the Word of God rather than follow the traditions of men.
"Finally, be ye all likeminded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tenderhearted, humbleminded: not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but contrariwise blessing; for hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For, He that would love life, And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips that they speak no guile: And let him turn away from evil, and do good; Let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, And his ears unto their supplication: But the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil." 1 Peter 3:8-12, ASV
I had the carpets cleaned yesterday. I have done it myself, but I knew that it would be best to have it done professionally. They hadn't been cleaned for years, and the kitties have left hairball surprises everywhere, which I clean up as we go, but there always seems to be some evidence left behind. Add to that years of dust and traffic patterns, and my carpet was a mess. I had a coupon for a national carpet cleaning company, so I called and made the appointment.
Now, we all know that those coupons are not really worth the paper on which they are printed. They'll give you a great deal, but then they add this treatment and that procedure and your bill quickly rises. I expected it. I didn't expect the bill to be ten times the coupon price. We haggled and I got the price down although it was still much more than I expected. Throughout the negotiation, the men tried to manipulate me, claiming expertise and acting out a role to convince me I needed to spend every penny. It did not take long before I did not trust them at all. I had the clean the carpet but repeatedly told them they would never return.
The carpet looked fine when it was over. They arrived after the appointed time by a few minutes. They didn't move some of the furniture that I expected them to move. They left my non-carpeted floors filthy. They left the furniture they did move in inconvenient places and I had to restore my rooms after they were gone. They wouldn't take my check. Then as I signed the invoice, they handed me a magnet, because I will surely call them back in eight months to have it done again. "Ask for us!" I reminded them that I would never call again, and they continued the sales pitch because I must surely be incredibly impressed! I told them that they gave me too many reasons not to call and they left.
The visit was not particularly welcome for my cats. I decided the lock them in my office/studio space, which includes three rooms where they spend a great deal of their time during the day anyway. I put their food in that room as well as a bunch of their toys and I made sure the water bowl was fresh. A few minutes before they were expected to arrive, I caught and deposited the only cat who was still in the main part of our house and then closed the door. He began to cry big, pathetic meows which set off the other two. Tigger followed me to the door every time I walked toward it. Sammy found a place to lay at my feet; actually he was on my feet. Delilah meowed at the door and then went back to her spot for a nap. Tigger eventually settled down, too, and though Sammy did lay down, he was obviously very uncomfortable.
The cats were happy when I opened the door again. They cried at first, and while they weren't entirely comfortable with their loss of freedom, they seemed to deal with it well enough. I don't know if I dealt with the men from the carpet company as I should have. I was polite although firm and honest. I paid my bill and wished them well as they walked out the door. I have to admit that I grumbled a lot after they left and I'm determined to never use that company again. I suppose I let these experiences affect me too much, but that's when we most rely on God's grace, isn't it? The key is learning how to live in that grace in a way which we truly receive the benefits of joy and peace.
God doesn't give us the words of the scriptures so that we will be under His control; He knows what we need to live the life He has prepared for us. We will never know peace or joy if we respond to the world with anger and evil. While I didn't respond with anger or evil yesterday, I certainly did not respond with as much grace that I could, or perhaps should, have. And the experience was definitely not one of blessing for any of us. We will find blessings in our obedience to God's expectations of us, not because He rewards compliance; rather, in our obedience we will discover how blessed we truly are.
"Now unto him that is able to guard you from stumbling, and to set you before the presence of his glory without blemish in exceeding joy, to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, before all time, and now, and for evermore. Amen." Jude1:24-25, ASV
A doxology is a brief hymn which praises God, found in many ways in our worship and prayer. The most familiar is probably the doxology that has been added to the end of the Lord's Prayer, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever." Most of us have used another doxology for prayer before a potluck dinner: "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." We often end the reading of the psalms with yet another doxology, "Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, and now, and always, and to the ages of ages." The doxology helps us conclude our prayers and worship focusing on the One who has, does and will provide us with all our needs.
Are you ever convicted by the words you read in the scriptures, by a devotional or by the message of a sermon you hear at church? There are times that the Word of God rips through our flesh and shows us our sinfulness. This can be upsetting, bringing us into a sense of worthlessness, making it impossible to do what we are called to do. But when we sing a doxology, a hymn of praise, we are reminded of the greatness and the glory of our Lord.
The last letter of the New Testament is the book called Jude. It is likely to have been written by the brother of Jesus or one of the apostles to Christians who was part of a congregation that had godless men in their midst. Jude wrote to remind them of the destruction that came to those in the past who did not believe. He warned about those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. "These men are grumblers and fault finders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their advantage."
Imagine what it must have been like for those who received this letter and heard it read in their assembly? We all are guilty of these things at times, and those of pure heart would have been reminded of their own sin. Jude doesn't leave it go at that, however. He writes a call to perseverance, reminding them of the Gospel and encouraging them to build their faith and keep from following the foolish ways of the godless. He then ends the letter with a doxology.
Jude gave them a reminder that it is God who will keep them from following the foolish ways of the flesh. If he had written only of the godlessness, the people would have left feeling unworthy to do the Lord's work, however he reminded them of the true focus of faith.
When we share the Law, we must always follow with the Gospel. When we show people their sin, we must remind them of the source of forgiveness and the strength to overcome. When we preach, we should conclude with a doxology of praise so that we can go out with hearts that are filled with the goodness of God. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost: as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
"He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:10-13, ASV
We have some friends visiting and we've spent the past few days showing them around San Antonio. Last night we went to the Riverwalk, road the boat and had dinner. Then we wandered through some shops and ended up in Main Plaza, the center of San Antonio. This is where the city began in the 18th century when Juan Antonio Perez de Almazan, captain of the Presidio of San Antonio, laid out a central square for the villa of San Fernando de Bexar. The cornerstone for the first church was laid around 1738 and the building was finished about ten years later. Eventually the church was rebuilt, using some of the original walls as walls inside the building.
We went to the cathedral to watch a multimedia presentation that they project onto the face of the cathedral. "SAN ANTONIO/THE SAGA" is spectacular. The twenty-two minute show plays several times an evening, several times a week and tells the story of San Antonio through art and music. The presentation was created by French Artist Xavier de Richemont.
We arrived a little early to get seats at a table close to the cathedral and we chatted as we waited for the show to start. I noticed something interesting about the doors at the front of the cathedral. There were no doorknobs. Of course, there are many other doors as there must be for the people to get inside, but I thought about the statement that this minute detail makes for those visiting the church. We can't get in on our own. Someone has to open the door for us.
First and foremost, Jesus had to make the way. By His sacrifice on the cross, we have been given the right to become children of God. That's what the Church is, after all. We are heirs to the Kingdom of heaven. By the blood and grace of Jesus Christ, we are made part of His body, invited into the Church and joined together in fellowship with Him and one another. We can't open the door, He does.
Once we are inside, He calls us to be doormen to help our neighbors find their way inside. We are invited to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world so that others will enter into a relationship with God our Father whose love and grace has saved us. We don't save anyone, even ourselves, but Jesus Christ has called us into His Church to be part of His ministry to the world.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 30, 2015, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Psalm 119:129-136; Ephesians 6:10-20; Mark 7:14-23
"If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear." Mark 7:16, ASV
Non-believers like to trot out the old rules to prove that Christians are hypocrites and foolish. After all, some of the rules from the Old Testament seem ridiculous to those of us today and we often do not continue to live according to them. Take pork, for instance. We eat pork; most of do, anyway. Bacon makes everything better, doesn't it?
I suspect that if most of us checked the tags on the clothing we are wearing, we would discover that they are some sort of blend with cotton and polyester. Obviously we are lawbreakers, right? My research has shown a number of possible reasons for that particular precept. Some have suggested that it had to do with certain pagan practices of the day which led to the belief that mixing things, like animal, seeds and textiles, honored the gods who would make greater success of their flocks, crops and lives. On a more practical note, mixing linen and wool is not recommended because the fabrics are so different that the garment would not last. The heavy wool will rip the much more delicate linen. While we have developed good production methods for mixing blends that last, we also know that pure cotton clothing has a much better quality than that which is mixed.
There is good reason for the laws which God gave to His people. Pork can be dangerous; this was especially true for the people in ancient Israel. Pig (and seafood) are garbage collectors. They eat junk, which means that they are more likely to ingest things that are harmful for humans. They did not have refrigeration or modern product techniques that make those food stuffs not only delicious, but also safe to eat. We still must be careful because those meats improperly stored and cooked can make us sick, but we have the knowledge to do it well today.
Today we understand that there are certain rules given to us in the scriptures that were culturally important that do not necessarily apply to us today, but we also know that God gave those rules to help us live well. We don't reject pork or mixed fabrics, but we do respect the rules because we know God had our best interests in mind when He gave them.
The problem with the argument that we are hypocrites because we eat bacon and wear cotton/polyester blends is that there is a misunderstanding about the Law and the laws. It is, in a sense, like talking about apples and oranges: both are good for you, but they serve different purposes. The laws were given to protect God's people; the Law was given so that God's people would look to Him.
There is a lot of law talk in today's passages. Deuteronomy is, of course, a books of laws. In it we see how God was calling the Israelites to live in their new land. They were going to face tough times; the world would constantly try to turn them from Him. The rituals and practices were given as a way to keep themselves focused on the life He meant for them to live in the Promised Land, to help them avoid falling into the traps of pagan worship. They were also given to make Israel stand out against the rest. They were set apart for a purpose, to be God's people and through which God would send His salvation.
Most of us cringe a little when we see Psalm 119. The longest book of the bible, it is made up of twenty-two stanzas of law-talk. The same words are repeated over and over again: commandments, precepts, statutes, law, words, mandates, teaching, justice, decrees, testimony, verdict and others. If you compare different translations, they seem to use many of these words interchangeably. Seems to us that perhaps that particular psalmist could have said as much in fewer than one hundred and seventy six verses.
Part of the length has to do with the type of psalm it is; it is an alphabetic acrostic poem that teaches the concept of the law. Each stanza represents a letter of the alphabet, and though we can't see it in English, we know that each line of each stanza begins in Hebrew with the same letter. Therefore, the first stanza is Aleph, and every first word in that eight verse stanza begins with an aleph or letter 'A'. The second stanza is Beth, and so on. This type of teaching tool helps children learn the psalm and it writes God's Word upon their hearts. I've seen it suggested that we should pray Psalm 119 regularly, a stanza a day, so that it would be written on our hearts, too.
But we cringe because there is so much law-talk and it seems too repetitive. Why say the same thing over and over again? We must understand the Hebrew language used in this Psalm to really see the depth of what the psalmist is trying to say. See, there are eight different words that are used throughout these stanzas representing the concept of Law/law, but each one has a distinct meaning. The trouble is that the translators have often used English translations interchangeably, so we don't see those distinctions.
Eight of the stanzas use all eight of the words, and today's psalm just happens to be one of them. Here is a paraphrase of Pey, the seventeenth stanza of Psalm 119. I will use all capitals for the translation of each of the eight words. "The TESTIMONIES (testifying to a fact) of God are wonderful so I treasure them deep in my soul. As your WORD IS SPOKEN (spoken word) it brings light and helps us understand. I anxiously desired ALL OF GOD'S LAW (the entire corpus of God's law.) Have mercy on me according to your JUSTICE (God's divine verdict according to His way.) Guide me according to your PROMISE so that I won't sin. Save me from oppression so I can live according to your AUTHORITY (appointed mandate.) Make your face shine on me; teach me your BOUNDRIES (the limits which protect me from the dangers of the world and myself.) I grieve that they don't know your TEACHING (this is the word Torah.)
See how there is so much more depth to what the psalmist is saying in these verses? It isn't just about obeying some rules, it is about living according God's Word in every sense of the word from the rules to the Promise, all of which establish Him as the authority we are to trust. This particular stanza reminds us of God's faithfulness and reports a longing for obedience that can only be fulfilled with God's help. The psalmist ends with the regret that more people do not know or understand the gift God has given us in His Word and Law.
As Christians we know and understand that the Word and Law has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In today's Gospel package we see Jesus teaching the people that they had become so caught up in following the rules that they lost the intent of God's Word. In this particular passage, Jesus talks about the food. He tells them that it isn't what goes into the mouth that makes a man unclean, but what comes out of the mouth. Faithfulness is not dependent on the menu, but on the thoughts, ideas and practices. When we are questioned about our bacon cheeseburgers, we can point to Jesus' own words here. Even the text tells us what He meant, "This he said, making all meats clean." We should still be careful about how we store and prepare, but we need not worry that what goes into our mouths will harm our relationship with God.
Jesus is always concerned about the heart. What do we believe? How do we respond to the world around us? What words do we use and how do we act? This is what threatens our relationship with God. Jesus says, "For from within, out of the heart of men, evil thoughts proceed, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetings, wickednesses, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, railing, pride, foolishness: all these evil things proceed from within, and defile the man."
Does it matter if we eat bacon or wear cotton/polyester blends? Not really. What matters is that we live according to the Word of God in a way that glorifies Him and shines His light to others. His spoken Word has the power to change lives, to change the world, to save us. We who have heard His Word and believed should grieve, like the psalmist, that too many do not know His teaching. We called to go out into the world to speak God's Word into their lives so that they too might hear and believe.
See, that's how we are saved. We aren't saved by being obedient to the rules that are found in the book of Deuteronomy or elsewhere in the scriptures. We are better when we are obedient because God's laws help us to be the best we can be. However, they will never save us. Only His Word, only His Son the Living Word, can save us. The Law will never save us because none of us are able to keep it perfectly. We will fail often, we will sin. Those who have ears, let them hear.
Once we are saved, God calls us to live the best life we can live. If that means avoiding food that can harm us, then we should avoid those foods. If it means being good stewards of our resources by buying the best quality clothing, then we should do that. If it means avoiding situations that might cause us to sin, then we had best avoid those situations. As children of God, we are meant to be a light in the darkness and the voices that invite people to hear God's Word of salvation.
It is hard. The Israelites entered into the Promised Land with hope, but they were surrounded by others who lived differently. The rules were given to help them keep their eyes on Christ. We aren't much different today. The world surrounds us and offers us happiness in all the wrong places, Satan provides us with opportunities that seem too good to resist. Why not live the life that satisfies our every desire? Why not seek pleasure and laughter and gratification of our flesh? Why not do what is necessary to get what we want and think we deserve? We can justify so many things but in the end they do not glorify God and we risk our relationship with Him when we chase after the wrong things. Even self-righteousness will turn us away from our God.
There are those who think life as a Christian is all peaches and cream, no one with faith could ever be led astay. Unfortunately, that is not true. As a matter of fact, the more deeply committed we are to serving the Lord Jesus, the more likely we will face the attempts by Satan to turn us away. We might fight battles in our flesh but we are fighting an even harder battle in spirit. The closer we get to God, the deeper our faith becomes, the more devious Satan will be. He will even try to convince us that following good rules will be our salvation. We have to be prepared.
Paul gives us help. He lays down a program that will help protect us from Satan and the world, things that will help us keep our hearts and minds on Christ Jesus. The armor of God will provide us with everything we need to stand against that which aims to turn us against Him. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, Word, prayer and perseverance are the gifts God gives us to be the guardians of our relationship with Him. As we dwell in those gifts we will find the joy that truly blesses us not only in this life but in the life God has promised through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. And then God's blessings will flow out of our lives into the world, taking the salvation He has promised to all those who hear and granting that they, too, might live the life God intends for them to live.
"Jehovah, thou wilt ordain peace for us; for thou hast also wrought all our works for us. O Jehovah our God, other lords besides thee have had dominion over us; but by thee only will we make mention of thy name. They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise: therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all remembrance of them to perish. Thou hast increased the nation, O Jehovah, thou hast increased the nation; thou art glorified; thou hast enlarged all the borders of the land." Isaiah 26:12-15, ASV
We visited many old castles when we lived in England. One, I don't even remember where it was, impacted me because it was so small. As a matter of fact, it was no larger than the house in which I live today. It had been a strong castle with thick stone walls, although obviously the king or ruler who lived there was not king over much.
In those ancient days many kings ruled over the land. They held kingdoms that were no more than a few hundred acres with only a few hundred subjects. Their neighbors also considered themselves kings or rules. War was constant as the neighboring rulers tried to gain power, property and subjects. They built larger, stronger castles for protection, seeking refuge behind stone walls. These structures offered safety for a time, but there was always someone smarter, stronger, or quicker who could bring the king to defeat. Sometimes the enemy came from within the walls of the castle, such as a child, brother or trusted friend. Eventually the many smaller kingdoms were merged into the larger one, but even then the wars for power continued.
No matter how strong they were, none of those kings could defeat death. There were some rulers who lasted a long time. They often were men or women who ruled with goodness and mercy, beloved of all the people, even those who might have considered themselves enemies. Even those rulers died eventually. Their kingdoms were passed on to their children, but they too no longer exist. Today, all that remains of these kingdoms are the empty shells of once magnificent castles. Even the memory of many of those rulers has been lost to history.
Jesus Christ, the Servant King, did not wage war for power or property. He lived without a roof for His head, relying upon God's protection and provision. He battled with those who would bring down His kingdom, the people who did not see the truth of His purpose. His refuge was not a strongly built castle, but the LORD God Almighty.
While other kingdoms have been brought to ruin, our Lord Jesus still reigns. This Servant King, one of true goodness and mercy, accomplished the defeat of death itself, by the power and authority of His Father, our God. Glory, honor and praise be to God the King and our Lord Jesus, the Servant King. May you know God's peace today as you live in His Kingdom.
"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known. But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:9-13, ASV
I recently got glasses. They are bifocals that I need to wear all the time. I've gone my whole life without them, and it is going to take a lot of practice to get used to wearing them. Someone told me the other day that he once heard it said that walking with bifocals is like walking in water, since everything below the line (the near-sighted vision) is blurry. That is definitely how I feel. It was very difficult the first few days, but each day becomes a little easier.
I have also had to figure out how to use the glasses at the computer. This has perhaps been the most difficult. I have rearranged my desk, but some of the changes simply did not work. I try new things each day, but it helps that my eyes are becoming accustomed to the glasses. I expect that I will eventually have it worked out. For now I will just have to live with the little aches and pains that come with learning new (better) posture.
It has been a bit of a struggle, but very worthwhile because I can see again. Things definitely begin to change as we get older and sometimes we do not even realize it is happening. Eyesight, hearing, weight, muscle, joints... they all change slowly until one day you realize that your body is old and broken. I could read just fine, but I have to admit that my eyes got very tired and I had some issues with lighting. Now I can see much more clearly and my eyes do not get nearly as tired.
Today's passage from Paul is a humbling reminder that we are imperfect. We do not see clearly. We do not fully understand our God or the faith that we proclaim. We have grown and matured, but even the most educated theologians still see in the mirror darkly because we are tainted by our own sinfulness. But God has given us Jesus-colored glasses which help us to see more clearly. It is amazing for us to see the world through Him, to realize His grace and to experience His love in a whole new way. Someday we will see with absolute sharpness. We won't have to see the world as both saint and sinner, but we will be in the presence of God for eternity and we will see Him fully and completely.
"At that season Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight. All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:25-30, ASV
"All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum is a poem that helps us to see that the simplest lessons are really the most important. While it is good that we work toward being educated in knowledge that leads us to ways we can share our gifts and talents with the world, these lessons are invaluable and last a lifetime.
"Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday school. These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together. Be aware of wonder."
It is Back to School time. Some schools in our area have been meeting for a couple weeks already. Others started last week. I've seen posts online as parents have taken their children off to college in the past couple of weeks and others posting the first day of school pictures of their younger children. Some students are still anxiously awaiting that first day of school, but by next Monday teachers and students should all be in the classroom again.
One young friend has been back in High School for a week and is already exhausted. This is her senior year and she is active in sports and other organizations at school. She has a job and is enrolled in tough classes. These are all good things; she will learn and grow and be ready for the next stage of her life. It is so easy for us to get caught up in the hustle and bustle, however, and to forget these lessons that really matter. Most of all, it is easy for us to get so caught up in our everyday life that we forget about the God who has given us life and gifts and talents to share with the world.
It is good to be educated, but it is even better to share everything. It is even better to play fair and be kind. It is even better to live a life that concerns itself with the neighbor as well as the self. It is good to enjoy life, to find beauty, to create something, to be amazed. It is very good to worship the God who has given us this great big world and all that is in it. It is best that He has given us Jesus Christ, whose lessons guide us into a life that really does make a difference in the world as we share His grace, His forgiveness and the hope of a world where everything is always good.