Welcome to the August 2017 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 2017
“But you did follow my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, steadfastness, persecutions, and sufferings: those things that happened to me at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. I endured those persecutions. The Lord delivered me out of them all. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you remain in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them. From infancy, you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus. Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:10-16, WEB
I began writing A WORD FOR TODAY on August 1, 1999. Today I begin my nineteenth year. That seems impossible. It all began simple enough: I acted as hostess on an online email discussion group while the regular hostess was on vacation. She usually sent an email a day with fun, inspiring graphics, just to ensure that there would be some contact between us. I didn’t do graphics, so I sent a short devotion on some Bible verse I had read or some thought I had about God that day. I continued to write after the two weeks were over, and have continued ever since.
There have been changes, of course. In the beginning I wrote seven days a week, and I realized after a few years that I should take a Sabbath break. I added Midweek Oasis, and then I merged the two and spent a few years focusing daily on the lectionary texts in preparation for that writing. Now I use Wednesday for the lectionary and freestyle the other four days. I have had the website from the beginning, but added a Facebook page a few years ago.
It hasn’t always been easy. Some days I suffer from writer’s block. Other days the message is one I’d rather not send. Some days I feel as if I’m writing to myself, certain that no one is reading these words. Then there are the days when someone will send me a note or comment on a writing to tell me how it has touched their lives. I don’t need accolades, but it is nice to hear that God is actually using this ministry for good.
My website is not perfect. In the beginning I built a page that had all the scripture references so that if you were doing a study you could find out what I had to say on the matter. Unfortunately, over the years I discovered that many of those links are wrong; they lead to a devotion for a completely different scripture text. I also stopped updating that page years ago when I went to the lectionary devotions, and so it is missing a decade of references.
Themes have certainly been used over and over again because there is no way to talk about God daily without mentioning His grace and love. I have had periods of strong emphasis on certain aspects of our faith, like repentance and service. My series on the Proverbs 31 woman became a published Bible study and I’m working on books based on other studies I’ve done over the years.
I have not kept an accurate record of the scripture texts I’ve used. The link page was the best I did in the first few years, but after that I couldn’t tell you the last time I used a text. There are a few favorites that have been referenced time and time again, sometimes in quick succession. I have a few devotions I’ve repeated over the years (March 2, 2000 is one of my favorites.) And I have to admit that I cut and paste with editing bits from some of my older posts. Over the years I’ve written approximately 5000 devotions. I have often wondered what percentage of the Bible I’ve used.
The lectionary helps us to see so much of the Bible over the three years, but there are many stories we don’t see. There are some very hard texts that we all try to avoid. I try to use some of the more obscure texts. You might recall a series last year about strange Bible stories and characters. Despite dedicating so much of my life in the study of scriptures there were a few I’d never heard. Even so, I’m sure that there are plenty of texts I’ve never referenced. I decided a few weeks ago to see. So, I am visiting each archive page and writing the text address. I’ve purchased a Bible with wide margins for notes and I am going to mark each reference with dates used. I hope to uncover a whole lot more wisdom in the pages of our Bibles so that I can keep writing these devotions for many years to come. Every word in the book is for our benefit, even the ones we have avoided over the years.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 6, 2017, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 136:1-9 (23-26); Romans 9:1-5 (6-13); Matthew 14:13-21
“Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good; for his loving kindness endures forever.” Psalm 136:1, WEB
It can be overwhelming. It seems like every day someone is asking for a donation for this fundraiser or that one. I want to give to every single opportunity, but it becomes impossible. I made two donations the other day but had to ignore a third. I just can’t do it all. We’ve had a similar thing happen at our church. We have had multiple collections over the past month or two and another opportunity came up last week. We decided to say “No” because our members are tapped out. There’s only so much you can do.
I can’t possibly meet every need on my own. Even as a crowd we find it difficult. But “The Starfish Story” by Loren Eisley encourages us to try. “One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, ‘What are you doing?’ The youth replied, ‘Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.’ ‘Son,’ the man said, ‘don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!’ After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said ‘I made a difference for that one.’”
We can’t do it all, but we can give our resources to God and trust that He will make miracles happen. If each of us just made a difference for one, we will see many helped.
The disciples didn’t have enough for themselves. As a matter of fact, they may have been wondering how they were going to eat that night. They had five loaves and two fish, not enough to feed a dozen people let alone thousands. They couldn’t pop into the grocery store for food to share. Even if they had these options, how could they possibly have served a satisfying meal to five thousand or more on a hillside in the wilderness? They couldn’t. Their own grumbling tummies made it easy to say, “This place is deserted, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food.” Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.”
In John’s version of today’s Gospel lesson, Philip argues with Jesus. “Even if we spent every penny we have, there is no way we could buy enough food to feed them all.” Andrew, however, says, “Here, we have five loaves and two fishes.” Matthew does not share so many details, but you can sense the hopelessness when they point out how little food they have.
I’m sure there was a lot going through their minds at the time. The first verse of today’s passage says, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat, to a deserted place apart. When the multitudes heard it, they followed him on foot from the cities.” Jesus had just heard that Herod had beheaded John the Baptist. Several of His disciples had been disciples of John. I’m sure they were all wondering where following Jesus would lead them. Would Jesus also end up dying? Jesus was John’s relative. He, perhaps, needed time to grieve. So, He left the place where He had been preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven to be apart from the crowds.
The crowd would not leave Jesus and the disciples alone. While they went to another place by boat, the crowds followed Him on foot. I’m sure at least a few of them were also shocked and scared when they heard what happened to John the Baptist. Jesus was their next great hope. Despite His own needs and the needs of the disciples, Jesus had compassion on them.
The disciples, along with the crowds, had heard the parables we have been studying over the past few weeks. We heard in the parable of the sower about God’s radical generosity to scatter the seed even though some will fall on the path, rocks and thorns. Enough will land on good soil to bring a great harvest. They heard the parable of the weeds which warned that the devil will plant weeds in the fields, but that it is God’s job to meet out justice at the right time. If we try to remove the weeds, we will destroy the good plants. They heard the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven, and learned that even the tiniest of things can grow into something huge. The parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price show us that the Kingdom of heaven is worth our lives. God is worthy of our absolute trust. The parable of the net reminds us God will make all things right in the end.
Did the disciples understand? They thought they did, but then at the first moment when their faith was tested, they didn’t trust God. Instead of believing in God’s radical generosity or the truth that a little can be become great, they were ready to push away the opportunity to see God’s grace in action by sending the people away.
Jesus took the five loaves and two fishes, blessed them and then gave them to the disciples to give to the crowd. When it was over, not only had everyone eaten enough to be satisfied, they collected twelve baskets of leftover bread.
Jesus’ radical generosity almost seems wasteful. He miraculously fed thousands of people with a hearty meal of fish and bread with baskets full of leftovers. What did they do with that extra bread? Was it used to feed the poor or did it go to waste? The story does not answer that question. What we do see, however, is that God is radically generous. He doesn’t give out of some misplaced motivation, He meets people’s most basic needs, but He also does so with incredible extravagance. When it comes to all His gifts, we see in this story how there are always leftovers: something to share. He blesses us with gifts, some spiritual some very mundane, but all are meant to be shared with the world. Our joy, our resources, our spiritual gifts are given in far greater quantity than we will ever need. In Christ we can be radically generous, too, sharing the love of God with the world.
If we work together, we can certainly change lives. If we all put our little bits together, our resources will be magnified. If we follow Jesus’ command, “You feed them” trusting in God’s promises, we’ll find we can do amazing things. But we’ve given up. We’ve accepted the lie that it would be a waste of time to even try. We are like the old man, thinking that we can’t possibly make a difference, so we don’t. We are no different than the disciples. We want to send the people away. But Jesus says, “You feed them.”
We can make it happen. We can make a difference for one, two, or even five thousand. If each person ensured the well-being of our neighbors, or even our families, they would not have to turn to strangers for help. If we make it a habit to prepare for hard times, we’ll have enough to share when the need presents itself. An extra can of tuna fish or a ten dollar gift card might seem like much, but Jesus has promised to bless our work. A few loaves of bread can’t feed a thousand, but it can if we trust God.
In today’s Old Testament lesson, Isaiah was speaking to the exiled Israelites with a promise from God. In the previous chapter, God’s promise was for the rebuilding of the Temple. The invitation in today’s lesson is for the feast that will come after: the dedication feast. Isn’t it a bit strange that this passage would instruct us to buy while also telling us it is without cost?
The fifth definition for the word ‘buy’ in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “to accept or believe” as in “I don’t buy that explanation.” Can you imagine the people to whom Isaiah is speaking these words and what they must have been thinking? They were still in exile and their future was uncertain. They might have found it hard enough to believe that they would ever be free, let alone to believe that they would celebrate the restoration of Israel, the Temple and Jerusalem. To these people, Isaiah said, “Come, you who are thirsty.” God promised that they will be satisfied, not because of anything they can give to God, but because of His faithfulness.
Part of Israel’s problem is that they looked to other gods for their spiritual guidance. They accepted and believed – bought - the faith of those other gods. Isaiah says, “Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which doesn’t satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in richness.” Things are no different in today’s world. We insist on having more than enough, working to ensure that we will never suffer. This is true of our physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
We often get confused about what we need and what we desire. We need to eat. We desire more than a bite of every good and wonderful thing on the buffet. We need, even more, the Bread of life. We need Jesus Christ who fills us with more than food. He fills our hearts with the desire for the truly good things in life. He was sent from heaven to live, die and rise again to new life so we can freely live in the love and glory of the Most High God. It costs us nothing to partake in the bread and wine which is the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and in that meal we will be more than satisfied. The feeding of the five thousand shows us the miraculous and abundant grace of God, and serves as a foreshadowing of the greatest meal: the Eucharist. As the psalmist says, “Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good; for his loving kindness endures forever.”
Paul was a Jew and he loved his people. He knew the blessings of being one of God’s people: the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the law, the worship, and the promise. Yet, he also knew that they were missing something: Jesus. It was a hard quandary for Paul, to know the people he loved did not know the assurance of faith in Christ, but also knowing that they were beloved of God. How do we deal with this dichotomy?
We struggle with the reality that we can’t help everyone who needs us and our resources. Paul struggled with his love for Israel and his desire for all to know Jesus. He wanted to save the whole nation of Israel; he even wished that he could give up his salvation for the sake of those he loved. Paul could only live in hope, trusting that only God could provide the salvation for the His people. Hope is a solid foundation for our life of faith. In hope we will have the courage to go into a place and share the Good News of God’s mercy and forgiveness despite the dangers we face. Jesus had no time to mourn the loss of His cousin or to settle His own fears of what might happen. He took God’s grace to others.
As we look at the world we often wonder how God is going to manage to fulfill His promises. The chaos and confusion is overwhelming. Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. There are far too many people who need our meager resources. Yet, God is faithful and His promises are true. There is still work to be done, people for whom God’s mercy has yet to be revealed. He has called us to give Him our five loaves and two fishes and has promised to make it feed thousands. He has invited us to scatter the seed and promised to make it grow. He has called us to give everything for the sake of His Kingdom and has promised that it will be worth our sacrifice.
The psalmist says, “[God] gives food to every creature; for his loving kindness endures forever.” There is always enough. The overflowing baskets of bread show us that God’s grace goes on and on. He can make five loaves and two fish feed thousands and He can make the ministry of twelve men go on for millennia. It continues with us today. We still eat that bread and we still hear God’s Word. We are strengthened for the journey and given everything we need to share with others. There are many who do not yet know Christ. It is up to us to share Him with them. God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. He will forgive those whom He will forgive. He will give life to those whom He will give life.
Like Paul, we can hope for those who do not yet know Him. They might be our own people, our own family and neighbors. They might be complete strangers who are served by the fundraisers that demand our money. They might be people in foreign lands who hunger for bread and well as for Christ.
For us, the promise begins at the font, but it continues regularly as we join in the feast that God lays before us at the Lord’s Table. There we will be renewed and restored to go out into the world to invite those family members, neighbors and strangers to dine with us. The meal may seem sparse, but it is more than satisfying. It is there we meet God in a very real and tangible way and proclaim the life, death and resurrection of the One who gives us true life, eternal life, life in the presence and the Kingdom of God. His loving kindness endures forever, so let us give thanks for God’s radical generosity!
“Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid or scared of them; for Yahweh your God himself is who goes with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6, WEB
Our cat Sammy is a scaredy-cat. I don’t know why, but he does not like when someone knocks on the door or rings the doorbell. He runs to the closet to hide. He might appear if the person stays in our house for a very long time, but he usually stays hidden until long after the person first came to the door. He does this even if it is just a delivery man who never even enters the house.
I don’t recall any reason why he should be afraid; his fear is exactly the opposite of his sister, who runs to the door when the bell rings. I think she hopes it will be someone with a purse. She loves to stick her nose inside and rub against them. Tigger will usually be curious about visitors, but tends to stay in the background, unafraid but not brave like Delilah.
I had a cat that had every reason to be afraid. LaToya was abandoned in a parking lot, found in a paper bag. I always suspected that she had been abused in her first few weeks of life. She was a kitten when she was found, barely old enough to be separated from her mother. She lived with me for a very long time; she moved several times, became part of Bruce’s life when we were married and saw the birth of our two children. Despite many years of love, she was afraid of strangers. Friends who visited our home in California could hardly believe we even had a cat. “You play with those cat toys on the floor, don’t you?” they used to joke.
We can’t know why our animals react the way they do. Sometimes we have a hard enough time understanding why we are afraid. I don’t consider myself a scaredy-cat, but there are moments when I want to run and hide in my closet just like Sammy. I’m sure we all have moments like that. We are afraid of being rejected or failing. We are afraid that the outcome will not be what we hope or expect.
Today’s passage comes just as Moses was about to send God’s people over the Jordan to the Promised Land. He could not go with them; they would have to follow Joshua to their new life. The people crossing into the Jordan had known nothing but the nomadic life of wandering in the wilderness. They were a new generation, they didn’t even remember Egypt. They would face enemies. They would fight wars. They would have to learn how to settle down and live in a new way. There was hope in the promise of God, but also fear. What if they failed?
Moses told the people to be strong and courageous. They could no longer rely on him, but they had no reason to fear. The God who had led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness would not abandon them. They did not need Moses; they had the One who chose Moses. He would be with them always. The same is true for us. We will face moments when we are unsure of our future. We might even be afraid to cross over to some new life. We can face it with faith, trusting that God will never fail or forsake us.
“So let a man think of us as Christ’s servants, and stewards of God’s mysteries. Here, moreover, it is required of stewards, that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you, or by man’s judgment. Yes, I don’t judge my own self. For I know nothing against myself. Yet I am not justified by this, but he who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each man will get his praise from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, WEB
One of the daytime judges constantly says, “Say it forget it, write it regret it.” She says this to the young people who put so much of their lives on social media. Many of them get into trouble because the posts provide proof for the other litigant’s case. Their words can easily be used against them.
A young girl was being interviewed on another type of show. She was an out-of-control daughter, stealing cars and doing drugs. She was even leading her younger sister down the same path. She denied that she was doing anything wrong and blamed her parents for all her troubles. She claimed she was protecting and guiding her younger sister in a good path. The interviewer showed pictures and videos from her social media. “How did you get that?” she asked, still claiming none of it was real. She continued to deny her guilt despite the evidence.
I read an article today with stories from Human Resources departments about how they found extremely interesting posts online about potential employees. Some companies are smart enough to do background checks and check references. They quickly discover the truth of resumes. A person can be charismatic, intelligent and seem incredibly qualified for a job while also hiding something that makes them less than ideal. At least a few were hired despite the uncertainty of the HR person. A quick look on social media confirmed their suspicions. Many HR departments have learned to look online early in the process to find that which is hidden so that they can avoid the problems that occur after hiring a questionable employee.
The Internet has made it easy to reveal much that is hidden, and most job resource companies encourage job seekers to purge their social media of anything that doesn’t look professional. That doesn’t always help because what goes on the Internet tends to stay there somewhere. Most of us don’t have the kind of things to hide that those litigants or that young lady don’t want seen, yet our posts can prove that we are not the right person for the job. Even the most innocent posts can cause a company to reject us as a candidate for a job.
Thank goodness God doesn’t dismiss us so easily. There is nothing that can be hidden from this God; He can see to the very depths of our souls and He loves us anyway. God brings all things out in the open – both our vices and our virtues. For those whose hearts are turned toward the Lord, the vices are transformed and the virtues are magnified so that the kingdom of God will be glorified in this world. For those whose hearts are hard, only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can make them soft. Let us pray for those who need to hear that message of forgiveness and mercy and ask God to use us as His servants, sharing Christ with the world so that they too might see Him and walk in the light. God is faithful. He brings to light the darkness and He makes things new with His love.
“Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and news about him spread through all the surrounding area. He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. He entered, as was his custom, into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. The book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to deliver those who are crushed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began to tell them, ‘Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All testified about him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth, and they said, ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will tell me this parable, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done at Capernaum, do also here in your hometown.”’ He said, ‘Most certainly I tell you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But truly I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land. Elijah was sent to none of them, except to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. There were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed, except Naaman, the Syrian.’ They were all filled with wrath in the synagogue, as they heard these things. They rose up, threw him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill that their city was built on, that they might throw him off the cliff. But he, passing through the middle of them, went his way.” Luke 4:16-30, WEB
Jesus began His ministry was about thirty years old. It began very quietly, with a miracle at a wedding; few people were even aware that something incredible happened. Jesus performed many miracles; He was popular as word of His miracles spread across the land. Eventually, He went home to Galilee for a visit and taught in their synagogues.
The people were amazed and pleased that their son Jesus of Nazareth had come to visit. They were seeing the fulfillment of prophecy. They wanted Jesus to give them everything they’d heard that was happening around His ministry. They thought that because He was their son, then He would give them more than He gave to anyone else. However, Jesus answered that He would be rejected like the other prophets. He knew they were expected all the wrong things from Jesus. The people were looking for something they thought was better.
Jesus told of two miracles performed by Elijah, when he fed the widow of Zarephath and cleansed the leper, Naaman of Syria. God’s provision and healing through Elijah came to Gentiles. Elijah was rejected because his people did not think that he should go to the other nations. Jesus warned the people of Nazareth that if they rejected Him, He would be sent to the Gentiles just like Elijah. They did reject Him and were so angered that they tried to throw Him over a cliff, but His time had not yet come to die.
Jesus came for those who would hear His message and believe. Many still reject Him today because they are looking for something different in a Savior. They want someone who is going to give them what they want, to put them ahead of others. But God does not confine His love to a select few. His mercy and redemption is given for all who hear.
“Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the lawyer of this world? Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom didn’t know God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save those who believe. For Jews ask for signs, Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews, and foolishness to Greeks, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brothers, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, and not many noble; but God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and God chose the lowly things of the world, and the things that are despised, and the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are: that no flesh should boast before God. Because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, “He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:20-31, WEB
I spent a few days last week in Nashville, Tennessee with my daughter. She lives entirely too far away from me, so it was nice to be able to spend time together. Nashville was out destination because it was the venue for my church’s national gathering. It was also convenient for her. We managed some time as tourists and enjoyed some of the unique offerings of Music City USA. We toured the state capital, visited the Musicians Hall of Fame at the Municipal auditorium, walked down Broadway, visited Centennial Park, ate some Bar-B-Que and took the backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry. We enjoyed a bit of honky tonk and a fried baloney sandwich, went to the Duke’s of Hazard Museum and shopped for souvenirs at the Willie Nelson Museum.
Our purpose for being there, of course, was to participate in one of the activities at the gathering. The week was filled with many different events. There were conferences and workshops for young theologians, youth ministers and the women of the church. There was a Global Forum with representatives from all around the world, a theological conference and a Mission Festival to discuss discipleship and mission. The week ended with the business of the church. It was a week of seeing old friends and hearing about the many ways that faith us being lived in our world through our congregations and members.
My daughter and I attended the theological conference. Five academics presented lectures with the theme “Savior and Lord: Lectures on the Work of Christ.” The speakers talked about salvation and the life-giving sacrifice of Christ from a biblical point of view. This being the 500th anniversary year of Martin Luther’s nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses meant that they also looked at these topics from his point of view. One spoke on Luther’s understanding of Psalm 8, another looked at the Small Catechism as a prayer book that focuses our hearts and our minds on Jesus Christ.
I have to admit that I won’t be able to repeat much of what I heard during those five lectures. I am a fairly intelligent woman, but I’m not an academic and the lectures were presented as theses, proofs and summaries. I always find it a bit difficult to follow when the theologians use “five dollar words” or bring out the Latin, Greek or Hebrew. I realized this year (this was my fourth time attending) that part of the problem is that I become confused when they use quotes, especially when the quote is from someone speaking the opposite of their point. I know I would do much better to read the essays, to take my time with the ideas being presented. Despite these problems, I enjoy these conferences and come out better for having listened.
These speakers are professional theologians. They think deeply about God and the Bible. They study the scriptures in ways that most Christians do not. This is their job, and they use their knowledge and research to teach others to think more deeply about God. It is important that we have theologians to understand and teach the scriptures so that we stay on the right path. God has spoken to us through the text and it is very, very easy for us to read what He has said the way we want it to be said rather than as He meant it to be said. We are always just one twist of the Word from heresy, and Satan is constantly twisting God’s Word to lead us astray.
Now, while those speakers are professional theologians, every Christian should also think deeply about God. We don’t need to use five dollar words or speak the ancient languages to study the scriptures given to us by God. The thing we must remember is that the place to begin all our thought is with prayer. One of the speakers said, “Prayer is the making of a theologian.” His point was that prayer sets every Christian on the path of thinking deeply about God. It is where we begin having a deeper, fuller, more complete life of faith. It builds our relationship with the One about whom we are thinking. This God we are chasing is beyond our reach; the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. Yet we are invited to sit at His feet, to hear His Word and to consider what it means for our lives today.
We don’t become theologians to become great but to grow closer to the One who is our God. This begins with prayer, the conversation that takes place as we kneel at the throne of God laying before Him our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, our life and love.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 20, 2017, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Psalm 67; Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32; Matthew 15:21-28
“Maintain justice, and do what is right; for my salvation is near, and my righteousness will soon be revealed.” Isaiah 56:1, WEB
I’ve heard people say about someone, “He (or she) looks like a Christian.” What does a Christian look like? Does it have to do with what they wear? Can race, nationality, physical features or gender act as identifying marks? Does wearing a piece of jewelry with a cross mean a person is a Christian? We all know the answer to these questions. Of course, there are some outward signs that may make a person’s faith obvious. Certain communities require certain clothing. Some kids love the faith t-shirts they can wear. But the outward signs do not guarantee commitment to God. A person can be a Christian without wearing a t-shirt saying so.
For those in Isaiah’s day, the identifying mark of God’s people was national and religious heritage. The Jews were Jews because of where and who they came from, not who they were. That’s what they thought. Through Isaiah, God told them that it was not their race or nationality, or any other outwardly identifying marks, which makes them people of God. The ones whom God will embrace, whose sacrifices God will accept are those who do justice, who wear righteousness and obedience, and are found joyfully worshipping in the Temple. It doesn’t matter what they wear, whether or not they can pinpoint their genealogical line. God sees their hearts, and the world sees that they live according to the ways of the God of Israel.
What does this mean? Ask two Christians to define justice and you’ll hear two different answers. The elephant in the room as pastors are preparing their sermons for this Sunday is the horrific tragedy of last weekend. Though some, many, addressed it this past Sunday, the text for this week comes at a moment when we can’t ignore God’s voice in the midst of it all. Both sides of the present divide believe that they are fighting for justice. Unfortunately, I think the reality is that neither side truly knows what God means when He says, “Maintain justice.” Justice is not “I will get what I want or what I think I deserve,” but rather about making God’s world whole again. Hatred and violence will never make the world whole again. And there is hatred and violence on both “sides.”
Unfortunately, by the time Jesus lived, the identifying mark of the Jews was whether or not they could obey the laws, or rather the interpretation of the laws. The laws became the rules for identifying someone as righteous and only the righteous were part of God’s people. Obedience was a sign of righteousness. If people did not do as they were required by the interpretation of the laws provided by the temple leaders, then they were not even worthy to worship God in the community of believers. They were unclean and in their uncleanness had the power to make others unclean. They were outcast and unwelcome. This is why Jews did not fellowship with Gentiles or an unclean Jew. They were unclean because they were sinners and the righteous were not allowed to be in fellowship with sinners.
Is that any different than what we are doing to one another today? Don’t we point our fingers at “the other” and claim they are the sinners. We believe that our cause is right and they are not only wrong, but evil. We use God’s Word to prove our point, but the paradox is that they do too. We can all point to a proof text that shows our righteousness; so can they. We all forget that we are as fallen as our neighbor. None of us are perfect; we all fail to live up to the expectations of our God. There are none who are innocent; we would do well to recognize our own fault in the brokenness of our world.
A woman, a foreigner, cried out to Jesus for help. She was “the other.” The woman in today’s passage did not fit into the mold of those whom would be considered righteous according to the rules of the Jews. She was a foreigner, a woman, a sinner in need of a savior. We know nothing of this woman. Was she married? Was she wealthy or poor? Was she respected among her people or is she an outcast? All we know is that her daughter was possessed and she was desperate.
She yelled to Jesus, “Have mercy,” but Jesus did nothing. He ignored the plea. The disciples did not help her; instead they told Jesus that He must send her away. They were probably concerned about what the other people might say. They didn’t want to ruin the ministry. They didn’t want to upset the authorities. They didn’t want to chase away the very people whom they were saving.
In response to their concern, Jesus answered her, “I wasn’t sent to anyone but the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He rejected her, but His words brought her closer; she saw the open door and she entered into His presence. She asked again. He answered, “It is not appropriate to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” We are shocked and bothered by Jesus’ interaction with the woman. This is not what we expect from the Lord of Love. It was, in an ancient sense, a bigoted response. The Jews called the gentiles dogs.
In chapter 15 of Matthew, Jesus tells it as He sees it. The Jewish people, especially the leaders, were no longer living faithfully according to God’s Word, but were following a bunch of self-righteous rules. Justice was not according to God’s intent, but what they thought they deserved. He condemned the practices that manifested a false piety. The traditions of the elders had become more important to the keepers of the Law than the reality of God’s justice. In 15:1-9 Jesus questioned the Pharisees about a law that actually dishonors fathers and mothers. They claimed it was honoring God, but by dishonoring fathers and mothers it was really dishonoring God.
Jesus answered as would be expected of someone in His position. He was being like the Pharisees He’d just rebuked for following the letter rather than the spirit of the Law. He was showing His disciples what it looks like to be unmerciful.
Jesus did not send her away as they advised. Instead, He continued the exchange, leading her into a confession of faith. She was not a Jew; she was not marked by the covenant or bound by the Law. The disciples were Jews and had the advantage of being born into that covenant. They knew the Law and lived rightly and yet last week Jesus said they had little faith. The self-righteous Pharisees were rebuked for misusing the Law for their own benefit. They may have looked faithful, but God saw their hearts.
The woman in our story today probably looked much like the average Christian in our world today. Though a relatively high number of people in the United States claim they are Christian, a relatively small number of people actually appear to be one. Most Christians do not stand out in a crowd. As I look out my window at the homes in my neighborhood, I can’t say whether my neighbors are Christian or not. I am aware of a few who go to church. I know some of them do really great things in the community. Most would give me the shirt off their back if I needed it. But I doubt I would ever say, “Great is thy faith” to any of them. I’m sure my neighbors would think the same of me.
I confess that I would never say “Great is thy faith” to any of those who are perpetuating the present brokenness and divide in our world today. Though some may have marched or countermarched on Saturday because they believed it was demanded of them by God, I don’t see great faith in any of their lives. Hatred and violence does not come from God. The thing for us to remember is that somewhere in the midst of the horrific tragedy of last weekend is God saw their hearts. He knew the ones who were fighting for His justice in the world. He knew the ones who truly sought healing and wholeness to the brokenness.
The woman in today’s Gospel story was not part of the faith community. To the Jews she was “the other,” an outsider who came to Jesus to be healed. She must have heard about His power, perhaps she was even in one of the crowds who had heard Him preach. Maybe she was in the crowd that ate the fish and the bread in the miracle of the feeding of five thousand. The community (or at least the leaders themselves) thought that the Pharisees and teachers of the law were the faithful ones because they obeyed all the religious rules and did what tradition demanded of them, but they aren’t the ones to whom Jesus says, “Great is thy faith.”
Jesus said, “Great is thy faith” to this dog because the woman showed what it means to be faithful. She accepted His judgment: she was a dog. She was a sinner. She needed Him. She probably knew what the Jews thought about her daughter’s demon-possession. She probably understood that she was to blame; she accepted that blame and humbled herself before the Lord. She knew Jesus could fix it. “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” She sought Jesus’ mercy and had confidence that God’s promises were as real for her as they were for those who wore the identifying marks of God’s covenant people. That is faith.
How hard must it have been for those Pharisees and teachers of the Law, who thought they had great faith, to see Him crediting this dog with a faith that was not obvious in their own lives? What about those disciples? They left homes and families and followed Jesus everywhere and yet in last week’s story about walking on the water in the storm, they had little faith. How could a foreign woman have great faith when they had little? In their failure to trust, the disciples learned that they, too, were sinners in need of a Savior.
She had great faith because she trusted in God even though she had no reason to think He would do anything for her. The disciples had everything going for them: they were Jews. They came from the right heritage. They believed in God. They knew the scriptures. They followed the Law. They followed Jesus. Surely their faith must be great! Jesus isn’t suggesting that she was better than the others, or that she was more deserving of God’s grace. Compared to the disciples and to the Pharisees, she didn’t have the credentials. She didn’t appear to be the right kind of person to receive God’s blessing. She simply had no reason to believe that God would do anything for her. Yet Jesus saw her faith and humility and held her up as an example of great faith. She doesn’t need the credentials; she only needs to believe.
God is not looking for people who have a certain appearance. He is looking for people who are humble of heart, those who willingly accept the reality that we are merely dogs. We are unworthy of the crumbs God gives, but we are faithful when we believe the promises. God doesn’t bless us because we do what we think is right. He has blessed us so that we will live in the faith we have been given, doing what is right so that God’s graciousness will be revealed to all, including “the other.”
In today’s epistle lesson, Paul is in agony over the question of his people. He knows three truths: first, that Israel is God’s chosen people; second, that God is faithful; and third, something new has happened. People around Paul claimed that Paul is rejecting God’s Word of promise to Israel by claiming something new has happened. Paul, having experienced the love and mercy of God, cannot understand how the rest of Israel has not embraced Jesus, but he knows God is faithful. He has found comfort in the reality that Israel is God’s chosen people. They are blind for a moment, but Paul is certain that the truth dwells within and that one day, when the time is right, their eyes will be opened and they will believe. For now their hearts are hardened, but there is hope. There is hope because God is faithful.
The psalmist understands that God’s grace is not meant to be confined to a small box, but that it is given so that we might be a blessing to others. God shines His face on ours and blesses us so that we might make Him known to the whole world. This means taking the message to people we do not think is worthy, to the foreigners, the outcasts and the sinners. We are blessed to be a blessing, to draw all people into His heart, to share His promise with the world.
The promises, like the one found in the passage from Isaiah, were meant for us. We don’t need special credentials to enter into the presence of God. Jesus Christ broke down all the barriers between people. In Him there is no difference in nationality, gender or race. Jesus Christ came in flesh to live and to die for our sake, to reconcile all of us to the God who has mercy. By faith we all become part of one family; we are made right by God and we are invited to share in the covenant promises no matter who we are.
There were Christians on that street Saturday. There were people who really were marching to make the world whole again. Unfortunately, we may never see their faces because the images of hatred and violence have become all-encompassing, as if the world were trying to magnify the divide rather than heal it. The truth is that Satan does want to continue the divide, and he will always push us toward hatred and violence. Jesus calls us to love.
The psalmist today joins with the congregation of believers singing praise to God. They seek God’s blessing on them, but unlike many of our self-centered and self-righteous prayers, they wanted to be blessed so that they could be a blessing. They wanted God to share His blessedness with them so that they could share it with the world. They wanted the entire world to sing His praise. This is the prayer that Jesus lived. As we recall our own sinfulness we will treat those who are “like dogs” with mercy, knowing that we too are unworthy of the crumbs we have been given. Sometimes we will be shocked by the people to whom we are called to share God’s message of hope and peace. Sometimes we’ll be offended by the way we learn the lessons of faith.
The faithful will live like the psalmist, singing praise to God and recognizing that He is looking for people who are humble of heart, those who willingly accept the reality that we are merely dogs. We are unworthy of the crumbs God gives, but we are faithful when we believe the promises. God doesn’t bless us because we do what we think is right. He has blessed us so that we will live in the faith we have been given, doing what is right so that God graciousness will be revealed to all.
“Preserve me, God, for in you do I take refuge. My soul, you have said to Yahweh, ‘You are my Lord. Apart from you I have no good thing.’ As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight. Their sorrows shall be multiplied who give gifts to another god. Their drink offerings of blood I will not offer, nor take their names on my lips. Yahweh assigned my portion and my cup. You made my lot secure. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places. Yes, I have a good inheritance. I will bless Yahweh, who has given me counsel. Yes, my heart instructs me in the night seasons. I have set Yahweh always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my tongue rejoices. My body shall also dwell in safety. For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, neither will you allow your holy one to see corruption. You will show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy. In your right hand there are pleasures forever more.” Psalm 16, WEB
What is peace? We certainly can’t find it in the papers or on the nightly news programs. When we open the papers or turn on the TV we are bombarded with information from home and abroad of violence, destruction and loss of life. There seems to be no peace in our world today.
What is peace? Jesus knew peace. He didn’t live without threats of violence. One day the crowd tried to stone Him. The temple leaders accused Him of blasphemy and insurrection. He was crucified on the cross, a most horrific death. Yet, He faced large crowds of hungry people with only a few fish and some bread without worry. He touched the sick, spoke to the outcasts and loved the sinners. He faced His trial without fear; He spoke only the words necessary despite threats from His accusers. He had peace, the peace that comes from knowing God is close.
Jesus said “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, give I to you. Don’t let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.” The world thinks of peace as a lack of violence. The battle cry of the day is “Pray for peace!” This is certainly a most worthy prayer. But what is the peace for which we praying? Peace is not just the lack of violence. Violence is brought on by a lack of peace; the unending cycle of attack and retaliation will only be stopped when the hearts of the warriors find true peace. We have that peace. Christ’s peace is the assurance that God is with us. We live in that peace singing praise and thanksgiving to God and we have been called to share that peace. As we share God’s Word, He works in the hearts of those who are lost in this troubled world and are seeking their own kind of peace with weapons and threats.
As you pray for peace today, do not pray only for an end to the death and destruction that is ruining many lives. Pray that those who live in violence will come to know the peace that passes all human understanding: Christ’s peace. When they have such peace, they will put down their weapons and learn to trust the promises of God. The world will never be completely free of violence, but the peace of Christ can set us on the path of hope and healing, forgiveness and joy.
“Therefore putting away falsehood, speak truth each one with his neighbor. For we are members of one another. ‘Be angry, and don’t sin.’ Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath, and don’t give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, producing with his hands something that is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need. Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but only what is good for building others up as the need may be, that it may give grace to those who hear. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander, be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:25-32, WEB
I was amazed by the number of plugs in the room at the hotel where I stayed in Nashville. Along with the wall sockets, there were plugs on every lamp, on the night stand and even on the chaise lounge. The hotel had recently been renovated and they recognized the need. Everyone has so many electronic devices that need to be charged. I started carrying a multi plug adapter when I traveled to use when charging my camera batteries because older hotel rooms never had enough plugs. I had to unplug lamps or use the bathroom plugs. It was nice to not fight for plugs for my phone, tablet and other electronics.
In the early days of harnessed electricity, appliances needed to be directly connected to the wires in the wall; there were no easy plugs for electrical appliances. These were developed and patented in the early 20th century by Harvey Hubbell and then standardized in the U.S. a few years later. International travel is still problematic since they have different types of plugs. There are thirteen different configurations around the world. So, if you decide to go to Europe or Asia, Africa or Australia, do not bother taking your small appliances. A curling iron will not work because there is no way to plug it in. Of course, this is actually a safety issue also, since many foreign countries use a different voltage and frequency in their electricity. Plugging an American hairdryer into a European socket could cause a fire if it were possible to plug it in.
Today’s passage is filled with some difficult demands. Take for instance, the call to speak the truth. We may consider ourselves honest people, but everyone lies regularly, perhaps even daily. Most of us don’t tell the big lies, but how often do we twist the truth in the little things. “I’m fine,” is probably the most common lie. We don’t want to burden others, so we hide what makes us less than “fine.” Paul tells us to be angry without sinning, and so we say that we are fine, but the anger simmers until it explodes and then it makes us sin. It would be better to admit that we aren’t fine and deal with the issue that is making us angry. We can make similar observations about the other demands in today’s passage.
We find it difficult to live up to these demands. How many of us can actually say that no corrupt speech comes out of our mouths? Do you curse? Do you make negative comments? Do you whine or complain? None of those works build up our neighbors. While the level of our bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander might not be as bad as our neighbor, we are reminded that sin is sin. All fall short and need the grace of God.
Paul writes, “Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” This can also be translated, “Do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit.” Though these demands are difficult for us to live up to, we are reminded that as God’s people we have been given the Holy Spirit to help us. We have been sealed by God’s Spirit, made heirs to God’s kingdom. He connects us to Himself by His Spirit. Without Him, we could do nothing. Thankfully, God makes His Spirit more available than electricity in a hotel room; by His power we can always be “plugged in” and can everything that God has called us to be. We can be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave us.