Welcome to the January 2007 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, January 2007
Scriptures for Sunday, January, 2007: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Acts 8:14-17 Now when the apostles that were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit: for as yet it was fallen upon none of them: only they had been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
It was a chaotic time. The Church was in its earliest days. Even the Apostles were trying to figure out what it all meant. Though they had learned at the feet of the Master, our Lord Jesus, they still had to learn how to be disciples without Jesus in their presence. If we still have questions two thousand years later, they certainly had questions. It was also chaotic because there were so many who sought to end the growth of the movement that was known as “The Way.” The believers were being persecuted – by both Jews and pagans.
All fled Jerusalem except for the apostles and they were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. They were scared, but they were also passionate. Throughout the book of Acts, we hear stories of people who taught about Jesus but had not quite had the whole story. Apollo did not know about the Holy Spirit, so all those who came to believe in Jesus under his teaching did not receive the entire blessing.
The same appears to be true in our story today about those who came to believe in Samaria. Phillip was a believer chosen to be part of the leadership in the church in Jerusalem. He was one of the seven deacons chosen to be administrators of the gifts of the church. He, like all the others, preached the word of God wherever they went as they fled the persecution in Jerusalem. Phillip ended up in Samaria, preaching with miraculous signs. The people saw what he did and believed what he said and were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.
In our passage today we hear that this was not enough for the people to receive the full blessing of faith. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon them even though they had accepted the word of God. Peter and John went to Samaria when they heard that the Samaritans believed to ensure that all was well in this new and growing church. When they arrived, they laid hands on the believers who then received the Holy Spirit.
We must beware not to assume too much in this passage. For some, this is a proof text that the Holy Spirit comes at a time after baptism – a separate experience for the believer. For some, this text proves that only certain people are able to bestow the blessings that come with faith on a person. In the scriptures, however, we see examples that make these two assumptions untrue. At times the believers received the Holy Spirit before baptism. Later in the book of Acts, we see Phillip baptizing the eunuch with a much different effect.
What we should learn from this passage is that it does matter what is preached and how it is given does matter. Phillip preached with passion and the people believed what he said because his words were accompanied by the signs that God was with him. Yet, Phillip did not have the whole story. He had not developed a full understanding of what was happening in and through the Church. He, like Apollos, needed to be trained in the ways of God’s grace to fully share the blessings of faith with the world. He must have learned something from Peter and John in Samaria, because he went on to preach to others, called by the Holy Spirit.
We do not learn in this passage that there is a specific way God works in the lives of believers or that there are only certain people who can share the faith with others. We learn that we can not separate belief, baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit. They are not separate events, but rather are part of a process that takes both a split second and a lifetime to complete. We also learn that it is not enough to be baptized, but that a life of faith includes a lifetime of learning and growth in our relationship with God.
Scriptures for Sunday, January, 2007: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 And as the people were in expectation, and all men reasoned in their hearts concerning John, whether haply he were the Christ; John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but there cometh he that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire: whose fan is in his hand, thoroughly to cleanse his threshing-floor, and to gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire… Now it came to pass, when all the people were baptized, that, Jesus also having been baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form, as a dove, upon him, and a voice came out of heaven, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.
It is a new year. We’ve all heard the talk about resolutions and ways to get off to a good start – a new beginning. Reporters have been giving us advice about how to deal with our finances, our health, our relationships, our jobs and our leisure. Along with the advice have come the jokes – about how we’ll all fail at our resolutions within weeks or even days. We’ll cheat on our diets or buy another frivolous item that we’ll never use just because it is on sale. We’ll fall back into our old habits and never accomplish what it was we set out to do in 2007.
John the Baptist was out there in the wilderness baptizing folk. He was a very charismatic leader. He had many followers, so many people that some began to believe that perhaps John was something more. Some even wondered if John might be the Messiah for whom they were waiting. They willingly went to him for baptism, a cleansing that would make them new and prepare them for the coming of God’s kingdom. They thought that the baptism would make a difference in their lives. It was a chance for a new beginning.
Yet, many of those followers were not ready when the Messiah did come. They did not recognize Him. They did not see the kingdom of God when it was right before their noses. As a matter of fact, they continued to do many of the same things that they had been doing before they were baptized. They might have tried to change, but they fell short. We all fall short.
John insisted that he was not the Messiah, but that One would come who would baptize with more than water. He would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. That One came to John in the River Jordan and asked to be baptized. In other versions of this story John argued with Jesus saying that he was unworthy to do the baptism. “You should baptize me,” he said. Jesus insisted. In Luke’s version, we simply hear that Jesus was baptized with the others. While Jesus was praying, something miraculous happened – the heavens opened up and the Spirit in the form of a dove came upon Jesus. Then the voice of God said, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.”
Jesus went on from that moment to do miraculous things and to preach with authority. Was anything changed on that day? Did Jesus’ baptism make anything new? No, Jesus was, is and will be the Holy One of God. It was a beginning, but not a new beginning. It was the start of the purpose for His coming. He still had things to do, but this was the first step to the cross. He did not become the Son of God at this moment, but God reached out to touch Him with the encouragement to go do all that He was sent into the world to do.
This day is a chance for us to remember our own baptisms. We were cleansed – made clean and new as children of God. Yet, like our new year’s resolution, we fail. We still make mistakes. We still sin. We still seem so far from God. This difference is that when we are baptized we begin a new thing. We begin a new journey and it is a journey that lasts a lifetime. We are changed, but we are also being changed every day. Sometimes we manage to overcome our failings. Sometimes we are able to keep our resolutions. Sometimes we are able to stop doing the sins that hurt our neighbor and dishonor our Father in heaven. Most of the time we are very human and we can’t do what we want to do. We know, however, that we are forgiven and that we can make a new start again and again and again because Jesus went to the cross for our sake. His baptism was the first step of a journey, just as our baptism is the first step of a journey. In Him we are made new and we continue to be made new every day. Thanks be to God.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 14, 2007: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Isaiah 62:1-5 For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her righteousness go forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burneth. And the nations shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory, and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of Jehovah shall name. Thou shalt also be a crown of beauty in the hand of Jehovah, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God. Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land Beulah; for Jehovah delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee; and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.
My mom and dad owned a bar in Pennsylvania quite a few years ago. The bar was part of a larger building that included an apartment for them on the second floor and extra rooms on the third. One night there was an accident and the bar was badly burned by a fire. Though there was a little bit of smoke and water damage upstairs, the building was still livable. They just needed to restore the bar.
When they began the process of cleaning and rebuilding they decided to make some changes. The new bar was larger and doorways to the back rooms were more convenient. When all the work was completed, the bar was much nicer than it had been. It was more welcoming, more convenient and more fun. What came out of the disaster was something wonderful.
We’ve heard for the past few months the promises of God through the prophet Isaiah. The promises were to the exiles that had been taken so far from home. They were living in a strange land with strange people far from the land of their ancestors and the throne of their God. Though life was not terribly difficult for the exiles – as a matter of fact, many of them prospered in Babylon – there was always hope for the people of God to return home. When the finally arrived home to Jerusalem, they found that the city of their hopes was desolate. The city had not yet been restored from the destruction of battle. The few people who continued to live in the city walls had no resources to fix all that was broken. It must have been disappointing to return to such a sight.
However, God has another promise – that which is desolate today will be restored tomorrow. The promised offered a new hope, a hope that Jerusalem would once again be the city that glorifies the Lord. It would be beautiful again and when it is made new the world – the nations – would see the glory of God in her walls.
As we look at Israel as a type of what was to come, we can see that the Church is much like the people of God in the Old Testament. We were exiles, separated from our God by our unrighteousness. According to His promises, He restores us to a new relationship with Him through the forgiveness that comes from the cross of Jesus. Yet, even when we are returned home, things are still desolate. Though I am forgiven, I’m still a sinner. Though I am cleansed, I am still imperfect.
I have a refrigerator magnet that says, “God at work. Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet!” We, the Church, are home, but there’s still work to do. We are cleaned and changed and restored and made beautiful. We are built into a temple in which God is dwelling and will dwell. He does this because He is delighted in us. He loves us. He wants us to be part of Him and His Kingdom. And the world sees the glory of God because He dwells in our midst.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 14, 2007: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Psalm 36:5-10 Thy lovingkindness, O Jehovah, is in the heavens; Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the skies. Thy righteousness is like the mountains of God; Thy judgments are a great deep: O Jehovah, thou preservest man and beast. How precious is thy lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge under the shadow of thy wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; And thou wilt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures. For with thee is the fountain of life: In thy light shall we see light. Oh continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee, and thy righteousness to the upright in heart.
The children went back to school yesterday after a rather lengthy winter vacation. Since Bruce does not even need to get up for work, we slept in a little later each morning. It was nice not to have to get out of bed at the break of dawn, even before the sun had come up. It was nice to relax and to begin the day slowly, not having to rush to catch busses or be somewhere on time. Yesterday we began to old routine again, early to rise and get a start on our day.
I have to admit that I would much rather stay in bed. As a matter of fact, now that the kids are older and able to take care of themselves, I find it very tempting to sleep late every day. I remember in Arkansas the kids went to school extremely early, so I often thought about returning to bed after they were on their way. Zack and I used to listen to the birds as they awoke with singing. Even the plants seem to come alive in the morning – flowers and trees opening up to the morning sun.
I never went back to bed. There was something very special about quiet mornings in the breaking day. The air is fresh and cool, much different than it is during the heat of the day. The crickets are still chirping and the birds are beginning to sing. The sun is just beginning to peak over the horizon, chasing away the dark of night. It is a time when prayer comes a little easier and I can’t help but know that God is still actively involved in His creation. Though I’d prefer to be in bed, a few moments in the quietness of the morning help me wake up and begin the new day.
When things seem to be chaotic around us – with death and illness, changes to our plans, confusion, doubts and uncertainty – it is nice to know that God is always present and is faithful. A few moments in the quietness of the morning, thinking about the wondrous works of God is a great way to start the day. It seems such a waste to go back to bed. Once we are in the light, why go back to the things we do in darkness? While it is Today, let us praise God for the constancy of His hand in this world and His faithfulness to provide all we need for life.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 14, 2007: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
1 Corinthians 12:1-11 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that when ye were Gentiles ye were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might led. Wherefore I make known unto you, that no man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema; and no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who worketh all things in all. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit: to another faith, in the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, in the one Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discernings of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; and to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as he will.
There are places on the internet that offer spiritual gifts assessments. One such site is found at http://www.elca.org/evangelism/assessments/spiritgifts.html. This is a test of sixty questions that help to determine which of the spiritual gifts you have been given by God by the power of the Holy Spirit. This test discovers the gifts which can be used in very tangible and practical ways in the ministry that you do in your congregation or in the world. Though they may not seem very ‘spiritual,’ they are gifts that God has given to be used in, through and for the church to share God’s grace.
The questions are statements of actions and experiences and you are asked whether or not the statements are consistently true down to rarely true. Some people think that because they do not answer consistently true on any of the questions, that they really don’t have any gifts. Some people do not even realize the things they do in the congregation are the evidence of God’s Spirit in their lives. They do tasks that seem so ordinary, so temporal, that they could not have anything to do with God. Take the cleaning lady or the administrative assistant. How can scrubbing toilets or printing bulletins glorify God?
The idea of discovering spiritual gifts can be very unnerving for some people. After all, it is easy to think that prophecy and preaching, teaching and healing are spiritual gifts, but not so easy to say the same thing about service or organization. They are afraid that the results will show a pastoral gift, unable to fulfill the expectations they see coming with such a gift. However, the pastoral gift need not mean necessarily that the person with the gift will become an ordained pastor. A person with the pastoral gift may simply be someone who has the confidence, capability and compassion to provide spiritual leadership and direction for individuals and congregations. Though the most obvious way of using such a gift is to become a pastor, people with the gift of pasturing might also be a bible study or small group leader, a new member sponsor or a counselor.
The thing we do not really understand in the church is that God has created the perfect machine. We are all part of that machine, and if only we all would do what we are created and gifted to do, the machine called the Church would work so much better. However, we are human and we fail to recognize God’s hand in the work we do here in the world. Instead of discovering what it is that God is calling for us, as individuals and as the body of Christ, we try to fill holes with the first body that comes along. We take the willing participants and do nothing to help other believers find their place in the machine. It is like trying to put screws where nuts belong or cogs when we really need a gear. When we are not aware of our own spiritual gifts, we try to do things we are not designed to do.
Those who are born by the Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord are given everything necessary to do God’s work in this world. One has wisdom, another knowledge, yet another faith. All of us are bound together by the Holy Spirit and it is by His power that we have the ability to share the Gospel and meet the needs of those who are lost and perishing in this world. He calls us to provide His Word that they might hear, to bring healing to their lives and to share His love with all who cross His path. What are your gifts? How is God calling you to serve Him in this world? At your baptism in Jesus’ name, your Father gave you everything you need to get through this life of faith. Our work is to believe in Him, and in that faith God will use you to share His message of hope and the healing that comes from it with the world.
John 2:1-11 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: and Jesus also was bidden, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when the wine failed, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. And Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. Now there were six waterpots of stone set there after the Jews' manner of purifying, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the ruler of the feast. And they bare it. And when the ruler of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and knew not whence it was (but the servants that had drawn the water knew), the ruler of the feast calleth the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man setteth on first the good wine; and when men have drunk freely, then that which is worse: thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of his signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed on him.
The experts do not always agree about some details pertaining to the Bible and the people associated with the Bible. There are traditional beliefs concerning the writers, though many modern experts often disagree with those beliefs. Take St. John the Evangelist. There are many things we can say about him according to those traditional stories, yet some disagree about whether or not those stories are true. Did John actually write the Gospel? Did he write the Epistles titled with his name? Did he really experience and write the book of Revelation? Some say that it was the same John who was in the inner circle of Jesus who wrote all those books, others say he may have written some but not others.
For today’s devotional, we will assume that John did write the Gospel called John and our passage for today. Jesus was in Cana, a place not identifiable from our modern maps, but likely to have been near to Nazareth. It was the home of Nathanael. Based on the information we have, we can assume that disciples that attended the wedding with Jesus were Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael and possibly a fifth – perhaps the author of the gospel.
It is thought that John was the youngest of all the disciples, that he even may have been little more than a boy when he began following Jesus. This is why Leonardo DaVinci painted him with such a young face and no facial hair. John was the only disciple who was at the cross with the women – perhaps his young age made him less vulnerable to arrest or suspicion. There at the base of the cross Jesus named Mary as John’s mother and John as Mary’s son. I wonder if this was just a continuation of a relationship that had been built over the three years of Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps as a young man John looked to Mary as a mother figure. When I was growing up my friends referred to each other’s mothers in such a familiar way.
That might explain why Mary is not named in the Gospel. She is only mentioned twice – once in the beginning and once at the end, both times as simply “the mother of Jesus.” She was there in the beginning and at the end. She was there for the first sign and the last. John made sure she bookends the story, indicating her presence throughout. The writer never names himself, a sign of humility, possibly leaves Mary unnamed for the same reason. It would have diminished their close relationship just as calling my own mother by her name would devalue our mother child relationship.
Mary was there at the beginning. This scripture tells the story of the first sign of Jesus, the first time the power of God is exhibited in His life. It is a strange sign – turning water into wine. It is such an earthly sign. It is a mundane and material problem. Does God really care whether we run out of wine at a wedding? In this story we see that God does indeed care about the unspiritual aspects of our lives. He cares about our reputation, about our finances and about our celebrations. We also see that Jesus cares about His mother and is willing to reveal Himself before it is time for her sake and for the sake of the family holding the wedding. We see in this story that God does not simply love us, but that He cares about us in very tangible and everyday ways.
Oh continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee, and thy righteousness to the upright in heart.
I was very generous this past Christmas with my Christmas shopping. It isn’t so much that I spent a great deal of money on each member of my family, but they each found an extravagant pile of gifts under the tree Christmas morning. If I found something as I was shopping that I thought someone would enjoy, I purchased it no matter how frivolous or unnecessary it might have been. It was a wonderful Christmas morning as they each opened their presents with delight. Most of all, I was delighted to see them so happy.
It was not that they were excited about receiving a bunch of new things. Instead they were delighted about the things they received. I didn’t purchase gifts just so they would have a pile of presents to open. In my purchases I honored their interests, their personalities and their desires. I did not shower my love on them with presents, but the presents were signs of my love for them that is manifest in my knowledge of their lives. I knew Vicki would enjoy that particular music or Zack would appreciate that particular book because I knew they fulfilled some longing in their lives.
Our scriptures this week speak of God’s abundant love and how it is manifest in our lives. The Gospel lesson seems so frivolous – the gift so outrageous. Why would God care that the host of a wedding ran out of wine, and why would He go to so much trouble to create so much of such a fine wine? After all, the pots were empty, so it would have taken a crew some time to fill them before Jesus could make the transformation. For us, the last drop of wine means it is time for the party to end – it is time for the guests to go home. But Jesus created hundreds of gallons of wine that could last for days, a wine so fine it should have been served when the guests could still appreciate the taste.
This was a sign of God’s abundant love for His people. He does care about the mundane needs of those who believe in Him. He cares about our financial problems. He cares about our reputation. He cares about what the world thinks of us. We see that also in the Old Testament lesson. The exiles returned to Jerusalem to find that it was desolate, destroyed. But God promised that it would be rebuilt so that the world would see that Israel had not been abandoned. For many people, life’s difficulties are proof that the God of our faith is not real or true. The nations looked at Israel with distain because they believed in a God who would abandon them. God promised that they would see His abundant love and mercy and grace because He delights in them.
It is not that God wants to gift His people with a bunch of material possessions to make us happy or to make us appear prosperous. It is also not that a lack of material possessions is a sign that someone has fallen out of God’s grace, for there is mercy in our suffering and hope in our troubles. Instead, we see in our scriptures that God knows us so deeply and so personally that He loves us with an extravagant generosity that honors the very core of our being. He doesn’t give us what we think we want, but fills our desires with good things. He is so intimately bonded with us that He reaches our very spirits with His love and manifests it in the most miraculous and ordinary ways. He does this for the sake of the world, that they might see His glory and believe.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 21, 2007: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21
Nehemiah 8:1-10 And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the broad place that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which Jehovah had commanded to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, both men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. And he read therein before the broad place that was before the water gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women, and of those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Uriah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchijah, and Hashum, and Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: and Ezra blessed Jehovah, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with the lifting up of their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped Jehovah with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. And they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto Jehovah your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye grieved; for the joy of Jehovah is your strength.
Over the past few months, we have heard many Old Testament stories about the people of the exile of Israel and the promises of God. Over and over again we heard that God would be with His people, that God would restore His people, that God would restore Jerusalem so that it would be a shining jewel in the world. Now we move from the prophecies to the history of God’s people after the exile. Our passage for this week begins immediately following the rebuilding effort.
The Israelites had been in exile in Babylon, because God used foreign powers to discipline His disobedient children. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of their return to Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been destroyed, walls as torn apart as the hearts of the people. In exile they were far from God, though the separation had happened much earlier. They did not know the law and they did not live according to the word of God.
So, once the temple was rebuilt and the people resettled – and God’s promises fulfilled – Ezra brought the people together to hear the law. They filled the square and stood while they listened, for hours as the words in the book were read. Beginning early in the morning until midday, Ezra read while the Levites translated and interpreted the Word for the people. They were cut to the heart as it was read, they mourned about how they had been living.
The reading of the Law cuts us to the heart because we see that we are far from God and His intentions for our lives. Yet, we are not to mourn because of His word – for it is truly a gift. We are to rejoice at what God has spoken to us, because in the words of law are also words of grace. He does not seek to punish us, but rather gives us guidance to discipline and make us disciples. He cuts to our heart not to break it but to grasp it in His hand and make it His own. When I stopped the boys this morning, it was for their own good. At first they were sad when they realized how they might have hurt one of their friends. But a word of love sent them off rejoicing. The same is true with us. We might be sad when we realize what we have done wrong, but we can go forth in the knowledge that God is faithful to His promises and His promises are filled with grace.
We often get it backwards. We hear the promises of God but think that we have to get things right with our lives before He can fulfill those promises. Too many people wait to go to church to hear about God’s forgiveness until they feel worthy. They refuse to receive God’s grace because they think they have to earn it. So, they try to obey the law, making it a burden. They believe that once they get it all right, then God can fulfill His promises.
Yet, in this story we see that God did not wait until the people were worthy of His Word – He fulfilled His promises of redemption and restoration before they repented. He answered their mourning with His grace. “Do not cry over the past. You are forgiven and you are mine. Rejoice!” That is what He does for us. He calls us into His heart through baptism and offers the forgiveness that has been bought with the blood of His Son. We spend our lives listening to His Word, learning and growing in His grace. Sometimes we want to mourn as we realize the things we have done wrong. But God says “Rejoice” because the promises have been fulfilled. For the joy of the LORD is our strength.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 21, 2007: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21
Psalm 19 The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, And night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language; their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run his course. His going forth is from the end of the heavens, and his circuit unto the ends of it; and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul: The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart: The commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring for ever: the ordinances of Jehovah are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: Then shall I be upright, and I shall be clear from great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer.
It is impossible for me to look at any aspect of creation and not see the hand of God. I am amazed by the perfect beauty of a rose. I am awed by the power of a thunder storm. I am thrilled every time I see a rainbow and a sunrise. Even when I see the more repugnant of God’s creation, like the buzzards, I can see God’s hand in the reason and purpose for their existence. The creation sings of God’s majesty and glory.
This is particularly true of the vision we see when we look into the heavens. I don’t know who has it better – those of us who live in this modern age, who truly know how big and vast the heavens truly are, or those who lived before the telescope who could only imagine what is happening in that sphere above the earth. For them there was constancy in the stars, but mysteries also. The comets and the planets that move visibly to the human eye acted as signs or omens. This may seem superstitious to us today, but it was one way of explaining what they could not explain. Perhaps that is why it is better to live today – we know what it is and what is happening, so we do not have to rely on our imaginations or superstition to understand that which is beyond our understanding. Yet, our scientific minds have lost a sense of mystery, and perhaps that sense of awe, because we know that a comet is only a comet and not a sign of impending joy.
Though we see God’s hand in His creation and it speaks to us of His glory, the stars and plants and animals can not speak. The creation speaks of God with praise but we can not learn of God’s will through their speech. We can see God’s magnificence, but not know His mind. So we need something more – a voice that tells us how to live in relationship with the Creator. The trees bud and the flower blossoms in the right time of year, but they do not have a spirit that can choose to please the Father. Such a gift has been given only to the human race. It is only to men and women that God has given the chance to know Him and choose to follow or reject His will.
So our psalm includes two different perspectives – the awesome praise of the creation that can not willingly obey the Lord and the words that make it possible for us to follow Him. The second half of this psalm talks of God’s Law – the Word which is not spoken by the creation but only by the Creator. It is perfect, it is right and it is true. We can certainly glorify God with praise like the rest of creation, but we have been given something greater. We have been given the opportunity to live a life that glorifies God by our actions and our words. Yet we are imperfect. We fail. We do not follow God’s Law perfectly. So, we turn to God for help. It is by God’s word that we can approach the throne of grace with the request found in verse 14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer.”
Scriptures for Sunday, January 21, 2007: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; it is not therefore not of the body. And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; it is not therefore not of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members each one of them in the body, even as it pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now they are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee: or again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary: and those parts of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness; whereas our comely parts have no need: but God tempered the body together, giving more abundant honor to that part which lacked; that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and severally members thereof. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, divers kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? have all gifts of healings? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But desire earnestly the greater gifts.
We have watched the first few episodes of the new reality television program “You’re the one that I want.” The show is designed around the musical “Grease.” They are putting together a new show for Broadway based on the original and they are looking for the people to play the lead characters – Danny and Sandy. The television show appears to be a great deal like another reality show that is looking for stars, though it is a far more focused on a particular image.
Most of us are familiar with the image of John Travolta playing the rough street punk Danny and Olivia Newton John playing the Sandy. We can’t imagine Sandy being anything other than a pretty girl from Australia and Danny being that charming rough guy with the amazing eyes and arrogant swagger. Anyone else would not be right for the part. Yet others have played the roles live on stage, people with slightly different personalities and images.
The show producers did an open casting call in several cities around the country, hoping to find someone who can sing, dance and portray the characters as the writer meant them to be portrayed. It was rather strange to watch some of the actors and actresses come before the panel of judges, because they did not fit into our image of the characters. A few of the people that they allowed to get through the first round of judging seemed so unlike Sandy and Danny. However, the judges did not want to be trapped by one particular image. They wanted the right person for the job.
There were a few, however, that were very obviously wrong for the position – because they would have been right for another character in the show. One gentleman didn’t even realize that the show was strictly for two characters. He came dressed like the coach and insisted he’d do well in the part. There was another woman who was very old. There was no way she could pass for a sixteen year-old high school girl. Some of the contestants would have been fantastic as other members of the T-birds or the Pink Ladies, but they would not have passed for Danny or Sandy.
Those roles will most likely be filled by professionals who have auditioned for those specific parts. The television show is not about producing the entire show, it is only about casting the two rolls. Yet, we are reminded that the musical “Grease” is nothing without the rest of the cast. Rizzo and Kenickie play parts that are almost as important as Danny and Sandy. Some of the other characters are probably harder to cast, just because they have such unusual personality quirks. All the characters are necessary to the storyline, necessary to the final product. You can’t have “Grease” with only two stars. Even the Teen Angel, who appears for only one scene, is vital to the plot.
The passage from Corinthians talks about the different members of the body of Christ. Some seem more important than others, purposed for greatness and vital to the mission of the Church. Yet the others – those parts that seem unimportant – are also part of God’s plan. Without them the Church would not be whole.
I talked with a woman the other night who had once heard me share some thoughts on the scriptures. I had spoken about my fear of being in front of the group – knees shaking, heart pumping, hands sweating. She wasn’t sure if I was telling the truth because I seemed so calm. I was telling the truth – I was really nervous, but I was blessed to be able to give the message so I willingly faced my fear. She told me that she was blessed by the message and she wanted to know. She also told me that she was unable to do such things. She said, “I could not have stood there and did that if I was afraid.” I answered her that she had other gifts – like the gift of encouragement. I reminded her that people like me who get in front of the crowds to speak need people like her to encourage us to do so. She thought she was unimportant, but her ministry to me in that conversation was as great – even greater – than anything I might have said in my speech. For it is the encouragement of the little toes that keep us mouths going.
Shakespeare wrote, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” I am not sure this is true, but from the stage we are reminded that the troop needs many different kinds of players to make the whole. So does the Church. We need people with a variety of gifts to be able to do the work that God has called us to do. We need stars and we need extras. We need bit parts and we need understudies. We also need directors, producers, back stage crew and even the audience. Everyone is part of the whole and without every part, we can not function.
Luke 4:14-21 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and a fame went out concerning him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and he entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And he opened the book, and found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovering of sight to the blind, To set at liberty them that are bruised, To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down: and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, To-day hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears.
In today’s Gospel lesson we see Jesus returning to the world after having been sent into the wilderness by the Spirit. He had been tempted by the devil and faced the temptation down with the Word of God. He refused to be led astray by the desires of the flesh – hunger, greed or fame. After the temptation, Jesus was prepared to begin His ministry and to face the people who would cross His path. They would be tempted by the same desires – to be filled, to be satisfied and to be recognized. Many would seek Jesus for the wrong reasons and try to use Him to fulfill their own agendas.
After His time in the wilderness, He was strong and ready to face the world that would not understand His purpose or want what He had to give. They were looking for the fulfillment of certain promises and they would do what they could to ensure that they received those blessings, missing out on the real message God was sending to them in and through Jesus Christ.
I think it is interesting that this passage begins on such a high note – that Jesus was gaining fame based on the things He was saying and the things He was doing. He was a charismatic figure in the country – returning home after His time in the wilderness with something new, a spirit about Him. It was the Spirit of God. He’d been anointed at His baptism and He grew in power as He faced the trials of temptation. He returned new and renewed, ready to preach and teach according to God’s Word.
We often think of Jesus hanging out on hillsides, drawing people into His presence with His words and His actions, but in this passage from Luke we see that He did not ignore or reject the established meetings of the Jews. He wasn’t worshipping God in the meadows or forests, but was worshipping God in the company of other believers. He was welcomed in this forum, welcomed not only to visit but to be a part of the conversation. This was probably not the Jewish parallel of the Sunday morning worship, but more likely compared to an adult forum or Bible study class. The people gathered to hear the Word and discuss it. Visitors who could read were given the chance to read, and preachers were given the opportunity to speak.
Jesus had a reputation by the time He returned to Nazareth. He had some fame and the word of His teaching was spreading all over the region. By the time He entered the synagogue in Nazareth, most of the people in that town had heard some story about Jesus. There were probably some expectations, especially since Jesus was a local boy. If Jesus could do and say things with such amazing power and Spirit, then He would do even more in His home.
What were they expecting? We will know better when we hear their response in next week. What we do discover in this week’s lesson is Jesus’ purpose. He has come to set people free, to bring healing and wholeness to their lives. He has come “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Now is the time. Today is the day.
Jesus said that He came to preach good tidings to the poor. He came to bring sight to the blind. He came to heal the wounds of the people. Since Nazareth was among the lowest of all cities in Israel, this must have been good news. Perhaps they would finally be filled, satisfied and recognized. Perhaps they would finally be accepted as a place of God’s blessings as He fills their stomachs, satisfies their needs and heals their hurts. Perhaps Nazareth would be the shining light, the place where God reveals His glory to the world.
There in their synagogue they were hearing the fulfillment of scriptures. Perhaps To-Day would be the day their desires would be fulfilled.
And he began to say unto them, To-day hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears.
This is the third day of a severe ice storm in Texas, a storm that has affected a great portion of the nation. Even now the storm is moving east and more people will suffer from the cold, the ice and the inconveniences that come from this type of weather. We have been stuck in the house since about noon on Monday, having taken a couple hours to run some errands to prepare for the coming storm. The roads at that point were wet, but the temperatures will still warm enough to allow for a trip to the grocery store and to my workplace to get some things I might need to continue doing my job if the weather should turn out to be as bad as they expected.
It has turned out to be bad. Monday was a holiday, but it extended through Tuesday into today because of the icy roads. Though our 30 degree temperatures might seem mild compared to the weather our brothers and sisters to the north is and will be experiencing, we are not prepared for this type of cold. Our normal high for this date is about 60 degrees and the low is about 35. Our pipes are not as well protected – they are not insulated as would be expected in the north. The pipes do not run as deep in the ground. Our cities do not have the amount of equipment necessary to make the roads safe and our stores do not carry the merchandise needed during an ice storm that is easily available in the north. I tried to buy an ice scraper the other day and the department manager said they were thinking about ordering some for the shelves.
So, we have been trapped in our house since Monday. We had stocked our shelves with plenty of food. We have candles and blankets in case the electricity goes out. We have been taking health precautions – eating plenty of fruit and exercising. We have also watched too much television. Unfortunately, most of the local stations have been reporting live on the weather situation, giving road, school and business closings so that people will stay home and out of danger. It is good to hear these reports, reminded that the weather is much worse than it appears. The roads might just look wet, but they are covered with a half inch of ice. The safest place to be is at home where it is warm and dry.
It seems strange that the reporters are there, out in the weather and working at the station while telling us to stay home. We can’t help but wonder why they tried to make it into work. Why did they risk their lives for the sake of a job? Do they think they are better than everyone else, or more important? Do they think that they are more vital to the city? The reality is that they have not bee home in days. They are staying at a hotel which happens to be right beside the station, a short walk across the parking lot. While it is still dangerous, because even walking means the possibility of a fall, the television station recognized the need to have reporters on duty during this emergency and did what was necessary to keep the workers safe and nearby.
Our scriptures this week shows us the ways by which God makes Himself known to His people. He could very well manifest Himself to us as a burning bush like He did to Moses or a still small whisper as He did to Elijah on the mountain. However, miraculous signs and unexplainable phenomenon makes it difficult to really know God’s will and understand His purpose for our lives. So God also makes Himself known to us in very real and tangible ways. For the Israelites, He gave the Law. Their knowledge of the law was restored as they heard it read by Ezra after the temple was restored to its former beauty.
For the people in our Gospel lesson, the reading of God’s Word was a regular part of their lives. They went to the synagogue to hear the Law and the Prophets read and explained by those who were able to do so. This was just one of the ways God made Himself manifest to the people. Jesus was another way, and in our passage we see Him revealing this to the people of His hometown. Finally, God also reveals Himself through the Holy Spirit and the gifts He gives to His people. In using our gifts we build up the whole body of Christ, the manifestation of God’s love in the world.
The reporters are not more important than any of us who are stuck in our homes. They are using their gifts to help keep everyone safe during this emergency. When this storm is over, we will go back to normal, doing our jobs that are necessary for the whole. There are times when it seems like we are the only ones working in the church, and times when there seems to be nothing of importance for us to do. However, God has brought us together by the power of the Holy Spirit to manifest His love in the world. Each one is important, willed and purposed to glorify God. We are part of one body, one body that is called and gathered to do God’s work in the world. Our gifts are not for our own benefit, but for the whole community, giving for us to love and serve one another and the Lord To-Day.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 28, 2007: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30
Jeremiah 1:4-10 Now the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord Jehovah! behold, I know not how to speak; for I am a child. But Jehovah said unto me, Say not, I am a child; for to whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid because of them; for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith Jehovah. Then Jehovah put forth his hand, and touched my mouth; and Jehovah said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth: see, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.
We recently gave the spiritual gifts assessments to our confirmation class. Despite the fact that they are young, the assessments were amazingly accurate. They showed the gifts we were beginning to see in those students. It was interesting to watch them take the assessments. In many cases they have not yet had the opportunity to experience the things that were asked. No one had gone to them to ask their opinion about some issue in the church. They did not have a home to offer for hospitality. They had not had the opportunity to become active with Bible studies, not realizing that their Sunday School classes were just studies geared to their age.
Many of their answers were timid. Several of them complained that they had no gifts. We know this is not true, but these young people had just not yet discovered the talents or any opportunities to use them. Music, writing and artistry are perhaps the easiest to spot, even at such a young age. But how would they fare when it comes to hospitality, leadership and the pastoral gift? It was amazing to see that even these gifts became obvious in the results of some of these teenagers. As a matter of fact, within the small sampling of students, we saw an incredible variety of gifts – each one having something to offer the congregation and the world.
I suppose that one of the problems we face in the church is that we do not look at teenagers as yet active members of the body of Christ. They are new, fresh and learning – not ready for the responsibilities of ministry. We do not give them the opportunity to serve, except perhaps as acolytes or raking leaves on the playground. We don’t try to help them discern their gifts, to learn who they are in Christ and what He is calling them to do. So, they don’t hear His voice calling them to service. They don’t think they are old enough to have a say. Even our high school students, who have become individual members of our congregation through confirmation, do not take responsibility for their place in the body of Christ. They aren’t given a voice, and so do not speak. They don’t care much about the business, so they do not vote. They do not yet understand that God has called them to serve, to use their gifts for the sake of the community and the world.
I can hear them saying, “Ah, Lord Jehovah! Behold, I know not how to speak; for I am a child.” Yet, in our passage for today, God says to Jeremiah, “Say not, I am a child, for to whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shalt speak.” Unfortunately, we do look upon the youth as being immature and unready. We do not give them to opportunities to use their gifts or even help them to discern their gifts, thinking they are too young. Yet God calls all those whom He has anointed with the Spirit into ministry, young and old alike. It is our task to help them grow in their understanding and in their faith, giving opportunities for service and the respect they deserve as they follow God’s calling for them.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 28, 2007: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30
Psalm 71:1-6 In thee, O Jehovah, do I take refuge: Let me never be put to shame. Deliver me in thy righteousness, and rescue me: Bow down thine ear unto me, and save me. Be thou to me a rock of habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: Thou hast given commandment to save me; For thou art my rock and my fortress. Rescue me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, Out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man. For thou art my hope, O Lord Jehovah: Thou art my trust from my youth. By thee have I been holden up from the womb; Thou art he that took me out of my mother's bowels: My praise shall be continually of thee.
I have recently had the unfortunate circumstance of having a credit card number stolen. The criminals managed to use it several times before it was discovered and I am now dealing with the situation with my bank. It will take some time, but hopefully everything will be solved quickly. Unfortunately, this situation has left be feeling victimized and insecure.
We do not know how they managed to get my credit card number – the card is still in my possession. The policeman who came to take my report said it could have happened a number of ways. I have also heard stories from others who have faced similar situations. It may have been someone over the Internet or it might even have been some waiter at a restaurant who stole the number to sell to someone else. I have recently been more aware of news stories about internet fraud and identity theft. The criminals do not need to be in the same geographic location. As a matter of fact, distance makes it harder to catch the perpetrators.
It makes you feel pretty stupid when you discover you have been victimized in this way. You try to protect yourself, using safeguards on the computer and with your cards. Yet I have learned that many people fall prey – it isn’t that we’ve done something wrong, but that these guys are just so good at what they do. Though we can take precautions, we can’t expect that every wall will continue to stand and every refuge will actually be safe. Somehow, someway they will get through.
We want to be secure. We protect our houses with fences and security alarms. We lock our cars and we hide our valuables. We even have security measures on our computers – firewalls, antivirus programs – in the hopes that we won’t be hacked or attacked. We watch the neighbors and we watch the news trying to stay informed so that we can protect ourselves. Even with all this hard work keeping ourselves safe, we can very easily become victims. It doesn’t mean we are stupid, it just means that our safety nets are not infallible.
I imagine the writer of today’s psalm tried many things to stay safe and protected from his enemies. However, when there is a will there is a way. Even the strongest castle can be undermined, and the strongest king can be overthrown. The psalmist, who was quite possibly a king, was probably old, growing weak in his power and authority, giving hope to his enemies that they might defeat him and rule. The psalmist, however, had a different source for strength, a greater source. He looked to the Lord, approaching Him in prayer for aid from his enemies. The Lord is the greatest refuge.
Our passage also goes on to praise God for being the only real hope that is without disappointment. We work hard to create a secure life for ourselves and our families, hoping to stay safe, but when we become victims our hope is lost. However, through it all we can remember that we have the Lord, whose faithfulness is real. Our hope in His salvation is more than wishes and dreams, it is a reality that will not fail. Thanks be to God.
Scriptures for Sunday, January 28, 2007: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil; rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away. 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.
I suppose it is possible for some bible passages to become so familiar that we stop actually hearing the words. Take John 3:16 for example. Everyone knows that John 3:16 is “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” This is the passage that is so familiar that many feel that we do not even have to say the words for the message to be received. Yet, it is not “John 3:16” that has saved the world. The word must be heard, repeated, over and over again. The words “John 3:16” are not enough and yet the passage is so familiar we do not even listen to it anymore.
The same can be said about today’s Epistle lesson. The passage, known as “the Love chapter” by many, is a passage that is used at many weddings. It is the passage that even those who are not actively involved in church use when they are married in a church. It is familiar. It is comforting. It is beautiful in its poetry and it talks about love. Who would not want to identify their marriage with such a wonderful bit of wisdom. “Love is patient and kind.” This is so easy to say when you are in the throws of romantic bliss. What newly wed is not patient and kind? Love does not envy. Again, who would be envious when they are in the throws of passion? There is nothing better than the love between a bride and groom.
The same could be said about the other descriptions of love. Love does not boast and it is not proud. It is not rude or self seeking or easily angered. Love does not keep any record of wrongs. On a couple’s wedding day, that might be true. What happens a week, month or a year later? What happens after the first fight? What happens after the first failure of a spouse? Does that romantic love so evident on the wedding day still stand? Can this scripture still be referring to that couple at the seven year itch? What about when their world has changed – when children enter the picture or financial situation changes. What happens when one spouse gets that really good job and dominates the finances of the couple? What happens when someone strays? Is love still patient and kind?
While it is a beautiful passage to be read at a wedding and it our hope that those words will still be meaningful through the tough times, the passage is not really about the kind of love we find in that passionate relationship. As a matter of fact, this passage is about a deeper, broader type of love. In last week’s passage, Paul was talking about the spiritual gifts – the gifts given to the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit to build up the believers and the church for the sake of the world. While those gifts are wonderful – apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, administrators, tongues and interpretation – the people had begun to set themselves apart based on their gifts. Some thought they were better than others based on the things they could do. They were using their gifts in boastful and proud ways. They envied one another. They were not patient with each other. They were angry and rude and self-seeking.
This passage should begin with verse 12: 31b, “And moreover a most excellent way show I unto you.” Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians that the way they were missing the most important gift of all – love. Everything else was meaningless if they did not lay it on the foundation of love. Prophecy was a noisy gong without love. In other words, prophecy was meaningless – unheard – if given without love. “John 3:16” is meaningless to the millions of viewers of NFL football, because it is not accompanied by active, tangible love. It is not prophecy to hold up a card at a football game. It is prophecy to speak those beloved words of love to a sinner who is seeking forgiveness from the very person they hurt, to touch their hand and their heart with deep love, to share with them the love of God through Christ Jesus.
Luke 4:21-30 And he began to say unto them, To-day hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the words of grace which proceeded out of his mouth: and they said, Is not this Joseph's son? And he said unto them, Doubtless ye will say unto me this parable, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done at Capernaum, do also here in thine own country. And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is acceptable in his own country. But of a truth I say unto you, There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and unto none of them was Elijah sent, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian. And they were all filled with wrath in the synagogue, as they heard these things; and they rose up, and cast him forth out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way.
And now you know the rest of the story. Most of us can hear the voice of master storyteller Paul Harvey even as we read the words in that sentence. Paul Harvey has a way of spinning a story that takes the listener on a journey into the unknown. The twists and turns leave us wondering where we will end up. Finally, he hits us with the final twist, a surprising conclusion to the story that leaves us amazed. He takes us to a place we do not expect, a place that makes us laugh or think about the lessons to be learned.
We began reading this story from Luke last week, hearing that after a successful tour through Capernaum, Jesus went home. In the synagogue Jesus read from the book of Isaiah the prophet. The passage was a passage of hope – a promise of the healing and release. It was the promise of an anointed one, the One who would restore Israel. This was good news and Jesus told the people that it had been fulfilled in their hearing. In Jesus they could see the beginning of something wonderful as God worked through the anointed one. He had been doing amazing things in Capernaum – healing people, casting out demons and preaching the kingdom of God.
The people rejoiced and they were amazed. The wondered about what they heard, but they did not immediately reject Jesus. They were ready to receive Him and to receive all the good things He could give. They were ready to see the miracles and experience the power of God as He had given to the people in Capernaum. How would we receive such a response from the people to whom we speak? Jesus gave a one sentence sermon proclaiming Himself the fulfillment of God’s promises and the people spoke well of Him, amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips. The hometown hero had come home!
I don’t think most of us would respond the way Jesus responded. Instead of enjoying the good feelings of the people, Jesus answered their enthusiasm with a challenge. “Doubtless ye will say unto me this parable, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done at Capernaum, do also here in thine own country.” He knew they would very quickly demand the signs He’d given to others, requiring even greater signs to convince them of the truth of His words. They would not believe Him or believe in Him. When they rejected Him, He would go on to teach and preach to people and places that would believe – perhaps even the Gentiles.
It was not the proclamation that Jesus was the promised anointed one from God that turned the people to fury. Instead it was Jesus proclamation that the gift of God’s grace would be sent to those who believe, no matter who it might be. The gift that the Jews thought was theirs, and their alone, was being given to the world. They thought that restoration and redemption would lead to greater things for Israel. Instead, Jesus came to and through the Jews for the sake of the whole world, to bless all people with God’s mercy.
Love never faileth…
I have been involved with several conversations this week about the priorities we set in life. We have discussed the problem of the busy-ness we experience in our world today. It is so busy that we are often overscheduled with things to do, even running off to some activity on Sunday morning. Some have shared stories about people who are involved with sports that meet on Sunday morning, others who have stayed home because they have guests visiting, yet others who decide to stay home because there is a special television program they want to watch. Your god is evident in the choices you make, so what does it mean when you choose football over worship?
Now, this is not an issue of having to be ‘in church’. Some of the most avid watchers of that big game are actually very active in church the rest of the year. They are generous givers, regular attendees and active participants in the life of the congregation. It is true that God will still love them if they happen to stay home for a week. We all do it at one time or another – choose to stay away from one silly reason or another. However, many people would say, “God doesn’t care if I am in church or not.” God does care.
It is not that He cares because He demands obedience to certain laws or expectation. His Law certainly does say that we should take a Sabbath rest every week. As Christians we have realized that this Sabbath rest is more than taking an entire twenty-four hour period to do nothing but ‘church’, and we have justified our Sunday activities with the idea that God doesn’t demand this from us anymore. Martin Luther wrote in his Small Catechism about the Sabbath day commandment, “What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise God’s Word or preaching, but instead keep that Word holy and gladly hear and learn it.” We can, and should, spend time outside Sunday morning to hear God’s Word and learn it.
Yet, how many of those folk who have excuses for Sunday morning spend time in the week with God’s Word? If they are so busy that they can’t manage an hour in church, are they even bothering to gather together with other Christians for study?
Even this is not the point of the question about why God cares if you are there on a Sunday morning. It is because He loves you that He cares. Have you ever gone to an event expecting to see someone that you love like an old friend at a class reunion or a favorite cousin at a family gathering? You wait, and watch, anxiously looking for them. Have you ever been disappointed when they do not arrive? That’s how it is with your Father in heaven. He is there every Sunday, expectantly waiting for YOU to come through the front door. It is not that He doesn’t see you every day; He dwells within your heart and goes with you everywhere. He wants to see you at the party and when you are not there, He is disappointed.
What I have found most interesting as I have considered this issue this week is that we always choose the law-based options and set aside the grace based. Take, for example, the sports that meet on Sunday mornings. The team requires all members to be present at practices and tournaments. Even if there were some flexibility, the child who is not present does not get to participate in the win. If the child is missing from too many events, they will be kicked off the team. God does not require our presence, He forgives our absence. So we choose the sports knowing that this will not last forever and then one day we’ll be able to return to God and His loving mercy. We have no choice when it comes to our activities that are law-based. If we don’t go, we lose. With grace we know that God is patient and kind. He will forgive. So we do what the law says, putting away grace until some free moment.
The trouble with this is that we have totally missed the reason we gather on a Sunday morning, or any time, with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We gather not to fulfill some law or because we are earning points on some scale. We gather because we love God and we choose to put Him ahead of everything else in our life. We gather because He loves us and has invited us to a great banquet. We gather because God has called us to be part of the body of Christ and if even one is missing we are not whole. We gather because even with all our failings it is within that community of believers that we are truly in the presence of God because where two or more are gathered in His name, God promises to be there.
Scriptures for Sunday, February 4, 2007: Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13]; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
Isaiah 6:1-13 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he touched my mouth with it, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin forgiven. And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I; send me. And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they sea with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed. Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until cities be waste without inhabitant, and houses without man, and the land become utterly waste, and Jehovah have removed men far away, and the forsaken places be many in the midst of the land. And if there be yet a tenth in it, it also shall in turn be eaten up: as a terebinth, and as an oak, whose stock remaineth, when they are felled; so the holy seed is the stock thereof.
It can be frustrating to be the mother of teenagers. Wednesday is laundry day at our house. I work all day making sure the laundry is complete by the time the day is over so that everyone can take their laundry to their rooms. I don’t like having the piles of laundry or laundry baskets sitting around the living room overnight. Last night I completed the laundry earlier than usual. I had some extra help and I was able to accomplish the job in good time.
When it was finished I called to the kids and told them to come get their laundry. Both were busy doing something and said, “I will be there in a minute.” I went about some other work or project, confident that they would take care of the task before they went to bed. I was on the computer when they both came to say good-night – in a different room from where the laundry was waiting. I did not remind them about the task, sure that they had already completed it. It was not until they were in bed for some time when I realized they never took their laundry.
This is just one example of those times when I speak and I’m not heard. Perhaps my words are heard, but they are not acted upon. “In a minute” never means in a minute, it means when I get to it, and then they wait so long they forget. I have to wonder if I would have ever become a mom if I’d known how often my words would be ignored. I certainly would not want someone telling me to make the kids hard of heart and unable to hear.
Imagine what it must have been like for Isaiah to receive a call from God which was accompanied by this caveat, “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they sea with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed.” God was sending Isaiah to the people not to make them turn to Him, but instead to make them turn away. His task was to make them not want to hear what God had to say. God wanted their hearts hardened so that they would not turn to Him.
Throughout the history of Israel, the people turned away from God for a time to worship other gods and ally themselves with other nations, setting God aside to satisfy their own desires. Over and over again God sent prophets to speak the Word into their lives to turn them around and bring them back into His presence. Over and over again they turned back to God for a season, quickly returning to the old ways. With Isaiah God offered a new way. The people would have to suffer the consequences of their unfaithfulness, but through it all there would always be hope for restoration. This experience – the exile – was God’s way of showing His people life without His presence so that they would never want to turn to other gods again.
I was thinking today that perhaps it is time for me to give them the responsibility of doing their own laundry so that they will learn what it is like to not have a clean pair of underwear available. There are many reasons why we do it all on the same day – full loads, time available. It might seem harsh to make them wash their own laundry, particularly to the kids who rarely have enough time to get through the wash and dry cycles, but it might just be the only way to help them become more responsible. That was God’s intend – to harden their hearts for a season so they would learn to appreciate His grace.
Scriptures for Sunday, February 4, 2007: Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13]; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
Psalm 138 I will give thee thanks with my whole heart: Before the gods will I sing praises unto thee. I will worship toward thy holy temple, And give thanks unto thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: For thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name. In the day that I called thou answeredst me, Thou didst encourage me with strength in my soul. All the kings of the earth shall give thee thanks, O Jehovah, For they have heard the words of thy mouth. Yea, they shall sing of the ways of Jehovah; For great is the glory of Jehovah. For though Jehovah is high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly; But the haughty he knoweth from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me; Thou wilt stretch forth thy hand against the wrath of mine enemies, And thy right hand will save me. Jehovah will perfect that which concerneth me: Thy lovingkindness, O Jehovah, endureth for ever; Forsake not the works of thine own hands.
We went to see the Harlem Globetrotters last night. As much show as basketball game, I think that I laughed more last night than I have in a long time. The tears were running down my face at times as they Globetrotters played not only the game but also the audience and the other team. There were times when the game was full force, without any horseplay. Since I’m not a big basketball fan, I found myself somewhat bored and distracted during those moments. However, whenever “Showtime” Gaffney was on the court I was drawn to the action.
Showtime is not necessarily a spectacular basketball player. As a matter of fact, there were other players on both teams that did much more impressive feats of athletics during the game. Showtime drew our attention because he was the vocal member of the team. He wore a microphone and was able to keep our attention exactly where he wanted us to look.
The problem for the New York Nationals was that they too were distracted by antics of Showtime. In the meantime, the rest of the players would run circles around the opposing team until they ended up with two more points on the scoreboard. On at least a few occasions, the ball and points were stolen from the team by his silliness. We would be watching Showtime and laughing hysterically at whatever he was doing, which usually included interaction with someone outside the basketball game. He picked on the referees, talked to the team members on the sidelines, stole the munchies of people who were sitting on the sidelines. He hid behind the goalpost on one occasion, getting the crowds to clap along with him to the music. He stole a woman’s purse and carried it around for awhile until it ended up on the shoulder of one of the opposing team members. When the referee asked where they go the purse, Showtime blamed the other team. Kids were asked to throw the ball, elderly ladies to dance. He managed to get more than a few kisses and to throw water on a large portion of the audience.
So, while our attention was on Showtime, it was not on the ball. This made it easy for the Globetrotters to razzle and dazzle the Nationals and to get the ball into the hoop. That was part of the fun – the antics – and that is why we went. The game itself was not terribly exciting, but the show made us laugh. Even Vicki, who was less than enthused by our attendance at the event, managed a smile or two during the evening.
In today’s passage, the psalmist says, “I will worship toward thy holy temple.” We hear about those who worship facing a specific direction, those who will bow to the east to ensure that they are facing a temple or holy sight during their prayer. While this may seem like it is a useless practice, since we know that God is not found in one particular place, it is not such a bad idea. The benefits are two-fold. For the person who is bowing toward the temple, it is a tangible reminder to keep one’s eye on God, because the things of the world can easily distract us from doing the work to which He has called us. For the world, a believer’s attention toward God will bring glory and honor to Him. As we keep our eyes focused on God, whether we do so by facing a place or doing all that He has called us to do, the world will see Him and know that He is God. Otherwise, we might be distracted – like we were by “Showtime” Gaffney – and miss the ball.
Scriptures for Sunday, February 4, 2007: Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13]; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Now I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not found vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Whether then it be I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.
Repetition helps us to learn. When children are very young, we repeat things like the alphabet and favorite nursery rhymes until they can remember and sing along. Though this is hardly intellectual, it is the basic building blocks of learning. I still find myself mumbling through the alphabet song when I am trying to put something in alphabetical order.
It is interesting that the techniques often used for academic learning are often shunned in terms of religious learning. If something is memorized, then it is thought that it is being said as ritual – rote – so without heart and without real knowledge of what it means. The Lord’s Prayer, for instance, is often rejected as a good basis for prayer even though Jesus gave us a solid foundation for our prayer in those few lines. Perhaps it has become rote for some people at times, yet when we are in the midst of trouble or pain, decisions or even joy, those words are written in our heads and our hearts, easily accessible to help with our well-being.
The creeds are also rejected by some. The reasons for this are numerous. The creeds that are generally accepted by Christians are not found verbatim in the scriptures. Though the concepts that are taught through the creeds can be pinpointed, the compilation of those thoughts are not found in any one place, so those who rely solely on the Bible and not on Christian tradition will not use a creed. Another reason has to do with the recitation of the creed – memorized words are not always understood or applied; at times they are simply said without heart or even mind.
The creeds were developed as teaching tools, as well as a way to establish the fundamental teachings of the church. When the church was new, and even until today, there have been people who have established beliefs and doctrines that are not founded on Biblical truth. There have been false teachers in the church since the first days, heretics who tried to turn the direction of the church with their false teachings. The creeds were developed as a measuring stick – the basics. Though we have always had differences in opinion about certain things and we always will, the creeds established the foundation on which all Christians built their faith practices.
Some things do not matter – like the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. Some things matter very much – like the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our passage for today is believed to have been one of the very first creeds. Paul was reminding them of the fundamental message of the Gospel – that Christ died for our sins, was buried and was then raised to appear before many. This early Christian creed was used as a teaching tool for those just learning about the faith so that they might know the story of the early church.
However, it is also a creed that emphasizes a teaching that the Corinthians were ignoring or even rejecting. In Corinth there were those who were ‘spiritual’ to the point of rejecting all things physical. For them the resurrection of the dead was simply a spiritual thing. They did not believe in the physical resurrection of the body. This thinking means that there is no more need for hope – the work of the Gospel was complete in their spirits and they were already perfected. Paul reminded them of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and laid it on the line – if Jesus was not resurrected, then Christian faith is in vain.
We might wonder how the early Christians could even doubt such a thing, being so close to the event. Yet, we see in this scripture that the problem has been part of the Christian experience from the beginning. Even now some do not believe in a physical resurrection. They have rejected the lessons and the creeds of the church because they do not fit into their understanding of the Gospel. Then they no longer have a common hope or a common faith. There is nothing to bind them together, and even worse, something that builds a wall between them. The creed may have been used as a teaching tool, but it was also a statement that kept the church whole.
Luke 5:1-11 Now it came to pass, while the multitude pressed upon him and heard the word of God, that he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and he saw two boats standing by the lake: but the fishermen had gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the boats, which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the multitudes out of the boat. And when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answered and said, Master, we toiled all night, and took nothing: but at thy word I will let down the nets. And when they had done this, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes; and their nets were breaking; and they beckoned unto their partners in the other boat, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was amazed, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken; and so were also James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their boats to land, they left all, and followed him.
There is a theater in San Antonio which has a beautiful and ornate stage façade. I love to attend shows at this theater, as much to see the stage as the production. They say there is not a bad seat in the house, and that might just be true. Some of the seats are certainly better than others, though people have different preferences. The orchestra level, particularly those seats that are close to the stage, place the people at eye level of the stage. Each row of seats are a little higher as you move back from the stage. There is also balcony and mezzanine levels which are much higher. These viewers look down on the stage. In the orchestra seats the spectator much closer to the action, but it is easier to miss something on a distant part of the stage. In the balcony and mezzanine you can see the whole stage, but the actors are much smaller and you might miss a seemingly unimportant detail.
There are other types of stage, such as a raised stage or a theater in the round. No matter the kind of stage that a theater uses, there is always some way of setting the people apart from the actors. If the actors are right in the midst of the audience, many people would not be able to see them. I’ve been in a pressing crowd and it is uncomfortable for the listeners and for the speaker. It is also dangerous and no one gets much out of such a conversation. It is hard to see and hard to hear what is going on, particularly as the crowd was probably very noisy as they pushed each other around.
That’s why Jesus went into the boat. It was not that he did not like being with the crowd, but they were pressing on Him. He was unable to preach because some of the people were too close. The people who were just two or three rows back probably could not even hear His voice let alone see Him.
The Gospel lesson has some hard to believe aspects for us. Jesus – fairly new in ministry, but gaining a following – stepped into a stranger’s boat and asked him to set out from the shore. We wonder why Jesus is trying to get away from the crowd. He isn’t; He’s just setting the stage. We wonder why Peter, a very tired and disappointed fisherman, would leave his work to take Jesus out to preach. We can’t imagine Jesus being so inconsiderate to the fishermen.
As we look at the miracle in today’s lesson, we have to wonder why there were so many fish that it nearly sunk the boats. Couldn’t the fishermen stopped when they got enough? We might look at them as being greedy – wanting more, so much that they call for another boat. However, we have to imagine what it was like for these men. It is likely that they had already heard Jesus. They may have been purposely washing their nets close by because they knew Jesus has something to say.
When Jesus finished speaking, He told Peter to go out into deeper water and let out his nets. Peter started to argue, “But Master, we’ve been fishing all night and there are no fish,” but he changed his mind. He answered, “I will if you say so.” When they tried to pull back the net they found it so full of fish that they could not lift it into the boat. They called another boat to help. Perhaps it seems greedy, but I think it was something different. How would we react if Jesus touched us in a very real, miraculous way? Peter was a fisherman; he knew everything about fish. Jesus was a carpenter; He knew little or nothing about fishing. Yet, Jesus told them to cast their nets and they found them full.
Did they want more or were they simply awed by the work of God, so much so they didn’t even consider stopping. After all, they were only doing what Jesus told them to do. Despite the incredible success of their fishing trip, the focus was not on what they were getting but on what they saw happening. Peter was so awed that he dropped to his knees to ask for mercy. “Go away, I’m no good.” Peter knew about Jesus to know that this was a sign of invitation. However, it was an invitation to something Peter did not really want to do, and did not feel worthy to do. When Jesus gave him a word of encouragement, he left everything to follow.
But Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
We often think of our vocation as our chosen career or even as a special calling from God in ministry. However, Martin Luther’s understanding of vocation goes much deeper. Vocation is living out our faith in the world, no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Martin Luther’s teaching on vocation came out of a mistaken notion that serving God in and through the Church was a higher calling. Life in a monastery or convent, being a priest or a bishop was considered more important, more spiritual and more holy than life as a farmer, carpenter, housewife or father. Luther’s doctrine of vocation went against this attitude that the religious life is more holy or pleasing to God than the ordinary life. He once said that a washerwoman and a bishop were of equal status as long as both were faithful to their calling to serve Christ and others in their daily life and work.
Ask any pastor or church worker if they have a story behind their entrance into the ministry and most of them will. In the scriptures for this week we get a peak into the stories of some of the biblical characters that served God. Isaiah had an incredible vision. Peter witnessed a miracle. We even get a glimpse of Paul’s call in the letter to the Corinthians. These three tell amazing stories of unusual circumstances that brought them to their position and purpose in the world. Most pastors, however, will not have such powerful and life changing stories. As a matter of fact, most of them will tell you that the decision came after a long period of discernment during which they argued and avoided God until it was finally clear in their hearts and their minds that God was indeed calling them to ministry.
I don’t think you find the same thing if you asked people outside the church how they came to work in their job. As a matter of fact, most would not even consider their work a vocation in the sense of a ‘calling.’ They might have family in the business, so decide to follow a father or mother in their work. They might choose because of the availability of jobs or the financial rewards of the work. They might choose because they have a talent that would best be demonstrated through a particular job. However they come to make their career choice, it is unlikely that they have experienced some vision or miraculous call from God. It is unlikely that they would even consider it a call.
The scriptures this week do not talk about God calling people into ordinary jobs. Each one – Isaiah, Paul and Peter – were called into an extraordinary situation of serving God. What we do see, however, is God calling ordinary men out of ordinary circumstances to do His work in the world. Each one did not believe they were worthy of the call. They were sinners and could not possibly be the one whom God wanted to accomplish the task. As a matter of fact, they feared for their very lives having come face to face with God.
But that’s what vocation is all about – living out our faith in the world so that we come face to face with God. As we look toward the temple in search for our identity, the world also sees the One from whom all good gifts come. The higher calling is not working in the church or becoming a minister. The higher calling is serving God in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Our journey will bring us not only face to face with God, but with our unworthiness, our failures and our doubts. We will face the reality of our sinfulness, but God has a word for us. To Isaiah He said, “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin forgiven.” To Peter He said, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”
When He calls out our name and asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” we need only remember that God will give us everything we need to accomplish the work. His call might not be to some seemingly special service, but to an ordinary job in an ordinary workplace. Yet, our calling is always extraordinary – to live out our faith in the world with our eyes on the Lord so that all the world will see Him and come to believe. Every Christian is to live out their faith in daily life using their particular gifts and talents in service to God. While it is hard to see the holiness in the ordinary, God has called us to see Him in the ordinary and to live out our faith in the every day. No matter if you are a Bishop or housewife, do everything in faith and commit it to God and you will see Him do extraordinary things.