Welcome to the July 2008 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, July 2008
July 1, 2008
Scriptures for July 6, 2008: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:8-14; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the marketplaces, who call unto their fellows and say, We piped unto you, and ye did not dance; we wailed, and ye did not mourn. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a demon. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold, a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! And wisdom is justified by her works… At that season Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes: yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight. All things have been delivered unto me of my Father: and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
I love hummingbirds. Unfortunately, we have not seen very many this year. I think it might have to do with the drought here in South Texas. We’ve noticed other things that have been affected by the lack of water. The wildflowers were few and far between. We have a bush in front of our house while never quite bloomed. The natural flowers normally draw the hummingbirds into our area and then we keep them nearby with feeders. I love to watch the little birds flying up to eat the sweet nectar, learning to recognize those birds that return to our house time after time. One hummingbird did this cute little wiggle with his tail when he was feeding. Another fans his tail out when he drinks. Sometimes they even came up to our window chirping, as if telling us how happy they are to come to our feeders for lunch.
Watching hummingbirds can be exhausting, though. It seems like they never stop. They move their wings so quickly, flitting here and there so quickly that it is hard to see where they have gone and where they have come from. They move from one feeder to the other, out into the neighborhood and back before I can even take a breath. It was not until a few years ago that I had even seen a hummingbird stop to rest. What a difference! Unlike other birds which are constantly looking around them, hummingbirds seem to freeze. They don’t look around or make any noise. They go from constant movement to total rest, complete opposites.
Our scripture for today is a story of opposites. Though Jesus and John the Baptist had a similar message, they approached it much differently. There was such a difference that earlier in this chapter John even questioned whether Jesus was the One for which they had been waiting. John came preaching hellfire and brimstone, calling for repentance with mournful wails. Jesus also preached repentance but with a completely different point of view. For Jesus, the message was one of joy because the promised kingdom had come. John lamented, Jesus danced. John lived as though it was time for a funeral; Jesus celebrated as if at a wedding. Interestingly, neither the messages of John nor Jesus were accepted. Jesus was not concerned. “And wisdom is justified by her works.”
Jesus talks about the difference between the “wise and understanding” and the “babes.” We would automatically assume that those who are wise and understanding would be more acceptable in the kingdom of God. What do babes know? Yet, Jesus tells us that it is the babes to whom God will reveal His kingdom. Babes will not take control; they will live in hope and trust, allowing God to be God, celebrating God’s promises instead of trying to prove their wisdom. We ignore the wisdom of children because it seems so simplistic, but the truth of God is simple. We laugh at the foolishness of children, but it is to such as them that God reveals Himself.
The third opposite in this passage is in verse 28, a powerful promise to those of us who live in a world full of burdens. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus Christ has given us the Great Commission to go out and make disciples of all nations. This task can seem like a burden, particularly when we can’t convince the people we love the most that real peace is found in the hope of Christ. But it is not a burden that we carry alone. He has promised to be with us and it is by His power that the nations will be saved. We rest in the promise of hope that comes from faith in Christ, and trust that He will be faithful. We don’t know who we will find in heaven, so let us stay on the solid foundation that is Christ. He will carry all our worries and cares, so that we can find rest.
The yoke of Christ is light and it is there that we will find rest. The gift of faith is from Christ Himself and we cannot see the heart of any man, to know the work of the Lord in His life. We mourn the lost of our loved ones, especially those to whom the Gospel seemed to have no effect, but we are called to live in the joy of the present Kingdom. We live in the hope that God is faithful to all His promises, and trust that our Lord Jesus Christ loved all of creation.
Scriptures for July 6, 2008: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:8-14; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.
I think what I like most about Paul is his honesty. He is often harsh in his letters, saying what most of us think but would never say out loud. He is willing to call a sin a sin and to admit that he is the worst of sinners. In his letter to the Romans, he talks about his inability to be all he wants to be, the perfect Christian, a righteous person. He admits his frailty and his lack of control. He wants to do what is right and avoid what is wrong, but he recognizes and confesses his failure.
We don’t want to admit our failure. This is even more true for institutions and organizations than it is for individuals. The Bible tells us that where two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name, God will be with them. Unfortunately, there are those who believe that whatever words come out of such a gathering must be absolutely true, as if the words of religious people must be from the mouth of God. Those that stand in leadership positions of those churches are thought to have a closer relationship with God and therefore by His hand must be right. We see this most clearly in those cults with charismatic leaders. None of the followers dare disagree because they do not have the same connection to God. Those leaders forget their imperfection. They forget that they are no different than Paul, out of control.
It is said that if you ask four Lutherans a question you will get five answers. I’m sure the same can be said about the thousands of other Christian denominations, political parties, even family members. Our answers, our opinions, are based on our own biases and circumstances. We can fail. We can make mistakes. We can say and do the wrong things. And, as Paul suggests, it is most likely that we’ll do things wrong, especially if we rely on our own power.
Things were very confused in church during the 14th and 15th centuries. There was a question about who should be Pope. At one point, the seat of the Pope was moved out of Rome into Avignon, France. After 790 years it was moved back to Rome, but the cardinals were almost all from France. The Italian people were afraid that the cardinals would elect a French pope, and that he would move the seat from Rome again. The cardinals elected an Italian, fled the country and then elected a French man into the office. Who is the authority? There were people on both sides, which was right? All claimed to be from God, which one was true?
During this controversy over authority, one of the popes actually sold indulgences to raise the money he needed to wage war against the other pope. Could God really wish His people to fight one another over a position whose official title is “Servant of the Servants of God?” This was the question asked by a man named John Huss (Jan Hus). We often think of Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation, but there were others before him who laid the foundation for reform. John Huss was one of those men who were preaching about the abuses of the church a hundred years before Martin Luther. The question of papal authority was brought into question again during a debate between Luther and Johannes Eck, who asked Luther “Was the Church had been right to condemn Huss?” Luther thought about it a moment and said that Huss had been unjustly condemned.
John Huss was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415, having been found guilty of heresy. The question before the council was about this issue of papal authority. John Huss believed that the pope was not a divinely created position, but one of necessity to keep order in the church. Since the leaders had only recently managed to bring the Church under the authority of one Pope, they did not want anything that might disrupt the shaky unity. They found him guilty and he was martyred. The followers of John Huss became what is known today as the Moravian Church.
Interestingly, John Huss Day, which is Sunday, July 6th, is a secular holiday in the Czech Republic. Though there are few Moravians in that nation, John Huss is still seen as a national hero. As a matter of fact, most Czechs consider themselves non-religious and those who are Christian are Roman Catholic. Yet, the courage of John Huss, who willingly faced death for the sake the believers, is still remembered today. John Huss once wrote, “One pays for confession, for mass, for the sacrament, for indulgences, for churching a woman, for a blessing, for burials, for funeral services and prayers. The very last penny which an old woman has hidden in her bundle for fear of thieves or robbery will not be saved. The villainous priest will grab it.” This is perhaps one of the greatest things that continues to be wrong with churches in this world today.
Paul certainly had a great deal to say about the Gospel message and the Church. We look to him today for guidance about how we live and serve God in this world. We might even think that Paul was perfect, yet Paul did not even think so. Paul knew his failures, he recognized his frailty. He knew that he could make mistakes and even that he was likely to do what is wrong. If Paul, who met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, could have no control over his own flesh, how do we expect to be any better? This is why we must always remember that while God does call and ordain His Church to do His work in this world, the Church is made of many members all of which are fallible. We don’t have control: we do what we want to do which is not always what God would have us do. That is why we are called to be slaves to God, who can and will bring us to that perfection which is the result of His sanctification.
Scriptures for July 13, 2008: Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Isaiah 55:10-13 For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, and giveth seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing; and all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree; and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle-tree: and it shall be to Jehovah for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
It finally rained at our house this week. It has been months since we had any significant rainfall. The ground was dry and hard, the grass was dying. The lack of water affected the wildflowers this spring and the animal populations are adapting by moving out of the hills and into the neighborhoods where they can find a better source of water and food. We even think we have a raccoon in our yard, something I never thought was possible. I think he’s attracted to our pond and the bread I throw to the birds. So, the rain has been a welcome change to our weather.
The problem with the rain is that some of the storms have poured so heavily on the parched and solid ground that the water just rolls right off into the streets and gullies. Though the rain is watering the surface, we need a deep soaking rain to see a real difference in our drought situation. If it does not rain again, the small amount of water that has replenished the surface will disappear when the sun shines brightly again. The officials and reporters have had to remind us repeatedly that despite this refreshing rain, it is still too dry to set off fireworks and we still need to conserve our water resources.
Despite the negatives, the rainfall this week has been a refreshing and positive change in our weather. The temperatures have gone down, and the grass is looking a little greener. The roads have been washed clean of the dust and grime. There’s a new and pleasant smell in the air. The world around us is fresh and new. Yes, the water is running off in some places, but it has not been in vain. The rain is still making a difference, watering the earth and cleansing the land. It will eventually seep into the ground and fill the aquifers and wells that supply us with our water. Each storm saturates the ground a little more and waters the plants enough that we do not have to artificially water our lawn. When God sends rain, it is never in vain.
How often do we speak the Word of God into the world thinking that it is just running off like the summer shower on a parched earth? We think that our words are unheard or that they do not reach beyond the surface. To us it often seems as though our witness is in vain because it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the world. We might see a bit of hope, but it soon dries up and disappears. We might think there is a glimmer of faith, but it quickly disappears as those to whom we have spoken face hard times or doubt.
God says that His Word will not be in vain. We simply don’t know what it was meant to accomplish at that moment in time. We want to see a difference, to know that we have done a good thing. God knows, that is what matters, and sometimes the changes come very slowly. Sometimes the change comes so slowly that we never see it happen. But we can rest in the knowledge that God’s Word does not go back to Him void. We can live in joy knowing that our witness is planting the seeds or watering the fruit of what God is doing in the world.
Scriptures for July 13, 2008: Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13 [Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion; And unto thee shall the vow be performed. O thou that hearest prayer, Unto thee shall all flesh come. Iniquities prevail against me: As for our transgressions, thou wilt forgive them. Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, That he may dwell in thy courts: We shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, Thy holy temple. By terrible things thou wilt answer us in righteousness, Oh God of our salvation, Thou that art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, And of them that are afar off upon the sea: Who by his strength setteth fast the mountains, Being girded about with might; Who stilleth the roaring of the seas, The roaring of their waves, And the tumult of the peoples. They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens: Thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice.] Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it, Thou greatly enrichest it; The river of God is full of water: Thou providest them grain, when thou hast so prepared the earth. Thou waterest its furrows abundantly; Thou settlest the ridges thereof: Thou makest it soft with showers; Thou blessest the springing thereof. Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; And thy paths drop fatness. They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness; And the hills are girded with joy. The pastures are clothed with flocks; The valleys also are covered over with grain; They shout for joy, they also sing.
Today is Independence Day in the United States. It is the day we celebrate the founding of our country and the freedom of its citizens. It is a day for parties, picnics and other fabulous events. Homes are decked out in red, white and blue banners and many people have hung their flag out today. It is a holiday, so almost everyone is home from work today, enjoying the company of family and friends. Many communities, including one nearby, have parades and carnivals. Most communities will put on a fireworks display as soon as the sun goes down.
I love to watch fireworks. It is amazing what they are able to do with a little gunpowder. They were invented by the Chinese at least eight hundred years ago. They were originally meant to scare away bad spirits, but were developed into the bright and beautiful displays we have today. The manufacturers and pyrotechnics enthusiasts have such control over the powder that they can make it do so much more. They no longer just explode into flower-like shapes in the air. It is now possible to see stars and other shapes in the sky. They are able to use a variety of colors and patterns and by shooting off multiple types of fireworks, the sky lights up with incredible pictures. It is funny to listen to the crowd during a fireworks program as they “oooo” and “ahhhhh” over the light and noise.
Fireworks are merely man-made controlled explosions and they make us stop to ogle with our mouths open in amazement. When was the last time we did that over God’s creation? I have watched the lightening of a thunderstorm that is even more awesome than the best fireworks show. I have seen a sunflower that grew ten feet high with a head over two feet in diameter. I have seen kittens born. I have seen sunsets that fill the sky with every color of the rainbow. I have seen babies smile their first smile and toddlers take their first steps. I have seen the starry night from the top of a mountain and played in the snow fields at the top of a mountain. Despite seeing all these incredible things, I sometimes forget the source of all that is good and beautiful is our God.
We witness the incredible power of God in the lives of people and His hand moving the whole of creation day by day. It should be impossible for us to not see God’s sovereignty as we look at this world. When flowers grow, it is because God sent the sun and the rain. When kittens are born, it is because God has knitted them in the wombs of their mothers. When the sky is filled with color at the close of the day, it is because God keeps the heavens moving according to their purpose as they count the days and the seasons as He designed them to do. Unfortunately, it is easy to miss seeing God in the world. Many people do. Some outright reject the idea that God even exists. Creation can take care of itself; we do not need something or someone greater than ourselves to explain the way the world works. Others believe that God created everything and stepped back leaving us to go it on our own. After all, doesn’t the suffering of this world prove that God either has no power or has refused to take responsibility? However, it is even in the midst of the pain and turmoil of this world that we can see God is still active, loving and powerful.
I love to watch the fireworks, but I am not so keen on the noise and the crowds that come with it. We usually make ourselves comfortable at home and watch the night sky for the fireworks in neighboring communities. It is never quite as impressive as when you go to the show, but we manage to see some of the most incredible bursts. Each year it seems they get bigger, brighter and farther into the sky, making it possible for more people to enjoy the celebration. It is hard to miss out on fireworks on the 4th of July in the United States because they have gotten bigger, brighter and more incredible every year.
How much more, then, should we notice the magnificent things God has done in this world? He created all things, and His hand still moves the waters of the rivers and brings life to the fields. He saves us from ourselves, forgives our sins and shows us the ways of righteousness and truth. How can we go through any day, looking at the amazing things that God has done and not praise Him for His mercy and grace? Yes, I’ve seen some incredible things in my life, but God has His hand in it all. He is there in the good times and the bad. He is visible in the beauty and in the pain. God deserves our thanks and praise for all He has done.
Scriptures for July 13, 2008: Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Today’s Word is a repost from June 25, 2004.
Romans 8:1-11 There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace: because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: and they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
Henry is a jerk. He can’t make a commitment to any one woman, so he takes advantage of every pretty one he meets. He lives on one of the Hawaiian Islands, so it is easy for him to meet tourist babes and have as many one night stands as he pleases. The women are often looking for a wild time without commitment anyway, so it was a win-win situation for both parties. One day, however, he met Lucy. She is a beautiful local girl – no chance for her flying off into the sunset in a day or so. It was love at first sight and Henry went back to get to know her better.
Unfortunately, Lucy suffered from a rare brain problem. After a tragic accident, the part of her brain that controls her short term memory was damaged. She forgets everything she experiences every night in her sleep. Every morning she wakes up as if it were October 13, the day she had the accident. Her family felt it was best to let her live in that day, and so they created a world in which she just kept living the same day over and over again. Henry likes Lucy so much, that he encourages her family to tell her the truth so that she will be willing to spend time with him. Each day he convinces her to fall in love with him.
This storyline is from a movie starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore called “50 First Dates.” At first, Lucy’s family and friends thought Henry was just out for a repeating easy one night stand – after all, if Lucy couldn’t remember the next day, she’d never get attached. But Henry was willing to do whatever was necessary to make her remember, giving himself fully to the relationship even though he knew that she would never remember tomorrow.
It made me think about how we treat God sometimes. He is willing to do whatever it takes to make us love Him, but we easily forget all that He has done. There are many reasons why this might happen. We get caught up in the cares of this world and forget that God will give us rest. When we are comfortable, we think we do not need God, so we forget that our success and prosperity comes from Him. We are easily distracted by the schemes of the devil or just with our daily living that we do not realize how near He is and how much He truly loves us. Once in awhile we wake up to the love and it is on those days we find ourselves truly rejoicing.
In the movie, Lucy’s family realized that Henry was good for her when they discovered that she sang every afternoon on the days she met him. Later she broke off the relationship, not wanting to hold Henry back from a normal life. Why should he give up his career and his goals for the sake of someone who would never remember him the next day? Henry did not want to go, but he did for her sake. In the end they could not live without one another. Though she forgot him every day, he lived in her dreams and in her heart and so they managed to have a joy filled life together.
Lucy survived the accident and was alive, but she had no life. She was reliving the same things over and over and over again. Her father and brother went to a great deal of trouble to restore the world to what she knew every morning so that she would not be shocked and upset by her brain damage. Henry was alive, but he no life either. He was doing the same thing time after time – one night stands with women whom he would never remember a week or even a day after they were gone from his life.
For both Lucy and Henry, life began when they met because they dwelled in each other’s hearts. That’s what happens to us when we have a relationship with God. He lives in us and we live in Him. His kingdom flows out through our lives by His Spirit. Sometimes we are like Lucy and we forget our God. We forget what He has done and how much He loves us. Yet, God never forgets and He will continue to come to us in mercy and grace to make us fall in love with Him again. He dwells in our hearts and we can rest in the promise that we will be with Him for eternity because of the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew 13:1-9 On that day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And there were gathered unto him great multitudes, so that he entered into a boat, and sat; and all the multitude stood on the beach. And he spake to them many things in parables, saying, Behold, the sower went forth to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured them: and others fell upon the rocky places, where they had not much earth: and straightway they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And others fell upon the thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked them: and others fell upon the good ground, and yielded fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He that hath ears, let him hear.
I’ve decided to split this week’s Gospel lesson, not because the parts do not go together, but because there is so much to say about both halves. We’ll look at Matthew 13:1-9 today and Matthew 13:18-23 tomorrow.
One of the first things you learn in a Red Cross Safety course is how to determine the nature of the injury. When someone gets hurt, it is very important to find out what is wrong before giving medical aid. The way a person is treated and the outcome of the treatment depends on the caregiver’s ability to find the right problem and give the right care. Wrong treatment can turn a back injury into paralysis. A misdiagnosed problem can lead to even greater problems as the caregiver focuses on the wrong emergency. Lack of knowledge can be deadly if a person is allergic to something or if there are hidden health issues. Part of proper health care is being able to communicate with the patient. This is not always possible. Some accident victims are unconscious and can not speak for themselves. Some simply don’t know what to say.
A child’s fall is certainly not the same as someone with life-threatening injuries, but any parent knows the frustration of dealing with a child who has hurt themselves. They react with intense emotions when they are hurt, and it is impossible to understand what is wrong. This is true of physical problems as well as emotional hurts. I’ve had to deal with children hysterical about something, thinking surely they must be hurt but unable to find anything wrong on their body. They scream so loud and so long that they can’t say anything and they can’t even hear. It does not help when the caregiver becomes impatient with the child, angrily insisting the child stop the tears and talk so that he or she can know what is wrong. The more we insist a child talk, the more agitated they become.
In today’s passage, Jesus said, “He that hath ears, let him hear.” A hurt child has ears, but they don’t have ears that hear. They hear the words we are saying the help them to quiet down so that we might understand the problem, but they don’t really hear that they need to calm down to help us. They only know that they are hurt and they can’t hear anything that might help make them feel better.
The people to whom Jesus was speaking may not have been screaming children, but they were often as deaf as a hurting child. They heard the words that Jesus spoke in His stories and sermons, but they did not really hear what He was saying. Jesus was sometimes very obvious in the message He was trying to share, giving the people very pointed and blunt information about His mission and ministry in the world. They heard those words from their own understanding and experience. When Jesus talked of the Kingdom of God, they thought He was talking about the restoration of a Jewish independence when He was talking about a different kind of Kingdom.
That’s why Jesus used so many parables to teach the people about how to live as the people of God. Parables help us listen more deeply. We have to look at the story from a different perspective. We might know and understand the earth-bound concepts of the story, like in this one about planting seed, but we have to think more deeply about what it means in our daily lives. What is the seed? What is growing? What are the path, the rocks and the thorns? Certainly Jesus was not giving the people farming advice. He wasn’t a farmer and most of His listeners weren’t farmers. He was giving them a parable to help them see God’s Kingdom in terms that they would understand. But to understand, they really had to listen to what He was saying, not just the words He said.
Matthew 13:18-23 Hear then ye the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the evil one, and snatcheth away that which hath been sown in his heart. This is he that was sown by the way side. And he that was sown upon the rocky places, this is he that heareth the word, and straightway with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway he stumbleth. And he that was sown among the thorns, this is he that heareth the word; and the care of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. And he that was sown upon the good ground, this is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; who verily beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
I’ve decided to split this week’s Gospel lesson, not because the parts do not go together, but because there is so much to say about both halves. We’ll look at Matthew 13:18-23 today and we did Matthew 13:1-9 yesterday.
When I was a preschool teacher, our regular spring activities included planting seeds. For one project we put some potting soil into a small paper drinking cup and then planted some flower seeds. This project was usually done so that the flowers would be growing for Mother’s Day. The other project is a little more amazing, and more helpful for seeing the growth of a plant. We put a wet cotton ball and a bean seed inside a plastic bag and taped it to the window. After just a few days the bean seed broke open and began to grow. The seed had everything it needed—soil (the cotton ball), water and sunshine. Once the bean had “sprouted” we sent the plant home to be transplanted into real dirt. I don’t know how well these plants grow when put into the dirt, but it is fun to watch them grow in the bag.
I don’t do much with seed at my own house anymore. I usually buy potted flowers to transplant into my garden so that I can get immediate color and beauty. I’m really not a very good gardener anyway, so I’m better off getting the plants when they are pretty well established so that they’ll be beautiful for a little while. I do know with certain plants, the seeds have to be planted in the dirt or they will not grow. The seed needs a period of time in the darkness of the earth to ‘die’ so that it might sprout and grow.
Other seeds are different. Take grain, for example. Many crops are planted in fields in long rows. The plow turns up the dirt, the farmer lays down the seed in straight lines and then he covers the seeds with the dirt. Grain is not planted with such precision. The farmer turns up the dirt on the field and then scatters the seed with his hand or a machine. The farmer might rake the ground to keep the seed from blowing away, but it does not have to be buried under the dirt. This is certainly a much easier way to plant seed, especially since grain does not need much space to grow, but there are disadvantages.
When you scatter seed, you can’t control where every seed lands. Most of the seed falls on the good soil, but even the most careful farmer will lose a small percentage to the path, the rocks and the thorns. This is what Jesus was talking about in the parable. It would be impossible for a farmer to plant every grain of seed individually, much too time consuming and impractical. Unfortunately, it means some of the seed will be lost. Jesus compared the work of a farmer to the work of those sharing the Good News in the world. The seed is the Word of God. The soil is in the hearts of men.
Unfortunately, we try planting one seed at a time, carefully placing the Good News only in the ‘hearts’ of those we know will take it. We are too afraid that we might insult or offend someone. We are too afraid that we’ll be rejected. We are too afraid that the people will not receive the words we say or that we aren’t the right people to give it to them. We are imperfect, so we wonder how God could possibly use us to share His Word with the world. We don’t have enough knowledge of the Bible or of the message. We are afraid to waste a good word because we think it might fall on the path, the rocks or in the thorns to be devoured, whither or choked. We are too shy to scatter the seed, so we keep it to ourselves.
But Jesus says to scatter the seed, because enough will fall on good soil. It is a matter of trust, trusting that God will make sure there is soil, water and sunshine to make it grow. God’s Word never comes back to Him void, so your witness is never in vain.
Scriptures for July 20, 2008: Isaiah 44:6-8 or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19; Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Isaiah 44:6-8 Thus saith Jehovah, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, Jehovah of hosts: I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I established the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and that shall come to pass, let them declare. Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have I not declared unto thee of old, and showed it? and ye are my witnesses. Is there a God besides me? yea, there is no Rock; I know not any.
I lived in a suburb of Allentown, Pennsylvania when I was growing up. We lived in a house that was situated on a dead-end street, dead-end because a major highway ran right by our neighborhood. The highway was high up, so there was a steep hill running from highway level to street level. There were a few trees and bushes growing on the side of this hill, but overall it was clear enough to use it for a slide. Snow covered the hill during the winter and quickly became slick, especially once we started using our saucers. It was not the safest situation, especially with cars racing by just feet away from our path, but we had fun. Some of the kids liked to use the hill to play “King of the Hill” during the summer.
“King of the Hill” is a fun game, usually played under much safer circumstances. One kid would climb the hill and the object was for the other kids to get them to fall off. The one who gets to the top of the hill, knocking the “king” to the bottom gets to be “king” until someone else makes it to the top. It is a fun game because kids end up rolling down the hill, sometimes more from laughter than from knocking each other around.
I’m not so sure we stop playing “King of the Hill” when we grow up. Our games don’t take place on hillsides, however. They take place in boardrooms and offices. Sometimes we see those who are on the hilltops above us and do whatever it takes to knock them down so we can move up. This is not the best way to get ahead in our careers, but unfortunately it has worked since the beginning of time. All too often throughout history people really became king by getting rid of the ruler through warfare. In today’s world, the “king” is knocked down through less violent, though no less dangerous means. It doesn’t take much to destroy a person’s status, position, finances or reputation. Just like the childhood game, for some the object of life is to get to the top of the hill and stay there by any means.
I thought of this game when I was reading and rereading this week’s Old Testament lesson. Doesn’t God sound like the big guy who has made it to the top of the hill and is calling out for everyone else to try to knock Him off? For many, this is a bothersome image of God, particularly because we see those bullies grow up to be corporate bullies that can destroy a person’s life with their ambition. However, God is not some bully playing a game. He is God. Who is there that can knock Him off the top of the hill?
Well, we let a great many things knock God off the top of our hill. We put so many things first—our jobs, our families, our romances, our education, our hobbies, our interests. We set God aside to take care of the business of living. Anything that we put ahead of God becomes our god. Though He is the One and only, we make gods of so many things. As He asks, however, “Who is like Him?” Can money stand up against God? Can our wishes and dreams? Can our opinions really be greater than God? What about our truth? Are our gods reliable? Can they declare their greatness ahead of God?
Nothing stands greater. There is nothing that can knock God off the top of the hill, but we get confused and look to so many things as if they are our gods. We believe them above God and rely on them above God. These things are little more than pebbles next to our God, however. None are like Him.
Scriptures for July 20, 2008: Isaiah 44:6-8 or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19; Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Psalm 86:11-17 Teach me thy way, O Jehovah; I will walk in thy truth: Unite my heart to fear thy name. I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with my whole heart; And I will glorify thy name for evermore. For great is thy lovingkindness toward me; And thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest Sheol. O God, the proud are risen up against me, And a company of violent men have sought after my soul, And have not set thee before them. But thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth. Oh turn unto me, and have mercy upon me; Give thy strength unto thy servant, And save the son of thy handmaid. Show me a token for good, That they who hate me may see it, and be put to shame, Because thou, Jehovah, hast helped me, and comforted me.
Anne Hathaway played Princess Mia in the “Princess Diaries” movies. She was an American girl who discovered that her father was the crown prince of Genovia, a tiny fictional country in Europe. Mia’s parents were divorced, her mother returned to America and her father prepared to become king. When her father died before he could remarry and produce an heir, Mia was left as the last of the line. She became princess and eventually moved to Genovia to become queen.
In the second film, Mia discovered that it was Genovian law that a queen must be married to take the throne. Since she was a foreigner, unfamiliar with the country and its people, she was only given thirty days to find a suitable husband or else the throne would be given to another. During that month, however, even as she was preparing to marry a man she barely knew, Mia proved to her new country that she was everything they could want in a queen. In the end, Mia refused to marry and she convinced Parliament to change the law so that she might rule the country she had come to love.
There was a scene in the film that was the defining moment for Mia. Her actions proved her worthy, not only to those who loved her and to the people of the country, but also to the young man who was next in line for the throne. When he saw her, he knew she should be queen and he later renounced his claim so that there would be nothing to stand in her way.
The moment came during a parade. The queen and Princess Mia were riding down the cobblestone streets of the village when Mia noticed some children that were watching the parade. Several boys were picking on a little girl who was clearly frightened by their thoughtlessness. She was a young child, perhaps five years old, with her thumb stuck in her mouth and a security blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Mia halted the parade and got out of the car. She walked over to the children and interceded for the little girl. When she discovered that the children were orphans, she invited them to join her in the parade, choosing to walk with them rather than ride in the car. She purchased plastic tiaras for all the girls and taught them how to be princesses. The boys came along because the world can always use a few more princes. The young girl was transformed—she became a princess simply because Mia said she was a princess. She stopped sucking her thumb and walked with grace and courage.
By making the young girl a princess, even if only for a day, Princess Mia showed the bullies that they should not pick on her. Mia lifted her up, gave her confidence and hope. Mia also discovered a way she could make a very real difference in her own country, promising to change to circumstances of all the orphans by opening a new center where they could be given better care. The fictional character of Princess Mia is certainly not God, but this story does sound much like what we hear has happened to the psalmist in today’s lesson. The Lord God Almighty teaches His ways, transforms His people. He lifts them up so that their enemies see their value in His eyes and they are put to shame. He helps us, and in this we find great comfort.
Scriptures for July 20, 2008: Isaiah 44:6-8 or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19; Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Romans 8:12-25 So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh: for if ye live after the flesh, ye must die; but if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward. For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
When I was a girl, my mother used to put my hair up in pink plastic rollers. These rollers made my hair very curly but they were hard and prickly to wear. To get a really good curl, my mother washed my hair in the evening, put my hair in the rollers and then I had to sleep with them on my head. My hair dried overnight and left behind beautiful curls. With my extremely blond hair, I suppose I looked a lot like Cindy Brady from the television show “The Brady Bunch.”
It was extremely uncomfortable having those curlers in my hair. It hurt as Mom was rolling them because she often snagged a piece of hair and pulled on it too hard. It was impossible to find a comfortable position with those hard curlers on my head. Then, in the morning when it was time to take them out, the hair once again snagged on the prickly parts, unwilling to let go of the curler. Through it all my mother used to say, “We have to suffer for beauty.” I liked my curls, but I think I would have preferred being ugly with straight hair than to suffer the pain of the curlers.
One of the most difficult aspects of Christian faith for a non-believer to accept is the idea found in today’s lesson. Paul writes that we are joint heirs with Christ—something we like very much. We like the idea that we have been adopted as children of God, that He is our Abba, Daddy. However, Paul also writes that as joint heirs in the promise we share in every aspect of Christ’s reign, including His suffering. He writes, “…if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.” People don’t want to worship a God that calls His people into a life of suffering, because for most people suffering equals pain. Yet, it is in our suffering that we find strength, courage and God’s grace. God is not a masochist who seeks to cause His people to be harmed. But to save the world He came in a manner by which He shared in our suffering and by the blood of Christ we are brought through that suffering to something greater.
We want immediate gratification. We want immediate answers and solutions. Yet, sometimes it is better to be patient and wait. What good is a hope that is already received? It is no longer hope but fulfilled. There is then nothing to look forward to. Our hope rests in the fulfillment of the promises and we can be assured that those promises will be fulfilled because God is faithful. Would it be better for it to be finished today? Perhaps, but is there not so much more life we can live, so much more we can do to change the lives of those who have not yet heard the gospel? It might hurt a bit at times to be a child of God. We will face persecution and pain for our faith. And yet, as we live in the Spirit which we have received from God, we’ll wait expectantly along with all of God’s creation for that moment when He finally finishes the work He began in Christ Jesus. For now, we are the first fruits of that work, holy and dedicated to God so that others might see God’s grace in our faith and come to believe.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 Another parable set he before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man that sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away. But when the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. And the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it tares? And he said unto them, An enemy hath done this. And the servants say unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he saith, Nay; lest haply while ye gather up the tares, ye root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather up first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn. Then he left the multitudes, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Explain unto us the parable of the tares of the field. And he answered and said, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy that sowed them is the devil: and the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are angels. As therefore the tares are gathered up and burned with fire; so shall it be in the end of the world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears, let him hear.
We have a small garden with a pond near our house. We’ve redesigned this flowerbed several times, moving it around the yard to find the best place to put it and the best flowers with which to fill it. Unfortunately, the first two times we put the pond too far from the house for electricity and we were unable to use a filter and pump. We tried solar, but they are just not quite powerful enough for our purpose. We finally moved it near the house, within a few feet of a socket and now the pond is thriving with a small fountain and filter to clean the water.
On this final design, we also decided to keep the flowerbed simple. We covered the bed with rocks and put a few pots with flowers. This gives us lovely color, but we do not need to use so much water to keep the flowers beautiful. We have to pull a weed out of the bed once in awhile as seeds fall between the rocks and sprout, but otherwise it takes very little work to keep it up.
Bruce did some weeding the other day and pulled out some sprouts near the pots of flowers. A few days later he saw another ‘weed’ in the same place, but it had managed to survive a few days longer than the one he pulled previously. He realized that the flowers in the pots were dropping seeds into the bed, so instead of pulling weeds, he pulled a flower. It is easy to confuse a weed and a flower in the early days of growth, they look so much alike. The same is true of the weeds found in a field of wheat. It is not until the crops grow tall that even the most knowledgeable farmer can tell the difference. By then the roots of the weeds are intertwined with the wheat. It is impossible to pull the weed without damaging the crops.
We can’t tell the difference between those who are true of faith and those whose faith is false. We can’t read their hearts. Like the weeds in a wheat field, the truth will eventually come to light. We might be tempted to uproot those we see has coming from the evil one, but in doing so we do not always know the damage we might do to someone who is weak in faith. We may think we are protecting them, but we are not God. God knows what He needs to do. He can protect His people much better than we can. We are simply called to live as God has called us to live, trusting that our God is just and that He will take care of the wheat and deal with the tares. We may just find that what we thought was a tare is actually someone to whom God has yet to finish His work. In the end all will be right, because God is faithful.
Scriptures for July 27, 2008: 1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119:129-136; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
1 Kings 3:5-12 In Gibeon Jehovah appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, Ask what I shall give thee. And Solomon said, Thou hast showed unto thy servant David my father great lovingkindness, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great lovingkindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. And now, O Jehovah my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child; I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give thy servant therefore an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to judge this thy great people? And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life, neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies, but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern justice; behold, I have done according to thy word: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there hath been none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.
There is a small town in England called Knutsford that is known for an unusual May Day tradition. They decorate the streets with colored sand in remembrance of a story told about King Canute, the first English king. It is said that when King Canute forded the River Lily his shoes filled with sand. He shook the sand from his shoes in the path of a wedding party, wishing the bride and groom as many children as grains of sand in their path. The sanding of the streets is a sign of hospitality and is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years.
Abraham heard a similar wish from God, although for Abraham the wish was a promise. In Genesis, God told Abraham, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” Light pollution makes it hard to see the awesome promise in the stars, since most of us can actually count the number that appears. But the reality is that Abraham would not have been able to count the stars he could see in the sky. Anyone who has gone to a beach, or even played in a sandbox, can see how incredible this promise really is. Could we have even counted the number of grains of sand that fell from King Canute’s shoe that day so long ago? Probably not.
When we lived in England, I had the opportunity to go to a beach that was much different that anything I had experienced in America. The beach was covered with small rocks and pebbles, made smooth by the constant beating of the waves on the shore. As I walked on the beach, considering the greatness of God, I remembered the scripture from Genesis about Abraham’s descendants being as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. I realized that this rocky beach showed this truth in a more enlightening way. On a sandy beach, every grain looks alike. However, on this beach, every stone was unique—some large, some small, some gray, some colorful, some flat and some round. I even found a stone that looked like a nose. Not only has God made the children of Abraham too numerous to count, He also made each of us original.
I was told that the beach had a connection to King Canute. King Canute was king of England for nearly twenty years. There was war and controversy over his reign, but he became the first king to rule over all of England. He also ruled over Denmark and Norway. He was a harsh ruler, but England succeeded under his reign. He was so powerful that his people claimed he was like a god, able to control even the sea. He knew that was not true, so he proved it to his people on the beach at Thorpeness. At low tide, King Canute took a chair and set it at the water’s edge. As the waves rolled inland, he said, “Stop.” Of course the waves did not stop. The water level rose, to his knees, to his waist, to his neck. Finally, it became impossible for him to continue. As he left the water, he said, “See, I cannot control the sea.”
In today’s lesson from 1 Kings, we see that Solomon had the same sort of humility. By this time in Israel’s history, God’s promise to Abraham had been at least partially fulfilled. His descendants were too numerous to count. Solomon was only twenty when he took the throne of Israel, and he was uncertain of his abilities to govern. Even great and powerful kings must submit to the Lord. Solomon did not seek power over his enemies, long life or great wealth. He simply wanted to have a wise and discerning heart. He wanted to make the right decisions for his people. We wanted his rule to be just and fair. He did not want the people to think of him more highly than they ought, a temptation for all human beings. We tend to look toward greatness, forgetting that there is one who is greater. Solomon did not forget and as he humbled himself before God, he became uniquely blessed.
We hear that none will be like Solomon, before or after his life. Yet, we must never forget that we are all unique, that God has made us all different. We have our own gifts, our own personalities, our own purpose. We are among Abraham’s descendents, but not just another grain of sand. We are called to humbly serve the Lord, not seeking from Him those things that will make us greater than others. Instead, let us ask for a wise and discerning heart so that we too can help transform this world into what God intends it to be.
Scriptures for July 27, 2008: 1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119:129-136; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Psalm 119:129-136 Thy testimonies are wonderful; Therefore doth my soul keep them. The opening of thy words giveth light; It giveth understanding unto the simple. I opened wide my mouth, and panted; For I longed for thy commandments. Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me, As thou usest to do unto those that love thy name. Establish my footsteps in thy word; And let not any iniquity have dominion over me. Redeem me from the oppression of man: So will I observe thy precepts. Make thy face to shine upon thy servant; And teach me thy statutes. Streams of water run down mine eyes, Because they observe not thy law.
I like to read historical novels, especially those set in the United Kingdom. I have recently been enjoying the books by Philippa Gregory. The books I have read so far have been about the wives and children of Henry VIII. She approaches the stories from unusual perspectives. “The Other Boleyn Girl,” from which the movie was taken, looked at Henry, Katharine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn from Anne’s sister Mary’s point of view. Another book saw the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth through the eyes of a servant in the court.
Philippa Gregory does a great deal of research about her books, reading historical opinions about the lives of the people about whom she is writing. She spends time in the places she uses as her settings, trying to keep her books as historically accurate as possible. Though her books are filled with facts as she was able to discover in her research, it is important to remember that they are fictional novels. She is a storyteller, not a journalist. We might learn something interesting about history by reading her books, but it is important then to go on to study her references, to decide for ourselves how accurate her choices might be. After all, one historian claims one thing while another claims something else. Which is true? Will we know? She has to make a choice when she is writing, and so do we as her readers. What do we believe happened in the court of Henry VIII?
The bookstores are filled with books that help us to learn about God and about our faith. We can purchase reference books that help us understand the history, language and people in the bible. We can find Bible studies, inspirational books and even novels that give us food for thought. The shelves are full of devotionals—everything from thirty day to one year programs. Some of the devotionals come from the writings of theological geniuses from across the ages. Others come from modern writers who look at faith through a modern perspective. We can even buy Bibles that are focused on one particular aspect of life. There are Bibles designed for women, men, children, teenagers, teachers, leaders and students. Some Bibles come with study notes to help us understand what is happening in the text and what was happening in the world in which it was written.
There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of different translations of the Bible. As a matter of fact, there are those who have made it their life’s work to translate the Bible into every possible language so that every person can read God’s Word for themselves. It is a long and tedious process. The translator must understand first what the text is saying in the original language and then he or she must find a way of saying that same thing in the language to which it is being translated.
This is why it is possible for us to have so many translations in English. Different people understand the original language in different ways because they see it from different points of view. And then they have to retell that thought in a way that means the same thing in the new language. This can be very confusing. There are figures of speech in Hebrew and Greek that simply do not make sense to us if they are translated verbatim. Think about how it might sound to someone who does not understand that “it is raining cats and dogs” does not mean that it is literally raining cats and dogs if that phrase were translated word for word. It would be less confusing to say that it is raining really hard.
It is a wonder that anyone hears or understands God’s Word. Yet, as we hear in today’s psalm, God opens His Word and shines its light on His people. It is God who reveals Himself to us, even as we read the many books available on the subject. We can hear God talking to us through those devotionals, inspirational books and Bible studies. We can hear God talking to us through the many different translations of the scriptures. We can even hear God talking to us through the fictional novels that see the stories through the eyes of faith. It is good, however, to always return to the source of our knowledge of God’s Word, to open our Bibles, to read the text for ourselves. For it is as we delve into God’s testimonies, words, commandments, precepts, statutes and law that God is revealed to us most simply and fully and through His Word that we know Him best.
Scriptures for July 27, 2008: 1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119:129-136; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Romans 8:26-39 And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose. For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren: and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Victoria needed a laptop for school. I began looking at laptops last Christmas, thinking that I would purchase one as her Christmas present. As I began my research, I realized for a number of reasons that it would be better for us to wait until she was actually ready to go to school. Some people recommended that we wait until now, because the laptops would be really affordable during the back to school sales. In the last week or so we have been more serious about our search, checking the laptops available at the stores where we shop and watching the ads.
We stopped by a store, but I did not bother to look at the laptops on the shelf. When we got home and I read the Sunday newspaper with all the advertisements, I realized that store had an incredible deal available on laptops. I was kicking myself for not looking because we were at the store early enough that there might have still been some on the shelves. Unfortunately, the unbelievable deals usually only last a few hours because once they are sold out there are none left to buy. The sale began at 8:00 am. And every location had a limited number of laptops for sale. I didn’t bother going back because I thought it was too late.
Later that evening, Victoria and I happened to be out for another purpose in a neighboring town. When we were finished, I told her about the deal and said, “Why don’t we stop by this location, just in case?” As it turned out, the store had one left on the shelf, twelve hours after the sale began. I could not believe our luck. By purchasing a perfectly acceptable laptop for such an incredible price, Victoria will have more money for buying the other things she needs as she goes off to college.
I do not rely on luck because I believe that God is constantly moving in the world, often designing our circumstances to bring us to the place where He wants us to be. Now, I would never suggest that God had ordained for Victoria to be at that store at that moment to get that very last laptop. His purpose is bigger and deeper than our financial security. The type and cost of our possessions does not matter much to our spiritual welfare. If anything, God would more likely teach us not to rely on those things that turn our attention from Him.
However, God does make all things work for those who love Him. I don’t believe in coincidences, I believe in God-incidences. I don’t think that God worked the circumstances to put us in that place at that time, but I do think that God could use everything that happens to us to make things work for us. The reason we were in that neighboring town was not a happy one. We had no reason to believe that store would have the laptop. However, could it be that God gave us that nudge, whispering that we should try?
Whether it was luck or God was nudging us to go into that store that evening, we are now in a much better frame of mind. One of our concerns for these next few weeks is no longer a concern. We can rest a little easier, live with a little less stress and take this time for more important things. I’m not thankful that God provided a laptop, but I would rather praise God for His intimate concern over every aspect of our lives than take credit for this unbelievable purpose. We should not look to God as the giver of stuff—a pop machine God who will fulfill every wish—but it is good to see God’s hand in every aspect of our life. Good or bad, God is with us making everything work out for our good. There is a great deal of comfort in that, especially when things don’t go so well. Just knowing that God is working things for our good, we can face the difficulties with patience and courage.
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Another parable set he before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is less than all seeds; but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and lodge in the branches thereof. Another parable spake he unto them; the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened… The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in the field; which a man found, and hid; and in his joy he goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a merchant seeking goodly pearls: and having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was filled, they drew up on the beach; and they sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but the bad they cast away. So shall it be in the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the righteous, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea. And he said unto them, Therefore every scribe who hath been made a disciple to the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.
The Gospel lesson for this week includes a number of parables, all about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus uses these parables to bring a deeper spiritual truth into common language for the people listening. At the same time, parables can be confusing because we want to fit our own understanding into the stories, often making the meaning too complicated or not really listening to what Jesus has to say. Now, parables can be understood in different ways, depending on one’s perspective, but we must be careful. It is so easy to make the stories fit our own opinions and interpretations while missing out on the deeper truths that God would have us know. Sometimes we even say we understand when we really aren’t paying attention to what God is saying.
The mustard seed parable is perhaps one of the best known of those we hear today. There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said. We are reminded that the mustard seed is very small but the plant grows to be large enough to hold a nesting bird. This is like the kingdom of heaven because the seed of God’s Word began small—in the ministry of one man, Jesus, and has grown over the millennia to be a gathering place for many.
The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast. This is an interesting parable because yeast is usually considered a bad thing in the scriptures. We are told a small bit of yeast ruins a large amount of dough. This is in reference to the Pharisees who say one thing but do another. Their presence in the fellowship of God’s people is like poison, making the holy gathering unfit. Unleavened bread is seen as holy because it is the type of bread used in the important religious rituals of God’s people. However, the every day bread of the people did use yeast, so we are reminded that the kingdom of heaven is not just something separate and holy, but is part of the every day life of God’s people. A little leaven goes a long way and we see that from just one man, Jesus, the kingdom has grown and fed millions.
The first few parables were told to the crowds, and then Jesus left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples followed. They heard several more parables, with a slightly different focus, but still teaching how a small and hidden thing can become something of great value.
Jesus tells the disciples that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure found in a field. The man who found the treasure hid it again and then went to purchase the field. Now, some are bothered by the idea that the man hid the treasure again, suggesting that there are legal and ethical problems with the way this story is told. Yet, the man who found the treasure could have easily just taken it without bothering to purchase the place where it was found. We learn in this parable that great treasures come with some sacrifice and cost. How many people think that they can have the benefits of God’s grace without giving up one’s self? The man who found the treasure wanted it enough to go to great trouble to possess it. He will love and appreciate what he has received far more than the one who would simply take it from its hiding place.
Again, Jesus tells a parable about a pearl of great price. In this parable we learn that the kingdom of heaven is something of such value that we should be willing to give up everything we have to gain possession of it. It is tempting to see these two parables as a statement about the work we must do to receive the kingdom of heaven for ourselves, but we are reminded that the value is not in our work but in the treasure. These are stories about letting go of ourselves and our stuff for the sake of something that is worth so much more than we could possibly give. We are made part of the kingdom through God’s grace, and by His grace we are called to go into a deeper and more intimate relationship with Him. It is not enough to know about God’s kingdom, or even to be part of it. We are called to possess it, to grasp it and hold on to it, to make it a part of our whole being.
Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea.
After Jesus spoke to the crowd and the disciples in parables, He asked the disciples, “Have ye understood all these things?” The disciples answered, “Yes” but we know that the disciples did not always understand what Jesus was trying to teach them. Even after the resurrection, Jesus had to repeat lessons they had been learning for so long. Though the Holy Spirit gave them knowledge and understanding after Pentecost, and has given the same to us today, there are still questions we ask. There are still things we do not understand.
The disciples might have been understood the parables because Jesus used aspects of life with which they were more familiar. How many of us really know about seeds? Do we know how we would react if we found hidden treasure or a fantastic pearl? We can look at those parables and understand that Jesus is talking about sacrifice and commitment. We can see that the kingdom of heaven is of great value and worthy of our dedication and submission. We can interpret those parables to our own lives and learn lessons that will help us grow into a deeper and more intimate relationship with God.
I think the final parable might be a little harder. Jesus said, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was filled, they drew up on the beach; and they sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but the bad they cast away. So shall it be in the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the righteous, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.” We look at a parable like this with a sense of victory. We believe that ‘others’ like our enemies are most certainly the wicked in the story and we are glad to know that God will take care of our enemies in the end. We are so certain about this that we think of our enemies as they will be, in that furnace of fire weeping and gnashing their teeth. Though this might not bring us joy, it does comfort us in our times of trial.
When Jesus asks whether they understand, I imagine the disciples are thinking in these very terms. Shortly before this lesson of parables, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man. The people were astonished, but the Pharisees claimed that the power Jesus used in the healing was from Beelzebub. Beelzebub was the prince of demons. In this interaction, the disciples could see that the relationship between Jesus and the authorities was not going to be congenial. The Pharisees and teachers of the law approached Jesus demanding proof of His authority—a miraculous sign. Jesus refused, establishing in the minds of the disciples that this was not going to be an easy ministry. Even Jesus’ mother and brothers were against His ministry. They were going to have enemies. The only comfort in doing work against so many enemies is to know that in the end you will be proven righteous. The proof is in the failure of the enemies to win. The proof will come when God weeds out the weeds and severs the wicked from the righteous.
When Jesus asks, “Have ye understood all these things?” we want to say “Yes.” We want to see this parable through the eyes of our vindication. We will be the good fish, saved from the furnace. We will be the ones who receive the kingdom of heaven. There is something deeper and more important in this parable, and the other parables, however. We are constantly reminded that we are not the king. We do not rule the kingdom of heaven. We are not judge, jury or executioner. God is in charge. He will weed out the weeds and sever the wicked from the righteous. We can’t see the hearts. Those we see as wicked may been seen much differently through the eyes of God. It is God who will make the judgment and He looks at things much differently than we do.
We have to see the world through wider eyes. Our understanding is so narrowly focused, based on our biases. We see things through our culture, our gender, our experience, our geography, our race, our religion, our hopes and our dreams. We see things a certain way because of our personalities, our financial condition, our relationships. Jesus tells the disciples, however, that they have to see things through new eyes. Now that they have the understanding of the kingdom of heaven, they have to see things through the old and the new. We have to do the same thing, seeing the world and the kingdom of heaven through the eyes of those who have been given the understanding of God. He is King and we have been called to teach the world this wonderful truth.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 3, 2008: Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
Isaiah 55:1-5 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live: and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander to the peoples. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not; and a nation that knew not thee shall run unto thee, because of Jehovah thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.
We went to a play a few weeks ago and purchased some drinks before the show. Now, when you attend this kind of event, you expect to pay a little more for the concessions—the survival of theatres often depend on the profit made on the things that have little overhead. We grumble at the high cost of tickets and then the seeming thievery at the concession stand, but the reality is that most of these places would go out of business without these prices.
I wanted a glass of soda and everyone else wanted water. I wasn’t surprised at the price of our bill, but I was surprised to find that we paid as much for the water as we did the soda. It was bottled water, but they did not give the bottle, they poured the water into a small glass with ice. Their prophet on water must have been extraordinary. They filled three glasses with one bottle of water and we paid more than three times the cost of a bottle for each glass!
We spend a lot of money on bottled water in the United States. According to Beverage Marketing, Americans spent $11.7 million on bottled water in 2007. Conservationists have realized the impact all this bottled water is having on our world. Although some of the bottles are recycled, many are simply thrown into landfills. The plastic bottles take centuries to decompose. With the current energy crisis it is valuable to note that it takes a great deal of oil to produce the bottled water. Energy is used to produce the bottles, collect the water and fill the bottles. It takes energy to deliver the bottled water from the distributor to the store. There are some brands of water that are produced in foreign countries. It takes double the energy to get those foreign sourced water bottles to our store shelves. It even takes three liters of water to produce a one liter bottle of drinking water!
Sadly, many of the brands of bottled water that we take for granted are little more than common tap water. If you read the fine print on those bottles, you will see that many of them say that the water is from “municipal water source.” Municipal water source is… tap water. You could get the same water from your tap. Since many people have water filtration systems in their homes and refrigerators, it seems unbelievable that we would spend so much money on bottled water. We do because we like the convenience. We prefer the taste. We think there is something better about the bottled water because it comes in a bottle. We think we are getting something for our money.
We can’t live without water. We’ve learned the nutritional and health benefits of drinking water and we also know how unhealthy most of our favorite drinks can be. Some experts suggest that we are dangerously dehydrated. Dehydration causes fatigue and other health problems. We have heard all these things so we do whatever we must to have enough water in our bodies. Despite the relative value of water, we willingly pay outrageous money to drink bottled water, especially when we are in a place where the safety of the water is questionable. We might even wonder at its worth if we did not have to pay such extraordinary prices for it. If it were cheap, we might suspect the water is little more than tap water.
In today’s scripture God says, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” How could the water, wine or milk be any good if it is free? Many in our world reject the free gift from God and they refuse the good things He has to offer. God will provide for your every need, and as you grow in faith and trust, He will fill your heart with the desire for the good things in life. Jesus Christ is the bread of life. He is the Word made flesh. He was sent from heaven to live, die and rise again to new life so we can freely live in the love and glory of the Most High God. It costs us nothing. Eat and drink the gift of eternal life. Partake in the bread and living water that is Christ Jesus, and be satisfied.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 3, 2008: Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 Jehovah is gracious, and merciful; Slow to anger, and of great lovingkindness. Jehovah is good to all; And his tender mercies are over all his works… Jehovah upholdeth all that fall, And raiseth up all those that are bowed down. The eyes of all wait for thee; And thou givest them their food in due season. Thou openest thy hand, And satisfiest the desire of every living thing. Jehovah is righteous in all his ways, And gracious in all his works. Jehovah is nigh unto all them that call upon him, To all that call upon him in truth. He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him; He also will hear their cry and will save them. Jehovah preserveth all them that love him; But all the wicked will he destroy. My mouth shall speak the praise of Jehovah; And let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.
One of the disadvantages of doing the scriptures from the lectionary is that occasionally we will have overlap. If today’s psalm sounds somewhat familiar, you are right, we looked at part of it just a month ago (see June 27.)
On that day I wrote this, “Today’s scripture is a prayer of praise to the lovingkindness of God. The entire psalm is an acrostic, a poem in which each verse begins with a different letter of the alphabet. We do not see this aspect of the literature in English, and our passage is just a part of the entire psalm, but it is interesting to think about the importance of this literary technique. The psalmist found a way to praise God from literally ‘A to Z.’ How often do we think so much about God’s grace that we can write a poem using every letter of our alphabet?” In today’s passage we see the very things for which we are grateful.
God lifts up those who have fallen and raises those who are bowed down. In one of His parables, Jesus talks about those who go to a banquet and push their way to the front of the table. We learn that those who lift themselves up are sent to the lower seats, while those who have humbled themselves are asked to go to the head of the table. I’m not sure we will ever see that happen in our world, especially since most banquets are so well organized that there are nametags and seating charts. However, there is a banquet in heaven waiting for us. There are those in this world who think that even in heaven they will be seated at the front of the hall, but it will be the humble whom Jesus will call up to the head of the table.
The eyes of all wait for God to give food in due season. Is that as true today as it was in the days of the psalmist? I don’t think so. We are able to purchase fruit and vegetables throughout the year that were once only available at certain times. We are able to pick and preserve food for months and ship it from all over the world. The tomatoes are no longer as good as those we used to grow in our own backyards, but we can have tomatoes any day of the year. We can and freeze food so that it will keep for months and even years. We don’t have to butcher a cow to have a steak, we can go to the grocery store and purchase any cut of meat we want. We don’t have to wait for God to provide anything ‘in due season’ because we can get it whenever we want.
Yet, it is still God who provides. We might work hard for our money and we might take our energy to go to the grocery store to purchase the food and then cook it, but it is still God who provides. He satisfies our every need. I think that there is one thing that makes us very different from the animals. They eat and drink as it is available without care. Though I’m not so sure that the animals have any sense of theology, they live trusting in God. We are able to praise and worship God with words and deeds because we have been given the power to reason and we have been given the gift of emotion. We can be thankful. We can recognize the grace and mercy of God. But all too often we forget about God when we sit down to that feast of fresh fruit and hearty steak.
The psalmist writes “Jehovah is nigh unto all them that call upon Him.” This is not so true of human beings. Even with modern technology, we don’t have complete access to everyone we need, know and love. People go away, they aren’t near a telephone, they are busy doing other things. We can’t count on everyone to be available when we need them. God, however, is right where He needs to be at all times. He is there for us, right next to us. Those who love Him, who humble themselves before Him, will know His grace.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 3, 2008: Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
Romans 9:1-5 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren's sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
July 28th is the feast day for Sts. Nazarius and Celsus. Little is known about these two saints. The stories of Nazarius place him in the days of Nero, when there was extreme persecution of Christians. Nazarius was the son of a Roman officer whose mother was a Christian. Despite the danger, Nazarius preached the Gospel with such zealousness that his friends told him to leave Rome to save his life. Nazarius spent time in Milan, but was beaten and thrown out when he tried to comfort other imprisoned Christians. He wandered through Gaul and then to Germany. Along the way he met Celsus, who became his traveling companion and helper. In Trier, Germany, the two were tried for being Christians and sentenced to death in the sea. Such great storm came up after they were thrown overboard that the frightened sailors though that they were being punished for killing the two Christians. They saved the two and set them free. Nazarius had such a heart for the people of Milan that he returned to the city to share the Gospel. Despite their persecution, he was determined to share the Gospel with them. They were beheaded in Rome.
Nazarius gave his life for the sake of the people of Milan. He knew the dangers when he returned to Milan, but he was not concerned about his own flesh. He knew his salvation was complete in Christ Jesus and that nothing he could do could ruin what he had been given by grace through faith. He also knew that many people did not have such assurance because they did not know the forgiveness and mercy of God. He went to preach the Gospel to people he loved so that they too might have the gift.
I wonder if Nazarius ever felt the way Paul felt in this letter to the Romans. Paul was addressing a difficult question—what about the Jews? Paul was a Jew and he loved his people. He knew the blessings of being one of God’s people—the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the law, the worship, and the promise. Yet, he also knew that they were missing something, Jesus. It was a hard quandary for Paul, to know the people he loved did not know the assurance of faith in Christ, but also knowing that they were beloved of God. How do we deal with this dichotomy?
Paul wished that he could give up his salvation for the sake of his people, but we know that this is not a possibility. Only Christ could provide the salvation for the whole people. Paul could only live in hope, but hope is a solid foundation for our life of faith. In hope we will have the courage to go into a place, like Nazarius, and share the Good News of God’s mercy and forgiveness with people who are determined to destroy us. We can walk through persecution, and even walk to our deaths, knowing that God’s promises are true. Though it is our calling to share the Gospel with the world, we need not fear our own failure. We rest in the hope of God’s promises. He knows what He is doing. He knows whom He has chosen. We can rest in the hope (which is an expectation and not a wish) that God will be faithful to His promises even when we can’t see it now in the people we love. We are called to continue to love them, to hope for them and to share God’s mercy with them. We can’t give up our salvation for them, but we know that Christ died for all and that God is true. There is always hope.
Matthew 14:13-21 Now when Jesus heard it, he withdrew from thence in a boat, to a desert place apart: and when the multitudes heard thereof, they followed him on foot from the cities. And he came forth, and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. And when even was come, the disciples came to him, saying, The place is desert, and the time is already past; send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food. But Jesus said unto them, They have no need to go away; give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes. And he said, Bring them hither to me. And he commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass; and he took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples to the multitudes. And they all ate, and were filled: and they took up that which remained over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And they that did eat were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
“Everybody Loves Raymond” is a typical sitcom where the lead character, Raymond, often got himself into situations by doing exactly the wrong thing. He was often stuck with his ‘foot in his mouth’ because he said the wrong thing. His wife Debra was always mad at him because he managed to do exactly the opposite of what she expected. The whole concept of the television show revolved around everyone’s anger over the things Raymond did wrong.
In one episode, Raymond was determined to do what was right for his wife for Christmas. Of course, he had the wrong motivation, which is usually why he did the wrong thing. He wanted her to be extremely happy about her Christmas present so that she would agree to an upcoming golf trip. Since he felt that he had to give her a better gift than she gave him for her to be really happy, Raymond asked his brother Robert to find out what she was getting Raymond for Christmas. One day Robert caught Debra wrapping a present, a tie, and she said, “It is for Raymond.” Robert reported this to Raymond so that he could go out and buy something better. On Christmas day, Raymond gave Debra her gift, thinking he’d surely gotten something really great. Then Debra gave the tie to Robert and said, “I didn’t want you to know it was for you.” Raymond knew he was in trouble when Debra brought his real gift, a radically generous gift. Debra loved her gift and did not notice the difference. The conflict began when Debra discovered that he was trying to manipulate her.
In another episode, Raymond found the perfect gift for his mother’s birthday. It was an antique set of porcelain figurines like she had once had. His father and brothers kicked in on the gift not knowing the real cost. Raymond, unconsciously or consciously, left the receipt in the box and his mother was shocked at the price. So were Robert and Frank because the cost of a third of the gift was significantly more than they had chipped in. Raymond said it didn’t matter. He knew he could afford to be radically generous but that his brother and father did not have the same resources. The extremely thoughtful gift was the catalyst for a humorous fight between everyone about thoughtfulness and extravagant generosity. Raymond’s mother refused the gift because it made everyone angry. Debra hated that Raymond put so much more thought into his mother’s gift than he ever put into hers.
I remember one year when the kids were small when our Christmas tree was packed with way too many gifts. Since we lived so far from our family, they all sent money for us to purchase gifts for under the tree. In the end, the kids had too many gifts, too many new toys, too many presents to open. It was outlandish how much money we put into ‘stuff’ for under the tree. We decided from that year on that we would let the children keep the money for their bank account or for something special they might want later. It was wonderful that our loved ones were so generous, but in the end the extra toys were a waste.
In today’s story, it seems as though Jesus’ radical generosity is wasteful. He miraculously fed thousands of people with a hearty meal of fish and bread. When it was over, however, there were baskets full of leftovers. What did they do with that extra bread? Was it used to feed the poor or did it go to waste? We do not know, the story doesn’t tell us. What we do see, however, is that God is radically generous. He doesn’t give out of some misplaced motivation, He meets people’s most basic needs, but He also does so with incredible extravagance. When it comes to all His gifts, we see in this story how there are always leftovers—something to share. He blesses us with amazing gifts, some spiritual some very mundane, but all are meant to be shared with the world. Our joy, our resources, our spiritual gifts are given in far greater quantity than we will ever need. In Christ we can be radically generous, too, sharing the love of God with the world.
Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
Victoria and I have been shopping for the past two days. She leaves for college in just a couple of weeks and there are so many things necessary to meet her daily needs while she is gone. We ran into one of her former high school teachers who said, “Sometimes I think the ‘getting ready’ shopping is worse than paying tuition.” We have quickly discovered how true it is. Our family and friends were very generous with graduation gifts, so Victoria has been able to purchase many of the things she will use over the next few years on her own. She’s been very mature about her decisions, buying what she needs and not necessarily everything she wants.
There is a long list of cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products that I have promised to get for her. These are items that she won’t necessarily need every day or even immediately when she moves in to her room, but that she should have available. She may not be able to get to a store to purchase those items when she needs them. It is tempting to purchase huge quantities of those supplies so she’ll never run out but that doesn’t make much sense. She isn’t going that far away and will be able to come home occasionally and she’ll be sharing that load with her roommate. She won’t have the storage space, either. She doesn’t need too much, she needs just enough.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” I don’t know about you, but I tend to prefer having just a little more. I don’t know what it is, but I always buy too much bread and then I end up throwing much of it in the yard for the birds. I like to have fresh bread available with our meals, especially the store baked kind that is often still hot when it is purchased. You can’t get much fresher. But we rarely eat all of it at one meal. By the next time we want bread the loaf has either gone stale or I have purchased another fresh loaf.
We often get confused about the things we need verses the things we want. We need bread—food—to eat, but we don’t need so much that it will go back on our counter. We need the things necessary to keep our living space clean and healthy, but we don’t need a dozen bottles of cleaning solution under our sink. We need only enough for today, that is why we ask God for our daily bread. We work so hard to have ‘just a little more’ and in the end it does nothing to make our life fuller or our soul more peaceful. As a matter of fact, chasing after ‘a little more’ is why so many of us are suffering from stress and depression. We don’t have the resources available for ‘a little more’ so we live in fear and discontent.
Remembering that God provides our daily bread will help us to live content with what we have instead of laboring for so many things that never satisfy us. As we come to rely on Him as our Provider, we will see that we indeed have enough to get us through the day and that there is even enough to share with others. We need not chase after ‘a little more’ because God provides all that we need and then some. When there is some extra, like those twelve baskets of leftovers at the meal on the hill, we need not hoard it ‘just in case.’ God gives abundantly with a radical generosity, so that there is always enough not only for our needs, but also for the daily needs of the world.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 10, 2008: 1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
1 Kings 19:9-18 And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of Jehovah came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for Jehovah, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword: and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before Jehovah. And, behold, Jehovah passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before Jehovah; but Jehovah was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but Jehovah was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but Jehovah was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for Jehovah, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And Jehovah said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, thou shalt anoint Hazael to be king over Syria; and Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay; and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet will I leave me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.
I worked as a clerk in the home fashions department of a department store. I took the part-time job after I got married because I no longer wished to work the long and exhausting hours of management. When I was part of the management teams of both Woolworths and Toys R Us, I sometimes worked seventy hours a week. I felt it was important to give time to my new husband and my new home. The part-time job gave me something to do and some spending money. That’s all I needed and wanted in my job. And I loved that job. I enjoyed helping people make decorating choices for their homes.
Unfortunately, my boss was very insecure. She knew I had been in management before I moved to California and she was always looking over her shoulder as if she thought I wanted to steal her job. This became more evident as my customers showed their appreciation for my help. I had one customer who owned a bed and breakfast. I must have spent hours with her during the time I worked in the store, helping her choose colors and themes for her rooms. She spent thousands of dollars and was always happy when she left. She even sent the store director a note of appreciation for all my help and recommending me for commendation.
After that commendation my boss became openly aggressive. I still did not want a full-time, management position, but that didn’t matter. She saw only my success and her failures. She began doing things to make me look bad. She gave me the most horrible schedules. She refused to give me time off for a family visit even though she had approved that same time off a few weeks before. She was even cruel when I had a medical problem. Even though she was benefitting from my success, she was certain I was only doing it for my own benefit and she did everything she could to make me fail. I finally gave up. I was already pregnant with Victoria and I no longer needed the job to keep me busy, so I quit.
Elijah had accomplished a most miraculous thing: he'd made water burn. He challenged the prophets of Baal to call on the names of their gods to see if they could burn the flesh of a bull. Four hundred and fifty prophets tried and could not bring fire upon the sacrifice. Elijah set up his altar, laid the sacrifice upon it, soaked it with water until it filled a trench around the altar. When Elijah called upon the Lord God Almighty, He answered with a mighty sign, burning the sacrifice, the wood and even the stones and the soil. When the people praised God for this miraculous sign, Elijah ordered the slaughter of the prophets of Baal. In doing so, he made the wife of the king mad. Jezebel vowed to destroy Elijah. He was alone; the other prophets of God had already been killed and there were few left in Israel who worshipped the LORD. Now he was the target of a dangerous woman. So, he ran. He ran away into the desert and asked the Lord to let him die. The angels of the Lord ministered to his physical needs and sent him on a journey to Mt. Horeb.
Now, I never felt like I wanted to die, but I certainly began to hate my job. My boss’s attitude toward me made me want to run. I don’t know what happened or why things went the way they did. I’m sure we have all experienced something similar, whether it is in our jobs, relationships or some other aspect of our lives, even our churches. We do what we believe is right, perhaps even what we think is a calling from God, only to find that we have made someone angry. They set out to destroy us in one way or another, and for some it might mean reacting with despair like Elijah. It can get to the point where nothing seems to matter.
God would not let him die. Instead, He invited Elijah into the presence of the LORD. At the mountain, a powerful wind, earthquake and fire shook the mountain, but God was not in them. Then Elijah heard a gentle whisper. He put the hood of his cloak over his face and went to the mouth of the cave. There he met God, voiced his complaint and waited to hear God's answer. He does the same for us, meeting us in our doubt, fear and grief as a quiet voice calling us to trust in Him and follow His word with courage and faith.