Welcome to the June 2007 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, June 2007
June 1, 2007
Scriptures for June 10, 2007: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17
Psalm 30 I will extol thee, O Jehovah; for thou hast raised me up, And hast not made my foes to rejoice over me. O Jehovah my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me. O Jehovah, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol; Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. Sing praise unto Jehovah, O ye saints of his, And give thanks to his holy memorial name. For his anger is but for a moment; His favor is for a life-time: Weeping may tarry for the night, But joy cometh in the morning. As for me, I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved. Thou, Jehovah, of thy favor hadst made my mountain to stand strong: Thou didst hide thy face; I was troubled. I cried to thee, O Jehovah; And unto Jehovah I made supplication: What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth? Hear, O Jehovah, and have mercy upon me: Jehovah, be thou my helper. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; Thou hast loosed my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Jehovah my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.
I recently attended the funeral service of a friend who died unexpectedly leaving behind a wife and three teenage daughters. It was a shocking loss to all who knew him; a loss that made many people take a hard look at their lives. We do not know the time or the way that we will pass and we do not know what circumstances might occur to bring us hardship and pain. No matter how happy we are today, we can not foresee the circumstances of tomorrow.
Everybody suffers at some time or another. We all experience broken relationships, disappointments, discouragement, doubt, dis-ease and earthly troubles. I have often said during those times, “I am so thankful that I have God in my life or else I do not know how I would get through it.” On the same note, I have wondered how people without faith manage in hard times. What do they have to give them hope? Most of the time when we deal with difficult things we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We can find our hope in the promise that the illness will end or that they will eventually be a solution to the problem. We can rest in the reality that our problems are nothing compared to that of others, whether we have faith or not. Those non-believers do not see faith as a way out of our trouble, they see it as a placebo and foolishness. When a Christian does find themselves in the midst of suffering, the non-believer asks, “What God?”
Faith is not a way out of trouble. Faith is a way through it. We don’t believe in God because we think He’ll keep us from harm. We believe in God because we know He has promised something greater in the end. Whether our current circumstances lead to a new beginning in this life of the new beginning of eternal life, we trust in God because we know that He will be true to His promise.
Our psalm for today was written as a hymn of praise at the dedication of the Temple of David. David sang praise that God saved him from his enemies, but it is not a hymn of assurance that there would be no more trouble. David knew that life in this world might mean suffering and pain. David knew that there would be moments in life when it seemed as though God was not present.
There are certainly times in our life when it seems as though God has abandoned us. Though faith is great, it is hard to imagine that our God of mercy and grace would allow us to suffer, as our friends are suffering today. However, through those times we know by faith that we can cry out to God – not because He is gone, but because He sees and understands our pain. David’s words might seem odd to us – “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit?” These words are demanding, trying to manipulate God to take our side and relieve our suffering. Where is David’s humility before the Holy One?
David’s humility is in the very words of prayer sung in this hymn – in faith David knows that God will hear the cry of His servant. God’s salvation is not only for the moment, it is for a lifetime. God’s salvation does not guarantee that there will be no more enemies to face or suffering to experience. God’s salvation means that God will be with us through it all. We get tired and overwhelmed by the things in this world, so much so that we might even cry out to God in desperation, demanding His mercy. It is the very faith we have in His promises that give us the boldness to praise Him in our supplication, “Hear, O Jehovah, and have mercy upon me: Jehovah, be thou my helper.”
Scriptures for June 10, 2007: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17
Galatians 1:11-24 For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ. For ye have heard of my manner of life in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and made havoc of it: and I advanced in the Jews' religion beyond many of mine own age among my countrymen, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother's womb, and called me through his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles; straightway I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them that were apostles before me: but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and tarried with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother. Now touching the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Then I came unto the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: but they only heard say, He that once persecuted us now preacheth the faith of which he once made havoc; and they glorified God in me.
Paul had a most unusual ministry, particularly for the time in which he lived. He was given the task of taking the Gospel message to the Gentiles. For those who had been part of the early church, this was in one sense a marvelous mystery because they saw – through Peter’s experiences – that God was willing to bless those outside His covenant with His people. In another sense, however, many of the Jews thought that surely God intended for those Gentiles to become one of them. There were those who were insisting that entrance into the Christian Church meant first becoming a proselyte. The Gentiles had to convert to Judaism to be welcomed.
I suppose that this had to do with the laws that the Jews were required to follow. Since they had so many restrictions on the type of food they could eat and the people with whom they could eat, it seemed a natural condition for all those seeking to live among the faithful that they would also abide by those restrictions. When Paul went into the Gentile world, he did not concern himself with those rules. He ate with the Gentiles, he worshipped with the Gentiles. He shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them and welcomed them as brothers. In Galatia, the message of the cross was gratefully received and the Church grew.
Since Paul’s mission was to share the Gospel with the world, he did not stay long in one place. He was a church planter, and once the church was planted and the leaders trained, he moved on elsewhere. Paul was one of the lucky ones – he knew his vocation. He knew what God called him to do. I wonder how many of us are so confident in our calling that we could plant a church and move on to plant another somewhere else, leaving our work behind for others to continue or destroy. Most of us, I suspect, would not want to leave the church we began – keeping hold of the baby we helped to create. Yet, Paul left it in the hands of those whom he trained, trusting in God to hold and keep His people.
There were those who did not trust Paul. New leaders came, Judaizers they were called. They preached a different Gospel and insisted on the conversion of the Gentiles. They quickly agreed and began following the new teachings. It is much easier for a church to follow the teachings of a leader who is present and part of their lives than it is to hold fast to the teachings of someone who has moved on to other places. The Galatians began to follow the new teachings. When Paul discovered this denial of his teaching and wrote to the people in Galatia. “I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.”
I suppose the words of Paul that are part of our scripture for today seem haughty to us. He establishes his authority above and beyond the authority of any other teachers. Paul says that he was not taught by men, but by God. I cringe at his assurance, probably because I have so long been uncertain about my own calling. Haven’t we learned over the past two millennia that God teaches us through others? And haven’t we reacted negatively to those who make the claim, “God told me this”?
Paul is not writing this in arrogance, but in humility. He is certain about the message he had been sent to give, not because it fits so well into his understanding of God. In reality, Paul’s experience as a Jew should have made him like the Judaizers. He was zealous for the Law and for the requirements of the law. He was persecuting the Church, even on his way to cause trouble for the disciples in Damascus, when he came to “an unusual birth.” Paul didn’t know Jesus. Jesus revealed Himself to Paul. Paul didn’t know the Gospel. Jesus revealed the Gospel to Paul. What Paul had was not based on human reason, his calling was divine. Paul was separated “even before birth.” He was shocked by the turn of events, but the very turn should have been enough to establish in the Church Paul’s authority.
Though we might find Paul’s words in this passage conceited or self-important, Paul was simply telling the people in Galatia that he gave them the gift from God. The new and different gospel they were hearing was not a gift, it was a further burden. The Word of faith which they had been given needed no more requirements. Jesus was enough. He had learned that not from men, but from Christ Himself. Whatever our calling, we can have the same assurance that Paul shows in these words. Though we may be unsure of what God is calling us to do, we need only give to others that which Christ has given us – the Gospel. In this the world will see God glorified.
Scriptures for June 10, 2007: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17
Luke 7:11-17 And it came to pass soon afterwards, that he went to a city called Nain; and his disciples went with him, and a great multitude. Now when he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, there was carried out one that was dead, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came nigh and touched the bier: and the bearers stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother. And fear took hold on all: and they glorified God, saying, A great prophet is arisen among us: and, God hath visited his people. And this report went forth concerning him in the whole of Judaea, and all the region round about.
Touch is very important in human relationships. It is amazing how a hug can change a mood. Sometimes words mean nothing but a touch of the hand on another hand or on a shoulder says a million words. Though we are verbal, we are also physical entities and a touch makes a connection that words can never make.
I’ve often seen people reach out to touch a coffin at a funeral procession. It is one last chance to say good-bye, a final moment of intimacy. Many people find closure in this act – there is a sense of finality in the feel of the wood and knowing the body is inside. That was not typical of the people in Jesus’ day, however. For the Jews, even touching the coffin was an act that would have made them unclean. Those who carried the coffin would have had to follow a prescribed course of cleansing, including sacrifice and separation. So, it was rather unusual for Jesus to touch the coffin of the young man that day.
There was more about this story that is unusual. In this case, no one asked Jesus to do anything. He saw the widow mourning her son and had compassion on her. The NIV version says, “His heart went out to her.” He told her not to cry. Then He walked up to the coffin and touched it. He called out to the son and told him to get up. The young man sat up and immediately began to talk. Jesus made things new for the young man and his mother, but even more importantly He returned things to the way they ought to be.
The coffin bearers stopped for a moment when Jesus touched the coffin, even though they should have quickly processed to the place of burial. He’d seen the pain of the widow, knew that life without her son would be difficult for her. She would have no one to care for her in her final days. He comforted her then reached out to her son. I like the NIV translation of compassion in this case. “His heart went out to her.” He is active in His compassion, not only feeling for her but reaching out to her. When the procession halted for that moment, Jesus touched the coffin and told the young man to get up – His word brought life to both the young man and to the widow.
The widow did not seek God’s blessing that day. God reached out to her and brought a real restoration to her life. I wonder if we could do the same with those who need a touch of the hand and a heart reaching out to their need. It is so difficult when we know someone who is grieving because we do not know what we can do to help. Since we do not know what to do, we make an offer – “Call me if you need something.” This is comforting to those in grief, but the call never comes. The grieving do not even know what they need, or they can not take the offer seriously, or they simply do not want to be a burden on others. So, they manage on their own. Jesus didn’t wait for the call to help. He went to the woman, offered her comfort and then actively made a difference in her life.
Now, it is very unlikely that we’ll ever raise the dead. I suppose that is the hardest part of reading stories like this. We know people who are in similar situations, whose lives come crashing down around them because of some catastrophe. We want to help, but it is often difficult to know what to do. We do not need to do anything miraculous. Sometimes all it takes is a touch. It is in a simple touch and a word of grace that restoration and transformation can happen.
Scriptures for June 10, 2007: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17
Acts 11:19-30 They therefore that were scattered abroad upon the tribulation that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to none save only to Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number that believed turned unto the Lord. And the report concerning them came to the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas as far as Antioch: who, when he was come, and had seen the grace of God, was glad; and he exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord: for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. And he went forth to Tarsus to seek for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that even for a whole year they were gathered together with the church, and taught much people, and that the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. Now in these days there came down prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great famine over all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius. And the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judea: which also they did, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
Our scripture for today is not one of the passages for the upcoming Sunday. Monday, June 11th is the commemoration day for Barnabus, the apostle (though not one of the twelve, he is named an apostle in Acts 4:36) and his connection to Paul makes it worthwhile considering his life.
We are officially in the season of Pentecost. During the first half of the church year we have studied the story of God, particularly as manifested in the life of Christ. We have experienced the birth, ministry, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. We have seen Him complete His work, ascend to heaven and send the Holy Spirit to the disciples. Now, in Pentecost, we are asked the question, “What are you going to do with this?” What do we do with the gift we have been given? What do we do with the knowledge that has been imparted? Now that the ministry has been handed over to us, where will we go with it?
Our lessons this week include two stories of resurrection. In the Old Testament lesson, Elijah the prophet is sent to a foreigner, a widow, during a famine. While he was in her care, the Lord kept the flour and the oil jars full so that they had plenty to eat while others were starving. After such a miraculous experience, you might think the woman would have faith in God. When the danger was past, the widow’s son died. She attacked Elijah, “What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? thou art come unto me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son!” Though she might have had a glimmer of faith, it came crashing down around her when her son died. She blamed Elijah, and God, for the death of her son.
Elijah took the boy to his room and cried out to God for her sake. The death of her son not only brought grief, he was her last vestige of hope in a cruel world. As a widow, she would have not means of support. His death left her alone and in every sense as good as dead. She might as well have died in the famine than live to experience such grief. The son was raised and restored to his mother. It was only then that the woman confessed faith in God and trust in Elijah’s word. “Now I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of Jehovah in thy mouth is truth.” In this story we are reminded that it is not the filling of bellies that will bring true faith in God. We see that true faith comes from resurrection – not necessarily physical, but the spiritual resurrection that comes with the Word of God in Christ Jesus – and it is resurrection that we are called to bring to people. In resurrection there is restoration – between people and God and between people as the dead are given back to the living.
In the Gospel lesson, Jesus sees a funeral procession and has compassion on the widow who has lost her only son. Again, the woman would be left alone and as good as dead without the young man to provide to her needs. In this story, two things stand out for me. First of all, Jesus did this miracle in public. Many of Jesus’ miracles were done behind closed doors, out of the public eye. It is not that Jesus wanted to hide God’s power from the world, but He knew that the people would be drawn to the miracles rather than the Word.
The other thing that I noticed is that the widow never asked for Jesus’ help. He saw her and decided to do something. His “heart went out to her” in a very real and life-changing action. He went out of His way to help her, even stepping over the boundaries of proper obedience to the societal and religious rules of the day. We are reminded that we are called to manifest the power of God to the glory of God in this world. It is not enough to have compassion for the people to whom our heart goes out. It is up to us to be like Christ in this world, willing to step up and make a difference, to bring life to the dead and restoration to the people whose lives are broken.
That’s what Barnabas did for Paul. In our Epistle lesson for this week we hear Paul’s claims to apostleship and authority in the Word which came not from men, but from God. Barnabas recognized that Paul’s ministry was not man-made. He had been sent by the men in Jerusalem to test Paul’s teaching, to ensure that Paul was good, right and true. Many of the leaders were cynical because Paul had been so zealous to harm the Church. They were afraid that Paul had found a way to destroy the Church from the inside. Barnabas found Paul and stayed with him a long time. As a matter of fact, our passage today tells us that it was there, in Antioch, that the believers were first called “Christians.” It was from there that the Church learned of a great famine in the land. The disciples there sent relief to the believers in Judea, carried by Barnabas and Paul.
When our “hearts go out to others” it is more than a passive feeling of compassion on them. We are called by faith to reach out and touch the dead, to bring restoration to people. Our purpose is not to fill bellies or bring attention to ourselves. We are called to manifest the kingdom of God and to bring the dead to life by the Word so that God will be praised and glorified. Our ministries might give us credibility and bring attention to what we have to say, but it is God’s Word that will change lives and bring restoration to this world.
Scriptures for June 17, 2007: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15 And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she made lamentation for her husband. And when the mourning was past, David sent and took her home to his house, and she became his wife, and bare him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased Jehovah. And Jehovah sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own morsel, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. 0And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him, but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him. And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As Jehovah liveth, the man that hath done this is worthy to die: and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; and I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added unto thee such and such things. Wherefore hast thou despised the word of Jehovah, to do that which is evil in his sight? thou hast smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thy house, because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife… And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against Jehovah. And Nathan said unto David, Jehovah also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of Jehovah to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die. And Nathan departed unto his house. And Jehovah struck the child that Uriah's wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.
I think that perhaps one of the most quoted scripture verses is “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” This is trotted out every time someone has made a negative judgment against someone, particularly if the person judged does not want to recognize the truth of it. It doesn’t matter if the judgment is correct or just. They want approval even if the action being judged is unjustifiable. The passage is not meant to stop all judgments against people, because we have to have some boundaries between right and wrong. How could the judges do their job if God intended for people to never judge against others? There are consequences for our actions and we could not meet out those consequences if we did not judge whether or not the actions are right or wrong.
We have to make judgments about people daily. Sometimes the judgments are necessary for us to do our jobs. Can a co-worker help with a project? Should I do business with this person? How quickly can this job be finished using this group of people? Sometimes the judgments are necessary to ensure good relationships. Is this the man I should date? Should I marry this girl? What does my friend need today? See, we even make judgments about the people whom we help. We judge whether someone is hungry before we offer them food or in need before we give them clothes.
We have to make judgments about people to ensure our safety. Is the driver of that car weaving? Should I agree to play football with that neighbor? Will everything be ok if I go to that party with those friends? This is especially true for our teens. They have to constantly be making judgments about their friends. Will this person be good for my life or is it better to keep away from them? These judgments could mean the difference between life and death in some cases. There are simply some kids that are dangerous and peer pressure is difficult to overcome.
It is necessary to make judgments about people as we make decisions about our lives. What we need to remember is that when we make a judgment about someone, we will be judged in the same measure. “Judge not, lest ye be judged” is a good thing to remember when you are screaming at that car that just cut you off on the highway because undoubtedly you have cut someone off yourself at some time. “Judge not, lest ye be judged” is a good thing to remember when you are gossiping about the friend who has purchased that horrible dress because you surely have bought something that does not flatter your body. When you judge your neighbor, test your own heart and actions to see if that very action is something that you need to change in your own life. By seeing the sin of your neighbors, you might just be looking in a mirror.
That’s what happened to David. He heard the story of the thief stealing the sheep and became irate that anyone would do such a thing. He even made a judgment about the punishment for that evildoing. Nathan threw that judgment back in his face, “You are that man!” “Judge not, lest ye be judged” is a reminder that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. David knew God’s grace and though he suffered the consequences for his actions against Uriah the Hittite, but he never lost touch with God. As a matter of fact, the judgment brought him to his knees before God in repentance. When we judge others, we should do so not as though we are holier or better than others, but as humble sinners with the knowledge that we will also be judged.
Scriptures for June 17, 2007: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3
Psalm 32 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom Jehovah imputeth not iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no guile. When I kept silence, my bones wasted away Through my groaning all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: My moisture was changed as with the drought of summer. Selah I acknowledged my sin unto thee, And mine iniquity did I not hide: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto Jehovah; And thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah For this let every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: Surely when the great waters overflow they shall not reach unto him. Thou art my hiding-place; thou wilt preserve me from trouble; Thou wilt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will counsel thee with mine eye upon thee. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding; Whose trappings must be bit and bridle to hold them in, Else they will not come near unto thee. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; But he that trusteth in Jehovah, lovingkindness shall compass him about. Be glad in Jehovah, and rejoice, ye righteous; And shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.
Sometimes when I write A WORD FOR TODAY, I go back and see what I’ve written in the past. It helps me come up with ideas but it also reminds me of stories from our past. For this particular Psalm, I found a devotional based on the antics of our cat Felix. There was a time when I had purchased a bag of craft feathers for a project. Knowing that the feathers were tempting for a cat, I put them on a high shelf, thinking that there would be no way for Felix to get them. I did not even think he would be able to figure out where they were kept.
Unfortunately, when we were out of the house for the day, Felix did find the feathers and he managed to climb to that high shelf to get them. Bruce and Zack arrived home to find feathers all over the house. I did not know what happened until the next morning when I heard a very strange noise. It was Felix, bringing the feathers to lie at my feet. Felix must have thought he caught a bird and he brought it as a present for me. He was so proud for a moment, until he looked at my face. Then he knew he had done something wrong.
I’m much smarter about my craft feathers these days, but Felix still gets into trouble. His favorite game is to see whether or not he can escape from the house. He doesn’t want to run away; he just wants to get outside. We have a wooden screen door at the front entryway. It did not take long before Felix realized that he could push that door and escape. We had to buy a hook so that he could not open it. Now he sits by the door and looks up at that hook. He knows when it is fastened and when it is not. He looks around, looks for me, looks up at the hook. He does this several times until he decides that it is safe to try. When I hear the squeak, I look over at the door and say, “Felix!” He knows that he’s doing something wrong.
We are just like Felix. We do things wrong every day. In the Lutheran liturgy, we confess that “we have sinned against God in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and what we have left undone.” We are sinners. That’s why we need a Savior.
Our Psalm for today talks about forgiveness. I think what stands out most to me is that forgiveness is not just words that assuage our guilt about our sin, but it is a way of life in which we live. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven.” Other translations use the word “happy”. We are happy when we are forgiven. It is not about having a party atmosphere for being released from the consequences of our sin. We are happy because forgiveness restores our relationship with our God and Father. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve hid from God when they disobeyed His word. They did not know forgiveness and were cast out of the garden and out of the presence of God. Christ came to change all that. He came to bring forgiveness and reconciliation between God and His people.
The psalmist writes, “When I kept silence, my bones wasted away.” Silence about our sin means torment. But acknowledgement of our sin before God brings joy, because it brings forgiveness and freedom. Though we are sinners, we are given the grace to stand before our God to confess our sin. It is there we find joy and peace because God has promised to forgive our sin.
Scriptures for June 17, 2007: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3
Galatians 2:15-21 We being Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we sought to be justified in Christ, we ourselves also were found sinners, is Christ a minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build up again those things which I destroyed, I prove myself a transgressor. For I through the law died unto the law, that I might live unto God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me. I do not make void the grace of God: for if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nought.
We all probably remember the movie “Caddyshack” for the bizarre character played by Bill Murray – the grounds keeper – and his hunt for the elusive groundhog on the golf course. There is a storyline between Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight. They are at odds about the atmosphere at the country club and the expectations of its members. Ted Knight is a long time member, old money and desirous to keep the traditional practices as the rule and norm of the community. Rodney Dangerfield is loud and rough, always looking for the good time and unconcerned about how his activities affect others. He is seen as an intrusion in the community by some, including Ted Knight. Others enjoy his outrageous sense humor and his “joie de vive.”
There is another storyline, perhaps less outstanding than the first two, and that is the relationship between Chevy Chase and the young caddy named Danny played by Michael O’Keefe. In this story, Michael plays a young man who is working as a caddy at the country club to earn money to go to college. His one real hope for a decent education is a full scholarship that is given to one caddy each year. He spends most of the movie trying to get into a right relationship with Ted Knight, knowing that he will make the final decision about the scholarship. Meanwhile, Chevy Chase is teaching Danny about the realities of a wealthy life, encouraging him to remain free from the burdens of the country club life. He doesn’t even keep score when he plays golf, preferring instead to simply enjoy the game. The lifestyle of Chevy’s character is not necessarily one we should emulate, but his attitude is one of grace.
At the end of the movie, Ted Knight and Rodney Dangerfield decide to make a significant bet on a golf game. They convince Chevy Chase and a doctor to play with them. Chevy joins Rodney’s team, much to the dismay of Ted Knight. Near the end of the game, with scores very close, Chevy fakes an injury and encourages Danny to play. It comes down to the last hole, the last stroke. Winning the game for Rodney Dangerfield means forfeiting the scholarship. Danny realizes that the much better life is found in the grace-filled life taught by Chevy Chase than in the life of obedience and burdensome adherence to laws espoused by Ted Knight. Thanks to Bill Murray’s earthshaking solution to the groundhog problem, Danny wins the game and discovers real joy.
It might seem odd to compare Ted Knight and Rodney Dangerfield to Peter and Paul, but I see some similarities. Peter was the long time member, Paul the outrageous intruder. Though Peter knew and accepted that salvation was dependent on God’s grace, he allowed himself to be convinced that real fellowship between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles was dependent on traditional practices and regulations. Paul, the newcomer, saw God’s grace as not only the foundation, but the substance of the Christian life. Salvation was not just dependent on God’s grace; God’s grace made living the Christian life possible. He knew that if this was true, then nothing could, or should, stand in the way of Christian fellowship. He also knew that if there were requirements for membership, then none were worthy and Christ’s death was in vain.
We are blessed by God not because we are adherents to a particular Law. We are not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. It is faith that saves and in faith our lives are no longer transformed. When Danny decided to follow Chevy Chases’ advice, he died to his old way of life and his old expectations to take on a new way of life – Chevy’s. By faith we are Christ’s and He dwells within us. Everything we do, we do in faith. Even when we fail, God’s grace holds firm and forgiveness remains. We can’t earn God’s love or keep it ours by our works. God’s grace is ours through faith in Jesus Christ. Anything less than that would be worthless and Christ’s death would have been in vain.
Luke 7:36-8:3 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he entered into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat. And behold, a woman who was in the city, a sinner; and when she knew that he was sitting at meat in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster cruse of ointment, and standing behind at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee that had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Teacher, say on. A certain lender had two debtors: the one owed five hundred shillings, and the other fifty. When they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him most? Simon answered and said, He, I suppose, to whom he forgave the most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me no kiss: but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that even forgiveth sins? And he said unto the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. And it came to pass soon afterwards, that he went about through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good tidings of the kingdom of God, and with him the twelve, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary that was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuzas Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, who ministered unto them of their substance.
We are getting ready for a trip to Disneyworld. We are very excited about this trip and have spent months in preparation. We have been reading every possible resource, even bought one of those ‘unofficial’ travel guides to get hints and tips for making it the best possible vacation. Though we’ve read a number of interesting facts and made some decisions based on what we have read, the most important thing I’ve learned has to do with the feet.
Now, we knew that we would end up doing a lot of walking during our seven days in “The World” but I don’t know if I would have ever guessed that it would be five to twelve miles a day. I know that I’m going to get tired, that my legs will get sore from all that walking. I’ve been thinking about the inevitable soreness in my back and my hips. However, I never really thought about the wear and tear on our feet. One of the recommendations in the book is to prepare a foot care kit, so that if anyone does get blisters or soreness, we will have the necessary tools to make things better. Along with the gauze, bandages and ointments I will make sure that there is some sort of foot lotion which will cool and ease tired feet at night when we go back to the hotel to rest.
Jesus walked miles a day. He walked everywhere, from town to town sharing the message of hope and peace with the world. Though I’m sure He was in great shape, all that walking most certainly kept Him fit, I imagine that His feet suffered from the same problems that we will experience after seven days on vacation. Walking miles on the hot sandy roads without the benefit of modern orthopedic shoes that are designed to take care of the different parts of the feet most certainly left His feet cracked, dry and sore.
There is much more to today’s story than just the anointing of Jesus’ feet. We could talk about the woman, her sin and her forgiveness. We could talk about the Pharisee who was indignant about Jesus’ willingness to associate with a sinner and his assumption that Jesus could not be a prophet. We could talk about the differences between this story and the similar stories of women anointing Jesus that are found in Matthew, Mark and John. There is a parable about forgiveness which could be our focus. This particular reading also includes a few verses about the women who follow Jesus and help support – financially – the ministry.
But I think there is something very beautiful and poignant in the brief scene between the woman and Jesus. She came to Jesus in her sin and gave him her heart. We can not guess the Pharisee’s motivation for inviting Jesus to his home. Though this story happens early in Luke’s telling of Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees were already questioning Jesus’ purpose and holiness. Did the Pharisee want to catch Jesus in some way or was he truly curious about the things Jesus was doing and saying?
Whatever the reason, the Pharisee was not a very good host. Jesus entered his house and he was not given the hospitality due a visitor. There was no one to cleanse His feet from the dust of the road. A woman in tears approached Jesus with a jar of perfume and anointed his feet. I am sure that the ointment felt good on His sore feet, a wonderful relief from the heat and dryness of the road. She met a very real need with great love. Jesus makes this a lesson in forgiveness – she a great sinner is given more forgiveness than the one whose sins are less. What brought her to that place? Was she truly a stranger to the Pharisee or was she a trap? The Pharisee immediately said to Jesus, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have perceived who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him, that she is a sinner.”
He embraced her and accepted her love, proving to the Pharisee that Jesus was no prophet. Jesus’ actions, however, proved something even greater – grace. Even Jesus’ visit to the Pharisee’s house was an act of grace, for Jesus must have known the heart of that Pharisee. Jesus willingly went to share God’s love with both the sinner and the one who did not see his sin. God’s grace reaches out to all those who acknowledge it no matter the scope of the sin. God’s grace even reaches out to those who do not acknowledge it, so that they might see their sin and repent, drawing closer to God and receiving the forgiveness that He has promised through Jesus Christ.
Luke 8:1-3 And it came to pass soon afterwards, that he went about through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good tidings of the kingdom of God, and with him the twelve, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary that was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuzas Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, who ministered unto them of their substance.
The passage for today is from the Gospel lesson for this week, the final three verses. This passage seems like it should be dealt with separately, since it takes place in a different place, with different people under different circumstances. It seems like an afterthought, unnecessary to the message found in the story.
There are those who might identify the sinful woman who anointed Jesus as Mary Magdalene. This has been done for generations and it is the reason that Mary is often identified as a prostitute. We do know from this text that she had been healed of possession, that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her body, but we know little else about this woman. This verse is the first time that Mary appears in the Gospel of Luke and she is not specifically named in any of the other Gospels until the end of the story. While one of the versions of the anointing story does include a woman named Mary, it is the sister of Lazarus who does the anointing in John and it is unlikely that the two are the same woman.
While Mary Magdalene might have been a prostitute, we can not make that assumption based on the scriptures. Perhaps it is the juxtaposition of this passage with the story, placing Mary close to the circumstances under which she became such an important part of Jesus’ ministry. It is understandable that a woman with demons might have led a life that was less than holy – perhaps finding relief from the stresses in the satisfaction of her desires, whatever they might be.
I think where the passage does fit in this week’s lessons in the fact that it talks about the ministry of Jesus and how it was supported by these women. Ministry support is perhaps one of the biggest questions and aggravations that the church faces today. We don’t want to ask anyone for money – capital campaigns and stewardship drives are the biggest turn offs for many new Christians. “All they want is my money,” they say. Yet, ministry must be supported somehow. Jesus did not have a job, particularly not when He was traveling from city to city to preach the good news of the Kingdom. The other disciples walked away from their work, and they weren’t rich men.
They were often given food to eat and a place to sleep, but there would have been times that they had to fend for themselves. There were other needs to be met – replacement of worn out shoes or torn robes. They had a moneybag – did they get donations from the people who had been healed? Were some of the listeners so taken by the message that they gave a coin to help? We know from today’s passage that the women following Jesus provided for them out of their resources. This was one of the ways that God provides for those who serve Him.
I think what is most important to see in this passage is that Jesus went through the cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of God to the people. What is that good news? We see it very clearly in the story of the sinner woman who anointed Jesus. The good news is that we are forgiven by the grace of God. We see, in the actions of Jesus, that though God sees our sin He does not abandon us. He welcomes us, embraces us in our tears and grants us forgiveness as we recognize our sinfulness in His presence. As the psalmist writes, “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” The good news is that our transgression is forgiven and our sin is covered by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Scriptures for June 17, 2007: Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 22:19-28; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
Isaiah 65:1-9 I am inquired of by them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, that walk in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts; a people that provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens, and burning incense upon bricks; that sit among the graves, and lodge in the secret places; that eat swine's flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels; that say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me, for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day. Behold, it is written before me: I will not keep silence, but will recompense, yea, I will recompense into their bosom, your own iniquities, and the iniquities of your fathers together, saith Jehovah, that have burned incense upon the mountains, and blasphemed me upon the hills; therefore will I first measure their work into their bosom. Thus saith Jehovah, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants' sake, that I may not destroy them all. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains; and my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there.
There is a running joke that men don’t like to ask for directions. They will drive around the block a hundred times before stopping at a gas station to a find out the right direction they should go. I’m not really sure why they think it is better to get lost than be on the right path. Men like to do things themselves. They don’t want to call in a repairman when something goes wrong. They want to be independent without the help of anyone else. They want to make their own path and go their own way. They forget that there is someone ready and available to help them find the right direction.
We see this quest for independence in teenagers also. They don’t want help. They want to make it on their own. They don’t like going to a teacher for help or asking advice from parents. They would rather suffer the consequences of a bad choice than turn to someone else for the right one. I suppose in some ways this is good – it is a sign of maturity to make one’s own decisions and accept the consequences. However, they forget that there is someone who cares enough to be waiting to give advice and direction.
The book of Isaiah was written to the Hebrew nation at a time when there were great changes occurring in the world and in the nation. It is a story of God’s judgment and salvation. Isaiah is considered a prophet, and much of his writing points toward the future. However, his writing is more than a prediction of what will happen some day; it is a revelation of God, His purpose and His plan. As we read the book of Isaiah, we are reminded that God’s plan is right and true and that we should trust in Him to carry it out.
Our verses from Isaiah are the beginning of the end of the book. After sixty-four chapters of warnings, calls to repentance, and promises for salvation, God speaks to the people. They are a people who have found something they think is better than God, things they think will save them better than God. Whether it is neighbor, ally, friend or self, they think they do not need God. They want to go their own way, make their own path, be independent without the helper that is waiting.
God has little good to say about His people in this passage. They do not call on His name. They are rebellious. They walk in a way that is not good. They follow their own devices. They provoke God, make improper sacrifices and offerings. They follow rituals, eat good and do things that are abominable to God. These things are cultic, practices done by the religions that were popular in the day of Isaiah – they were worshipping false gods. God says, “They say, ‘Stand by thyself, come not near me, for I am holier than thou.’” God’s people had declared themselves holier than Him!
He would not be silent. Despite their sin, He was still there for them. He was still ready to be their God and to lead them in the ways of righteousness and truth. Despite their hatred, He offered them a promise – someday they would see Him again and they would turn to Him. Someday they would be saved and they will inherit all that He had to give them.
Scriptures for June 17, 2007: Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 22:19-28; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
Psalm 22:19-28 But be not thou far off, O Jehovah: O thou my succor, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion's mouth; yea, from the horns of the wild-oxen thou hast answered me. I will declare thy name unto my brethren: In the midst of the assembly will I praise thee. Ye that fear Jehovah, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and stand in awe of him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. Of thee cometh my praise in the great assembly: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied; they shall praise Jehovah that seek after him: Let your heart live for ever. All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto Jehovah; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is Jehovah's; and he is the ruler over the nations. All the fat ones of the earth shall eat and worship: All they that go down to the dust shall bow before him, even he that cannot keep his soul alive. A seed shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord unto the next generation. They shall come and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done it.
We are all lonely sometimes; there times when we feel everyone we love has abandoned us just when we need them the most. I was often lonely when we lived in England. Though I had my husband and my children, it was hard to make and keep friends with whom I could share my joys and frustrations. Military families overseas come and go as quickly as the spring flowers. As soon as a friend is found and a relationship is built, it is time for one of the people to move on to another base.
I found comfort in a strange place – the Internet. I suppose in today’s world it is not so unusual to have ‘friends’ online. I don’t visit the chat rooms as I used to, but it still amazes me how close the relationships between virtual strangers can be. Some people did meet face to face. As a matter of fact, I have had several meetings with people whom I ‘met’ online. I was even part of the wedding of two friends who met in a chat room. My friends online helped me through some tough, lonely times. When there was no one locally who would listen, there was someone online who would.
However, I was often disappointed. The Internet is an anonymous medium. It is easy to wear a façade when you can’t see a person’s eyes or hear their voice. I had ‘known’ people for long periods of time, thinking they were one thing but later finding out that they had lied about their identity. They weren’t real. Since these relationships were built on communication that relies totally on words, it was very easy to misunderstand something that was said. There were often hurt feelings and relationships broke down easily. Sarcasm never goes over well and humor is often taken wrongly. Without body language, tone of voice and eye contact, it is difficult to know the truth about these relationships. It was not really a problem. A person can easily change their screen name, block instant message buddy lists and delete mail. When things went wrong, they were gone.
Yet, there is one who is always near. The Lord God Almighty is never far off. Though it may seem He is farther than anyone, He is close and ready to help. Sometimes we simply do not understand the type of help we need, but God knows. We never see Him and sometimes it feels like He has abandoned us. He is God and is worthy of our trust and praise. So, the next time we feel so lonely and depressed because everyone we know has disappeared, let us remember the words of David. He never lost sight of the Lord, even when he faced the suffering of persecution from his enemies. He knew God was near.
As He was dying on the cross, Jesus cried the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was a quote from the beginning of this Psalm, repeating the cry of David who suffered greatly at the hands of his enemies. While Jesus hung from the cross, most of His friends went into hiding. Those who stood by Him to the end could do nothing but mourn the loss. Even God seemed to leave His presence as He took upon Himself the sin of the world to put its power to death forever. Yet, if we read the entirety of the Psalm which begins with such heartbreaking words, we find that God is never far from us, even in our loneliest moments.
Scriptures for June 24, 2007: Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 22:19-28; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
Galatians 3:23-29 But before faith came, we were kept in ward under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now faith that is come, we are no longer under a tutor. For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus. And if ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise.
Victoria does some babysitting. She took the Red Cross course several years ago and has built a list of parents who like to call her when they need someone to care for their children. She has experience with all ages and her regular families are starting to recommend her to their friends. Her babysitting jobs give her some spending money as well as experience in the ‘working world.’ Victoria’s jobs are usually just for a few hours on a Saturday night, a chance for parents to step out for a meal and a movie.
I remember when I was a babysitter a long time ago, and then those times when I hired a babysitting to care for my own children. The evening begins with a list of instructions – where the parents will be, how to get a hold of them in case of an emergency. There is usually a list of things the children can do and things they should not do. Food requirements are discussed, bedtime established. It is the babysitter’s responsibility to listen carefully and do what the parent has asked her to do.
The babysitter needs to abide by the rules, which is often difficult when there is a persistent and demanding child. Kids know just what to say to manipulate people into doing what they want. I think, perhaps, the most common demands are for extra treats and late bedtimes. It might be tempting to give in to these demands, especially since they will make the child love the babysitter. Giving in might even make the child more cooperative about other things. It is so easy to negotiate a peace, “I’ll let you stay up twenty extra minutes if you will take your bath without any trouble.”
However, rules are established for a purpose and we do not always know the reason. When we are caring for someone else’s children, it is important to keep by the rules. A full night’s sleep is perhaps necessary because the family has an early ball game the next day. The ice cream the child so desperately wants might have peanuts and would be dangerous or deadly if eaten. The rules are established to keep the children save and to protect the babysitter and should not be disobeyed.
A parent has so much more flexibility. There are times when the rules are ignored or a special treat is given. The parent can do this because they know so much more about the situation. If there is a question of allergy, they know how to handle it. They know how much sleep a child needs to be healthy and happy the next day. They know the reactions and the consequences of indulgences. They love the child enough to know where the line is drawn and to step over it every once in a while to give the child that special treat. Mercy is not given as a reward but as a sign of the parent’s love for the child.
Paul uses the example of a disciplinarian when talking about the Law. In those days, there was often a slave or servant strictly assigned to the care and education of the children. Even today there are some families who can hire a nanny or governess who takes care of the needs of the children. The slave or servant is required to follow the rules. It is their job and their position relies on their trustworthiness. The father, however, can break the rules – they are his to break. He can be lenient and merciful, generous and liberal with His grace.
Through Christ we are children of the Most High God – the Father. Christ did not come to remove or negate the Law, but through Christ something new has happened. We are no longer subject to the disciplinarian – the nanny – but we are restored to the care and the mercy of God by faith. Abraham did not have a righteousness based on obedience to the Law – it did not exist in his time. Abraham’s righteousness is founded on his faith in God. Adherence to the law had become the norm for righteousness in the days before Christ.
It was confusing to those early Christians who wanted to remain true to the God of their forefathers, to do all that He required. So, when they saw that there was some freedom in the fellowship of the saints, they set out to reestablish the foundation of righteousness that had become so important to their faith. They were insisting that Gentiles had to become Jews – even undergoing the knife of circumcision – before they could become Christian. Paul was taken aback by this reversal to the old ways. He wrote in response, “. And if ye are Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise.” In Christ we are no longer subject to the disciplinarian.
Does this make the rules any less important? Of course not. However, the love of God is not dependent on obedience and His mercy endures forever. As children of God we do not need to obey the Law to be rewarded with His love. We are invited on His lap because He loves us and we respond by following the rules He has established to keep us safe because we know He has done so out of love to guard and protect us from harm.
Scriptures for June 24, 2007: Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 22:19-28; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
Luke 8:26-39 And they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is over against Galilee. And when he was come forth upon the land, there met him a certain man out of the city, who had demons; and for a long time he had worn no clothes, and abode not in any house, but in the tombs. And when he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the Most High God? I beseech thee, torment me not. For he was commanding the unclean spirit to come out from the man. For oftentimes it had seized him: and he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters; and breaking the bands asunder, he was driven of the demon into the deserts. And Jesus asked him, What is thy name? And he said, Legion; for many demons were entered into him. And they entreated him that he would not command them to depart into the abyss. Now there was there a herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they entreated him that he would give them leave to enter into them. And he gave them leave. And the demons came out from the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd rushed down the steep into the lake, and were drowned. And when they that fed them saw what had come to pass, they fled, and told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what had come to pass; and they came to Jesus, and found the man, from whom the demons were gone out, sitting, clothed and in his right mind, at the feet of Jesus: and they were afraid. And they that saw it told them how he that was possessed with demons was made whole. And all the people of the country of the Gerasenes round about asked him to depart from them, for they were holden with great fear: and he entered into a boat, and returned. But the man from whom the demons were gone out prayed him that he might be with him: but he sent him away, saying, Return to thy house, and declare how great things God hath done for thee. And he went his way, publishing throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done for him.
When I was young, my dad and brother were both involved with the car care industry, so it was easy for them to buy cheap cars. There were times when a car was easily repairable but the former owners no longer wanted to deal with the problems that had brought the car to the shop. My brother was able to repair both mechanically and cosmetically in our garage nearly anything that came to him.
When I was learning to drive, my dad and brother started looking for a suitable vehicle for me to have. The first car was a Volkswagen beetle that my brother repainted to most horrid shade of yellow. He’d created the paint out of a bunch of leftover cans, combining colors that were never meant to be brought together. I did appreciate the effort, though I’m sure that I was never suitably thankful. I was, after all, a teenager and the car looked gross.
There was another problem with the vehicle. It was stick. Though I am able to drive a stick shift, I don’t like them. It perhaps has something to do with one of my first experiences in that car. I was on a drive with a driving instructor in the car when he took me to a very hilly road in our neighborhood. I was doing ok with the drive until we got to the top of that hill and I had to stop for a stop sign. It was a terrifying eternity for both the instructor and me as I tried to get that car going again while hanging perilously on the side of that hill. Every time I tried, I ended up rolling backwards instead of going forward. I don’t think I drove that car ever again.
My brother will get a kick out of this memory – when asked why I did not like to drive a stick shift, I once answered, “I don’t want to think when I drive.” Now, I never meant this in the ‘dumb blonde’ way. I knew then, as I know now, that the mind must be extremely active while driving the car. I meant that I wanted to be able to focus my attention on the road, the traffic and the direction I was going without having to also focus on whether I needed to push in the clutch or change speeds. Though I realize it becomes second nature when driving a stick shift car, I like that my automatic does all that for me.
We can be easily distracted, not only when driving a car but in life. There is always something, or someone, craving our attention and deterring us from our goal. When I’m writing, the phone rings. When I’m doing housework, I realize something more important has to be done. When I am trying to relax or watch TV, the kids need me. I was trying to read a book this morning and every time I turned to the page, Zack found something to say. Each time he talked, I lost my place and had to begin again.
Our story for today is a bit strange, in that Jesus’ response to the demons is odd and even cruel. The disciples were traveling with Jesus and the group had just arrived in the country of the Gerasenes, which was across the lake from Galilee. During the crossing Jesus calmed the storm, so the disciples were in a state of awe over Jesus’ powers. “Who is this?” they had asked. When Jesus stepped on shore, a man possessed by demons met Him. Luke’s description makes the man sound wild – naked and living in the tombs. No one was able to bind or control him. He fell down at Jesus’ feet and cried out. The demons had complete control of the man, but recognized the power and authority of Jesus. “Legion” was the name of the demon because there were many, and they begged Jesus not to send them back to the abyss.
Jesus gave them permission to enter into the herd of pigs that were on the hillside and the herd responded to this intrusion by rushing down the steep bank into the lake. The people in that region were likely Gentiles, since the Jews did not eat pig. When they saw the power that Jesus had over the demon and their herd, they begged Jesus to leave them. They were distracted from the grace that Jesus had to offer by their sudden loss of the livelihood. The event was frightening to the people because one man’s salvation meant destruction to them. Jesus had changed their lives, but only one seemed to benefit. They saw Jesus as an enemy. They were so focused on the loss of their herd that they missed the Word of hope and forgiveness that Jesus came to bring.
Scriptures for June 24, 2007: Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 22:19-28; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
Malachi 3:1-4 Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye desire, behold, he cometh, saith Jehovah of hosts. But who can abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap: and he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver; and they shall offer unto Jehovah offerings in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto Jehovah, as in the days of old, and as in ancient years.
I think if I were preaching this Sunday, I would choose to use the texts from the regular lectionary, despite the difficult nature of the story from Luke. How do we juxtapose this image of Jesus letting a people’s herd of pigs – their life and their well-being – drown in a lake beside the image of the merciful and caring Christ who brings love and forgiveness to all people? We can see from the lectionary texts that God does have mercy and that He is available to all those who believe. In Isaiah, God is calling to His people and though they do not hear His voice, He promises that their descendents will inherit the Kingdom. It is all about faith. It is all about hearing God’s voice and believing that Christ is the fulfillment of the promises. It is by faith that we receive the promise and become true heirs and children of God no matter who we are.
Though I’ve focused on the ordinary lectionary texts, it is worth noting that Sunday, June 24th is the Nativity of John the Baptist. We celebrate on this day because the scriptures tell us that John was born six months before Jesus. Therefore, we are six months from Christmas. Are you already shopping for those Christmas gifts?
All kidding aside, John the Baptist is a worthwhile figure to consider against the other texts for this week. In his ministry, we are reminded that he came as a voice from the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. He cried out for repentance, so that the people would be prepared for that day when Christ did come, so that they would be ready to receive Him. Perhaps if those people on the lakeshore in the country of the Gerasenes had known John the Baptist and heard him preach, they might have been ready to receive openly receive Jesus on that day.
In the passage from Malachi, we are asked a tough question, “But who can abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth?” Who, indeed can stand against the power and the authority of God? Those pig herders could not stand – for them the mercy of God was a destructive force that brought them pain and suffering rather than healing and peace. We won’t find the answer to the question in the ranks of soldiers or in the palaces of kings. We won’t even find the answer in the religious bodies of self-righteous men. The one who can abide the day of His coming is the person of faith. It is the one who believes that Jesus came to reveal God’s kingdom to the world, to bring forgiveness to the sinners and make all those who believe heirs in the promises of God.
We can’t assume that Jesus sent the legion of demons into the herd of pigs because He was making a statement about the unlawful use of pork as food. In the passage from Acts for the Nativity of John the Baptist, we are given a glimpse into the past, into the lives of those who came before Christ. We are reminded that it is by faith that people are made righteous before God. Abraham did not have the Law, but he was found righteous because he believed God’s word. The judges and the prophets were not chosen because they were perfectly righteous. They believed and they followed God’s word. David was a man after God’s own heart and he did all that God wanted him to do. He was a sinner, but he knew God’s grace.
John the Baptist came to point the way toward Christ. We hear all about John during Advent, so the story is familiar. Yet, it is good to be reminded of his birth during this season of Pentecost, to see that we are called to be like John, crying out in the wilderness and pointing toward the One who brings healing and peace. Though Christ has already come, it is up to us to prepare the way to the Lord for those who are still lost in the darkness and buried in their sin. We look to John as our example. He knew that he must diminish so that Christ could increase.
So it is with us. As we grow in faith and knowledge of God’s grace, we become less and less until the day when all God will see is His Son in our face. In Malachi, we are reminded of the story of the silver refiner, who heats the silver over and over again until there are no longer any impurities left in the metal. When the silver is perfectly refined, the refiner can look into the molten metal and see His face. This happens in our lives as we are transformed into His image. He casts out the demons, heals our wounds, grants us forgiveness until it is like looking in a mirror, where our faces and His face are like one.