Welcome to the May 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.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes


























Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.


May 1, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 6, 2007: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

John 13:31-35 When therefore he was gone out, Jesus saith, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him; and God shall glorify him in himself, and straightway shall he glorify him. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say unto you. A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

It is amazing – we think that it will get easier to raise children as they get older, but in reality they need you as much when they are teenagers as they did when they were younger. Oh, they do not necessarily need me to cook their meals or do their laundry, but they need the support of a loving parent even more. Their hectic schedules require full-time participation to support their activities.

When we are young, we rarely see what our mothers really do to make our lives better. Too often we notice only those moments when she makes us clean our rooms or each our brussels sprouts. We remember when she said that we could not have the brand new toy or the clothes that were in fashion. We did not notice that she never bought a new outfit for herself because the money went to school supplies and after school activities. We forget the hundreds of miles a week she drove and the hours she watched our sports events. We missed the look of pride on her face when we received an award at school or when we accomplished our goals.

It is often said that mothers sacrifice a great deal to raise a family, especially her sense of self. I have recently been involved in several conversations with mothers of young children. These mothers enjoyed these conversations not only because they were able to communicate with adults about adult things, but they also enjoyed knowing that the day will come when they will be able to have a life again. I suppose that is why some women do not want to have children. They do not want to have to sacrifice so much for another person. Yet, even though a mother’s love is often seen as sacrificial, the reality is that the best mothers are those who continue to retain their sense of self through those years.

The love that we have for one another, the love which Jesus commands for His people, is not necessarily a sacrificial love as it is often described. Jesus had that kind of love for us. It is odd for us to see glory in death, and yet that is exactly where the glory of God can be found – in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus told His disciples that they could not follow Him where He was going, although eventually most of them did follow Jesus by being martyred in His name. Yet, each one remained an individual, with his own personality and his own gifts.

They could not go with Him at that moment, for Jesus had to complete the work of the cross before they could go on to do the work of the kingdom in this world. He left them with one thing – each other. It seems odd that He would call loving one another something new, since God always intended His people to love. Yet, this new love is something different. It is not an emotional love, it is an active love. It is a love which glorifies God by being visibly manifest in the lives of His people. It is like a mother’s love, a love that does not sacrifice self for the sake of others but in keeping a sense of self has something very special to offer to her children and the world.


May 2, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 6, 2007: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Science Fiction fans are well familiar with the concept of time travel because many Sci-Fi shows use time travel as the basis for the problems and solutions that make them so exciting. I have not personally watched the show “Heroes” but it seems from the clips I’ve seen that time travel has had an important place in the story-line. The same is true of movies like “Back to the Future” and books like the “Outlanders” series. The method of time travel is different for each, sometimes it is a state of mind, sometimes it is a strange machine and sometimes it is a glitch in the fabric of the earth. In Sci-Fi stories, time travel is always two ways – you can go forward as well as backward.

Though physicists are still discovering new ideas, it was Einstein who best laid out the reality of time travel as we understand it today. The science is somewhat complicated, but what Einstein discovered is that time is not constant, but that it is relative to the one who is traveling through it: the faster you travel, the slower time moves. In other words, if you were to travel into space at nearly the speed of light and return to the earth after two years, you will find that much more time had passed. Since the speed of light is constant, for the observers from earth time appear to slow down. Traveling at the speed of light, time appears to stay the same for you. Thus we find that time travel is possible. However, it is impossible to return to the past.

Clifford Pickover wrote, “Most cultures have a grammar with past and future tenses, and also demarcations like seconds and minutes, and yesterday and tomorrow. Yet we cannot say exactly what time is. Although the study of time became scientific during the time of Galileo and Newton, a comprehensive explanation was given only in this century by Einstein, who declared, in effect, time is simply what a clock reads. The clock can be the rotation of a planet, sand falling in an hourglass, a heartbeat, or vibrations of a cesium atom. A typical grandfather clock follows the simple Newtonian law that states that the velocity of a body not subject to external forces remains constant. This means that clock hands travel equal distances in equal times. While this kind of clock is useful for everyday life, modern science finds that time can be warped in various ways, like clay in the hands of a cosmic sculptor.

“The line between science and mysticism sometimes grows thin. Today physicists would agree that time is one of the strangest properties of our universe. In fact, there is a story circulating among scientists of an immigrant to America who has lost his watch. He walks up to a man on a New York street and asks, ‘Please, Sir, what is time?’ The scientist replies, ‘I'm sorry, you'll have to ask a philosopher. I'm just a physicist.’”

As long as there is a clock close-by we think we know the time. Yet, the reality of time is far more complicated. Scientists like Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan spent much of their careers seeking to better understand time and all that is related. It was much simpler when we could keep the concept of time locked in a box – or a watch or a clock. Even so, we joke about time – how we wish we could have twenty five hours in a day or eight days in a week. Perhaps time travel would help us with our hectic schedules!

We try to keep God locked in a box. As we look back to the beginning of creation, we see that what God created He called good. The earth, the heavens, the plant and animal life, the man and the woman are spoken into life by God and He said, “It is good.” When sin entered the world, everything became corrupt and perishable – ravished by time. In his sin, Man tried to confine God to make Him suit their needs with idols, locking God behind the doors of their hearts and their temples so that He could not disrupt their plans.

But like time, God is not constant and can’t be locked in a box. He is bigger than anything we can create. God is not hidden behind a curtain or held by our ideology and biases. That’s what Peter learned in the vision and encounter with Cornelius. He learned that God’s grace is available to all those who hear, not just for those who exist in a certain time, place or culture. He took that news to the Jews and opened for them a whole new world. The new world was one in which God’s love extended to people from all nations. This new world is made visible in the love of Christians for one another, the love with Jesus Christ commanded for His disciples. It is in that love – not a feeling but an active love between brothers and sisters – that God is glorified in this world and He is manifest for all to see.


May 3, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 13, 2007: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

Acts 16:9-15 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: There was a man of Macedonia standing, beseeching him, and saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And when he had seen the vision, straightway we sought to go forth into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Setting sail therefore from Troas, we made a straight course to Samothrace, and the day following to Neapolis; and from thence to Philippi, which is a city of Macedonia, the first of the district, a Roman colony: and we were in this city tarrying certain days. And on the sabbath day we went forth without the gate by a river side, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down, and spake unto the women that were come together. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple of the city of Thyatira, one that worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened to give heed unto the things which were spoken by Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.

Vicki’s school was chosen to be part of a series on a local television network news program called “High School Cribs.” The reporter has been going out to the local high schools to find out “What’s cool in your school?” She showcases three organizations, clubs or groups and the activities that make them unique among schools in San Antonio. One of the things that makes Vicki’s school cool is the theatre department, so she was part of one of the segments about her school. The report included shots of a dance team and the school journalism class. The Vice Principal welcomed the community into the school.

When we watched the report, Vicki commented about her surprise to see the Vice Principal instead of the Principal. The principal was involved in the decision making, but for some reason he was not available to appear in the report. We don’t know what kept from the report – it may have even been a decision from the reporter and news producer. It was just very surprising not to see him on television that day.

We have been hearing stories from Acts – the beginning of the Church – for the past few weeks. It is pretty amazing how faithfully the apostles willingly obeyed the call of God in each of these stories. Peter went into a Gentile home to share the Gospel. Paul stopped persecuting Christians and became the most zealous evangelist. Peter went before the Jewish Christian leaders to tell them they were wrong about the Gentiles. Ananais went to Paul despite Paul’s horrible reputation. These men all believed the word of God and did what He told them to do. They believed the visions, believed the call and obeyed.

I think it is interesting that the vision came to Paul was of a man in Macedonia calling for Paul to come and help them, yet Paul does not meet a man in this story. It is a woman who listens to the Gospel and believes. Just like Peter last week, Paul discovers a place for the Gospel that is mostly Gentile. Yet, in this story it is not a man who seeks to know the truth, but a woman. Lydia was a woman of prominence and a woman of faith. She was a minority in Philippi, since the city had very few residents who believed in the one true God. Philippi was a community of retired Roman military men, most of whom worshipped the Roman gods. Would Paul have gone over to Macedonia if the vision had been of a woman?

Paul may not have ignored the vision, but we have to wonder what made those apostles and early Christians believe in the visions they saw. How did they know what was real and what was not real? Did they respond to every dream, every vision, every voice they heard? We see only the stories that were put into the scriptures, but for every true call from God we experience dozens of false calls – calls from the adversary to get us to go in the wrong direction. Certainly they had similar experiences.

In this case, Paul responded to the vision of a man in Macedonia? Would he have believed it to be true if the vision had been of a woman? Is Lydia what he expected when he arrived in Philippi? I’m not so sure. But in this story we see that Paul presented the Gospel to those who crossed his path, no matter who they were. As Peter had learned that it was good to preach the Gospel to Gentiles, Paul learned that it was good to preach the Gospel to women. God sent him on a journey and met him with surprises, but in the end God’s will was done when Paul baptized her entire household. That was the beginning of the Church in Philippi and Lydia most certainly offered leadership among those early Christians.

Life does not always provide for us what we expect. We do have to be careful to discern whether the dreams and visions that we receive are true and that they are from God. As we willingly follow God’s call, obediently sharing the Gospel with those who cross our path, we may experience something different than we expect, but we will see the blessings of God clearly.


May 4, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 13, 2007: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

Psalm 67 God be merciful unto us, and bless us, And cause his face to shine upon us; Selah. That thy way may be known upon earth, Thy salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise thee, O God; Let all the peoples praise thee. Oh let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For thou wilt judge the peoples with equity, And govern the nations upon earth. Selah. Let the peoples praise thee, O God; Let all the peoples praise thee. The earth hath yielded its increase: God, even our own God, will bless us. God will bless us; And all the ends of the earth shall fear him.

A few nights ago, shortly after we went to bed, we heard a large crash that sounded like glass had fallen off a shelf. When we heard the noise, we quickly got out of bed to see if we could figure out what had happened. We looked all around the upstairs of our home, turning on lights, looking for something missing or something different. We stopped and listened, to see if we could hear anything else, but we were not able to discover what caused the noise. It was not until the next day that we discovered something that had fallen downstairs in the living room. We didn’t even look down there, but apparently the cats had gotten a little out of control when they were playing and they knocked a candle off a shelf. We didn’t think about looking downstairs, we were too quick to react to the initial noise and we didn’t bother to listen for any clues.

That is typical of human nature – to quickly react without stopping to listen. When someone asks us a question, we react with an answer quickly without considering the meaning behind the question or the proper answer. All too often I ask the children something and they answer without really hearing the question. They return with the first thought that comes to their heads and it is often not even close to an answer for the question I intended. Words and action are our focus and we forget how important it is to listen.

The Psalm for today includes a word that is used more than seventy times in the psalms and a few times in a poetic portion of the book of Habakkuk. That word is “Selah.” It is not easy to identify the meaning of this word, though many would suggest it is simply a liturgical word in the midst of the psalm to direct the music – as in a rest or a stop in modern musical composition.

However, there are those who think this word actually suggests something much deeper than just a pause in the music, that it is also instructional to the singer and listeners. The word “Selah” is thought to mean something like “stop and listen” indicating that the words deserve some extra attention. Others take this meaning even further, suggesting that it is related to the Hebrew word that means “to measure.” With this understanding the listener and singer are given the command to do more than just listen, but to also consider or “measure” the words. In this way, the verse to which it refers should be heard and understood and applied to our lives. Listening is more than hearing the crash in the night; it is stopping to really listen to understand what is happening.

In this passage, the word “Selah” is used twice. The first is following a benediction. “God be merciful unto us, and bless us, and cause his face to shine upon us.” Stop and listen; measure these words and those that which comes after, “That thy way may be known upon earth, Thy salvation among nations. God blesses us to be a blessing and the purpose of that blessing is so that the world knows His salvation. His blessings to us are not for our own good, but for the good of the world. The second usage comes with a directive to the people, that they – meaning all nations – be glad and sing for joy, for God’s mercy and judgment is given without favoritism. The blessings are not meant for one people, but for all people. God’s grace extends far beyond our borders, beyond our walls, beyond our opinions and biases. Selah. Stop and listen. Understand that God has created and redeemed the whole world and one day the whole world will sing His praise.


May 7, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 13, 2007: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God… And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God the Almighty, and the Lamb, are the temple thereof. And the city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine upon it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the lamp thereof is the Lamb. And the nations shall walk amidst the light thereof: and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it. And the gates thereof shall in no wise be shut by day (for there shall be no night there): and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it: and there shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean, or he that maketh an abomination and a lie: but only they that are written in the Lamb's book of life. And he showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the midst of the street thereof. And on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no curse any more: and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein: and his servants shall serve him; and they shall see his face; and his name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall be night no more; and they need no light of lamp, neither light of sun; for the Lord God shall give them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.

Pictures are often deceiving. When the kids and I made a visit to the local zoo a few weeks ago, I used several rolls of film taking pictures of the animals. In most of the pictures you can get a pretty realistic idea about the habitat and animals that live there. The San Antonio Zoo has a pretty large aviary collection and I was able to get wonderful photographs of flamingos, macaws and a bald eagle. They have a large collection of cranes and storks as well as dozens of other birds.

While some of the birds are located in a specific aviary, other birds are found within the environments in which they would normally live with other animals. For example, the emu is in the African savanna exhibit with the giraffes and zebras. In an area near, and similar to, the leopard, was an amazing bird. In the photo, the bird is standing near to some bamboo shoots and scrubs. It is a tall bird, with long skinny legs and a neck that extents well above its body. It appears large in the photo – perhaps three feet tall – but the reality is that it is closer to six feet. It was definitely as tall as me, it could look me in the eye.

Anyone who has been to the Redwood forests of northern California understands how pictures can be deceiving. We have all seen pictures of these giants, but the photos do nothing to tell the real story. You have to stand in one of the groves and see one of these magnificent trees to truly comprehend their sheer size and majesty. Even if you see a picture of a person standing near the trees, or a picture of a car driving through one of the trees, those people and cars seem more like toys than the trees like giants.

There are so many images in today’s passage – a visual image of heaven given to us in words. We can’t even imagine the reality of this place and won’t be able to do so until we are in the midst of it all. The City of God, the New Jerusalem, is so big that it would cover about half of the United States. We want to relate this image to our human experience – to try to imagine a city that looks like a perfect cube measure 1400 square feet along the width, height and depth. It doesn’t make sense to our human minds – cities aren’t perfect cubes that big. However, John was describing the indescribable with words to which his readers could relate – that this vision he saw was immense, magnificent and greater than anything in this world.

I think about that tree – the tree of life – and wonder about the size. The tree is often depicted as being twelve different trees because it bears different types of fruit; however I believe it is one tree standing by the water of life. This tree must have been enormous, to provide fruit for all those whose name was written in the book of life. Can you imagine a tree that would bear a different type of fruit each month? I wondered what it might mean by twelve fruits. Of course, twelve is a number of completion, a number that relates to full congregation of believers as seen in the tribes of Israel and the number of disciples.

While the modern versions of the Holy Bible list only nine fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), I think it is interesting that the Latin Vulgate lists twelve. "But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law." [Gal. 5:22-23, Latin Vulgate] We automatically think of fruit like apples, oranges and peaches when we think about a tree bearing fruit, but wouldn’t it make sense that the Tree of Life might bear fruit in keeping with faith? What an awesome world in which we would be living if these were the fruits on which we were living! After all, they say you are what you eat.

When we read this passage from John, we try to imagine what he is describing, but our imaginations are simply capable of seeing that which we will see in that day. It is like we are looking at a picture of a bird or a tree that is much bigger than it appears. We will be delightfully surprised to see the City of God, to dwell in the presence of God and the Lamb, to drink from the River of Life and to eat of the Tree. And though it will be immense, it will be personal and intimate and perfect. Thanks be to God.


May 8, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 13, 2007: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

John 14:23-29 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my word: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my words: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's who sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, while yet abiding with you. But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful. Ye heard how I said to you, I go away, and I come unto you. If ye loved me, ye would have rejoiced, because I go unto the Father: for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe.

We love our house. It is in a great neighborhood, it has a good configuration. Our latest tax assessment shows that it continues to go up in value as there is more development in our community. The schools are excellent, the neighbors are friendly. It is safe and it is peaceful. We are very happy here.

I don’t mind telling you, however, that I still dream of that “perfect house.” When I’m driving through the different neighborhoods in our community, I enjoy looking at the different homes available for sale. I comment about features that would be nice. I would love to have a front porch and a patio that does not face the afternoon sun. I would love to have a larger garage and a hidden garage door. There are times I think I would like to be out in the country, with more land and mature trees. I think it would be wonderful to have a house on a lake with a magnificent view. I could list a hundred things I would do differently if I were to build that “perfect house” and a thousand things if I were to design the “dream house.”

There is a joke about a priest who died and went to heaven. When he arrived at the pearly gates, St. Peter welcomed him and took him on a tour. His home was a humble place, a plain building furnished with everything that he could possibly need. The rest of heaven was absolutely beautiful and the priest was feeling a bit of remorse over his resentment for such a humble home. Then they arrived at a beautiful mansion. A man arrived as they watched and he was given great honor. The priest asked St. Peter, “Was that God?” St. Peter answered, “Oh no, that was a lawyer.” The priest didn’t want to seem ungrateful, but he asked St. Peter, “I spent my entire life devoted to my parishioners, and teaching the gospel, and I have very humble quarters in Heaven. I just don't understand what that lawyer did, which would merit such a beautiful mansion.” St. Peter answered, “It isn’t what he did. You see, we have thousands upon thousands of priests up here. But he’s our first lawyer.”

Earlier in John 14, Jesus says, “I am preparing a place for you” and “in my Father’s house are many rooms or dwelling places,” so we often think of heaven in terms of places to live forever. I’ve heard people talk about their dream house in heaven – often based on that house that they never did have, the mansion that was always beyond their reach. While there is some discussion of rewards in the scriptures, today’s passage looks at eternity from a completely different point of view.

In this passage, the final words of Jesus, we hear that God will dwell with His people. This is not about our future when we die and go to heaven, but about our present as we live in this world. It is about God coming to us, dwelling in us. Last week we heard the command that we are to love one another. It is by this love that the nations, the world, will know we belong to God. This week we hear that our love for God is evident in obeying that which Christ has told us, when we do what He commanded us to do. In other words, we love God when we love one another and He will dwell amongst us.

Jesus Christ could have stayed in Jerusalem forever. He could have continued to dwell in the presence of His people, continuing to teach them and love them in the risen flesh. However, if He had stayed, we would only be bound to one another by His limited presence. He told the disciples that they should rejoice when He told them He was going away, because when He leaves He will send the Holy Spirit. Jesus can’t dwell in our hearts as a man of flesh, but the Holy Spirit can. Of all the dwelling places – of all the beautifully built temples and churches, even the glory of heaven – God chooses to dwell in us, in His church, in His people. There we will know peace.


May 9, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 13, 2007: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

John 5:1-9 After these things there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a multitude of them that were sick, blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the waters stepped in was made whole, with whatsoever disease he was holden. And a certain man was there, who had been thirty and eight years in his infirmity. When Jesus saw him lying, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wouldest thou be made whole? The sick man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Arise, take up thy bed, and walk. And straightway the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked. Now it was the sabbath on that day.

There are two possible Gospel lessons for this week. Today we look at the second.

At the end of his Gospel, John writes, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (NIV) While this might be an exaggeration, the stories given to us in the four Gospels are most certainly just a summary – bullet points – of the things Jesus did. We see only a few days out of three years, a few cities out of an entire region. Almost certainly Jesus preached the lessons over and over again and healed many other people that were not remembered in print.

What is so amazing about the limited reports we have is that the Gospel writers gave us an across the board view of the ministry of Jesus. They showed us a variety of ways that Jesus healed and a variety of ways that Jesus said the same thing. They showed similar miracles from different point of views. There is just enough repetition to show consistency between the stories but enough difference to know that they have not copied their witnesses from one another. God gave us the most comprehensive record possible without causing a world full of books to be written.

Today’s healing story is unique, though all of them are unique in their own way, this one is especially interesting. In nearly all of the stories, Jesus addressed the healed person with the statement, “Your faith has made you well.” This has given rise to an idea in the Christian church that faith is essential to healing. While faith is important, as seen clearly in so many believers in the bible being healed, the danger has become the human perspective that faith is necessary. They point to the scriptures and tell someone to whom healing has not come that they aren’t being healed because they do not believe.

In today’s story, we see something incredible. Not only does the man not believe in Jesus, he doesn’t even know from whence his healing has come. He doesn’t ask Jesus for healing; he looks to Jesus to help him into the water to be healed by the pool. He is blind, not only physically, but spiritually. He doesn’t even answer Jesus’ question, “Do you want to be healed?” He simply answers that the healing can’t happen because someone else is always there before him. Jesus heals this man anyway. Even after the healing the blind man did not know Jesus. In John 5:13, outside our reading for today, the Jews asked him who had told him to carry his mat. The man did not know.

Though Jesus eventually identified Himself to the man, this story shows us that the healing was not dependent on any human effort. It was the Word of God, in and through Jesus, that brought healing. There was no human desire or faith. There was no human works. God’s Word healed the blind man without fanfare or flourish. We are called to minister in the same way – to bring healing to those who don’t know Jesus and to do so without fanfare or flourish. Sometimes the people to whom we take God’s Word will not want what we have to give. They will think they know a better way and they will desire to receive healing in that manner. We need only speak the Word of God into their lives and disappear into the crowds.

Will the healing always come? Perhaps not, if it is not God’s will. However, it is never our place to question the will of God or the faith of the person who needs healing. God knows the hearts and He knows His plan. The blind man may never have believed in Jesus, we don’t know. He eventually learns that it was Jesus who made him well, but that’s all we hear. This story leads to questions about Jesus and his commitment to the Law. It also shows us another way Jesus healed, another way He accomplished His work. Before we say God can’t do something because we aren’t cooperative, let’s remember that nothing is impossible with God.


May 10, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 13, 2007: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

Acts 16:16-34 And it came to pass, as we were going to the place of prayer, that a certain maid having a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much gain by soothsaying. The same following after Paul and us cried out, saying, These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim unto you the way of salvation. And this she did for many days. But Paul, being sore troubled, turned and said to the spirit, I charge thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And it came out that very hour. But when her masters saw that the hope of their gain was gone, they laid hold on Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers, and when they had brought them unto the magistrates, they said, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and set forth customs which it is not lawful for us to receive, or to observe, being Romans. And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent their garments off them, and commanded to beat them with rods. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: who, having received such a charge, cast them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison-house were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. And the jailor, being roused out of sleep and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. And he called for lights and sprang in, and, trembling for fear, fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house. And they spake the word of the Lord unto him, with all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, immediately. And he brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God.

There is a television commercial that shows a series of events in which one good deed leads to other good deeds. Sadly, I don’t even recall what is being advertised in this commercial. The storyline is different than the campaign a few years ago of “paying it forward” in which people who received the blessing of a good deed then went to share a good deed with another. In this commercial, it is not the recipient who does something for someone else; it is a bystander – a witness. They are not paying it forward, but are emulating something they saw happen.

As I watch that commercial I am reminded that the things I do – good and bad – are not only visible to the people who benefit from my actions, but also those who witness them. A stranger in the grocery line might notice a kindness to a clerk and do the same for a co-worker. A friend might observe a good relationship between neighbors and take a better attitude home to their own neighborhood. A classmate of a child might witness a mother volunteering at school and decide to do something to help out at church. We do not know how the things we do will affect the world around us.

It is especially amazing that God has intervened in the insignificant aspects of our lives as part of His plan for salvation for others. I have had experiences that have seemed coincidental – an unexpected phone call or an unplanned stop at the store which led to something greater happening. These may not be quite so coincidental; it may just be part of a larger plan as God moves in and through the lives of His children.

Our reading for today is very long and it seems like it could almost be divided into two different stories. In the first few verses we meet a girl who had a gift that was being used by her owners to earn money. She had a spirit of divination, so she could read the future or discover hidden knowledge by interpreting signs or by some supernatural power. She knew that Paul was a servant of God and she cried out this knowledge to the crowds. It seems like an odd thing for her to do – for the demon within her to do. Paul became annoyed by the girl who was distracting the people from his message. He didn’t heal her because he felt sorry for her. He healed her because he was tired of her bothering them. He turned and said to the spirit, “I charge thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.”

The demon did leave the girl and her powers were gone. This annoyed the girls’ owners because they could no longer make money from her gifts. They had Paul and Silas arrested, and the two disciples were put into jail. While in jail the earth shook and the prison walls came tumbling down. Paul and the other prisoners could have been free, but they chose to stay. Just as the jailer was about to commit suicide, Paul yelled that they were all there. The integrity of the Christians caught the jailer’s attention and he asked about Jesus. In the end, he and his entire household was baptized. This conversion gave the Christian message to the Gentile community some credibility and others who were beginning to believe also became Christians based on the witness of that one man. One annoying girl led to the Christianization of the Gentiles.


May 11, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 20, 2007: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

Psalm 97:1-12 Jehovah reigneth; let the earth rejoice; Let the multitude of isles be glad. Clouds and darkness are round about him: Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. A fire goeth before him, And burneth up his adversaries round about. His lightnings lightened the world: The earth saw, and trembled. The mountains melted like wax at the presence of Jehovah, At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declare his righteousness, And all the peoples have seen his glory. Let all them be put to shame that serve graven images, That boast themselves of idols: Worship him, all ye gods. Zion heard and was glad, And the daughters of Judah rejoiced, Because of thy judgments, O Jehovah. For thou, Jehovah, art most high above all the earth: Thou art exalted far above all gods. O ye that love Jehovah, hate evil: He preserveth the souls of his saints; He delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked. Light is sown for the righteous, And gladness for the upright in heart. Be glad in Jehovah, ye righteous; And give thanks to his holy memorial name.

We went out to lunch yesterday to use up a gift card that we had received at Christmas. We could not remember how much was left on the card after our last trip to the restaurant, but I was sure that it would be enough for the food we bought this time. We were sixteen cents short. The waiter brought back to card and told us that it was a bit short but that he had taken care of it. It was a very nice gesture and we thanked him for it, but I could not have the waiter paying a part of my bill out of his own pocket. So as I left a generous tip, I included an additional sixteen cents.

Sixteen cents is insignificant and neither of us – the waiter or my family – would suffer greatly without the sixteen cents. Granted, every penny does count, particularly when you are in financial trouble, but it didn’t really matter that much. The restaurant probably writes off more than sixteen cents of ‘shortage’ every day in broken dishes, burnt food and cash drawer mistakes. I’m not sure where to draw the line, but at some point the amount becomes significant. While we might justify the smaller numbers, it becomes harder when it is a considerable amount of money. Yet, I have known folk who have justified such a windfall as a gift from God. Unfortunately, a windfall for us might just harm someone else.

Think about what it must have been like for Paul and his companions sitting in that Philippian jail. Though they made the best of things, worshipping God together despite their difficult circumstances, I have no doubt that they were praying for a miracle to set them free. It is natural and human for us to look to our God to get us out of trouble – after all, He has promised to take care of us.

As they were praying and singing hymns an earthquake struck. The earthquake was so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken. The doors were opened and the chains were unfastened. Sounds like a miraculous gift from God to me. However, freedom for the prisoners would have meant punishment for the jailer – a punishment so great that the jailer thought his best option was to kill himself with his sword. Instead of running away, Paul and his companions – as well as the other prisoners in the jail – stayed. Paul called out to the jailer and told him that they were all still there. Paul believed that if God intended for them to be free at that time, then He would accomplish it in a way they would be truly free. Escape would have meant that they would all have been fugitives and the jailer would be dead. God did take care of them in His time and His way.

The psalmist writes that God’s power and majesty is accompanied by darkness, fire, lightning and the melting of mountains. God is supreme over all things and gods and we who love God hate evil. Hating evil means living a life that does only what is right and not doing what is wrong, even if it is justifiable. Our circumstances may not seem good, but then living in God’s will is not always sunshine and happiness. Sometimes we’ll find ourselves in the middle of an earthquake. But as we trust in God and do what is right, we will find that His blessings are even greater than we every expected. For Paul, the blessing was obvious when a new Christian – brought to faith by their witness and their action – joined them in praising God’s holy name.


May 14, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 20, 2007: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21 Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to each man according as his work is. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city. [ Without are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one that loveth and maketh a lie.] I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright, the morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that heareth, let him say, Come. And he that is athirst, let him come: he that will, let him take the water of life freely. [I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book.] He who testifieth these things saith, Yea: I come quickly. Amen: come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints. Amen.

The lectionary reading for this week is from the final chapter of the book, but it does not include several verses. (I have included those verses in brackets.) There may be good reason why these verses were left out – they don’t fit into the theme of the text for the day or they seem to counter the message John intended with the writing of the Revelation which he experienced on Patmos. These verses do not seem to fit in with the image of God that we desire, particularly the idea that there will be some left out of the Kingdom in that day. God’s grace is bigger than we can imagine – how is it that John is still talking about dogs and punishment for changing his writing?

I think it is good to first recognize that there are different types of judgment described in the Bible. The first is the final judgment. Strange as this may seem, the final judgment has already occurred – it was finished on the cross of Christ. Now, thanks to Christ’s work, the judgment of sinners is done; some will live and some will die, but life is entirely dependent on faith. The second kind of judgment is that which we do on the earth. This is when we judge between to people in a court or we judge someone for their wrongdoing. The advice given for those of us in this world who will judge which is all of us because we all find ourselves in the position to judge, even if it is only to judge the actions of our children. The scriptures are clear that we are to be careful because we will be judged as we have judged. So, if we accuse and condemn someone for an action, we will be accused and condemned if we are unrepentant about doing the same things.

The third type of judgment is the believer’s judgment. Those who are believers will be judged according to the works that they do. We see this especially when Jesus talked about those who have given Him water and visited Him in prison – they would receive a reward. Those who did not give Him water or visit Him would be separated and sent to the fire. We know God is gracious and loving so this image of Him sending a believer to the fire is counter to our expectation of God. The same is true of the verse in this passage. The text is talking about the New Jerusalem where the believers will live for eternity in the presence of God. We are disturbed by the image that they is or will be some who are not given the same blessing – that there are those who will remain outside the city walls.

The list is very specific – sorcerers, fornicators, murderers, idolaters and liars. The point of the Revelation is to draw the believer’s attention to that which will come when Jesus returns so that they will be prepared in that day. That day will come when we least expect it, and John’s language is very immediate. “Behold, I come quickly.” John is encouraging his reader to act now. “Don’t wait until tomorrow, for tomorrow may be too late. Those with washed robes are those who turned to God – repentance. They heard the Word and by the faith given in that Word they turned to God and responded to the invitation to “Come.”

Verses eighteen and nineteen were also left out of this passage. In these two verses, John warns the reader that those who remove and of the words and those who add to the words will be punished. Again, we are bothered by these verses and I expect part of it is because they have been abused for so long by those who claim to have some special knowledge of what God means and intends for His word. As a matter of fact, there are scholars who believe these were not the words of John but that they were added by a later believer to give the passage a Gnostic point of view.

I wonder, though, if there isn’t important in those verses to study. John tells us that if we add to the words then God will add unto him the plagues of the book and that if anyone takes away from the words of the book then God will take away his part from the tree of life. If we add something, then something will be added and if we take away something, then something will be taken away. When we add to God’s word, we set upon ourselves and others an extra layer of works necessary for righteousness and when we take away from God’s word we take away from His grace. The Gospel is simple and does not need our intrusion.

What we do learn from this passage is that the message of Christ is immediate – it is for this moment, for this time. Though we’ve been waiting for two thousand years for the coming of Christ, this is not the time to procrastinate. The time is now – don’t wait. Christ is coming. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.


May 15, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 20, 2007: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

John 17:20-26 Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me. And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me. Father, I desire that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world knew thee not, but I knew thee; and these knew that thou didst send me; and I made known unto them thy name, and will make it known; that the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them, and I in them.

I was recently going through pictures to create a photo collage for a special event in Zachary’s life. It was a wonderful experience sharing the memories of all those moments. It amazes me how similar the children looked with they were babies. There is a period of time – when they were each about a year old – when it is even hard to tell which child is which. I had to remember the event or the clothes to know for sure which one it was. In one picture, Zachary is sitting on the patio near a recently potted with a huge smile and what appeared to be dirt on his face. If I remember correctly, he’d had an Oreo cookie and I thought it was funny that he looked like he had been eating the dirt.

The thing we had just planted was a miniature redwood tree that we had brought home from a visit to the redwood groves in northern California. We were going to plant that tree in our yard so that one day it would tower over the neighborhood for all to enjoy. It was an impractical idea, based on the design of the redwood trees. Redwoods grow in groves and one tree would have difficulty surviving alone. Even though redwood trees grow to be hundreds of feet high and wider than you can imagine, the have very small root systems. During one visit to the groves, we saw a tree that had been recently felled by a storm. I shocked by how small the roots were – barely larger than the trunk and only a few feet deep. It is no wonder that the tree fell; there was nothing to hold it up.

Redwood trees have lasted for centuries because they live in groves. They count on the other trees to help them stand. Their root systems intertwine, giving the group a greater strength than any individual tree. That one tree was just far enough from the others that it had no support and thus no strength.

There are, unfortunately, too many Christians who think they can go it alone. They choose not to participate in the fellowship of the saints, to join others for worship, word and sacrament or Bible study. They are disappointed with the body of Christ either because they have been hurt by individuals or they do not like what they’ve seen, so they decide to spend time alone with God. When they do this they stand separate, alone in the world, and then when the storm hits there is nothing to help hold them up. They have no unity with others who can give them the strength they need to stand. They are too far from that which gives true strength in Christ – the Church which is strongest when we are one with each other in Christ Jesus.

In our scripture for today, Jesus prayed for the unity of believers, that just as God and He were one, they would also be one. He did not mean only those who were there that day, but for all those who would ever know the Gospel. We are a diverse people – we come from different times and places. The Church has existed for two thousand years and has touched nearly every corner of the world. Unity does not necessarily mean that we will all be the same. It is impossible. Not even the twelve disciples were the same. There were fishermen, a tax collector, revolutionaries and others. At least one was married. Some were brothers. They were from different villages. In the scriptures we can see they had different personalities. They did not always get along. The disciples often bickered and the early Church faced difficulties.

When Jesus prayed for the unity of the believers, He was praying for them – and us – to be of one mind. That mind is not our own, or the mind of our leader. That mind is Christ’s. As we have seen over the past few weeks, Jesus set down how we could be unified. We are called to love one another with an active love. In service to our brothers and sisters in Christ, the world will see that we are one and will know that God is the Lord Almighty. They will see our unity and will that God does exist in and through our lives. If two people can disagree about the color of the carpet and still love one another – that is a sign of God’s power.


May 16, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 20, 2007: Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

Scriptures for Ascension Day, May 17, 2007 (can be celebrated on May 20, 2007): Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

Acts 1:1-11 The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, concerning all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up, after that he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit unto the apostles whom he had chosen: To whom he also showed himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing unto them by the space of forty days, and speaking the things concerning the kingdom of God: and, being assembled together with them, he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, ye heard from me: For John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence. They therefore, when they were come together, asked him, saying, Lord, dost thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father hath set within His own authority. But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they were looking stedfastly into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; who also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye looking into heaven? this Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven.

Ascension Day is always the fortieth day after Easter and thus falls on the Thursday before the Seventh Sunday. Some churches will choose to use the Ascension scriptures on Sunday; others will hold special services on May 17th. Unfortunately, many churches will ignore Ascension Day altogether. Though I’ve chosen to focus on the scriptures for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, I think it is valuable to recognize Ascension Day.

From the scriptures we know that Jesus stayed with the disciples forty days after His resurrection and then He was raised into heaven to be seated at the right hand of God. This was necessary for the sake of the disciples and the church: if Jesus had stayed, the Holy Spirit could not come and the disciples would never have the gifts necessary to be witnesses to the work of Christ. Jesus did not just disappear. Luke tells us that He opened their minds so that they understand the scriptures. Throughout His ministry Jesus revealed to them the will and purpose of God – Jesus came to die and they are witnesses of that for the world. Then He said, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised.” That promise was the Holy Spirit. “But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power on high.”

In the book of Acts, Luke repeats and continues the story. You would think by this time the disciples would fully understand what Jesus was teaching and what God intended for them. Yet, as Jesus is about to leave they still ask, “Is this the time you will restore Israel?” Jesus reminds them that it is not for them to know the times or dates. This is why the disciples always looked at the mission of the church as urgent – the coming of Christ was, to them, an imminent event. There was no time to wait.

Yet, Jesus told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received the power of the Holy Spirit. In the scriptures it seems as though Jesus had taught them everything they would need to know, they needed the Spirit to be able to accomplish the work. The Spirit would come to teach them everything they need to know and to remind them of everything that Jesus had taught. The Spirit would give them the gifts, the authority and the power to continue Jesus’ work in the world. So, they stayed in Jerusalem and waiting.

That’s what it is like in the Kingdom of God – urgently waiting. There is no time to spare, yet we’ve waited for two thousand years.

Luke gives us two different versions of what happened when Jesus ascended into heaven. In the Gospel, Luke tells us that they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. In Acts, Luke tells us that when Jesus rose into heaven, they stood there staring into the sky. While they were looking up, “two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” In one story, the disciples worship Jesus and go joyfully to wait for His promise. In the second story, they stand gaping at what they have seen, unmoving perhaps because they are unsure of what should come next. I don’t see this as a contradiction, but as the reality of our faith in Christ. We joyfully worship and wait, but we also wonder and worry. We know Christ and His promises, but we aren’t sure of what it means.

Christian faith means waiting urgently. We are not to be passive as we wait, but actively sharing the gifts of God with others. Though we’ve waited for two thousand years, our mission is as immediate as it was in the days of those first disciples. Now is the time. Today is the day. Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

Some scripture quotations in today’s WORD were taken from the NIV Bible.


May 17, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 27, 2007: Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17 [25-27]

Acts 2:1-21 And when the day of Pentecost was now come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound was heard, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speaking in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying, Behold, are not all these that speak Galilaeans? And how hear we, every man in our own language wherein we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, in Judaea and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, in Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and sojourners from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them speaking in our tongues the mighty works of God. And they were all amazed, and were perplexed, saying one to another, What meaneth this? But others mocking said, They are filled with new wine. But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spake forth unto them, saying, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and give ear unto my words. For these are not drunken, as ye suppose; seeing it is but the third hour of the day. but this is that which hath been spoken through the prophet Joel: And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh: And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams: Yea and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days Will I pour forth of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above, And signs on the earth beneath; Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the day of the Lord come, That great and notable day. And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

In the Christian church we know about Pentecost. It is the day that the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and they were given the gift of tongues enabling them to speak the Gospel to the nations. Pentecost is known as the birthday of the church. In many churches, the worship takes on a celebratory tone, with red balloons for the children and lively music. Many churches choose Pentecost as a day to affirm the baptisms of their youth or welcome new members into fellowship.

As I was doing my research for the writings about Pentecost, I came across an interesting quote from Dennis Bratcher at CRI/Voice, Institute. “In many churches, the season leading up to Pentecost Sunday is one of the most neglected of the church calendar.” This is entirely true. While most churches will do something special for the Sunday of Pentecost, rarely is there a time of preparation leading to the day. As we look at the church calendar we see several periods when we count the time. During Advent we count the days or the weeks until Christmas. The same is true during Lent. We set aside a period of time when we look forward to the celebration that is to come.

With Pentecost, however, we don’t count down the days. We don’t prepare. Yet, as we look at the historical foundation of our Christian celebration of Pentecost – the Jewish roots of the festival – we see that it was a time of counting and preparation. The word “Pentecost” means “fifty” because it was the fiftieth day following the Passover. The counting begins on the second day of the Passover feast when an omer of barley was presented at the temple as the first fruits grain offering. Forty-nine days later an omer of wheat was presented. The counting of the omer concluded with Shavuot, This period represents the time between the Exodus and the giving of the Law and is celebrated according to Leviticus 23:15-16. At Passover they celebrate their freedom from slavery and at Shavuot they remember their acceptance of the Torah and their commitment as a nation that serves God.

The barley, also called the wave offering, was representative of the food meant for the animals. It is unearned, given freely, just as the Exodus was a gift given freely by the grace of God. After forty-nine days, the next grain offering was of wheat grain, made into bread. It was an offering that was given with the cooperation of human effort. Therefore, the forty-nine days were spent not only caring for the wheat and preparing the bread, but it was spent developing one’s spiritual potential. We can see that in the way that Jesus spent those days with His disciples. He was preparing the disciples for the work they were to do when they were finally sent out into the world. When He ascended to heaven, they spent the next ten days in prayer. The Spirit came on the fiftieth day.

In some Jewish traditions, the preparation for Pentecost was a time to work on one’s inner growth, to develop good characteristics through reflection. Using the “sephirot” or attributes of God from the Kabbalah, the believer reflects on each of seven aspects one day of each week for seven weeks. The weeks also represent the seven aspects, so each day focuses on a different combination. The seven aspects are mercy/grace/love of God; judgment/strength/determination; symmetry/balance/compassion; contemplation/initiative/persistence; surrender/sincerity/steadfastness; foundation/wholly remembering/coherent knowledge; kingdom/physical presence/vision and illusion. On the first day of the first week, the believer reflects on the mercy that is in mercy. On the second day of the first week they reflect on the judgment that is in mercy. On the first day of the second week they focus on the mercy that is in judgment. They do this each day until they reach the seventh day of the seventh week when they reflect on the kingdom that is in the kingdom.

It is too late to do so for this year, since Pentecost is only ten days away, and I am not suggesting we follow Kabbalah tradition. But perhaps for next year we’ll remember that Pentecost is one of the most important festivals in the Christian church year. Perhaps next year we will take care to prepare for the celebration not only in planning a party but in preparing our hearts for the reality of what Christ has done on this day. Pentecost is a gift from God, but it is a time when we accept that gift and commit to serving God in the world. Without the human cooperation, Pentecost is just a windy day that leaves those who are witnessing the power of God confused and cynical.


May 18, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 27, 2007: Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17 [25-27]

Genesis 11:1-9 And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And Jehovah came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And Jehovah said, Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do: and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do. Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So Jehovah scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off building the city. Therefore was the name of it called Babel; because Jehovah did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did Jehovah scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

When Bruce and I first met, he was stationed in England and I was living in an apartment in New Jersey. We met at a wedding, so only spent a few hours together before being separated by an ocean. We met before the age of the Internet, but we used old fashioned ways of communicating. We sent letters regularly, occasional audio tapes and we even managed to send a videotape message or two during the nine months we ‘dated’ long distance. It was very expensive, but we occasionally called one another on the telephone.

I am an artist at heart, so I often have an off-the-wall idea of what might be fun. When I was in school I took a couple years of French as my language and though I did not speak fluently I had a working knowledge of the language. I decided it would be fun to use French for my answering machine message. This created a number of problems both for those who dialed a wrong number and those who know me intimately. One friend’s response on the machine was, “I’m pretty sure I heard your last name in that message, so if this is Peggy call me back.” The problem was magnified when it came to Bruce. Since he was living in England, he had to dial a country code to make a call to America. When the answering machine spewed a message in French, he thought he had made a mistake and dialed the wrong country code. When he got the message again, after carefully dialing, he realized it must be my phone. After causing him to make two overseas telephone calls I realized it would be better to keep my message simple and informative.

According to yourdictionary.com there are 6,800 different languages in 200 countries with 2,261 having some system of writing. The rest are verbal. In the Douglas Adams story, “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe,” the travelers wear a “Babelfish” in their ear that automatically translates any language so that strangers can understand one another. It isn’t quite so simple in the real world, though with the internet it is getting much easier. Yourdictionary.com offers links to approximately 300 different dictionaries. Alta Vista offers a translation site named Babel Fish. There are many other ways of learning to understand different languages.

The confused language of the world is due to the story in today’s lesson. Man had settled together and founded a city. Together they decided to build a tower that would reach to heaven – it is typical of human nature to try to become like the gods. The Lord God Almighty saw that they could accomplish great feats together and so He confused their language and sent people to the four corners of the world. Archeologists have recently identified what they believe could have been the original tower and it is interesting to note that it is dwarfed by the amazing skyscrapers of today.

The problem was not that they were able to build a tower that would reach into heaven – for that is impossible. Heaven is not a place we can identify in relation to the world. We have sent rockets to outer space, even cameras to the far edges of our universe, but they will never reach heaven. The problem in Babel was that the people thought they could become like God. Though the language has been confused, human beings have never let that stop them from accomplishing great things. Even in the ancient world people were communicating with people of other languages and certainly in today’s world we have seen how small the world has become.

However, Pentecost is about something entirely different. Though the disciples did speak the languages of the nations on that first Pentecost and the people heard the Gospel in their own tongue, Pentecost is about introducing yet another language to the world – the Gospel. The words might be different from nation to nation, but the Gospel is the same everywhere. Jesus Christ died for the sake of the world so that all who believe will be saved.


May 21, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 27, 2007: Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17 [25-27]

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b O Jehovah, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: The earth is full of thy riches. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, Wherein are things creeping innumerable, Both small and great beasts. There go the ships; There is leviathan, whom thou hast formed to play therein. These wait all for thee, That thou mayest give them their food in due season. Thou givest unto them, they gather; Thou openest thy hand, they are satisfied with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled; Thou takest away their breath, they die, And return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; And thou renewest the face of the ground. Let the glory of Jehovah endure for ever; Let Jehovah rejoice in his works: Who looketh on the earth, and it trembleth; He toucheth the mountains, and they smoke. I will sing unto Jehovah as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have any being. Let thy meditation be sweet unto him: I will rejoice in Jehovah. Bless Jehovah, O my soul. Praise ye Jehovah.

We live in a hustle and bustle society. We want everything quickly, yesterday if possible. We have one-day shipping, fast food restaurants, email that gets from one end of the earth to another in seconds. Once we decide we want something, we work hard to make it happen now and we don’t like to wait. We don’t like to be still; we have little or no patience. Time is money, after all, or so we’ve heard.

I read an article online today about a new airplane that has been built by Boeing. This airplane is called the Dreamlifter because its sole purpose is to transport parts for the new 787 which Boeing has developed called the Dreamliner. This is the first time an airplane manufacturer has developed a plane for such a specific purpose – to transport parts for one particular airplane. The Dreamliner is built in Everett Washington, but several large parts are built in Japan, Italy, South Carolina and Kansas. The plane’s fuselage and wings are made in other factories and transport for such parts can take weeks if they have to be delivered by ship. With the specially designed Dreamlifter and its cargo mover, the parts can be delivered much more quickly and planes can be completed swiftly.

It seems odd that an airplane manufacturer would go to the trouble to design a plane that has only one purpose. Most of the time cargo planes are specially designed, but they are often used for other work. Though Airbus has a cargo plane designed to transport parts for new planes, the “Beluga” does transport parts, but it is also hired by other companies to move cargo. The Dreamlifter will work only at moving Dreamliner parts. Boeing is in the process of making at least four of these airplanes. Production of the new 787’s can be faster, not because they are cutting corners but because they are saving time gathering the parts.

In our fast paced society we often think that the things we produce would be best if they can accomplish many things. Our phones are now cameras, have internet access and do a million other things. Even the least expensive phones will give you a calculator, date book and games. Printers now have copy machines, scanners and fax machines all-in-one. To spend so much time, energy and money on an airplane that has only one purpose seems impractical and wasteful to us.

Yet, as we read today’s psalm, we realize that there need not be grand or important reasons for something to be created. As we look at the creation, we wonder at the magnificence of what God has done. I have a rosebush that does nothing but grow, and it is not even in a prominent spot in my yard. Yet, each time I look at that rose bush I smile. It is so beautiful, the flowers are so pretty, that I can’t help but thank God for His incredible creative work. We often wonder at what he was thinking when He created some of the creatures in our world – like mosquitoes – but we can sign praise to Him that He has taken the time to care for such small annoying pests. If God loves the mosquito, how much must He love the crown of His creation?

As we look at the scripture for today, we see that God has created all things, creatures both big and small. He has provided for their every need. This psalm is a call to praise God for His mercy and His grace. In the song we see that all things have a purpose, and that the purpose is not always grand and important as we might expect. Even the leviathan was specially created by God and its purpose is simply to “play in the sea.” We might think we have a much more noble and important purpose in this world, but we should always remember that we have been created for one reason – to glorify God.

I think it is interesting when the lectionary withholds a verse in a passage like this one from the psalm “Let sinners be consumed out of the earth. And let the wicked be no more.” Isn’t that what happened at Pentecost? God’s grace was showered down out of heaven into the hearts of those who believe. From that moment, all those who believed on the name of the Lord Jesus are saved from sin and death. We are transformed into children of God, abide in Him and do His work in this world. We glorify God by sharing the Gospel with the world, baptizing the nations and teaching them about Jesus. When we do, the sinners are consumed by God’s grace and their wickedness is no more. Then they too can sing praise to God for His amazing grace.


May 22, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 27, 2007: Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17 [25-27]

Romans 8:14-17 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.

We can focus on a number of different themes for Pentecost. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, when God gave to the disciples the final piece to the puzzle – the Spirit, who will remind them of everything Jesus taught, teach them what they do not yet know and give them the power to continue the work Jesus did in this world. We can focus on the idea of languages – that the power of God’s Spirit came at Pentecost to make it possible for disciples of all ages to share the Gospel message with the world. We can focus on the wind or breath of God, learning more about the Holy Spirit and the gifts He gives to God’s people. We can talk about the unity of the body of Christ that comes by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are unified – made children of God and heirs to the kingdom – not because we have done anything right or have earned such an honor. God comes to those to whom He gives faith to fill their lives with joy and peace. It is the presence of God that gives us strength to get through the hard times and humility to get through the times of prosperity. It is by the power of God’s Holy Spirit that we can experience both the suffering of the cross of Christ as well as His glory. Life as a Christian is one of extremes that are lived at the same moment, particularly emotions.

Emotion is a very powerful thing and when we are in the heat of emotion it is impossible to do anything else. You can not reason with a child in the midst of a tantrum. No matter what you try to do – positive or negative – you won’t make a difference until the emotion is released. It is human nature to try to balance emotion. If someone is too happy, instead of joining in their joy we try to bring them down. When someone is grieving, we want to make everything better so they won’t be hurting. There have been times when my children were so upset that it was difficult for them to even breath, let alone talk. In my desperation to fix what was broken, I got frustrated with their inability to tell me what was wrong. “Just stop crying and we will be able to do something,” I say. They can barely even answer, “I can’t.”

When ministering to someone – through prayer or words of comfort – it is tempting to offer advice or take care of the situation. There is a story about a little girl who was late coming home and her mother was worried. When she arrived, the mother asked the child to explain. The little girl told her mother, “My friend fell and broke her doll, so I stayed to help.” The mother asked, “What could you have done to help?” The little girl answered, “I just sat down and helped her cry.”

Most people have the answers they need but they can’t do anything until they get through the emotion. All they want from us is to share in their pain or joy. When people are happy, they aren’t looking for our opinion about their good fortune or even a word of congratulations. They simply want to share their joy. Paul’s encouragement for the Christian life is that we become aware of one another’s emotions and share in them. In joy and in sorrow, there is no language needed. We all speak the same laughter and the same tears. Like the little girl, sometimes the best way for us to help is to just cry along with our friend. Jesus came in flesh to empathize with the human condition and we are called to have empathy in this world as we live in the joy and the sorrow of the Christ-like life.


May 23, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, May 27, 2007: Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17 [25-27]

John 14:8-17 [25-27] Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I say unto you I speak not from myself: but the Father abiding in me doeth his works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, that will I do. If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth: whom the world cannot receive; for it beholdeth him not, neither knoweth him: ye know him; for he abideth with you, and shall be in you… These things have I spoken unto you, while yet abiding with you. But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.

Every parent wants the best for their children. We want them to have a better life than we had. We push, perhaps too hard sometimes, so that they will go farther and higher than we ever went. Some parents, maybe all of us in some ways, try to live vicariously through out kids – living out our dreams and trying to make right all our regrets. The things we didn’t get to do, the things we failed to do, the things we forgot to do – we don’t want our kids to make the same mistakes, so we push.

For some kids, this is a difficult thing to live up to. Many have no desire to do the same things the parent did. They don’t want to go to the same college, they don’t have the same expectations in life or the same goals. They don’t have the same gifts. How does a child who wishes to be an artist face a parent who is a world renowned lawyer? How does he or she accomplish greatness under such circumstances?

Imagine what it must have been like for those disciples. In this passage, Jesus told the disciples that they would do greater things than He did. How is that possible? After all, Jesus fed thousands of people with barely a meal. He raised the dead. He cast our legions of demons. He spoke with authority. He changed lives. He fought the establishment. Though they don’t know it at this point in the story, Jesus went to the cross and died for the sake of the world. How do you do greater things than these?

We are in a time of uncertainty. The resurrected Jesus spent forty days with the disciples, teaching them everything they would need to know. He promised them another, an Advocate or Counselor, to teach them and remind them of everything that He taught. That Advocate, the Holy Spirit, would also give them the power to do the work of Christ in the world. Yet, at this moment in the story, the disciples are between Jesus and the Spirit. They don’t know how they could possibly do greater things. They don’t even know how they will make a difference in the world. They were probably feeling a bit disappointed and abandoned because Jesus left, discouraged and doubtful about their future.

We’ve heard some stories this Easter season from the book of Acts about the amazing things that the disciples did. They raised the dead, healed the sick, spoke with authority and did many of the same things that Jesus did. Even so, they did not do anything greater. How is it possible? Jesus is the Son of God – how can any human being do something greater than Him?

The greater things they will do are not necessarily the things they expect in the beginning. Jesus did miracles, but even greater than the miracles is the message of the Gospel. Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead, but even greater than these is the life-giving Word of God. We are amazed to think that someone might have been dead and then was alive, but the greater miracle is found in the salvation of God. Every Christian, saved by the Gospel and transformed by the Holy Spirit, is a greater thing than all those things that Jesus did. Jesus’ expectations were not for the disciples to become like Him, wandering the countryside doing miracles, though that was a part of the way the Gospel would be shared. Instead, Jesus intended something greater for His people – anointed people of God sharing God’s grace with the world, making disciples of all nations and teaching them to do all that Jesus told do. That’s what God wants from His children.


May 24, 2007

Scriptures for June 3. 2007: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Doth not wisdom cry, And understanding put forth her voice? On the top of high places by the way, Where the paths meet, she standeth; Beside the gates, at the entry of the city, At the coming in at the doors, she crieth aloud: Unto you, O men, I call; And my voice is to the sons of men… Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his way, Before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, Before the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth, When there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills was I brought forth; While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, Nor the beginning of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there: When he set a circle upon the face of the deep, When he made firm the skies above, When the fountains of the deep became strong, When he gave to the sea its bound, That the waters should not transgress his commandment, When he marked out the foundations of the earth; Then I was by him, as a master workman; And I was daily his delight, Rejoicing always before him, Rejoicing in his habitable earth; And my delight was with the sons of men.

It is tempting on Trinity Sunday, which will be celebrated on June 3rd, to try to come up with creative ways of describing the indescribable. The Trinity is a mystery that many have tried to understand and explain in human terms, but it is beyond the human imagination. Every analogy falls apart in some way. Water/ice/steam – the water can’t be both ice and steam at the same time. Mother/daughter/sister – I can’t be my own mother or daughter. The cloverleaf – the leaves are not unique to one another, they are all the same. My personal favorite is the idea of the ocean – God the Father is the depths of the sea, unreachable, unknowable, endless supporting life; God the Son is the surface, visible, active, touching the lives of men. God the Spirit is the mist and the waves, constantly moving, changing to world around it, invisible and yet visible, unstoppable, affected and affecting all that it touches. The ocean is all one, but the way the different parts are perceived by the human mind is different. One cannot exist without the other – they can’t be divided, but they can all be understood as uniquely different from the others.

Many argue that the Trinity is not Biblical, that the word Trinity is not found in the scriptures. Yet, the concept of the Trinity has been around since the earliest days of the Church, when the first disciples wrestled with this idea that God is present in different ways in the world. They knew that there is only One God, but they also recognized that some of what Jesus taught pointed to the idea that the Godhead was plural, involving Father, Son and Spirit. Even the Great Commission is worded to include this formula for the making of disciples. Baptism was meant to be given in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They had to discover how it could be three but one. They had to try to explain this threeness while holding to the oneness of God.

Proverbs 8 was one of the Old Testament texts used to explain the idea of the Trinity. In this passage, we see that Wisdom is both personified but also possessed by God. Wisdom is separate, but also a part of God and equal to Him. The Proverb talks about the divinity and eternity of Wisdom. Nothing is equal to God, or divine like God, or eternal like God. Therefore, Wisdom being possessed by God is an aspect of God and is God. Early Christians recognized that Wisdom, particularly in this Proverb, is the Word, the Logos, Jesus Christ. He, the Son, is also by God, brought up with God, ever present and before all time, equal with God. God’s attributes are a part of Himself. Jesus the Son is an attribute – a unique part of the Godhead, separate but not separate, unified with God the Father. We have certainly heard that recently in the Gospel readings from John, “The Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

Proverbs 8 is part of a larger passage from Proverbs that compares Wisdom to Folly. Folly is darkness, loud and defiant, brazen like a prostitute with crafty intent. Folly hides her intent. Wisdom is like light, openness. She stands at the gates where justice is served and does not hide. She is available, public, manifest and visible. As we consider the life of Jesus, we see that He too was light. He was available, public, manifest and visible. It is no wonder that the early Christians saw Christ in this personification of Wisdom.

We do not read verses 32-36, but in them are powerful words for our lives. “For blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, And refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, Watching daily at my gates, Waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, And shall obtain favor of Jehovah.” Obedience equals life. Transgression equals death. Finding Wisdom, knowing Jesus, brings life. It is not enough to believe in some unknown and unknowable ‘god’. Life, salvation, is found in Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Wisdom took pleasure in men, took the nature of men, dwelt among us and filled us with unspeakable treasures. Wisdom – Jesus and similarly the Spirit – calls men by His word and works to follow virtue and flee from vice.


May 25, 2007

Scriptures for June 3. 2007: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Psalm 8 O Jehovah, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth, Who hast set thy glory upon the heavens! Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou established strength, Because of thine adversaries, That thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, And crownest him with glory and honor. Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, Yea, and the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, Whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O Jehovah, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth!

I recently received an email with a number of photos of what appeared to be a science project on the solar system and universe. The first picture showed a number of colored balls with earth as the largest. It appeared huge compared to some of the other planets. The next picture showed earth as the smallest of the balls, dwarfed by the other planets like Saturn and Jupiter. Another picture showed the sun as a huge ball compared to the planets. Finally there was a picture of the sun being dwarfed by other suns in the Universe. In the end, the ball representing earth was so small that it was nothing but a tiny speck that could barely be seen in the picture. At the bottom of the email, the writer asks about our place in this universe. If the earth on which we live is nothing but a speck, then we are less than a speck on that speck.

In the Garden of Eden, God made us the crown of His creation and gave us the authority to rule over it. This does not mean simply the farmer’s fields and the domesticated animals, but the entirety of God’s creation. In recent history, we’ve had the ability to travel into space. Our telescopes are so incredible that we have been able to take beautiful pictures of what happens millions of light years from earth. We are able to send probes and cameras to almost all of the planets, to study them and learn about the chemical make-up of the surface and the atmosphere. We have landed on Mars and have made amazing discoveries. I have joked with Zack, who has an interest in both space and archeology, that perhaps one day he’ll be leading a dig on Mars to determine the origins of the Martians.

Yet, as we travel into the vast reaches of the universe which God has created, we should be humbled by the reality that we will never fully understand it all. While it is amazing that we can send rockets into space that will send us pictures of objects that are billions of miles from Earth, we have to remember that we are limited by our humanity and we may never really understand many things that will continue to lie beyond our reach. Despite our inadequacies, God has given us the most incredible gifts, the ability to reach beyond what we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch so that we might understand the bigger and the smaller world around us. The fact that we can see an atom or visit the moon is a gift from God. As we continue to explore the far reaches of the universe we should remember that it is God who has given us dominion over these things, to care for it and to use it for His glory.

The same can be said about the spiritual things. God has made it clear through His creation that He is God and that He is Sovereign. We can know Him intimately, which is amazing when you think of how small we are compared to all that He has created. We are nothing, yet we are the crown of His creation. We are given dominion over all that He has created, but even more importantly, He has made us children and heirs to all that He has. In the reality of our place in God’s Kingdom, let us always remember that we are specks on a speck in the universe. Even the universe is a speck compared to the fullness of God. His ways are higher, His thoughts greater than anything we can imagine. When we try to understand that which is beyond our understanding, lets remember that even though we can’t grasp it with our brains, that does not mean it is not real and true. The Trinity, no matter how we try to explain it, is a mystery. It is something about God that perhaps, in our humility, we need to simply believe even though it does not make sense in human terms.


May 28, 2007

Scriptures for June 3. 2007: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Romans 5:1-5 Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we also rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh stedfastness; and stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness, hope: and hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us.

We attended the graduation ceremonies for Victoria’s high school yesterday afternoon. She had a number of friends graduating and she wanted to be there to support them and see their big moment. The line of graduates began with the top ten percent of the students. Most of those young men and women had long lists of scholarships they had been awarded for the schools of their choice. They had scholarships from organizations with which they had been active. At the annual awards ceremony a few weeks ago, the principal announced that the graduates had earned more the two million dollars worth of scholarships. Some of the students earned scholarships that would pay for their entire college career. We were very proud of all the students, particularly those who were Victoria’s friends.

I have to admit that as the mother of a new senior, whose graduation will be next spring, I couldn’t help but hope the same thing for her. It would certainly help with the financial stress of attending college in this day and age, but it is not only about the money. Scholarships are also rewards for hard work and are indicative of a student’s commitment not only to the academics but also to the organizations to which they belonged whether it be sports, service or arts. The organizations and sponsoring groups not only want to give those students the financial aid they might need to get through college, but also the recognition for their talents, actions and dedication. I hope for my daughter that kind of recognition.

I’ve had similar hopes over the years, and have often been able to rejoice that they have come true. Unfortunately, we are often disappointed by our hopes because they are little more than wishes and dreams that can fall apart. We do not always do well on those important tests that we hope to pass or get the job that we want. We often suffer from illness and dis-ease even though we hope to stay well and happy. The world around us is imperfect and that imperfection manifests in our lives, creating roadblocks to the utopian world we hope for in this life. It is impossible to rejoice in hope knowing that our hopes might fail.

The hope we hear about in this passage however, is not a hope that will fail. We often think of hope in terms of things that are little more than wishes and dreams, trusting and hoping in things that are created and perishable. However, when God speaks of hope, it is something more. Hope in God’s promises is not something that will fail or disappoint – it is the expectation of the fulfillment of God’s Word. Paul writes that we are justified by faith and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus. Through Him we have access to the faith that justifies us. All of this comes because the Love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Our hope rests on the Trinity. That hope does not disappoint.

This does not mean that we will never suffer. As a matter of fact, suffering is part of the circle of faith – joy in the hope and joy in the suffering leads to perseverance leads to character leads to hope. It is part of the life of faith. The joy we feel is not a giddy happiness because everything is perfect, but it is living in the expectation of God’s amazing grace. Will God’s grace grant my daughter – and later my son – all the rewards of this earth? Will they receive the scholarships that will help pay for college and recognize their accomplishments? Not necessarily. However, if those hopes fail there is always a greater hope, one that will never fail. That hope rests on the promises of God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. He does not disappoint.


May 29, 2007

Scriptures for June 3. 2007: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

John 16:12-15 I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak: and he shall declare unto you the things that are to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you. All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he taketh of mine, and shall declare it unto you.

School is over for our kids. We began summer vacation on Friday with a trip to the movies and a celebratory dinner out. This summer will not be a lazy time. The kids are both registered for or have applied to several camps both locally and out of state. They have already received their summer homework and I have encouraged them to start immediately because the summer will be over before they realize it has even begun.

It seems strange that the kids have summer homework. I remember when I was young the teachers always encouraged us to do things over the summer. We received lists of book recommendations for summer reading, but nothing was required. We always knew someone was going to expect us to write a report on our summer activities, so the more studious students kept notes. Some teachers recommended keeping up with basic math skills and I recall at least one teacher allowing us to take home out of date textbooks to keep our minds active. But we were never required to do the amount of homework expected of my kids.

Times have changed. While visiting with my sister this weekend, we compared some of the expectations from then and now and realized that today’s kids are expected to do more, know more and go farther than our generation. In Math, we were not required to take Calculus, but it was a requirement for Vicki. While we were expected to have two sciences, Vicki is expected to have three and Zack will need four. Each year it seems the expectations get higher and harder than before.

I have always been actively involved with the education of my kids – active with the parent’s groups at school, in contact with teachers and available to help them when they have trouble with their homework. There came a time, however, when I had to realize that they needed help beyond my ability to give. I could not even guess how to help Vicki with her Calculus and I’m lost when she starts talking about her Spanish lessons. Even the History, English and Science classes are often beyond my ability to help. I’m still involved with her life – in school and out of school – but I know that she needs to be taught by someone else, so that she’ll be prepared for what lies ahead. Her High School expectations are often higher than my college requirements, so I just have to let her go.

Unfortunately, I also have to let go of other aspects of her life. She no longer likes the clothes I want to buy and she has a much different opinion about many other things. She doesn’t always believe me when I tell her how to accomplish things. She often has to learn lessons the hard way – by making her own mistakes. She has to hear it from someone else before she’ll know it is true. It is hard to let go, but I know that it is necessary for her to grow up and become her own person.

When we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, we are saddened with the disciples that Jesus had to go. He was the visible manifestation of the Eternal One, raised from the dead to a new life that would last forever. Couldn’t He stick around to continue guiding and leading His disciples? Wouldn’t it have been easier that way? We certainly would not have questions, like we do today, about all our differences of opinion on theology and the things of God. When we have a problem, we could just go to Jesus and ask Him for the answer.

However, there would come a time – much sooner than we would ever realize or expect – that the disciples would not longer receive from Christ what they needed to do His work in this world. We think it impossible for Jesus to fail to be enough, but as a flesh and blood man Jesus was limited as we are limited. It would only be by the Holy Spirit that the disciples – and us today – would ever be able to accomplish His work. In our scripture for today, Jesus said that they could not bear to hear everything. They could not because they did not have God’s Spirit dwelling with to give them the gifts necessary to bear it. As long as Jesus existed in flesh on earth, they could not have fully what He had to give.


May 30, 2007

Scriptures for June 3. 2007: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

With Pentecost, we usher in a new season in the Church year. This season, which lasts until Advent, is a season of learning, growing and becoming that which Christ has called us to be. The first half of the Church year focuses on the story of God – the coming and birth of Christ, the Epiphany and revelation of His presence to the world, the journey to the cross during Lent, the death and resurrection and finally His final lessons to His disciples then ascension into heaven. The second half focuses more on our story – how to be disciples in the world.

Before we begin this season of learning how to live an extraordinary life in the midst of ordinary circumstances, we stop for a moment to discover the mystery of God. Trinity Sunday gives us a moment to reflect upon our God, to draw deeper into His heart and ponder His majesty. It is a time for us to discern not our place in God’s kingdom but rather our understanding of God Himself. Who is this God that we are called to follow? What is my relationship with Him? As we come to understand more clearly who He is, we can follow more closely according to His Will and purpose for our lives. We have plenty of time to figure out who we are – a popular practice in modern life. For just a brief moment, let’s spend time figuring out who He is.

People have done this for generations – ever since the earliest days of the Church. The creeds that have developed over the generations are statements of faith about God, a proclamation of what we believe together. We learn these creeds early in our lives of faith and our journey of understanding often begins with those words. There are those, of course, who would suggest that the creeds have a sense of brainwashing – forcing the believer to conform to a human understanding of God. However, the first creeds are found in the scriptures, in the letters of Paul and the other disciples. Creeds are simply statements of faith, defining the things that matter to the body of Christ.

It is important, however, that we not only know how to recite these creeds, but that we understand what they mean. Creeds are meaningless if they are just memorized words that are regurgitated on cue each Sunday. The creeds define God and to fully live the life we are called to live, we must know the God we serve. The creeds that we accept as Christians were created as the body of Christ pondered together the revelation given to the world through the scriptures and Jesus Christ. As they worked through the teachings of Jesus and the manifestation of God in their experiences, they came to more deeply understand the complexity of the God which we worship. Though words like ‘the Trinity’ are not present in the scriptures, there was no denying that the concept existed. As the Christians sought to understand God, they came to see that He is truly greater than our human ability to identify, so there must be some things about Him that will remain forever mysterious.

The creeds are not the only statements of faith. The Celtic faith that existed before the coming of the Christian message followed a similar Trinitarian formula, which is why the Celtic people were so quickly convinced of the truth of Christ. St. Patrick was one of the earliest evangelists to the Celtic world and he shared the Trinitarian faith with them. We’ve all heard the story of Patrick and the cloverleaf – the three leaves are one leaf just as the three aspects of God are one God. St. Patrick also wrote a hymn called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” that describes the trinity. This hymn ponders God’s story and its meaning to the singer. Some might be familiar with a portion of this hymn which recognizes that Christ is so fully involved in the Christian’s life that He is in every aspect of our being. There is more to the hymn, however, and is worth posting today.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop [deck],
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate was a way one human being defined the God whom he loved and served. How is He defined in your life? If someone asked, “Who is God?” What would you say? Would you share the words of one of the foundational creeds? Would you talk about your relationship with God? Would you share your calling and describe the work you have been ordained to do? That’s what Trinity Sunday is all about – discovering God, even the mysteries that we can’t fully understand, so that we are fully aware of the One whom we will learn to serve in the coming months during the season of Pentecost.


May 31, 2007

Scriptures for June 10, 2007: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 30; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

1 Kings 17:17-24 And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him. And she said unto 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! And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into the chamber, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed. And he cried unto Jehovah, and said, O Jehovah my God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son? And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto Jehovah, and said, O Jehovah my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again. And Jehovah hearkened unto the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother; and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth. And the woman said to Elijah, Now I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of Jehovah in thy mouth is truth.

Ray Baron is a character on the popular syndicated television series “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Though it is reruns, it is a favorite in our house. On recent episode, we saw how truly powerful his family’s point of view has affected his perspective. He is definitely a ‘glass is half empty’ kind of guy because his family is always looking for the negative. When someone accomplishes something good, they want to know what is going to go wrong next.

On the episode, Ray was nominated for an award for his writing. He refused to go to the ceremony, sure that no good could come from the nomination. He figured that it would be useless to go because there was no way he would win, but his wife Deborah convinced him to enjoy the good fortune. He went, under duress, and won the award. She was so excited for him and helped him to overcome his negative expectations. He tried to be happy for awhile, even seeing the silver lining in a bad day at work. The next day he came home with more good news – he had received a promotion. Deborah was so excited that so many good things were happening and he was trying to keep a positive mood, but inside he was sure that the shoe was about to fall. A trip to visit his parents did not help the matter and when he returned home, Deborah knew he’d been under their influence. Just then a phone call came from Ray’s boss. He wanted Ray to go to report on the Iditarod, the two week dogsled race in Alaska. In the end, Deborah accepted that life just doesn’t go well for the Barons – something is bound to happen to make it a negative experience.

Some churches will read the passage before our reading for today – the story of Elijah being fed by the widow and her son with a seemingly bottomless jar of flour and jug of oil. After such a good experience, you would think that the woman and her son would be happy and believers in the one true God. Unfortunately, in this passage, we read that the widow’s son suddenly fell sick and died. Why would a loving God bother to save the widow and her son just to take the son anyway?

Did the woman really believe in God? I am not so sure, but the faith may have been very shallow because she does not make any confession of faith after the miracle of the flour and oil. I wonder if she still doubted because that miracle was self-preservation for Elijah. As long as there was oil and flour, the widow could make Elijah a meal. Would he be able or willing to do something for someone else? When the woman’s son died, the death had no meaning to Elijah. He had not reason to bring the boy back to life. Yet, Elijah unselfishly took the boy into the upper room and prayed to his God for healing and restoration. It was when the boy was alive again that the woman could proclaim, “Now I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of Jehovah in thy mouth is truth.”

How many times do we do things for other people that benefit ourselves? In volunteer training I often heard the trainers say, “Keep track of your volunteer work; it looks good on a resume.” Many people are more than willing to donate to a cause when there is a reward on the other end. It is no wonder that people are cynical about good deeds and positive things happening – they want to know what will come next. Our actions as Christians in this world show others the love, mercy and grace of God. Yet, if we always benefit from the good deeds, the belief they might have in God is shallow and uncertain. They wonder when the shoe is going to fall. It is when our good deeds do not benefit our own lives that they can truly say, “Now I know that you are from God and that God’s word is in your mouth.”