Welcome to the November 2013 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture quotes taken from the American Standard Version
A WORD FOR TODAY, November 2013
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.” Matthew 6:19-21, ASV
Here’s a joke for this All Saints Day: “Once upon a time there was a very rich business that was near death. Having worked hard all his life, he desperately wanted to be able to take some of his wealth with him to heaven and was eventually given special permission by God to bring one suitcase. Overjoyed, the businessman gathered his largest suitcase, filled it with pure gold bars and placed it beside his bed. Shortly afterwards the man died and showed up at the Pearly Gates where he was greeted by St. Peter. Seeing the suitcase, St. Peter said: ‘Wait, you can’t bring that in here.’ The businessman explained that he had been granted permission by God. St. Peter checked out the story and confirmed: ‘Yes, you have permission to bring in one case, but I must check its contents before letting it through.’ So St. Peter opened the suitcase to inspect the worldly items that the businessman found too precious to leave behind. As the lid sprang back to reveal the gold, St. Peter exclaimed: ‘You brought pavement?’”
One of my favorite childhood books, which even today can still make me cry, is “The Littlest Angel.” While the story itself is full of biblical inaccuracy, the message is wonderfully true. In the story a young boy, “He was exactly four years, six months, five days, seven hours, and forty-two minutes of age” when he went to heaven. Being a young boy, the Littlest Angel was less than angelic. He caused problems for the entire heavenly host, was never clean and was always loud. When asked why he was such a trouble maker by a kind and gracious angel, the little angel said that there was nothing for him to do. “The Understanding Angel smiled, and in his eyes was a long forgotten memory of another small boy long ago. Then he asked the Littlest Angel what would make him most happy in Paradise.” The littlest angel told the Understanding Angel about a box that he kept under his bed. The angel agreed, and the box was delivered to the little angel. From that moment, the little angel was transformed.
A time came when there was great excitement in the heavens. The Son of God was to be born on earth! The angels spent much time and energy creating beautiful gifts for the Christ child. The Littlest Angel didn’t know what to do. He had no gifts like the other angels. He couldn’t make halos or compose songs or write prayers. The only thing he had was that small box filled with his worldly possessions. He decided to give that gift to the baby. It was a great sacrifice, but the little angel realized how humble and irreverent his rough and unsightly box filled with butterfly wings, a bird’s egg, stones and the collar from a beloved dog was compared to the grand gifts of the other angels. “The Littlest Angel wept hot, bitter tears, for now he knew that instead of honoring the Son of God, he had been most blasphemous.” But his gift turned out to be the most delightful gift of all. “Then suddenly, the Voice of God, like Divine Music, rose and swelled through Paradise! And the Voice of God spoke, saying, ‘Of all the gifts of all the angels, I find that this small box pleases Me most. Its contents are of the Earth and of men, and My Son is born to be King of both. These are the things My Son, too, will know and love and cherish and then, regretfully, will leave behind Him when His task is done. I accept this gift in the Name of the Child, Jesus, born of Mary this night in Bethlehem.’”
If God allowed you to take a suitcase to heaven, what would you place in it? What would you take with you to have for eternity? Would you fill your suitcase with bars of gold or would you fill it with the things that remind you of the things you love? We are reminded by the first story that the things we treasure like money and gold are nothing more than pavement in heaven. We don’t need gold bars to make us happy. The story of the Littlest Angel helps us see that God understands that we have treasures that remind us of our life and love. We won’t need to take a suitcase to heaven, because God will provide everything we can ever need for all of eternity.
As we live our life in this world, let’s treasure those things that glorify God and His creation, and fill our hearts with the things that will last forever. On this All Saints Day, let's praise God for the lives of those who have shared their greatest treasures with us, leaving them behind for us to enjoy while waiting for our time to be with God for eternity. They left us their faith, their love, their hope, their peace. And we are called to share these things with others so that one day we'll all be together in heaven, praising God forever and ever.
“And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” Hebrews 9:15, ASV
There are a number of different types of reality shows that deal with the stuff people collect. There are multiple offerings that center around pawn shops, where people come in with unusual items hoping to sell them for a lot of money. The pawn shops call in experts who help them decide the worth of the item. The people are often disappointed because they think they have something worth a lot of money, but the offer from the pawn shop is never what they expect. These items are often heirlooms that have been in their family for generations. “It is really old, isn’t it worth more?” Others think their item is so rare that it must have exceptional value.
There are many reasons why these items are not worth as much. Too often the sellers discover that the item is a forgery. Others find out that though the item is rare and old, the condition makes it worthless. The sellers also forget that the pawn shop owners need to judge the value on the costs associated with selling the item again. They need to make a profit. They need to cover the overhead of the store. They need to cover the amount it will take to make the item sellable, which often includes paying for restoration or framing. While a seller may believe that an item is worth hundreds or thousands of dollars, the pawn shops have to give half that to get their money’s worth out of the item. The sellers often leave with their items or much poorer than they expected. More than a few say, “My ancestors would be disappointed if I didn’t get what it is worth.” Do our ancestors really care what we do with those things we inherit after they are gone?
The other type of show involves “pickers.” These are people who scour the land for homes overflowing with junk. They want the dirty, rusty, “farm fresh” things that they can buy from some collector with cars in the front yard and barns full of stuff. There is one show with a pair of women who buy things and convert them into trendy, hip furniture. They recycle stuff that is just rusting away.
Another show features two men who like to buy old transportation items and other rusty stuff. They usually sell the items as is, since so many people who buy from them want it rough and real. They have bought some amazing items, from cheap little toys to one of a kind cars. I often wish I could buy not only the items they choose, but even some of the items they leave behind.
The guys find their sellers either from tips or by freestyling. In freestyling, they drive around the dirt roads of a place, looking for the signs of a collector. The tips often come from the people themselves, who wish to sell some of their items or are in need of funds. At least a few of the invitations to pick have come from family members who have to deal with the collections after the death of the collector. These family members are often overwhelmed by the overflowing outbuildings and the piles of junk. They don’t know what to do with it all.
The hardest part of all is knowing that their loved one left behind the junk piles, not because they wanted to stick it to them, but because they loved them. “This is their legacy, and they wanted us to have it.” Unfortunately, too many kids do not really want the legacy we leave behind. Our kids don’t necessarily want that set of dishes that has been in our family for generations. They don’t want the costume jewelry that has no value but sentiment. They don’t share our taste in furniture or knick knacks, and so they are overwhelmed with what to do with all that stuff when we die. Most of us don’t leave barns full of rusty junk, but even an inheritance of valuable items can make dealing with an estate more difficult. This is especially true in families that fight over every penny.
We work so hard to leave an inheritance for our children, like the collector who spends his life gathering things to leave behind. We see in the stories from these shows, that our children rarely value our stuff as we did. Those inheritances often cause more problems than they are worth. That stuff will just continue to rust and rot away. But there is an inheritance that we would do well to leave our children, the one which God has given to all who believe in Him. Jesus Christ lived and died and rose again so that we would inherit the Kingdom of God and live with Him for eternity. That’s an inheritance we can embrace.
“I thank him that enabled me, even Christ Jesus our Lord, for that he counted me faithful, appointing me to his service; though I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: howbeit I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief: howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all his longsuffering, for an ensample of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:12-17, ASV
The human body has certain needs or it will not survive. You can go for 3 weeks without food. After 3 days, you need water. You need to find shelter in a harsh environment, like when it is snowing, within 3 hours to survive. You can only live 3 minutes without air. Isn’t it interesting that the one thing that we need the most is the one thing we can’t even see? We know that the air exists. The scientists can tell us what it is. We are most aware of the air when there is a lack of it or there is something hanging in the air, like smoke or a strong scent. We don’t even think about the air unless there is something keeping us from being able to breathe properly.
There are things that our spirit needs or it won’t survive, too. We need to be in fellowship with people who believe like we do. We need to worship with others, to pray together, to study the scriptures with other believers. We need the Sacraments, the water, wine and bread as well as the Word as it is found in the scriptures and rightly preached from the pulpit. Most of all, we need God’s Spirit, or none of the other things will be real or true. Isn’t it amazing that the most important thing we need for faith is invisible? Like air, we do not even realize that the Spirit is part of our life except at those moments when it seems like He is missing from our lives. We seek God when we are sick, in trouble, without hope because we know we need Him. We just don’t realize it when we are healthy, comfortable and at peace.
God and His Spirit are visible, though. He is visible in the lives of Christians. We are reminded in Matthew that we should not make a show of our faith. Jesus was concerned about those religious people who were acting out their faith to prove their righteousness to others. Jesus talks about our invisible faith as part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6, giving to the needy without desiring recognition, praying in private without an agenda, fasting without suffering, treasuring the things that really matter and trusting God without worrying. He was pointing out the ways we make ourselves visible in our faith, to lift ourselves up and to make sure the world knows we are righteous.
But this does not mean that God should be invisible in our life. How do you live faithfully so that the world can see if you are supposed to hide it from the world? God calls us to gather together as one, to worship Him as a body, to work together for the good of the world. It is impossible to remain invisible as we are sharing our faith in the world. But the point of God’s call is not to make ourselves visible, but to make Him visible. We don’t have to hide our good works. Without us and the work we do in the world, the prayers we speak, the witness of faithful people living in faith, the world would not see God. We are like that smoke in the air or the strong scent. What sort of scent will we be? Will be people who impact the world in powerful but negative way, like burning rubber, or will we be like the sweet scent of a rose garden? What we need to remember is that without God’s Spirit we could do nothing; without God our faith will not survive. He might be invisible, but He is eternal, immortal, the only God, and to Him be honor and glory forever.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 10, 2013, Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 148; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, 13-17; Luke 20:27-40
“He hath also established them for ever and ever: He hath made a decree which shall not pass away.” Psalm 148:6, ASV
One of the biggest problems with the internet is the fact that once something is in cyberspace, it is there forever. Oh, your average person might be able to delete a post on a thread on Facebook and it will never been seen again, but it is likely that the post has been archived somewhere for eternity. I don’t know who will ever see that post, but once it has been written, I can’t be completely dismissed. That’s why so many people are warning the young to be careful what they post. Racy pictures, inappropriate comments, negative comments about a boss or friend can come back to haunt you. The judges are constantly warning litigants about this, especially since some come armed with printed copies of posts that help their case, even though the other party deleted the posts long before the court could see it.
It is especially important for websites that receive a lot of traffic to be sure that they are posting information that is true and right. I’ve seen a lot of stories about journalistic articles that claimed something outrageous but eventually deleted the false comments. There are people who constant capture screens and repost them on the internet, especially when the lie is blatant or the information is unwarranted. They watch the sites that are the worst and repost those pages so that others can see how they try to manipulate and fool their readers. You can’t always take back something you’ve posted on the internet, that’s why you should always be sure what you are posting is true and worthwhile. Everything you post can become eternal, and it can become a legacy you do not want.
Now, I think we all pine for a legacy of some sort. Most of us do have an impact that will reach a few generations ahead. We have children who will share our stories and who will enjoy the fruits of our labor. Our gravestones will be witness to our lives as long as the weather doesn’t erode the words. Some are able to leave a legacy that lasts much longer; they have the means to build buildings or have roads named after them. Even those monuments are not eternal. Buildings fall and cities often change road names to honor a new hero.
I have to admit that I hope one day one of my paintings will hang in a museum. Will I ever be famous like Claude Monet or the other great painters? I doubt it, but I would like to know that my art has impacted someone’s life in some way. The same is true of my writing. I’ve often wondered what will happen to my website when I’m gone. Will it stay? Will my devotionals continue to impact people as they did on the days they were written? I know that some of my words have been copied into other websites, and I’ve had a few published into hard copy, so if everything disappeared today, my stories will continue to exist somewhere.
The Sadducees were concerned about the lasting legacy of a person. They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead; they believed that a person’s eternal life is found in the impact they’ve had on the world, particularly in procreation. A person lived forever because they begat offspring to carry the family name and estate into the future; when a person died they were dead unless they had children. To them, the idea of resurrection was just foolishness and easily ridiculed. They thought their logic was solid enough to make a fool out of Jesus with their questions. After all, resurrection of the dead made no sense because it caused all sorts of problems in the afterlife, such as this situation presented to Jesus.
They painted a picture that was beyond ridiculous, and they did it on purpose. They presented Jesus with a case of one bride for seven brothers, none of whom were able to provide an heir. After she was given in marriage to all of them, she died, and the hope for eternal life died with her. The Sadducees wondered, “Whose wife will she be?” They assumed that the resurrected life would look exactly like life on this earth. Jesus answered their foolishness with the truth: eternal life is not like the here and now. There will be no marriage. There will be no children. The life that we will live after death is different. It is eternal, not because we have procreated a legacy, but because we will live forever in the presence of God.
To make His point, Jesus pointed back at our passage from Exodus, where Moses met the God of his forefathers in the burning bush. When Moses asked the name of God, He responded “I am who I am” and then told Moses to tell the people, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.” Jesus pointed out to those Sadducees that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. So, how could He be the God of men who had died if there was no life beyond death?
The Sadducees were left speechless. They couldn’t argue with Jesus over His statement because Jesus pointed to Moses. The Sadducees did not hold most of the Hebrew Bible as canon; they only referred to the five books of Moses, the Pentateuch. There may be other places in the scriptures that Jesus might have used, but He understood their understanding of faith. He understood their narrow focus. But even keeping within their understanding of the scriptures, Jesus was able to prove that they were wrong about the resurrection. In the process, He showed them that they were missing out on something of great value, faith in a God who does not stop being God when you die, but who embraces you into a new life. This is the life that Jesus came to guarantee for all of us, and which we embrace by faith. Jesus came in the flesh to free us from our sin and give us everything we need to serve Him. In Christ we stand in the presence of holiness, we are embraced by God himself, just like Moses did on that mountaintop.
The church year follows a constant pattern. We begin with Advent, a time for waiting on the coming of the King, both as a baby born in the manger and as the eternal King of Glory. Advent is followed by Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and finally Pentecost. We are still in the days of Pentecost, a time when we learn what it means to be a Christian in this world, but in this last month we also look forward to the day when we will no longer be in this world. It is a period when we will see text about the end of the ages, ending with Christ the King Sunday. The focus during this month is a little different from that in Advent, in that we do face the frightening uncertainty of the end of days.
Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians addresses that time. Most of us would rather not discuss the end times; the language of eschatology is difficult even for theologians. Which images are literal, which are figurative? When should we be concerned about the prophecies? Were the warnings written for our generation or has it all come to pass in a way we did not recognize? Who is the man of lawlessness? Was he a character in the days of Paul or is he someone yet to come? Will the coming of Christ be a physical return or spiritual? While there are those who will insist they have the answer, there are perfectly acceptable arguments from many different points of view. We argue about what is true. We even argue about the definition of the terms. I suppose that is why it is so confusing to the average Christian, and why it is something that most Christians would rather not discuss.
Paul writes in this letter the message that really matters: God loves you and He chose you to be fruit, sanctified by the Holy Spirit and called by the Gospel to obtain the glory of Christ. Paul also reminds us that though it is God who chooses, sanctifies and calls, we are called to faith. It is up to us to believe. The scriptures make it clear: our eternal life is not dependent on anything we do in this world, but on the grace and mercy of God. We can’t imagine that our life now will just continue on in some way forever; eternal life is completely different.
I always wonder about the images we have of that life. Will we really spend the rest of eternity worshipping God? I remember that as a youth I used to get bored with an hour worship service, easily distracted by my thoughts. I’m not that much different today. My mind still wanders. I still think about the busy-ness of the upcoming week and I bookmark my hymns for the day during some other moment in the service. If we can’t possibly sit through one hour of worship, how will we do it for eternity?
The point that Jesus makes in today’s Gospel lesson is that it will be different. Imagine if it had been you on the mountain instead of Moses? How would you have reacted? How would you have answered His call? Moses was in the presence of God Himself, hearing His voice and witnessing a form of His glory. “Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.” Despite Moses’ fear, he was even more afraid of what God was calling him to do. He had many excuses. He was not eloquent enough. He was not important enough. He was not informed enough. “How can I do this? What should I say?” God answered with a promise, “Certainly I will be with thee.”
It was not easy. Moses faced a people who had become comfortable in their discomfort. He was facing people who had more power than he did. He was proposing the impossible to both the Israelites and Pharaoh. Why would anyone follow him? And yet, even today, we remember Moses for his faith and for his obedience to God’s call. Moses established a lasting legacy. But do we remember him because of his own work and righteousness? Do we remember him because he left behind the Pentateuch? Or do we remember him because he humbly followed God’s word and acted as God’s chosen one despite his own fears and uncertainty?
We all want to leave a lasting legacy, something that will keep our memory alive for a long time. We seek to have that eternal life that comes with having an impact on the world. I am sure most parents see that in the lives of their children, just like the Sadducees, but Jesus points out that eternal life is something much different. We might be remembered for a long time for the things that we have done, but that’s not the promise of God. Once we are dead we will never know whether our paintings hang in a museum or our words are repeated or if our tombstone epitaphs have eroded away. But we will know what it is like to stand in the presence of God, to stand on holy ground, to hear His voice with our own ears and see His glory forever.
We might not look forward to the end of days because the promise of the end is frightening to those of us who still feel the need to have an impact on the world. I once had a friend who hung out in an Internet chat room I frequented who was dying. We did not know it; she never revealed her pain or suffering. She simply shared the Gospel with people. As her days drew short, she became desperate. She was changed by her fear and it was like she was trying to reach a quota. Instead of sharing the message of mercy and grace, she was threatening those who would not change to her point of view with a warning of impending danger. She was angry. She was passionate to the point of harming the relationships she had built over the years. We did not understand this until after she was gone and her family informed us of what had happened.
There are those who study the end times with a passion that transforms them into a desperate evangelist willing to do anything to get people to believe, even cause people to fear God in a way that never helps them to see His grace. They threaten hellfire and forget forgiveness. They insist on obedience to a narrow understanding and reject mercy. They demand works and ignore grace. The Gospel they preach is a cheap forgery. It is a false gospel, one without good news, one that will never save.
Several years ago there was a story about two men in Australia who decided to get rich quick. They created the perfect one million-dollar bill (American dollars) and took it to the bank to be deposited. They thought that by using a counterfeit American dollar in a foreign bank, they would be long gone before the bank knew it was not real. Unfortunately for the men, the bank teller was smarter and they were arrested for trying to pass off a denomination of dollar bill that did not even exist. The American Treasury department does not produce a million-dollar bill.
Satan is much more intelligent than the two guys in Australia. He does not counterfeit that which does not exist. Rather, he takes the truth of God and adds a twist, and though it appears real, it is not. God did not set the world into motion and then step back to allow it to move on its own. God is amongst His people. He is still changing lives. He is still creating and redeeming His people. He still paints the sunrises and forms the babies in the womb. He is still speaking through His chosen ones so that the world will know He exists. He continues to have mercy on the sinners. And He promises that the day will come when He will be present in a very real way, in a way we will be able to see and hear with our own resurrected bodies. He promises that we’ll be with Him for eternity, dwelling in His presence forever.
For now, however, we are called to live in faith in this world. It is up to us to create a legacy that matters: not one that will make us remembered in museums or on the internet, but one that will share the promise with the generations to come. Children might help keep our name alive forever, but that’s not the reason we have children. We procreate because God has created us in His image, as creators. We are blessed with children so that we can pass on our faith to them. Oh, they might reject what we teach. They might be like the Sadducees and trust only in their own understanding. They might have convincing arguments about the foolishness of our faith or the superiority of their ideals. But we can rest in the reality that Jesus has the answers to their arguments and hold on firmly onto our faith in Jesus Christ.
Even now, while we wait for the coming of the Messiah, we are called to share the message of salvation with others. We want to argue with God, claim we are unable to speak or make a difference. We find all sorts of excuses. We’d rather leave a different kind of legacy. But God does not give in, He sends us anyway. We may not see any burning bushes, but God is still with us, in our presence, moving in and through us for the sake of those He wants to save.
We look forward to the end times during this last month of the Church year as a reminder that nothing on this earth is eternal. Everything created will perish. But Christ will come again, and the last days of this earth only mean that the promises of God will finally and completely be fulfilled. We are called to stand firm in the Christian faith we have been given, no matter the circumstances we face. Christ might return this very minute; He might not return for a thousand years. We may be totally surprised by the way things play out in this world in which we live, but we do not have to be surprised by the outcome. We have been given faith and by God’s grace we have a hope that reaches beyond the mystery of the eschatological promises of God. We have been promised a legacy that will never end: a life dwelling in His glory forever, a legacy we are called to share with the world.
“Praise ye Jehovah; For it is good to sing praises unto our God; For it is pleasant, and praise is comely. Jehovah doth build up Jerusalem; He gathereth together the outcasts of Israel. He healeth the broken in heart, And bindeth up their wounds. He counteth the number of the stars; He calleth them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite. Jehovah upholdeth the meek: He bringeth the wicked down to the ground. Sing unto Jehovah with thanksgiving; Sing praises upon the harp unto our God, Who covereth the heavens with clouds, Who prepareth rain for the earth, Who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth to the beast his food, And to the young ravens which cry. He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: He taketh no pleasure in the legs of a man. Jehovah taketh pleasure in them that fear him, In those that hope in his lovingkindness.” Psalm 147:1-11 (ASV)
I wrote about this text nine years ago, shortly after we moved into our first house here in Texas. I compared that house to our previous house, which was small and the walls were thin. I could hear the children no matter where they were. The new house was larger and the children could easily get lost. At first I had trouble hearing when they were doing something wrong, but I eventually learned to identify the sounds, both good and bad. I often caught them arguing and picking on each other, and they wondered how I could possibly know. I am a mom, we have an amazing sense of what are children are doing, especially when they are doing something they shouldn’t do.
Now, nine years later, my kids are not even in the house anymore. Victoria is thousands of miles away and Zack is hundreds of miles. There is no way I can know what they are doing every moment. They are adults, responsible and not close enough to pick on one another. I don’t have to listen for their arguing, but I still worry. Sometimes I wish I could hear them, see them, and make sure that they are behaving, but I trust them. I have to. I might be a mom, but I’m not God, and my abilities are not infinite.
It amazed the children when I caught them doing something they should not do; they wondered how I could possibly know. I was just trying to do what God has called me to do at that time in my life: take care of my family. They are not so much my responsibility anymore, and thankfully I think that they have grown into great adults who will take care to do the things that are good, right and true. I don’t have the infinite powers of the Lord God Almighty, but I take comfort in knowing that God is, and that He cares for everything, even my children. He is watching over them, guiding them on the right path, protecting them from their own failures. He is doing the same for each of us. He is able to love each one of us intimately, caring about our hurts and joys, our hopes and dreams; His power is infinite and He can be with each one of us wherever we are.
“And Jehovah spake unto me yet again, saying, Forasmuch as this people have refused the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah's son; now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the River, strong and many, even the king of Assyria and all his glory: and it shall come up over all its channels, and go over all its banks; and it shall sweep onward into Judah; it shall overflow and pass through; it shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of its wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel. Make an uproar, O ye peoples, and be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and it shall be brought to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us.” Isaiah 8:5-10, ASV
Today’s passage gives us an image of God that perhaps makes us uncomfortable. God often used the enemies of His people to bring them back to Him. God was going to use Assyria as an instrument to turn His people so that they might see that they need Him. These warnings seem so dire, and so unnecessary, and yet they always come with a word of grace and promise. Even though there will be a time of distress, God is always near and He will turn things around. The enemy will be put back into its place and God’s people will be restored.
But we have a hard time understanding how a loving Father could threaten such a thing. Or do we? Anyone who is a parent knows that sometimes the little subtle reminders are not enough. We do not immediately yell at our children when they do something wrong, and we do not punish them for a first offense. We carefully explain why they thing they did is wrong, we tell them about the consequences, we ensure them that we will be near to help them stand firm in what is right. But when they misbehave the second time, we get a little firmer. We eventually become angry and harsher with the discipline if they continue to disobey. When a word doesn’t convince them that they have done something wrong, punishment might. While we allow our children to suffer the consequences of their own disobedience, we are never far and we will protect them from their own foolishness.
A parent knows that a trickle becomes a flood. The Lord says to Isaiah, “Forasmuch as this people have refused the waters of Shiloah that go softly…” This likely refers to the water from the Gihon Spring in Jerusalem that feeds into the pool of Siloam, and is intended to refer to the life-giving and healing power of God. The people refused to believe in the life-giving and healing power of God, looking to others for their help. This sad truth is followed by the warning that the Lord will bring upon them the flood waters of the River, referring to the mighty army that will invade. When we turn from God, He allows our enemies onto our doorstep. He does not allow them to destroy, us, though, because He is always present. He allows this so that we will turn to Him. When we turn to Him we are healed and restored.
The promise in this passage is that God is Immanuel. He is God with us. He is never far away. All might seem lost, but it isn’t. God does not fail us, even when we fail Him. Sometimes, like a good parent who has to find a way to make us truly see what we are doing wrong, God has to let us suffer the consequences of our own rejection, but even then He will not let us be destroyed. We can rest in the promise that He is near and He will hear our cry for help. The Assyrians would not win in the end, because God will stop them. So, too, when we think we are in the midst of a raging flood, we need not fear, but instead cry out to God because He is Immanuel, God with us. He will not allow us to be destroyed, and He’ll bless us as we turn back to Him.
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, Nor standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers: But his delight is in the law of Jehovah; And on his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water, That bringeth forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also doth not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The wicked are not so, But are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For Jehovah knoweth the way of the righteous; But the way of the wicked shall perish.” Psalm 1, ASV
“The Wizard of Oz” is a movie with which so many of us are very familiar. First released in the movie theaters in 1939, “The Wizard of Oz” became an annual tradition during the holiday season from 1959-1991. Television showings are no longer limited to once a year, and millions of copies have sold on various home media products. Gregory Maguire continued the Frank L. Baum series with other points of view, like the book “Wicked” which has been made into a stage show and a movie. The most recent addition to the Wizard of Oz offerings is “Oz the Great and Powerful” a prequel based on Baum’s series of books. At least one other movie is in production, although the story of the Wizard of Oz is so well known that it has been produced by many different people in so many ways.
One of the constants in the story is the idea that the roads in Oz are paved with gold. Or at least they are paved with yellow bricks. In the 1939 movie, Dorothy and her little dog Toto are on their way to the Emerald City following the yellow brick road when they come to a crossroad. Her instructions were to follow that yellow brick road all the way to the city, but at this moment she was forced to make a choice because the road led in every direction. “Which way should we go, Toto?” she asked. She was answered by a voice in the corn field. The scarecrow hanging in the field told her to go one way, and then another and then finally admitted he did not know. “I don’t have a brain.” A shocked Dorothy helped him off his pole and together they chose the road to follow.
I’ve often wondered what would have happened had they chosen another road. Why were all the roads in yellow brick? Did they all lead to the Emerald City? Would one road have been easier than another would? They trusted their choice and moved on with courage into the forest, but they ended up facing the cowardly lion, living trees, a frozen tin man, a wicked witch, a poison poppy field. They experienced hunger and sleepiness, fear and danger. On another road they may not have faced the same dangers, but they would have met their friends the Lion and Tin Man. The dangers on other roads may have been more difficult. We don’t know what would have happened if they went another way, but we do know that their choice had consequences, both good and bad. They eventually made it to the Emerald City, where they faced even more difficult tasks, until they finally won their rewards.
The Wizard of Oz is just a story, however we can learn from that story that the decisions we make have consequences. We are reminded that we must be careful in our Christian walk to follow the right path, although our path in this life is never made of gold. We don’t need to take the word of a brainless scarecrow hanging in the fields or be afraid of the unknown we will face. We simply need to trust that God will get us to where we are going, leading us down His path. It isn’t always the easiest way, and we might just experience things we wish we did not have to experience, but God has a purpose for it all. He is Jehovah, and He knows the plans He has for us. When we love the Lord, we will live according to His promises and obey His commands. When we obey God’s Word then goodness and mercy will shine through our lives, and the fruit of His Spirit will be produced abundantly.
“Then on that day did David first ordain to give thanks unto Jehovah, by the hand of Asaph and his brethren. O give thanks unto Jehovah, call upon his name; Make known his doings among the peoples. Sing unto him, sing praises unto him; Talk ye of all his marvellous works. Glory ye in his holy name; Let the heart of them rejoice that seek Jehovah. Seek ye Jehovah and his strength; Seek his face evermore. Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, His wonders, and the judgments of his mouth, O ye seed of Israel his servant, Ye children of Jacob, his chosen ones. He is Jehovah our God; His judgments are in all the earth. Remember his covenant for ever, The word which he commanded to a thousand generations, The covenant which he made with Abraham, And his oath unto Isaac, And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a statute, To Israel for an everlasting covenant, Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, The lot of your inheritance; When ye were but a few men in number, Yea, very few, and sojourners in it; And they went about from nation to nation, And from one kingdom to another people. He suffered no man to do them wrong; Yea, he reproved kings for their sakes, Saying, Touch not mine anointed ones, And do my prophets no harm. Sing unto Jehovah, all the earth; Show forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples. For great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised: He also is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols: But Jehovah made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him: Strength and gladness are in his place. Ascribe unto Jehovah, ye kindreds of the peoples, Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength; Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name: Bring an offering, and come before him: Worship Jehovah in holy array. Tremble before him, all the earth: The world also is established that it cannot be moved. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; And let them say among the nations, Jehovah reigneth. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; Let the field exult, and all that is therein; Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy before Jehovah; For he cometh to judge the earth. O give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever. And say ye, Save us, O God of our salvation, And gather us together and deliver us from the nations, To give thanks unto thy holy name, And to triumph in thy praise. Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Israel, From everlasting even to everlasting. And all the people said, Amen, and praised Jehovah.” 1 Chronicles 16:7-36, ASV
David was God’s chosen king, but it didn’t come to him easily. David was patient for God’s time. It was many years after he was anointed that he actually became king over all of Israel. He lived in Saul’s house and then eventually fought against him. Though he had the opportunity to kill Saul, he never did. He waited for God. Saul finally killed himself, and even then he had to fight for Jerusalem. He conquered the enemies of Israel. He built a home in Jerusalem and he prepared a place to restore the Ark of the Covenant among the people of God. Of course, he wanted to build a Temple, but that would be left for his son. Until that day, the Tent of Meeting was pitched and the people were assembled. The priests consecrated themselves and appointed musicians. They moved the Ark into the Tent with great fanfare and rejoicing. The rough times for David were not yet over. He would continue to fight the enemies, and even battle with his own family. But even though the future was insecure, David rejoiced in God’s good works and His promises.
It is often difficult to be joyful in this world. We face difficulties every day, such as sickness, poverty and friends who turn against us. We see so much suffering in this world that we wonder how we are to be joyful. As I searched the dictionaries for a definition of joy, I kept finding it to mean happy. Even in the Old Testament scriptures, the word joy seems to refer to moments of great gladness. How can we be glad when we see death and hatred around us? Paul told the people of Thessalonica to be joyful always (1 Thessalonians 5:16). Throughout his letters to the churches, Paul constantly speaks of his joy, especially in the midst of his suffering. Yet, even Jesus wept.
What sort of joy is this? It is certainly not some sort of giddy laughter with leaping and dancing. Joy can mean “being in good spirits.” This is the sort of joy we have in the Lord. Paul’s joy was not of this world, It was a joy that came from closeness with God. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
We have so many reasons to be happy, we are blessed in so many ways. I enjoy November on Facebook because some people take the month to thank God for some blessing on a daily blessing. They thank God for family, for jobs, for their homes. They thank God for grocery stores and for paved roads. I’ve heard people thank God for seedless watermelon. We are thankful for the technology that keeps us connected and for the opportunities we have to share our blessings with others. And yet, we can’t get through the day without realizing that there is also so much around us to make us sad. People are sick and dying. There are those in the world who will blow up innocents to make a point and who will kidnap children and force them into the sex trade. Families are suffering at the hands of nature. There are others who have lost jobs, who do not have the money to pay the rent, who are hungry every night. How can we be happy when the world around us is in so much pain?
We rejoice not because everything is perfect, but because God is near. David’s prayer is one of thanksgiving for God. Whatever he faced, whatever Israel faced, they could do so with joy because God promised to always be near. Of course we know that they did not always remain so faithful, but even when they strayed, God did not abandon them. They suffered, they cried out to their God and they were saved. We can rest in the same hope, and live in joy daily. Today, let us simply praise God and offer Him our songs of thanksgiving, so that even in the midst of our suffering and tears we will know His joy.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 17, 2013, Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Malachi 4:1-6; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:(1-5) 6-13; Luke 21:5-28 (29-36)
“As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in which there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Luke 21:6, ASV
I love architecture. I love to watch how the skyline of a city changes as you drive around it. I love to look up at a skyscraper from the street and see the lines and shapes it creates. I love to photograph the details of a building, the brick patterns, the fine stone work, the shadows and reflections created by the sun. I love buildings that are more than just boxes to shelter people and provide workspaces, but are works of art that tell a story.
I love to drive around neighborhoods where the houses are all unique, often designed by choices made by the owners. We have houses in our neighborhood that have turrets, huge bay windows, lovely porches, yards that are filled with oak trees and flowers. There are brick houses and houses made with stone. There are one story and two story houses, some large and others not so large. Some of the houses have wrought iron fences while others have cedar planks. The houses do not look alike, but they fit together beautifully, just as the neighbors live together in peace despite our differences.
When we were looking for this house last year, I told my realtor that I did not want a box. So many of the neighborhoods these days are filled with house after house that look identical, even if they have differences. They are boxes, with no distinguishing characteristics. Yes, those neighborhoods have one story and two story homes. Yes, they use several different types of brick. But after looking at dozens of these types of houses, they all start to look the same. There’s nothing about them, really, that makes you say, “I love this house.” Those boxes have no personality.
Now, we lived in one for nine years, and it was our home. We loved it because it was where we dwelt together. Home isn’t about what’s on the outside; it is about the heart found on the inside. It doesn’t matter whether we have turrets or brick or stone. What matters is that we have love and faith and each other. That doesn’t stop me from loving architecture, from the smallest cottages to the largest castles, to the interestingly shaped restaurants and the amazing skyscrapers. Each is beautiful in its own way, and even those ruins we have encountered on our adventures throughout Europe and the United States tell a story.
The Temple in Jerusalem certainly told a story. We know from the scriptures that the Temple was built as an image of Christ. Each part of the Temple points to an aspect of the character and work of Jesus. In particular, John tells the story through the “I am” statements of Jesus, which all align to aspects of the Temple. “I am the Bread of life” points to the Bread of the Presence. “I am the Light of the world” refers to the candlestick. “I am the Gate” points to the altar of incense. “I am the Good Shepherd” is the priest. “I am the Resurrection” points to the mercy seat, which is the cover of the Ark of the Covenant found in the Holy of Holies. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” takes us into the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s people protected the objects of their faith.
The final “I am” statement is about the gravevine. “I am the true vine,” says Jesus. What does this mean? Where is there grapes or vines in the Temple? It seemed as though John was taking us into the depths of the Temple, to the very most inner sanctum of God’s dwelling place on earth, and then he writes that Jesus said, “I am the vine.”
Throughout the Old Testament, the relationship between Israel and God is often referred to in terms of vineyards or vines. Israel is a vine, planted by God to bear His fruit. Hosea 10:1-2 says, “Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones. Their heart is deceitful, and now they must bear their guilt. The LORD will demolish their altars and destroy their sacred stones.” Jeremiah writes, “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21, ASV)
Herod, in an attempt to ingratiate himself to the Jewish people under his rule, put a lot of money into the restoration of the Temple. It is said that he used the finest materials and went to great expense to make the Temple a showplace. One stone at the southwest corner was thirty six feet long. Joseph writes in “The Jewish War,” Whatever was not overlaid with gold was purest white.” Herod gave a golden vine for one of its decorations. Its grape clusters were as tall as a man. The decoration was symbolic of the Nation of Israel. It was enough to make any visitor think that Herod truly loved God and obeyed His Word, and to make the people believe that he was on their side.
But, Jesus is the true vine and we are reminded in today’s Gospel passage not to fall for the glitz and glitter of the false messiahs. Herod was acting as king, but he was nothing more than a puppet. The disciples were amazed at the incredible beauty of the Temple, but Jesus says, “As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in which there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” That must have been both shocking and saddening for the disciples.
There was a running storyline on the television show “How I Met Your Mother” in which Ted, the architect was planning a building that was scheduled to be place on a spot where an old building already stood. The old building was to be demolished so that the new one could be built. Ted found himself against an opponent who wanted to save the old building because it was an historic landmark. She didn’t want it to be destroyed, and she did everything to keep it intact. Unfortunately, though the building had some incredible stone work, the building itself was not only a dump, but it was dangerously close to falling down on its own. The building was eventually demolished and replaced by Teds design.
We know, of course, that when Jesus spoke of the destruction of the Temple, He was really referring to His own body. The beautiful building they were admiring was nothing more than an image of the real. It was no longer necessary because He was the true Temple. He was everything that guided their faith inside, but He was living, real, and eternal. He was the Bread, the Light, the Gate. He was the Vine. The old had to make way for the new. The Old Covenant was about to be replaced by a new one.
The disciples had come to believe everything that Jesus said. They didn’t reject the idea that the Temple would be destroyed. They may have wondered if the destruction would be Rome’s way of putting down a rebellion, or perhaps they thought that the destruction of the Temple was part of Jesus’ plan to save Israel. They didn’t ask why; instead they asked, “When?” They wanted to know, perhaps even control, the future of the nation.
Jesus didn’t answer the question, but instead gave them a warning, “Do not be fooled.” The scriptures for today are not pleasant. Malachi talks about the day of the Lord, when the arrogant and evildoers will be burned. Paul warns those who are idly waiting for Christ’s return, because they will starve. Jesus talks about the destruction of the Temple and the danger to the believers. Even the psalmist talks about vindication and judgment. When the world around us is confused and without hope, it is easy to be fooled. We listen to every voice that speaks the good words and ignore the words that can make us afraid. Jesus knew that there would be those who would claim to be from God, offering promises they could not fulfill. He warned them not to believe every charismatic speaker who promised prosperity and wealth or every leader who said that they would take care of the people. Desperate people fall easily for the lies of people who seem to have the heart and the ability to do what they promise.
We are drawn to people who promise the easy solution to our problems, but life is not always easy. As a matter of fact, Jesus told the disciples about the life they would have as His follower. It isn’t a life any of us would pursue. He spoke of war, natural disasters, and unnatural signs in nature. The disciples would face judges and prisons and violence for speaking the name of Jesus. Jesus says, “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.” We don’t want to be hated. We want everything we do to last. We want the world to be a garden full of roses. And while we will be blessed by our faith in Christ, it won’t be a garden of roses. Our temples might fall.
But we live in a world that insists a pretty façade will prove everything is ok. It is a world that thinks that a little money thrown at a problem will make it go away. It is a world in which some white stones and gold covered grapes define a ruler. Not much different than what they seemed to have back in Jesus’ day. The reality is that every generation has to deal with charismatic leaders that put on a show and claim to be the one to save the world. Every generation deals with wars and rumors of war. There are Christians from every century who have been persecuted for their faith.
But, Jesus promises the disciples that despite this hatred, not a hair on their head will perish. This is where the text becomes very difficult for us, because we know that many Christians have been killed over the Gospel. Of the Twelve, only one died of old age. The lives of the Saints are filled with stories of beheadings, burnings and other violence. In some places, cutting the hair is an insult. Our hair falls out due to the natural process of health and aging. What about the cancer patient that loses their hair? Is he or she any less faithful because their hair has perished?
Last week we talked about the legacy we leave behind, remembering that in Jesus’ day the memory of a person was tied up in their children and the estates they inherit. Once again we are looking at the promises of God from a tangible, worldly point of view. We want the monuments we build to last forever. We want our bodies to live forever. And we’ll follow whoever makes the best promise to protect the things we love. Jesus said, “Beware of those who claim to be the source of your salvation.”
I was watching a judge show on television this afternoon and I saw a commercial for a local lawyer. The commercial featured a woman who had become sick and could no longer work. Unfortunately, the government would not approve her disability payments. She was scared. She didn’t know how she’d pay her bills. But the lawyer understood her problem and worked to get her the justice she deserved. She said, “He was my savior.”
We usually think of the antichrist and false messiahs in spiritual terms, but the television commercial broke my heart. It is understandable that the woman might turn to someone who could help her with her problems, but the fact that she would use that kind of language just speaks to the reality of our world today. We are looking the easy answer; we are looking for a savior in all the wrong places. We rely on fallible, perishable humans and the promises they make, accepting their claims that they are ‘the one.’ But in the end they are no more able to save us than we are able to save ourselves.
The Gospel lesson is about the end of the age, and we focus on that, particularly since we are living in a time when there are wars and rumors of wars. There are false prophets touting their goods in the public squares these days. There are reasons to be afraid. We can even read this warning as one for our own time and place. Will our walls come tumbling down? It is no wonder that we worry and that we look to those who seem to have the answers. Jesus reminds us that worrying about the end times will not make anything happen and it will not make anything better. We have a purpose in this world: to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to be His witnesses in this world.
Paul writes to the Thessalonians that each member of the community should do their part. The fellowship of believers is like a family: brothers and sisters in Christ. He encourages the able bodied to do their share so that the resources can be available for those who are truly in need. When everyone does their part, everything works well. Paul’s instruction goes beyond the work of the church. He encourages all Christians to be active participants in the world around them, working to provide for their own needs and for the needs of the community.
There are always those who need our help, and perhaps that is never clearer than during this time of the year. We hear stories about the need for food in the food banks and presents for children whose parents can’t afford Christmas. Our mailboxes are crammed with requests from charities for extra funding during the holidays. We are thinking about the people who do not have a place to go for Thanksgiving or Christmas, offering our hospitality and our resources. We do this because God has called us to share His grace in Word and deed. But our work does not end with giving them what they need.
We feed and clothe them, but they too have a role to play in the community. Part of our responsibility is to help them see that they do not have to be idle, but that there is work they can do, too. Many of the widows were unable to provide support, having no financial means. However, they could help to teach and guide the young women of the community, offering their time, their wisdom and their experience to help with the growth of the people and the community. Sadly, some of the widows in Paul’s time were nothing but busybodies, gossiping rather than helping. As they say, “Idle hands are the devils playground.” The women who had no real purpose in the community spent their time doing things that would never benefit the believers.
We do want to leave a lasting legacy, and so we put our time and our resources into things that we think we will last. As much as I enjoy looking at architecture, I know that the buildings I love will not stand forever. They will, like so many of the castles in Europe, one day be no more than ruins. They will topple, just as that grand Temple built by Herod fell stone by stone to the ground. As part of the community of believers, we are building a different kind of Temple. The foundation, of course, is Jesus Christ, who is the true Temple. He was right when He said that the beloved Temple would one day fall, but in this text He was referring to the real thing: Himself. The Temple that was His flesh was destroyed on the cross, but He was raised and rebuilt into something even better. We are now part of His body, pieces of the Temple that will last forever.
As Christians we continue to build that Temple by sharing the Good News of forgiveness with the world. We do this through word and deed. Our work will never gain us salvation. Our work is our response to the saving Grace that God has freely given. As part of the family of Christ, we are meant to do our part no matter what our circumstances. Some may be able to build grand buildings with white stone and golden grapevines, while others teach and guide the young into a living faith. Some will be able to give food and shelter to those without, and those without can gifts that do not require money. It is up to us to help one another discover the gifts that we have and to find ways to use them in the building of Christ’s body, the Church, His Temple on earth.
As I was reading the text for today, I thought it odd that the Psalm is one of such rejoicing. The other texts, speak of such horrors, the destruction of the world and of the Temple. How can we rejoice when we are worried a future that looks bleak?
The psalmist recognizes that our God is worthy of our worship and praise because He has done great things. “Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song; For he hath done marvellous things: His right hand, and his holy arm, hath wrought salvation for him.” His right hand is manifested in the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. His holy arm is the Holy Spirit that reaches out into our lives to give us faith and hope so that we might live in peace doing that which He calls us to do in this life.
More than two thousand years after Jesus spoke these words, we are still seeing the signs of the end: wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and false messiahs claiming to be able to save the people. Jesus’ words hold a measure of warning for us today as much as it did for His first disciples. We still have temples that will fall. Our temples are not necessarily buildings, but who among us does not love to see and worship in a beautiful church. Sometimes we hold those buildings is so much esteem that we forget about the people to whom we’ve been sent. Other ‘temples’ might include our jobs, our homes and our relationships. Sometimes God shakes the foundation of all that we hold dear so that we will look to Him and toward the vision of that which is imperishable.
Jesus is coming to judge the earth; He has come and will come again. Until that day, we will suffer during troubled times, experience persecution and we might even die. We don’t know when the day will really come, even though we can see that there are signs pointing to the end. It isn’t up to us to worry about the day, to even try to figure out when that day will come. “When” is not the right question to ask when God reveals the coming of judgment day. What we should be asking is, “What should we do?” We are called to walk in faith, to wait patiently through the fire, and to do whatever needs to be done in the meantime. We are His branches, reaching out to the world as His witnesses, sharing the love of God and building His Temple in the world through the work that is our response to all that He has done.
“My brethren, hold not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come into your synagogue a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, and there come in also a poor man in vile clothing; and ye have regard to him that weareth the fine clothing, and say, Sit thou here in a good place; and ye say to the poor man, Stand thou there, or sit under my footstool; Do ye not make distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? ” James 2:1-4, ASV
One Sunday, a congregation came to church to be greeted by a dirty, horrible looking man sleeping on their doorstep. The members looked at him with disdain, walked over him as they entered into worship. They settled into their seats and awaited the pastor to begin the service. They chatted with each other; they shared news of their week. Not one member took a moment to help the man on the doorstep.
A few minutes after the service was scheduled to begin, the pastor still had not entered the sanctuary. A loud noise at the doorway drew the attention of the congregation. They saw the dirty man from the stoop entering into their haven. Sounds of shock and dismay echoed through the hall. The man walked to the front of the church, entered into the pulpit and took off his hat. The congregation was humbled and embarrassed to discover that it was the pastor. He was testing them, to see if they heard or understood the Word of God, which he preached to them Sunday after Sunday.
When we talk about judging our neighbor, we usually focus on those judgments we make about their behaviors. If we point out a fault of another, such as dishonesty or lust, we are reminded that we should not judge our neighbors. They are quick to respond when we call them out, insisting that we have no right to call attention to their failings because we fail, too. There’s something to this because we do have a habit of seeing the faults of our neighbors without being aware of our own. We see in others the very things that we hate about ourselves and we turn our disdain onto them. We are reminded to see our own faults, and deal with our own sins before we help our neighbors overcome theirs.
Today’s passage from James shows us a different way we judge people, and this one is perhaps even more insidious. When we judge another’s sins, we are concerned not only about ourselves, but about how the sinful behavior is affecting others. We should judge an abuser and help them stop abusing. We should help an alcoholic realize that their drunkenness affects others. James asks in this passage, however, “How does a person’s clothing change their place in the Kingdom of God?
We do judge the books by the covers. I can’t help but cringe when I see a young lady covered in piercings; to me it looks painful. I get defensive when the doorbell rings and I see two well dressed people carrying religious books because I know that they are going to try to convince me to believe their doctrine. I move out of the way when I see someone who looks like he is part of a gang, even if I know nothing about his life or behavior.
But that’s the point of today’s story. We can’t judge a book by its cover. The congregation ignored the dirty, horrible looking man on their doorstep that Sunday morning, but they learned that the man was their pastor in disguise. That young lady covered in piercings might just be a brilliant scientist, the evangelists might have something valuable to say and the thug might be a teddy bear. That person we reject because of their appearance might be the very person God is sending to our doorstep to teach us a lesson in humility or grace or mercy or hope or peace or love. God does not see the clothes we wear; He doesn’t pay attention to our hair color or other physical attributes; He loves us because we are His. And He calls us to love others because they are His.
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders, if we this day are examined concerning a good deed done to an impotent man, by what means this man is made whole; be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even in him doth this man stand here before you whole. He is the stone which was set at nought of you the builders, which was made the head of the corner. And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.” Acts 4:8-12, ASV
There is an article in the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political rights that states every child has a right to a name. This might seem ridiculous; we can’t imagine that anyone would have a child and never give it a name. However, they have discovered that in the midst of war and poverty, people that are desperate often pay little attention to the formalities of life. The children are never officially registered and then become victims of abuse. A name gives the child an identity and the rights that they deserve.
Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” but the reality is that names mean something. While it is true that a rose would smell as sweet if it was called by some other name, it would be very confusing to go into a nursery to ask for a bubolo expecting to find roses. The nursery clerk would have no idea what you want. The same would be true if the nursery tried to change the names of the flowers. If they advertised the plants by other names, their customers would not know that the nursery was selling what they want. It is confusing and possibly manipulative to try to draw people in with a new name for something that they've known as something else.
That America is a melting pot is obvious in the variety of names among its people. There are 88,000 different sir names used by American families, while in China there are less than 400. Since so many people have come from so many different places, our telephone books are an eclectic mix from every corner of the world. As for first names, there are more girl names than boy names in America, according to the census bureau. Boys are often named after a member of the family, particularly the father. My dad and my brother have exactly the same name, the only way to tell the difference is by the “Sr.” or “Jr.” at the end of their name. It might be a matter of expectation; the parent who wants their son to be successful will choose a more serious name. Parents tend to be more creative with female names, and thus they often carry frivolous or bizarre names. Unfortunately those girls often have to change their name as adults to make it in their chosen career.
Names matter. The names given to the people in the scriptures often give us a sense of their character. Names were so important that God often had a role in the naming of children. He changed the names of many of His people, naming them according to their purpose in the world. Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Saul became Paul. These name changes defined their relationship with God.
When God announced the coming of Jesus to His father, He told Joseph that the child would be named Jesus. Would Jesus have been the Son of God with any other name? Would our worship be the same if our Savior were named Butch? God could have named Him anything, but the name given to that baby born in the manger to Mary and Joseph was named “the Lord saves.” The name Jesus is the modern transliteration of the word that defines His character and purpose. Jesus was named for a reason, and we hold on to that name because it was God-given.
There are those that would like to say that it does not matter what name we give to God, that He is the same no matter what He is called. While it is true that we are called to love our neighbors even when they differ in their faith, it is not true that any faith will bring salvation. In today’s passage it is clear that the only way to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ. His name can’t be changed; salvation can’t be reidentified with someone or something else. There are not a million paths to heaven; there is only one way to eternal life, and that is by the name of our Savior Jesus Christ.
“And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins, wherein ye once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the powers of the air, of the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience; among whom we also all once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest:-- but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:1-10, ASV
A man named Joe decided to get a divorce. Things had gotten so bad at home – he considered his wife lazy, overweight and ugly. He no longer wanted to live with her and wanted to do whatever he could to make her suffer as he thought he had been suffering in the marriage. He went to a psychologist to find out how he could make life difficult for her before he served the papers. The psychologist suggested that he spend two months treating his wife like a goddess. He should wine and dine her, send her flowers and do everything he can to make her life wonderful. Then, after two months he should pack up and leave. “That should do the trick.” Joe did it. He took her on romantic vacations, sent flowers and made her feel like a goddess. After two months the psychologist called Joe and asked how the divorce was going. Joe said, “Are you kidding? I’m married to a goddess.”
Many religions throughout history worshipped an image of God that is so much like that man named Joe. They saw the human frailty and dealt with it without mercy. The people thought that drought meant the god was unhappy. A bad crop was a sign that the people were doing something wrong. A barren woman is thought to have displeased the gods who blessed the womb. Any loss was seen as a punishment from the gods.
Of course, in this type of religion, a victory was the reward from the gods for something that pleased them. Children, wealth, good health, long life, power and position came to the people because the gods were happy. But those blessings could disappear at the whim of the gods, and they seemed to be very fickle. The reality is that human beings are unable to be perfect and holy in this world. We can’t be good enough to earn the blessings of divine favor, so it is no wonder that their faith was like a roller coaster ride. They were always afraid that every little thing would bring on the wrath of their gods.
There are those who would make our God, the Creator, to be nothing more than another one of those unpredictable gods who plays with the people of earth. They claim unrighteous behavior will be punished with wrath, while holy behavior will be rewarded with the best things. We know this is not true. While we do suffer the consequences for our sinful behavior, the reality is that none of us deserve any reward. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. We are all unrighteous creatures in need of forgiveness. We all deserve to suffer the humiliating divorce that our holy God has a right to demand.
But He doesn’t. He loves us. He doesn’t see every fault or every sin. He doesn’t record the work we do or count the pounds we’ve gained. He doesn’t see that we’ve let ourselves go, that we are ugly in attitude and behavior. He sees us through mercy and grace and kindness. He sees us as Joe saw his wife after he changed his own attitude. God treats us with love. He does good things for us. He paints the sky full of color at sunrise and after a rain. He causes the wildflowers to bloom and gives babies the most delightful laugh. He fills our hearts with peace and joy and our lives with good gifts. He doesn’t do this because we deserve these good things, He does it because He loves us. Unlike Joe, He never stopped seeing us as the beautiful child He created in our mother’s wombs, and He continues to act with kindness even when we do not deserve it.
We aren’t God, but we can certainly learn a lesson from Joe. What should we do when we have a relationship that is falling apart because we do not see the goodness in the other person? Should we dissolve the relationship? Should we divorce our spouse? Should we quit our jobs or fire that employee? We often make these decisions based on our opinion of the other person without considering how we might be at fault. Did Joe’s wife become what he thought she was because he was not treating her well, or was it just his perception that she was that way? We make judgments that are not always true, but it might also be that when we treat people poorly, they become what we think they are. How much better would the world be if we treated our neighbors with kindness, seeing them through God’s eyes as the beautiful children He created them to be.
“Woe unto you lawyers! for ye took away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” Luke 12:52, ASV
During the mid eighteen-century, European intellectual went through an Age of Enlightenment. Academic discussion was approached from a logical, reasoned perspective. Many aspects of Christian faith were lost or rejected. Joseph II was Holy Roman Emperor from 1765-1790, and he reformed the society in some incredible ways. He organized a public health system, reorganized the army, and balanced the royal treasury. He abolished serfdom and changed the property system. He consolidated the education system and worked to find the best scholars and scientists for the University of Vienna. He granted freedom of the press and established religious equality to all.
Joseph’s social reforms were certainly very positive. However, his actions were not approved by all of his day. His reforms took power away from the powerful and put it in the hands of the people, benefiting the general welfare of the entire nation rather than the prosperity of individuals. His reforms went too far in some areas of life, including the life of the church. He dissolved the monasteries, outlawed hermitages and took authority away from the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. This had some very positive effects, such as the creation of more local parishes where the monks served as priests.
However, due to this Age of Enlightenment and the societal reforms, religion was secularized and the basic idea of complete submission to the Lord Jesus Christ was rejected as irrational. Those who spent their energy in defense of the church were deemed foolish. Clement Hofbauer was one such man, who spent his final years fighting against an idea that was permeating society, that the church was for one day a week and religious thinking did not have any place in everyday life. He saw the evil affects of state control in the activities of the church from a personal point of view. His ministries were shut down and he was forced to leave the people he served. His greatest concern was the affects of this change in Christian understanding that pervaded society. When our faith is limited to an hour a week, it easily gets lost in the cares of this world.
Clement fought more than the changes that occurred in the society of Europe during that age, many of which had a positive impact on the lives of the people. Clement saw Christianity slipping from the very heart of its belief: our complete submission to the Lord Jesus Christ and His mission for us while we live on this earth. Reason was rejecting faith. The Josephists had many good ideas, but took them too far by dividing people’s hearts from their minds. Our Christian faith is part of our whole lives, not for just one day a week. It should permeate our daily walk, our work and our relationships. Faith and reason need not be separated. The quest for knowledge should include knowing God. Let us walk in faith and use our God-given gifts of intelligence, eloquence and reason to seek God and share Him with the world.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 24, 2013, Christ the King: Malachi 3:13-18; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:13-20; Luke 23:27-43
“And he said, Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom.” Luke 23:42, ASV
What is a king? I like to read historical novels, particularly those that are set in the late Middle Ages to Renaissance England, the 14th through 17th century mostly. I am fascinated by the relationships between the different nations and the ways those in power used one another. It was rarely pretty: too much war and scheming. Of course, the reality of the day for anyone outside the court was usually poverty, dis-ease and the constant fear that the king, or whoever wanted to be king, would use them as pawns in a very expensive game.
Most of the time the average villager didn’t even care who was king, they quickly bowed to whichever man told them he was in charge. They didn’t have a choice; their local nobleman made their choices for them. They fought when they were told to fight. The king or wannabe took whatever he wanted. It was dark and violent and sad. Oh, there were bright spots. Not every king was insane, greedy or manipulative. Some did great things for the country and the world. The Renaissance was a time of beauty, when the arts thrived. Some of the greatest love stories came out of this period.
I think this is where, at least in America, we get our answer to the question: what is a king? We think about Henry VIII and his six wives, only one of which outlived him. We have pinned his character on most, if not all, monarchs, deserved or undeserved. The king will do whatever he wants to achieve whatever he wants whether it has to do with power, authority, wealth and even love. He has no higher power, and thus is his own judge. At least that is what many of them think. Henry even took the power of the church and God, into his own hands, and so had the right according to his own understanding to do anything. That kind of power leads to abuse, so it is no wonder that the early Americans chose to be ruled by a different sort of system.
Once we gained our freedom, the leaders of the day wanted to crown George Washington. He refused. He thought the offer was inappropriate and dishonorable. He fought the war for the sake of the American Republic, not for his personal self-aggrandizement. Unfortunately, a king by any other title can abuse his position and take advantage of the people they have been charged with protecting, but I think we have a negative opinion of any king based on our understanding of the past.
We were warned. During the time of the judges in Israel’s history, the people saw the world had kings who could lead them. Kings protected their people. They provided for their welfare. It seemed to the Israelites that the nations with kings controlled the world. Shouldn’t they have the same advantages? Samuel was upset by their request because he saw it as a rejection of his leadership, but God told him that it was Him that they were rejecting. Their request showed their lack of faith. They didn’t need a human king because they had the King of kings, but He agreed to give them what they wanted.
But He did so with a warning. “This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them unto him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots; and he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and he will set some to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks: and ye shall be his servants.” (1 Samuel 8:11-17, ASV) The king of Israel would be just like any other king: he would abuse his power and take advantage of his people. This warning certainly came true for Israel.
We tend to turn to human strength to get us through our times of trouble and to praise human strength when we succeed. Unfortunately, humans will follow the same pattern, turning away from God and choosing human leaders. Assigned by man, shepherds will always fail because man chooses based on human traits. Assigned by God, shepherds will faithfully serve the people, because God looks at the heart and chooses those who are right with Him. We see this most clearly in the story of David. Saul was being exactly the kind of king that God expected. He was abusing his people and his power. God sent Samuel to anoint the next king, a better king. God chose David out of all his brothers, even though he was least of them all. Samuel expected the oldest, strongest brother to be the one, and thought the same thing for each other brother as God rejected them. In the end, David turned out to be a good king, although even David made mistakes.
There are those who say that they can’t identify with the Christian faith because of the Father image of God. They had terrible, abusive fathers and they are afraid that the Father/God of Christianity is like them. The bible certainly tells us stories that seem counter to the Gospel understanding of mercy, grace and forgiveness. I think the same might be true of Christ as King. Could you look forward to the rule of Christ if you lived under the tyranny of a man like Henry VIII? Would we worship a Messiah that is like Saul? That is possibly why so many prefer to see Him in the role of friend or teacher, rather than king.
Our focus over the past few weeks has been the end of time, looking forward to the Day of Judgment. The Day of Judgment is that day when Christ the King will come and judge the heavens and the earth. Last week we heard from Luke the Olivet discourse, otherwise known as the Little Apocolypse. This passage of scripture shows Jesus describing the end of days. Of course, the apocalyptic texts are understood differently by different Christians, but what we do know is that Jesus promised that the day would come when the Son of Man will redeem the whole world. We see this as a future promise, but we also know it is a promise that has already been fulfilled.
Does it seem strange that the Gospel lesson for Christ the King Sunday is the text from the Passion of Jesus? Why would we show our King of kings in such humiliating and horrific circumstances? We can’t possibly think that the dying man on the cross is a king of any sort. How can He rule from the grave? Wouldn’t it be better to focus on texts like the triumphant entry into Jerusalem or the Resurrection story? Those stories show Christ as the Victor! If we are going to have a king, let him at least be a winning one, right?
Instead, we see Jesus on a cross, not a throne. We see Jesus in suffering, not glory. He is not honored by the people, He is condemned, ridiculed and rejected. What sort of king is that? In Luke’s story, we see someone who recognized that the cross was Jesus’ crowning achievement. One of the criminals joined in the derision, but the other rebuked him. “Dost thou not even fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.” Then, He asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom. He may not have totally understood what was happening, but he knew that Jesus was truly the king and for that faith he received the promise. “To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.”
Christ the King is in no way like Henry VIII or Saul. His Kingdom is not in this world. His Kingdom is not limited by time or space. It has no need for wealth or property or soldiers armed with spears. His Kingdom will never be overthrown by a wannabe. His Kingdom will never end. In the Gospel lesson, we see a contrast between human ways and God’s way. The first criminal and the others mocking Jesus could not see the kingdom or promise in a dying man on the cross. They wanted Jesus to prove His power in earthly and physical ways. They wanted a king that would save them at that moment. The criminal wanted to be saved from his deserved punishment and from the immediate consequences of his faults. The second criminal looked to Jesus for salvation in a whole new way: a salvation that was not temporary, but permanent and eternal.
Christ the King, the One for whom we wait, is not like Henry VIII or Saul. He is not going to be a King that sits on a throne in a palace on this earth. He won’t need to fight the neighboring kingdoms for more land or enslave His people so that He will become greater. Christ the King will set everything right, finally completing what He began that day on the cross.
Jesus is the One who can truly save us. As the psalmist sings, “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” We may suffer the failings of our earthly shepherds, but God’s promises continue to be true. He will, He has, established a King that will not fail us. He has appointed His Son to rule over our lives. Our circumstances may seem out of control. We may find ourselves in exile or beaten by our enemies, but we can rest in the knowledge that God is the driving force behind our lives. When our leaders fail, and when we are led astray, God has not forgotten His promises. He is faithful even when we cannot be. Be still and know. He is God and He is with us. And He has appointed the King who will not fail, our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is funny: we don’t really want the Henry VIII type of king, but we are even more uncomfortable with the type of King that would die on a cross. We prefer to see Him in His glory, the resurrected body that defeated death and the grave to rise as victor over His enemies. The picture of the cross shows us a defeated man who could not even save Himself. He was ridiculed, the sign over His head identifying Him as king of the Jews was little more than a joke.
But it is that very image that gives Jesus the power to be our King. No other king could have accomplished our salvation. In the text from Colossians Paul writes, “For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fullness dwell; and through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens.” The peace will never come through the works of men, through the strength of a king, through the power of human ability. Peace comes through the cross, and it is the King that hangs on the cross that we worship this day.
What is most incredible is that the King we see on the cross, the human flesh that died for our sake, is the Logos of God that was with Him from the beginning. When the Jews missed seeing the Messiah that stood before them, they missed the Word made flesh who was before all things. Paul writes, “for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things consist.”
We need not be afraid of this King, because Christ is not like the human kings that have always failed. Christ is the image of that which we cannot see. He is the Word made flesh, the God of creation dwelling with us. He was there when God laid down the foundations of the earth and it was through Him all things were made. In Christ we see that God did not make the world and disappear, but that He has been with us always, planning even in the beginning the redemption that was to come. Everything is His, and through Him we are re-created and reconciled to God our Father in heaven, part of the body of Christ and blessed with eternal life in Him.
On this Sunday we celebrate the kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we are made new, changed by His love and His mercy and His grace. God is our righteousness because no man can make us pure and holy. It is only by God’s power and might that we can truly live as we have been created to live. That is why our greatest sin is to turn to other rulers, to put earthbound kings above our God. As we look to their strength, we destroy our relationship with the only One who can save. Earthly kings are created beings, imperfect and bound to disappoint. Even those kings that were counted as righteous were failures in some way. Only God is perfect. Only God is faithful. Only God can provide the hope that will not disappoint. He might not look like a King hanging on the cross, but it is because He willingly went to that cross that we can now call Him King. It was there that He was crowned. We can trust that in the midst of our own troubles, He is there with us, ready to save.
This is easy for us to say when we are in a good place, but what happens when we are in that time of trouble? How many of us have experienced something that made us ask, “Why me?” I wonder how many of those kings spent sleepless nights asking the same question as they heard rumors of the wannabes on their way to the battlefield? They might have been powerful and confident and even arrogant, but they had doubts, too, especially when they experienced defeat, no matter how small or large.
Vance Havner was an evangelist in North Carolina whose wife died of an unusual disease. All his hopes and dreams of living a long, happy life with her passed away when she did, and he found no consolation. He missed her touch and her voice so much that he was constantly tempted to ask “Why, God?” In his book, “Playing Marbles with Diamonds” he writes, “You need never ask ‘Why?’ because Calvary covers it all. When before the throne we stand in Him complete, all the riddles that puzzle us here will fall into place and we shall know in Him fulfillment what we now believe in faith – that all things work together for good in His eternal purpose. No longer will we cry ‘My God, why?’ Instead, ‘alas’ will become ‘Alleluia,’ all question marks will be straightened into exclamation points, sorrow will change to singing, and pain will be lost in praise.”
It is hard to live in faith when the world around us is falling apart. It is especially hard when we do not think our human rulers are on our side. It is easy to give up and become pitiful. “Why me” falls so easily off our tongues. We see the wicked prosper while believers are persecuted. Sickness, pain and death still reign and we often mourn the loss of those we love. The question “Why” has been a stumbling block for many, the straw that breaks the faith of those who do not trust in the Lord. There are those who say, “I can’t believe in a God that would allow this to happen.” They would rather have a ruler here who can do something to make their life better, than someone they can’t see or hear or touch. Or, they’d rather deal with it themselves, relying on their own strength or power to get things done.
We have a very limited vision and we see things through our own experience. Just as we think of a king as something like the awful Henry VIII, or a divine Father as like our imperfect fathers on earth, our understanding of Christ the King is limited. We ask “why” because we can’t see beyond today. We can’t see beyond this moment. We seek to create the world we want, accept the world that others demand or give up and then we miss what God is doing in our lives. We want to know and understand why everything happens, and in doing so we often lose sight of God.
It is easy to lose sight of God when it seems like we’ve been waiting forever for something that has not yet happened. Here we are again at the end of a Church year celebrating Christ the King, but He has not yet come. Next week we begin Advent, counting down the days until we celebrate His birth. Again. We cry out in our pain, “Come, Lord Jesus,” but He does not come. We prepare our hearts for His Judgment Day, but it never happens. We look for an escape from the world and hope that today is the day when God will take us into His arms for eternity. But most of us will wake tomorrow to another day. It is no wonder that we ask “why?” We feel as though God has forgotten, that Jesus is late, and that we have been forsaken.
The people in Malachi’s time thought the same thing. They saw wickedness succeed and the righteous suffer. They wondered why they should even bother being faithful. They didn’t even see these words as being against God. But God reminded them to trust in Him and to continue to live the life that He has called them to live, no matter what happens in the world around them. God says of those who do, “And they shall be mine, even mine own possession, in the day that I make; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.”
We have been waiting a long time for Christ the King to come, and it is incredibly hard sometimes. Our kings fail us too often and we constantly turn away from God by trying to create our perfect world on our own. We are looking forward to a Kingdom of beauty and peace and joy, without wars and schemes. We long for a King who will not abuse His power or take advantage of His people. We look forward to the day when we will truly dwell in the Eternal Kingdom. But we have a hard time waiting for God to make these promises happen.
God says, “Trust in me. Do not trust in human kings or in your own strength.” Christ the King is coming. He is, even now, on the horizon. He is our salvation and will be faithful to His promises. “Why?” is a question that will remain in our minds and on our tongues as we wonder about the wickedness and suffering in this world, as we face our own pain and loss. Yet, we can rest in the promise of God that one day everything will be clear. For now, it is up to us to live as God calls us to live, no matter the circumstances of the world around us, doing His work in the world. As we wait in faith, let us encourage one another and keep our eyes on Jesus, resting in the assurance that our cries of woe will be turned into joyful alleluias of praise and thanksgiving, soon.
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I reprove and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.” Revelation 3:14-22, ASV
A local movie theater is playing a series of classic films. Each week offers a new selection, including works from the early days of Hollywood. During October they played some classic horror films. In December the theme will turn to Christmas. I’ve seen some of my favorite movies like “Gone with the Wind,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “American Graffitti,” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” on the big screen.
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is one of my all time favorite movies. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch, I’m impacted each time by the emotion of the story and the characters. Audrey Hepburn is beautiful and brilliant. She played the main character, a woman named Holly Golightly, who moved to New York City when she was very young. Her childhood was difficult and she was determined to make her fortune somehow. She claims to be an actress, but her survival is dependent on wealthy men. Paul moves in to the apartment upstairs and they become friends. They are two of a kind, he is dependent on a wealthy woman to support him while he claims to be an author. Together, Holly and Paul get into all sorts of adventures as they seek the things they desire.
Eventually they fall in love, but Paul realizes it much earlier. Holly continues to chase after what she believes in her salvation, missing the true love that is right in front of her. In the end, her rich Brazilian dumps her and Paul gives up trying, leaving her all alone in the world. It is only then that she sees the truth and she goes to the one man who can give her the life she seeks. Holly was zealous about her dreams of wealth and had no concern for anything else. Her apathy showed in her life and the way that she treated her friends, like Paul.
Apathy is defined as ‘lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern.’ Many Christians today are zealous about certain aspects of their lives, but are apathetic about the things that really matter. They strive after the promotion, the bigger house, the fancy car, but they give only limited attention to their faith. In many cases, they even hide their faith in their daily life so that it doesn’t interfere with their dreams.
The Laodiceans were not zealous about their faith. They lived in one of the wealthiest cities in the ancient world, with banking institutions, a medical school and the textile industry. What is interesting about this passage is how it focuses on the weakness of the city: a lack of adequate water. There was a hot spring used for medicinal purposes in nearby Hierapolis, but nothing of the same in Laodicea. Also, there was no refreshing spring of water for drinking. The water they had was lukewarm at best, and it is likely that it was murky and possibly rancid. If their faith was like their water, it is no wonder that Jesus would spew them out.
What does your life of faith look like? Do you live your faith daily, serving God in word and deed in all your activities? Or do you hide your faith so that you will be able to pursue the wealth and prosperity of the world? John writes Jesus’ words, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” This passage is often interpreted in light of the invitation by Christ for the unbeliever to let Him into their hearts. However, this passage is written to the Church, to the community of believers. In particular, this section is written to a community that is apathetic about the faith because they are concerned about the things of this world. Jesus is knocking because He wants to be in their lives, to fill their hearts so that they will live their faith with passion and joy.
It is often said that the western church is most like the church in Laodicea. Even the description of their strengths matches so much about the nations where many of us live. We have wealth. We have prosperity. We have so many distractions that we have become lukewarm about our own faith. We do not share Jesus with the passion of an evangelist, or provide the cool refreshing water of Life for those who already know Jesus. We are too much like Holly Golightly, seeking the traps of wealth and missing the truth that is right in front of us. He’s knocking at the door. Are we listening? Do we hear? Will we open the door and let Him in our midst to glorify Him through our lives and our community of faith?
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: From whence shall my help come? My help cometh from Jehovah, Who made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: He that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep. Jehovah is thy keeper: Jehovah is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, Nor the moon by night. Jehovah will keep thee from all evil; He will keep thy soul. Jehovah will keep thy going out and thy coming in From this time forth and for evermore.” Psalm 121, ASV
I know it is not yet Advent, but we have been thinking about Christmas. This is the first holiday season with one of the kids living far away, and we are trying to figure out the best way for us to be together anyway. She lives near to our extended family, so we are trying to figure out if we can go there to see everyone. Plane tickets are expensive and driving has some advantages, but weather is worrisome. We have to plan around work. Do we have time for a road trip vacation?
Whatever we do, we have to make our plans soon. We need to map out our route, get hotel reservations along the way, let family know we are coming so that they can prepare guest rooms, buy extra food. We’ll have to think about gifts we can carry or buy when we get there. As we get closer to departure time, we will need to plan our wardrobes and pack our suitcases, prepare the car make sure we have everything we need. We need to get someone to take care of the cats. It may seem like it is much too early to concern ourselves with these things, but the more we do now, the easier it will be to leave later.
We have it easy. We can get to Pennsylvania in a matter of days and we have a vehicle that can fit everything we might need. It wasn’t like this in ancient days. Some religions require pilgrimage at least once in the believer’s life to holy sites, and those trips were much different a thousand years ago. Some pilgrimages, like those of Christians from Europe to the Holy Land in medieval times, took months or years; to do it would mean giving up the normal life.
In Old Testament times most people had to walk to make the long pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem for feasts and festivals. The lucky ones might have had a pack animal to carry their supplies or pull a cart, but the road was difficult. They climbed mountains, waded through rivers, faced the dangers of the road like thieves and wild animals. They had to deal with the heat of the day and the cold of the night. There were no McDonald’s or hotels at every crossroads. They often traveled in groups, taking care of one another along the road, but the journey was difficult. They had to trust in God to guard and protect them along the way.
Travel from one place to another is so easy for us that we really don’t look to God like those early travelers for our daily care and protection. The Psalm for today is the song of a pilgrim, sung to ensure those travelers that God was with them through their journey. For those who had to walk through wilderness under the heat of the sun and who faced criminals around every corner, such a psalm would offer hope and peace in the journey. We may not be subjected to the same dangers of the road, but it does not mean we need God any less. Even if we never leave our home, we can rest in the knowledge that God will never slumber, that He will keep us and guide us through our daily walk.
“Who in hope believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, So shall thy seed be. And without being weakened in faith he considered his own body now as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, looking unto the promise of God, he wavered not through unbelief, but waxed strong through faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform. Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was reckoned unto him; but for our sake also, unto whom it shall be reckoned, who believe on him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification.” Romans 4:18-25 (ASV)
One of the earliest reality shows that I enjoyed watching was a show called “Clean Sweep.” Each episode featured a family whose home was out of control with clutter. The experts came in and helped the family organize their lives and restore their home. The work often involved helping the family see and overcome their problems. Clutter was usually a symptom of something else. Some people kept things because they couldn’t let go of the past. Others were shopaholics. Others were procrastinators who knew they should do something about the mess, but they didn’t know how to start so they kept putting it off. Meanwhile, the problem got worse and worse. In the end, the experts had to encourage and convince them to change their lives. The work often included psychological help as well as the help of a professional organizer, decorator and carpenter.
This style of television show has expanded to include businesses that need similar help. There are shows about restaurants, bars, hotels and I’ve even heard that there is a show which helps churches. The early shows helped a family look at their lives, pick through their junk, and purge their burdens. There was often a need to deep clean and replace items that are beyond use. This type of change is even more important in the shows about businesses. Sometimes the kitchens in the restaurants are so dirty that they would fail a health inspection. Some of the owners and workers are lazy, but in most cases they just didn’t know how to fix their problems.
In most cases, the owners can’t see the reason for their problems. They often blame things that might be symptoms, but they never see the reality. They blame the workers for being lazy, but they’ve missed the truth that they failed to properly train their staff. They blame the economy for their financial debts, but their problems are made worse by poor decision making. They want to put the blame on everyone else, but they learn throughout the store that they are most at fault for their problems, so the experts help them look at their lives, pick through their junk and purge their burdens.
These home and business owners look to experts to help them overcome their difficulties, and in the end they have a clean house or a business that is ready to be successful. They also find peace. Though the owners rarely understand the reasons for their failures in the beginning, the experts help them see the truth and help them be transformed so that their lives or their businesses will be better. In the end they realized that it was better to look to someone who could help them rather than try to rely on themselves.
From the beginning, God spoke to His children about His love, mercy and purpose. Adam heard a bit, Noah another, Abraham yet another. From generation to generation, God renewed His promise to His people, building on what He spoke to their forefathers. Each of those men failed in some way, trying to do follow their own path or do things their own way. However, when they looked to God they believed Him even if they did not see the fulfillment of the promise. Abraham knew that God would finish the story in a most wonderful way.
We are imperfect and we cannot see beyond what our eyes can see. We might think we know what to do, but it often takes someone with more knowledge or experience to show us the truth. When it comes to our life of faith, we are called to be like Abraham. He would never really see the promise fulfilled, after all it took generations for his seed to become as numerous as the stars, but he believed. His faith was credited to him as righteousness. He had a right relationship with God. He looked to the promise of God, and he was greatly blessed. We continue to be blessed by his faith, as we are the promised offspring. Let us always look to His promise because it is there we’ll find peace.
“And as they were eating, he took bread, and when he had blessed, he brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take ye: this is my body. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Mark 14:22-24, ASV
There are a number of Facebook memes that show the different perceptions of a pastor’s job. In one, the meme includes four pictures. The first is of a pastor in full regalia standing before a congregation leading worship with the statement, “What I think I do.” The second picture shows a man resting on a hammock with the statement, “What my friends think I do.” The third is a pastor at the bedside of a sick person sharing the Lord’s Supper with the statement, “What my parents think I do.” The fourth is a picture of a man at a desk buried in paperwork with the statement, “What I’m actually doing.” There is a glimmer of truth to all four pictures, even the one with the man at rest, although it is unlikely that any pastor spends much time lazying around on a sunny day.
What’s interesting is that each of those perceptions takes some work on the pastor’s part, which is why he or she is often buried in paperwork. To be at the bedside of a sick parishioner, the pastor must be aware of the lives of his congregation. To take time to rest, the pastor must make sure that he schedules time and finds gifted people to help with his ministry. We might think that a pastor works only one hour a week, but even the part time pastor puts in many hours of preparation time. A good sermon takes hours of prayer, study and organization. It takes hours of work for a pastor to be what he perceives in that first picture. While there is a sense of the Holy Spirit in worship, a good service takes planning. Which songs to sing? Which paraments are needed? What prayers are needed? Who will serve in the different tasks? It is no wonder that sometimes pastors are buried until what seems to be piles of paper.
I come from a tradition that follows the liturgy. We use the lectionary. We have wonderful resources available to make our time together inspiring and spiritually fulfilling. Sadly, it is possible for that hour on Sunday to feel like wasted time for a congregation. It is not always the heart of the Christian that fails to experience the grace of God. There is no life to be found in a ministry team that has no life. A monotone reader loses the interest of the congregation. A poorly written sermon because an excuse for minds to wander. Bad music just makes us want to go out to the car to turn on our car radios for something, anything, else. Unfortunately, bad worship has been the reason why many people have simply stopped going to church. Though God is always in the midst of two or more who gather in His name, sometimes it is really hard to sense His presence, especially when those in charge don’t care enough to take the time to prepare.
Though I love the liturgy and other practices of the Church, there is room for some creativity. Pastor Martin Thielen of Honolulu once created a worship experience around the Sacrament of the Eucharist that had an incredible impact on his congregation. He had read a letter written Dietrich Bonhoeffer to his family when he was imprisoned. They sent him a package and he was extremely thankful. Bonhoeffer wrote, “Such things give me greater joy than I can say. Although I am utterly convinced that nothing can break the bonds between us, I seem to need some outward token or sign to reassure me. In this way, material things become the vehicles of spiritual realities. I suppose it is rather like the felt need in our religion for the sacraments.” Pastor Thielen took this idea into his worship preparation. He preached a sermon of stories and scripture that built on the fact that the Eucharist is a package sent from our heavenly home as a tangible expression of God’s love for us.
Pastor Thielen ended the sermon by walking to the Communion table and saying “Come brothers and sisters in Christ, let us partake. A package from home has arrived. Let us eat and drink and be reminded of God’s awesome love for his children.” This story makes us think about worship and the sacraments in a whole new way, doesn’t it? It also makes us realize that these things matter, and we should appreciate those who put so much time and energy into making our worship experiences inspiring and spiritually fulfilling. The Lord’s Supper is not something we just do on a Sunday morning. It is a moment in time when the gap between heaven and earth is removed and we join with the whole church—past, present, and future—in the meal that God has promised will last forever. It is a gift, a wonderful surprise from our Father in heaven, the material vehicle of the spiritual reality that God has given His own Son to reconcile us to Himself. Let us eat and drink and see God’s awesome love for His children!
“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” Romans 13:14, ASV
The church calendar is cyclical. We begin with Advent, go through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and then Pentecost. The last few weeks of each year, during the month of November, we look forward to the coming of Christ the King. It is a great way to see the whole story of God in a year, to celebrate the works of His hands, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. We see the life and ministry of Jesus develop until He is finally given the Kingdom forever first on the Cross, through the empty tomb and then on Christ the King Sunday. One of the disadvantages is that we go from Christ the King directly into Advent, thus moving from the promise fulfilled to the promise yet to come. It is hard to go back to the beginning once we’ve seen the end.
We begin the season of Advent in darkness. Today’s Gospel lesson is not very hopeful. Jesus tells his disciples to keep watch for the time of His coming, and to be doing everything He has commanded: loving God with our whole heart and loving one another as ourselves. He warns his disciples that no one will know the time when the Son of Man will come. He tells them to prepare their hearts so that they will be strong against those who try to confuse them with false doctrine, false prophets who will come. As the day grows closer, Satan will become more desperate to deceive the children of God. His tactics will become harder to detect, easier to pass from one another.
On this first Sunday of Advent we are reminded that the Christmas season is about more than presents and parties. We encourage each other to take time for God, to experience His coming with prayer and devotional time. It is likely that most people who are reading this already do those things, even outside the season. For many Christians, the Christmas season brings them into fellowship with Christians more often. We have extra services. We have fellowship gatherings. We have Christmas pageants and programs.
We also deal with the secular aspects of the holiday season. A confession: I like the secular aspects of Christmas. I like to shop for Christmas presents, even on Black Friday. I like to have the biggest, brightest Christmas tree. I like to bake cookies and make ornaments for my family. I enjoy the brightness, the joy and the love of the season. But even though I like these things, I am troubled like so many of you by the pervasiveness of the worldly and greedy aspects of the holidays.
Black Friday is a uniquely American problem, although I’m sure other nations deal with a time that is considered an official beginning to the shopping season. Not that it really matters to us, since most of the stores have been stocked and selling Christmas gifts for weeks, or even months, already. Black Friday, however, is when retailers offer their best deals. They are preparing with piles of electronics at unheard of prices, as well as miles of shelves with the most popular toys. The ads have been online for weeks and people have been preparing to rush to the stores the minute they open so that they’ll be the first in line to get the best deals. You have to be there early or you might not get one of the limited quantities available.
I heard a story last week that some men set up a tent outside an electronics store so that they could be the first in line. They’ve been living on the sidewalk for days already. They have always been second to another group and they wanted to beat the rush. Why? So they can buy more stuff at great prices. They needed to be first, even though they’ve always gotten the deals, too. Do they really need the items that the store is offering? Do they really need another television or video game system or smart phone? I don’t know, but they are willing to go to great lengths to get it anyway.
They aren’t the only ones. Many shoppers will be at the doors of their favorite stores the minute they open just so they can be the first to get the best deals. Sadly, some stores have moved Black Friday to Thursday evening. Each year the hours for opening have gotten earlier and earlier. I didn’t mind being in the crowds at o’dark-thirty, but as the time moved from 6 a.m. to midnight to the evening of Thanksgiving, I stopped paying attention to the ads. The fun of Black Friday (and yes, I used to think it was fun) is gone, and now it is a sad indictment of our national focus on the wrong things. Something is seriously wrong when the news reports are filled with stories of people who have been injured in the mad rush to buy a television.
Something is seriously wrong when you hear stories like this one: A woman has the Thanksgiving celebration at her house every year, and works for hours to make everything wonderful for her family. Last year, however, a bunch of her family members ate dinner, wiped their mouths and rushed out the door to go to the mall so that they could be there in time for the sales. She said that she was hurt and disappointed that they were more interested in shopping than spending time together. “I won’t invite them again,” she said. A family is falling apart because of this need to be the first in line for the sale.
I suppose in some ways this is exactly what it means to be entering Advent in darkness. Even though the decorations are up and the lights are twinkling, the attitudes and expectations of the people are exactly why Jesus came in the first place. People are looking to the world instead of to God. People are more interested in fulfilling some quest for the perfect gift (although I imagine a lot of the shopping is not even for others) than in spending time in the company of family and friends. All too often those gifts are not from the heart, but are bought and given out of some duty. After all, third cousin twice removed Bernice really is expecting another duck figurine. And that nephew you don’t even see expects at least a $50 gift card, right?
We fill the night with Christmas lights, but we are wandering in this darkness that has our focus on everything but God. It is no wonder, then, that we begin the Advent season with a warning: Christ can return at any moment. It might be tomorrow or it might not happen for another ten thousand years. No matter when He comes, we are warned to be prepared. As we were discussing this text in Sunday school, several of the men who are retired military were reminded of their packs that were always ready to go. They had several bags, including one that had personal items like underwear and shaving kit. Those bags were kept close at hand because they could be told that they would be leaving in an hour. They didn’t have time to go home and pack. They barely had time to kiss their families good-bye.
There were times when the call was expected. On those occasions they could go through the bag and make sure that the underwear was not holey and the can of shaving cream was full. However, sometimes the time was short, so they went with the pack as it was, even if it was not complete. It is the same when we talk about being ready for Christ. We tend to get complacent when things seem to be going well. We pray, but half-heartedly. We read the scriptures, but we shrug if we miss a day. We decide that we are just a little too tired to get up and go to church. It doesn’t matter, anyway, right? God doesn’t take attendance. But what if the call came in a time of apathy? Would you be ready for Christ?
The point of this text is not that we should stop living while we wait for Jesus to come again, but that we should always be prepared so that when He does come He’ll find faith on earth. Will He see faith in the crowds at Thursday night’s Black Friday sales? Will He find faith in the piles of Christmas presents? Will He see faithful people living faith-filled lives in the hustle and bustle of the season and in the holiday celebrations ahead of us this month?
I don’t think we need to stop the quest for a wonderful Christmas. Perhaps the problem is that we try too hard to separate our secular celebration from our Christian faith. We don’t keep Christ out of this season; I’m sure many of those people who will be flocking to the stores this weekend will celebrate in many faith filled ways. They will display a nativity in their home, maybe even on their lawn. They will go to church. They will sing Christmas carols. They will be generous to the charities that need help at this time of year. But are we thinking about Jesus when we buy the latest “R” rated movies or video games that are filled with sex, hatred and violence? Do we consider how our choices might impact the faith of our neighbor?
It is not easy living as a Christian in the world. This has been true of all time, not just this time. Can we really say that we are suffering from persecution just because someone doesn’t want us to say “Merry Christmas?” Jesus told us to expect this. Generations of Christians have faced death and beatings because they believed in Jesus. Even today there are countries that will deal with bombings in churches on Christmas day. Jesus warned us that the world would hate us. But He told us not to worry, He will be with us. On this first day of Advent, let us remember that He is there.
Advent is a dichotomy. It is a time when we wait for something we know has already come, and yet we also wait for something that we know is still coming. It is a time of looking to the past while looking to the future. We hope for something we know exists by faith but which has not yet been completely fulfilled. We wait for the baby in the manger even though we just celebrated the coming of Christ as King.
It can be confusing to hear texts from the final days of Jesus’ life as we prepare for His birth. But that’s what Advent is all about. It is about seeing Christ as He was, as He is and as He will be all at once. When we think of Christ only in terms of the past, the present or the future, we do not live fully in His presence. If we stay in the past, we live as if there is nothing left to be done. We do not bother to keep watch or to wake up from our slumber. If we stay in the present, then we think what we do matters for our salvation. When we look only to the future, we think we have time to get ready and we put off the things we should do for the sake of Christ.
In other words, this first Sunday in Advent we are reminded that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. As we live in this truth, we realize that our faith is not a past, present or future reality; it is all three. We die with Christ through our baptism. We live with Christ in this present reality, a reality that includes faith and grace and the hope of the promise to come. We look forward to the fulfillment of the promises: yesterday, today and tomorrow.
At the same time we are living in this world, and we have to find a way to our life with our faith. That means making choices that are God-pleasing, ready at a moment’s notice to receive Him. See, there will be a time when Christ comes again in glory, a time when we will see Christ the King come as victorious Lord of all. But Christ comes to us constantly in our daily living: in the request from a charity for food, in the paper ornaments on an Angel Tree at the mall with the wishes of children, a knock on the door from a neighbor who needs a friend to talk to. Christ comes to us in those busy crowds as we are fighting over the last hot toy or cheap television. He comes to us in that car that needs to merge on the highway and in the parking lot at the mall. Will we choose to be selfish or will we choose to be generous? Will we glorify God this Advent, or will we chase after our own needs and desires?
What if Jesus came tomorrow? What would He find on earth? Would He mind if He found you in line to buy the latest gaming system at Walmart? Quite honestly, I don’t think so. He would mind if you had abandoned a loved one to chase after a sale for something you don’t need. It is about attitude, and Advent is about making our hearts right before God so that we’ll be ready to receive our King, both as a baby in the manger and as the Victorious One at the end of all the ages.
Jesus said, “Then shall two man be in the field; one is taken, and one is left: two women shall be grinding at the mill; one is taken, and one is left.” This passage is interpreted in terms of the rapture, when Christ will come and take away the faithful. However, isn’t this also how it is on our every day journeys? Don’t some of us see Christ in our neighbors and others completely miss the opportunities to glorify God in our daily lives? Don’t some of us have faith and others just go about our days, step by step toward an unknown end? Don’t some of us live in darkness while others have seen the light?
Jesus calls us to be ready so that we’ll embrace every opportunity to share Him with others. Christmas can be about presents and parties and decorations, but it is also about sharing Christ with our neighbor. Isaiah says, “And many peoples shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob.” The many peoples to whom Isaiah refers are the Gentiles. The day will come when those who are not believers will come seeking the LORD and His Word. They will answer this call to go to hear God and to learn from His wisdom. Our relationship with God acts as a call to those who do not yet believe. They see our faith and wonder what it is that gives us that joy and peace that is visible in the way we live. Why are we a little happier waiting in the checkout lines? Why are we more willing to give bags of food at a time when our own purse strings are tightening? Why are we excited about going to a boring worship service with a bunch of hypocrites? What is it about Jesus that makes our life different?
Isaiah says, “O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of Jehovah.” We are that house of Jacob now. We are the witnesses of God’s light and love and mercy. While individual prayer and devotional time is a good thing, and is encouraged for everyone to help make their hectic lives a little more peaceful, we are sent into the world to share that peace with others. They will not see the Christ in Christmas if we are too busy to share Him with them.
The psalmist writes, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go unto the house of Jehovah.” Those who hear the Gospel message and experience the love and mercy of God are glad when they discover that which has been with them all along. God is not relying on us to fight the culture war with Facebook memes about keeping Christ in Christmas. God’s presence is in this world whether or not we spend all day with our families on Thanksgiving or boycott the stores that they open earlier and earlier each year. He’s relying on each of us as Christians to shine His light.
Paul writes to the Christians in Rome that salvation is nearer at that moment than when they first became believers. That promise is continued into our day. We know this is true, and yet we wonder. So much time has passed since Paul wrote his letters. It might be closer, but it is so easy to become apathetic. We’ve heard for two thousand years that each day brings us closer to the day when Christ will come again. But it is hard to wait anxiously for something that doesn’t seem to be coming. But we are called to wait patiently, to look forward to the birth of the King and remember that the King will come again. We live between the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Until that day, we are called to live in Christ, who is as present now as He was then and as He will be in that day.
We dwell in a world full of darkness, even when it appears there is light. But the True Light dwells among us, too, and we are sent out into the world to live in faith and shine that light to others. Remember that Christ is with you always, whatever the days of Advent hold for you. These weeks will be filled with opportunities and choices. How will you answer His call? Will you keep your faith separate from your quest for the perfect Christmas or will you be ready at a moment’s notice to be generous with His grace? Christ came. Christ is here. Christ will come again. Let us live today remembering the past, embracing the present and looking forward to the future as we dwell in His presence always.
“We are bound to give thanks to God always to you, brethren, even as it is meet, for that your faith growth exceedingly, and the love of each one of you all toward one another aboundeth; so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which ye endure; which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God; to the end that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: if so be that it is righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you, and to you that are afflicted rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire; rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at in all them that believed (because our testimony unto you was believed) in that day. To which end we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfil every desire of goodness and every work of faith, with power; that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12, ASV
We are so very blessed. We should be singing songs of thanksgiving every day of our lives for the many gifts God has given us. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln asked all Americans to set aside one day a year, the final Thursday in November, to give thanks to God. Many people think that Thanksgiving is merely a holiday to remember the early settlers. In school, the children learn about the Pilgrims and Indians, recreate The First Thanksgiving, and get a few days off. At home, we say a five-minute grace thanking God for our material blessings, eat too much food, and then watch parades and football all day.
I have a non-American friend who was surprised when I said Thanksgiving was about thanking God for our blessings. We have forgotten why Abraham Lincoln set apart this day. In his proclamation, he said, “It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” Thanksgiving was eventually moved to the fourth Thursday in November, and we are all preparing to travel to see friends and family or are in the kitchen preparing the food.
Facebook has been filled with statuses thanking God for family and friends, for all blessings, for food and shelter, for work and health. It is so wonderful to see people express their thanks for all these things. Paul was always thankful for the people with whom he did ministry and he wasn’t afraid to show it. In all this letters, Paul personally thanks those who have helped him, those who have encouraged him, those who have lived the faith-filled life to the glory of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. May we all do the same for those who have had an impact on our life and our faith.
On this day in America, families will stuff their faces with turkey, spend all day in front of the TV watching parades and football, and enjoy the company of those they love. I pray that in the midst of the fun and fellowship we will enjoy, that each of us will take time to give thanks to God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ for the great and many blessings of this life. Keep your Lord at the center of this joyous day and your entire life and remember that God has called you to a life of faithful living which glorifies Him every day.
“So he cometh to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph: and Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. For his disciples were gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman therefore saith unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, who am a Samaritan woman? (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said unto unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his sons, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life. The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come all the way hither to draw. Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered and said unto him, I have no husband. Jesus saith unto her, Thou saidst well, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: this hast thou said truly. The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father. Ye worship that which ye know not: we worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the Father seek to be his worshippers. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth. The woman saith unto him, I know that Messiah cometh (he that is called Christ): when he is come, he will declare unto us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.” John 4:5-26, ASV
We have a flowing water fountain for the cats. They drink out of other bowls we have scattered throughout the house, but their favorite is the one with the flowing water. They drink out of the waterfall, where the water is at its freshest. See, flowing water stays clean, unlike water that is trapped, which becomes stagnant. You’ll find much better water in a running stream than in a landlocked lake. It is even worse when the silt is disturbed and distributed through the water. In a running stream, that silt is quickly carried away. In a standing pond, you have to wait for the silt to sink to the bottom to find clean water.
The woman at the well was an outsider in the village where she lived. She didn’t travel with the other women early in the morning to get the water, when the silt in the well was at the bottom and the water was cool. By the time they returned to their homes, they had disturbed the silt and the heat of the day made the water almost undrinkable. But she was not welcome with the other women because of her past. So, she settled for the water at noontime.
Her timing was impeccable, however, as she encountered the Lord Jesus at that well. She had a conversation with Him that changed her life. As a rabbi, Jesus would have been expected to ignore her, but He did not hesitate to spend time with her. She was taken aback by His request for water. “You are a Jew, how can you ask me for a drink?” Jesus told her that He was the Messiah. She was one of the few who heard it from His own lips, and in the end she believed.
Have you ever thought about how quickly Jesus went in and out of people’s lives? For many of them, their experience was a very brief encounter. He touched them, healed them, forgave them, taught them, and then He moved on to another. The affects of His presence were long lasting. This encounter was longer than most, this Samaritan woman was drawn into His presence by His conversation with her. He knew her. He loved her. He forgave her. And He called her to a new life.
He offered her the living water, which she thought at first was a stream where she could get good water for her home: cool and clean and fresh. But He offered her something even better, Himself. Jesus met her where she was, in her sin and in the fringes of her world, but He changed it all. He washed the silt away and left her new and fresh and clean to begin anew as His own. Jesus is not able to quench our physical thirst like a glass of cold, clean, fresh water, but He does quench the thirst that goes deep into our soul.
When we are changed by the faith that Jesus gives to us, we are called to that new life. He, the Living Water, washes away our sin, forgives us, changes us and sends us back into the world to live as new creatures. He doesn’t send us back to continue wallowing in the stagnant water, drinking the mud and living as if we had never been changed. He forgives, and then calls us to new life. He welcomes us and sends us forward, not back into our old ways. We don’t know what happened to the woman, except that she shared her experience with others in the village who believed her enough to go see for themselves. Did she return to the man who was not her husband? Did she try to live a different life? We may never know, but we do know that Jesus has met us at the well, and invited us to drink Him in, transformed by His grace and to be something better, something new. He doesn’t want us to go back to the life that causes us to drink the silty, stagnant water, but welcomes us to follow Him where we will always have the Living Water to quench our deepest thirst.