Welcome to the October 2006 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes

























A WORD FOR TODAY, October 2006

October 2, 2006

Scriptures for October 8, 2006: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds; who being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become by so much better than the angels, as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they… For not unto angels did he subject the world to come, whereof we speak. But one hath somewhere testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; Thou crownedst him with glory and honor, And didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou didst put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he subjected all things unto him, he left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we see not yet all things subjected to him. But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he should taste of death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, In the midst of the congregation will I sing thy praise.

Balmoral is Queen Elizabeth’s country estate in Scotland, one of several homes she visits throughout the year. It is a lovely estate far from the typical tourist paths like Edinburgh or London. It is even farther north than Loch Ness, where relatively few people tend to wander. We decided to take the journey to Balmoral during a visit to Scotland a few years ago. It was more than four hours from the hotel where we were staying. The drive was lovely, but desolate. The sheep ruled the hillsides, and in many places the roads.

When we visited Holyrood, the Queen’s palace in Edinburgh, one of the staff members told us that Queen Elizabeth was expecting to spend some time at Balmoral that week. We were disappointed that we could not tour Holyrood because she was in residence and they close it off for they security and comfort of the queen. The staff member told us, however, that she is much more relaxed at Balmoral, often mingling with the crowds who are visiting while she is there. We planned our trip to Balmoral on the day she was expected to arrive. Unfortunately, she was not yet there by the time we had to leave to get back to our room for the evening.

At first we were amazed to discover that she would mingle with strangers, but we realized that it was a wonderful opportunity to be a normal person for a moment. There are constantly people watching and listening to what she has to say and do. She holds a unique position in the world which requires constant vigilance. She can’t just sit down and have a cup of tea with a neighbor, such meetings are scheduled, planned and executed with precision. At Balmoral, she can let her hair down a bit and relax, perhaps because it is so far off the beaten path. Buckingham, Windsor or even Sandringham (her country estate in England) are too accessible, thus too dangerous for her to be seen. These places are shut down when she’s in residence, or at least the access is severely limited for her protection.

Imagine what it must have been like for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, walking in the presence of God. Though God was Creator and they were the creation, they were able to mingle with Him and enjoy His presence. Imagine what it must have been like to be with Jesus. Though He was holy, He became one of us. He was the Word of God incarnate, but He was also a man. He was the Son of God while being a son of man. In this passage, we see both the human and divine aspect of Jesus. We are encouraged by the fact that Jesus was so fully human that He shared our experiences with us, including death. Yet, we also see that He was so fully divine that He is the One through whom all things exist. He walked with His disciples as God walked with Adam and Eve, and He still walks with us today.


October 3, 2006

Scriptures for October 8, 2006: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

Mark 10:2-16 And there came unto him Pharisees, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? trying him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. But Jesus said unto them, For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of the creation, Male and female made he them. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh: so that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house the disciples asked him again of this matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her: and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery. And they were bringing unto him little children, that he should touch them: and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was moved with indignation, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me; forbid them not: for to such belongeth the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein. And he took them in his arms, and blessed them, laying his hands upon them.

At first read, this passage seems to have two disconnected points – one to do with marriage and the other to do with children. For some, the connection has to do with the fact that women and children were irrelevant in that society. The fact that Jesus showed concern for their welfare – whether it was protecting a woman from being cast away from a marriage for trivial reasons or giving little ones the love and attention they both need and deserve – was counter cultural, so the texts fit together by showing Jesus as one willing to bread down walls and include those who are normally excluded.

It might also be said that the connection between these two lessons has to do with the fact that marriage is for the purpose of making two people into one flesh, and that one flesh could very well be seen as those little children that were created out of the union of man and woman.

Breaking apart a marriage through divorce does more than divide two people. It divides the heart and soul of the children who are affected by the separation. Though there might be very valid reasons for divorce, we can’t ignore the fact that separation does affect people other than the man and the woman. It divides the community that is created by the joining of two people. Even if there aren’t children, divorce breaks apart two families, families that are made one by the marriage. This can, and often in fact does, affect the spiritual welfare of the entire community.

Most of all, however, the joining of man and woman is an earthly representation of the relationship God has designed between Himself and His people. The scriptures describe this relationship like a marriage, with God as the husband and His people – or the Church – as His helper. Divorce would be a dividing of something much greater than just a family; it would be a division of the Kingdom of God. Also, we cause division when we send the children away, for God has blessed them with the kingdom.


October 4, 2006

Scriptures for October 8, 2006: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

What is man, that thou art mindful of him?

Today is the Feast day for St. Francis of Assisi. Most people are familiar with this saint, statues bearing his likeness grace the gardens of many animal lovers. St. Francis was known for being a very gentle being, his charm able to sooth even the most savage beast. Many churches will hold special services on this day, offering a chance for the people to present their animals for blessing.

St. Francis is remembered for his simple life of poverty. Yet he did not begin life poor. As a matter of fact, he was the son of a very wealthy merchant and it is thought that his mother was even born into nobility. As a child he was spoiled with everything his heart desired. As a young man, he lived a life of pleasure, wearing fine clothes and fully immersing himself in the social activities of the nobles. He was a soldier who sought victory and honor. He enjoyed the wealth of his father and the opportunities his position provided.

However, he began to dream and have visions, hearing a voice that guided his life. Eventually he devoted his life to service to God, giving up everything for the sake of his new love. His was described as having “wedded Lady Poverty.” He devoted his life to serving the poor and sick, founding an order of monks devoted to the same rule of obedience, poverty and chastity.

It might seem odd to talk about a man like St. Francis during a week when marriage and children is the focus of the texts. However important these topics are to the passages we read, the passages are also about something more general – relationships – and deeper – our relationship with God. The psalmist asks, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” Who are we that God is willing to establish not only a relationship between Himself and the world, but also between people so that no one will be alone.

Though Francis’ life seems more like that of Adam before the creation of Eve, unmarried and seemingly lonely except for the animals, Francis does give us an image of the most important relationship in our life – between God and man. With God as the husband and St. Francis as His helper, he is the embodiment of what God intends for the Church – a loving entity that is concerned about the care of God’s creation and God’s kingdom.

Some of the historians that have told the story of St. Francis have included stories meant to reflect the life of Christ in the life of Francis. This is true of many of the saints – stories are exaggerated to give the saints a fuller and more Christ-centered life. Francis was known to have experienced stigmata – visual wounds on the body similar to those of Jesus, received during a period of intense prayer. He hid the wounds until his death, not wishing the fame that might come from those who would pilgrimage to see such a thing. His radical poverty, itinerant nature and selfless servant-hood are certainly reflections on the life and love of Christ. In that life of obedience, poverty and chastity, St. Francis was able to experience the deep and loving relationship between Father and son, between husband and helpmate, between God and man that shines God’s grace throughout the world.


October 5, 2006

Scriptures for October 15, 2006: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 Seek Jehovah, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, and there be none to quench it in Beth-el. Ye who turn justice to wormwood, and cast down righteousness to the earth… They hate him that reproveth in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly. Forasmuch therefore as ye trample upon the poor, and take exactions from him of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink the wine thereof. For I know how manifold are your transgressions, and how mighty are your sins-ye that afflict the just, that take a bribe, and that turn aside the needy in the gate from their right. Therefore he that is prudent shall keep silence in such a time; for it is an evil time. Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live; and so Jehovah, the God of hosts, will be with you, as ye say. Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish justice in the gate: it may be that Jehovah, the God of hosts, will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.

The cross is often used as a visual representation of the relationships in our lives. The pole or column indicates the relationship between God and man, between heaven and earth. The crosspiece indicates the relationships between people, reaching out from the center to the ends of the earth. Both parts of the cross are necessary for it to be complete, and so it is with relationships. We need to be in relationship both with God and with one another to be whole. As we saw in last week’s Old Testament lesson, the Man was alone even though he was with God. God gave him other creatures, and then the Woman, so that he would not be alone.

The relationship with God takes some work on our part. Amos writes, “Seek Jehovah.” While God does come to us, and most dramatically He came to us in Jesus and on the cross, we are called to seek Him. We could not find Him if He hid His face from us, but we can miss His face if we do not seek Him. We seek Him through prayer, through worship and through His Word. The pole or column of the cross is a two way street. God reaches down to touch us as we are reaching up to reach Him. Thank God He reaches down because we could never reach high enough to touch Him.

The people to whom Amos was speaking might have appeared to have the ‘right’ relationship with God, but their earthly relationships proved otherwise. They were trampling on the poor, hating those who called for repentance. They were unjust, untrustworthy and uncharitable.

Amos calls the people to a different kind of life. He says, “Seek good.” When we seek goodness by living a life of justice, trust and charity, we will see the God of hosts. Those relationships with the people in this world – not only those that we choose to love, but also our neighbors and those who are unlovable, we will see the face of God. We were not meant to live alone, but to live amongst all the creatures of the earth – even those we might not like very much. See, those whom we hate we treat with unkindness and injustice. When we do this, we make it impossible to live and experience the relationship we are called to have with God. We can’t reach toward heaven if we aren’t reaching out to one another. God can’t reach out to us if we are too busy hurting others.


October 6, 2006

Scriptures for October 15, 2006: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

Psalm 90:12-17  So teach us to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom. Return, O Jehovah; How long? And let it repent thee concerning thy servants. Oh satisfy us in the morning with thy lovingkindness, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil. Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory upon their children. And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; Yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.

The Psalmist today asks God a simple question, “How long?” Tradition holds that this was a song of Moses. It was written, perhaps, during a time of trial brought on by the hard hearts of God’s people. The Hebrews wandered in the desert for forty years. This unfortunate detour of their travels was not because God wanted them to be hungry and thirsty, or that He could not find the way. They wandered for forty years because they rebelled against God at Mount Sinai. During those years of wandering, the Hebrews complained about everything; they even thought it would be better to go back into slavery in Egypt than to continue wandering in the desert and eating manna.

The question “How long?” makes a great deal of sense to us. When we are in the midst of trying times, when we are facing trials and temptations, we wonder how long we will have to suffer. We cry out to God seeking some sense of the time. Will we hurt for a long time or for a brief moment? Our cry is for the time to be short, for God to have mercy. We ask God to relent, to repent of the course He has set before us. We seek His mercy and pray for His compassion. We seek His steadfast love.

When we ask the question “How long?” we are usually looking for a number. We like to define time according to our clocks. Human beings have always tried to make His world fit into our ability to define and measure everything. We have determined that there are 60 seconds to a minute, 60 minutes to an hour, 24 hours to a day, 7 days to a week and 52 weeks to a year. But God has designed the world around us to move perfectly according to His good and perfect will. We can’t make it fit into our own understanding of time and space. We can’t even work to make ourselves perfect, let alone the creation. This is why we seek God. Only He can control the days, weeks and months, and only He knows the course our life is ordained to go. He gives life and He takes it. He guides and directs our footsteps.

We might ask God to define the time according to our understanding, but God will give us something better. He will help us to number our days – to realize that our time is short and that it will be best used according to His will and purpose. God gives us all we need to live in this world and the next. He has mercy and grants forgiveness that we might truly have more than earthly time, giving us an eternity to spend praising His holy name. He will help us to live through our times of trouble with the hope of what is to come, and He will help us to work according to His grace. Thanks be to God.


October 9, 2006

Hebrews 4:12-16 For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Having then a great high priest, who hath passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need.

Titles are not an inherently bad thing, for they help us to distinguish between different positions and job responsibilities. For instance, if a person is new to a corporation, it helps to know the difference between the CEO, the Chairman of the Board and other board members. It might be hard to distinguish by name or clothes, so as introductions are made the titles give the new person an understanding of who is in charge or who they should approach for certain information.

However, human beings are very good at making titles something pompous and extraordinary. They take something simple and make it complicated to give themselves a boost in ego or a seemingly higher position in this world. The actual job title is preceded with words like “great,” “grand,” “chief,” “senior,” or “lord.” Other amplifiers that are used are “honorable,” “prestigious,” “right worshipful,” or “magnificent.” I am sure we could come up with dozens of others. These words might be helpful in some situations, but in most cases they simply raise an ordinary person to some extraordinary position. In England, for example, the mayor of a town is addressed “the Right Worshipful, the Mayor.” This seems like an extreme title for any man or woman.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that we have a “great high priest” adding an amplifier to the role of the most important leader in the temple. Yet, this title is not given to a man, but to Jesus Christ. Is it necessary and what does it mean? For some, the titles almost make it seem as though they are beyond humanity, something above the average person.

Yet, in the case of Jesus as High Priest, it is not simply a title to make Him greater than others. As a matter of fact, the title itself actually identifies Him more with His human brothers and sisters. A priest is not one who rules over a people, but rather one who serves God and man. A priest is a servant and in the case of Jesus, the perfect servant who though He was tempted He never sinned. Though the human response to such greatness would tend to make such a man unreachable, in the case of Christ this is a virtue that makes Him even more gracious. He knows what we are experiencing, so He offers mercy. The pompous sounding title does not make Him beyond our reach. Instead, He calls us to approach Him with boldness. Thanks be to God.


October 10, 2006

Scriptures for October 15, 2006: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

Mark 10:17-31  And as he was going forth into the way, there ran one to him, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good save one, even God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor thy father and mother. And he said unto him, Teacher, all these things have I observed from my youth. And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. But his countenance fell at the saying, and he went away sorrowful: for he was one that had great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they were astonished exceedingly, saying unto him, Then who can be saved? Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for all things are possible with God. Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake, and for the gospel's sake, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.

What would you think if someone came up to you and offered you a million dollars? If you are normal, one of your first reactions will be the question, “What do I have to do?” We know that in this world no one gives something so extravagant without expecting something in return. We even feel like we have to reciprocate dinners, presents or good deeds. We want to pay for everything, even gifts. We are so cynical that we won’t even accept a simple act of kindness without trying to pay it back.

On the surface, today’s story seems to be about a man who honors and respects Jesus and His teachings. Mark tells us that he ran up to Jesus, knelt before Him and called Him “Good teacher.” This is little more than flattery spoken by someone who is looking to have Jesus justify the life he was living. The young man is said to be quite wealthy. It is possible that he was even part of the ruling class – perhaps even a Pharisee. He wanted Jesus to tell him what he needed to do to earn a place in heaven.

Jesus’ initial answer was uplifting to the young man. Jesus quoted the Decalogue, listing the laws that involved relationships between human beings. The man could easily respond that he has never killed, cheated, stolen, lied or coveted and he honored his parents. “Teacher, all these things have I observed from my youth.” He is a good man, good according to the expectations of the world around him. I can almost hear Jesus’ sigh; I hear it every time I think of myself as a good person. I too can say that I have lived up to the words of the law. I’m fairly generous with the resources I have and I try to do kindnesses for my neighbors.

“And Jesus looking upon him loved him.” We aren’t much different than the rich young ruler. We want to know what we have to do to earn the kingdom of heaven. We respond to Jesus’ answer in the passage with a sigh of relief. It should be easy for us to earn heaven because we are generally good people. Murder, theft, adultery don’t tend to be part of our daily lifestyle. We even try to bring our good life before the Good Teacher with humbleness and respect. “I have done all these things.” Jesus looks upon us with love.

Yet, in love He responds with a greater expectation. “One thing you lack,” He continues. Even though we do everything right and are even quite generous with our resources, we still have something in our life that is more important. We aren’t willing to give it all up for God. We aren’t willing to let go of our old life and follow Christ without burdens and baggage. For this rich young ruler, the burden was wealth. He became quite sad when Jesus told him that he had to sell everything, give it to the poor and then follow. He walked away because Jesus expected too much.

I wonder if the response would have been different if Jesus had said, “Give half your stuff to the poor.” The man would then have still had enough to survive in the world without relying on the charity of others. He would have had a place to hang his hat. He would have had finances to support the ministry he may have been willing to do. Jesus said, “Get rid of it all.” The young man wanted to know what he had to do to earn what God was giving for free, so Jesus made the payment beyond the young man’s ability to pay.

When the disciples asked, “Then who can be saved?” The truth is that no one can be saved by their own goodness or good works. But Jesus answered, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for all things are possible with God.” Now this is good news. God is offering us a gift worth far more than a million dollars and He is asking nothing in return. When we ask what we have to do to earn this gift, the cost is always beyond our ability to give. How will we respond? Will we respond with sadness and turning away from God or will we truly be humbled by His amazing grace?


October 11, 2006

Scriptures for October 15, 2006: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

One thing thou lackest: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.

St. Teresa of Avila was born in a time of great upheaval in the world. A few years before, Christopher Columbus found the new world and adventurers were traveling to distant lands in search of wealth and fame. A few years later, Martin Luther fought against the mammon-centered focus of the Church which was selling indulgences to build a bigger and more ornate building in Rome.

Even the Carmelite nunnery, in which she had committed her life to serving God, sought wealth above piety. As a matter of fact, the nuns were known to dress in finery to entertain visitors in the parlor of the convent. Teresa taught lessons on prayer for money to aid the financial position of the house. It was thought that wealth bred respect, so the nuns sought wealth to earn the respect of the community. The nuns were even sent out into the world to live among the people – not to serve, but in search of gain for the order.

Teresa was not a particularly righteous or “saintly” woman. As a matter of fact, she is as known for her ability to create trouble as she is for piety. Even in prayer, Teresa the mystic provided fodder for her detractors. At a very young age, she convinced her brother to leave home with her to go be beheaded by the Moors. She was charming and well liked. She considered her greatest vice her enjoyment of her friends. She joined the Carmelite order not because she was particularly called to serve God, but because it seemed like the easier path for her to take. As she grew older she focused her life more on God and her prayer life developed into something misunderstood by many as being a gift of the devil. Though she went out into the world reforming the Carmelite order, she also retreated into herself where she found great comfort in the presence of God.

She succeeded in creating a reform movement, establishing houses for nuns that centered on God rather than power, position or wealth. It was a simple life, living strictly in the monastery. They identified with the poor by going shoeless. Though money was not the goal the sisters worked hard to earn enough to support the community and their mission to serve Christ in the world.

We look at the story of the rich young ruler and we wonder what might have happened to him after he walked away from Jesus. Did he continue to live the life of wealth, seeking after the things of this world? Or did he perhaps continue to listen to Jesus and slowly come to the realization that the life he was living did not really fit God’s intention for his life? Teresa is not the best example of a saint who has turned their back on everything worldly for the sake of God and the Gospel. However, on her feast day, October 15th, we can look at her life and see that change often takes a lifetime.

When Jesus says, “one thing you lack” we are brought face to face with the truth that we too have our failings that separate us from God. Even the most pious or righteous person can’t reach God’s expectations. That’s why we need Him. St. Teresa once said, “God teats his friends terribly, though he does them no wrong in this, since he treated his Son in the same way.” Jesus’ answer to the rich young ruler seems so wrong – to require him to give up everything is beyond extreme. Yet, in this very act the man would have found something even greater. Perhaps one day he did. We might never know. We can rest in the hope that as we go through life, all too often focused on all the wrong things, we might truly understand the gift God has given by grace through His Son Jesus Christ.


October 12, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, October 22, 2006: Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

Isaiah 53:4-12 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who among them considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death; although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased Jehovah to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by the knowledge of himself shall my righteous servant justify many; and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors: yet he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

One of the longest running jokes in the cartoon called “Family Circus” shows the children hovering over something they’ve done wrong – a broken lamp, an empty cookie jar, a spilled glass of milk. Mother is standing nearby and she asks, “Who did this?” The children all answer, “Not I.” In the background there is a ghostlike creature sneaking around a corner with the words “Not I” emblazoned on its chest. This creature “Not I” has taken the blame for dozens of offenses over the years. It is the scapegoat.

A scapegoat is something or someone who bears the blame for others. In the days of the Hebrews, the scapegoat was really a goat. The priest would lay his hands upon the head of the goat and lay the sins of the people there. Then the goat was sent off into the desert or wilderness to die, taking with it the sins of the people. It was a ritual of cleansing and forgiveness, the people’s sins sent away to die in the desert so they could start anew.

Isaiah writes, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way…” We are all sinners in need of a Savior – a scapegoat. In this lesson, the scapegoat is described as a man on whom the world’s sin was laid, a lamb led to slaughter. On His head we put everything we have ever done wrong, then we sent Him to the wilderness to die so that our lives could be wiped clean of sin and we could be forgiven.

Ever since Pentecost, our focus has been on how to live the life of service we have inherited as His people of faith. The Church is called to live justly, sharing the Gospel and blessings which God has given. The life is not easy. Sometimes we will fail. Sometimes we will be confused. Sometimes we will doubt. However, we are called to walk in faith and to know that God is God.

The last few stories would be shocking if we did not know the whole story. For the people following Jesus, the idea of a suffering servant was strange. They expected a powerful redeemer, a king who would trample their enemies and set them free to be an independent and prosperous nation. They did not expect that He would suffer at the hands of men – especially not His own people. In the last few weeks, we have seen Jesus setting His feet toward Jerusalem, teaching the disciples about the depth of His servant hood. Though this passage is also identified with the suffering of Isaiah, the earliest Christians quickly recognized in the words that Jesus was the suffering servant – the scapegoat who took all our sins to the cross.


October 13, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, October 22, 2006: Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

Psalm 91:9-16 For thou, O Jehovah, art my refuge! Thou hast made the Most High thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy tent. For he will give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: The young lion and the serpent shalt thou trample under foot. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble: I will deliver him, and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.

The devil quoted this psalm when he was tempting Jesus in the wilderness. “For he will give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” The devil was trying to convince Jesus to tempt God, to purposely put Himself into harms way to prove God’s love for Him. Jesus did not accept the challenge, responding to the devil, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” When we read scriptures like this psalm, it is easy to think that God would have us do the impossible to prove that God is our guardian and protector. After all, who in their right mind would actually tread on a lion or a snake?

This scripture is not meant to tempt us into doing stupid things to prove God. It is meant to give us hope and peace in the midst of our ministries. Sometimes it is necessary for us to tread on lions and snakes – like when we are advocating for the poor in front of government officials or when we stand up for the oppressed against the rich who hold all the power. We can rest in the knowledge that though it might be dangerous doing justice, God is with us.

In our modern world, we tend to ignore the spiritual – if we can’t see it, then it must not exist. Yet there are angels watching over us and there are demons tempting us. There is a picture by M.C. Escher called “Relativity.” A description of this amazing piece says, “Here we have three forces of gravity working perpendicularly to one another. The three earth-planes cut across each other at right angels, and human beings are living on each of them. It is impossible for the inhabitants of different worlds to walk or sit or stand on the same floor, because they have differing conceptions of what is horizontal and what is vertical. Yet, they may well share the use of the same staircase.” On one of the staircases, there are two people walking side by side, and yet they are going completely different directions and are unaware of each other.

We rarely move in the spiritual world, living in this temporal plain. Our five senses are overwhelming enough, giving us more than we can handle sometimes. Yet sometimes, God blesses us with a momentary glimpse of the world beyond this earth. We have all heard stories of people who have seen angels. Most of us can tell of moments when we knew that we were not alone, that something or someone was guiding us to a specific place for a special reason. The Bible tells of the incredible experiences of those who were given messages by God through angels such as Mary. Though it is rare for us to actually see or hear from an angel, it is comforting to know that they are always around to minister to our needs according to God’s mercy.


October 16, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, October 22, 2006: Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

Hebrews 5:1-10 For every high priest, being taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can bear gently with the ignorant and erring, for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity; and by reason thereof is bound, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no man taketh the honor unto himself, but when he is called of God, even as was Aaron. So Christ also glorified not himself to be made a high priest, but he that spake unto him, Thou art my Son, This day have I begotten thee: as he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear, though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation; named of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Queen Victoria was known as one of the most beloved monarchs the islands of Great Britain and Ireland had ever seen. She was only nineteen years old when she was crowned queen, and she ruled for sixty-four years. She surrounded herself with people who were able to help her develop into a great and well-loved queen. Under her leadership, the country prospered in economics, industry, science, culture and the military. She was married to Albert and had nine children. Though there were servants to help with the regular household tasks, Queen Victoria and Albert were actively involved in the lives of their children and their household. She may have ruled a nation, but she also knew what it was like to have a home.

What made Victoria a successful leader? How was she able to prosper a nation while maintaining a loving home? At all times she sought the best for her country and people. She did not seek power, but rather humbled herself by consulting those who could best direct the decisions, though she did not allow them to control her. Her success was an achievement of character; her reign was one of honesty and simplicity. Living as a queen was not an easy task. She faced difficult decisions, the assault of her enemies and the burden of so many lives in her hands. Yet, she was able to change her world.

I wonder if Queen Victoria ever wished that she had a different life. Did she wish that she could live in the thatched roof cottage on the edge of town, caring for her children and her husband? Did she want to let go of the responsibility and all that went with it, even the glory, at those times when things were so difficult? She did not choose to be queen; it was thrust upon her by the luck of birth and by the grace of God. Yet, she did choose to be obedient to the call from her nation and from her Lord. Through it all, she remained queen for as long as she was able.

I doubt that any of us will ever know the kind of position and responsibility of Queen Victoria, yet we are all called to some positions of authority during our life. Sometimes we chase after these roles, but often they are thrust upon us by circumstances or providence. Though Queen Victoria provides for us an excellent example of someone who was obedient to the call, she was merely human. Even better is the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was called by His Father. Though He prayed that the cup might be taken, Jesus as obedient to the call and He followed through to the end. Through the suffering He was made perfect and was the first of many who would be called to be priests – not only ordained clergy, but part of the priesthood of all believers.

Though we look at our church calendars and think that perhaps we have too many committees, we have to realize that these are necessary for the day to day running of the institution. The positions of authority, of responsibility, are important. They are sometimes hard. They require sacrifice. They require suffering, even at the hands of those to whom they have been given as leaders. If we are the ones called, then we would do well to walk in faith and humble joy at the opportunity and to do so with love, remembering that authority comes not from our own effort, but from God’s grace and calling.


October 17, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, October 22, 2006: Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

Mark 10:35-45 And there come near unto him James and John, the sons of Zebedee, saying unto him, Teacher, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall ask of thee. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? And they said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and one on thy left hand, in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We are able. And Jesus said unto them, The cup that I drink ye shall drink; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on my right hand or on my left hand is not mine to give; but it is for them for whom it hath been prepared. And when the ten heard it, they began to be moved with indignation concerning James and John. And Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they who are accounted to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you: but whosoever would become great among you, shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you, shall be servant of all. For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

For the last few weeks we have been following Jesus and the disciples on a journey. He has set His face toward Jerusalem and while in transit He has been teaching the disciples some of the hardest lessons they will need to learn before He dies. He has told them that He will be persecuted, will die and will be raised again. He has told them that this is necessary. We do not read the passage immediately before our lesson at this time of year, but in it we see Jesus telling them a third time. This is not a lesson that has been hidden inside stories or parables. Mark tells us in 9:32 that Jesus spoke plainly about this.

In the midst of these lessons has been an attempt by Jesus to turn their thinking. They ministry was taking off. People were following them around. People were seeking them for help and to witness the awesome power of God. They have seen it themselves and have been the vessel through which it had come. It doesn’t take very long for success to get into our heads. It was no different for the disciples. Though they had some failure, they also saw all the amazing things going on around them and they knew that they were a part of it.

James and John were probably among the first to have visions of power. They were called “the Sons of Thunder,” probably because they had a quick temper and a strong demeanor. John was the one who told Jesus to stop the healer a few weeks ago. James and John asked Jesus if they should call down fire and brimstone on a Samaritan village that did not offer them hospitality. They were quick to respond and tempted to use strength. For them, the ideas of humility, believing like children, acting like servants and being last were foreign. It also seems as though they are the least likely to understand the necessary path for Jesus.

In the passage immediately before our Gospel lesson, Jesus told them why they were going toward Jerusalem. It says the disciples were astonished and the crowds were afraid. They all knew it was a foolish move, that going to Jerusalem meant trouble. Yet, it was only in Jerusalem that Jesus could truly take His position of power and authority. It was only there He could become king.

James and John saw this as their opportunity. Despite the fact that Jesus just told them again that He would die at the hands of the leaders in Jerusalem, James and John still had hope. They had hope that Jesus would become the king they sought. Jesus had power over illness, authority over demons. Surely He could overcome whatever opposition waited for them in Jerusalem? So, they went to Him with their request. The lessons of humility, child-like faith, servant hood and low position meant nothing. They wanted to still be first. We aren’t much different.


October 18, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, October 22, 2006: Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

But it is not so among you: but whosoever would become great among you, shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you, shall be servant of all.

One of the most important things you learn in training to be a lifeguard is that a drowning person is incredibly strong and desperate to be saved. He or she is so desperate that they will fight with all their might, even to the point of putting the lifesaver in danger. So, we were taught to approach the victim from the rear, where they can not see you, to grasp them in a way that they can not get a hold. A drowning person can drown a trained lifeguard by the strength of their fear.

People drown in many different ways. We drown in debt. We drown in passion. We drown in our quest for material possessions. We want to be in control of that particular aspect of our life, so we do whatever is necessary to keep our heads above water. The deeper we get, the more desperate we get, the more we fight to keep alive. Unfortunately, when we fight, we tend to grasp at things that will not save us, but will make us drown even more. Take, for instance, the person in financial difficulty. How many people will go and spend a fortune on gambling or lottery tickets to overcome great debt? I’ve known stories of people who have borrowed money from family or friends to help in their recovery, but have gambled away the funds in hopes of making it grow. In the end everyone loses – the victim and the lifesaver who tried to help them out of their problems.

Jesus has become increasingly focused on the impending persecution and death that He would face. He was completely in control of the situation, but the matter seemed to the disciples to be out of control. With each new story, with each new proclamation, Jesus was showing them how it had to be. Yet, that vision was so different than the vision they held of a kingdom that ruled their lives in that time and in that place. Death and suffering had little to do with what they expected. They were drowning in the fear of what they were about to face.

So, they began to fight. They fought with each other about who was the greatest. They fought with the crowds about what Jesus should be doing with His time. They fought with Jesus about the expectations of a person living in God’s kingdom. James and John, who were quick tempered and strength minded, weren’t ready to go down the road Jesus on which Jesus wanted them to walk. They weren’t interested in death or suffering. They wanted power and authority.

Jesus answered their request with a question, “Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They answered, “Yes,” but they had no idea what that meant. Jesus knew that to follow Him into the kingdom meant persecution, suffering and death but then ultimately resurrection. This is as true today for those who would follow Jesus. We too must share in the baptism that Jesus is baptized with and drink the cup that He drank. This will not bring us to a position of power or authority; we will not rule according to the ways of the world. Instead, we will be counted as brothers and sisters of Christ, sharing in His humility, His suffering and His death. We also share in His servant hood, joining with Him to share the love of God with the world.


October 19, 2006

Scriptures for October 29, 2006: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Sunday, October 29th is also Reformation Sunday. This week we will be following the regular lectionary scriptures.

Jeremiah 31:7-9 For thus saith Jehovah, Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout for the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O Jehovah, save thy people, the remnant of Israel. Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the uttermost parts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall they return hither. They shall come with weeping; and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by rivers of waters, in a straight way wherein they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born.

We live in a fast growing area where the school district recently added a second high school. We live within the boundaries of the new school, but Vicki still attends the old school. Next year Zack will attend the new school, so we’ll have a Senior and a Freshman at competing schools.

The schools are in the same division, so they compete against one another in sports, artistic and academic contests. The big football game this year was the first contest between these two schools. Despite the students who moved, the new school had very little experience in competition and was not expected to do well this season. The students at the old school approached the big game with a sense of superiority. They are a winning team, doing very well in district and regional competitions. The game was expected to be a blow-out.

The first half of the big game proved otherwise. The team from the new school was stronger than expected and they were fighting much harder to prove themselves. There was a transformation during halftime and the old school came back with a vengeance. By halfway through the fourth quarter, the old school was trampling the rivals. With just a few minutes to go on the clock, I thought that they had scored more than enough to win so I thought that they should hold back a bit and I said, “There’s no need to humiliate the other team.” A girl in front of me turned and said, “Oh, yes there is!” Fan loyalty is strong. She believed that her team was the greatest and that they should do whatever was possible to prove it.

It is hard for us to imagine the nation of Israel as the greatest nation in the world, particularly in this day when there are so many problems in the Middle East. There was a time, however, when she was very prosperous, having fame and wealth that was known around the world. Yet, for most of her existence she was nothing more than a people, often oppressed by nations much greater, destroyed by their weapons and controlled by their authorities. She had little to offer the world, but she had the greatest gift to give – the one true and living God. Her greatness had nothing to do with power or money. She was great in the eyes of God.

The big game next year will be very interesting. Do I go wearing the t-shirt of my daughter’s school or my son’s school? Which team will hear my cheers? Where will I sit? There will come a time, very soon, that the two teams will be equally as strong. The battle will be tougher. One will win and one will lose. Yet, the opposite might be true the next time. No matter what happens, the fans will always be loyal to their team, cheering them on and thinking they are the greatest.

Israel would not be considered the greatest anything based on their history, wealth or power. Yet, she is called the chief of nations in the scriptures. Her greatness is in the eyes of one beholder, the Lord God Almighty. He has promised to do great things for this chosen nation, and He has done so. He has given His Son, Jesus Christ, through the weak and powerless so that the weak and powerless will become great. In Christ we who are nothing become heirs to the kingdom of God. When the world looks at Christianity, they see a bunch of sinners in need of a Savior – a bunch of losers in need of a Redeemer – and wonder what is so great about a religion in which the main character dies. How can such a religion be great? It is great, not because Christians are perfect or special or powerful, but because God is a loyal fan.


October 20, 2006

Scriptures for October 29, 2006: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Sunday, October 29th is also Reformation Sunday. This week we will be following the regular lectionary scriptures.

Psalm 126:1-6 When Jehovah brought back those that returned to Zion, We were like unto them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing: Then said they among the nations, Jehovah hath done great things for them. Jehovah hath done great things for us, Whereof we are glad. Turn again our captivity, O Jehovah, As the streams in the South. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

There is a new show on NBC called “Studio 60.” It is a show about a live late-night comedy show. Each episode shows the highs and the lows of creating and presenting a live broadcast, the difficulties faced by the writers, actors, producers and directors. They face complaints from the sponsors, the audience and the network management. They face decisions that could mean offense, but often choose the hard way for the sake of the laugh.

The thing that makes this show particularly interesting is that they have a lead character who is a strong Christian. The fictional program tends to take many swipes at the Christian community, making fun of the extreme actions and words of some Christians in our world. The Christian comedian often stands against some of skits, not because she has no sense of humor, but because the jokes are simply not funny. She will just as firmly stand up for the skits that are funny, the skits that poke fun but that do so with grace and mercy. She knows that the truth is often very funny and that laughing at ourselves does a soul good. In other words, when we see how ridiculous we are, we can truly see how gracious and loving our Lord truly is.

There are those who might question how she, a Christian, can hold down such a job. They are offended by her presence and even question her Christianity. On a recent episode, she told a reporter how she came to be a comedian. She was always interested in performing and singing, she appeared in church plays. She loved Judy Holliday. During one performance, she forgot a line and broke out into a Judy Holliday impression. Everyone was stunned until the pastor laughed. It was at that moment that she became a comedian. It was also then that she committed her life to Christ. In essence, she became a Christian and a comedian at the same time.

Though the bible often refers to laughter in the negative, joy is a gift from God. We can laugh – at ourselves and at our failures. We can laugh together and enjoy one another. Some of the fondest memories I have were times when I laughed. I remember a time giggling uncontrollably with my mom on a trip. We even laugh in the midst of tears, as we share memories of loved ones who have gone.

The psalm talks of the joy experienced by Israel after being freed from exile, the joy they knew at returning home. They knew the great thing God had done for them and they rejoiced. There are certainly inappropriate times to laugh. There is humor that is hurtful and unmerciful. However, it is good for us to laugh at ourselves and our foibles. It is especially good for us to live in joy. The world will see our joy and know that the Lord has done great things. Though we have to experience times of sadness, we can live in the hope that we will come through and we will once again laugh. Thanks be to God.


October 23, 2006

Scriptures for October 29, 2006: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Sunday, October 29th is also Reformation Sunday. This week we will be following the regular lectionary scriptures.

Hebrews 7:23-28 And they indeed have been made priests many in number, because that by death they are hindered from continuing: but he, because he abideth for ever, hath his priesthood unchangeable. Wherefore also he is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such a high priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people: for this he did once for all, when he offered up himself. For the law appointeth men high priests, having infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was after the law, appointeth a Son, perfected for evermore.

Jane Wyatt, the actress who played one of television’s favorite mothers, died last Friday. She had led a long and active life and she died in her sleep of old age. She starred in many other roles throughout her life, but she will be most remembered for being Margaret Anderson, the wife of Robert Young’s character Jim. There are those who thought that shows such as “Father Knows Best” had an unrealistic vision of the world in which they lived. No family was like the television families, yet they felt that it was good to hold up an ideal. The characters weren’t shallow – they dealt with problems that other families were facing. They simply solved those problems much more easily. They had to, they only had 30 minutes.

As we look at today’s television families, we find examples probably reflect more closely the reality in our world. Yet, there was something very endearing about those 1950’s families, something that has lasted a long time, something that gives us some vision of a wonderful, happy life. Perhaps it is unrealistic, perhaps it is utopian. However, in those shows we saw some hope for a life that might be and they might have even helped us to become better families in some way.

Whatever good they might have done, actresses like Jane Wyatt weren’t real perfect mothers. She held that role for about six years – 207 episodes. Then it ended. And though the shows still play on cable television, we know that it is not real or lasting. Television families are temporary. The people who play the roles eventually die. The shows get outdated, the problems become irrelevant. But then, real families don’t last forever either. Parents grow old and die. New children are born and grow to begin their own families. In today’s modern world, families are divided in other ways, such as divorce.

No matter how wonderful Margaret Anderson was as a mother, she was not perfect. Her tenure as a mother was bound to end. Her life in this world was also bound to end. She would die, as we all die. We are reminded, however, that there is one who is not only perfect but He is eternal. The writer of Hebrews shows us that the old order of priests – the Levites – not permanent, the priests not only died, but they needed to present offerings for their own atonement before they could atone for the sins of the nation. However, Jesus Christ was more than just a good example of a better way. He was the way. He was the priest who presented the perfect offering, Himself. Through Him we have a hope that goes beyond today, a hope that reaches into all eternity.


October 24, 2006

Scriptures for October 29, 2006: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Sunday, October 29th is also Reformation Sunday. This week we will be following the regular lectionary scriptures.

Mark 10:46-52 And they come to Jericho: and as he went out from Jericho, with his disciples and a great multitude, the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the way side. And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And many rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried out the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood still, and said, Call ye him. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good cheer: rise, he calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, sprang up, and came to Jesus. And Jesus answered him, and said, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? And the blind man said unto him, Rabboni, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And straightway he received his sight, and followed him in the way.

Occasionally there is an article somewhere about the stars and what they do when they aren’t being stars. Most people whom we recognize – those who grace the pages of the celebrity magazine, the airwaves and the movie screens – have a life outside of their fame. What about the politicians we see in the newspapers and on the news programs? What do they do in their spare time?

I’ve heard stories of people who have been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of someone famous at the grocery store or dining at a local restaurant. They have children that need to go to school. They go shopping for Christmas presents and buy Starbucks coffee like the rest of us. Some of those articles about the stars show what they look like without their make-up. Some of the women are completely unrecognizable when they are caught without hours worth of preparation. When they pop down to the McDonald’s for dinner with their kids, they make a point of disappearing into the crowd.

There are times when you see someone that looks like a star and wonder, “Could it be?” I know that I brush it off as a coincidence, someone who has the same facial features or hair color; after all we do not expect to find famous people hanging out at the corner store. My one rare opportunity to meet someone famous happened when I was just a teenager. My mom, a friend and I were traveling. It was late at night and we were on our way home. We stopped in a rest area to grab a drink and take a break. We noticed a large bus pull in and realized that it was Rick Springfield’s tour bus. He was appearing in our state and had a concert that evening in a nearby city.

It is hard to know what to do when face to face with someone famous. If it is an actor or singer, you might ask for an autograph, but that never seems like enough. You want the moment to last, to find the appropriate words to begin a conversation. In a more innocent time a handshake or a hug would have been nice. It is too hard in our day and age. Famous folk don’t even want their photos taken because they do not know where they will be displayed. I was rather foolish, stumbling over words and asking about something that had nothing to do with his career.

What would you do if you met someone with power or authority? Would you be bold enough to approach this person? How would you react if they then asked, “What can I do for you?” How would you react? What would you ask? A politician might be able to handle a problem in your city. A corporate executive might be able to give you a job. A famous surgeon might be able to offer some medical advice. Would you be able to ask? Or would you fumble with all the wrong words asking for the wrong thing?

In today’s story, Blind Bartimaeus knew exactly what he wanted. He had the boldness to cry out to Jesus. He knew Jesus had the power and authority to help him. He kept calling out to Jesus, boldly hoping for a just a minute of his time. Bartimaeus would never have seen Jesus had it not been for his boldness. When Jesus called him over, He asked, “What can I do for you?” Most stars don’t have the time or the patience to pay attention to one person in such a large crowd, but Jesus turned His full attention to this one man. Bartimaeus was given a great gift – sight – because He was willing to be bold. But the true gift was not the sight of his eyes, but the sight of his heart, the sight that knew Jesus had the power and authority to make him well.


October 25, 2006

Scriptures for October 29, 2006: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Sunday, October 29th is also Reformation Sunday. This week we will be following the regular lectionary scriptures.

Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.

Reformation Day is on October 31st. On this day we remember the bold action of Martin Luther, who in 1517 posted ninety-five theses on the door of Wittenberg Church. The theses were written to open debate between scholars about the abuses in the Church at that time. This began a reform movement that sought to restore the Christian faith to a simpler time, to a time when the work of God, His grace, was the center of the faith.

Martin Luther was an interesting character who lived in an interesting age. Superstition was rampant. The Church and secular authorities used the fears of the people to control and to establish even greater power for themselves. They sold indulgences to raise funds to build a massive new church building in Rome and they did this by feeding the fears of hell that were held by the people. The only way anyone was going to get to heaven was to pay for it, and we could pay for others who were already dead and wallowing in purgatory until someone loved them enough to set them free.

Martin Luther was so riddled with guilt that he spent hours and hours seeking forgiveness for every minor and trivial action that was not perfect. He suffered great pains spiritually and even feared for the well-being of his parishioners. He was afraid that his unspoken sins would affect the salvation of those who were entrusted into his care. He was trying to be perfect, but when he could not be perfect he obsessed over receiving forgiveness for himself for the sake of his congregation.

One day, however, Martin Luther realized that his works would never save him, that an eternity in heaven is dependent entirely on the grace of God. The scriptures that will be used in the churches celebrating Reformation Sunday all focus on God’s grace. Yet, there is no reason why we can’t remember the reformation with the normal lectionary scriptures. The passage from Jeremiah reminds us of God’s saving work for His people, gathering them together, healing them and calling them to be His own. When Martin Luther rediscovered the amazing grace of God, he realized that it would never be his own works that would earn salvation. In faith we cry out to the God who saves.

That is what Blind Bartimaeus did on the road outside Jericho. He called out to the God who saves. He called out to Jesus, the Son of David, the one who could change his life. In a beautiful example of God’s amazing grace, Jesus stopped and called out to Bartimaeus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. Blind Bart said, “My teacher, let me see again.” He was bold enough to cry out to God in his imperfection, seeking God’s touch on his life.

That’s what Martin Luther did. It is easier for us to keep working toward our goal, to make ourselves good enough to come before the Lord. We don’t want God to see our imperfections and we fear what will happen when He does. It is much, much harder for us to cry out to God in our imperfections because we are truly afraid of what He might say. Yet, the true path, the better path, is to cry out in faith knowing that God is gracious and merciful, full of forgiveness. There is nothing we can do to earn His grace, but in faith we can boldly approach Him with our needs. He will stop and listen. He will heal. In Him, and in Him alone, we have hope. Thanks be to God.


October 26, 2006

Scriptures for All Saints Sunday, November 5, 2006: Isaiah 25:6-9 or Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9; Psalm 24:7-10; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

Isaiah 25:6-9 And in this mountain will Jehovah of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering that covereth all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He hath swallowed up death for ever; and the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth: for Jehovah hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is Jehovah; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

In a letter to Jean Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789, Benjamin Franklin said, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." We know that for every minute we live, we are just one minute closer to dying. Though we probably don’t go through our days thinking about our imminent passing, there are certainly times when it is a focus of our thoughts and prayers. When we are sick or when we are in mourning, the reality of our mortality is highlighted. Most of us would rather not think about that day, but we live our lives knowing that death is a certainty.

Yet, that’s not the way God intended it to be. Death came as a consequence of our human frailty. When Adam and Eve believed the word of the serpent above the word of the Lord, death became a physical necessity. Adam and Eve were frightened by their knowledge to even be in the presence of the holy and powerful God. God was being merciful when He cast them out of the Garden of Eden and away from the Tree of Life. Death is the better fate than an eternity afraid of God.

Yet death was never God’s intention for His people. He wanted them to have life and to have life abundantly. He wanted them to live in His presence forever. Even though Adam and Eve sinned, thus making all human flesh perishable throughout time, God overcame death and the grave so that we might live as He created us to live – in His presence for all eternity. It was Jesus who overcame death on the cross, and by that cross we are welcomed into His kingdom forever.

Though physical death is a reality, a certainty, for us – we will always know people who are dying and we will mourn over those who have died – death is not a certainty anymore. In Christ we live even when our bodies die. We are saints by God’s grace, saints by faith, saints who will never know death. He made the promise to the saints of old and we have received that same promise through God’s word and from their witness. Instead of living our life waiting for the inevitable death of our physical bodies, we are given the great gift of living eternally every day in this world. We don’t have to wait for a day in the future to become a saint. We are saints today and we join together to praise God with all the saints throughout time and space. Thanks be to God.


October 27, 2006

Scriptures for All Saints Sunday, November 5, 2006: Isaiah 25:6-9 or Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9; Psalm 24:7-10; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

Psalm 24:1-10 The earth is Jehovah's, and the fulness thereof; The world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, And established it upon the floods. Who shall ascend into the hill of Jehovah? And who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; Who hath not lifted up his soul unto falsehood, And hath not sworn deceitfully. He shall receive a blessing from Jehovah, And righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek after him, That seek thy face, even Jacob. Selah. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; And be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors: And the King of glory will come in. Who is the King of glory? Jehovah strong and mighty, Jehovah mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; Yea, lift them up, ye everlasting doors: And the King of glory will come in. Who is this King of glory? Jehovah of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah

There is a show on television called “Bridezillas.” This show follows the life and planning of brides who are perfectionists and are willing to do whatever is necessary to get their way. They have a self-centered and selfish view of the wedding, ignoring the needs and desires of everyone else. It is, after all, their day. It is the most important day of their life, so why should it matter if they spend their parents or groom into bankruptcy or drive their family and friends absolutely crazy? A great many not so nice words are used throughout the show to describe these brides.

Thus far I’ve not heard of one of these weddings canceled, though I often wonder how the groom can take the attitude. They don’t matter, their opinions are worthless and they are simply there to work and pay. There is no concern about the future or about the relationship. It is all about the bride. And everything has to be perfect.

These are intelligent and self-sufficient women. They have excellent jobs and intelligence. They have loving families who want to help them have the most special day. Yet, she is not nearly as mature as she would like to seem. Unfortunately, when a bridezilla gets going, she doesn’t worry about who she is hurting. Sadly the one who hurts the most is the bridezilla herself, who can’t see that her anger and her obsession is what is really ruining her special time. It would be so much better for her and for everyone concerned if she focused on the relationships rather than on the color of the icing on the wedding cake. She’d know a greater happiness if she built up the marriage rather than focusing all her attention and resources on that one day of her life. The fairy tale will not last and what will happen when they need to live in a marriage that has gotten off to a rocky start?

There are many Christians who are immature in their faith. They know the saving forgiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ, and as they live and learn about His life in them they think of themselves more highly than they ought. There are people who preach and teach a gospel that makes them equal with Christ. They believe that they have already reached the level of perfection that we will have when we live in eternity. They think they are sinless and know all that needs to be known about God and His kingdom. They take this knowledge and become very irresponsible with their actions.

The bridezillas want a perfect wedding, but it will never be that way as long as they keep looking for the things that go wrong. They work so hard to make it perfect and the very work makes it less than perfect. The mature attitude would be to develop the relationships and enjoy the day – forgiving the failings of others.

Human beings never reach the point of perfection that we can approach the throne of grace on our own. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. In faith, by faith and through faith, we are saints. With Jesus we can ascend the hill, receive the blessing and vindication. As His followers, believers in His name, we can go with Him before the throne. He clothes us in His righteousness, and in His life we are all grown up. Thanks be to God.


October 30, 2006

Scriptures for All Saints Sunday, November 5, 2006: Isaiah 25:6-9 or Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9; Psalm 24:7-10; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

Revelation 21:1-6a And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven of God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God: and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away. And he that sitteth on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he saith, Write: for these words are faithful and true. And he said unto me, They are come to pass. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

The scene opens with a man and a woman entering a hotel room with excitement in their faces. They are on vacation and thrilled to be there. They are commenting on how quiet the hotel is, a virtue for those who are attempting a quiet time away from the hustle and bustle of the world. However, when they walk on to the balcony of their room, they realize it is so quiet because it is built right next to a cemetery.

Now, it is quiet because the neighbors don’t make much noise, but also because everyone else booked their vacation through the online travel agency that checks out every place they use. If only that couple had gone through the travel agency, they would be in a much better hotel. While the hotel itself might be one of the most comfortable available, there is something terribly uncomfortable sleeping so close to a cemetery. We do not want to be reminded so intensely of our physical mortality. We don’t like to hang around with dead folk. We don’t want to think about our own inevitable fate.

When we plan a vacation, we build up very high hopes. We are expecting paradise, and yet we often discover that the hotel is nothing like we see in the pictures. Even if we book our vacations through one of those online travel agencies that claim to find the best deal for our money. Our hopes are dashed when we walk in and see the broken tile and stained carpet.

I suppose that’s why we don’t hold much hope beyond what we can see. That even reaches to the spiritual realm and our image of heaven. We really do not know what to expect when we die. We have ideas, ideas that we know are based loosely on the Bible, but even more on artistic impressions. The pictures of fluffy clouds and angel wings don’t give us much to grasp when it comes to our eternal life. What if it isn’t everything it is thought to be? What if it is less than our expectations?

So, we’d rather not hang out with dead people because they remind us of our mortality and our uncertainty about what is to come. We let the disappointment we face when we wish for wonderful things in this world destroy the hope we have in the promises of God. But hope is not wishes and dreams, it is the expectation of God’s faithfulness. God has promised something amazing, something beyond even our imagination. We have His word and His word is true. We need not worry that it won’t live up to our expectation, because whatever God has in store will be even better than anything we’ve ever known. Thanks be to God.


October 31, 2006

Scriptures for All Saints Sunday, November 5, 2006: Isaiah 25:6-9 or Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9; Psalm 24:7-10; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

John 11:32-44 Mary therefore, when she came where Jesus was, and saw him, fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping who came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, and said, Where have ye laid him? They say unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. The Jews therefore said, Behold how he loved him! But some of them said, Could not this man, who opened the eyes of him that was blind, have caused that this man also should not die? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus saith, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time the body decayeth; for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou believedst, thou shouldest see the glory of God? So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou heardest me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the multitude that standeth around I said it, that they may believe that thou didst send me. And when he had thus spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. He that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes; and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

I know how Mary was feeling. Though we have been blessed this past year with good health and we have not lost any loved ones, we know what it is like to face death in the face. We know what it is like to bury someone we love, to mourn their passing and to try to go on in this world without them. We have experienced the emotions that run rampant as we adjust to life that is now new and different. We cry, but we also laugh. We get angry and we doubt. We wonder and we hope. In today’s lesson, we see the tears.

What is most compelling about this story is that even Jesus wept. There are many interpretations about why He was weeping. Was it for His friend who had died? Certainly the people there said that He must have loved Lazarus very much. Was it because the people did not believe? Some were very cynical about Jesus – why would He use His powers to heal a stranger and never show up to save His friend? Did He cry because He knew that this was the beginning of the end, that saving Lazarus would bring about His own death? Perhaps.

We do know that Jesus waited to visit Lazarus on purpose, that He had a reason for being there on the fourth day. Lazarus was dead, as dead as you can get. Since the Jews in that day believed the soul hovered near the body for three days, they thought Jesus was too late. If only He’d been there on the third day. However, the raising of Lazarus was meant to prove the power of God, to glorify God and to create faith in the hearts of those who would truly see. It was also meant to be a foreshadowing of what was to come. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and that very act would become the catalyst for His own death.

What is interesting is that we hear about the weeping of those who mourned, but we never really hear about the joy. Certainly Mary and Martha must have rejoiced at the return of their brother. John tells us that after seeing Lazarus walk out of the tomb many put their faith in Jesus. Did they respond to that faith with praise and thanksgiving? John doesn’t tell us the rest of the story. We move immediately to the meeting of the chief priests and the decision that Jesus had to die for the sake of the nation. How do you see the power of God and choose to stop it? Yet they did in Jesus’ day and unfortunately we do it all too often today.

The story does not end with Jesus calling out to Lazarus. When Lazarus came out of the tomb he was bound from head to toe in death clothes. Jesus said, “Loose him and let him go.” Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but there was more that had to be done. For Lazarus to be truly free, the death clothes had to be removed. And Jesus called those who loved Lazarus to help. That is how it is with us today. It is Jesus’ word that saves, but He calls us to help remove the death clothes. We do that by sharing in the emotions that we experience when we face death. We cry and we laugh with those who mourn. We help to overcome the anger and the doubt. We share in the wonder of salvation and the hope for that which is to come. We weep, but we go on and believe because we know that Jesus calls the name of those He loves and gives them new life. Thanks be to God.