Welcome to the October 2009 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.
A WORD FOR TODAY, October 2009
October 1, 2009
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think as to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith. For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office: so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another.” (Romans 12:1-5, ASV)
We learn a great deal from the lives of the saints. Their stories show people of miraculous faith who made an incredible impact on the lives they touched. Sometimes the saints suffered persecution for their commitment to Christ. Sometimes they were exceedingly generous. Sometimes the saints were transformed from unholy living to holy living. Each story gives us a glimmer of what it means to be a Christian in this world and we can learn how to live by their example.
However, the saints were not necessarily perfect. They were human beings just like you and me, failing to be all they were created to be. They needed Jesus the Savior as much as the rest of us, although we tend to place them on a pedestal and honor them as if they were something we can not be. As we look at the lives of the saints, we should not just lift up the miraculous, but also remember the humanity.
Today is the feast day for Saint Bavo, a sixth-century man remembered for his conversion. Now, in his day, conversion did not necessarily mean converting from paganism to Christianity; conversion meant. He was a Christian of noble birth who lived a wild and selfish life, faithful only to himself and his desires. He even sold his servants to others for cash to fulfill his every whim. He had been married, but after his wife’s death he heard a sermon by Saint Armand that caused him to look more clearly at the life he’d been living and he saw how selfish he was.
Saint Bavo gave away his entire fortune to the poor and his property was given to Saint Armand to build a monastery. He begged to be allowed to join the monastic life and he lived a humble, repentant life, serving as a companion to Saint Armand on missionary journeys through France. During the mission, Saint Bavo awed the crowds with his personal mortifications. Personal mortification is ‘putting to death the flesh.’ This might simply be fasting or avoiding sinful behavior like drunkenness and fornication. But some follow more extreme patterns of mortification, like self-inflicted pain and physical harm. I haven’t been able to find what type of mortification Saint Bavo practiced, but we should be careful about uplifting extreme behavior, even if it seems like it is good an holy.
Eventually Saint Bavo realized that the austerity of monastic life was not enough to satisfy Saint Bavo’s desire for discipline over the flesh. He left the monastery and lived as a hermit, seeing only Saint Armand and another monk occasionally. He lived on vegetables and water, living in a small cell he built in the forest. When he died, they honored his memory by naming the monastery after him. We learn from his life that it is possible to give up the trappings of material possessions. He left a great impression on many and has become the patron saint of several nations.
But as I read the stories of his life, I had to wonder, did he really change all that much? When he was a youth, nothing he did seemed to satisfy his desires. He wanted more and did whatever was necessary to have more. He gave it all up to live the life of a monk, but even practicing personal mortification was not enough to satisfy his desire to be disciplined and holy. He left life completely, becoming a hermit in a cell in a forest, living alone except for occasional visits from friends. He was transformed from a selfish, wild child, but did he ever really become something better? Did he serve Christ hiding in the forest? Was it really selfless to give up everything, including a relationship with the world which God created? Are we not saved for a purpose? Should we really continue to follow our own desires even if they seem holy when we are called to be God’s hands in a world full of needy people? Is it really holy to set oneself aside, separated from the body of Christ, hiding our gifts from the world?
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward. For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-21, ASV)
It is worth looking at the life of another Saint today, despite the reality that their lives are no more miraculous than ours. Each story gives us a glimmer of life in faith, lessons that help us grow and mature as people of God. There are feasts and commemorations every day of the year for those people whose faith stories are worth remembering, from the first apostles to modern reformers and servants of God. Sunday is the feast day for St. Francis of Assisi, the man who began the Franciscan order of monks and the patron saint of animals.
St. Francis is remembered for trying to live the Gospel very literally, following everything Jesus said and did. He gave up his life and all his possessions to live a life of poverty and service. He even gave up his family. Once, when he heard a voice tell him to “go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down,” he took some cloth out of his father’s warehouse and sold it to buy materials to fix a falling chapel. His father demanded restitution, so Francis took off his clothes and laid them at his father’s feet, saying that from then on his only father would be God. He was given a robe and he lived from that day as a humble workman and beggar. Though it seemed at the beginning that Francis was just being lazy, the people eventually recognized the humble sincerity in his quest to live like Jesus.
St. Francis considered the same hermit lifestyle as St. Bavo, but his discernment led him in another direction. He sought the advice of two colleagues, who immediately told him to keep preaching the Gospel. He left at once and went out to share the love of God with the world. His first congregation, however, was not in a grand church or even on the street corner of a bustling town. It was a flock of various types of birds. He ran toward the birds and greeted them as if they were people and told the birds to praise God for all He has done for them. The birds stood still and listened attentively to Francis, not leaving until he blessed them and commanded them to leave. St. Bonaventure in his book “The Life of St. Francis” recounts the experience as follows, “He went through their midst with amazing fervor of spirit, brushing against them with his tunic. Yet none of them moved from the spot until the man of God made the sign of the cross and gave them permission to leave; then they all flew away together. His companions waiting on the road saw all these things. When he returned to them, that pure and simple man began to accuse himself of negligence because he had not preached to the birds before.” Francis went on from that day exhorting all the animals to love and praise their Creator God.
St. Francis understood that we are part of one creation, a family with all God’s creatures. He believed that the incarnation affected much more than human lives, it shook the entire creation. He insisted that the animals share in that moment of time when God became flesh, asking that grain be scattered along the roads and food spread on the walls for the birds and other animals on Christmas Day so that they have enough to eat. He also said the domesticated animals should be given an abundant feast on that day. He believed that all creatures had a right to participate in the celebration of Christmas because the whole world was changed by Jesus’ coming.
He lived the Gospel literally, as Jesus commanded, even preaching the Gospel to all creation. Though the story of Francis and the birds may be myth or legend, it is a story we can take to heart. Francis realized that he had neglected to preach the gospel to someone who was open to hearing the message. How many times do we walk by a person or a group of people that need to hear the words Francis preached to the birds? Why are we afraid to speak? Who have we neglected and why do we do so? How have we failed to live as Jesus lived, failed to do what Jesus did and failed to say what Jesus said?
St. Francis is also known for the following prayer, perhaps the best reason for us to remember him today.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
“But when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or athirst, and gave thee drink? And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? And when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.” (Matthew 25:31-40, ASV)
I have a tracking program on my website that helps me to see information about the visitors to my pages. I don’t get specific information; just things that might help me keep the pages relevant to those who find me. The information includes type of browser, operating system, resolution of computer screen and search engine used. This information helps me build the pages so that they will open properly and look right on all the different computers that are used to visit my site.
The stat tracker also tells me how long the visitors stay, how many times they have returned and which city or country they are in when they visit. That is my favorite statistic. I enjoy seeing that people from all over the world are finding the devotions. I am constantly amazed to see that someone has visited from Africa or Asia. I find that there is almost always a hit from Canada, England, Jamaica and Australia. Sometimes the tracker gives me information a little bit more specific. I know, for instance, when someone has visited from a university or government agency. I never know exactly who opened the page. Take, for instance, the day someone from the Executive Office of the President of the United States opened the page. It was fun to think that perhaps the President himself opened the page, but since many people work in the office, it could have been any of them. I did have a visit from the Prime Minister of Australia, but I only know that because she joined my mailing list for a few weeks.
The best information I get from the stat tracker are the words used to find my page on search engines. Most of the time they words keyed in are simple and logical like “a word for today” or “daily devotional.” Sometimes it is a little more specific like “Lutheran devotions on the lectionary.” People find my site when the input specific bible passages or devotional topics. Occasionally someone will find me by inputting my name. I have to admit that this sometimes disturbs me. If it comes locally, I can understand because it usually means someone I know has lost my card and is looking for my webpage. But I don’t know anyone in Spain, so when someone typed “Peggy Hoppes” into a search engine in Spain, I was curious who it could be.
Sometimes the search topics don’t seem at all related to what I do on the website, although those who’ve read my writing for a long time know that I write about some strange subjects. Someone once found my site when they put “toad suck” into the search engine. I doubt that they were looking for a Christian devotional that day. But I had written about Toad Suck Daze, a music festival in Arkansas, so they were given my page as a choice during their search. The most recent mistaken find was a hit from Austria. The seeker typed, “orthopedist peggy hoppes.” I didn’t know I was a bone doctor!
Obviously those people who find me using strange search topics aren’t really looking for a Christian devotional. I hope the person in Austria actually found the orthopedist they were seeking. I’m not as hopeful that the person looking for ‘toad suck’ actually found what they may have been looking for, because sucking toads is not a good thing to do. What I do hope for most is that those who click into my page, whether by accident or on purpose, find something that will make their life of faith a little fuller. I hope they’ll see God’s grace for them in the words. I hope the same for all those who read this writing on a daily basis.
Sometimes people manage to find my site in odd ways, but I wonder if it really is an accident. I wonder how many times we have those odd things happen in our lives are really accidents. We can all point to times when we run into a friend who is having a difficult time and we are able to give them words of comfort or hope. We’ve made a phone call at just the right moment or sent an invitation to someone who is feeling lonely. We have been at the right place at the right time to do something good for someone. These may be happy accidents, but I tend to believe that they are more than that; they are ‘God-incidents’ when God has given us the opportunity to share God’s grace with others.
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16, ASV)
I know people are worried when we begin talking about computers ‘knowing’ things about us and our practices on the Internet. I’m sure quite a few of the readers yesterday were taken aback by the idea that I could track the people who visit my website. We hear how spyware can get into our systems and track our movements, making it possible for strangers to follow our daily surfing practices. Even if we are certain they can’t get personal information, we are concerned that someone may be watching for habits and preferences, using that information to sell us products that they think we could use.
It certainly happens on Facebook. I’ve noticed that the ads that pop up on the side of my wall are using things that would interest me. I’ve also noticed that they are sometimes related to something I’ve posted on Facebook. When I talk about my cats, an ad will appear about cats. If I’ve posted about writing, an ad will appear for a publisher. If I have posted about crafting, an ad will appear for craft supplies. It is not limited to my status posts. If I play a game or take a quiz, I’ll see ads that are related. This is bothersome because we really don’t want strangers knowing so much about us. It seems wrong that people would take advantage of the technology for their own benefit.
Unfortunately, it is a reality of human nature. We might think it is a modern problem, but throughout the ages human beings have always acted for their own self-interest, but most people do so with a consideration for others. I do have the tracker on my website to help me make my site better for the reader and I would never use the information in a way that might harm my visitors. The same can’t be said about other Internet technicians. Some hackers are constantly building new and better ways of scamming the people who are using the Internet. We have to be careful about the sites we visit and the things we download because there really are people out there hoping to take advantage of our naivety.
It isn’t a modern problem. We still have a lot of trains that run on tracks near our home. I often get stopped by these trains at the crossings. The trains don’t travel extremely fast because they are driving through a busy, populated area. Even so, they are going fast enough to make me nervous. I hate to be the first one stopped at the crossing because the train is rocking back and forth on the rails and it seems like it won’t take much to make it fall over. I would never think about trying to ride up next to a train while it is moving, to try to jump on it or make it stop.
Yet, on this day in 1866, the Reno gang pulled off the first train robbery, taking $10,000. It wasn’t long before robbing moving trains became a popular activity for the gangs of the old west. The criminals took advantage of the isolation of the wilderness, the distance from help, the easy escape and hiding places. Eventually the train owners found a way to fight back, making it more difficult by the end of the century. I’m sure it didn’t take long for the criminals to find a new way to rob their victims. It is an endless circle. Even with the Internet, just as we find one way of overcoming the work of a hacker, something new is designed to take advantage of the technology.
This is no different than what happens with our faith. There are those in the world constantly trying to steal our faith or destroy our belief in God. The devil is not a creature with horns and a forked tail. He is a force that so desires to twist the reality of God into something that turns us away from Him. We need not worry about every website we visit, even if there are tracking programs included. We shouldn’t be concerned every time we try some new technology thinking that everyone is out to destroy us in some way. Most people are not out to harm us in any way.
However, we can always be aware of the possibility and approach all things with care and prudence. We are smart to avoid clicking into sites that do not seem appropriate. We are savvy when we avoid answering those emails that seem too good to be true. We are using our God-given gift of intelligence when we protect our computers with anti-virus and Internet security programs. We are called to live in faith, to live like Jesus, to walk as a Christian in everything we do. But that does not mean we should be doormats. We are to be shrewd like snakes, knowing what the devil is capable of doing, while being innocent of wrongdoing ourselves.
Scriptures for Sunday, October 11, 2009: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 91: 12-17; Hebrews 4:12-18; Mark 10:17-31
“Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil” (Psalm 90:12-17, ASV)
This is a very hard verse for us to accept. How can we be happy in times of affliction or during years when evil things seem to happen to us? How do we survive suffering and pain? And how do we accept that it might just be God who is allowing those times of suffering so that we might learn how to more fully live in God’s grace?
Zack was having trouble with school. Not a lot of trouble, but he was having some difficulty catching up on work that occurred on days when he missed class. With his sports and other activities, there were too many days last year when he had to miss classes. I found over and over again that his grades were suffering with missed work that he never made up. I finally decided that he had to be more responsible. If I found that he had another missed assignment, I would not allow him to go on a trip he was looking forward to. Sadly, another zero appeared on his record. I had to take it away.
I didn’t want to. The trip was valuable for many reasons, a weekend of leadership training that would help him grow as a student, leader and man. But I knew I could not give in. I had to keep covenant we made or he would never learn the lesson. And I do think he learned it. He is far more committed this year and he’s being more responsible about his work. He is even excited about the strides he’s making, putting more effort into his assignments. It was hard to make him suffer, but in the end it was the right thing to do.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel was not living according to the laws and precepts of their God. Even worse, they were not living as God created them to live. They were perverting justice, trampling on the poor by overtaxing them while building grand designs of their own. They were doing what is evil in the sight of God and they would suffer the consequences. The Old Testament passage, however, is not a curse on the people; it is a call for repentance. “Turn around and live as I’ve called you to live.”
Now, repentance is no guarantee. The passage from Amos says, “it may be that the LORD will be gracious.” Repentance, saying “I’m sorry” is not a magic formula for getting God’s grace. God looks to hearts, not mouths. He looks at actions, not words. Repentance is more than an apology, it is about turning from our old ways, to live as God intends.
The psalmist understands that we need God’s help to do so. The heading of this psalm calls it a prayer of Moses. Imagine what it must have been like wandering in the wilderness for forty years. Where would they get food and water? We know that the Israelites complained constantly, even suggesting that they’d be better off in Egypt than lost in the desert. But Moses understands that there is a lesson to be learned—a lesson in trust, and he asks God to teach them to count their days so that they will gain a wise heart. He also asks God to relent, to have mercy and to turn His favor back on His people. Even in times of suffering, we can learn how to trust in God and seek His help to get us through.
God didn’t set the world in motion and then walk away. He is still working amongst His people and through all of creation. The writer of the book of Hebrews says, “The word of God is living and active.” The example used isn’t one of pleasure, however. The word of God is like a double-edged sword. It cuts us to the heart, piercing into our very souls. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. This is why it is not enough to say that we are sorry for what we have done. God knows when our apologies are insincere. He’s looking for transformation, real change in our attitudes and actions.
As we read the story in our Gospel text, we wonder, “Is this what God is calling for me to do? Is this how I have to repent?” No. God reaches into our lives and calls us to give up the very things that keep us from being all that we can be. He’s not saying that ever Christian must give up everything and live like St. Francis or St. Bavo. But for the man, who was righteous in every way, the test was great. Can he turn his back on everything he has to follow Jesus? Peter is quick to answer the challenge, “See we have left everything.” Peter is promised great reward for what he has done, but that’s not the point of the story.
But the rich young man’s question goes much deeper than asking how we should live our lives. He asks, “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” We can’t. No matter what we do, we can not earn the gift of God. We can’t be just enough. We can’t be right enough. We can’t do what God is calling us to do. It is impossible. But eternal life isn’t dependent on our actions, but on God. For man it is impossible to earn God’s grace, but it is not impossible for God to grant His grace.
What is He saying to us? What in our life is keeping us from following Him? These are things we should do. God is calling us to live justly, to do what is right and to be what He has created us to be. No matter what we do, however, we are called to remember that the Gospel, the Good News, is that even when we fail, God is faithful. Eternal life comes by grace through faith, not by any work we can do. The work is our response to what God has done. So, as we trust in God through thick and thin, knowing that what we have is His and what He has promised will be ours, we live as He has called us to live, rejoicing in every day as we learn and grow in wisdom, manifesting God's grace and glory so that the world will see Him and believe.
“Seeing it is God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves; we are pressed on every side, yet not straitened; perplexed, yet not unto despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-11, ASV)
A neighbor down the street has been getting ready for Halloween by putting up decorations. We have a few houses that go way out for this particular holiday, even moreso than with Christmas. If you wander the aisles at your local department store, you’ll find everything from orange and purple twinkle lights to fully animatronic characters. Spiderwebs, ghosts, and witches of every shape and size are available, along with tombstones and skeletons. And, of course, there are plenty of pumpkins. You can buy every sort of pumpkin: pumpkins to cut, pumpkins to paint, big and little pumpkins, real and plastic pumpkins. They even make a pumpkin out of a type of foam that can be cut like a real jack-o-lantern, but will not rot like a real one.
I like to carve jack-o-lanterns. When the kids were small, we used to find a pumpkin patch where we could wander through the vines to find the perfect pumpkins. I always picked the biggest, roundest and brightest pumpkin in the field. The pumpkins were usually so big that even Bruce could not carry it. Thank goodness those pumpkin patches had wheel barrels or carts for taking the pumpkins to the car.
Of course, carving the pumpkin is always a fun and messy activity. I never carved the pumpkins with the details that some do these days. Those pumpkins with fine lines of faces and scenes are amazing. I am awed by the patience and steady hand of those artists. I did usually get more creative than just triangle eyes and a huge toothy grin. I liked to add eyelashes and other details, making the jack-o-lanterns friendly and welcoming rather than scary. It is easy on those great big pumpkins because the lines could be larger which were easier to cut. I’m not sure if I’ll do a pumpkin this year. I have to admit that I’ve purchased a couple of those plastic pumpkins for when I do decorate for Halloween. With the kids older and more active in things, we aren’t always able to be here for Trick-or-Treat time.
A story makes the rounds just in time for the appearance of pumpkins each year. It is a story with which I’m sure most of you are familiar. I received it in an email just the other day. The story is this: “A woman was asked by a coworker, ‘What is it like to be a Christian?’ The woman replied, ‘It is like being a pumpkin. God picks you from the patch, brings you in, and washes all the dirt off of you. Then He cuts off the top and scoops out all the yucky stuff. He removes the seeds of doubt, hate, and greed. Then He carves you a new smiling face and puts His light inside of you to shine for all the world to see.’”
Is it really that easy to be a Christian? Yes and no. Yes, everything we are is given to us by God. He picks us, He cleans us, He scoops out all the gunk with His grace and forgiveness. He transforms us into something new, and puts His light in our hearts to shine. A jack-o-lantern does nothing but sit there on the porch shining in the night and making people happy. The action is passive. The work is done by the artist. We are what we are because of God. He does all the work. The faith we live and the light we shine is not something that comes by any action of our own. But we are not passive.
The transformation that happens as we are being cleaned, inside and out, is not always an easy process. We like our gunk. We don’t mind the dirt. We don’t want to be cut into pieces. We might even get picked up by some bully and smashed into the street, and so we are afraid of what can happen if we do walk in faith. But it isn’t enough to sit on the porch and shine. Our faith takes us places we don’t want to go, to do things we don’t want to do. That’s the hard part of being a Christian.
We are jack-o-lanterns, shining His light in the world. We are jack-o-lanterns with hands and feet and hearts. We are called to be God’s hands and feet in the world. We are called to share God’s Word with others. We are called by the faith God has given us to do all that we can to share the love and grace of God with others. As we watch the bright pumpkins showing up on our neighbor’s porches, let us remember that we are like those jack-o-lanterns that glow in the night. We are the light in the darkness of this world, glorifying all that God has done by being the visible manifestation of His grace. Shine your light so that all might believe.
“And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:5-9, ASV)
I went out to lunch with Bruce today. We decided to pay cash because Bruce was in a hurry to get back to work and I had enough money in my wallet to cover the cost of the meal and the tip. Unfortunately, when I first took out the money, I grabbed the wrong bill—a five dollar bill instead of a ten dollar bill. If I’d walked out of the store at that moment, I would have not only shorted the waiter of his tip, but I would have also been a few cents short on the bill. It would have been wrong, even if it was an accident. Thankfully, I checked twice before I walked out of the restaurant. When I recounted the money, I realized I was short and fixed the problem. That waiter would not only have worked hard for us without receiving fair pay, but he also would have had to cover what I did not give.
How many times do we make mistakes that affect the lives of others? We probably do not even realize how often we create problems for our neighbors. I’ve heard stories about people who have made problems for neighbors by adding landscaping that forces water to drain on other people’s property. Today at the grocery store I was almost hit by a car that was cutting across the parking lot very fast. Though nothing bad happened, the incident upset me and I was nervous driving home. We all have said things that hurt someone’s feelings and done things that made life more difficult for someone. We have also failed to do all that might make life a little better for others.
We all make mistakes. We all fail to do what is right and good and proper. Though we were not created imperfect, the moment Adam and Eve believed the word of the serpent above the word of the LORD, we have all been fallen and imperfect people. We can try very hard to do what is right, and I’m sure most of us, if not all of us, at least try to do what is right and good and proper. And when we realize we have failed, we suffer from guilt. The way we respond to that guilt determines your state of mind. We can hold on to the guilt, simmer until it builds into something like depression or anger. Or we can recognize that we’ve done something wrong and deal with it. We can repent, seek reconciliation and restoration. If we can’t make things right with the person that we’ve harmed, we can humbly approach our God who is able to do what we can never do.
There is nothing we can do when do not know we’ve done something wrong. If I walked out of the restaurant this afternoon without rechecking that bill, I would not have known. God knows all that we’ve done and left undone. No matter how good we seem to be, there are hidden things that we may never realize. So, even when we are having a good day, a day when we’ve done nothing to outwardly hurt another person, we must not think too highly of ourselves. But neither do we need to walk around feeling guilty about what we might have done wrong. We can turn to the Lord our God, in repentance for all we’ve done and all we’ve left undone, praying with thanksgiving for His mercy and grace. Whatever we do, let us never forget that we are imperfect reflections of what God has intended us to be, sinners in need of a Savior. As we confess our sins, known and unknown, God is faithful to forgive our sins so that we might be reconciled to one another despite our mistakes and failures.
“As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning. If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise which he promised us, even the life eternal.” (1 John 2:24-25, ASV)
Time is a human construct. Yes, time as we know it is based on the things God created: the earth spins once every day, the moon revolves around the earth once every month and the earth revolves around the sun once every year. But even those measures of time are not perfect. After all, a day is not exactly twenty-four hours. A year is not exactly 365 days. Over history, we’ve had to accommodate the differences. We have a leap day every four years. Occasionally someone has to add a minute to the official time. Time, as we know it, has been defined by human beings.
The calendar is one example of this. Most people today follow the Gregorian calendar, developed in the sixteenth century by Pope Gregory XIII and eventually accepted by the world. Other calendars still exist and are followed by religions or historians. There are special calendars for the Eastern Orthodox churches, as well as the Jewish people. The Chinese follow a lunisolar calendar which takes into account aspects of both the sun and the moon. Who hasn’t celebrated the Chinese New Year and checked to see what animal marks the year of their birth?
The Mayan calendar has received a great deal of attention lately as many have accepted the myth that the world will end in 2012 according to hieroglyphics found on a Mayan tablet. The Mayans do not actually make that claim; the Internet as propagated the myth and many believe. The reality, according to the Mayans, is that there is also a tablet that predicts a date of 4772. Some folk have managed to interpret the possibilities of astronomical events and claimed they are proof of what they have predicted, but even those possibilities are little more than theory.
I started thinking about time when I looked up the history for this day. We, in the United States, know that today is Columbus Day, the day we remember the founding of the Western Hemisphere by Christopher Columbus in 1492. The day has different significance for others, who prefer to call it by another name, because the discovery by Columbus was not, to them, good news. In other American nations, the day is called Dia de la Raza (Day of the Hispanic Race), Dia de las Culturas (Day of the Cultures), Dia de las Americus (Day of the Americas) or Dia de la Resistencia Indigena (Day of the Indigenous Resistance). In the Bahamas it is called Discovery Day and in Spain it is called Dia de la Hispanidad and Fiest Nacional. I guess it just depends on your point of view.
Of course, other important things have happened on October 12th. In 1892, the Pledge of Allegiance was first recited by school students in many U.S. public schools. In 1692, the Salem Witch Trials were ended by a letter from Governor William Phips. In 1810 the first Oktoberfest was held when the Bavarian royalty invited the citizens of Munich to join in the celebration of the marriage of the crown prince. In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt officially named the executive mansion the “White House.”
One of the most interesting things on the list of what happened on this day in history is that it didn’t exist in some countries in the year 1582 because of the adoption of the Gregorian calendar. Apparently, when the new calendar was adopted, several days has to be dropped to realign the seasons with the calendar. So, the last day of the Julian calendar was Thursday, October 4, 1582 and the first day of the Gregorian calendar was Friday, October 15, 1582. For the countries that adopted the calendar immediately (Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain), the days in between do not exist in their history.
We defined the concepts of time because they are valuable tools for human beings. Because of the calendar and the clock, we can make appointments and plan events to which many can come. We can remember events in history and in our lives. How could we celebrate birthdays if we didn’t have a calendar? We might have an idea what time of year we were born based on the weather on that day, but even then it could be hard. For those babies born in the areas that are experiencing early snow this year, their birthday might be remembered in winter. And yet, on this day we are reminded that though the passing of time comes by the movement of God’s creation, time itself is a human construct that is imperfect and changeable.
Unfortunately, the passing of time means that we are, in the flesh, constantly moving toward the end of our days. Pope Gregory VIII may have been able to change time by changing the calendar, but whatever day it happens to be can be the last day we live on the earth. This is why we look beyond the clock and the calendar to that which is perfect, the eternal promise of God. In that day, time will not matter, if it even exists, as we spend day after day, moment after moment, praising our God and His mercy and grace.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ASV)
Things are cooling off around here, like it is all over the country. Fall is setting in and new weather patterns are making their way across the land. It is 70 degrees this morning, the warmest it has been for days. After two years of drought, we are finally seeing rain, and not just those isolated storms that drop several inches of water in a few hours, but the slow, drizzly rain that really quenches the thirst of the earth.
We got the kittens last March, when the temperatures were still cool. They were still very little, and they seemed to enjoy sitting on our laps. There was something almost comforting about being so close to us when they were just getting used to being in their new home. But, as the months passed and they grew, they stopped enjoying that closeness. It was even difficult to pick them up to cuddle a minute, and they never climbed onto our laps.
Until recently. Over the past few days, ever since the temperatures have cooled, the kittens have started climbing on laps again, especially Delilah. She climbed on my lap three separate times yesterday, laid down and purred. It was wonderful, even though it did make me stop doing whatever it was that I was doing when she decided to be loving. At one point both of the kittens decided to climb on my lap, although Samson was actually just trying to annoy Delilah and they both ended up leaving quickly to go and play.
What I have learned from this experience is that the kittens are lap kitties. We thought that they outgrew the lap thing, but it looks like they simply did not want to lie on a lap during the heat of the summer. And we had heat this summer. It makes sense that they would not enjoy the body heat produced when they were already hot. During the summer, they preferred laying on cool surfaces like the tile floors and dark corners. Now that the cool temperatures are back, they are ready for the comfort, and the heat, of sitting on our laps.
People are, in many ways, the same as animals. There are things we like to do in the summer that we’d never think about doing in the winter, and vice versa. I made soup for the first time in months the other day. Though I really like soup, it isn’t nearly as pleasant on a 100 degree day as it is on a cool, drizzly day. Zack made some hot chocolate and we are beginning to make more hot meals for dinner. During the summer, our menu was filled with salads and other cool foods.
Even as we go through the seasons of the year and change with each season, we also go through seasons of our lives. They say that the springtime is when we are babies, just beginning our life with everything new and growing. Summer represents our youth, when we are active and vibrant. Autumn comes as we grow older, the middle ages of our life. Finally we enter into the winter, old age.
We live life differently from one age to another. Take, for instance, our relationship with our parents. During our spring, we look to our parents for everything we need. We learn from them and love them unconditionally because they are the center of our existence. That changes as we enter into our summer. As we grow into adulthood, we become independent. We have to learn who we are and what we meant to do, and that means separating from our past. It is still a time of growth, but we no longer need to rely on the work of others. We still love our parents, but it is a new love, a love that includes doubt and disagreement, as we begin to realize that they aren’t perfect and as we see the world from a different point of view. The autumn of our life brings us to another change in our relationship with our mothers and fathers. They are much older, in the winter of their lives, and it is a time when they come to depend on us. As the leaves are falling off our trees, the life is leaving theirs, and we have to deal with suffering and loss. We still love them, but our love is that of a caregiver, deeply concerned for their well-being but with fear and frustration. In the winter of our life, as we are nearing the end, the only things we have left of our parents are the memories. Our love changes again, holding on in that season to the good things, seeking the comfort of the love we received from them.
Our faith goes through seasons, too. There are times to laugh and times to cry. There are times to be close and there are times when we have to separate. There are times when we have to rely on others and times when we are the ones relied upon. There are times to serve and times to be served. There are times of growth and times when the leaves fall from the trees. There’s a time to live and a time to die. There are times when our faith is new and fresh and passionate and times when we wonder and fear and doubt. But through it all, no matter what season we are experiencing or how we are dealing with it, the Lord our God is near, loving us as He has always loved us.
Scriptures for October 18, 2009: Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
“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.” (Isaiah 53:6, ASV)
Could you be a secret service agent protecting an important person? Could you commit your life to a job that requires willingness to the ultimate sacrifice? If facing the possibility of death, could you literally take a bullet for your charge? What if that person is someone who has hurt you in some way? What if your job required that you protect someone with whom you disagree? Could you take a bullet to save his or her life? What if the attacker held the same beliefs as you? Could you stand in their way? Would you accept their wrath for the sake of someone else’s life?
This may seem like an outrageous hypothetical. Which of us will ever really be in that situation: thank God. How do you make the decision to die when everything seems to be more right to do the opposite? Look at Jesus. Really look at Jesus. He took our bullet, the bullet shot by the One with whom He not only agrees, but with whom He is in an absolutely perfect relationship. He took the wrath of God for us, who not only do specific things that are wrong, but who are separated from God by our very nature. No matter how hard we try or how good we are, we are broken and in need of mercy.
And Christ died for us. Each of us. All of us. Isn’t it amazing how two Christians can be completely opposite in their beliefs in ideology and philosophy, and yet still be equally freed by the blood of Christ? We can be on opposite political sides, each believing firmly that we believe as God would have us believe, and yet Christ took the bullet for our opponent, accepting the wrath that comes from our own selfish and self-centered position. He also took the bullet cast by our enemies for us. It doesn’t matter on which side of a modern issue we fall, Jesus died for us all. Isaiah says, “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.”
His suffering has become our refuge. Four years ago I wrote about a story of a woman who’d been abducted by a rapist and murderer. He had escaped from police custody by stealing a deputy’s weapon, killed several people, beat a reporter and stole a car. As police searched for him, he abducted the woman and forced her to take him to her apartment. He tied her up and warned her that she would be dead if the police found him. It must have been a frightening experience, and unfortunately too many people experience the violence of crime in our world.
What makes this story incredible, however, is the faith of the woman who was abducted. Though she was afraid, she trusted in God’s good word and she remained calm through the ordeal. She treated him with mercy, spoke quietly will grace and compassion. They talked through the night, watched television together and she made him pancakes. They talked about God and he admitted that he did not want to hurt any one else. The man wanted to stay at the apartment for a few more days, but he let the woman go to see her daughter. Whether or not he expected her to return is not known. When she left, she called the police and they came prepared to take the man by force. It was not necessary, he was ready to surrender and he went with them peacefully.
Instead of hatred, the woman treated him with compassion and love. He was overwhelmed by her kindness. Though we do not know exactly what she said to him about the bible, something obviously touched his heart. Though he was terrifying in the beginning, willingly killing those who stood in his way, something about the woman’s trust in God transformed him. The woman told the man that she thought God brought him to her door, and she took the opportunity to talk to him about the love and mercy of God. Her compassion helped to calm him and it brought an end to the violent episode, thus saving her own and perhaps more lives. We can’t assume that her faith made her any more worthy of life than those who perished in the gunfire earlier in the day. No matter how much we trust in God, we might find ourselves in a similar situation and we might not be so blessed to survive.
Whatever the circumstances, the woman trusted in God and dwelled in His promises. She didn’t know whether or not she’d live through the day, but she didn’t react to the fear of the situation. She met the man in the refuge of God her protector. Even if she’d died, she knew that He would be waiting to take her into eternal life. She willingly accepted the possibility that she might die and tried to bring a sense of calm and reality to the world of someone who’d lost touch with the creation and the Creator. Could we have done the same? Would we have stayed or would we have tried to escape? Would we have been so gracious to our abductor for the sake of people we would never know? Would we have risked taking the bullet to save the lives of those who might next be found in this man’s path?
We can’t be Jesus. We know that. Jesus was perfect, and what He did for us was beyond the ability of any human being. We can’t die for the sake of the world. We might be able to save a life or two by standing in a bullet’s path, and we might be able to help a few people see the grace and mercy of God, but we can’t be Jesus. Neither could the priests who were given the task to offer the sacrifices for God’s people in the Temple. But the atonement that Israel received at the hands of human priests was limited and temporary. But what Jesus did for you and I was permanent. The writer of the lesson from Hebrews says, “…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…” We have a refuge thanks to the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
James and John were ready to stand with Jesus in the heights of the kingdom that would come by His power. They didn’t understand that He came not to be elevated to a position of royalty in this world, but to stand as the sacrifice and to receive God’s wrath in our stead. He came to die. Both the Old Testament and Epistle lessons for today give us a very clear picture of the will and purpose of God for Jesus. He was not to be a king who would sit on a throne in Jerusalem. He was both a suffering servant and a great high priest. He was called to serve others, many others. His service would not be to rule but to die. This is the task to which He was called and sent. He would be beaten and cut down not because of anything He did wrong, but for the sake of the world. He took upon Himself the sins of the world. As priest He presented Himself for sacrifice for the atonement of His people. His rule would not be for a brief moment on a throne, but for all eternity.
James and John may seem egotistical and overconfident in the gospel passage, but I imagine they were also uncertain and afraid. They were being thrust into a position they were not ready to take, one that they did not know that they could handle. They were being called to something much different than they expected. Jesus rejected their request and addressed their arrogance as well as their fears. He told them that He could not grant them their request because it was not for Him to give. Our calling, our vocation, our role in God’s kingdom comes from God. He will call and He will provide all we need to perform our duties. We simply respond with humility and God will see to the rest. And we do so trusting that we dwell in God our protector by virtue of the work Jesus Christ did on the cross.
“Now Jehovah said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make they name great; and be thou a blessing; and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3, ASV)
I just took a bunch of old athletic shoes to the Nike store up the road. At that store, and many others around the country, Nike takes the old sneakers, sends them to a processing plant and recycles them into something new. The shoes are separated: rubber, foam and fabric. The parts are cleaned and ground up into tiny pieces, which are then used to create different surfaces. From the Nike Reuseashoe website, “Nike Grind Rubber, made from the shoe’s outsole, is used in track surfaces, interlocking gym flooring tiles, playground surfacing and consumer products, such as new footwear outsoles and trim items like buttons and zipper pulls. Nike Grind Foam, made from the shoe’s midsole, is used as a cushion for outdoor basketball and tennis courts, as well as futsal fields. Nike Grind Upper, made from the shoe’s fabric upper, is used in the creation of cushioning pads for indoor basketball, volleyball courts and equestrian surfacing products.” Even the leftover parts they can’t use in the athletic surfaces are recycled.
Nike doesn’t make the athletic surfaces, but they partner with several businesses that do. The companies take the Nike Grind and use it to make safe, sturdy and attractive. Along with the recycling program, Nike has established a program that gives matching grants to help youth-oriented programs build and refurbish running tracks. Again from the website, “To date, 20 Bowerman track projects have used Nike Grind in state-of-the-art track surfaces each consisting of approximately 75,000 recycled athletic shoes.” More than 1.5 million shoes are being recycled yearly by the program, keeping those sneakers out of the landfills and providing good materials for play spaces for athletes and kids.
I gave eight pairs of shoes. Those eight pairs wouldn’t do much good, but those eight pairs are part of something bigger. A little bit helps a lot. Sometimes we wonder what we could possibly do, especially when the problems seem so big. How can one person feed hundreds of hungry people? How can one person clean up the garbage in the rivers? How can one person change the world? Unfortunately, the answer is that one person usually can’t make those big changes that are needed. However, if each individual took eight pairs of sneakers to the Nike Store, the impact could be huge. It is huge, because obviously thousands of people are recycling their sneakers each year.
The same is true with our faith. It seems like we couldn’t possibly make a difference as an individual sharing our faith. And yet, if we share the love and grace of God with just one person, and they come to know the redeeming forgiveness that we receive through Jesus Christ, they will be transformed into something new. Then there are two. Soon there are four, then eight, then sixteen or more. We don’t say anything because we do not think we can make a difference, but as each new person is drawn into the heart of God, the world will slowly be transformed into something new. One word becomes part of something much bigger.
There are many things we can do to be responsible in this modern world. Recycling our sneakers is just one. We each can be part of the transformation, even if it is a very small part. God has given us gifts and He calls us to use our resources to bring transformation and reconciliation to the world. Each one is unique, each calling individual. If we do what we can do, instead of doing nothing because we don’t think we can have an impact, we’ll see the world changing before our very eyes. But let us never forget that we have been blessed to be a blessing, not only in the physical universe, but also in the spiritual lives of our neighbors. If we take just a moment to share Christ’s love with someone who needs to feel His embrace, we might just see God glorified in the most magnificent way. After all, look what has become of Abraham and his faith.
To learn more about the Nike Recycling Program, please visit: Nike Reuse-a-Shoe
“And there cometh to him a leper, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And being moved with compassion, he stretched forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou made clean. And straightway the leprosy departed from him, and he was made clean. And he strictly charged him, and straightway sent him out, and saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing the things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to spread abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into a city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.” (Mark 1:40-45, ASV)
I was reading an article today about certain foods that are helpful in keeping the body healthy, especially in this time when so many people are afraid of the flu. Now, these foods are good for you anyway, but they offer especially important nutrients and vitamins that will build up the body’s ability to fight disease. Along with those particular foods, it is good to eat properly, rest and exercise. While we think about these things when there is a threat, we would remain much healthier if we built these habits into our daily lives year round.
Now, as I read the list of foods, I had to laugh because the first item on the list was garlic. Garlic has long been accepted as an important part of a healthy diet. But when it came to keeping the flu away, I wondered: is it the garlic making us healthy, or the garlic smell that keeps sick people away? That’s a joke, but isn’t there some reality in the humor? After all, the experts have been pleading with people who might have the flu to stay home so that they do not spread the disease to others. Schools are offering ways for students to stay on top of their work. Work places are finding ways for employees to remain productive, even if they are at home. Doctors recommend that healthy people take care of themselves by washing their hands and by avoiding contact with those who are sick.
This last part is hard, because we don’t always know when someone is carrying the flu virus. Symptoms often show up days after the person has been contagious, so we have interacted with the as normal, only to find days later that we might have contracted the virus, despite how careful we have been.
There is another problem, however, from the perspective of our Christian faith. After all, who needs us more: the sick or the healthy? How can we avoid the sick when it is in their time of distress that they need us the most? Now, don’t get me wrong. We can’t be any good to anyone if we are sick, but where do we draw the line? When does mercy trump self-protection? Where does compassion fit into a world where fear of disease has become epidemic?
There are those who have, with extraordinary faith and trust, have set aside all fears to serve the needs of those who are suffering from disease. Mother Theresa was never concerned about her own health. She was only concerned about making life, and death, more comfortable. Princess Diana offered her hand to people with AIDS when the world wanted to lock the sufferers away apart from the rest of the world. In today’s story, Jesus reached out and touched a man with a disease that was possibly contagious, despite the dangers. Even if the leprosy could not spread from man to man, touching him was against the rules of the religion. They didn’t have our modern understanding of disease, so they created rules that would help them keep the disease at bay. Not much different than the rules we’ve established to keep our community healthy in a time when there is a threat of epidemic disease.
As we are facing the uncertainty of tomorrow, we are reminded in today’s text that there are moments when the need for compassion far outweighs the threat. We might have to take a risk to show mercy to someone in need. This does not mean being stupid. There’s no reason to take unnecessary risks with our health. But we can develop good habits so that we’ll have strong, healthy bodies for those moments when we might have to step into a danger zone for the sake of someone’s life.
So now, while we are healthy, let’s remember the stories of how Jesus reached past the fear to touch those in need, even when His own spiritual and physical health was at risk. And let’s do whatever we can, even if it means eating garlic, to keep ourselves healthy for that day when we might be asked to step out of our fear into an opportunity to share Jesus’ mercy and compassion with someone in need.
“And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16, ASV)
I read the story of a woman today who is making an excellent life for herself doing something she really loves. Joanna Alberti is a doodler. She is really an artist, but loves to doodle. She was working for an advertising agency when a co-worker noticed her doodles and asked if she would be willing to draw on some bridal invitations. Joanna spent her days working at her normal job, and then working at night on the invitations. Eventually she took her character Sophie into a whole new career, producing merchandise with doodles and words of wisdom that stem from her life. Her business, philoSophie’s®, offers greeting cards and other paper goods, plus t-shirts and gift items like key chains and make-up cases.
In the article, Joanna is quoted as saying, “Some people say, ‘you’re really lucky,’ and I take that as a compliment. It's easy to look lucky after you've worked really hard to make it look effortless.” Joanna was rated as one of Business Week’s top five entrepreneurs under 25 in 2005. Now 28, her company continues to grow. She started a journal during her college years, which she says she kept with her at all times to catch those moments to remember: dialogues, diatribes or just meaningless junk from her imagination. “I called it my book of philosophies,” she said. Her first customers were friends and co-workers, but she eventually realized she could follow her own dreams and create something doing what she loves.
There may have been some luck involved, but her success has come from hard work. She began by drawing each card individually, sometimes creating 500 cards in a day. She went store to store to store selling her ideas. She has had to deal with all the business matters of her business, like getting loans, paying bills, ordering supplies. It isn’t easy. And it isn’t luck that got her to where she is now. There are those who do not like her products, thinking that they promote an ideology of “spend, spend, spend” and traditional stereotypes of women, but Joanna has found a niche in a world where many people are having difficulty making ends meet. As her company grows, she’ll hire more people and provide more opportunities for people to learn how to do what she does, both as a doodler and a business woman.
I don’t know anything about Joanna Alberti’s personal life. I don’t know if she is a woman of faith or the make-up of her family. I do know that Joanna has worked hard to accomplish something she loves, and she has become successful doing so. What if we put our own heart and soul into the work we do in response to the faith we’ve been given? What if we used our gifts fully to the benefit of God’s kingdom? What if we didn’t rely on the ‘luck’ of running into someone who needs to hear the grace of God and share it with all we pass, because someone, somewhere needs to hear the Good News. Living in faith isn’t easy, and it isn’t a life of lucky chances. It is a life of sharing our time, talents and resources with those who need what we have to give so that the world will see God manifest in the world. You may not end up going out on your own, creating a new company with a new and unusual idea, but everything you do will glorify God when you share your gifts with those who need to know God’s grace.
"But the Spirit saith expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified through the word of God and prayer. If thou put the brethren in mind of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished in the words of the faith, and of the good doctrine which thou hast followed until now: but refuse profane and old wives' fables. And exercise thyself unto godliness: for bodily exercise is profitable for a little; but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come. Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation. For to this end we labor and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe." (1 Timothy 4:1-10, ASV)
One of the big stories from last week was about they boy that was supposedly whisked away in a runaway balloon. For several hours on Friday, news reporters chased this balloon and the country worried about the six year old that was in danger. As more information became known, it was discovered that the boy was never in the balloon, he was hiding in a box in the garage. As it turns out, the family has been involved in reality television and they wanted to be involved in another show. They are accused of perpetrating a hoax to gain the fame they desire and hopefully more television opportunities. A few days ago the family was wallowing in the attention of the nation, and now they are hiding behind closed doors, begging to be left alone.
On October 20, 1967, two men recorded some of the most famous video of all time: video of Bigfoot. Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin went to Six Rivers National Forest in northern California because there were a number of reports of sightings there for nearly a decade. Patterson became interested in the topic because of an article he read. He wrote a book in 1966 piecing together all the newspaper clippings, eyewitness reports and other information he’d gathered about Bigfoot. Patterson and Gimlin were hoping to get more evidence to give credibility to Patterson’s book. They went with the intention of shooting only with a camera, although wondered afterward if they should have shot the Bigfood so that all questions would be put to rest.
See, though the film appears realistic, it has long been regarded as a hoax by viewers, especially scientists. There are inconsistencies with the stories. Patterson and Gimlin were the only witnesses, although another man came forward years later claiming that he wore the costume specially created for this event. There is a question about the camera settings, the walk of the beast and the body. Making it impossible to know the truth is the fact that several people claim to have been the costume maker. The scientific community didn’t pay much attention to the movie, claiming that it was impossible for the creature to exist in the conditions claimed by witnesses. Other hoaxes had already been perpetrated, and to this day no one really knows whether or not they exist or if they movie is true.
There are many such things in the world. Lake monsters, UFO’s, chupachabras and other dangerous and odd creatures reported around the world. The television show “Destination Truth” on the SyFy channel travels around the world trying to find proof either for these stories or against them. They seek scientific help with their evidence which includes video, audio and artifacts found at the sites. Even with their modern, highly technical equipment, they usually finish their research with more questions than answers. They often leave a place scratching their heads, wondering what it was that they experienced, knowing that there is no logical explanation.
We might laugh or shake our heads at some of these stories. After all, who would put so much time into creating a publicity stunt like the balloon boy’s family last week or the men videotaping a Bigfoot forty-two years ago. Yet, there were those two thousand years ago that claimed Jesus’ resurrection was nothing but a publicity stunt done by the disciples to get the attention of the people of Jerusalem. After all, if the body disappeared, then Jesus’ words would have more credibility and the disciples would draw more followers. Even today there are still those that hold to the claim that Jesus never did rise from the dead.
Yet, we who believe that it is the truth are called to continue to be witnesses to the grace and mercy of God that is found in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Just as in the strange mysteries of our world, there are those who make claims about faith. Be careful to know what it is you believe, to stand firm in that truth and to do all that God has commanded. There are those who think they can fool the world, and they may do so for a season, but all things will come to light in God’s time. Walk in faith, trusting in God, and know that He has done all that has been said and He will do all that He has promised.
Scriptures for Sunday, October 25, 2009: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52 or for Reformation Day: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
“Jehovah hath done great things for us, Whereof we are glad.” (Psalm 126:3, ASV)
Many churches will take this next Sunday to remember the day Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-five Theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg. The document was meant to begin an academic debate about the issues that they church faced. Those Ninety-five Theses set off an explosion of reformation in the Church. Along with the political upheaval of the day, Martin Luther sent the world spinning in a whole new direction. One of the main issues that concerned Brother Martin was that indulgences were being sold to build a grand new church in Rome. Martin Luther was not so concerned about building the building. He was concerned by the mistaken understanding of salvation understood by those purchasing the indulgences. He preached the reality that God saved His people by His grace through faith, not through any works of human hands. We can’t buy salvation. It comes free from God. Human effort is temporary and perishable.
The sellers of indulgences created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in the hearts of the believers, manipulating them into believing that they could buy their way, or the way of their loved ones, into heaven. Along with financial indulgences, the people thought they could do things to gain the forgiveness that God gives for free. People, including Martin Luther, did acts of piety in the hopes that it would bring them the holiness that God required of His people. While in Rome on business, Martin Luther visited the places that held sacred relics and even climbed the steps of the Lateran Church on his knees, saying the Lord’s Prayer on every step. Many pilgrims did this, with the hope that they would satisfy God.
Interestingly, when he reached the top, he wondered to himself, “What if this doesn’t work?” Would the painful act bring him the peace of assurance that his salvation was secure? He didn’t feel at peace that day, nor did he ever feel peace when he spent hours in confession. Nothing made him feel like he was forgiven. Nothing gave him the courage to boldly stand firmly in God’s promises. That is, until he discovered the Epistle text we read during worship on Reformation Sunday. Paul writes, “But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26, ASV)
There is a Reformation Day message in the scriptures for Lectionary 30: the stories of Israel’s salvation and Bartimaeus’ sight. Jeremiah offers a promise from God, a promise of salvation for those who have been exiled. The path that they would walk would be directed by God Himself. “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.” This salvation was not meant for a select few or for only those who are perfect. As a matter of fact, God was ready to answer to all those who called out to Him.
Jeremiah talks in the Old Testament passage about a remnant. Those who sew know that a remnant is a leftover piece of cloth, the end of a roll, often sold at a discount. The pieces are usually too small to make anything, certainly not a piece of clothing. I search the remnants for material to use for craft projects, and quilters can often use pieces for quilts they create. Usually, though, these pieces are worthless and unwanted. The word “remnant” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a usually small part, member, or trace remaining; a small surviving group—often used in plural.” The remnant of Israel would be a small surviving group, a group with no power, no authority, and no position in the world.
In this case, the remnant includes those who turned to the Lord, who returned to the Lord. Israel had been lost, forgetting the works of God and turning to the nations for aid. The judgment they received for their unfaithfulness was exile in Assyria. But God did not send them into exile without a promise: they would be saved. In today’s passage, God calls His people to praise Him. “Sing Hosanna” which means, “Save, O LORD, your people.” They were called to rejoice in what God has done and what He will do.
In this passage, He calls His people both “the chief of nations” and a remnant. This doesn’t make sense in our mind. How can a remnant be a chief? Then He says, “For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born.” The irony, here, is that Ephraim was the second son of Joseph who was the eleventh son of Jacob. He could not be the first born. The nation could not be chief. Israel was just a remnant. But God can do whatever He wants to do.
The trip into exile did bring His people back into His heart. The remnant did turn back to Him and they were returned to their home. The Temple was rebuilt and they returned year after year to seek His forgiveness for their sins. The priests did what they were ordained to do. They offered the sacrifices. They prayed the prayers. They offered the bread and the blood. But the writer of Hebrews tells us that the work they did was not permanent. Day after day, over and over again they offered the sacrifices, but they had to do so year after year. What they did was temporary because they were temporary. But God can do whatever He wants to do, and He offered a greater priest with a greater sacrifice: one that as permanent. He was holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens.
Yet, He was one of us. Jesus Christ was born of a woman. He suffered temptation in the wilderness. His flesh required food, rest, bathing. He needed clothes to wear and shelter. He enjoyed the company of disciples and thrived in the presence of the searching crowds. He got angry. He laughed. He cried. His human experience gave him the understanding to be sympathetic to us, but His divine place made Him holy and perfect to be an eternal priest. He is the perfect intercessor. He can do whatever He wants to do.
Imagine what it must have been like for Bartimaeus. He had heard stories about Jesus and he knew that Jesus could help him. In today’s Gospel story, Jesus, the disciples and the crowds were leaving Jericho. They passed by the city gates where beggars sat in the hope that a pilgrim or passerby might give a morsel or a coin. He heard that Jesus was coming, so he called out, “Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.” Bartimaeus was a nobody; he was less than a nobody. He was blind, so he was cursed. The people thought he must have done something to deserve his dis-ease. Even though the crowds told Bartimaeus to be quiet, he kept calling to Jesus, the Son of David. He knew. He saw something that the others could not see. He was blind, but not so blind that he didn’t know the One who could change his life. He was a remnant, a surviving piece, one who turned to God for salvation.
Being blind in Jesus’ day was much harder than it is today. Though blindness is a disability, many blind people in our age are able to lead normal, independent lives. For Bartimaeus, blindness meant rejection, hunger, begging. It meant being outcast from society and persecution. It meant exile, like the Israelites in the passage from Jeremiah. It was understandable if the people of his day looked upon him as a sinner, unworthy of Jesus’ time and power. But Bartimaeus did not let his low position stop him from crying out to God. Did he cry out, “Hosanna” along with his cry for mercy? Did he sing that praise found in the Old Testament lesson, “Save, O LORD, your people.” He sought mercy and Jesus invited him into His presence.
When asked, he told Jesus, “I want to see again.” Bartimaeus did not ask for healing; he asked to see again. I am certain he wanted to see with his eyes, for sight would give him his life. But his request came with an interesting title: my Teacher. Did he also want to see with his heart? The heart was the center of the being, the place of the mind as well as the emotions. Jesus answered, “Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.” Jesus provided him healing—his eyes and his heart. He was made whole because he believed in Jesus.
God can do whatever He wants to do. Knowledge of this fact is what gave Martin Luther peace. He realized that it was not his works or his words that would bring salvation, and he knew that there was no peace in relying on his own abilities or actions. Only in God can we have peace. The psalmist knows what it is like to experience the grace of God, and knows that even in praising God for what He has done there is room to look forward to what God can do. We praise God at every moment for what has been and what will be. We rejoice in what God has done and what He will do. For “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” God can do whatever He wants to do, and He does all that He has promised. We live trusting in His faithfulness, crying “Hosanna” to our Father, counted among His firstborn despite our unworthiness. All this by grace through faith in the Eternal One who can save.
“Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing. If any man thinketh himself to be religious, while he bridleth not his tongue but deceiveth his heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:21-27, ASV)
Our cats all wear collars. The collars look cute on the cats, but they have a specific purpose: to hold the license tags that identify them as ours. Our cats stay indoors, but you never know when a cat might escape out a window or sneak out a door. Felix was certainly very good at escaping our grasp, having jumped out of second story windows and learned how to open doors. None of our current cats have gotten that brave, but they do sometimes try to run through our feet when we are going through the door, and I worry that one day one of them will push the window screen out of its track.
We also like to have the collars because we keep a jingle bell on each cat. They can’t sneak up on us because we hear the bell ringing as they approach. This isn’t such a good idea in the middle of the night when they decide to play chase tag or wrestle in our room. But it is lovely to hear those jingle bells come running when we come into the house after having been gone for awhile. And it is funny to see how they try to sneak up on each other but can’t because the bells given them away.
Now, cat collars are designed to be safe for cats. Since cats climb trees and hide in tight places, it is very easy for a collar to get caught and possibly strangle a cat. So, they collars are given a break-away feature. Some simply have a thin elastic strap that will break when pulled hard enough. Others have a hook that comes apart fairly easy. I don’t like the collars with the elastic strap because once the strap breaks, the collar is unusable. The break-apart hook can be reattached if the cat manages to get out of it. That is, of course, if you can find the collar.
It is important to keep the collar loose enough for the cat to be comfortable and safe. But there’s a fine line between loose enough to be safe and loose enough for the cat to get off the collar. Samson has figured out how to break free from his collar. He hasn’t done so for a long time, but I recently enlarged the collar because he has been growing and the collar was getting too tight. Unfortunately, I made it too big and he was able to get it into his mouth and push until it broke free. Over the past few days we have had to search the house to find the collar several times. He’s managed to escape from it in a different place each time. Sometimes the collar is right out in the open, but sometimes it is hidden and very hard to find. It is almost as if he made it impossible to find so that he wouldn’t have to wear it.
Samson hates his collar. I don’t think any cats really like collars, but they get used to having it around their neck. We can’t explain that the collar will help them return home if they get lost, or make it clear that when we don’t hear them sneak up behind us we might just accidentally step on them. Samson just can’t understand why it is so important. To him, the freedom is more important than the safety of having the collar around his neck. He doesn’t realize that he has more freedom with the collar than he would without it, because if he does escape, he will be able to find his way home.
We have a hard time understanding how any law gives freedom, but James talks about the perfect Law that gives freedom in today’s lesson. The perfect Law is that which calls us to live our lives in response to all that God has done for us. The perfect Law is not a law that must be obeyed for us to earn our way into God’s grace. It is a Law that frees us to be all that God has created us to be. It is sin that binds us. If Samson does not have that collar with a tag, we must guard all the more closely so that he won’t get lost. The Word of God calls us into a life of service and peace and hope, a life of sharing God’s grace with the world, a life that glorifies God.
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord: and he that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, unto the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But thou, why dost thou judge thy brother? or thou again, why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, to me every knee shall bow, And every tongue shall confess to God. So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:5-12, ASV)
Several stories I’ve heard or read today have to deal with top ten lists. People choose a topic and then pick their top ten of that topic. One such list today was “which songs would you use to torture someone.” This is, perhaps, not the most Christian of discussions; after all, we shouldn’t want to torture anyone. But it was funny, all the same. Some of the choices didn’t make sense to the reporters. They were favorite songs or favorite artists. “How could that album torture anyone?” they asked. But then, some of their choices didn’t make sense to me, either. We all have our own personal opinions about what is best; we all make our own top ten lists.
Sometimes when these stories come out, they are either written as if this is an official list that the world has to accept or some of the readers are offended because they think these lists are decided by some scientific methodology. “How could you leave out my favorite?” they ask. It is funny to read the comments to online stories as people argue about whether or not one cartoon character is better than another. The answer to this question, in reality, is dependent on a person’s point of view. Someone may love a hard rock group while someone else gets a headache from the heavy base in the music. Someone may love the dance beat of one group while someone else may find that same beat annoyingly simple.
The differences may be based on experiences. We all have songs that we either love or hate because of the events we identify with them. I know that some will make fun of me for this, but I like disco music because of the memories it brings on. I remember disco dancing in the basement of a friend’s house and I remember having such a good time. The differences may be based on emotion. I don’t know about you, but there are some songs that evoke powerful emotions. Sometimes the emotions are happy, bringing back good memories. Sometimes the emotions are sad or angry. We might like or hate a song based on those emotions. Different people may enjoy or not enjoy a song because their physical bodies are affected differently. Some songs actually make my head hurt. If you found one of those songs and used it to torture me, you quickly make me break just to get it to stop. Yet, those very songs are probably someone’s favorites.
Which villain is really the meanest? How do you define something like? I might think Cruella de Vil is the meanest villain because she threatens cute little puppies. Or I might think Dr. Hannibal Lector is the meanest because he is so cruel not only physically but also psychologically. Our top ten list of evil people will depend on our idea of evil. Our deepest, darkest fears and the things we love the most will show as we place first those villains that use that fear and love to do their evil work.
Needless to say, then, it is ridiculous to argue over which movies, videogames, food mascot, book, television mom or anything else belong on any top ten list. My choices will naturally be different than your choices. It almost seems silly that journalists will create these lists, although they are fun ways of making people think about the past. When a famous person dies, remembering their best movies or songs is one way of honoring their memory. As Halloween or another holiday approaches, thinking about those things we identify with those days helps us plan fun ways of celebrating. Looking at the top ten list of food mascots helps us to realize how the advertisers use cute, or not so cute, characters to make us want to purchase their products.
If we can’t agree which cartoon character is the cutest, it is no wonder that we can’t see the things of faith in the same way. Not only will we have different points of view about religious things based on experience and emotions, but also based on our gender, geographic location and even how long we have been a Christian. A newly converted adult will see the things of God in a different way than a person who has been part of a church since childhood. We have even seen things differently through the stages of our life. A child sees with innocence, a teenager with the aggression of impending independence, a young mother through the eyes of hope for her child, a middle-age father as he’s facing the final years of his life, an elderly couple as they live out their faith with a new hope for what will be. So, as we look at our brothers and sisters in Christ, it is good to remember that they see the world through different eyes. Rather than judge them for their “top ten list,” we can love one another as Christ loved us.
“Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith Jehovah. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith Jehovah: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know Jehovah; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith Jehovah: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34, ASV)
I read an article today on www.spinner.com called “I Hate My Hit! 10 Songs Disowned by the People Who Made Them Famous.” It is an interesting study of regret. We all do things we wish we hadn’t done. We say things we know immediately were inappropriate. We do things that are not the best for our life or for the lives of those we touch. We all have regrets, although most of us aren’t impacted by our regrets the way these artists are impacted.
After all, these singers earned their fame with the songs they now disown, but those who follow them still want to hear the songs that they love. Take, for example, Madonna. I can remember being a peer mentor for the youth group at our church when her songs “Holiday” and “Like a Virgin” were popular. The younger girls were really into her music and her style. I was only a few years older, but didn’t quite understand the desire to imitate Madonna’s look, although I liked the basic dance beat of those first few songs. Madonna has certainly moved away from that style of clothing and music, but her fans still want to hear the songs. She refuses, unless she’s paid enough money, of course.
Bobby McFerrin is another artist that has a song he would rather not perform. His hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is a favorite of many, including myself. It is upbeat and happy, and it makes me feel good when I hear it. It is snappy, too, impossible to ignore when it is on the radio. You just have to sing along with the song. There’s nothing bad about it, so it makes you wonder why a musician would want to disown it. The trouble is that Bobby McFerrin is not a pop singer; he’s a classically trained musician. He is now conducting pieces written by Mozart, and this is the professional image he wants for his career. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is far from that image. It was written in just an hour. It is simplistic and silly when compared to the complexity of classical music.
A third artist described in the article is one with whom I am not familiar. France Gall is a French singer who made a song called “Les Sucettes.” It was written by a song writer named Serge Gainsbourg who convinced her to record the song. What France Gall did not know is that the song, which is about a little girl enjoying lollipops, has an underlying provocative meaning. She was a naïve teenager, innocently unknowing of the real purpose of the song. She feels that she was fooled into singing a song with a meaning she did not wish to portray and refuses now to sing that song.
Whatever the reason, I’m sure there are plenty of other artists who regret songs they have recorded that will be with us, and them, forever. Thom Yorke complained that his band Radiohead can’t play any new music until they play a favorite because the crowd boos at everything else until they hear one particular song. Musicians, like all of us, want to be able to grow beyond the things of our past. Unfortunately, once a person has fame, the things that helped that person gain the fame become a part of who they are to the fans.
We might not have the same problem, but we live in a world where everything we do is recorded in some way, like on the Internet. Stories recently have warned Internet users, particularly those who use the networking sites, that everything they post becomes part of their history and can impact jobs and relationships negatively. Some employers search the Internet even before reading a resume, looking for character traits for their prospective employees from the things they post. Unfortunately, once something finds its way to the Internet, it never goes away. Politicians are quickly learning to temper their speech because everyone has a video camera these days. They can never live down the mistakes they make because the videos circulate forever.
We have regrets, each of us. And some of our mistakes will stay with us for a very long time. If people can’t forgive and forget, they will hold our mistakes against us. If we have done something foolish, it can stand as a testament to what we were, even if we have changed in some way. We have difficulty forgiving ourselves for some of the things we have done. But one thing is true: we are forgiven anyway. Even if our neighbors won’t let go or if we can’t let go, God does. We can live in that forgiveness, finding a way to make the best of our mistakes.
“Who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me: Then shall I be upright, And I shall be clear from great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, ASV)
We have three cats right now, but I’ve almost always had a cat as a pet. Felix, Samson and Delilah were given to us by friends who had a mother cat with babies. Tigger was rescued from the animal shelter, a fulfilled promise to Victoria. When we found out that we were going to move from Little Rock, Arkansas to San Antonio, Texas, Victoria was devastated. She was just entering her teenage years and had a number of very good friends at a school that she loved. She was at that age when change is difficult. We promised that when we were settled in our new house we would get a kitten. We put it off a few months but promised that once school was out for summer, we would get the new cat. Since Victoria’s school was right across the street from her school, she said, “Fine, but I’m walking over to the animal shelter at the end of the school day on the last day of school and we’ll pick my kitty then.” And she did. And we did. And Tigger has been a delightful addition to our family.
When I was young, my dad worked for an auto body shop that had a number of junkyards where they kept old cars for parts. Junkyards are the perfect place for stray cats to hang out because there is plenty of prey for them to chase, so when we were between cats, he would come home with a new one from the junkyard. The cat would stay because it was much easier to find food in a bowl than to find a mouse to eat. Unfortunately, the cats were often female, and the females were always pregnant. We soon had plenty of cats around our house with which to play.
Of all the ways we have gotten kittens, we never did find anything in the wild to bring home to Mom and Dad. But there was a story recently about some children who did just that. They went home with the adorable kitten, begging their parents, “Can we keep it? Please?” Unfortunately, the kitten they found was not a normal domesticated cat. The kids were from a small village of Bhatvadar, India and the kitten was a leopard cub.
Luckily, the parents quickly realized, when the kitten growled rather than meowed, that the kitten would not make a good household pet. It might be cute as a baby, but it would quickly grow into a large and dangerous feline. Though it may have been friendly to the hands that fed it, a wild animal is always a wild animal. Besides, the mother cat might have been lingering nearby, willing to do whatever was necessary to rescue her kitten from the humans. They returned the kitten to the place where it was found, hoping that the mother would find it and continue to care for it.
We never knew what we would get when we brought a kitten home. With love and care, the cats become loving members of our families. They each have unique traits that reflect their past. Felix, we believe, was part English wildcat, and he had unusual strength. Tigger was taken from his mother much too early, and even at five and a half years old he still needs the comfort of suckling (usually one of my stuffed animals.) My cat LaToya was found in a bag in a parking lot at a mall, dumped by someone. She was afraid of everything and everyone except our closest family members even at fifteen years old. The pregnant kitties gave us more kitties to love. Leopard kittens are very cute, but eventually the kittens become dangerous. We can’t see those personality traits right away, but they do not remain hidden forever.
Human beings aren’t much different. We can’t necessarily see the traits when we are young that will develop as we grow older, especially those traits that make us fallible and broken. There might be something about our past that brings out these traits, but like the leopard kittens, we have within our nature the ability to be wild or godless. But nothing is hidden from God. He knows our innermost secrets, even the things we do not recognize in ourselves. And He forgives us for all our sins, whether they are known or unknown, visible or hidden, major or minor. With His help, with His love and care and nurturing, we can grow to be a loving, caring, forgiven person.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 1, 2009: Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalm 119:1-8; Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34 or All Saints Sunday: Isaiah 25:6-9 or Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44
“Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34b, ASV)
In the Old Testament passage for All Saints Day we get a glimpse of a vision of the heavenly realm. This is an image that gives us hope when we lose those we love to death and the grave. “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.” We hear this as a people set free from the oppression of sin and death, but the people in Isaiah’s day heard something different, something more urgent. Isaiah was speaking to people who had wandered away from God. They faced exile because they were unfaithful. They had no hope, no peace. They had lost sight of the God of grace. But their God was never far, for He cannot be kept in the boxes that we build. He had a gift to give, the gift of salvation. The people would one day see home again, and there they would experience the gracious generosity of God.
We will one day see home again, too. But our home won’t be a place on earth; it will be in the presence of God for eternity. We will be welcomed into a banquet feast that will never end, with the best of all that God has to offer. We will one day see what John saw in a vision so long ago, “And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven of God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” Though this is a future hope, it is also a present promise. God gives us a glimmer of what will be even in this life. We see it as we gather with all the saints, past and present, at the table of the Lord, when we feast on His promises in the Holy Eucharist. But even as we are saints, we are still sinners in need of God’s grace.
God has promised us His extravagant goodness. Now we live as both saints and sinners in the hope for tomorrow, in the faith of today—believing that God is with us and that He calls us to share His love and mercy with others. That’s why it is appropriate on this All Saints Day to look at the scriptures prescribed for the Lectionary on this twenty-second Sunday in Pentecost. The passages call us to seek God, to receive His grace and enjoy what He has promised not only in the future but in this day.
Mark tells us about one of the scribes, a man who seems to approach Jesus differently than most of the Jewish leadership. He doesn’t come as an aggressive adversary, but he comes with a sincere desire to talk with Jesus. The Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, were arguing with Jesus about the afterlife of a woman who had married seven brothers, all of whom died without an heir. “Whose wife will she be? Jesus answered that the new life after resurrection is different, that there is no marriage. He also reminded them that God referred to Israel’s patriarchs in the present tense to Moses, despite their being dead for generations, proving that God is the God of the living, not the dead.
The teacher of the law liked what he heard, and asked Jesus which commandment was the most important one. Jesus quoted two Old Testament passages, including a verse from our Old Testament passage for the day. “Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah: and thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” Then He reached into the book of the law (Leviticus) and gave another command, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The man answered, “Of a truth, Teacher, thou hast well said that he is one; and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is much more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.” He accepted Jesus’ authority as a teacher and expounded upon the lesson, thus showing himself an authority, also.
I like the way this Gospel passage ends, “And no man after that durst ask him any question.” This is a turning point in the ministry of Jesus. He has already been triumphantly welcomed into Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders have tried to catch him every type of foible: social, religious, political. There are no questions left to ask, but Jesus still has something to say. It seems that at least a few of the leaders were beginning to understand and believe in Jesus. But the rest knew they had to find a way to stop Him. Jesus did nothing to ease their fears. Jesus did not fear what would come because He knew that it was the way it must be. All that we have, our sainthood despite our sinfulness, would come only after He completed His work in this world. That work would be finished on the cross. Hope for the future would never be found at the end of a debate over law or in the opinions of men. It would be found only in the blood of the Savior, shed on the cross.
The writer of Hebrews makes it clear: the old ways were not good enough. The blood of goats and sheep could not do the job. Only the blood of Jesus can bring us the assurance of the promises of God. The reality of what will be came with His willingness to be obedient to what God intended for His life. Nothing we can do can change that. Even though we are sinners living in a promise as saints, we are sanctified for His service. We are made holy by His holiness, and in that holiness are freed and empowered to live as God intends for us to live: loving Him and our neighbor with our entire being.
As we celebrate this All Saints Sunday, we remember the saints that have gone before us but we are reminded that we too are saints. As we celebrate Holy Communion we receive a foretaste of the feast to come. We get a glimpse of heaven even while we are still on earth, for God is dwelling with us. In His grace, we join together with all the saints outside time and space until we will all live together as we await the New Jerusalem. And as we wait, we live the life God calls us to live, happy and blessed, praising God not only with our mouths but with our actions, steadfastly observing the Word of God, the law of Love.
“But not as the trespass, so also is the free gift. For if by the trespass of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many. And not as through one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment came of one unto condemnation, but the free gift came of many trespasses unto justification. For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; much more shall they that receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, even Jesus Christ. So then as through one trespass the judgment came unto all men to condemnation; even so through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men to justification of life. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall the many be made righteous.” (Romans 5:15-19, ASV)
I have a virtual pet on Facebook. Princess is a virtual cat that I can visit. The program allows me to play, bathe, feed and tickle my pet and it ‘pays’ me virtual coins every time I do. I can also visit my friends’ virtual pets, earning more virtual coins when I do. There is a pet shop where we can ‘buy’ habitats and things for our virtual pets, to make our pets happy and their ‘homes’ more enjoyable. The gifts in the pet shop are often designed to fit into seasonal themes or reflect real time events. When someone famous dies or something exciting happens, merchandise in the pet shop allows us to put our virtual pets in the middle of the action.
I’ve used the word “virtual” a number of times today because nothing about this pet is real. Princess is nothing more than a graphic on the screen. I enjoy playing with it, ‘buying’ things in the pet shop, because it is a creative outlet for me. I love decorating her habitat, making it pretty, planning schemes. I play with my friends’ pets just so I can have coins to buy new things. It is a very cheap way to ‘shop’ because it costs me no real money. Some people put far more into these virtual pets, however. It is possible to get virtual items for real money. You can set up an account with a credit card and use actual cash to buy ‘gold’ which can be used to by very cool items for your virtual pet. Some of the items cost ten or fifteen dollars. I have even seen an item cost twenty-five dollars. That is a lot of money for a virtual pet.
Brand new coin items are added to the pet shop on Thursday. It is important to visit fairly early if you want a chance to get some of the items because they are not available for very long. The items are limited edition; each one is released with a specific number in stock. Some are made readily available, and are even around long enough to ‘go on sale.’ But other items are picked up quickly and are impossible to find. I’m sure there’s a real world reason for this. After all, for the creators of the application, there must be some payout. The gold coins are one way they earn a living. Advertisers are another. They are more likely to get high paying advertising if they can prove that they have plenty of clicks into the program.
But I have to wonder, how to do count a virtual inventory? Oh, yes, it can be digitally counted, but how do you run out of something that isn’t real? How do you sell out of virtual items? I know that I can take a computer file of a photo and copy it over and over and over again, hundreds of times, and share it with everyone I know. There is no limit. So, why limit these digital, virtual items?
The problem is, many people equate the grace and mercy of God with people like those who run virtual applications. They tend to limit God’s grace. After all, real life things have to be limited. There are only so many copies of a book produced. There are only so many dresses sewn. At Christmas time we know the reality of this as the most popular children’s toys get sold out early in the shopping season. Any mother trying to find that hot new toy on the day before Christmas knows how this feels. But God is not like virtual applications creators or the real life toy manufacturers. His grace is made abundant to all through Jesus Christ our Lord. It isn’t limited. It isn’t only for those who get to there first. It isn’t only for those who have enough money.
“If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory. Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; for which things' sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience: wherein ye also once walked, when ye lived in these things; but now do ye also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth: lie not one to another; seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye: and above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye were called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God. And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:1-17, ASV)
With Halloween right around the corner, the idea of art imitating life is pretty obvious. As a matter of fact, many of the most popular Halloween costumes are of real, famous people or reflect current events. Among the top costumes for this year are Barach Obama and former presidents, Michael Jackson, Billy Mays and Patrick Swayze, Kate Gosselin and the swine flu. The popularity of vampire books and movies has also been reflected in costume sales. Art imitates life in every medium. Which of us hasn’t identified with the characters and events in some movie, television show or book? I laugh when I watch “Everyone Loves Raymond” because Frank reminds me of my dad.
Sometimes life imitates art. Well, I suppose it is not so much imitation but inspiration. How many kids have dreamed of becoming astronauts because they read a science fiction novel or enjoyed the “Star Wars” movies? How many people have risked everything to move to New York or Hollywood because they wanted to live the life they saw portrayed in a situation comedy or drama? Hospitals and police stations are filled with people who have followed their favorite actors into the exciting careers that help people.
Sometimes life goes too far in imitating art. Some people find it impossible to tell the difference between the world in which they live and the world they find in the movies or books or on television. Their real lives might be so disappointing, they might be so lonely, that the only happiness they can find is in the stories they experience as they live through the characters. This doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen, and it is not a good situation for anyone concerned. Unfortunately, sometimes the inspiration comes from characters and events that follow a path of destruction. Criminals try to recreate robberies or murders they’ve seen in fiction. They’ve been inspired by art.
Author Michael Connelly has seen his art imitating life, as he’s used real life cases he investigated as a police reporter for his books. However, recently he’s found how frightening it can be when real life begins to look like one of his stories. He was researching a new mystery about a detective whose daughter was kidnapped and taken to Hong Kong. The child’s trail disappeared in a neighborhood. He went to visit Hong Kong in 2008, trailed by a filmmaker who was documenting his research so that he’d have video to reference while he was writing. He later discovered that a Canadian woman disappeared into that same neighborhood during his trip.
The major difference between his story and the story of the woman is that his story always has a clue that leads the detective to the next place. His detective keeps moving as something points him in the right direction. In real life the clues are not as easy to find, if they even exist. As he said in an article about this experience, “You can’t be relentless with nothing to go on.” Mr. Connelly wondered if his path crossed that of the girl, so he has watched all the video from his trip hoping to find a clue that will help investigators in Hong Kong find the woman. He has returned to life imitating art as he acts as a detective in search of a mission woman, lost in a real world that mirrors his fictional world.
We have been saved for a purpose. God doesn’t require anything of us, but He has called us to be like Him. He’s gifted us with the faith and resources to reflect His love and grace to the world. It isn’t a matter of life imitating art or art imitating life. It is about being inspired to live out our faith in a world that desperately needs to see what God can do. Through our lives others will be transformed into the people God has created them to be.