Welcome to the October 2015 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 2015
"Jehovah, remember for David All his affliction; How he sware unto Jehovah, and vowed unto the Mighty One of Jacob: surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids; until I find out a place for Jehovah, a tabernacle for the Mighty One of Jacob. Lo, we heard of it in Ephrathah: we found it in the field of the wood. We will go into his tabernacles; we will worship at his footstool. Arise, O Jehovah, into thy resting-place; thou, and the ark of thy strength. Let thy priest be clothed with righteousness; and let thy saints shout for joy. For thy servant David's sake turn not away the face of thine anointed. Jehovah hath sworn unto David in truth; He will not turn from it: of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne. If thy children will keep my covenant and my testimony that I shall teach them, their children also shall sit upon thy throne for evermore. For Jehovah hath chosen Zion; He hath desired it for his habitation. This is my resting-place for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread. Her priests also will I clothe with salvation; and her saints shall shout aloud for joy. There will I make the horn of David to bud: I have ordained a lamp for mine anointed. His enemies will I clothe with shame; but upon himself shall his crown flourish." Psalm 132, ASV
I love Abby Scuito. I realize that she is a fictional character, of course, played by actress Pauley Perrette on the television show NCIS. Abby is a forensic scientist and is often credited with finding the minutest detail that leads to the capture of the bad guy. The forensics can reveal microscopic evidence that would never be found by the human eye or reason. She uses modern scientific techniques and technology to give the rest of the team exactly what they need to get their job done. Of course, Abby is just part of a team and it takes them all to solve the crimes. Also, it is fictional; real forensic scientists have reported that some of the things you see on those criminal investigative shows are more advanced than the actual abilities in today's world, but it is fun to watch as Abby do such amazing work.
She's adorable, too. Her attitudes and activities might seem a little strange, perhaps even contradictory. She is incredibly intelligent and yet almost childlike in her vision of the world. She sleeps in a coffin and bowls with a bunch of nuns. She wears gothic clothes but has a farting hippo that gives her comfort when she is stressed. She wears multiple tattoos on her body and a smile on her face. She practically mainlines caffeine in the form of a drink called Caf Pow but she seeks peace through healthy living both physically and spiritually. The character was created to be a contradiction and Pauley Perrette plays it well.
Abby is devoted to her job. She seemingly runs like the energizer bunny, especially when there is something about the case that has her worried or concerned. She wants to find the answer at any cost, even the cost of rest. When Tony DiNozzo was accused of murder, Abby refused to sleep until the case was solved. Unfortunately, the forensics all pointed to Tony, which upset her very much. She was afraid that she couldn't trust the forensics because she knew that Tony could not have done the crime, but every detail pointed to him. In the end she discovered that he was framed by a lab assistant who used his own knowledge of forensics and his access to the lab to get back at Tony for something in the past.
Abby could not stop working in that show. She was in her lab constantly, drinking Caf Pow until her body just couldn't handle it any longer. At one point she was awakened, having fallen asleep at a lab table in the middle of another test. She jumped off the chair and went a little crazy. "I can't sleep, I have to save Tony." She refused to stop until she did. Unfortunately, our brains need to rest and our flesh can't go one forever. Exhaustion can make the work even harder. That good night sleep reboots your system, giving you a fresh mind. The greatest discoveries are not discovered when we work our bodies and brains until they break, but when we have the capability to see it all with clear eyes and minds.
Sometimes the best ideas come to us in the shower. I saw a post on Facebook today about just that subject. It was a list of twenty brilliant things people thought of when their mind wandered as they took a shower. It is an amazing list of thoughts, like Your shadow is a confirmation that light has traveled nearly 93 million miles unobstructed, only to be deprived of reaching the ground in the final few feet thanks to you." Or "The person who would proof read Hitler's speeches was literally a grammar Nazi."
Abby would appreciate the next one: "Go to bed, you'll feel better in the morning" is the human version of "Did you turn it off and turn it back on again?" Abby, who depends on computer technology for so much of her forensics understands the importance of keeping her equipment well-tuned. Perhaps she should listen to the story of David. David promised God that he would not rest until God had a Temple in which to reside. God had a different plan; it would be David to build that Temple, but David's son would.
Sometimes we refuse to give up or rest because we think we are alone in our work. God reminds us that we are part of a team; we all have a role. The most important thing is to realize that we must at times rest or we will be no good for any of it. We have to stop, let others take the lead, trust that the truth will win. We have to shut off for a little while so that we can reboot to a new, fresh day and see things more clearly. David continued to work to prepare for the Temple, but he learned that all things come together in God's time and way. So, too, should we. We can rest because God is good.
"The fear of man bringeth a snare; but whoso putteth his trust in Jehovah shall be safe." Proverbs 29:25, ASV
The people wanted a king, so God appointed Saul to the position. He warned them that their earthbound kings would demand much from them, but they wanted to be like the other nations. They thought an earthbound king would give them power and authority in the world. They thought he would make their lives better. In asking for a king, the people rejected the true King, but they needed tangible evidence in a flesh and blood person that they had a leader to guide them.
Saul didn't do a very good job. He did as God said he would do; he demanded much from his people. The king was meant to be a mediator between God and the people, but Saul didn't really seek God's will in things. And when God sent a word for him to obey, Saul obeyed it in his own way. Take, for instance, the time when God sent Saul to defeat the Amalekites and totally destroy them because they waylaid Israel as they journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land. They were to take nothing, but destroy everything.
I get it. It is really hard to kill a flock of sheep that could be useful to the people later. Ancient war meant looting. The winners take the spoils. However, in this story, God command no spoils. Even the sheep and oxen were to be put to death. This was not a matter of becoming a rich and prosperous nation, but a matter of obedience. Would the people trust God or would they go their own way. They decided to spare the good things found in the camp of the Amalekites. Even Saul disobeyed the Lord by keeping the Amalekite king Agad alive, a mistake that would cause problems for Israel in later generations.
The Lord spoke to Samuel and told him that He was grieved at Saul's failure. Saul did not obey the Lord's instructions and so his anointing would be removed. Meanwhile, Saul set up a monument to honor his great victory, forgetting that his strength, power and authority comes from God. Samuel went to Saul and Saul received him with joy. "Look what I did! I did what the Lord said I should do!" Yet, Samuel asked about the sheep. "Oh, we brought back the best of the flocks and herds to be sacrifices to the Lord your God," Saul answered. Notice he said, "the Lord your God."
Samuel told Saul that the Lord was displeased. "Though thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel? And Jehovah anointed thee king over Israel; and Jehovah sent thee on a journey, and said, Go, and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed. Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of Jehovah, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah?" 1 Samuel 15:17-19, ASV
Saul still thought he did what was right. He thought keeping some of the sheep and oxen and the life of Agad would benefit the people and honor God. Saul did evil because he disobeyed God. Worst of all, when Saul finally confessed his failure, he said, "I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of Jehovah, and thy words, because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice."
Saul isn't alone among God's people. We all, at some time in our lives, have obeyed the wrong voices because of fear. We ignore God's commands and do what we think is right because they make more sense. We look at this story of Saul and think it is ridiculous to destroy the sheep and oxen when they could be used as food for God's people. Such a waste! But God calls us to a life of obedience. We don't know how our choices will affect the future, as Saul's choice to spare Agad affected God's people in future generations. So, let us remember to fear God more than men, to listen to His Word and stand by it, obeying His commands as we dwell in this world. When we do we will be rewarded not by our own accomplishments, but by God's blessing.
"And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parables. And he said unto them, Unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest haply they should turn again, and it should be forgiven them. And he saith unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how shall ye know all the parables?" Matthew 4:10-13, ASV
Bruce gets out of bed much earlier than I do on weekdays so that he can get ready for work and head out into traffic before it gets too congested. He turns on the television so that he can see the weather and the traffic reports. The television doesn't usually bother me too much although I eventually become aware that it is on, especially after Bruce has kissed me good-bye. Sometimes it all seems like a dream, but I realize that it is real as I come out of that fuzzy world between sleep and wake.
I heard the weather report this morning. I recognized the meteorologist's voice and heard words that I knew were weather related. I desperately tried to understand what she was saying. Is she talking about rain? What was that temperature? I heard the words but could not understand what she was saying in my groggy state. It was frustrating because I wanted to know, but I was finally able focus just as she finished the report. I heard but I did not hear.
The parables of Jesus are meant to make us think in a new way, to see the world from a new perspective. See, Jesus came to turn the world upside down. The call to repentance is a call to turn around. We naturally, thanks to Adam and Eve and the serpent, look away from God. He calls us to turn around so that we will keep our eyes on Him and follow His way. Unfortunately, many people hear the words as if they are in that fuzzy world between sleep and wake.
Jesus says that He speaks in parables so that those who see will not perceive and who hear will not understand, but Jesus doesn't really want us to stay in the dark. He goes on to say, "Or else they might turn around and be forgiven!" This is what Jesus wants more than anything. He wants us all to know forgiveness. That is what the Gospel is all about.
So, does Jesus really want the people to remain in the dark? Does He really want them to hear without understanding? No, certainly not. Jesus came and died so that all might live. But Jesus knows that the Kingdom of God can only be understood with the help of God. He makes the mysteries come to light. He softens hearts. He gives the ears that hear. We try so hard to interpret the texts, to understand the meanings based on our culture and our context, and yet our very interpretations are often that which keeps us from truly seeing what God is doing.
Take, for example the parable of the mustard seed. Jesus says (depending on the translation) that the smallest seed grows with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade. We imagine this to be a huge tree, perhaps even like the cedars of Lebanon. Yet, Jesus was making a comparison to the expectations of the people in His day. They thought Israel would be like those cedars, but Jesus was using the example of the mustard seed because it is more like a weed. It is not tall and majestic, but rather unwanted, low to the ground, invasive, out of control. Ask farmers about mustard and you will learn that it often intrudes on their fields. Unless they are growing mustard, they don't want to see it. This parable causes us to see the Kingdom of God as it will be, rather than as we want it to be.
We hear this parable and have expectations of grandeur when the reality is that we will be rejected, persecuted and even killed for having faith in a God that is willing to die. The Gospel will spread, not because we win the world for God but because God reveals in His Word the forgiveness and hope that He has promised. We can't come by understanding by our own intelligence or reason. We see and hear with God's help, perceive and understand only by His power. The kingdom will grow, and though we might want something different, His Kingdom does grow and become a place where we can rest in its shade because God gives us ears to hear.
"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh." Hebrews 10:19-25
I can't believe that I am going to do this, but I am going to quote Justin Bieber. He said, "You don't need to go to church to be a Christian. If you go to Taco Bell that doesn't make you a taco." It is a play off the old quote by Billy Sunday, "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile." Billy Sunday's quote is a better example. In an article about the quote, Anna Nussbaum Keating says, "It feels a little unfair to parse the words of Justin Bieber, but wouldn't it be more analogous to say, if going to Taco Bell doesn't make you a taco, then going to church doesn't make you a communion wafer? A is to B as C is to D. Hell, I don't know."
There are those who argue that we can worship God anywhere, and that we should. We can find Him on that mountain top or on the deserted beach. We can find Him in the pages of our bibles as read them in our living rooms. We can experience God in our prayer closets and as we serve at the homeless shelter. One of my favorite quotes from the show "The Big Bang Theory" comes from the character Amy Farrah Fowler; she said "I don't object to the concept of a deity, but I'm baffled by the notion of one that takes attendance."
It is true that church attendance does not necessarily mean that a person is a Christian. It is also true that some truly faithful Christians have good reason why they do not regularly attend church. I do not think that it should ever be the norm; lots of people who go to church do so for all the wrong reasons, but that is no reason to reject the practice. After all, it can be said that going to church does make one a Christian.
The quotes use the word "make" according to the definition "to show oneself to be or seem in action or behavior." It is true that someone can go to church, appear to be Christian and not truly believe in Jesus Christ with a saving faith. The problem with the quote in this context is this is exactly the kind of judgment we are warned not to make. By saying that anyone is not a Christian is the worst kind of condemnation and it isn't up to us. We can't read people's hearts or know what's going on in their soul.
However, we can read these quotes using another definition of the word "make." The online dictionary has listed as the first definition, "to bring into existence by shaping or changing material, combining parts, etc." It is possible to hear the Gospel outside a church building, and as witnesses for Christ we better be taking the Good News to all the corners of the world. However, it is at church that we are shaped and changed into the people God has created and redeemed us to be. We are transformed by baptism, by hearing the Word, by receiving the body and blood of Christ at the Eucharist. We are formed by pastors and teachers, as well as our brothers and sisters in Christ who both encourage and correct us. It is in and through church, not just the body of Christ, that we gather together to worship our God and pray in His name. We can, and should, do all these things in our daily lives, but going to church means that we are expressing our faith not just as a single individual Christian, but as part of Christ's body in the world.
Those who use this kind of quote sin against God and the body of Christ in two ways. First of all, they judge the salvation of those whom they claim are nothing more than hypocrites. A hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another. The answer to that charge is that Christians don't think they are perfect; we know we are sinners in need of a Savior and that's why we go to church. We go to receive the life-saving Word and grace of God. As they say, "The Church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.
The second sin, and perhaps the worst, is they believe that they can be Christian islands. They don't need the body of Christ, they can do it alone. They choose to follow a god of their making rather than the God who draws people together by Word and Sacrament. They write their understanding of God according to their own intellect, emotions and biases, rather than receiving that which God gives us through the Church. They use these quotes as an excuse to do what they want to do on a Sunday morning, and then do not even realize that they are falling away from the saving faith of Christ until it is too late.
Going to church might not make us a taco or an automobile; it might not even make us a Christian. It will, however, help us to become the Christian that God is calling us to be. Do not forsake assembling with your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all sinners in need of a Savior and while He has made us saints by His blood and grace, we still need to hear the Story, receive the words of pardon, receive His body and bloody, sing praise to God and pray together. We need to go to Church because it is there that we are made into one body in Christ's name.
Scriptures for Sunday, October 11, 2015, Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90: 12-17; Hebrews 3:12-19; Mark 10:17-22
"And Jesus looking upon him loved him..." Mark 10:21a, ASV
I'm a pretty good person. I don't think I can say, like the man in today's Gospel lesson, that I've kept the commandments perfectly. I'm sure there have been times sin has crept into my life. I suppose I can confess to disobedience to at least a few of the ten, if not according to the letter, than certainly according to the spirit. I've not committed adultery, but I have felt lust. I don't think I've born false witness against my neighbor, but I have gossiped about them. I have taken things that are not mine and while none of it was of great worth, stealing even a nickel is a sin.
In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther talked about the Ten Commandments not only from the point of view of the "thou shall nots" but also as commands of how we should live. About the Seventh Commandment, Luther writes, "You shall not steal. What does this mean? We should fear and love God, so that we do not take our neighbor's money or goods, nor get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his goods and means of making a living." In other words, it is not enough to simply keep from stealing our neighbor's nickel, but also help him keep his nickel and his means of earning that nickel.
About the Eighth Commandment, Luther writes, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God, so that we do not lie about, betray or slander our neighbor, but excuse him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything." It isn't enough to keep from telling a lie in court, but we should do our best to help uplift our neighbor's reputation.
I was watching one of the judge shows today, and the defendant wrote horrible things about the plaintiff in her answer to the complaint against her. The purpose, of course, was to help her case; if the plaintiff was all these bad things, then perhaps she doesn't deserve to win this case. The judge saw through the words and even told the defendant that it didn't work; her answer actually made him trust her less. Her attempt to put down the plaintiff backfired and she lost her case. As a matter of fact, the judgment given was actually more than typically would be awarded, but it was the right and just decision in that case.
The thing is, the words might have been true. The plaintiff might have been guilty of whatever the defendant spoke, but the accusations had nothing to do with the case at hand. The words were written simply to make the plaintiff look bad. Instead of admitting her own guilt, the defendant attacked the one who was in the right to make herself look good, but in the end justice was served.
We might judge the defendant harshly for her actions, but don't we fail to do what is right, too? Don't we try to make ourselves look better than we really are? Don't we claim to be victims even though our own actions are what has brought on our difficulties?
I read an article today about trustworthiness. Someone did a study about trust and found that none of us are completely trustworthy. During one test they put a bunch of people in a room alone with a coin. They were to flip the coin and write down whether it was heads or tails. If it was heads, then the people would receive a reward and if it was tails, they would be given forty-five minutes of boring work. The outcome would be based on the honor system, but they did not know they were being videotaped. All of them said that failing to flip the coin or give the wrong conclusion would be wrong, but ninety percent did not flip the coin and wrote the outcome they wanted or they continually flipped the coin until they got the outcome the desired result.
We say what is right, but quite frankly none of us always do what is right. We might have a good reason or a valid excuse. That plaintiff might just be all those horrible things that the defendant reported in her answer to the complaint. That doesn't change the verdict. Justice means making things right, although we tend to have a skewed understanding of what is right and wrong. It is skewed toward what is right for us rather than what is right according to God's Word.
The man in today's Gospel lesson did what was right according to the Law. He observed all the commandments perfectly from when he was just a boy. Yet Jesus said, "One thing thou lackest: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me." The man was devastated; Jesus' words were the last thing he wanted to hear. He grew up in a world where righteousness meant following the Law and if you did that well, you would be blessed. Jesus told him that he had to give up his whole life. Which of us would respond any differently? Following Jesus means giving up everything; are you willing to pay so high a price?
The text from Amos shows us how life is made more difficult by those who do not do what is good and right with their resources. It tells us what happens when we put our own agendas or hearts ahead of God. We are to seek God first, to seek goodness so that we'll experience life, not death. God does not call all wealthy people to become paupers; He calls us to do what is good and right with our wealth. Unfortunately, those to whom Amos was talking were not seeking God or goodness. They turned justice to wormwood and cast righteousness to the earth. They trampled the poor in their work and in their pursuit for self-interest and pleasure. They took bribes rather than judged rightly and ignored the needs of their neighbors.
The writer of Hebrews takes us back to the days when Israel was escaping Egypt. He quotes Psalm 95 which reminds God's people of their rebellion in the desert against God. They were the chosen people, saved from slavery and promised a land that would flow with milk and honey. While Moses was on the mountain receiving God's Word for His people, they turned for that God and made an idol to worship. They quickly turned from the life God intended for them to a life of revelry, drunkenness and debauchery. Even while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments, they were disobeying all of them. They turned from God and because they did so, God turned from them. He caused them to wander the desert until the last one died because God refused to given them the rest He promised. They were tested in the wilderness and failed; their hearts were hardened. The promise would go to the next generation.
That generation may have kept their hearts and minds on the God who brought them out of Egypt, but it didn't take long for Israel to fail again. Over and over throughout their history, Israel turned to their neighbors for protection and the gods of their neighbors for provision. They sought an earthly king even though they had the King of kings as their leader. Their hearts went astray over and over again. Our hearts go astray, too. We learn from Amos that we will find our blessings in obedience. We will experience His grace as we follow Him; but if we turn away from Him, we will never find rest.
The psalmist writes, "So teach us to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom." Verse 11 of the psalm says, "Who knoweth the power of thine anger, And thy wrath according to the fear that is due unto thee?" We cannot possibly measure God's anger; if we did so we would be so terrified that we would not find rest. Yes, God's wrath is very real, necessary and frightening. God demands obedience and when we fail, He demands justice. Unfortunately, none of us are able to pay the debt of our failure. We deserve whatever He can give us. We don't deserve what we have received.
H. Richard Niebuhr said, "A God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." This is a reminder the God that everyone would prefer cannot be the God we need. We would much rather ignore the God of the Old Testament and embrace the God that loves unconditionally. We want a God that has no expectations; we want a God that does not demand obedience. We want the warm fuzzies without the reality of our sin. The truth is, we could never have the warm fuzzies unless God got so angry at our sin that He decided to do what was necessary to make restore us to His Kingdom: kill His own Son.
Shocking to hear it put so bluntly, isn't it? The cross is God's wrath fully revealed for our sake. We are sinners in need of a Savior. And yet it is so easy to think of ourselves as good. I am a pretty good person. I haven't kept the commandments perfectly, but I've done fairly well in my nearly fifty-two years of life. I respond to the needs of my neighbors with my resources as I am able. I try to do what is right and to honor God with my life. And yet I fail. I try to seek God but sometimes the call of the world is much too loud. It is easy to justify some actions because they seem like the right thing to do at the time. It is easy to make excuses when I fail because it all seems like much, too much.
We aren't much different than the rich young ruler. We want to know what we have to do to earn the kingdom of heaven. We respond to Jesus' answer in the passage with a sigh of relief. It should be easy for us to earn heaven because we are generally good people. Murder, theft, adultery don't tend to be part of our daily lifestyle. We even try to bring our good life before the Good Teacher with humbleness and respect. "I have observed all these things." Jesus looks upon us with love.
Yet, in love He responds with a greater expectation. "One thing you lack," He continues. Even though we do everything right and are even quite generous with our resources, we still have something in our life that is more important. We aren't willing to give it all up for God. We aren't willing to let go of our old life and follow Christ without burdens and baggage. For this rich young ruler, the burden was wealth. He became quite sad when Jesus told him that he had to sell everything, give it to the poor and then follow. He walked away because Jesus expected too much.
When Jesus says, "one thing you lack" we are brought face to face with the truth that we too have our failings that separate us from God. Even the most pious or righteous person can't reach God's expectations. That's why we need Him. I wonder if the response would have been different if Jesus had said, "Give half your stuff to the poor." The man would then have still had enough to survive in the world without relying on the charity of others. He would have had a place to hang his hat. He would have had finances to support the ministry he may have been willing to do. Jesus said, "Get rid of it all." The young man wanted to know what he had to do to earn what God was giving for free, so Jesus made the payment beyond the young man's ability to pay.
What Jesus was trying to get across to the young man and those who overheard the conversation is that it is not about what we can do to earn our place in the kingdom, but rather what God can do and what God has done. Amos calls the people to live in a relationship with God. He shows them their faults and their frailties. He points out their injustices. Most of all, he shows them that they are no longer in a relationship with their Creator. They have turned away from Him. He was calling them to live a life of justice and peace, but that life was too hard. They focused on their wealth, and the keeping of their wealth. Amos told them to seek something better: the Lord. It might seem like a burden to turn around and follow, but it is there that the true blessing is found. It is there we will find rest.
We can't do this alone. We are all so easily tempted by the world. The excuses are right on the tips of our tongues. What harm is there in taking the reward when the boring work is probably pointless? Who is really harmed when I keep that nickel the cashier accidentally gave me in my change? The plaintiff doesn't really deserve to win her case because she really is a terrible person. The truth is we really do harm our neighbor when we do not live according to God's Word.
So, we need to help each other do so. The writer of Hebrews says, "Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God: but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called To-day; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin: for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end: while it is said, To-day if ye shall hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation." It took just one voiced doubt in the desert to turn the entire nation of Israel against God. It takes just one moment of disobedience to set us on a wrong path. We need to encourage one another to be obedient so that we will all be blessed with the promise.
"And Jesus looking upon him loved him." He looks upon us and loves us. We fail, but He does not. He took upon His own shoulders the wrath we deserved. We get the warm fuzzies, the Kingdom of God and the Promised Land of eternal life because He died on the cross in our place. His expectations for us is greater than we will ever be able to pay, but that's the point. We can't but He did. Our response to that grace is simply to do the best that we can, to put aside everything to keep our eyes on God and to follow Him wherever He might lead. It is much easier to bear the burden of obedience when we can see Him helping us do so. It also helps to know that we are in this together, helping one another keep our eyes on Him.
"Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man thinketh himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let each man prove his own work, and then shall he have his glorying in regard of himself alone, and not of his neighbor. For each man shall bear his own burden. But let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things." Galatians 6:1-6, ASV
We are all going to sin at some point in our lives. Even the best among us have moments when we fail to live up to the expectations of God. Sometimes it comes by accident; our human nature is imperfect and our response to the world around us is not always the right way to deal with the situation. Sometimes we must willfully do something we know we should not do because it is the best response to an impossible situation. We can't help it; the world in which we live is imperfect, too, and sometimes the best thing we can do is still an act that goes against God's Word and Law. Martin Luther tells us to "Sin boldly," knowing that when we do sin, we must do so with the bold confidence that God's grace is greater than our failure.
In a letter to Philip Melanchthon, Luther writes, "If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Pray boldly-you too are a mighty sinner."
We are not meant to go around sinning for the sake of receiving God's grace. Paul warned us against such foolishness, but in an imperfect world we will be faced with impossible situations. We live in an imperfect world that will tempt us into doing what seems good when it is really not as God would have us do. We are imperfect, dwell in perishable flesh, but we are not alone. We have one another.
Too many people have decided that it is not up to us to decide if something is wrong or right. We don't confront our brothers and sisters in Christ about their sin because it is between them and their God. We don't encourage them to walk a better path or show them a better way. We let those we claim to love continue in their sin, risking their eternal lives by living according to their imperfect flesh rather than according to God's perfect Word.
We must do so in the right spirit, however. Too many of us call out the sins of our neighbors with a haughtiness, as if we never do anything wrong. We cry out in anger and frustration when we see people who aren't living as we think they should live. Paul says that we should restore our brothers and sisters in Christ in a spirit of gentleness, remembering as we do so that we are not better than they. They may have sinned in this way today, but we'll need them to call out our own sin tomorrow. We bear one another's burdens not by crying out in condemnation, but in honest understanding of our own failure we shine the light of Christ so that we all are restored by the mercy and forgiveness of Christ Jesus to dwell in the grace of God.
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth unto the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith." Galatians 6:7-10, ASV
I was once visited by one of those door to door vacuum salespeople. He came at a really bad financial time for our family. We had bought a house within our financial ability, but a new house always means a lot of unexpected expenses. We had stretched our budget way past what was available. I have to confess I was even borrowing money from my children's bank accounts. I could not afford to buy a much too expensive vacuum cleaner.
When he came to the door, I told him upfront that nothing he could say or do would convince me to spend money I did not have on a vacuum I did not need. He assured me that he would not pressure me to buy, but if he showed me the machine it would help him win the contest. I reminded him that it would be a complete waste of time. He told me that he'd vacuum my carpets and I had company coming later that week, so I let him in after repeating, again, that I would not purchase a vacuum.
Throughout the two hour demonstration, he told me all sorts of stories about his family and friends and how much they love their vacuums. He described his own pets and his daughter and how the vacuum keeps them healthy. He let me try to vacuum and told me that he is so glad that it is easy to maneuver because he doesn't want his girlfriend to have to work too hard. He showed so much concern for everyone and offered his vacuum as the solution to every worldly problem.
The sales person played on all the things he could see revealed about my life in the decorations around the house. I was obviously Christian, so he talked about his faith. He was interested in my art. He complimented my decorating. He seemed interested in the details of our life, building a relationship with me so that I would have to say "Yes," because he was such a great guy.
He talked about the financial savings, claiming that the vacuum would take care of my carpet so that I would not have to replace it in a few years. I was obviously not falling for his sales pitch, so he went a little deeper. With each swipe of the vacuum he came up with a pad filled with dust and cat hair. He wondered what I felt about all the dirt and then asked what my husband would think if he saw all those pads. The demonstration began late in the afternoon, and it became obvious that he was lingering as long as he could, hoping my husband would appear and save the day by agreeing to the sale.
Eventually, his boss came by to see how things were going. He asked many of the same questions, each one designed to guilt me into buying this amazing machine for the sake of my family. I could certainly find a few dollars a month, couldn't I? They got angry, accusing me of wasting their time. I repeated, as I did throughout the demonstration, that I said from the beginning I would not buy a machine I could not afford, but the anger was just another technique to get the sale.
I held firm, my financial status was exactly as I had told them in the beginning: I could not afford even a few dollars a month. I was getting quite bored and disturbed by this 'non-aggressive' sales pitch. It was obviously deceitful. At the end, the young man even tried to feed on my compassionate nature by thanking me for taking him one step closer to winning the contest. "I only need three hundred demos. Of course, fifteen sales would win it for me." I finally had to threaten to call the police because they refused to leave my house. They packed up and stormed out.
A few days later a young lady came to my door. She was holding a free gift and told me that she could win a contest if she just gave me a demonstration. I was surprised and told her that I had a visit from another salesperson. She argued with me, saying it could not have been with the same company, although I had seen he dropped off in the neighborhood in the same van that picked up the young man on the previous occasion. I refused to allow her in my house, even though she assured me that I could have the free gift if I did.
Now, these sales people were not evil. They were trying to do their job. However, their methodology was exactly the way Satan does his job in this world. They played on feelings, tried to make me seem uncaring, played on guilt and negative self-image. I told the salesman he should not have wasted his time, but in his arrogance he was sure that he could convince me I needed this vacuum. Yet, ultimately it was his deceit that lost him a sale. I was going to ask for literature, to consider a purchase in a few months when things settled down financially. I have since learned that these vacuums are not as dependable as the salesman made it sound. They don't last forever. They break down just like the cheaper ones. We need to be discerning in this world because deceit is not only bold-faced lies. Sometimes deceit is subtle, packaged as goodness.
All too many people think they can fool God. They walk around doing good things, but in their hearts they are evil in thought. They do not live truth, but try to manipulate the world around them to fit their own lusts. Yet, in the end everything works for the good of those who love God. Deception pays off negatively, honesty will ultimately be rewarded. My salesman misread the situation. If he had given me a twenty minute spiel on the facts, I would have taken his literature and considered it for later. But he lost my interest because he took two hours of my time and tried to manipulate my feelings into feeling as though I had to have this equipment.
Those who try to fool God will be even more surprised. He knows the hearts of men and sees beyond their words and deeds. He knows our motivation, is familiar with our deepest lusts and needs. The things of the flesh will perish just like that expensive vacuum. But that which is of the Spirit is eternal, so that our life lived in faith will reap joyous blessings in Christ Jesus.
"This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; who being past feeling gave themselves up to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye did not so learn Christ; if so be that ye heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus: that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth." Ephesians 4:17-24, ASV
I am a creature of habit. I do my laundry on Wednesday. I follow the same routine at bedtime each night. I park as close to the same place in the parking lot at the grocery store as possible. I use the same lane on the familiar roads I drive regularly. I turn on the computer as soon as I wake up in the morning (most mornings.) Some of my habits are more long-term, like how I clean up my studio when it gets a certain clutteredness about it. I wear certain pants with certain shirts with certain socks and shoes, especially on certain days when I am going certain places. These are not bad habits and I'm not so inflexible that I can't deviate from the habit if I must. But I am definitely more stressed or I'm likely to experience difficulty if I deviate from the habits too much.
Old habits are hard to break, but sometimes it is necessary to do so. Life changes when a woman becomes a mother and old habits have to be changed to allow the new creature into her life. Life changes again when children grow up and go out on their own, leaving those habits surrounding the children behind. A new house, a new neighborhood, or a new job will make changes inevitable as you have to adapt to schedule changes, neighbors or traffic. Illness also interrupts our habits as we have to do things in a whole new way. These new, different things can get in our way and frustrate our habits.
Sometimes our habits should be frustrated, though. Faith calls for a new life, a change in the way we do things. The habits of our old flesh may need to be rejected. Of course, I'm not talking about brushing my teeth before bed, but perhaps we should consider other changes. I tend toward chocolate when I am stressed, a habit I should avoid. Of course, life in Christ means that we should look at the world in a whole new way, without the fear, anxiety and trouble that is stressful. Our lives will not be perfect when we trust in Jesus Christ, however we will look at those moments when fear, anxiety and trouble come with a whole new point of view. As Paul writes, "no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind." This means that life without God is intellectually frustrating, useless and meaningless.
The life in Christ also means giving up those things that we did before we were saved that do not belong in a holy life. We are no longer alienated from God and we are no longer ignorant; in Christ we stand in the presence of God and we see clearly that our old habits do not glorify Him. We have learned from our Lord about how to live according to God's Word, putting Him first, relying on Him, even in the times of fear, anxiety and trouble. Instead of running for a bag of M&Ms when I'm stressed, I should get down on my knees and pray, for God can, and will, give me the strength to get through it. Faith makes us new, and the habits of the old creature will be transformed into something new as God transforms us in mind and in self to be like Himself in true righteousness and holiness.
"Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever. Oh give thanks unto the God of gods; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever. Oh give thanks unto the Lord of lords; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever: To him who alone doeth great wonders; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever: To him that by understanding made the heavens; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever: To him that spread forth the earth above the waters; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever: To him that made great lights; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever: The sun to rule by day; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever; The moon and stars to rule by night; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever..." Psalm 136:1-9, ASV
I am an introvert. Sometimes my friends have a hard time believing it because I can be very outgoing. I even won a Miss Congeniality contest once. I love to preach or teach, so I don't have a problem getting in front of people, but those experiences are exhausting for me because I have to 'turn on' something that isn't exactly natural for me. Quite frankly, I prefer being behind the computer or in the quiet safety of my home.
I recently saw a meme on Facebook about introverts. It showed twelve ways to care for an introvert, including "Respect their need for privacy," and "Enable them to find one best friend who has similar interests and abilities." The other ways include giving them time. They need time to think through answers, time to get used to changes, time to prepare themselves for what is coming next. The meme also encourages two important things, "Don't push them to make lots of friends," and "Respect their introversion; do not try to make them extroverts."
Introverts don't mind being alone, and yet there are times that we do. When we can't find that best friend who has similar interests, even if we have dozens of other friends, we feel like we are alone. Alone time is a good thing, but it can be difficult if there's no one who is willing to linger over a long lunch or go to a movie. Alone is a good thing, but not when there's a project that needs to be done and there seems to be no one willing or able to help get it finished. Alone is a good thing unless we are missing someone we love and there is no one who understands.
I felt very alone when I lived in England, especially when my husband was deployed. I had the kids, but they were young and were not the kind of company I needed. I had friends, but I missed family in the states. I feel alone sometimes now, as I miss those who have passed and as I miss my daughter who lives too far away, even though I still have other family and friends here in Texas. I have not really found that best friend who understands me because they have similar interests and abilities. I have felt very alone even as part of a working group or committee because it often seems like the others have impossible expectations, but then I have impossible expectations for them, too.
I don't think we can characterize God as either an introvert or extrovert, but imagine what it must be like to be God! If we think that others won't cooperate with us, God must be so much more frustrated with us. There is none like our God; only God can do what God has done. God can't feel sorry for Himself when there is no one to whom He can talk. He can't expect someone else take over the hard tasks when He's tired. The psalmist says, "Give thanks to God who alone does great wonders." He is alone as we will never really understand what it is like to be Him.
And yet, this God who is alone in the universe, is always with us. We are never really alone, no matter how alone we feel. Our God has done great things; He created the universe and everything in it. His lovingkindness endures forever. Even when we fail Him, by not being or doing what is right, and good, and true, He continues to love us and He stays with us. Even when we are alone, by choice or circumstances, we can know that we aren't really alone. Our God is with us through it all, good and bad, happy and sad, lonely and overwhelmed by the presence of others. God knows and understands. This is an amazing thing and worthy of our praise. He is good and His love endures forever.
Scriptures for Sunday, October 18, 2015, Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost: Ecclesiastes 5:10-20; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 4:1-13 (14-16); Mark 10:23-31
"For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart." Ecclesiastes 5:20, ASV
Today's Gospel lesson is a continuation of the story that began last week of the rich young man's visit to Jesus. "What must I do to be saved? I have observed all the commandments since my youth." Jesus looked at him and loved him, "One thing you lack..." Jesus said.
The young man was heartbroken because he had collected a lot of things. How do you get rid of everything you own? I often ask this question when I see stories of those people who have chosen to live in tiny houses. My art supplies would never fit into such a small space, let alone my whole life. As a matter of fact, my husband and I did not downsize when we bought our latest house, as many do when they reach the age of the (nearly) empty nest. We bought a larger house so that I'd have room to work. This is the first house we've had since we were married that doesn't have furniture pushed against every wall. There is room to move, a place for the cats to run, storage space for my junk. I can't imagine every getting rid of everything to move into a house that is just two hundred square feet.
Now, I have to say that I do know how to purge. We took truckloads of things to Goodwill and to our church to sell when we moved to this house. They could have filled a store with the amount of old clothes, toys, and household items we gave away. I eventually went through all my craft and art supplies and donated boxes to camps and other arts organizations. I gave sets of dishes to my children. I threw a lot of old papers into the recycling bin. I even purged my bookshelves.
I also purchased a china cabinet so I could finally display the dishes I inherited from my mother. I found room on the walls to display some of my art. I continue to purchase books (even though I do most of my reading on an e-reader.) I still buy stuff. My birthday wish this year was for a "Big Bang Theory" Lego set. It is pointless, nothing more than a dust-catcher, but it made me smile as I put it together and it makes me smile when I see it. So, while I do know what it is like to rid myself of too much stuff, I still like having it around. Could I sell it all live in a two-hundred square foot house for Jesus' sake?
Today's Old Testament reading from Ecclesiastes is a little uncomfortable for us who love our stuff. The writer writes, "He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance, with increase: this also is vanity." When we have a little, we always want more. You can't eat just one potato chip. It is hard to collect just one porcelain figurine. I don't have just one pair of sneakers, but a pair in every color so that I can match my shoes to my clothes. I also have socks to match. I can't go to the kitty store without buying our babies more toys, even though there are so many in the house they can't possibly play with them all.
The writer of Ecclesiastes goes on to talk about the vanity of collecting stuff, after all, we can't take it with us. We labor for everything we have. We not only chase after that next piece to our collection, but we labor to earn the money to purchase, labor to keep the dust from it. We even labor at holding on to it against those who want to take it from us. Our focus is on our stuff and we lose sight of other things. A man pays more attention to his car than his girlfriend. The woman is more concerned about which pair of shoes to wear. Children don't like to share because they don't want a sibling to ruin their toy. We lose sight of the joy because we are too worried about what will happen to our stuff.
As the writer says, "As he came forth from his mother's womb, naked shall he go again as he came, and shall take nothing for his labor, which he may carry away in his hand." There is a joke about a man who was near death. He had spent his life working hard for his possessions and he prayed that he might take some of it with him to heaven. An angel heard him, and though the angel told him that he could not take anything, the man implored the angel to ask God. After a time, the angel reappeared and told him he was allowed to take one suitcase. He died and went to heaven. At the pearly gates, St. Peter stopped him and said that he couldn't bring the suitcase. He retold the story of the angel's visit and after St. Peter checks it out, he returns and says, "Ok, but I have to see what is in there." St. Peter opens the suitcase to find bricks of pure gold stacked neatly inside. He said, "Pavement? Why did you bring pavement?" We love our things, but we have to remember the value of it in terms of our eternal destiny. We don't need to take gold to heaven because the sidewalks are paved with gold. Everything in eternity will be better than anything we have on earth.
The message of Ecclesiastes isn't all bad news. The writer goes on to say, "Behold, that which I have seen to be good and to be comely is for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy good in all his labor, wherein he laboreth under the sun, all the days of his life which God hath given him: for this is his portion." God wants us to enjoy our life on this earth, not to the point that our possessions are our focus, but in thanksgiving for the God who has made all good things possible. "Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor-this is the gift of God." We are called to a life in which God is our focus. Our stuff is meaningless in terms of eternal destiny, but they are blessings to be enjoyed.
The key here is to remember the priorities of life. The Ecclesiastes passage for today ends, "For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart." We don't need to worry about today or about our stuff because our hearts are filled with real joy in knowing that our God is gracious.
The rich young man was distraught over the command of Jesus because his focus was on the stuff rather than the One by whom He was blessed. The one thing he lacked was not poverty, but was the joy of knowing that God is the center of blessedness. Joy, true joy, does not come with stuff that sits around getting dusty but is found in our relationship with our Creator and Redeemer God.
The rich young man missed what was important in the encounter with Jesus: that Jesus loved him. Jesus knows that the world tries to distract us with shiny bobbles. "It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." His words were shocking to the disciples because they did not see who could be saved. Jesus answered, "It is impossible for man, but all things are possible for God." Then Jesus made them a promise, "Those who are willing to set aside the things of this world for the sake of the Gospel will be blessed beyond measure with even more. However, it will come with a price: persecution." We have reason to rejoice because the promise of eternity is greater than the wealth of today, and even if we suffer now we can do so with joy because the day will come when the promise will be fulfilled.
We chase after stuff, but God offers us something even better: rest. We exhaust ourselves with the work to pay for our stuff, with the searching for the stuff, with the caring for the stuff and with the protecting of the stuff. All this for stuff we have to leave behind. But God says, "You don't have to exhaust yourself over all this; put me first and you'll have enough. You will have even more in the Promised Land. Rest in me, for in Me is the true blessing."
Some people, even Christians, never really experience the rest that comes with faith in Christ. This is not a rest that means we do nothing with our lives. God calls us to work. He calls us to produce. He calls us to be witnesses and to serve others. He calls us to be good stewards of all we have been given. He might even call us to rid ourselves of everything to follow Him completely. This is a call to Trust that God is faithful to His promises and the blessings of this world are simply a foretaste of that which is to come in Heaven. One thing they lack is complete trust in God and the joy of knowing that God is the center of our blessedness.
We have talked multiple times about Psalm 119. It reads like a redundant law-filled text and is often ignored. However, there is value in the words of the entire psalm because it turns us toward the One from whom all rest and blessing is received. There are eight different law words used in the psalm, each describing a different aspect of God's Word. If you understand that each word has a unique meaning, than you see what the psalmist was telling us more clearly. The theme of today's text is ultimately "staying in God's Word." We learn that it is there that we find rest and joy.
The psalmist asks how a young man can be pure. The answer, is by obeying God's divine spoken Word. We can look for Him in our religious obligations. We must keep His promise close to our heart so that we won't turn from Him and do what is wrong. We can seek God's teaching on how to live properly and according to His rules. We can accept God's judgment when we do wrong and rejoice through our worship practices. We can, and must, focus on God's authority over our life and there we will find rest.
See how each word means something different? Each verse of this section of the psalm refers to something different: the spoken Word of God, the obligations of faith, the promise, the teachings, the rules, the judgment, the rituals and the authority each have a place in our life and as we are obedient in all ways we will find a life blessed by God's graciousness. None of that will earn us eternal life in Heaven, but it will help us to live a life that glorifies God in this world as we wait for the promise He has won for us.
I hope that if the time ever came for me to choose between God and the world that I will make the right decision. I know, however, that Jesus loves me even when I fail. I know that He understands the draw of the world and the bobbles that it promises. I know that He sees my heart and that He sees the flicker of faith that is at the center of my being, the faith that He has given by His grace. Day by day, Today even, I find I can let go more and more as He fills me with Himself. One day I will have to give it all up; one day I'll die and stand at those pearly gates. I don't have any pavement to take with me, but I hope that I won't feel the need to beg God to let me take a few of my favorite things. I hope that my little faith will be enough to keep my focus on the Lord now so that I won't worry day by day what will happen to my stuff because the joy in my heart is from God. For now, I pray that God will help me remember that the meaningless dust-catchers I will have to give up in this world will be replaced with so much more: eternal rest and joy and peace.
"He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward: and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you he shall in no wise lose his reward." Matthew 10:40-42, ASV
I try to go to the art museum on a regular basis to see whatever traveling exhibit is on display. I went last week with a friend of mine to see a collection of paintings by Joan Miro, a Spanish painter and sculptor. My friend and I both agreed that we liked his sculptures better than his paintings, even though many of his paintings were connected to the sculptures. His style transformed over the years, from work inspired by Pablo Picasso to a surrealistic style that looks, quite frankly, much like the papers my children colored when they were young.
I suppose that sounds a bit like an insult, but the more I looked at the paintings, the more I realized that there was a sophistication to the simplicity. While it appeared as though he just finger painted some colorful shapes on a canvas, there is a pattern to his work. Shapes are repeated, colors are used for focus, line provides movement. He didn't bother to come up with catchy titles for his paintings. They were all called "Figure" or "Landscape" or "Woman and Bird." A few were called "Woman Bird." Sometimes it was hard to find the figure, or the landscape or the woman and the bird in the painting. We spent time at each canvas interpreting the lines and shapes, hoping that we might see what he saw or understand what he meant to convey.
Here's the thing: surrealism is not meant to be understood, but is designed to make us see the world in a new way. The exhibit that we visited is called "The Experience of Seeing." The paintings and sculptures draw you through the exhibit with purpose as you seek to see the world he has created. After we reached the end of the exhibit we returned to look at a few of the paintings a second time, seeing more clearly that which didn't make any sense the first time. It still didn't make sense, but it didn't need to. Instead of seeing a child's paper, I saw the patterns and repetition that showed his love for the human figure and for the freedom and inspiration of birds. He was an early upcycler, using found objects as the basis for his sculptures. Though he was not very political, some of his paintings were statements against the Spanish government that oppressed his beloved homeland Catalan. He took freedom and liberty seriously, and it shows in his work. He also fought against the conventional styles of painting which catered to the bourgeois society of his day.
His paintings now sell for hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. As an artist myself, I have to admit that I wonder if my work will ever be viewed in an art museum or appreciated by collectors willing to pay a fortune for my own slapped on paint. It is hard to really imagine because I've never even had anyone show an interest in buying one of my more expensive paintings which are priced in the hundreds of dollars.
We all want to make the grand statement. I'm not sure I want to be famous, but I surely would love to be appreciated for my work. The thing is: I am. Perhaps not for the great paintings with which I share my artistic voice, but for the small paintings that friends and neighbors have hung on their walls are given as gifts. I'm appreciated for the works I donate to silent auctions for charities around town. Someday my work may be appreciated in a different way, but for today I'm happy to share my gifts and talents in small way, to bring a little joy and beauty into the world.
I wonder if the same can be said about our faith. Do we want to make the grand statement? Do we want to have a bunch of notches on our belt of people who have been saved from our witness? Do we want to be the one who organizes the food drive that feeds the city? Do we want to build the largest church, fill the most pews, and reach the most people? Do we want to write the best-selling book that will impact the world? Are we so caught up in doing the big thing that we forget to pay attention to the little needs?
Jesus says, "And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you he shall in no wise lose his reward." Every day we pass by people who need something from us: our love, a smile, a message of hope or a reminder of God's grace. Others need more tangible help, and we might just be blessed with the opportunity to do some great thing for the Kingdom of God. However, we should also be watching for those small things we can do for the people who cross our paths. If we don't, we might be passing right by Jesus. It is in living the life that Christ has given to you, by sharing Him with others, that you'll find the true blessings of faith.
"But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you through our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by epistle of ours. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word." 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, ASV
Abigail was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor even before she was born. She was also born with Down syndrome. The doctor said that treatment would have no impact and could even hasten her death, so Abigail was sent home with her family to love one another for as long as she might live. Despite the diagnosis, Abigail thrived at home. She grew and she began responding to the world as any other newborn. Abigail's parents began to wonder about the diagnosis. Did she really need to die?
They called another doctor for a second opinion. After a review of Abigail's records, a doctor at Boston Children's Hospital agreed that the death sentence was premature. Abigail's parents had not even don't any of the normal things new parents do: they had no nursery set, they hadn't done regular well-baby appointments or shots. They didn't think she would live and did not want to waste time or resources and instead focused on loving their daughter. The new doctor gave them reason to hope.
It was hard to hope, however. After all, they were used to the idea that their daughter was a brief gift in their life. What if Abigail's growth and development was a fluke? How could they believe she would live and then deal with the reality when it happened? Abigail's mom wrote in a blog, "It's terrifying to put life back on the table. It scares me to hope. But someone said to me, 'you won't regret hope'. So I'm allowing myself to hope, and pretty recklessly right now. Suddenly, I think my baby is going to live. Truly I do. Even though they still say it's a very long shot. But I'll take it."
You won't regret hope. What a powerful statement! How often do we wallow in the troubles of the world because we don't see the possibilities of the future? As it turns out, the prognosis for Abigail is very good. She's had surgery to remove the tumor which turned out to not be malignant. Abigail's mother held on to hope and loved her daughter despite the impossibility of their situation. Even though she had no hope not so long ago, she is now so thankful to God for the miracle that has come and she has faith that God has a plan for her child. "She is God's pebble and her ripples will extend deep."
No hope became something even greater than hope: the promise of the future. It is still a hope because they have no idea what will happen. Abigail will still fight physical battles throughout her life, but she has been raised from the dead and given new life. That's what happens to each of us when we believe. We had no hope, but by God's grace we have been raised from the dead and giving a new life. We don't know what will happen tomorrow; we will certainly die the physical death of our flesh. But for today, we have hope in the promise of God for a life that will never end.
"I thank my God always, making mention of thee in my prayers, hearing of thy love, and of the faith which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints; that the fellowship of thy faith may become effectual, in the knowledge of every good thing which is in you, unto Christ. For I had much joy and comfort in thy love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through thee, brother." Philemon 1:4-7, ASV
I had the windows of my house cleaned a few weeks ago; they were so clean it was almost as if I didn't have any glass from the inside. From the outside, with darkness inside and the bright light of the sun, the windows are more like a mirror, reflecting the world. It doesn't take very long for the windows to start showing signs of dirt. There are already marks from the kitties, splatters from the sprinklers and handprints, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.
It was a problem, however, for the birds. They see the reflection of the world in the clean windows and think they can keep flying. I often hear the thump of a bird even when the windows are not perfectly clean, but when they are shiny like new, they birds just can't seem to help themselves. It always makes me jump and then worry. I haven't had a bird die from hitting a window, but I know it can happen. I like having clean windows, but it might be worth the dirt to protect the birds, especially since they seem to hit the windows near the bird feeders on a regular basis.
I heard a thump one day and checked to make sure the bird was fine. It has flown away, so I went back to doing what I was doing. A few days later, when the light was just right, I noticed a smudge on my nice clean windows. I thought perhaps my husband or son had touched it when they were doing yard work. I wondered if I had accidentally touched it when I opened or closed the shades. Then I took a good look, and the smudge was a perfect imprint of a bird in flight. You could see the body feathers and even the shapes of the wings. The head had what seemed to be the shapes of an eye and the beak. It is amazing and beautiful but also eerie and ghostlike.
Paul writes to Philemon, "For I had much joy and comfort in thy love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through thee, brother." The life of Philemon had an impact on the world around him. We learn, however, that there is a problem with one relationship in his life. Philemon had a slave who escape. The slave came into contact with Paul, who showed him the grace of God through the Gospel. Onesimus believed and became a Christian, but he had a past. He was an escaped slave and deserved punishment. Paul knew, however, that Onesimus was a new person and he was now Philemon's brother in faith.
Paul reminded Philemon of the impact he has had on the community of saints, but then Paul asked, "Now what will you do?" Paul is asking Philemon if he will have a positive impact on his brother in Christ's life, or if he will leave a mark that will have a negative effect. We have to ask the same questions about our dealings with those who cross our path. Will the impact we make be beautiful or eerie? Will it be positive or negative? Will we receive those who have hurt us with mercy, grace and peace, or will we insist that they pay the price for their offense?
The bird left a mark on my window. I automatically saw it as beautiful, but several people called it eerie and ghostlike. The bird messed up my clean window just as some people have an impact on our life that we do not expect or want. Here's the thing: we don't really know how that mark affected the bird. He didn't die on my doorstep, this I know, but he was surely dazed by the impact. Did he find a place to rest? Did he hurt himself in anyway? Did he lose some feathers?
We also don't know the impact that those offenses against us do to those who have hurt us. How did Onesimus feel, especially after he was saved? Was he afraid to face Philemon? Was he humbled by the knowledge that he hurt Philemon by running away? Those who harm us are harmed in the process, and as Christians we are called to a life of mercy and grace. It isn't easy to see the beauty in those moments, but perhaps if we found the beauty rather than focusing on the negative, we might just discover we have a brother or sister in Christ who needs forgiveness and reconciliation just as much as we do.
"Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:14-16, ASV
Workers in the refugee camps in the Middle east have warned that militants are disguising themselves as refugees, infiltrating the camps and converting or killing those who reject Islam and kidnapping girls to sell as slaves. They go into the camps with an agenda to convert the unbelievers and kill the rest; these terrorists have created such fear in the camps that the people are unwilling to report the violence and crimes to the authorities. There is real religious persecution happening in the world and most of these refugees are trying to escape it. Unfortunately, the persecution is following them into a place that should be safe, cornering them at a time when they have absolutely no power, control or way out.
There is a story coming out of one refugee camp that gives us hope. One terrorist went into the camp with the intention of completing his mission of force and murder, but the presence of the Christians changed his heart and his mind. He noticed the huge difference between the faith of those who had brainwashed him to hate and destroy and those that were the target. The reality shocked him. Instead of seeing infidels, the militant saw love and courage and hope. He heard the Gospel of forgiveness and saw a people who lived the Gospel. He saw their willingness to love their enemies and forgive those who were persecuting them. He saw how they loved one another and took care of each other. He saw light and it was blinding compared to the darkness he had learned in the terrorist camp.
There are other stories of conversions, including one of a man who had a dream about Jesus. These militants find grace in the camps and abandon the work they were sent to do. Then they work to help the Christians they once wanted to kill. It is dangerous work; they are targeted even more viciously because they have turned from Allah to Christ. They have turned from darkness to light and the darkness wants to destroy the light.
Here's the thing: darkness can never destroy light. I once had the opportunity to visit a place where military people are trained to use night vision goggles. The building was a small cement box with no windows and only one heavy well-sealed door. No light can seep through cracks. Inside the room was a model of different landscapes, like a miniature railroad set up. The lighting made it possible to see that world under any conditions: bright sunshine or moonlit night, daytime or nighttime with clouds or rain. This gives the soldiers an opportunity to see how the night vision goggles work in those different lights. Of course, you can't use them in daylight at all because they would harm the eyes, so they have to learn how to turn them off when there is light, and learn to set it properly for the different conditions at night.
It is amazing how much you can see. Now, we all know that even on cloudy nights the world is not in complete darkness. I can be frighteningly dark, but as your eyes get used to the lack of light you can see a little. It is certainly better in the city where street lights cast a glow and the light of houses and businesses flood the world from the windows. But even in the country where there is no electric light, there is something that helps us to see. The night vision goggles make the world even clearer. See, they use the light of energy and heat which is everywhere around us. Even in the complete darkness of that lightless room, we could see the model with the glasses because the light still was there.
We want to be very angry at those who persecute us. We want to return the same hurts to those who hurt us. It would have been easy for that terrorist to continue killing Christians if he had arrived in a camp filled with hopeless people driven by anger or hatred. What he saw, however, was light. He saw Christ in their love and in their faith. He saw that even when there seems to be no hope, they have a hope that will not disappoint. He saw Light in his very dark world. We want to fight, but fighting will never bring anyone to a saving knowledge of Christ. Instead, we are called to be light in the darkness, to shine the Light into the darkness of this world. Christianity does have something unique among all the religions of the world: forgiveness. It is hard sometimes to forgive those who harm us, but when we do we end up with brothers rather than enemies.
Scriptures for Sunday, October 25, 2015, Reformation Sunday: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
"Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10, ASV
A WORD FOR TODAY reaches a wide audience that spans the spectrum of the Christian world. There are readers from many nations, conservative and liberal, high church with all the bells and whistles and more casual worship, charismatic and traditional. Sadly, some of my readers may question the authenticity of others because of their stands on issues, their narrow focus, or certain points of view. Yet somehow we gather together on a regular basis to hear God's word and consider what it means for our own personal lives.
I, of course, have a very specific point of view: I am a Christian with a Lutheran perspective. I don't usually blatantly divulge this about myself, although I suspect that my writing reveals that much more than I realize. I write from my point of view, and though I know it is just one perspective, I hope it shines the light of Christ and helps Christians live the life they are called to live.
That said, the text for this week's Midweek Oasis is the one time each year that I allow myself to focus this writing on Martin Luther and the Reformation. It is Reformation Sunday, the day that recalls the radical actions of the monk/priest/professor Martin Luther who nailed a list of conversation starters (The 95 Theses) on the door of Wittenberg Church. Those theses question the state of the Church at that moment in history, opening conversation to reform and restore the Church.
I think one of the reasons why I continue to be a Lutheran is because we are serious about theology. Following Martin Luther's example, we think deeply about the things of God. This isn't to say that others are less interested in theology or that they don't think deeply about God, but learning and understanding the scriptures is a foundational characteristic of the Lutheran faith. Is every Lutheran a theology geek like me? I have to admit that I am an odd man out: I've even spent 2015 reading the Book of Concord, the documents written five hundred years ago establishing the Lutheran Confession of Faith. However, like all denominations, we have people who are very serious and others who have chosen to attend a particular church for other reasons. However, we exist because of the work of Martin Luther and I like to be reminded once a year of my heritage.
Despite being recognized as one of the most important people in the history of mankind, I have come to learn that many people don't even know about Martin Luther. If you do a goggle search you are as likely to get links to pages for Martin Luther King, Jr. as you are to find links about the sixteenth century German monk. When the movie came out about Luther a few years ago, a girl asked a friend if it was about the twentieth century American preacher and activist. I'm not a Luther scholar, so much of my own knowledge is based on popular understanding, but it is worth taking the time to look at his greatest accomplishment: bringing light to the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is grace.
Luther was certainly not the first in the church to preach the Gospel of grace, nor was he the only one to seek reform in the church. He just happened to do so at a time when all the circumstances were perfectly aligned for a radical change in thought, both politically and spiritually. The printing press made it possible to share information with the masses. The people had been oppressed for some time and were ready to rebel against authority. Darkness reigned in many ways, as the people were led by superstition and hunger rather than faith.
It all started when Luther posted a list of discussion topics on the church door at Wittenberg. The 95 Theses were never intended for public perusal, they were written for debate in the halls of sixteenth century academia. The debate reached much further than the walls of Wittenberg and set off debate within the church that would change the world in many ways.
The nailing of the 95 Theses, which happened on October 31, 1517, was just the beginning and in hindsight we know it is one of the least of his accomplishments. It focused heavily on the law-centered focus of the Church in his day, which insisted that the people of faith do many things to earn their place in the Kingdom of God. So much of what he wrote against put burdens on the people that were impossible to keep and which benefitted no one but the Church. His biggest pet peeve was that indulgences were sold to raise money to build yet another monstrous cathedral. Luther taught that we can't buy our way into heaven; we are saved by grace through faith.
Martin Luther was a prolific theologian. He wrote volumes of works on the scriptures, explaining the meaning and bringing out the grace of God in the words. He translated the Bible into the common language of his people, putting it into their hands so that they could read it for themselves. He made the people more active in the worship, inviting them into the praise and thanksgiving through song and at the Eucharistic table. He wrote great hymns such as "A Mighty Fortress is our God" and "Lord, Keep us Steadfast in Your Word."
These were all great things, yet they still were not his greatest accomplishment. Luther believed that faith was not a once a week thing, that faith belonged in every aspect of one's life. While some in his day believed that the only truly faith-filled life could be lived separated from the world in monasteries, Luther believed that everyone was called by God to live faithfully every moment of every day. The bishop and washerwoman, monk and manure man were equal in the eyes of God, both saints and sinners called to use God's gifts to His glory. He wrote a Catechism booklet that was intended to be used by all Christian families at home, to instruct the young and deepen the faith of the old as they worshipped God together, remembering their baptism daily. He wrote a larger Catechism to help pastors and preachers better understand the scriptures so that they could teach the people in their parishes.
Yet, these were still not the greatest of his accomplishments. Just as Jesus Christ had done fifteen hundred years before, Martin Luther turned the world upside down when he rediscovered the amazing grace of God. The sixteenth century was a time of darkness. It was dark because the people were very superstitious, often believing that they could control the uncontrollable with the right words or actions. Other worldly beings like fairies and demons dominated the imaginations of those living in Europe. The fears of the people were exploited by both the religious and the secular leaders of the day. The sale of indulgences fed the need for people to do something to earn the favor of God, and it helped the leaders build a huge beautiful new cathedral. They convinced the people that they could buy salvation for themselves and for those they loved promising salvation and forgiveness for those who could afford to pay.
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 freely. 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. Martin Luther was like a man living in darkness, weighed down by the burden of his sin. It is said that he used to spend hours confessing, desperate to confess every little thing he'd ever done wrong. He was imprisoned by his fear and doubt.
When he reached the top of the steps at the Lateran, Luther 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 in God's promises. That is, until he discovered the truth in Paul's letter to the Romans.
Though there were those who tried to show him God's grace, but it took a moment of desperation in his darkness to cry out to God for help. "Save me," he begged. Then one day as Luther was reading the book of Romans a light shined in his darkness. He realized that justification comes from faith not from works of the Law. The doom and gloom of his inability to be good enough was conquered by the truth that God is good enough. God overcame his sin on the cross of Jesus Christ.
Luther finally saw clearly the grace that frees us from sin and death. This is the heart of the Gospel. It is not by my own ability that I am saved, but by the grace of God through the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. This we know by faith, faith given to us by God Himself.
God answered Luther's cry through the scriptures that he studied with passion and hope. There is nothing we can do because we are frail, sinful people, but God loved us so much that He gave us Jesus, the perfect priest who presented Himself as the perfect sacrifice. Luther believed that Christians were simultaneously saints and sinners, saved by the grace of God but still living in this imperfect world. He saw in the words of the whole Bible the joy and peace of freedom, the freedom that comes from complete trust in God. We can cry out to God and He will answer. Though we are imperfect and fail against Him daily, God will reveal Himself to us so that we will see and believe and be transformed by His grace.
The texts for this week are the same texts we use each year on Reformation Sunday. They are texts that I have written about many times over the years. We use them because they speak clearly the message of the Reformation: we are slaves to sin, we can't do anything good by our own power but Christ died to reconcile us to His Father and save us from ourselves to live and love and serve in joy and peace. We are set free from all that keeps us from the One whom gave us life by the truth. That day when Martin Luther rediscovered grace, he was set free from fear and doubt. The texts are a call to trust in God completely. Righteousness comes from the Spirit of God dwelling in the hearts of all who believe, not by the law. It is impossible for mankind to become righteous by our own power; we can't save ourselves from death by works or indulgences. It is only by the grace of God that we are saved.
Psalm 46 was among Luther's favorite passages; it is the passage on which he based the hymn "A Mighty Fortress is our God." If there is anything we can learn from the life of Martin Luther, it is that God is indeed our refuge and our strength. Life was never easy for this man of faith. Many people hated him, sometimes for very good reasons. He was not the most gracious person. He was bold and unwavering with his opinion. He has been described as arrogant and chauvinistic. He said some things that I am sure he would regret today, words that have been used for generations in all the wrong ways. But he loved his wife, children and the people of his congregations. Most of all, he was grateful to God and trusted in His mercy and grace; he 'sinned boldly' knowing that God's grace was greater than his failure. He sought to live out his calling in this world by sharing the true Gospel with all who would listen.
It may seem odd to spend so much time in this Midweek Oasis on one man and so little time on the scriptures for this week. Despite the fact that he was imperfect, simultaneously a saint and sinner, his life shined the grace of God. Through his words and ministry we are reminded to always look toward Christ and the cross as the center of our faith. Martin Luther encourages us to study the scriptures for ourselves, to delve deeply into theology--the study of God--so that we, too, will see God's grace fully revealed. In doing so we will be freed from fear and doubt, blessed with a renewed understanding of God's new covenant with His people. Luther knew that God, and only God, is our refuge and our strength, that all we have is His and all we do is for His glory. May we learn from Martin Luther's life and ministry and dwell in God's grace with joy and peace.
The Psalmist writes, "Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Luther heard those words and lived them to the glory of God. Even if you don't belong to a tradition that celebrates Reformation Day, I pray you will join me in praising God for all the wonderful things He did through the life and ministry of this man Martin Luther.
"Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song: sing unto Jehovah, all the earth. Sing unto Jehovah, bless his name; show forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples. For great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised: He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols; but Jehovah made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe unto Jehovah, ye kindreds of the peoples, ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength. Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name: Bring an offering, and come into his courts. Oh worship Jehovah in holy array: tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, Jehovah reigneth: the world also is established that it cannot be moved: He will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; Let the field exult, and all that is therein; then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy before Jehovah; for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth." Psalm 96, ASV
I went to see Garrison Keillor give a lecture last night at a local university. For those of you unfamiliar with the man, Garrison Keillor is the most famous Lutheran who isn't Lutheran. He is known for a radio program called "A Prairie Home Companion," a humorous look at life in a fictional town in Minnesota, based on his own life "among the Lutherans." He joked about the only time in his life when he attended a Lutheran church, which was when he lived in New York. He did so because it reminded him of home.
He spent two hours telling us stories, reciting poetry (some of his own, some of other writers,) talking about being a writer and singing. The lecture was held at a Lutheran university, so he assumed correctly that many of us in the audience were Lutheran. He said, "Prove it," and he began singing some of the old, favorite hymns. There was no music, just an auditorium full of people who love music of faith. We have a reputation for bringing heaven to earth in four-part harmony with just a few hummed notes of a favorite song.
In point of reference, I found this quote from Keillor this morning: "I have made fun of Lutherans for years - who wouldn't, if you lived in Minnesota? But I have also sung with Lutherans, and that is one of the main joys of life, along with hot baths and fresh sweet corn. We make fun of Lutherans for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offense, their lack of speed and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese. But nobody sings like they do. If you ask an audience in New York City, a relatively Lutheranless place, to sing along on the chorus of 'Michael Row the Boat Ashore', they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear. But if you do this among Lutherans they'll smile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach! And down the road! Lutherans are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony. It's a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person's rib cage. It's natural for Lutherans to sing in harmony. We're too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you're singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it's an emotionally fulfilling moment. I once sang the bass line of Children of the Heavenly Father in a room with about three thousand Lutherans in it; and when we finished, we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other."
We proved him right last night. Keillor started singing and more than a thousand of us joined in, even those who of us that make a joyful noise. It doesn't really matter when singing in such a crowd; every voice finds its place in the music and it miraculously sounds like the heavenly choir. I have heard choirs that practice for hours to present a piece of music and can't meld their voices as well as a congregation full of Lutherans singing a well-known hymn a capella with just a few hummed notes. We don't need to be trained singers, to practice or to have accompaniment to praise God, not just us Lutherans, but all Christians. Music is the one way that we can join our voices without concern over disagreement. We can worship God with hymns that glorify Him and promise one another that we will stand together in hope, peace and joy. We will one day be joining the heavenly choir for eternity, but we don't have to wait that long for the miraculous music of praise to reach the ears of our God. We can bring heaven to earth with our voices, joined in four-part harmony and words that bring tears to our eyes.
"Be patient therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it, until it receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Murmur not, brethren, one against another, that ye be not judged: behold, the judge standeth before the doors. Take, brethren, for an example of suffering and of patience, the prophets who spake in the name of the Lord. Behold, we call them blessed that endured: ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord, how that the Lord is full of pity, and merciful." James 5:7-11, ASV
I am not a very patient person when it comes to standing in line. I get extremely frustrated by the super friendly cashier who has lengthy conversations with the customers as he or she slowly rings up the items in the customer's shopping cart. The talkative ones are usually those who can't do more than one thing at a time, so they stop working to focus on the conversation. I'm less frustrated when the line is held up by problems at the register than when the employee is more concerned about being friendly than doing their job. It is far worse when I'm in a hurry, but even when I have plenty of time I would rather not stand in line while people talk about their plans for the weekend.
There are times when you simply have to stand in line. Anyone who has visited any of the Disney parks knows what it is like to stand in line, sometimes for hours so that they can experience a few minutes of thrills. We stand in line to buy fast food. Some people are willing to stand in line for hours to buy the latest phone or video game. Others are willing to sleep in a line overnight to get tickets for their favorite rock band. We are certain to hear stories of people camping outside the electronics stores next month so that they will be the first to get the best deals on Black Friday. We are willing to stand in line to buy gas for our automobiles and bottles of water when we know that bad weather is on the way. Hopefully we are willing to stand in line to vote, although sadly I don't often have to stand for very long since too many people don't bother.
I stood in a line Wednesday night after the lecture with Garrison Keillor. Actually, I stood in two. First I stood in the line to purchase a couple of books that he had available and then I stood in line to get his signature in those books. I usually do buy whatever is offered when I attend a lecture or concert and the person is available for signatures. I have a video of Rent signed by one of the actors. I have CDs from several musicians. And I have dozens of books signed by the authors.
It is frustrating to stand in line, but it is worth being patient when it comes to something like this. Meeting someone like Garrison Keillor is an experience you don't forget and you wait patiently for your turn. Unfortunately, not everyone was quite as patient. Three people cut in line in front of me as I waited. Others were pushing from behind. It was an unusual experience because the line never moved; Keillor moved into the line, coming forward instead of standing still and letting the line move toward him. So, the people in front of me didn't move, people cut in front of me and then the people behind me pushed forward. It was a most uncomfortable experience as I was constantly touched by a lady's tablet as she tried taking pictures right next to my head, the temperature rose as people crowded around and I couldn't move.
Garrison Keillor was extremely gracious. He gave every person time to say what they wanted to say. He asked and answered questions. He was interested in every person who wanted to meet him. I was frustrated by the line, but I knew that my patience would be worthwhile because he would be gracious to me, too. He was. We had a nice conversation. He was interested in my writing. He even took my card, although I don't expect that he'll ever really have the time to read this writing. That's ok; the fact that he was interested was enough for me.
Being patient is hard. We get frustrated because the people around us do not always fulfill our needs or expectations. As a matter of fact, we are all a little selfish and self-centered. We demand our space, our turn and our fair share. We demand that others consider our needs even as we focus on ourselves. In the end, however, it is worthwhile to have been patient. We find the reward to be great. Perhaps not so much at the grocery store, but definitely when we get tickets to that concert or that doorbuster deal. And we certainly benefit when we finally meet the author, musician or actor we have been waiting to see.
Faith is takes patience. We are waiting for something, and though we have the scriptural revelation of what is to come, we don't have a clear vision of what that will be. We aren't really waiting in line, we don't need to worry about whether someone is cutting in front of us or about those who are pushing forward with nowhere to go. We don't need to be frustrated by the conversations because we know that we will have our time when it is time. Like Garrison Keillor, God will come to us, be gracious to us and be faithful to all His promises.
"And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, ASV
I have been reading a book by Joseph Loconte called "A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18." The title makes the subject matter fairly obvious; it is a book about how World War I affected the lives and writing of two great Christian authors. Tolkien and Lewis were both soldiers in the British Expeditionary Force, fighting against the German aggression of the early twentieth century. I am only about a quarter of the way through the book, but so far it has been a fascinating look at the world at that time in history and the way people's thoughts, faith and actions were changed.
I just finished a chapter about the time Tolkien spent in the front-line trench on the Western front. He saw men killed and lost friends. He became ill from the horrific conditions and was eventually sent home, but not without seeing the images that would eventually end up in his books. I have always thought that he simply had an incredible imagination, but the reality is that his imagination drew upon the life-changing experiences of his service in the war.
Even the characters were often reflections of those he met on the battlefield. He once write to a friend about how the idea of the hobbit came into his mind. He was correcting papers at Oxford University where he was a Professor of Anglo-Saxon, and he scribbled on a scrap of paper, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." He had no idea at that moment what the hobbit would be like, but he thought to himself, "I better find out what hobbits are like." He revealed that the character of the hobbit was a reflection of the ordinary soldier who was steadfast in his duties while suffering in that dreary "hole in the ground," the front-line trench.
He made them small because the ordinary soldier was no one of great import. They weren't nobles or kings, knights or warriors. They were men who served without distinction, but they served with a fierce loyalty to king and country and with a mission to get the job done. They were normal guys who joked with their fellow soldiers, who knew the fear of waiting for the next bomb to fall but who stepped out with courage when the time came. Loss of hope did not turn to despair but to an unexpected strength that ultimately won the battle. We see this same transformation in the hobbits of Middle Earth in Tolkien's stories, the accidental heroes in a land where all the odds were against them. Loconte writes, "Like the soldiers in the war, the homely hobbits could not have perceived that the fate of nations depended upon their stubborn devotion to duty."
Tolkien used his experiences to create a magical world which so many of us have used as an escape. However, I will forever look at the stories of the hobbits and Middle Earth in a new way, knowing that Tolkien lived so much of what he wrote in a way that most of us will never really understand. Tolkien chose to find inspiration in both the good and the bad and shared that by writing stories that both entertain and enlighten. There are lessons of life and faith that Tolkien may have learned for himself in the front-line trench of the Western front. As we look around our own world, we may discover that the great heroes of faith are not those who stand out, but are really those who stand firm.
"When Jehovah brought back those that returned to Zion, We were like unto them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the nations, Jehovah hath done great things for them. Jehovah hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad. Turn again our captivity, O Jehovah, as the streams in the South. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with joy, bringing his sheaves with him." Psalm 126, ASV
I found a video online of a bunch of American style football players playing musical chairs. The guys were running around a circle of plastic chairs until the music stopped and then grabbed a chair, just as the kids do. The difference, however, is that these football players did not take losing easily, and the guy that lost out tackled the guy that stole his chair from under his bottom. Then the guy that got tackled, tackled the other guy. The other guy tackled the first guy again. By that point in the game, the chair was broken, so the winner fell over when he finally got to sit down.
It made me laugh. It would probably not have been funny in another context. As a matter of fact, the violence of tackling someone during a game is completely inappropriate when children are playing. We teach our children to be good sports, to accept when they lose. There will be another game, another chance to win. We don't need to fight for the chair, we simply need to enjoy play, rejoice with the winner and try again the next time.
Whether we should tackle the players in a game of musical chairs isn't the point however. The video made me laugh and it is good to laugh. They say that laughter is the best medicine, and there has been some scientific studies that have proven this to be true. I don't know the technical reasons, but laughter strengthens your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress. There are other benefits like relationship building and group bonding.
I suppose there are those who might say that humor or comedy is worldly, perhaps even a waste of time. Many of the scriptures about laughter see it from a very negative point of view. I know that we can spend hours surfing the Internet in search of silly cat videos and though they might make us laugh, hours of videos is definitely a waste of time. Yet, laughter throughout the day can actually make us more productive. As Solomon once said, there is a time to laugh.
Life might not always seem very happy. We deal with hard times, financial crises, broken relationships, hunger and hatred and even violence. We live in a world that is fraught with trouble. Yet, we know that even in the midst of those bad times there is always hope because our God has promised us an eternity of joy and peace. He is faithful, so we can trust that He will make it happen. While we wait, we have to live in this world, so we might as well watch a video once in a while and laugh. It will do us good.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 1, 2015, All Saints Sunday: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44
"Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is Jehovah; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation." Isaiah 25:9, ASV
Christo and Jeanne-Claude are environmental artists. They are known for wrapping huge spaces with fabric and for placing flags or umbrellas across a large area. They make their art to be aesthetically pleasing. Jeanne-Claude once said, "We want to create works of art of joy and beauty, which we will build because we believe it will be beautiful." Their work is permanent only in photographs; the fabrics eventually come down after a day or a few weeks. The work that goes into these projects often takes months, not only to plan and prepare, but to receive the necessary permissions to use the land. In one project called "Running Fence," they had to get permission from fifty-nine ranch families to cut across their land for a fence that was 5.5 meters high and 40 kilometers long, constructed in Sonoma and Marin Counties, California. They often have to hire lawyers to help with the bureaucratic paperwork necessary. They have wrapped buildings and coastlines, built pathways and covered valleys.
Though temporary, Christo and Jeanne-Claude will have a lasting legacy of their large outdoor projects through photos and memories. Someone is probably still talking about the day they walked through "The Gates" in Central Park or wondered why the Reichstag was covered in fabric. Art students will find their work in textbooks and will discuss the meaning or purpose; they will probably even discuss whether or not it is art.
I'm not sure everyone does about their work trying to create a lasting legacy for their lives, although there's a part of all of us that wants to be remembered. Some philanthropists give so that their name will be affixed to buildings in colleges or hospitals. Artists create art, writers write books and musicians make albums so that they will be remembered. Engineers put their mark on the world in bridges or dams or architecture. Politicians want to change the world with policies. We raise our children the best we can so that they will be a glory to us. We all know that one day we will die, so we do whatever we can to live on is memory even though we won't be here in flesh.
That's all that we have according to some religions. They don't look forward to a life that is eternal, but that will go on in memory. Others see our life after death as a chance to live again in a new flesh. Some suggest that we become angels, while others say that we become part of the cosmos. The Sadducees did believe in a resurrection of the body and others misunderstood what that would mean. The story of Christ tells us that not only will our spirits live on eternally, but we will have a new body as well. We will still be who we are but we will be changed. The resurrection body of Jesus was the same but different. Something happened between life and life; that same something will happen to us, too.
That doesn't make the reality of death any easier for us to accept. When someone dies, they leave us, and no matter how much hope we have that we will one day join them in the hosts of heaven, we miss them today. We grieve, as we should, because death is the consequence sin. Sin is in the world; it is a part of our lives and the wages of sin is death. Our memory might live on, but even that fades eventually. We remember a few names from history, but do we even remember our forefathers from just a couple generations ago? Watch a few of those "man on the street" interviews and you'll learn how quickly even the most important characters from history are forgotten.
The legacy we leave behind is never eternal. Buildings fall, works of art become faded, music and literature becomes outdated. Our children don't work so that our memory remains alive; they work towards the future and their own legacy as they should. Trends change and the work of the politicians a hundred years ago becomes obsolete. We know that no matter how much we try, we will never be eternal by our own work. While there is much about our lives that might be worth remembering like the lessons we have learned and the things we have accomplished, we can't spend all our time in the past.
Sunday is All Saint's Sunday, which we might think is just a day to remember the people who have died, but there is so much more to it than looking backward. It began in the early days of the Church when so many Christians were martyred for their faith. The day of their death was considered their 'birthday' because it was the day they entered into the eternal presence of God. They were remembered on that day with a feast or a festival and honored for their faith. First there were local commemorations but soon the feasts of the martyrs were shared and celebrated in many places. Eventually all the saints were honored both martyrs and those who are remembered for their faithfulness. Soon there were so many saints that it became difficult to honor them all on their individual 'birthdays.' If you look at a calendar of the Saints, you'll find that the list is extensive, with twenty or more names for each day. So the Church chose one day of remembrance, which eventually became November 1st. We celebrate on the Sunday of or just after that date each year.
We use this day to remember not only those that have been officially recognized as Saints, but also to remember those whom we loved who have passed from life into death. Usually we focus on those who have passed more recently, but the day is certainly a good time to recall those we have loved and lost. It is a way for the community of God to unite in our love for the great cloud of witnesses, the saints whom have attained the promise of eternal life in Christ.
All Saints Day is not just for those who have passed from death into eternal life. It is for us, too. We are part of the community of saints from the moment we are baptized into Christ; having heard the saving word of forgiveness we are welcomed into the loving embrace of our Father. At communion we partake in the bread and wine with all saints throughout time in space, getting a glimpse of the feast which those whom have already passed are already enjoying the promise.
God never intended for human beings to die. He created us to be in His image, to live with Him and to love Him for eternity. We were casualties of the battle between God and the adversary. Yet, we aren't innocent victims. In the freedom of God's love, human beings chose to turn away. It was just Adam and Eve on that day so long ago, but we were with them in the Garden of Eden, too. We have the same selfish and self-centered will that makes us turn our backs on God. The choice in the garden still lives with us and makes us see God with fear instead of love. God did not abandon us, however. He prepared a promise that would overcome even our selfish and self-centered will: the gift of salvation. We were exiled; we were cast out of the Garden to keep us from living an immortal existence in fear of our Creator. We are exiles, living in a foreign land far from our Creator.
But we have hope. We would still be exiled from God, except for His grace. He did not stay away, but came into our exile in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ to live with us, to teach us and to ultimately die for us. Jesus faced everything that we face as human beings living in this imperfect and perishable world. Jesus gave up the glory of Heaven to dwell among us, living as we do. He knew what it was like to be human. He faced temptation, but did not sin. He knew what it was like to be tired, to be hungry, and to be lonely. He knew pain. He even wept.
God has promised us His extravagant goodness in the day that we too get to go home and live in His eternal presence forever. For today, however, we still live in the knowledge of the promise knowing that God also dwells with us in the here and now. 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. We will one day join the hosts of heaven to praise and worship the LORD God Almighty for eternity, but for today we wait expectantly. We work while we wait, producing a legacy that might last a few years or even a few generations. We build buildings, produce art and literature and music, raise children and impact our world. We do all these things with the expectation that it will last at least a little while. But the real legacy is that which God has won for us through the cross of Jesus Christ, His legacy of eternal life that He has given us by His grace. Our hope is not in what we can produce to be remembered, it is in what God has already done.
All Saints Day is not really a day for mourning. It is a day to celebrate the promises of God. Though death seems to be an end, our scriptures for this week talk of hope, peace and new things. For a Christian, death is just a passing into new life, when we receive the blessings promised by God and revealed in the Resurrection of the First Born, Jesus Christ. We weep over the loss of those we love, for they will never again join us in the laughter and pain of this world. Jesus wept, for in death we see the reality of sin and the grave. It is separation from those we love, an end to the blessings of life.
Mary and Martha tried to get Jesus to come and save Lazarus from death. Both women greeted their Lord with the words, "if you had been here..." Some of the Jews in the crowd of mourners thought Jesus cried crocodile tears. "If he can heal a blind man, he could have saved Lazarus." Lazarus had been in the grave for four days. It was a common belief in the days of Jesus that the spirit of a person hovered nearby until the third day, and then it left the person forever. Since Lazarus was dead for four days, there was no way he could be raised. His spirit was gone forever. They knew Jesus had the power for healing and salvation, but they lost hope for Lazarus because they thought it was too late.
With Jesus, however, there is always hope. Death is not the end of life for those who believe. Even though the flesh dies, those who have faith in Jesus Christ will live forever. It is easy for us to look back on this story and consider the sisters faithless because they did not trust Jesus. Yet, we look at these stories with 20/20 vision. Martha confessed faith in Jesus, proclaimed Him to be the Christ, and yet she still did not really know the power He would wield against sin and death. She did not really understand what it would mean to be resurrected until Jesus died and was raised.
The Psalmist asks, "Who shall ascend into the hill of Jehovah? And who shall stand in his holy place?" He answers, "He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; Who hath not lifted up his soul unto falsehood, And hath not sworn deceitfully." Without Jesus, it would not be possible for any to stand in the holy place. We would have no hope for resurrection, no hope for eternal life. But we do have hope, because Jesus died to defeat sin and death. He was raised so that we can have eternal life in Him. He is the King of glory, He is the Lord. Jesus is the resurrection; He is our hope and life. He has overcome death and the grave and in Him alone is our hope for salvation. We are His legacy and we will dwell with Him forever.
Isaiah tells us what eternal life will be like. "And in this mountain will Jehovah of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering that covereth all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He hath swallowed up death for ever; and the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth: for Jehovah hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is Jehovah; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation."
John also gives us an image of that which is to come. "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven of God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God: and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away. And he that sitteth on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he saith, Write: for these words are faithful and true. And he said unto me, They are come to pass."
We will grieve as we gather on Sunday to remember those who have passed from death into new life, but let us remember that it is not just a day to deal with our grief and remember those we love. We will also gather around the table of grace and celebrate the great and promised feast with the all the saints throughout time and space. At the table we get a glimpse of heaven even while we are still on earth and celebrate the hope of salvation that will not disappoint because our God is faithful to His promises.
"Owe no man anything, save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law." Romans 13:8, ASV
The firefighters were waiting at the check-out line in a grocery store when a call came in. They left their groceries which they were buying to feed the crew and went to do their work. When they returned to the grocery store, they discovered that a kind person paid for their groceries and left a thank you note for all they do. The Good Samaritan did not leave a name but the kind deed was definitely appreciated. It gives you hope to know that there are still people who are willing to do something for someone else.
Hannah Brencher was sitting on the train when she noticed a woman who seemed lonely and sad. Hannah decided to write the woman a letter, a love letter. She was going to just drop it on the floor in front of the woman as she exited the train, but by the time she wrote the letter the woman had disappeared. Hannah continued to write love letters and decided to start dropping them around the city. "If you find this letter, then it is for you..." Eventually Hannah began a website called More Love Letters where she connects people who need to hear words of encouragement and love with those who are willing to write them. She has many stories of people whose lives were changed by the love letters they received.
Hannah says that she learned this about human beings: "If you give them something to do, a mission, they will show up." I believe this is true. Any time there is a national, millions of people donate to help. They arrive in trucks full of water and shovels after a flood, ready to get muddy as they help people recover their lives. They fill the Toys for Tots bins at Christmastime and donate to the food bank when the shelves are empty. Most people don't think about these things in the normal course of their day. They don't buy toys to give to an organization until the need is brought to light. They don't buy that extra can of tuna fish until they see the news story. They don't send money to the relief organizations until they hear about a disaster. But the minute the call is made, people show up.
We are about to enter into that season when many organizations will be asking for help. Let's show up when we hear their call; they are counting on us to donate the funds and the items that will make this holiday season better for those who can't do it for themselves. However, there are many people who need us that will not be served by those organizations. They are people who don't really need a bag of groceries, but who might need to know that their work is appreciated. They are people who don't need anything tangible but need to know they someone sees that they exist. There are people who simply need to receive a love letter, whether from a stranger or a friend.
So, while we are more than willing to show up when the call goes out for help, let's become more observant of those around us and look for ways to show up in their lives even when they don't ask. Sometimes people do not even know what they need, but it can be life changing when someone, whether stranger or friend, does something unexpected. You never know what kind of impact that plate of cookies or that card in the mailbox might have for someone who feels lonely, afraid, invisible, depressed, unappreciated, or overwhelmed. We can give hope to someone with just a word of love.
"And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Matthew 28:18-20, ASV
Commissions make me nervous. A commission is when someone requests something specific to be produced according to their expectations. For an artist, this means trying to produce something that is in someone else's vision. I can't see in their head, I can only ask specific questions and hope that I manage to create something that they like. I'm working on a commission right now that has had me flummoxed. The patron saw another painting, and though he liked it, it wasn't quite right. There were things he liked about several other paintings and wondered if we could somehow merge the techniques into one. I agreed, but I've been nervously testing ideas, searching for materials, applying paint onto the canvas. He assured me that I shouldn't worry; he is impressed with my creativity and knows I will come up with something terrific.
At first I could not duplicate the look of the original painting. No matter how hard I tried, I could not make the paint move on the canvas correctly. As it turns out, there's no such thing as 'correctly' when you are creating a painting, and the paint moved even better than I could have imagined. It isn't identical to the original, but that's ok, because it is not supposed to be identical. Every painting is unique. I am nervous about the next step because it doesn't quite make sense to me. There is no turning back once I begin this step and I'm always a little afraid that I am going to ruin the work that has already been completed. I have to move forward because it is what he wants and I am sure that the plans will work out in a way that will be satisfactory and beautiful.
As Christians we have been given a commission, the Great Commission. Jesus sent the disciples into the world to share the Good News of God's Kingdom with all who will hear. He sent them to make disciples of all nations, to baptize and to teach His Word to the world. He gave this commission not only to the Apostles, but to each and every Christian. We are all called by grace to be saved and then sent to share that grace with others. This is a commission that makes me even more nervous than the painting. Jesus wants me to go out there to be a witness for Him. I don't believe I can do it. I'm sure I'll stumble over the words. I get too frustrated with rejection. I'm really a wimp and the idea of persecution is too frightening to me. I'd rather remain silent. I doubt I can do the job that Jesus is sending me to do.
Today's passage comes at the end of Matthew's Gospel. Jesus has died and risen. He has trained the disciples to reinforce what He taught them as they journeyed together for the three years of His ministry. The disciples have seen incredible and unbelievable things, not the least of which was Jesus' resurrection. In verse 17, Matthew writes, "And when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted." Some doubted. What did they doubt? Did they doubt that Jesus was really among them? Did they doubt that the story, as they experienced it, was true? Perhaps their doubts had more to do with their own fears and uncertainty than with the impossibility of seeing Jesus.
My painting might just fail to impress the patron who commissioned it, but it doesn't matter. If he doesn't like it, then someone else will have the chance of owning it. I can even hang it on my own wall. We have to trust, however, that the One who calls us to this Great Commission is with us as we go out into the world. It isn't our strengths that will save the world; through our weaknesses Jesus will do so. He sends us to be His witnesses, but promises that He will be with us. He will put the words in our mouths. He will not abandon us even when they reject us. He will hold our hand as we suffer the persecution that is inevitable in a world of darkness that does not want to see the Light. We can be His witnesses because even when we fail, He will accomplish the will of His Father.