Welcome to the September 2009 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, September 2009
September 1, 2009
“Now to him that is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith: to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever.” (Romans 16:25-27, ASV)
We have cable, and with cable we have lots of stations. There are at least two hundred stations, plus HD, plus On Demand. I record some shows, especially if I won’t be home or if there are several shows that I would like to watch on at the same time. So, I have those recordings to choose from, also. So why is it that when I sit down to watch television, there is often nothing to see? Part of the problem, I am learning, is that most of the stations are connected are connected to other stations. They advertise for one another and eventually end up sharing shows. New programs go into rerun much earlier. It is not unusual to be able to see a program that aired one night on another channel the next day. The programs even air three, four, five times on the same channel in a week. Recording your favorite shows is almost unnecessary because you can catch it again sometime.
Some television stations like to hold all-day marathons of favorite programs. This is especially true when a show is about to have its season premier or finale. They want to give you a chance to get caught up, to remember what has lead up to that moment. I enjoy the marathons for that very reason.
The problem is, despite the fact that there are more than two hundred stations, it is impossible to find something I haven’t watched already. There are only so many times you can watch one of those food reality shows before the shocking ending isn’t shocking any longer. As much as I enjoy some of the comedy dramas on the USA Network, there are only so many times you can watch the same episode in a week. It was bad enough when we were forced to watch reruns during the summer. Now the reruns appear immediately and on a dozen television stations.
By the end of the summer, in the weeks before the new shows come out, there is nothing to watch. We’ve seen it all. Sadly, in a few weeks when all the stations begin playing the new season, it will be impossible to see it all. And while the shows will be available elsewhere in a short period of time, we do like to watch those first run shows when they play so that we can get in on the conversation around the water cooler the next day. The first few weeks of the new television season are overwhelming as we decide which shows we really want to watch. Then, we’ll be back to having nothing available.
Doesn’t it seem like our lives are the same way? Sometimes we are so busy we don’t know how we’ll get through a week. It is exciting, challenging and awesome. Even when we feel overwhelmed, we enjoy being in the midst of something new and fresh. Then, just as suddenly, we find ourselves bored with everything we have to do. What was once fun becomes routine.
This even happens with our faith life. How many of us have found inspiration in a new way of prayer or a new Bible Study. We are excited to go to church and serve on the council or attend that social group. We get deeply involved in ministry, taking on the leadership of projects and helping others with theirs. Then one day it starts to get old. The passion we had begins to fade; the hope and faith seem to waver. We aren’t as excited about ministry. We are tired and even bored of the work we have to do. Like we can’t find anything on the television dial, we can’t find anything to do.
With the television, however, we can just shut it off. We can find something else to do. We can listen to music or even the silence. But we can’t walk away from our faith even if we are bored with it. We can’t walk away from our relationship with God even if we don’t like the work we have to do. But we will be greatly blessed in the doing, because God will be glorified. It isn’t about us, anyway. It is always about Him. And He will be with us through it, to help us manifest His love and grace to the world. He is able to do so even when we think we can’t. So, we walk in faith and let God work through us when we are passionate and when it seems like we can’t manage to get anything done.
Put not your trust in princes, Nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
It is really fascinating that in today’s Gospel lesson we have two people healed without one word of faith. Faith might be implied by the boldness of the woman who went to Jesus based on what she’d heard about Him. The deaf man’s friends may have had faith enough to lead him to Jesus and beg for healing. However, Jesus doesn’t speak about faith in these two stories. It isn’t faith that saves the woman and the man, it is grace.
Knowing this makes the comment from James a little easier to understand, especially if you are using the New Revised Standard Version of the text. James writes, “Can faith save you?” (James 2:14b, NRSV. In other versions the text reads, “Can that faith save you?” or similar.) Can faith save us? We often heard it said that we are saved by faith, but is that really what we should believe? Paul writes in Ephesians that we are saved by grace through faith. It isn’t the faith that saves us, it is the grace of God.
So, when James asks “Can faith save you?” in relation to the good works he is describing, he isn’t suggesting that good works will save a person. What he is saying is that those who are saved, who live in the faith that comes from grace, will have the same mercy on those whom they see that need to be saved. When we see someone who is hungry or naked, it is not enough to wish them well in their hunger and nakedness. James writes, “If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit?”
Faith without works is a dead faith, not a living faith. Just as the God who comes to save us does so in an active and powerful way, so too we are sent into the world to be God’s hands and share His grace with others. Isaiah talks about the work God is going to do in the world. The eyes of the blind will be open, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame shall leap like a dear and the tongue of the speechless will sing for joy. God will take those who can’t do things and make them people who can. Faith is about action. It is about seeing, hearing, leaping and singing!
The psalmist tells us for whom the promise is give; the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners, the blind, the fallen, the strangers, the orphans and the widows. The wicked are those who ignore or reject or pass off the needs of our neighbors to others. I saw a funny joke on the television recently, I’m not sure of the source. A man entered into an elegant party and found a beautiful woman in a glittering gown being the perfect hostess. He complimented her on the fact that if there were a natural disaster, the organization could throw a magnificent ball in just 24 hours. The ball, of course, would be given to bring awareness to the problem and perhaps collect a few donations to help. But wouldn’t it be better to go and serve and share our resources directly with those in need?
It seems as though Jesus wants to send the Syrophoenician woman off to get her help from somewhere else. But where would she go? Like the psalmist says, men who are mere mortals can’t do the work of God. She went to the only one who might help her and she wouldn’t take “That’s not my job” for an answer. When the people brought Jesus the deaf man, Jesus actively addressed the problem by reaching out to the man, directly touching him in his need and in doing so opened the man’s ears.
Though Jesus tried to keep his activities secret, those who were healed by Jesus and those who had seen what He could do told everyone about His power. Mark even tells us that the more Jesus orders them to be silent, the more loudly they proclaim it. They were so amazed and said, “He hath done all things well; he maketh even the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.” This brings us back to the Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah. Jesus was, even from the beginning of His ministry, fulfilling the very things that were promised of the One who would restore Israel. And we see in the story of the Syrophoenician woman that Jesus’ power was not limited to Israel. Jesus would restore all people to God. Our faith makes us part of that salvation story: first as recipients and then as God’s hands sharing His grace with others.
“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)
So, I did an order over the Internet. It is hard to know for sure that what you are purchasing is the right thing, and when the ordered arrived yesterday, I learned that I had ordered the wrong item. I called customer service to arrange a return and they were most helpful. Since the item was not very expensive, the return postage was going to be more than the value of the item. The technician I spoke with arranged the exchange and sent in an order for the right size item. He told me that I did not need to return the wrong one. He said it was just not worth time, trouble or money that it would cost to send it back.
As we were talking, the tech told me that while it is good to use the Internet to browse through their selection of items, it is better to call into the warehouse to have the live help of a customer service representative to help with the sale. He said that the representative would catch that type of mistake and ensure that we would buy the right items. He said that there are often phone deals that beat even the online sales. He looked over our order to make sure that we’ve purchased everything we might need and told me that any purchases would be discounted. It was great customer service, over and above what was necessary to keep me as a customer.
How often do we do just enough? The reality is that we probably don’t do everything that we should do. When Martin Luther wrote his Small Catechism to be used in households to teach the children the basics of Christian life, his explanations of the commandments were not limited to the “do not” point of view. For each of the commandments related to the way we deal with our neighbors, it wasn’t enough to say not to murder, steal or covet. Luther takes it the next step and says that we should do what would help our neighbor. While it is right to not murder our neighbor, it is even better to do what would help them have life. Even though it is good to not steal from our neighbor, it is better to help them to improve their lives. If we are content with our own life we will not need to covet anything of our neighbors, but the best way to live is to help our neighbors hold on to the things that are there.
The Christian life of service is not only about doing what we should do; it is about going that extra mile. The Great Commission is about more than telling people about Jesus. It is about making disciples. We are called to share the Good News with our neighbor, but that is not enough. Once they know Jesus and have accepted the life of faith into which they have been called, it is up to us to make sure that they have everything they need to live that life. We can’t be hit and run evangelists. By sharing God’s grace and forgiveness, we take on the responsibility of helping them become part of the Church and God’s Kingdom. They don’t have to join our church, but we can encourage and help them find a place they can worship in a community that will nurture their faith. We don’t have to force them to do the same things we do, but we can encourage them to use their gifts and glorify God with their resources. We don’t have to be the ones to lead them in Bible Study or prayer, but we can support them in their quest to understand God’s Word in their life.
When we’ve shared God’s grace with our neighbor, let us go that extra mile and encourage their newfound faith so that they will become more than just believers, so that they will become disciples as we’ve been commanded to do.
“Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life?” (Matthew 6:25-27, ASV)
I make this pasta salad with multi-colored pasta, meat, cheese, vegetables and some sort of oil and vinegar dressing (like Italian or Red Wine Vinaigrette.) I used to make the salad with summer sausage and frozen vegetables. It is a simple and easy recipe that you can make for little money: a perfect pot luck dish. I started using just a bag of mixed vegetables, the kind with corn, carrots, peas and beans. Then I started using other types with larger chunks of vegetables, with cauliflower, broccoli, baby corn, or asparagus. If you put the frozen vegetables into the colander and pour the cooked pasta overtop, the vegetables defrost just enough for the salad.
I recently started doing something different with this salad. Instead of using frozen vegetables, I cut up fresh celery, carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and radishes. Instead of summer sausage, I buy a thick slice of deli turkey or ham (or both) which I julienne and put in the salad. The salad with the fresh vegetables is so much lighter and more delicious. The crunch of the vegetables gives it that extra punch. It takes a little more work, but it is worthwhile to go to the extra trouble for good, healthy food.
Decisions about food are probably the most common choices we make. We think about food at least three times a day, probably a lot more than that. Even our children make food choices. We decide whether to pack a lunch or buy fast food. We decide what to have for dinner. We choose between a hot meal and a cold one. Should we get that mid-afternoon snack or have that ice cream before bed? Should we add salt to our dinner? When we go out to eat, we have to decide which items on the menu we would like to eat, keeping in mind that there are plenty of choices that we probably should not eat.
So many factors go into this decision making, although we don’t always make the best choice. A packed lunch is always a better choice in terms of health and finances, but it isn’t always possible to do so. A sit-down family meal is the best way to build up a family, but with busy schedules it isn’t always practical. A mid-afternoon or late-night snack might not the best thing, but we can choose healthier options. Unfortunately, most of us would rather have that chocolate bar.
For some people, the decisions around food can become an obsession. There are certainly too many people with food disorders. We are obsessed by diets, chasing after every new trend in the hope that we’ll lose weight. The grocery stores are filled with products claiming to have today’s fad. The words don’t always mean what we think we mean, but we buy the products thinking that they will be healthier and tastier because of what we find on the labels. We’ve all read the labels, trying to understand whether or not a product is right. Even the restaurants are giving nutritional information to help customers make the right choices. Perhaps we worry a little too much about what we eat.
Jesus is certainly not telling us to go willy-nilly with our food decisions. Our bodies require good food regularly to keep us healthy, but we need not be obsessed with those decisions. We need to make good decisions, but it doesn’t help to worry about every bite that we put into our mouths. We need to consider how our meals will affect the people with whom we share that food physically and emotionally, but there is no need to worry about whether we should serve fresh or frozen vegetables. The food we eat is a part of our life, not only to feed our body, but also as a center for our social and familiar relationships. But we should give it the priority it deserves: not as the most important thing, but as a gift from God that keeps us from hunger and makes our lives more enjoyable.
“Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” (Matthew 5:38-42, ASV)
Victoria was home for the weekend, and when she comes home she does her laundry. It saves her some money and it is much easier for her to do it here rather than having to run back and forth to the laundry room in her dorm. This weekend she waited until Monday to take care of the chore, which was smart because she was able to wash the clothes she wore over the weekend, too. Unfortunately, when you wait until the last minute to do something, there’s always something to keep the task from being completed on time.
The problem this weekend wasn’t mechanical. Nothing really kept her from doing the laundry. The problem was the kitties. Tigger absolutely loves to lay on bath towels that are warm out of the dryer. When I do laundry, he waits with excitement for the load with bath towels to be finished and folded so that he can have his comfy place to sleep all day. This time, however, Delilah wanted a turn, too. She jumped up, looked at Tigger, sniffed the towel and looked pathetic for a moment. I felt bad for her, so I picked her up and put her on the clean clothes Victoria had folded and stored in her hamper to take back to school. Delilah was delighted. She curled up on the clean clothes and fell asleep.
Victoria had a mixed reaction when she saw Delilah in the hamper. She thought the kitten looked adorable sweetly sleeping on her clothes, but she also knew that she was getting cat fur all over the cleaned clothing. Delilah couldn’t stretch out inside the hamper, so she eventually jumped out and went somewhere else for her nap. Later in the day, after Tigger stopped sleeping on the towel, Delilah curled up there. When Victoria saw it, she sighed and asked, “How am I supposed to finish my laundry?” When Delilah left, Tigger returned to the spot. Victoria missed her opening. Meanwhile, Victoria folded everything else and closed the hamper. Delilah came back and sniffed the lid, so I told Zack to open it for her. Delilah climbed in and settled down on the freshly folded laundry. “Mom!” Victoria cried when she saw that Delilah was back inside the hamper. “How am I ever supposed to get finished?” I lifted Delilah out to give Victoria a break, but Tigger wasn’t ready for it to be over. He climbed into the hamper to sniff around and get his turn lying on those clothes. On her way out the door, Victoria made the kitties promise to ‘help’ me with my laundry.
Isn’t it amazing how differently we see things depending on our circumstances? I thought the whole thing was hysterical because every time Victoria turned around there was a different reason why she could not finish the work. She was frustrated for the same reason. My actions didn’t help matters: it got worse for Victoria because I gave the kitties the opportunity to get in her way. When I knew that the joke had gone too far, I did try to help by removing Delilah the second time, but that didn’t really help because Tigger jumped right in for his turn.
It doesn’t matter what the issue, it seems like our world is always split down the middle: half think something is good, half think the same thing is bad. I thought it was fun for to watch the kitties play with Victoria. Victoria didn’t think it was fun. Politically we are divided, not only in America but all over the world. In religion we are also divided, not only into different religions or denominations, but also within individual churches. Those who aren’t affected by one issue are dealing with something different. It is heartbreaking to see how people are treating each other because there is no way to overcome that which divides us. We won’t listen to one another, or we listen with ears that are tainted by our own opinions and points of view. It is easier to ignore and reject their point of view than to understand that they have good reasons for what they do too.
Perhaps that’s why Jesus told the crowd to walk two miles with the person that forces them to walk a mile. In that second mile you might just discover the reason that person thinks as they do. It doesn’t mean that your opinion is wrong. It doesn’t mean you have to change your point of view. It doesn’t mean I can’t continue to enjoy the antics of the cats when they are frustrating Victoria’s work. It just means that we should try to see the situation through the other person’s eyes. We might just discover that there is a better idea found in the middle. We might discover there is a way we can help our neighbor. We don’t have to give up ourselves or our own opinions to have empathy. But to have empathy helps us to see the world through Jesus’ eyes, and it is then we can find real solutions. It is then, too, that we learn to trust God, because He will accomplish all that is right. We can trust that He’ll be with us when we are right and help us as we journey with those who make us walk that mile, and He will help us see when we are wrong. Perhaps as we walk with our enemy, we’ll find that they are not really evil as we might think.
Scriptures for Sunday, September 13, 2009: Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalm 116:1-9; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
“I love Jehovah, because he heareth My voice and my supplications.” (Psalm 116:1, ASV)
Zack had a teacher that was unable to communicate his subject matter to the students. He taught every day, but despite his efforts, the students could not learn what he was teaching. They went to him for help, asked him to explain it in different ways, and begged him to approach the subject in a way they could understand. He never changed his tactics and the students continued to fail. The school finally realized what was happening and the teacher was removed from his post. Unfortunately, it was too late for most of the students who did poorly on the standardized test for which they were preparing.
The teacher didn’t listen to the students, parents or administrators and refused to adapt to the situation. He could not meet the needs of his students and he was judged by their failure. He failed because he didn’t listen and learn. He was the teacher; he thought he knew enough. But the best teachers know that they continue to learn something new every day. If he had learned more about their needs, he might have found a way to get through to them about the subject.
Teaching is not easy. I’m sure many teachers that are good at their job have faced students that could not learn the subject or could not learn as they were able to teach. I’m sure many teachers have had students that did not want to learn. I’m sure many teachers have experienced the wrath of angry parents, the scorn of students and the stress of dealing with administrative requirements. Teachers face these difficulties and find ways to overcome because they love to teach. They love the students. They have something to share and they want to help others grow and learn; they want to transform individual lives and the world.
Isaiah was more than a teacher: he was a prophet. The troubles he faced were even worse than those of school teachers. But Isaiah trusted in God. Isaiah accepted whatever persecution he faced. He accepted the strikes to his cheek and the pulls of his beard. He accepted those offenses because he knew God was by his side. God has heard his voice and answered his prayers.
James warned against becoming teachers because those who do so are judged more harshly. Teaching affects lives; teachers can cause people to change, both for the good and for bad. We all fail, and our failures can affect the lives of others. Like Zack’s teacher, we can cause others to fail when we do not do what is right. So we are cautioned about how we use our gifts and talents, always remembering the effect we can have on another.
Jesus knew that He could change the world. He knew that He would change the world. But the crowds and the disciples did not quite understand how He would change the world. So He asked, “Who do people say that I am?” They had plenty of answers. The answers included John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets. This question was not so much about Jesus' identity—obviously He could not be John the Baptist—it was about His authority and His position. Some folk saw Him as taking over the ministry of John the Baptist. Others saw Him as one of the prophets. The prophets were sent by God to give warning and hope to the people. So, was Jesus the new leader, the promised herald or just another prophet through whom God would speak to His people? Or was He something else?
Then Jesus made the question more personal. “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ.” This was an amazing confession of faith; one that Matthew tells us comes not from Peter but by the hand of God. This is a confession that Jesus would commission the disciples to take to the world. It is the foundation of all that we believe. Jesus is not simply a man taking over the leadership of a growing ministry, He is not simply a herald announcing something great, and He is not simply another prophet in a long line of prophets proclaiming God’s word. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior.
He asks us the same question. What is our answer? Is He simply a teacher? A prophet? If we, like Peter, identify Jesus as the Christ, we will face difficulty. But we can live daily with God as our constant companion, knowing that even when we fail, God will be there to help us through. With Him at our side we will change the world. With Him as our guide we will do what Jesus calls us to do: to proclaim the Gospel to the world, to take up the cross and follow Him no matter what we might face. He is near, He hears our cries and saves. We can carry our cross because we know this to be true.
“My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing, yea, I will sing praises. Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake right early. I will give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the peoples: I will sing praises unto thee among the nations. For thy lovingkindness is great unto the heavens, And thy truth unto the skies. Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; Let thy glory be above all the earth.” (Psalm 57:7-11, ASV)
We have telephone wires running along the back of our property. We also have birds that like to come visit our yard to enjoy the birdseed and bread we leave out for them. The birds often end up sitting on the wires. I’ve always wondered about whether it is dangerous for those birds to be on those wires, but they seem to be safe. It is certainly not something unusual at my house. Look at any wires and you’ll probably find birds sitting on them. There are times when there are so many birds it seems like the wire must break under their weight.
The other day I looked and the birds were sitting in a random pattern on the wires. I’m not musical, but I couldn’t help but think that the birds looked like notes on a music staff. I wondered about the melody they were making. There weren’t many birds, so it would have been a short musical phrase of just a few notes, but I’m sure it would have been beautiful. Some of the most memorable music are brief bits of music that just stick in our head.
Amazingly, this morning I heard a story about a man who did create a song from the birds sitting on a wire. Jarbas Agnelli was reading the newspaper and saw a photo of a few dozen birds and he thought it looked like music. He cut the photo out of the paper and used his talent to interpret what he saw in the picture. He sent the song to the photographer and he’s made a video. He didn’t change anything about the birds; the notes are exactly as seen. He didn’t use Photoshop to change their pattern. It turns out that the birds make a very sweet song, even when they are not trying. What I thought was most funny is that he said, “It might not be the most original idea, but I wanted to hear what melody the birds were creating.” It is true that the idea was not the most original, but how many people have actually written down the song?
God’s creation is perfect. Oh, we aren’t perfect, really. Everything created dies. The world is perishable. Mosquitoes are annoying. Trees are unsymmetrical. Weeds pop up on the middle of our gardens. Animals are born with abnormalities. It rains when we want it to be sunny and it is sunny when we desperately need rain. Human beings might be the crown of God’s creation, but of all that God has done we are the most fallible. We fail because we should know better. We are created in the image of God, but we can’t seem to be like Him. But despite our failings, God’s creation is perfect because He made it and it is in God’s creation that we hear the music of praise, even when the music is silent.
The birds I saw on the wire were probably making a lovely melody, and though I thought about it, I didn’t do anything to hear the song. Jarbas Agnelli looked beyond what he saw and found the music in the creation. He put the praise into notes and shared it with others. He heard what most of us only see and gave us a chance to hear it, too. We can see how God is glorified by the creation, but how often do we hear it? How often do we sing it?
“But having the same spirit of faith, according to that which is written, I believed, and therefore did I speak; we also believe, and therefore also we speak; knowing that he that raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also with Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the grace, being multiplied through the many, may cause the thanksgiving to abound unto the glory of God. Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal .” (2 Corinthians 4:13-18, ASV)
Jasper Fforde writes detective novels with a science fiction/fantasy/classical literature point of view. His books are bizarre, but funny and thrilling. In his “Thursday Next” novels, Thursday Next is a regular detective in England who discovers that she can jump into books, and she works to solve cases within the world of fiction, cases that include books that everyone has heard about. In this fiction world, rogue characters are able change the plot, kill off other characters and jump into the real world, not only changing the stories we know and love but also changing our world. Some of the references are a bit obscure, but it is fun to read and try to recognize the allusions.
He has another series that pits Jack Spratt, a detective in Reading, England, against the crime world found in nursery rhymes. In “The Big Over Easy,” Jack has to solve the murder of Humpty Dumpty, who didn’t fall off that wall: he was shot. This story is as strange as the Thursday Next novels, but now instead of fictional characters, the book stars nursery rhyme characters in new and unusual circumstances. His writing style generally matches the type of literature he’s using, and this is no less true in the Nursery Crime Division. His sentences are sing-songy, using flowery words and literary techniques that draw us into the unreality of the situation.
I love these sentences, “She opened the door within two seconds of his pressing the doorbell, letting out a stream of cats that ran around with such rapidity and randomness of motion that they assumed a liquid state of furry purringness. The exact quantity could have been as low as three or as high as one hundred eight; no one could ever tell, as they were all so dangerously hyperactive.” You can actually see the cats running randomly around the feet of those standing in the doorway. Or perhaps I can see it so clearly because I’ve experienced the same thing with my own cats.
We’ve been experiencing wet weather, thankfully. We’ve even had thunderstorms and the cats are acting wildly in response. For the kittens, this rainy, cool weather is atypical. As hard as it to believe, they’ve not experienced very many thunderstorms. And for some reason, perhaps it is the electricity in the air, thunderstorms wind up felines. Tigger, Delilah and Samson have been crazy the past few days. I heard some noise coming from upstairs a little while ago and thought surely the three cats were wrestling. I noticed that Delilah and Tigger were down here, so it was only Samson. I have no idea what he might have been doing. All of a sudden, he flew down the stairs, and in response Tigger took off toward him. They came so close I thought they would crash, but somehow they melted into one furry being and then divided again as they continued their flight.
We can’t believe everything we see. Like those three to one hundred and eight cats in the story or my three cats here at home, what you see is not always the reality. Have you ever thought about how completely ridiculous our belief in Jesus really is? The world has certainly given us plenty of reasons to not believe. After all, plenty of intellectual people have offered perfectly reasonable explanations about the stories we hear in the scriptures and why they aren’t real. It doesn’t help that we see a world that is falling apart, a world that is not everything we hope it might be. We wonder about the promises and we wonder about our God. We even wonder where He might be in the midst of it.
Paul knew what it was like to live in a world that seemed to be falling apart. He knew the gods of the age had blinded unbelievers so that they could not see the Gospel of Christ. Because of this, Paul experienced persecution and rejection. But Paul also knew that we don’t do what we do for our own sake, but for the glory of God. We shine our light in the darkness so that the world might see Jesus and be saved. Paul writes, “…we are pressed on every side, yet not straitened; perplexed, yet not unto despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, ASV)
And so, in faith, we go forward, doing the work God has called us to do despite what we think we see. We believe and therefore we share the Gospel even when it seems like a hundred and eight cats are nothing but a furry purringness running around our ankles, for in faith we will see the reality of God’s grace in the world that seems to be blinded by the darkness.
“For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For behold your calling, brethren, that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, yea and the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are: that no flesh should glory before God. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31, ASV)
I have a collection of crosses on my wall near my computer. Some of them were gifts, some were purchased as souvenirs on vacations, and some were given at key moments of my life. As I look at my wall of crosses, I remember the people, places and events that are connected to each one. One cross is from Texas Lutheran University, a gift from my daughter who is a student there. When I see that cross I think about how she is becoming a independent woman growing in both knowledge and faith. It is a little bittersweet because it means she is growing away from me, but I am also reminded that she remembers the faith she learned at home.
Another cross is hand beaded, sold through Servv International and the Lutheran World Relief Handcraft project, made by people in developing countries who are trying to find ways to lift themselves out of poverty. Fair Trade organizations help artisans and farmers receive a fair wage for their work, a wage that is enough for them to live a self-sustaining life. They don’t want to be dependent on others; they want to be free to work and provide their families with home, food and peace of mind. Looking at that cross reminds me that I can do something, even if it a little thing, something that not only puts bread on the table of someone who is hungry, but also gives them a sense of worth in a world that has no respect for them or concern for their circumstances.
A third cross was purchased from a street vendor in Belgium. It is a delicately tatted lace cross in a frame. During a visit to Brussels I went into several lace shops and I was amazed at the beautiful lace tablecloths, curtains and clothing. But everything was just too expensive. I couldn’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars, even though the items were worth every penny. I was a little sad because I really wanted to have some of that lace, but I soon came across a woman sitting on a stoop hand working the thread into something on a board. I watched for a while, fascinated by the gracefulness of her fingers. She had a small table of items for sale and I gladly purchased the cross. I think of her often, though I’ll never know her name, and thank God for her willingness to share her craft, and her faith, with strangers who pass. No matter how far from home we wander, there are signs of God’s love and care.
In the fourth century, Christianity was becoming more widely accepted within the Roman world. The Emperor Constantine is known as the first Christian emperor. He stopped the persecutions of his predecessor and proclaimed an edict of religious tolerance for the empire. His mother Helena was a devoted Christian who set out on a journey to Jerusalem to find the ancient relics of the Church. Helena was placed in charge of the quest by her son and the journey was paid for by the state treasury. Thanks to the building of former emperors who put temples to gods over sites thought to have been the original Christian landmarks, Helena was able to discover the site of tomb and the cross of Christ. She built several churches to mark the places that mean so much to Christians, to help us remember the story of our Lord. Modern archeologists generally agree that she was accurate in her placement of those churches.
Today is Holy Cross Day because on this day 1674 years ago the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was dedicated. It was a two day festival, and though the building was actually dedicated on September 13th, we remember on the 14th because it was on that day the cross was carried into the building. Helena was certain she’d found the actual cross. Legend says that she actually found three crosses, but she brought a sick and dying woman to the site and had her touch the three crosses. Nothing happened with the first two, but when she touched the third, she was healed. Helena proclaimed that only the cross of Christ could save a woman from the brink of death, so that cross was installed in the church.
I love my cross collection and I love thinking about the people, places and events connected to each one. I love my crosses even more, however, because they remind me of the Christ who died on the cross to save me from death and the grave. I think about the grace of God that grants forgiveness to those who trust in His promises. We might think that it is a waste of time going in search of old relics and building churches to honor a piece of wood that might, and might not be, the real cross. Yet, when we look beyond the physical and tangible reminders of our God, we see the reality of the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to the weak. For if a man see thee who hast knowledge sitting at meat in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be emboldened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through thy knowledge he that is weak perisheth, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And thus, sinning against the brethren, and wounding their conscience when it is weak, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat causeth my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh for evermore, that I cause not my brother to stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:9-13, ASV)
We were driving down a road the other day and I spotted a sign advertising a sign company. It was one of those signs designed to catch your attention using cutesy fonts and spelling. We’ve all seen examples of this: using a “k” instead of a “c.” In this case, the company used the phrase “Kustom Lettering.” I couldn’t help but think that this is not the best choice in advertising. Do you want to hire a company that can’t spell “custom,” even if you know they are doing it on purpose? After all, none of us are perfect; we all make mistakes. If we spend money on a sign we do want the words to be spelled correctly, so would we trust that they do indeed know how to spell custom or would we choose a company that spells everything on their signs correctly?
Some of the funniest pictures are of signs that have misspellings. We’ve all seen the picture of the TSOP painted on the roadway and the pictures of road signs that have ridiculous mistakes. We’ve seen the lists of Church bulletin mistakes. I imagine that most, if not all, of us have found errors in books, magazines or newspapers that we read. I know that I have at least one error in nearly every post. These mistakes can be very funny. It isn’t very funny, however, when our advertising campaign or our reputation is dependent on a sign that has an error. Companies have lost a fortune because the price of an item was misprinted.
Spelling has become such a problem in our world today. With so much use of computers, we don’t have to know how to properly spell a word because most word processing programs will automatically fix mistakes. With so much use of text messaging, people are finding creative ways to spell words so that they don’t have to type out whole paragraphs. I know that when I sit down to hand-write something, I have to work very carefully and think much harder about the words I use. My mind works differently when I am on the computer, almost like it is on auto-pilot. For all these reasons there is reason to wonder about the spelling of the word “kustom” on the sign.
It is tempting for Christians to do whatever we want, knowing that by faith we are forgiven all our failures. We know that we worship a God of second chances, that when we sin we can receive forgiveness and experience the reconciliation and redemption that was won for us by Jesus Christ our Lord. We also know that we have the freedom to do what we believe is good, right and true. Paul refers to one such freedom in today’s lesson. The Corinthians were eating the meat sacrificed to idols, knowing that the meat has no power.
But Paul reminds us that the things that we do can affect others. If there is even one person still confused about the role of idols, then we should not eat the meat of idols or else we will burden their consciences. Should the sign company be concerned about the way people can not spell? I don’t know. Using the “k” instead of a “c” is certainly a cute way of getting our attention, but if it is done enough someone is bound to think that “kustom” is the way to spell the word. As for our lives of faith, we do have the freedom to live as we wish, but we should remember what Paul has told us today. Everything we do is seen by others and can affect the way they live. If we eat the meat of idols, someone watching may not understand that we do not consider it the meat of idols but a gift from God. So, they will eat it as the meat of idols, thinking it is right after our example, all the while being turned away from our God.
Scriptures for Sunday, September 20, 2009: Jeremiah11:18-20 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37
“But they understood not the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” (Mark 9:32, ASV)
We like to be ignorant. Now, that does not mean we like to be stupid, or that we are anti-intellectual. We simply prefer not to know some things. We don’t want to ask the hard questions. We don’t want to know what’s going on under the surface. We don’t want to find out that the people we trust are not trustworthy. We don’t want to find out that we are wrong. We don’t want to know the truth if that truth is hard. The disciples did not want to know what Jesus meant about being delivered into the hands of men because it didn’t fit into their understanding of His ministry and purpose. They thought He was the Messiah. They thought He would be king. They did not want to know that He’d have to die to accomplish His work in this world. Just like the disciples, we really don’t want to know. We want to ignore the things that are hard to hear. Just like the disciples, we are afraid to understand the things that don’t make sense.
I bet that Jeremiah would have preferred being ignorant. He was facing persecution because He was trying to warn the people of their unfaithfulness. He had to tell them that they broke the covenant, and that they are cursed by their guilt. Despite God’s saving grace, leading them out of Egypt, they turned from Him and would suffer exile. Jeremiah was not even to pray for the people or to offer a plea for them. They’d gone too far to be saved from the consequences of their rebellion.
Jeremiah’s words fell on unwilling ears. He was opposed on every side; even his family was against him. His words brought the wrath of the leaders on his head, but they also had the potential of destroying his family. They would suffer the wrath also. So, his family schemed to destroy him, to stop his words to protect their lives. A plot against Jeremiah would have had a positive impact on those who perpetrated it: they would have found favor with those in authority; they may have been elevated by their courageous acts against the prophet. The Lord made this conspiracy known to Jeremiah. Who wants to know that their family wants to destroy them or that they care more about getting ahead than caring for a loved one?
The disciples were concerned about power and position. They were seeking greatness. The things Jesus said along the road didn’t make sense to them because it didn’t fit into their plans. They were going to sit at the right and left hands of the king; they just didn’t know who would be the most powerful. They didn’t want to know that their ambitions were flawed.
Jesus showed them another way. Jesus Christ, our Lord and King, did not rule over us or pursue a position of power. He was a humble servant to His disciples, even doing the most mundane tasks such as washing the feet of His disciples. When Jesus asked what they were discussing on the road, the disciples were embarrassed to tell Him. He sat down and explained that greatness in the kingdom of heaven was not as it is in the world where the rulers seek fame, power and possessions. In the kingdom of heaven, the least are the greatest. Welcoming a little child is like welcoming God Himself, and if they want to be first they must be the last and servant of all.
Jeremiah probably didn’t want to hear what was happening with his family. He may not have even wanted to hear the Word of the Lord. Yet, he humbly accepted the task God put before Him. He spoke to the people despite the danger. He trusted that God would do what was right. The disciples were seeking what they thought was right, ignoring what God intended for the sake of their own ambitions.
Our passage from James talks about wisdom. He calls us to consider our ignorance and the reasons for it. We might be afraid of the truth. In Jesus and His disciples we see opposites: Jesus is wisdom incarnate while the disciples were ignorant (ignoring the truth.) We often act like the disciples, but we are called to be like Jesus. We desire prestige and position like the disciples, but we are called to be like children, trusting in God’s grace and seeking His favor above the favor of the world.
James reminds us that we ask wrongly. Our prayers are self-serving and they create walls between people. We are called to live according to the wisdom of Christ rather than that of the world, the kind of wisdom that considers what is best for all—for the community, for your neighbors, for your family. In that wisdom we’ll know what it is for which we should be asking, because it will be according to the heart and wisdom of God.
David was experiencing much the same thing as Jeremiah, facing persecution and threats from people who were close. The Ziphites were traitors, men who turned David over to Saul, whose intent was to kill David. Saul knew that David was God’s intended king, but he thought that if David were dead he might be able to hold on to his reign. He relied on men like the Ziphites to betray David. David was hiding among these people, which means he must have trusted them to protect him. David was betrayed, but he was able to lift his voice to God, crying out for salvation from his enemies. In the psalm he sings, “Save me, O God, by thy name.”
David trusts that God is his helper. In this psalm David begins with a cry for help, then a confession of trust in God, and finishes with a vow to offer thanksgiving and praise. David is confident that God will save him from his enemies. He comforts himself in the knowledge that God is faithful to His promises. That’s what it means to be wise like a child, not ignorant of the truth but trusting in God in the midst of it. When we face persecution, we too can cry out to God with our worries and fears. Like David, we can do so with the assurance that our helper God hears our cries.
“Wherefore he saith, When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, And gave gifts unto men. (Now this, He ascended, what is it but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:8-16, ASV)
September is National Preparedness Month. You may have seen reports on the news about how to survive a disaster. A disaster can happen at any time during the year, but September seems to be a dangerous month for many places across our country. Coastal states have to deal with the threat of hurricanes and wildfires are more likely after a hot dry summer. Tornado season is past, but tornadoes can happen any time during the year with the right conditions. For northern states, winter is right around the corner and a blizzard or major ice storm can be a disaster. Earthquakes and floods can happen anywhere at any time. There isn’t a place or a time that is completely safe from disaster, so everyone should be prepared.
The main recommendation is that everyone should have a disaster preparedness kit. A list is available at ready.gov. Items on the list include: Water—one gallon of water per person per day for three days, for drinking and sanitation; Food: at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food; Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both; Flashlight and extra batteries; First aid kit; Whistle to signal for help; Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air; Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation; Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities; Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food); Local maps; Cell phone with charger.
Now, we might have all these things around our house, but the purpose of having a kit prepared is so that you do not have to run around finding these things in the event of an emergency. Knowing that you have everything in one place, easily accessible and easy to carry means a less stressful escape from whatever dangers you face. Can you find your flashlight if the lights go out and will the batteries be good when you do?
There are other items on the list that you might want to include in your kit, although some of these items are very specific to certain families. The additional items include: Prescription medications and glasses; Infant formula and diapers; Pet food and extra water for your pet; Copies of important documents such as insurance policies, identification, and bank records; Cash or traveler's checks; Emergency reference material such as a first aid book; Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person; Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper: When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant, or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners; Fire Extinguisher; Matches in a waterproof container; Personal hygiene items; Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels; Paper and pencil; Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children.
The problem with keeping a kit like this is that it takes a hefty investment. Even if you keep the minimum, the kit can cost hundreds of dollars for a family of four and it can take up a lot of space in a small home. Have you tried to store twelve gallons of water? Which of us can invest that much in food and leave it sitting unused? And then, if we do not check our kit for years, the food and water go bad (even non-perishable foods have expiration dates, and so does bottled water) so all that money is wasted. Most of us can probably manage to be prepared, but what of those who are living day to day, paycheck to paycheck? They are the ones least likely to get through a disaster unscathed because they probably don’t even have those things available in their homes and they certainly can’t afford to have duplicates packed away in a kit.
We think about people who’ve suffered a disaster after it has happened and we are very generous in helping them get through it. Whenever something happens like a hurricane, flood, tornado, fire, earthquake or blizzard happens, we are quick to send donations of food, water, clothes, blankets and other things they need. We open our wallets with incredible generosity. But I like the suggestion found on the bottom of the Preparedness list. “Once you have prepared your ReadyKit, consider putting a second one together for a household that might not be able to afford to purchase the supplies. Or, have a ReadyKit drive at your church or in your neighborhood.” Perhaps think about those who suffer before disaster strikes so that they will meet the inevitable disaster with peace of mind.
No matter what might happen with nature, we live in a world full of surprises, some good and some not so good. We should be prepared at all times for what might happen. Not that we need to have a preparedness kit for every possibility, but that we go forth in faith, trusting that our God has prepared us for every possibility. He has gifted and called people to serve the world in every way, so that all can experience God’s grace according to their need. It is good to have a kit prepared for a natural disaster because even in faith we aren’t guaranteed we won’t experience times of trouble. But let us always remember that trusting in God will give us the peace of mind to get through everything, because His kit is filled with faithful Christians able to do whatever is necessary to get us through our suffering.
“But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13, ASV)
The story was absolutely ridiculous: the entire royal family of England was obliterated by a freak accident including every known heir to the crown. Following the genealogy of the family leads them to Ralph Jones, related to the family through a complicated story: his father was the illegitimate son of a duke from an affair with a hotel maid. Everyone who could step up to take the throne was dead, making Ralph the next and perhaps only heir left.
So Ralph, a Las Vegas lounge singer and piano player in a casino, has trouble paying his bills and remembering to call his girlfriend. He’s irresponsible, narcissistic and crude. The officials from London convince him that he is indeed the heir to the throne of England and that he must return with them to take on his responsibilities. It is a “rags to riches” story, with Ralph transformed from dreadful American to distinguished royalty. Unfortunately, Ralph might look like a swan, but he was always a lounge singer.
This, of course, is the plot of a movie starring John Goodman called, “King Ralph.” It is a ridiculous story, beyond common sense, especially since the Royal Family would have taken preventative measures to ensure that the country is not left without an heir. Freak accidents might happen, but they would take precautions to prevent the entire annihilation of the family. Itt is unlikely that anyone in America will receive a call telling them that they are a king.
Except that it has happened. Peggielene Bartels is a secretary for the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington, D.C. She is a niece of the king of Otuam, a town in Ghana, one among twenty-five living relatives. According to tradition, when the king dies, the elders of the kingdom-town pours schnapps on the ground and recite the names of the king’s relatives until the schnapps begins to rise as steam. They believed that the steam was the sign that the ancestors blessed that person to become king. The lot fell (or the steam rose) to Peggielene, making her the next king of Otuam.
She could reject the calling, but after three days she decided to accept her royal position. She flew to Ghana for her coronation and stayed for ten days. Then she returned to her job at the embassy in Washington, D.C., continuing in her ordinary role as a secretary. She even used her well earned vacation time to take care of her business in Otuam. Granted, being king of a town is not like being king of a nation like England, but she still has been given the honor and the benefits of being a royal. Yet, she humbly continues in the work she held before getting her crown. She knows it is important. She is quoted as saying, “Not everyone gets to become king. Perhaps it is my destiny.” She is planning to rule from her home in America until she retires from her job at the embassy in a few years, and then she will move home and become a full time king.
We didn’t get a call on a telephone, and we aren’t kings, but we have been invited to be royalty: sons and daughters of the King. We were not born into a royal family, but we have been born from God’s grace into a new life in a kingdom that is not of this world. Yet, we still live in this world. Like Peggielene, we still have responsibilities. There are still people who need our help. The hungry still need to be fed and the oppressed need to hear a word of hope. We are royalty, but we are not meant to sit on a throne, apart from the people for whom we have been saved. We are meant to return to the ordinary tasks of living in this world, glorifying God not with crowns or staffs of power but with a glass of water and a loving touch.
“And as he was entering into the boat, he that had been possessed with demons besought him that he might be with him. And he suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go to thy house unto thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and how he had mercy on thee. And he went his way, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men marvelled.” (Mark 5:18-20, ASV)
We often think of the Bible characters were strangers who were brought together by the charismatic nature of Jesus. We read some of the stories and are amazed that these people would drop their own lives to accommodate Jesus’ commands. However, as we put together the story, we discover that it is not so much a miraculous gathering of strangers, but a renewing of community into something new. Let’s take, for instance, the story of John Mark, the evangelist and writer of the second Gospel.
John Mark’s mother Mary had a home in Jerusalem with a large upper room. It was to this room that Peter returned after being released from prison in Jerusalem. Herod, who was concerned about the growth of this new religion and who was anxious to keep the Jews happy, had arrested Peter after the killing of James, the brother of John was received so well by Jews. An angel of the Lord appeared to Peter in prison and set him free. The angel led Peter out of the prison, but Peter thought he was experiencing a vision. When he realized that what was happening was real, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark where many people had gathered for prayer. (Acts 12:12)
This was most likely the same place where the disciples gathered with Jesus for the Last Supper. Now, Mary had a nephew named Barnabus who was an early leader in the church. As a matter of fact, we learn in Acts 13:1 that Barnabus was a teacher at the church in Antioch. Since he is first in the list of teachers of Antioch, he was probably the most important. He is thought to have been among the seventy-two sent by Jesus ahead of Him to every town and place. (Luke 10:1) He was probably with the disciples in the upper room for the Last Supper.
So, Jesus may have known Mary, the mother of John Mark, through His relationship with Barnabus. When Peter and John (Luke 22:11) are sent to make preparations for the Passover meal, the homeowner is very accommodating and has the room ready for them. Perhaps Jesus made arrangements through Barnabus to use his aunt’s house for the meal. There is some conjecture in this line of thought, but there are enough connections in the scriptures between these characters to consider the possibilities. Besides, we know that Mary’s home became a gathering place for those first Christians. Wouldn’t it make sense that they returned to the place where they’d last met with Jesus over a meal? They needed a safe place to hide before the resurrection and a place to pray after the ascension. (Acts 1:13) Since Mary was an early believer, she may have been a disciple that knew Jesus personally, and a disciple who welcomed Jesus and His followers into her Jerusalem home from the very beginning.
Now, if Jesus and the disciples stayed with Mary while in Jerusalem, John Mark would have been there, serving the disciples. One tradition holds that it was John Mark who carried the water into the room for Jesus to wash the feet of the disciples. (John 13) Another tradition claims that it was John Mark who ran from the garden naked when Jesus was arrested. (Mark 14:51) Even if they gathered in different rooms, John Mark would have heard the stories from those first apostles, from Peter and the others as they were gathering in prayer and trying to figure out the mission on which they’d been sent. John Mark was likely at his mother’s home when Peter arrived from the prison. The disciples gathered in Mary’s home did not believe the servant Rhoda told them that Peter was at the door. They all thought it must be his angel. They all heard his miraculous story, including John Mark who was learning about Jesus from the stories he heard told in his mother’s home. (Acts 12)
Some experts believe that John Mark was an interpreter for Peter and that the story he tells is actually told from Peter’s point of view. Peter, having been a fisherman, was not likely able to speak any language but Aramaic with any fluency. Oh, he would have been able to speak enough Greek to get him through a city, able to ask questions like “How much is this fruit?” and “Where is the rest room?” And he may have known enough Latin to make a deal, but could he have told the story of Christ? Possibly not. So, it is thought that John Mark acted as an interpreter, telling the story so that others might hear and know that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Peter writes about Mark as if he were a son, so they were very close. (1 Peter 5:13)
John Mark eventually traveled with his cousin Barnabus and the Apostle Paul. Now, Barnabus was a leader in the Church at Antioch, where Saul/Paul was also a teacher. (Acts 13:1) Barnabus and Paul were set aside by the Holy Spirit to travel to Cyprus (Barnabus was from Cyprus) to share the Good News with the people there. John Mark traveled with them. (Acts 13:2) When they left Paphos and went to Perga in Pamphylia, John Mark left them to return to Jerusalem. We don’t know why John Mark left. Was he homesick? He was probably much younger than the others, so he might have been. Paul was beginning to take over the leadership of the group. Was John Mark upset that his cousin Barnabus was being pushed aside? Was something wrong at home? Was his mother ill? Did Paul make decisions with which John Mark did not agree? Whatever happened, John Mark’s abandonment of the mission upset Paul and he later refused to take John Mark with him on his second missionary journey. That decision caused Barnabus to leave Paul. (Acts 15:39)
Mark’s Gospel was definitely shared first as an oral story. It was learned and developed as these characters gathered together, sharing their memories and the lessons they’d learned. Though it seems to us sometimes that they were strangers who were drawn together by this incredible man, Jesus actually transformed families into something new and different. They knew each other, but they began to know each other differently as the Gospel transformed their lives. Though we look at Mark’s Gospel and realize that he was probably not a direct witness of many of the events, we know that he did know the people who’d lived them. They were family. They were friends. They were a part of his life of faith from the beginning. Peter was even like a father to him. So, he knew the stories as well as we know the stories from our own lives and the lives of those we love. What we read in Mark’s Gospel came out of that odd collection of strangers, connected not only by the love of Christ, but also by their shared experience of Jesus and the love they had for one another.
Isn’t it interesting that at times Jesus does say that we have to leave everything we know to follow Him, yet, He did not completely separate the disciples from their old lives. Andrew and Peter were brothers. So were James and John. We visit Peter’s house and Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. (Mark 1:29-31) In the text for today, Jesus doesn’t allow the man released from the demons to follow Him. He sends the man home, to his family, to tell them about all the things God has done. We don’t have to reject everything we know and love to follow Jesus. Through our faith, however, Jesus transforms our lives so that we transform our family as we tell them about all the things God has done.
“Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ASV)
Today is the first day of autumn. The sun will cross the celestial equator at 4:18 p.m. central time. Most of the time there is no noticeable difference between the last day of summer and the first day of fall. The weather doesn’t change dramatically when the sun moves across the equator. This year, however, a cold front has moved in a coincidentally timely manner, moving over the state of Texas today. The high temperature for today came at midnight and it remained steady until about 5:00 a.m. Then the temperature began to drop dramatically, down to the high sixties, where it has remained since. Storm clouds moved through, dropping desperately needed rain on our dry ground.
So, we went to bed in the summertime and woke up to autumn weather. Of course, after such a harsh and uncomfortable summer with record heat and a lack of rain, the cool, rainy weather is a pleasant surprise. This is such an unusual experience, I expect we won’t see it again. We won’t suddenly have snow on the first day of winter or wildflowers on the first day of spring. Time passes slowly and the weather generally changes slowly as time passes.
There are a few miraculous stories of people coming to faith. Paul’s story is one of those. He was a devout Jew, working to stop the progress of the Church. He was persecuting the early Christians, perhaps even calling for their death. One day, on the way to another town to destroy another church, Paul had an encounter with the Living Christ. It is an amazing story; Paul was changed dramatically by that meeting and he became one of the most successful evangelists of all time. He began church after church in city after city. Thousands came to know Jesus as they listened to his sermons and teaching. It was a sudden change. There is a turning point in his life. We know the moment he was transformed based on his story.
Can we say the same thing about you? I know there are times when I noticed growth in my life of faith, moments when things changed about how I was living in Christ. The things I experienced when I was beginning to develop this ministry were certainly life-changing. However, that wasn’t a turning point. That isn’t when I came to faith. I can’t pinpoint a day. Like the changing of the seasons, I can’t say that one day I was not a believer and the next day I was. It does happen for some.
There are those who have a sudden and miraculous transformation from hopelessness into hope, faithlessness into faith, unbelief into belief. But most of us simply experience subtle changes from day to day, month to month, year to year. From the first time we heard the Word of God until today, we have been slowly growing in grace and faith toward the day when we will be fully changed into His likeness. Even Paul grew in faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ, transformed daily by God’s grace. His life was not always pleasant. He suffered greatly for his faith. And in that suffering, he was changed.
This life of faith is not always sunshine and roses. Sometimes it is dreary and wet and cold. Sometimes we face doubts and anger and pain. We don’t understand why we would have to face suffering. We worry that perhaps our faith is not real, especially when others claim that our troubles are proof that we aren’t really saved. But we are reminded not to lose heart. Our faith is not something we can create or destroy; it is a gift from God. We live in that faith day by day, as we are slowly transformed into what God has promised we will be. Our cold, rainy weather is temporary. Even as we are experiencing the first day of fall, the meteorologists are already predicting warmer weather later this week. We might have moments when God seems distant, perhaps even missing from our life, but it is in those moments when we learn to look forward to that which isn’t seen, to rely on the One who is always near even when we can’t see Him.
Scriptures for Sunday, September 27, 2009: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
For every one shall be salted with fire.
The crowd that left Egypt the Exodus was not made up solely of Israelites. It was a mixed group, perhaps made up of God-fearing Egyptians and other foreigners. Did they see hope in the eyes of the Israelites, faith in the way they willingly left home and security, even if the security was one of suffering and pain? Were they persecuted, or did they fear persecution once Pharaoh realized what he’d done? We don’t know why they traveled with the Israelites, but they were among the crowd that made it across the Red Sea into freedom and the new life promised by the God of Israel.
The Old Testament lesson for today begins, “The rabble among them…” The non-Israelites began to grumble about the lack of food. They were craving the life they used to lead, the food they used to eat, the comfort of their homes and the stability of being in one place. When they Israelites heard the grumbling, they began to weep. They began to remember the life in Egypt as something other than they had been experiencing. They remembered the good life, the good food and the comfortable homes. They saw their past through the eyes of those foreigners and they forgot the pain and suffering of their slavery. They trusted in the memory of the rabble and forgot that the God of their forefathers had delivered them into a new life.
Moses was frustrated. He was given the responsibility to care for this crowd, both Israelites and non-Israelites, and he found it difficult to deal with their grumbling. “If this is what I have to put up with, God, just kill me right here and now.” He wanted the easy solution; he looked for the extreme answer to his problem. Instead, God decided to appoint and anoint other leaders to be his helpers.
Seventy men were chosen and at the given hour, God took some of Moses’ power and gave it to the seventy. Two men who had not gone to the tent also received the power and they prophesied like the ones who had gone. Joshua was disturbed by the lack of order. “Stop them,” he said to Moses. Moses answered, “Art thou jealous for my sake? would that all Jehovah's people were prophets, that Jehovah would put his Spirit upon them!” Moses looked forward to the day when God’s people would all have the power to speak God’s Word into the world. We are reminded that our sense of order is sometimes disturbed by God’s intent, as He goes outside our expectation and does according to His will.
The psalmist writes, “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me: Then shall I be upright, And I shall be clear from great transgression.” In these words we see the reality of our life in God’s kingdom: our blamelessness comes not by our power or might, but by the grace of God. In that state of mind we ask God to bless the words we speak and the things in our mind, that they might be acceptable to Him. Unfortunately, like the Israelites in the desert, we forget the Word and promise of God, hearing all too clearly the voices of those around us and joining in their complaints.
So, we are reminded how to keep our focus where it belongs. James tells us that if we are suffering, we should pray. How easy it is, however, to hear the voices of those around us who grumble about problems, who make it seem like the best solution is the extreme solution. How easy it is for us to get caught up in that attitude that complaining is the way to get through our pain. James tells us that if we are happy we should sing songs of praise. Do we? Do we really praise God when we are experiencing good times? Or do we forget that God is the source of all things good? Do we get caught up with the voices that tell us that our triumph has come by our own power and take the glory for our selves? Finally, James tells us that if we are sick we should seek the help of the elders who will pray for our healing. We will know healing and forgiveness as we keep our focus on the God who provides both in our good times and in our bad.
James also reminds us that we have the responsibility to keep our brothers and sisters focused in the right place. If we see someone falling into the trap of following the rabble, we are to remind them of God’s Word and to help them turn back to the truth. We tend to avoid any sort of criticism or judgment because we think that we’ve been called to be tolerant. While it is true that we must beware that our criticism and judgment do not alienate or condemn, for it is our role as Christians to call people to repentance so that they might know forgiveness and be reconciled to God and to the community of believers. We are called to help the sinners among us see their sin and turn from it, bringing them back into the fold of God’s loving arms.
Jesus was doing amazing things, healing the sick and casting out demons. Even the disciples have experienced the power of God when they were sent out into the villages to proclaim God’s Word and heal the sick. We join Jesus and His followers in this week’s lesson just after they’ve been arguing about who is the greatest among them. They had it set in their minds that Jesus would be king. They had tasted the possibility of power and position. They were anxious to be in control of their world.
But they heard that someone outside their group was healing and casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Like Joshua, they told him to stop because, “he followed not us.” It is this attitude that our ability to bring healing and cast out demons comes from power of our own. But Jesus reminds them that if the man was healing in His name, He would not be able to turn against them. The power is not the man’s, just as the power does not belong to the disciples. The power belongs to God and those blessed with His power can not turn from the One whom He sent. The disciples are blessed to be a blessing, and so are others. Jesus tells them that those who give them a drink of water just because they bear His name will be blessed. So, too, should they (and we) bless those who bear His name even if they do not follow us.
In the Old Testament texts, the voices of the world cause God’s people to turn from the God who delivers. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus shows us that sometimes the cause of our sin is not from outside, but is brought on by our own parts. The foot and the eye can cause us to stumble. The foot represents our actions and the eye our thoughts. Those disciples in last week’s lesson thought they would be at the right hand of the king, and in so thinking might have followed a path of war and divisiveness. They certainly wanted to stop others who had been given the power of God. Joshua also wanted to stop those given the power of God. But Jesus says that if you are tempted to do and think things that go against God’s Word, then you should cut off your foot or cut out your eye. This is an extreme solution to the problem, but it is better to be without the foot or eye than to be wandering in the wrong direction: like back into Egypt.
We have been salted with fire, the fire of God’s Holy Spirit. This anointing has brought us into a covenant relationship with God, a relationship of loyalty, protection and hospitality. In that relationship we are called to be salt, to take the covenant into the world. “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?” Sin takes away our saltiness, it destroys peace among brothers. When we cut those things out of our life that cause us to sin, we can live as salt and live in peace as God has called and anointed us to live.
“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it? Lest haply, when he hath laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all that behold begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” (Luke 14:38-40, ASV)
James May is a British journalist and presenter on both radio and television, known for his appearances on “Top Gear,” a television show about cars that can be found on BBC America. He seems to be interested in investigating men’s interests, vehicles and technology that is on the verge of science fiction: ‘big boy toys’ you might say. He’s done reports on high speed driving, space age travel, boats and the moon. He’s also investigated sharks and wine. In 2005, he did a show about his favorite childhood toys and in 2007 he did one on his sisters favorite toys which looked at the gender differences of toys.
He’s interested in toys because he says that new inventions are created because people love to play. Along with Phil Dolling, James wrote a book called “James May’s Magnificent Machines: How Men in Sheds Have Changed Our Live” because he believes that much technology can be credited to men in sheds. He is quoted as saying, “For too long now we have regarded the great toys as mere playthings. It's time to use them to bring people together and achieve greatness. And I bet it'll be a right laugh as well.” He hopes that children will stop playing with video games and spend more time playing with real toys that use the imagination, and that they will do so with their parents.
James May’s most current project is called “Toy Stories” and is a show about the extraordinary use of ordinary toys. He created a garden out of Plasticine which is a type of art clay. The garden was entered into the Chelsey Flower show. Though he didn’t win one of the real awards, James did receive a special Plasticine gold medal for his creation. He didn’t take credit, however, because he had two thousand volunteers that helped him create the garden. He built a life-size bridge out of Meccano, which is a model construction kit. He tried to link two villages with the longest model train set, but vandals interfered with the track, causing the train to stop two miles short of the thirty seven miles of track that was laid.
One of his most interesting projects, based on a childhood dream, was to build a real house entirely out of Legos. He began building the house at the Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey, England in August. The first brick was laid on August 18th after a few weeks of preparation (including the wood frame and foundation.) James called for volunteers to help and had more people turn up than they could possibly use. Some of the blocks were specially made, but volunteers brought along their own Legos to donate to the project. It took just a month to make, a thousand volunteers and more than three million Lego blocks.
Unfortunately, the house had to be demolished on Tuesday, September 22nd. The house, which included a flushing toilet and a cat made of Lego blocks, was going to be moved to Legoland Windsor, an amusement park not far from the vineyard. The deal fell through because the operators of Legoland could not afford to transport the full size, two story house at the cost of $82,000 pounds. May offered the house for sale on the Internet, free to anyone willing to pay the moving fees, but no one took the deal. So, after all the planning and hours of hard work, the house was destroyed less than a week after it was completed. James May spent a night in the house, although he said the bed was not very comfortable (after all, it was made out of Legos) and the roof leaked.
It is sad that the house had to be destroyed, but it could not remain on the property of the vineyard and there was no where else for it to be moved. Perhaps if they’d considered the costs and problems more fully before they started construction, they could have found a way to build it in a place where it could be kept on display for more people to enjoy. Unfortunately, they did not take into consideration everything necessary before the project was begun, so they were forced to destroy it after it was finished. Besides the memories, video and pictures, the only thing left of the project are the more than three million Lego blocks donated. They will be given to charities.
Now, James May accomplished his goal and built the house he planned to build. He even slept in the house one night. He was able to get the footage he needed for his television show. He achieved his dream. But that dream was short lived because he didn’t consider the costs beyond the actual building. It must have been heartbreaking to go through so much to create the house and then to see it torn down brick by brick. How often do we build things in our life without looking beyond the immediate goal, only to have to tear it down because we don’t consider the entire cost?
“Wherefore thou art without excuse, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judges another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest dost practise the same things. And we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against them that practise such things. And reckonest thou this, O man, who judgest them that practise such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:1-3, ASV)
I came across a website yesterday with pictures of people who frequent a popular discount store. The people in the pictures are unusual. They wear clothes that show a little too much flesh, have t-shirts with statements only the most confident people can make and wear haircuts that went out of style long before they left puberty decades ago. The cars in the parking lot are unusual, too. Some are covered with decorations in paint, recycling or toys glued to the hood. Others are created with an odd mix of vehicles: the body of a truck, the rear of a car, and the windows of a log cabin. They often have home paint jobs done with spray paint that was probably purchased at that very store.
Ok, I’ll admit that I laughed at a few of the pictures. I’ll also admit that I found at least a few of them disturbing. A few people were wearing clothes that were at best obscene. Some wore clothing that did not fit; either it was too big or too small. I’m sure some of them did not have much choice. There are many people who are living hand to mouth and they don’t have money to purchase nice clothes. They wear hand-me-downs that aren’t the top of today’s fashion or even their size. The pictures weren’t funny to me if it seemed like they had no choice. But it was obvious that many of the people chose the style. In some cases, it seems like they want to make a statement, even though that statement is usually, “I’m ridiculous.”
I went to the store today and I couldn’t help looking at the people I encountered. Everyone looked normal, but I noticed a few things. I got frustrated by those who blocked the items I needed to pick up and those who loitered in the aisles. I cringed when I heard a child throwing a tantrum and I had to hold my tongue as the person in the check-out in front of me spent too much time chatting with the cashier.
The website with the pictures had two separate pages for comments. One was for those who love the site, who found the pictures a humorous distraction from their day. The other page was for hate mail. Those letters usually called the designers to task for being cruel and judgmental. They found no humor in the pages and though I have to admit that there were a few that should probably not have been posted, I could definitely see humor in the pictures. I found myself feeling guilty even while I was enjoying my trip into that strange world.
It is true that the photographers and web designers were judging people by what they wear and how they decorate their cars, but don’t we all judge people? I didn’t make any judgments based on clothing while I was at the store, but I grumbled under my breath at least a few times about people who were in my way. I was in a hurry and I kept forgetting things, so I had to go from one side of the store to the other several times. I got into line three times, but had to leave to go get something else I needed. My problems were my own fault, but I managed to grumble under my breath about those who made it even more difficult on me.
Now, I have to say that I think some of the people in the store should be told that the clothing they’ve chosen to wear is inappropriate. Someone needs to be willing to judge the circumstance and be honest with them about the see through shorts with soccer ball briefs. They have to hear that the miniskirt is too short if their bottoms can be seen when they walk. There is definitely a time for judgment. But we must all judge wisely, seeing others from God’s point of view.
We make judgments all the time, right and wrong, even when we do not realize we are doing so. Those condemning the website have even made a judgment as they were condemning others for their judgment. It is our responsibility to be reasonable in the way we judge and what we do about it. I’m not going to take my camera to the store because I know it is not right to take pictures of those with questionable fashion sense. However, I hope I have the compassion and the boldness to honestly tell a person when they are wearing an inappropriate outfit. I hope I have the wisdom to judge rightly and do what is good for the sake of the people who cross my path. Most of all, I hope that I will always remember that I am being judged in the same measure by the One whose judgment is righteous and true.
“Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh; for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10, ASV)
There is a group of comedians in New York that creates sudden and exciting incidents in unexpected places. The group is called “Improv Everywhere” and they have put videos of their antics on YouTube. Their most recent event took place on a New York subway where they set up a ‘year book photo session” complete with backdrop and lighting umbrellas. They told the riders that the Metropolitan Transit Authority had hired their group to create a year book of all the riders of the subway to show the incredible diversity of their customers. There were a couple of guys with a professional camera and a mirror so that everyone could tidy up before sitting on the stool for their picture. A few dozen people agreed and they are now part of a viral video on the Internet.
The point of Improv Everywhere’s antics is to have fun. They want to have fun and they want those viewing the experience to have fun, also. They’ve thrown a wedding reception for a random couple getting married at the City Clerk’s Office and had a guy give high fives to everyone on an escalator during rush hour in the subway. They set up a subway car with identical twins sitting on opposite sides of a train, making it look like a mirror image. They set up a bunch of people moving in slow motion in a Home Depot store. They put out calls for help and people are more than willing to show up and follow the instructions to be part of these fun events.
One of their recurring events is called “The MP3 Experiment.” Nearly two thousand people downloaded an MP3 onto their players, they received specific instructions about where, when and what to wear and then they all showed up in the place at the right time ready to go. At the specific moment, everyone turned on their MP3 players and they followed a list of commands. The first thing the voice on the MP3 asked them to do was to jump up and down like popcorn. That way everyone would see how many people were involved. They were given instructions to follow someone not in on the joke so that there’d be long lines of people walking around the area. They were to high five people not participating. At one point, everyone was told to lay down and take a nap. They eventually gathered on a field, divided into two teams, given blow-up ‘weapons’ and sent to battle each other. Finally, they were told to take off their colored shirt to reveal the white shirt underneath so that they could fight against a common enemy, a guy in a wolf costume. When it was over, they all hugged and high-fived one another, laughing at the silliness of what they’d accomplished. The event made everyone happy. It gave them a moment of joy. It even rubbed off on those who weren’t participants, making them happy, too.
I was watching some of their videos this morning. The one that made me laugh the most (although I didn’t even need to see video to know this was funny; the transcript from the event was hysterical) was when they created a time look in a Starbucks. There were eight ‘agents’ involved in this event. The first two walked in holding hands and as they were standing in line got into an argument. The girl stormed out and the guy followed her, begging her to stay. At that moment a guy spilled his coffee, walked over to get napkins. Then a phone rang, playing “The Entertainer” and the guy got up, walked to the window and talked on the phone. Meanwhile, another guy got up, went toward the bathroom, bumped into the guy who spilled the coffee, complained about the long time to the bathroom. Another guy walked into the store carrying a boombox playing a song and walked out another door. The final guy sneezed and cleared his throat, at which time the first two agents came back into the store to begin the loop again. They did this five minute series of actions twelve times, an hour, and then left to go to another Starbucks to start it all over again.
Imagine if you’d been in the Starbucks during that hour. The transcripts from the agents describing what happened was so funny because they talked about the reactions they were getting. An older couple realized pretty quickly that something was going on and they starting pointing out what would happen next. People called their friends and told them to come to the store to see what was happening. The employees realized what was happening and sort of got involved, repeating their own actions as the agents when through the loop. Tears were flowing down my cheeks as I read the stories they told about this event, it was so funny. I wasn’t there that day, but I could enjoy their antics through their stories. They made me happy even six and a half years later.
I’m sure there are people at these events that are confused by what is happening. In one event, the crowd filled the windows of several stories of a building in New York and danced in sync. One of the stores was not pleased to have the dancers in their windows and they were removed by security. The event still worked because there were still plenty of people moving together. It could have been annoying to be the non-participant at the MP3 Experiment who was being followed by long lines of people. But overall, most people stop and enjoy the moment, leaving a little happier than they had been before. And they all have a story they can tell.
It might seem like a waste of time to go to so much trouble to pull off a five minute event that will make a few people laugh for a moment. These moments won’t change the world. They won’t make our lives better in the long run. When it is over, we have to go on with whatever was happening before they came along. And yet, isn’t life just a little better when we have enjoyed ourselves, if even for a moment? Of course, we are always cautioned to by happy for the right reasons, to find joy in good things and to beware of how our enjoyment affects the lives of others. It would not do well to have fun at the expense of others who are hurt by our antics. But when we can dance and make others laugh, we’ll end up with a story we can tell, a story that might make others happy for a long time. It might just make someone forget their problems or find a glimmer of hope. They might just see grace and forgiveness and peace in the midst of that laughter.
“How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Jehovah of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of Jehovah; My heart and my flesh cry out unto the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found her a house, And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even thine altars, O Jehovah of hosts, My King, and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: They will be still praising thee. Selah” (Psalm 84:1-4, ASV)
I read an article today written by a woman whose husband was in the military. She talked about the dream of all military families to have that one house that will be theirs for a long time, ‘the forever house.’ As a transient military family, she knew what it was like to have to pick up an entire life and move it to another state or even another country for a few years. Just as some people might be getting settled into their home, a military family is packing up again. Her husband has apparently recently left the military and they are in what she thought would be their ‘forever house.’ But she doesn’t feel like it.
It has been a year and a half, she said, and there is no chance they’ll be leaving for awhile. She’s finally achieved her dream. They’ve done work on the house most military families wouldn’t bother doing: long term, expensive upgrades that they hope to enjoy for a very long time. She’s beginning to feel antsy. She wonders if she’ll ever really be able to enjoy the house they have chosen to grow old in.
I understand what she means, although I can’t say I have ever felt the need to have a ‘forever house.’ When we moved to Texas, we knew we’d stay in place for a long time. We wanted stability for the kids through high school. We wanted them to graduate from a high school they attended all four years. We were thankful Bruce’s career was finished early enough that we could do so. So, we planned from the moment we purchased this house that it would be ours for at least seven years. But we never expected to stay here forever.
We are nearing the six year anniversary of our moving into this house in Texas. Soon this house will be the place where we’ve lived the longest. We stayed in California for just under six years. Washington was two and a half years, and in that time we lived in two separate houses. We had two houses in the four years we lived in England. We spent three years in the same house in Arkansas. We have become very comfortable in this house. It is a home. But then, every house has been a home because that’s where we laid our heads. Even when we were in temporary housing as we were moving from place to place, squashed into small hotel-like suites for a month or more, we were home.
We are talking about that ‘forever house,’ the place where we hope to spend the rest of our days together. We want to move closer to Bruce’s job, perhaps further into the country. We want to find a house that will fit our new lifestyle of a home without children, when that day comes. Yet, I’m not sure that any house in this life can be really called our ‘forever house.’ We can plan to stay in one place for the rest of our lives together, but will we? What if Bruce is offered a job in some other city? What if we decided to move closer to our family in Pennsylvania? What if both the kids decide to live near one another in another part of the country? Do we want to stay here? What if God calls us to do something else? We don’t know what He plans for us tomorrow.
We need a home. We need a place where we can lay down our head and keep our stuff safe from the weather. But even the homes that have been in the family for generations and the heirlooms passed from mother to daughter to granddaughter are temporary. We won’t live forever even if we are able to live in one home for a very long time. So, as we are enjoying our home for today and thinking about our home for tomorrow, there is a forever house on which we will rest our hope: the dwelling place which God has prepared for us. This is a place we will go one day, but we need not wait until that day to abide in it, for the Kingdom of God is now and then, here and there, our present and future dwelling place in which to sing praises to God Almighty.
Scriptures for October 4, 2009: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-26
“What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4a, ASV)
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” This is a great question. After all, when you consider the entire creation, human beings aren’t much. There are nearly seven billion people living on earth at this moment. Best estimates say that there are probably about two hundred billion stars just in our galaxy, the Milky Way. There isn’t even a word to describe the number of stars in the entire universe. Someone has guessed that there are probably about a hundred trillion mosquitoes living on the earth at any one moment. There are about sixty-four million house cats living in the United States, there is no estimate of how many cats (domestic and wild) might live on the earth. In other words, we are pretty rare in the whole scheme of creation. We are not the largest or the smallest. We aren’t the strongest, fastest or prettiest. We might even argue that we aren’t the smartest. But we were created uniquely and charged with the care of all that God has made.
Of course, there’s not a lot we can do about the stars. We can’t change them in any way. We can’t even get close enough to one to stand on its surface or take samples of the gases. But we can learn about them. As a matter of fact, men and women have been studying the stars for as long as we can remember. Even Abraham was aware of the stars when God promised him that he’d be the father more people than stars in the sky. Sounds like we’ve got a long way to go for that promise to be fulfilled! We’ve tried to control the mosquitoes, but to no avail. They just keep coming to our campouts and picnics, annoying with bites and bumps and sometimes disease. Who can control a cat? Oh, we might think we have mastered them by having them as pets, but I think sometimes that our cats have mastered us. After all, we feed them, clean the litter box, pet and play with them when they so desire and keep them safe from harm, only to be ignored and rejected when they aren’t in the mood for human companionship!
So, though we have dominion over the rest of creation, we don’t have much to brag about in the scheme of things. Who are we that God would know us, not only as a species but as individuals? Who are we that God would care about each one of us personally? We are His, created in His image for a purpose. We are created to be part of a community, to be in relationship, not only with each other but also with the world and with our God. This is pretty amazing.
We see the beginning of this in the passage from Genesis. God created man out of the dust of the earth and knew that it was not good for the earthling to be alone, so God created more beings. God wanted to create a helper for the earthling. Each animal was given a name, and though we do not see this in detail, I imagine the names that the earthling gave to each animal had meaning. Names, particularly in the ancient days, defined characteristics and purpose. ‘Adamah’ meant ‘red earth,’ so Adam, the earthling, was named after the earth from which he was made. The animals God created were surely useful to the earthling, but none were the right helper. So, God took a piece of the earthling and used it to create another being, another earthling, who was called ‘woman’ because the scriptures say, “out of Man this one has been taken.” These two are joined together, to cling to one another for as long as they live.
Now, the writer of Hebrews asks the same question as the psalmist, remembering that passage in his letter. “What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” he asks. But the writer lifts up one particular earthling, the new Adam, through whom all things were made. He, being an exact imprint of God’s being, a reflection of His glory, sustains all things by His powerful Word. He could, by this power, have made the world perfect with a word, taking all fear and pain away by His grace. Yet, the plan to restore God’s people to one another, to the creation and to God was more complicated. God’s Son, Jesus the Christ, was born among men to suffer and die for our sake, and then raised into new life to be the first of God’s children crowned in glory.
We don’t like to suffer. We’d rather not experience any sort of suffering. I think this is especially true for our generation of earthlings. We are quick to escape suffering: taking pills for pain until we become addicted, quitting our jobs in a heartbeat when we aren’t happy, or running away when things are going the way we want it to go. We’ve heard it said that fifty percent of marriages will end in divorce. While that figure is not entirely accurate, it is close to the reality that by 1990 it was almost as likely for a marriage to end by divorce as death.
The question of divorce was a real issue for them as it is for us. The reasons for divorce in today’s world might be different than those in Jesus’ time, and perhaps we have reasons that are justifiable. We like to look back at their stories and think that they were so much different. Men were able to divorce their wives for the stupidest reasons, while women were given no such rights. She could be cast off for burning dinner, leaving her completely alone. Who would marry a divorced woman? Who would support her in a world where she had no rights? Though divorce is described and regulated by laws, God was not pleased that His earthlings were so careless with the covenants they make. God hates divorce.
This is a hard topic, especially for those who have been through the experience. We all need God’s grace and forgiveness, no matter what our circumstances. It is difficult, if not impossible, to talk about divorce in our communities of faith because we do not want to hurt those who are already hurting. I’m sure that many pastors are trying to find some way to avoid the subject of this week’s scriptures. Jesus reaches back to the story of the beginning to address the question of the Pharisees. It would do us well to talk about divorce, to encourage marriages and to uphold our vows, but there’s more to this story.
God created earthlings to be in relationship. We don’t do it very well sometimes. We not only divorce our spouses, but we fight with our friends and we run away from our families. We are a sad and broken species. Perhaps that’s why God is so mindful of us: He created us to be in relationship with Him, one another and with the rest of creation and we need Him to help us stay faithful. Mosquitoes come and go and cats sometimes purr, but human beings have emotions and reasoning and the ability to share with others. Yet, we are so messed up, failing in thought, word and deed. The history of God’s people is filled with stories of how we have not done what is right in His eyes. How easy would have been for God to forget us, to divorce Himself of His people? But God has made a covenant with His people. He has promised to be faithful. God must be faithful; it is out of character for Him to be anything else. He calls us to live in the relationships that have been born out of our own covenants with others, to try to remain faithful even when it seems impossible.
Our Gospel lesson seems to be divided into two segments: first about divorce and second about children. In a world where children did not often make it past the first few years, it is not surprising that the people would bring their children to Jesus to ask for His blessing on their lives. The disciples thought Jesus was too important to deal with such triviality as children, but Jesus wanted to be in relationship with all God’s people, including the young ones. Perhaps He even preferred being in relationship with children because they are innocent and helpless and faithful. They had not yet learned to run away from suffering, but trusted in those who provided for their needs. Jesus lifted them as an example, so that we might see how to live in a relationship with God, trusting that He will get us through all our suffering. Who has suffered more than Jesus? And He was not the cause of His suffering. God got Him through, and He is with us through our pain, too.