Welcome to the September 2017 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 2017
September 1, 2017
“Be careful that you don’t do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Therefore when you do merciful deeds, don’t sound a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may get glory from men. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you do merciful deeds, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand does, so that your merciful deeds may be in secret, then your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matthew 6:1-4, WEB
There is simply too much to do. I’ve seen calls to help the babies, animals and the first responders. People are asking for very specific donations of underwear and socks because the rescuers are wearing clothes for days at a time. Pet shelters need food. Babies need diapers and formula. Tarps are needed to cover holes in roofs and generators are needed for refrigeration and construction. I saw a request from a church for cots because they are setting up a place for volunteer groups to sleep when they visit to do clean-up work. Children need school supplies. It is almost overwhelming. There probably isn’t enough bleach in Texas for the work that needs to be done.
Let me say that it is wonderful how so many people are stepping up to give toward the relief efforts in the aftermath of the hurricane in Texas and Louisiana. It is amazing how much money is being raised by organizations that will meet every sort of need in the coming days, weeks and months. One article listed a bunch of celebrities who have donated thousands, even millions of dollars.
I have to admit that I’m torn about this news. It does my heart good to know that they are willing to help. I don’t have their resources; I do what I can and every bottle of water makes a difference, but a million dollars will make miracles happen. What I’m not so certain about is the publicity. On the one hand, it is good to see their generosity so that we’ll follow their example. On the other hand, our scripture tells us that we are to keep our merciful deeds secret. God knows and we know in our hearts that our work and resources will help.
A commenter on the article noted the lack of certain people or groups that have not seemed to have offered any help. “I’m disappointed,” he said. The specific group he mentioned is always very generous, not only as a group but also as individuals. I hadn’t heard about specific donations, but I knew that they helped serve food at a shelter. I also expect the many charities around town that they support have received checks over the past few days. They aren’t getting photo ops handing huge cardboard checks to the representatives of those charities. They are quietly doing what they can do without fanfare.
We can rejoice with every dollar that is being raised by the fundraisers, given by your neighbors and the celebrities. Perhaps those celebrities deserve our thanks; after all, amazing things will happen with their donations. I just think we should remember that there are many people, ordinary folk and celebrities that are giving without the show. Sadly, some will begin to publically announce their donations because they are pressured by those who are disappointed that they seem to be silent in the face of this disaster. God knows what they are doing, and He knows what you are doing. Trust that any reward He can give is greater than the fame we might gain by showing the world just how generous we are.
“Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing? See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than they? Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan? Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin, yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t he much more clothe you, you of little faith? Therefore don’t be anxious, saying, ‘What will we eat?’, ‘What will we drink?’ or, ‘With what will we be clothed?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore don’t be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day’s own evil is sufficient.” Matthew 6:25-34, WEB
The pursuit of the American dream has made many things possible today that were not even imagined in past generations. We can do things today that could not happen a decade or two ago. But opportunity also means responsibility. It takes discipline, study and commitment. It means going the extra mile to get the education and experience necessary to succeed. Even in lower grades the school counselors help the students try to figure out what it is they want to do, so that they can make all the right choices as they grow. The kids are required to do more; it isn't enough to go to class, students are required to do extra-curricular activities and community service. They know that they have to do well to succeed and they worry about every grade.
Labor itself is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, the book of Proverbs often compares the righteousness of the laborers against the wickedness of the lazy. Martin Luther taught that we worship God in the joyful labors of our daily life, walking in our vocations no matter what they might be, whether student, farmer, baker, mother, prince or judge. Unfortunately, we worry too much. We do not work because we are honoring God or living in obedience to His will, but because we are pursuing all the wrong things. We want the best car, the biggest house, the prettiest clothes and the finest food. We get so caught up in making money with our labors that we forget to worship the God who provides all we need.
What are you doing for Labor Day? This holiday is the final weekend of summer and people often take the opportunity to get away. Some have picnics. Others just rest. Some folk slept until late in the day and accomplished absolutely nothing. This holiday is a day to set aside worry. What we need to learn, however, is that we need to stop worrying every day.
It does not pay to worry. There are a million things that might be of concern: we constantly have decisions to make and questions to answer. However, we need not worry about these things, for God is with us in everything we do. We should work hard, for it is through our flesh that we can honor God and do His work in this world, but let us work for all the right reasons. It is not necessary for us have the best, biggest, prettiest or finest anything. The best we can have is found in Christ Jesus. Everything else is icing on the cake, blessings from God for which we should be thankful about which there is no need to worry or fret.
“Now we know that whatever things the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God. Because by the works of the law, no flesh will be justified in his sight. For through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the law, a righteousness of God has been revealed, being testified by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all those who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God sent to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in his blood, for a demonstration of his righteousness through the passing over of prior sins, in God’s forbearance; to demonstrate his righteousness at this present time; that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:19-26, WEB
What does it mean to be righteous? Righteousness is defined as, “the quality of being morally right or justifiable.” This definition of righteousness leads us to understand that we are righteous when we do what is right and good. When talking about those who have passed from life into death, we often say, “He was such a good person,” or “She did so many good things for her neighbors.” These are wonderful things to say about those who die. I hope people can and will say it about me. Unfortunately, we also add, “I’m sure he/she is in heaven because...” We identify our salvation with this quality of being morally right or justifiable. We seem to think that we earn heaven by our goodness or good works.
In the Old Testament, righteousness comes from obedience to the Law. By the time Jesus dwelled among the people of Israel, the leaders of the Jews had developed a long list of requirements for righteousness. Some are based on the commandments; others are from the laws in Leviticus. The Pharisees and Sadducees interpreted the commands given by God and made them burdensome to the people.
The topic in Sunday school on Sunday was passing from death into life, based on John 5:24. As we looked at some Old Testament references, we discovered many in the book of Proverbs that talk of righteousness. For example, Proverbs 11:9 says, “He who is truly righteous gets life. He who pursues evil gets death.” It is no wonder that they believed they could be saved by their good works. It is no wonder that we continue to do so today. But what does it mean to be righteous?
Those of us who look at righteousness from a Christian point of view understand what Paul is saying. Even God’s pure and unadulterated Law is difficult. We might be able to live by some of the Ten Commandments, but we all have our gray areas. I haven’t murdered anyone, but I confess to coveting. I have not committed adultery, but I sadly admit that there are things that I have taken that are not mine.
If we understand the Commandments as Martin Luther described them in the Small Catechism, then not ensuring the best for our neighbor is as bad as doing something against our neighbor. For example, Luther writes, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” In other words, it is not enough to just not do something bad, but as Christians we are expected to do what is right and good. Who among us has ever been able to live so perfectly?
Paul explains in the book of Romans that it does not work. Human flesh is unable to be good enough, to do right enough to earn our place in heaven. As we consider the definition of the word righteousness, we have to look at it from a whole new perspective. Righteousness, according to God, is dwelling in a right relationship with Him. In the Old Testament, the Jews believed that they could do so by being obedient to the Law. Many people today continue to think this is true. Faith turns the world’s understanding upside down. We, who are unable to keep the Law, are given something better. God provides a new way. The promise of life is found in Jesus Christ. We are not righteous because we do the right things, but because Jesus Christ covers us with His righteousness so that we can have the right relationship with our Father in heaven.
We need to read those Old Testament lessons through new eyes: the eyes of Christ. It is easy to read the proverb “He who is truly righteous gets life. He who pursues evil gets death.” and think that we will gain life by being a good person and doing good things. However, as people of faith we can rewrite this proverb to say, “He who has Christ has life. He who rejects Christ gets death.” Jesus turned the world upside down, redefining even what it means to be righteous. We will pass from death into life through faith in Him, receiving by grace eternal life in heaven.
Scriptures for Sunday, September 10, 2017, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 32:1-7; Romans 13:1-20; Matthew 18:1-20
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8, WEB
Dr. Jason Bull is a psychologist and "trial science" expert. He’s a character on the popular television series “Bull,” a show based on the work of Dr. Phil McGraw. On last night’s episode, Bull’s coworker was under investigation from a case he worked as a detective a number of years ago. He was arrested and tried for tampering with evidence. A lawyer offered to help in exchange for future work with Dr. Bull. She is known as a “fixer” and she fixed the problem by getting a deal. All the man had to do was apologize and he wouldn’t face ten years in prison.
The man, Benny, refused to take the deal because in doing so he would have to admit to doing something he did not do. The implications were extensive. His admission could change the outcome of the real case and set a guilty man free to continue his murdering. Though the appeals would take years, Benny’s name would continually be drawn through the mud with every court date. He refused, they went to trial and the truth ultimately won. It might have seemed easier to just say “Sorry” and let it go, but Benny knew it was the wrong way to deal with his problem.
One of the biggest problems many parents have, myself included, is that we demand an apology from our child when he or she has done something wrong, but we do not ensure that the child never really knows what it is that he or she has done wrong. “Tell your sister that you are sorry,” we insist, so the child says, “Sorry.” Yet, just minutes later the child is doing the same thing all over again. The child did not even recognize what they did wrong. They simply said the word without really being transformed by the lesson.
Nanny and parenting expert Jo Frost teaches her families a better way of dealing with apologies. She recommends a “time out chair” which is a place the child must stay for one minute for every year of their life (a three year old stays for three minutes.) The purpose is for that child to think about what they have done. When the child is put into time out, the parent gets eye level and says specifically the charge. “Johnny, you hit your sister. That is not right. We should never hit our sister. Now, you have to sit in time out for three minutes.” After the time is complete, the parent goes to the child, gets to eye level and asks the child to apologize. The apology should be more than just “Sorry.” The child should repeat what they have done wrong. “I’m sorry for hitting my sister.” This way he (or she) will learn that hitting his sister is wrong.
It is easy to ask someone to say that they are sorry. Many people are more than willing to apologize without even knowing what they did wrong. They would rather get it over with rather than deal with changing in any way. Repentance calls for change, and most people would rather not change. Repentance brings change which leads to reconciliation. Saying “Sorry” is not enough. Repentance requires knowing what was wrong and turning from it.
It is easier to deal with wrongdoing when it is our children who need to learn the lesson of repentance, but much harder when it is a friend or neighbor.
Sin leads to death. Smoking causes lung cancer. Irresponsible driving causes accidents. It is our responsibility to call for the repentance of those who cross our path, bringing attention to the sins that might cause harm to others or to themselves. It is a very fine line we walk when we talk about the sins of our neighbors. As a matter of fact, in our world today most people would be offended by our interference in their personal lives. This is especially true if we are talking about spiritual things. Who are we to judge a person’s heart? Yet, sometimes God does call us to intercede in the lives of our neighbors for their sake, to shine a light so that they might see their error and repent.
How will our neighbors know what they’ve done wrong if we do not tell them? How will they know they are risking their lives, both physical and spiritual with their sin? It might be impossible when dealing with neighbors who do not live by our faith, but it is our responsibility to call our brothers and sisters to repentance when they have done something wrong.
That’s why Jesus has given us the lesson in today’s Gospel passage. If our brother offends us in some way, or to be blunt, sins against us, it is not enough to demand an apology. We should sit down with our brother and explain how they have hurt us. We do it privately at first to keep our brother from the gossips. If he (or she) refuses to hear us, then we take another person who can testify with us about his behavior. Again, this is done privately to avoid embarrassing our brother. If our brother still will not hear what we have to say, then we take it to the church; together we can help our brother see his error and be reconciled to us. If he still refuses to hear, then we sever the relationship.
There is a reason for the process. We might just discover that when we sit down and talk with the one who has hurt us that there is reason for our own repentance. That is why it is helpful to bring in an intermediary to provide some insight into both people involved. Sometimes the intermediary needs to be a group. In the end, there might be no way to reconcile and Jesus tells us that there might be a time to “let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector.”
We interpret this to mean that we should sever the relationship. Does it mean that we should hate our brother who has refused to repent and remove them from our lives forever?
How did Jesus treat the pagans and the tax collectors? Does He abandon us when we continue to sin against Him? He comes to us with His Word, reminding us of His mercy and grace. He fights for us. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus talked about the shepherd who left the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep. It is our task as Christians to constantly be working for reconciliation.
Next week we’ll hear how often we have to forgive those who sin against us. Over and over again we are called to meet those who have hurt us with grace, remembering that we are like the Gentiles and tax collectors, too. We need God’s mercy, too. We needed Jesus’ compassion, too. And so, we fight for reconciliation, even when it seems impossible. Whatever we bind will be bound and whatever we loose will be loosed and whenever we agree with others, God will be in the midst of it, working His grace.
God does not want any to perish. Ezekiel was called to a hard task: to tell the people of Israel about their sin against God. The truly prophetic voice is not something that anyone would choose by their own will because God’s Word is not something the world wants to hear. By the time we reach this chapter in the book, Ezekiel has spoken about God’s judgment not just on Israel, but also on Judah and the nations. In chapter 33, God begins to speak words of consolation. It is the beginning of hope because the words of judgment brought repentance.
God spoke to Ezekiel saying, “When I tell the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you don’t speak to warn the wicked from his way; that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at your hand.” God sent Ezekiel to speak His word into the lives of the people. He gave Ezekiel the responsibility to tell them the truth, to tell them about God’s wrath and His promise. If Ezekiel failed to do so, their blood would be on Ezekiel’s hand. Jesus gave the disciples a pattern for telling people about their sins against us. This pattern is considerate and merciful, keeping the speaker humble and calm while giving a course for dealing with the unrepentant. In our own situations, when there is brokenness in our relationships, God gives us a way to speak the truth while leaving room for forgiveness and reconciliation. Our tendency is to blow up over the little things. God reminds us to deal with the root causes with grace and control.
God does not want any to perish. We may suffer the consequences of our failures, experience the cost of our mistakes, but God is ready with a word of consolation for us. We may be the one called to give that word to a brother or sister. The call for repentance is the beginning of hope, a revelation of the mercy and grace of God. We might be afraid to speak those words, but God calls us to this ministry so that none will die. He calls us to share in the life-giving promise of His word.
It takes the faith of a child to live this way. The Gospel lesson begins with a question from the disciples. As always, they were focused on Jesus being a worldly king who would save Israel from the Romans. They wanted to know who would be at His right hand when He came into that kingdom. They wanted to understand the hierarchy, to know the pecking order. They wanted to know which one of them was most important.
I often wonder if Jesus was frustrated with them by now. They just don’t get it. They must have had some concerns, after all Jesus just told them that He will die. The natural human response would be to ask who would inherit His ministry. Who would be in charge? Who would lead the people when Jesus was gone? These are obvious questions for a group of men who believed there would be a future for their mission but who needed to understand what would come next. They weren’t much different than we are today; there is always a leader and followers. They wanted to know who would be the leader.
Jesus turned their world upside down. Again. He told them that the greatest had nothing to do with power or authority. “Most certainly I tell you, unless you turn, and become as little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever therefore humbles himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Not only was Jesus refusing to establish the hierarchy, He told them that if they didn’t humble themselves, they would not even enter the Kingdom. They probably felt pretty confident that they were already in; after all, they were the chosen disciples. How could a little child possibly be greater than them?
Children didn’t have any clout in Jesus’ day. They were certainly not doted upon as our children are today. They were meant to be seen and not heard. Actually, they were not meant to be seen, either. Until they reached the age of maturity, they were barely even people. They had no rights. They had no power. They certainly had no authority. It was beyond their expectation for Jesus to choose a little child as the example in this lesson. What did He mean?
“Unless you turn, and become as little children...” What does this mean? What is it about children that we should emulate? They are innocent, not in legal terms, but as it relates to life. They are not yet cynical. They are pure, naive and open. They have no preconceived ideas. They are creative, inquisitive, bold and unafraid to ask questions. They are like sponges, taking in everything around them. They are trusting, accepting and vulnerable. They still believe in the unbelievable. They are willing to risk it all to try something new and they trust that all will be well.
Jesus pulled that little child into His circle because he or she believed in Jesus. He said, “Whoever receives one such little child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him that a huge millstone should be hung around his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depths of the sea.” The child knew something that the disciples still had to learn: Jesus was the greatest.
The disciples would have to take over the ministry one day, perhaps sooner than they wanted, but the reality is that none of them would take Jesus’ place. He would not need a human right hand man, but a group of willing disciples who would continue to do His work. There is no hierarchy here; Jesus is the greatest One and the rest of us, we who believe in Him, are His little children. The moment ends with Jesus warning the disciples to take care of those who are innocent, the “little ones” who trust in Him. He warned them, and us, not to lead the pure, naive, vulnerable, fearless sponges on the wrong path. “Do not cause them to sin.” By this He means, “Do not cause them to stop believing in me.” Sadly, I think we do this much too often.
This talk of repentance and faith is important because those who sin against us become a burden on our hearts and minds. Each sin against another believer can cause them to doubt Jesus. How many people refuse to become involved in a church because it is filled with a bunch of hypocrites? We know that we are sinners in need of a Savior, but our sinful attitudes and actions can push a “little one” away.
As hard as it is for us to deal with sin, our own and those of our brothers and sisters, we must bring it into the light for the sake of the sinner and the one who has been hurt. Too many lose faith because we don’t deal with sin. We speak the words of forgiveness, but it is much easier to forgive than to forget. We have to deal with it, or it will become a burden. We can’t allow sin to cause us or another to turn from Jesus.
The life of the repentant sinner is blessed because those who trust in God will know His forgiveness. He does not want to lose anyone; He is willing to go out of His way to bring us home. The psalmist recognized the joy that comes from the forgiveness of God. That forgiveness comes to those who humble themselves before God, who trust God and His promises. The blessed ones are those who are like little children, living in faith. Blessed are those who live together in the kingdom of heaven without trying to be greater than one another. Blessed are those who are willing to deal with sin and reconcile with one another.
Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” We are called to care for one another by helping each other live according to the Word of God. Love does not allow our brothers and sisters to continue to sin. God loves us as we are, this is very true. However, God has called us to something better. Though we fail, He speaks His word into our lives over and over again until we hear and are transformed by it. And thus we are called to live in community with others, speaking God’s word into each others’ lives.
The problem is that we don’t always live in faith, hope and love. We get angry when people, and circumstances, get in our way. We react negatively; we lose control. It is then that we slip from being the people God has called us to be. Paul reminds us to live in faith, hope and especially love. No matter what the circumstances, by loving our neighbor we will face tomorrow’s brokenness with God’s grace, leaving nothing undone or unsaid so that all might see the light of Christ.
However, upon hearing God’s Word, we realize there is no way we can live up to His expectations. Paul writes, “Love doesn’t harm a neighbor.” I don’t think I can live even a day without doing something wrong to someone. It might seem insignificant. I’ve gossiped. I’ve lied. I’ve cheated. I have done a million things that I should not have done. The more I hear God’s Law, the more I realize that I deserve nothing but death for my iniquity.
That’s why God does not give us a word of instruction and judgment without a word of hope. He does not want any to die. God’s Law condemns, but Christ saves. We fail miserably on a daily basis. Yet, when we hear God say “I do not want to see any perish” we realize there is hope. God is holy and it is hard for us to look at Him, knowing we are unworthy of His love. Yet He calls us to do so. He calls us (through our brothers and sisters in Christ) to turn around, to repent, to seek His mercy. As we hear the promise found in these words, we can seek His face. We can be like little children, innocent, not in legal terms, but as it relates to life. We don’t have to be cynical, but can be pure, naive and open. We need not follow preconceived ideas. We can be creative, inquisitive, bold and unafraid to ask questions. We can be like sponges, taking in everything around us. We can trust and accept what we hear from God. We can even be vulnerable. Most of all, we can believe the unbelievable.
That’s what God wants from us. He wants us to be like little children, open to His love and grace. He wants us to humble and He promises that He’ll always come looking for us when we wander away. He doesn’t want anyone to get lost; He wants to always bring us home. He wants us to deal with our neighbors with love, speaking His word of both Law and Gospel so that they might live. There might be a line we have to draw, a place where we have to break fellowship for the sake of others. But we must never forget that God is not limited to our side of that line, He longs for all to experience His salvation. Let’s not wait until it is too late to speak His grace into the lives of those who have turned from God or we might just find ourselves responsible for those who have been lost. Now is the time. Are you ready to pay that debt of love?
“Beloved, you do a faithful work in whatever you accomplish for those who are brothers and strangers. They have testified about your love before the assembly. You will do well to send them forward on their journey in a way worthy of God, because for the sake of the Name they went out, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.” 3 John 1:5-8, WEB
I have been a homemaker for a very long time. Though I had a job or two since Bruce and I were married, I have spent most of my time being mother to our children and volunteering at school, church and in our community. My time more recently has been spent in the studio and I’ve been writing for nearly twenty years. I have been happy to support Bruce in his military career and in the one that has followed. I was so blessed to be able to be there for the children, to serve others. We’ve never been rich and we have at times struggled, but we have always survived and usually had enough.
I did not expect my life to turn out this way when I entered into adulthood. I began a career in retail and was working my way very quickly through the ranks. I was at one point headhunted away from a good job into a much better job at a larger retail chain with the promise of promotion and raises. I worked hard and was very good at my job. Then I married Bruce and I followed him to his next assignment at the other end of the continent. I considered applying for a transfer, but the closest store was an hour from where we would live. I had to prioritize. Seventy-hour weeks and long commutes left no time or energy for developing lasting relationships or raising children. Bruce and family won.
I decided to get a job in our new city, but I wasn’t looking for something that would lead on a career path. Bruce was in the military and it was likely we would move every few years. I was looking for a few extra dollars and something to keep me busy. I was going to avoid retail, but one day it just happened. I was purchasing things for our new home at a department store and the manager of the home fashions department hired me on the spot. It was the perfect position for me, part time cashier with opportunities to use my talents in other ways around the department. She was surprised that I was not seeking a management position, but I assured her of my career decisions.
I worked hard and was very successful. I loved helping people make decorating choices for their homes. I had customers who ran bed and breakfasts, so they were constantly making large purchases as they built their businesses. Our store manager received several letters of thanks for my help and he took notice to the good work I was doing. I was happy in every way. The job was perfect. The part time hours were enough. I was thrilled to have the store discount as I decorated my new home.
But the department manager became uncomfortable. She was paranoid that I was after her job. She did everything she could to make me miserable. She gave me lousy hours, often refusing to work the schedule around days I requested off. She assigned me the dirtiest, most difficult tasks - often in the stockroom where I would not be visible to the customers or other store management. Finally she broke a promise she made and I quit. When I left, I reminded her of our original interview and the fact that I had no career goals. I told her how much I loved my job and that I was no threat.
The manager had no reason to be concerned about my intentions. However, her management practices were questionable and it was after I left she realized how much I helped keep her department running smoothly without hurting her career. She tried to get me to reconsider for months after I stopped working for her, but I was pregnant and ready to be a full time wife and mother. She was eventually fired when her failure became obvious to the store manager.
Unfortunately, this happens in the church as it does in the world. At times we face people who are afraid that we threaten their power and position. They reject us because they want to be in control. The early churches were no different than today’s churches; the church has always been filled with imperfect humans. The Apostles sent preachers to guide the new Christians and resolve difficult situations in the church. In that age, just like today, some of the leaders of local congregations did not want help. They were selfish and preached on that which would benefit them.
In John’s third letter, he commended a man Gaius and exhorted him to continue being true. He also wrote about a man who was not doing what was true. He refused to welcome the itinerant pastors and threw out those who did. He wanted to be in control and did everything he could to keep the competition away. He even gossiped maliciously about John his associates. He did what was evil rather than what was good. Instead of preaching the Gospel and serving the community, Diotrephes sought his own self interest.
Dear friends, be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ by sharing hospitality with those who cross your path with a message from God the Father. Be kind to your brethren in Christ, even if they are strangers. They come to you in His name to encourage and edify for the glory of God. Be thankful for the opportunity to share your gifts and receive that which they have to offer. They are not trying to take over or control the work God has sent you to do. They are simply following God’s guidance and using their gifts to glorify God and build the Church. They are there to be a blessing and to be blessed by the gifts and opportunities God has given to them through you.
“Therefore let’s not judge one another any more, but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block in his brother’s way, or an occasion for falling. I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself; except that to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if because of food your brother is grieved, you walk no longer in love. Don’t destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Then don’t let your good be slandered, for God’s Kingdom is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then, let us follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may build one another up. Don’t overthrow God’s work for food’s sake. All things indeed are clean, however it is evil for that man who creates a stumbling block by eating. It is good to not eat meat, drink wine, nor do anything by which your brother stumbles, is offended, or is made weak.” Romans 14:13-21, WEB
I read through the comments on a post about whether or not a church should have a crucifix as part of the décor. There are those who claimed that the gory Christ is a deterrent for seekers. Others insisted that the symbolism of the art and architecture is important to the theology of the Church. Unfortunately, as often happens with these discussions, the posts became personal and hurtful. I can imagine the debates weren’t much different in the days of the Apostles.
Paul is writing about a different issue than the discussion on the post, but it isn’t that different. There were some people who thought one thing about food and others who thought another thing. There were those who thought it was a deterrent for seekers and another who had theological reasons for their point of view. Their opinions caused anger and hurtful comments, breaking fellowship and dividing the Church.
These things matter. What are we saying by our art and architectural choices? What are we saying by the food choices we make? It is possible that we can deter people from entering our churches and fellowship, but it is also possible that we can teach people to misunderstand the work and grace of God by those choices. These are difficult issues even though they seem unimportant. Who cares what sort of art is on the wall? Who cares what sort of food we have at our potluck? The problem is, it does matter to some people, and that’s what Paul is addressing in this passage.
Is God glorified by which type of cross (or no cross at all) we have in our sanctuaries? Is He glorified by the type of food we eat? He is certainly not glorified when we allow our conversations to become personal and hurtful. The most important thing, as Paul writes, is righteousness, joy and peace. No food or decor will ever make us righteous; it will never give us the joy or peace that comes with faith in Jesus.
Sometimes it is important to listen and understand the reasons why our brother or sister feels the way they do. Sometimes it is better to walk beside them in their choice; to eat what they feel is right or use the decor they prefer. If this matter will cause our brother or sister to stumble, then grace demands that we do what we can to build up their faith. There is a time and a place and a way to educate, and perhaps we can eventually convince them to our point of view, but what matters most is to love. God is not glorified by the things we think are right, but by our fellowship with one another and the unity of His Church.
“I revealed your name to the people whom you have given me out of the world. They were yours, and you have given them to me. They have kept your word. Now they have known that all things whatever you have given me are from you, for the words which you have given me I have given to them, and they received them, and knew for sure that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I don’t pray for the world, but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All things that are mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them through your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name. Those whom you have given me I have kept. None of them is lost, except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to you, and I say these things in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves. I have given them your word. The world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that you would take them from the world, but that you would keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” John 17:6-19, WEB
Over the years I’ve chattered on and on about thousands of trivial things, sometimes stretching the connection to faith and our relationship with God. In those years, you have come to know me. You know my husband, my kids and my cats. You know which television shows I watch and some of my favorite foods. Though I try to be non-committal about my opinions on certain issues and about politics, you can probably tell by some of my posts where I might stand on those things. You know when it is hot at my house, when it is raining and when I’m headed on vacation. You know my life because of the words I have written.
You know me, but I hope my words have helped you see God. I sometimes shake my head at how incredible it is that God can be found in a secular movie script or in a bottle of Liquid Plumber. I’m amazed when a new food product shines a light on some characteristic of God. I’m often shocked at the themes that make me see God’s grace, especially when those themes are less than gracious. After all these years am still surprised that my simple, earthbound life has been used by God to give a glimpse of heaven to so many people.
Why are we ever amazed? The scriptures are filled with ordinary people doing ordinary things that glorify God. Yes, some of the stories are extraordinary. I can’t imagine any of us experiencing life like the prophets or the kings. Will any of us know what it is like to be faced with the kind of persecution perpetrated first by Paul and then on him? Will any of us be chased by an evil queen or be beheaded because we’ve spoken the truth? Will any of us get swallowed by a whale and then spit out to tell our enemies that God loves them?
No, I don’t think any of us will experience those things. But, we can all share God’s grace in our every day, ordinary experiences. God sent Jesus to be human so that we would see Him in the world. Jesus was far from ordinary, but He lived life just like you and I. He ate, He slept, He laughed and He cried. He walked and preached and shared God in every encounter. He was able to show God in the flowers and in the pigpens and in the lakes. He revealed God to the people in words that they understood through their own experiences.
We might live ordinary lives, but we are no longer ordinary. Everything we do and everything we are belongs to God, and He is able to use even the most mundane aspects of our life in ways that will surprise us. The key, for us, is to recognize that God does not reveal Himself just through extraordinary means, but also through the ordinary ones. He takes you and I and all our gifts and uses them in ways that we might never expect. We love to read the stories of the extraordinary experiences of those Bible characters, but the most amazing thing is that God uses our simple, earthbound lives to His glory.
“He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much. He who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If therefore you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? If you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You aren’t able to serve God and Mammon.” Luke 16:10-13, WEB
Beetle Bailey has been a private for sixty-seven years. Time stands still in the comic pages, but the strip would not be as funny if he were having a successful career in the military. Yet, there is a truth in the story line: if you can’t be trusted to do the things you are given to do, you won't get ahead. In the military and in other jobs, a promotion means greater responsibility. If a person is unable to complete the lesser tasks, they will never move on to greater things. Beetle Bailey has spent decades falling asleep on the job, avoiding every task and conning others to do his work. He is not trustworthy, and has remained a private for all those years. In the real world, Beetle Bailey would not have even kept his job for that long.
As a retail manager, I carefully watched the employees. Those who proved themselves trustworthy with the little things were the first to be considered for promotions. In fast food, a new employee always begins with a mop, then they move into food prep, cashier and eventually they might even be considered for a supervisory or management position. The best employees are the ones who can be trusted with little; they find themselves in charge of much.
Beetle Bailey’s problem is that he is just lazy. Others have a much more difficult time with jobs. They are greedy or dishonest, incapable of the task. There are employees willing to lie, steal and cheat. I had workers who punched in early, but waited until the minute they were scheduled to start to get to work. This may not seem like a very big deal, but by the end of the week it meant several extra dollars and by the end of the year it came out to hundreds of dollars of paid wages for no work. Other employees felt that it is ok to eat a piece of candy or some french fries. I’ve seen people damage merchandise to get it for a discounted price. It doesn’t pay to work this way. Eventually the employee’s habits will be found and they will either remain stagnant in their position or they will be fired.
Today’s scripture has proven itself true in the real world. Beetle Bailey has remained a private for decades because he is not a trustworthy soldier. In my retail experience, I knew it was best to choose those who had been trustworthy with the little things for the promotions and special tasks around the store. What Luke writes in this passage is about even more important things: spiritual and eternal riches. If someone is not trustworthy and honorable with the things of this world, how can they possibly handle the things of God? Jesus knows those of His children who can be trusted with the work of the kingdom, He knows the hearts of those who will serve Him well. There are many who take advantage of the power and position they’ve been given to benefit their own lives. God knows those who have been faithful, and they will be blessed with so much more.
Scriptures for Sunday, September 17, 2017, Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Genesis 50:15-21; Psalm 103:1-12; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35
“Yahweh is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness.” Psalm 103:8, WEB
An episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” began with Raymond and Debra sitting in their living room watching television. Suddenly Marie and Frank drove their car through the front door. As usual, Frank managed to find a way to blame everyone else; when he got out of the car, he asked who was going to pay for the scratches on his car. A settlement was made, though Debra spent much of the episode trying to get Raymond to take a hard look at his relationship with his parent. He always let them walk all over him. Raymond held his anger until he finally he exploded. The catalyst? Mismatched wallpaper.
When the repairs were finished, Ray looked at the wallpaper and realized that the new wallpaper was slightly different than the old paper. The stripes were similar but not quite the same size. The difference was so insignificant that most people would never notice. Even standing right next to the wall, it was difficult to see what had Ray so upset. Debra explained that it would have cost a lot of money to have exactly the same wallpaper recreated, so she settled for something cheaper but very close. Ray exploded. He demanded more money from Frank and Marie. He didn’t care how much it would cost; they were going to pay for it to be perfect. The problem, however, had nothing to do with the wallpaper. It was only the catalyst for the anger Raymond had been feeling for far too long. When he exploded, he yelled at them for all the wrong reasons.
He seemed to forgive over and over again, but the reality is that he held a grudge about all the things his parents did to his family. He would never have exploded if he had just dealt honestly and openly about his feelings. That’s why Jesus told us last week to take our hurts and pains directly to the one who hurt us. Marie and Frank probably would not have changed, but that was part of the character of the show. We see in this television example how swallowing our anger only leads to an eventual explosion. Like Raymond’s catalyst, it is usually something ridiculous that sets us off.
We allow our hurts and anger to well up inside, not speaking to those who have sinned against us until it is too late. We then let insignificant problems tempt us into responding with harsh words and violent temper. In the end, nothing is fixed. The wallpaper still does not match and the relationship is never reconciled. Though we might talk about forgiveness and continue in the relationship, we never get around to dealing with the root of the problems. We let them simmer in the back of our mind until something else insignificant causes us to explode.
There were a thousand reasons for Raymond to be angry with his parents. They were often cruel and rude, brutally honest about how everyone else’s opinions were wrong and how they were always right. Marie treated Debra with loving contempt, if that’s possible, and Frank was nothing less than a jerk most of the time. I do not doubt that many couples in the real world would not continue the relationship. They would find a way to separate themselves from the circumstances by moving away and cutting off communication. It seems impossible that anyone would have the kind of patience necessary to live with such irritating and hurtful relatives. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus is asking of us in today’s Gospel passage. We are not to forgive once, twice or even seven times. We are to forgive seven times seventy. Four hundred and ninety is not even enough, as the number itself represents a willingness to continue to forgive an infinite number of times.
In the days of Jesus, the rabbis taught that you had to forgive a person three times. A similar idea can be seen in modern baseball and law. “Three strikes and you are out,” is the motto of the day and we hold to it even in our personal lives. We might be able to forgive someone once. We might even be able to forgive them twice. But we have a really hard time forgiving them the third time. Do they deserve our mercy if they keep doing the same thing over and over again?
I am sure that Peter thought that he was being very generous when he asked Jesus how often they should forgive, after all, the law said three times and he upped it to seven. Peter was continuing the lesson of last week. We are curious, like Peter, about how far that should go. We know to forgive and can do so once, perhaps twice. We might even be gracious enough to do it the third time as the rabbis encouraged, after all love means going the extra mile, right? Going further, like the seven times Peter suggested, seems not only difficult but foolish. At what point do we become a doormat for someone who continues to do the same thing over and over again. Forgiveness is meant to bring reconciliation, and forgiven sin that is repeated over and over again shows that the repentance has led nowhere.
Many would say that those willing to continue to forgive without limitation are simply naïve. We need to accept that people don’t change. People don’t learn the lessons we teach one another when admonish and encourage faithful living. We forget. We are led by our flesh. We fail repeatedly. So, we wonder if it is really smart to forgive someone more than a few times. But, forgiveness is not naïve; it is a gift from God. We have to deal with sin, not only for ourselves, but also for the other. We must recognize our own sinfulness so that we will learn how to forgive. Jesus calls us to recognize our own debts and forgive the debts others have against us.
The servant in today’s story was more than willing to accept the forgiveness of the king, yet he was unwilling to forgive a much smaller debt. The power of forgiveness is opening our eyes to our own failings, giving us the freedom to be transformed and to take the transforming grace of God into the world. It does little good for us to say the words, “I forgive” over and over again if the absolution is not coming from God’s grace. Our word is useless, but God’s Word brings forgiveness and peace.
People still fail even when we have dealt with sin. It takes time after time of practicing good discipline with a child before that child will truly learn the lessons we are trying to teach. A child might touch that shiny, breakable bobble on the coffee table a dozen times before they truly understand what we mean by “NO.” Each time takes forgiveness. Unfortunately, our hurt and anger over the actions of others who harm us is magnified with every offense. Like Raymond, the hurt and anger builds with every offense. It becomes harder and harder to forgive. How do we deal with a brother or sister in Christ who has isn’t transformed by forgiveness?
Peter asks, “How often do we have to forgive these breaches of trust?” He knew the rule of three, but Jesus is always going above and beyond. “I’ll show Jesus I’m learning,” he thinks. But Jesus gives a shocking answer, “I don’t tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven.” Not seven times, but 490 times? Some versions translate the number ‘seventy seven times.’ Even that seems a little overboard. Can one person really commit the same sin seventy seven times or four hundred and ninety times? Shouldn’t they eventually learn the lesson? Isn’t that willful disobedience?
The disciples must have been as shocked as we are, so Jesus told them a parable. The king was sitting in judgment over his servants. One man owed him an outrageous sum, beyond his ability to pay, and yet the king forgave the debt. This would be an easy story to preach if it ended there, because we could limit our message to the mercy of God.
The story goes further, however. When the servant left the king’s presence he found another servant who owed him a debt. Though the debt was small compared to his own debt to the king, the forgiven servant did not have the same mercy on his debtor, throwing him in jail until he could pay. The king discovered what the forgiven servant did and rescinded the grace. We learn from this story that it is not enough to live in God’s forgiveness, but we must also forgive others.
We have each been forgiven a debt that we could never pay for our sin against God which is much greater than any sin by our brothers and sisters in Christ. We make ourselves to be greater than the King, putting ourselves in the place of God when we refuse to forgive those debts. God is just and faithful; He will ensure that everything is made right in the end, in God’s time and in God’s way. That’s why Joseph saw his life of suffering in such a positive way. He knew that God was able to do something extraordinary. So, too, the pain we feel when we are hurt by our brothers and sisters in Christ. They may be willfully disobedient, doing something against us with malice and mean intent, but God can and does use those experiences to do good things.
We know the story of Joseph. He was the favored son of Jacob, the firstborn of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel. He was loved because she was loved, and his siblings saw the favoritism. They were jealous and first thought to kill him, but Reuben tried to stop the plot. Judah convinced the brothers to sell him to an Ishmaelite caravan; Joseph was more valuable alive than dead. Joseph ended up in Egypt and suffered humiliation, false accusation and imprisonment. He was abandoned and forgotten.
Joseph wasn’t perfect; the hatred of his brothers was not completely unfounded. He had an incredible gift; the brothers thought he was arrogant, using his gift and their father’s love to lord over them. Joseph was human and very young, so he made mistakes. He may not have even realized how much he was hurting his brothers. The brothers, however, hated him because he was the favorite. They sold him into slavery, but it led him to the place where he would be a savior to many people.
God was with Joseph. He was blessed even when he was a slave, a servant and a prisoner. Joseph recognized all along that his gifts were not his, but were from God. He was not subtle and appeared arrogant especially to his brothers, but he had a heart for God. Despite his imperfections, Joseph recognized that God was with him. When his brothers sold him into slavery, they sold him into a life of suffering but God had a plan to use Joseph in a powerful way. Joseph may have had the authority to seek justice from his brothers, but he knew that judgment was up to God. He also knew that God made everything right by using his suffering for the good of the world. Many people were saved and God was glorified in Joseph’s suffering and through his gifts.
I’d like to think that I could be as gracious as Joseph, but I have to admit that I’m not always so merciful. I can hold onto hurt and anger for a very long time. Would I have feasted with my brothers if they’d sold me into slavery? Would I have shared the food I’d worked hard to save based on the gift they despised? Even if I did have mercy, I can imagine myself throwing an “I told you so” or two at them along the way. I may have found it in my head to forgive them, particularly for the sake of someone I loved, but I’m not so sure I would have found it in my heart. Remembering Joseph’s attitude about God helps us to accept Jesus’ command for forgiveness. If we give it to God, then we don’t have to hurt onto the hurts, even the repeated hurts, of our brothers and sisters.
We are too often like the forgiven servant who would not forgive; we are the ones undeserving of mercy. We fail. We sin. We continue to do what we should not do and do not do what we should. Yet, God is merciful, slow to anger. He is patient and longsuffering. He does not give us what we deserve but instead forgives us our sins and forgets them forever. We might suffer the consequences of our failure, but God redeems us despite ourselves. He does not forgive us just once, twice or three times. He doesn’t just forgive us seventy-seven or four hundred and ninety times. God doesn’t count the times He forgives us; by His grace we are forgiven into eternity and we are called to live in that forgiveness by being forgiving.
We have each been forgiven a debt that we could never pay for our sin against God; our sin is much greater than any sins against us. We make ourselves to be greater than the King, putting ourselves in the place of God when we refuse to forgive those debts. God is just and faithful; He will ensure that everything is made right in the end, in God’s time and in God’s way. That’s why Joseph saw his life of suffering in such a positive way. He knew that God was able to do something extraordinary. God can also use the pain we feel when we are hurt by our brothers and sisters in Christ. They may be willfully disobedient, doing something against us with malice and mean intent, but God can and does use those experiences to do good things through a Church that is filled with forgiven and forgiving sinners.
As we read the New Testament, we can see that today’s church is not much different than those in the first days of the Church. The problems Paul and the other apostles addressed in their letters are as common for us today. There are differences but I can imagine Paul writing today’s passage from his letter to the Romans to Christians in our world today. Disagreement is a fact of human life. We are different people trying to work in the same world. We have a common goal but very different visions about how to get there. By the time we get around to working together, our differences are so vast that we can’t find a way to compromise. Compromise, all too often, means giving up something that means too much to us.
Many of the Christians in Rome were former pagans. They knew that the meat that was purchased in the marketplace had most likely been sacrificed as part of the ritualistic worship of the pagan community. They were concerned because they knew that the animals had been slaughtered in worship and ministry to the pagan gods and they chose to avoid eating meat because they refused to support that worship. Paul knew that there was nothing wrong with the meat even though it came out of a pagan ceremony. It was still acceptable to God. He also knew that it would weigh on the conscience of those former pagans. So, he treated the issue with grace.
He called the community to join together in the Christ they worshipped. Too many things that divide us are not salvific issues, but we reject and judge one another. We forget about the forgiveness which began with Christ and leads to reconciliation between brothers and sisters. Paul encourages us to see Christ in one another, to live together in a way that glorifies God. We all have gifts and purpose and if we do not reconcile with those who have sinned, then we cut off a part of Christ’s body that He has called together. We tend to think that others must conform to our vision, but God has a much greater vision in mind.
So, the next time our brother or sister sins against us, let’s remember that we are not God. Whether it is the first time or the four hundred and ninety first time doesn’t matter. The Church is built on forgiveness, not just the words, but the intentional process from our hearts to find a way to reconcile with them so that we can worship God and do His work together in the world.
This is the life we are called to live: a life of forgiveness. God sends us into the world forgiven so that we can forgive the debts of others, even when sin seems to go on and on and on. We have been set free to set the world free. God loves us with compassion far greater than we deserve and He calls us to do the same for our brothers and sisters in Christ. That is how we deal with each other in this community of faith. Even when we fail one another, we are not to keep a record of every sin, but instead forgive over and over again, wiping the slate clean each time and beginning anew, just as God has done for us.
“And whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord, and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24, WEB
I’ve noticed something in the past few weeks as we’ve dealt with so many natural disasters, particularly the hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida. There have been a million acts of kindnesses done as neighbors have helped neighbors, but there’s more than that. I’ve seen charities raise millions of dollars to use in helping the displaced and rebuilding their lives, but there’s something else.
Several posts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey showed businesses stepping into the gap. The owner of a mattress company in Houston opened his doors to give people fleeing the waters a place to rest. A brand new convenience store (it hadn’t even opened yet) opened its doors to first responders, fed them and gave them a place to stage their rescue operations. A major Texas grocery store chain sent out a convoy of disaster relief trucks to feed the hungry and provide medicine for those who had no access to a grocery store. These businesses served the people directly from their resources. I’m sure these businesses have also given large donations to relief organizations, but they offered what they had to those who needed it.
Oh, there have been people who have looted and price gouged, but I was so thrilled to see a grocery store give water for free and sell food at incredibly cheap prices for those who were suffering. They didn’t throw a bunch of money at the problem and go about their lives, but jumped right into the midst of the suffering. Can you imagine the damage to those mattress stores? Or the clean-up that had to be done to prepare the convenience store for its official grand opening? They didn’t think about the impact, they just did what they could at the time.
The kindnesses have spread in the days following the disasters. Car dealers are offering employee pricing to people who have lost their vehicles in the floods. While they are going to sell those cars, it is still a sacrifice as they won’t make much profit and they won’t even receive any trade-ins for resale. I saw an article about a cell phone repair company fixing phones that were damaged in the disaster. An short-term housing rental company offered free rooms to refugees. A window company is giving $100,000 dollars worth of windows to Habitat for Humanity for rebuilding. A company sent out generator trucks to the damaged neighborhoods so people could recharge phones and have access to wifi. A sporting goods store sent thousands of dollars worth of supplies.
It isn’t just the big companies that are helping. We saw thousands arrive in Houston with boats to rescue the trapped. Many food trucks have left their comfy, well paying spots to go to feed the hungry. People with specific skills are going to help people with the work that needs to be done. A group of guys with chainsaws went to one city to remove the trees that had fallen into houses. This might not seem like a big deal, but the homeowners could not return until those trees were gone. That small act of kindness made a huge deal to the people who lived there.
We are impressed by the companies who are donating and the celebrities whose fundraising has gathered huge amounts of money. However, the things people will remember is the stranger who dropped off a bag full of hot food when they were too busy with cleaning to think about how hungry they were feeling. The people who are suffering will remember that someone gave their child a toy or a book that isn’t ruined by flood waters. They will remember the person who gave them a roll of toilet paper.
We don’t all have millions of dollars to donate. It is overwhelming how much is needed right now. It will take trillions of dollars to repair the lives lost to water, fire and earthquake in the past few weeks. Yet, we all can do something. We have gifts and resource. What do you do? What do you have that you can share? You may only be able to help one family, but that one act of kindness will make a difference. Whatever you do, don’t do it to impress your neighbors or to benefit by it, but do it to glorify God. We’ll get through this one act of kindness at a time. And we’ll discover the blessings that the world can never give.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves has been born of God, and knows God. He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love. By this God’s love was revealed in us, that God has sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love has been perfected in us.” 1 John 4:7-12, WEB
Leonard and Penny had an on again off again relationship. Leonard had been in love with Penny from the moment they met. He declared early that their children would be “smart and beautiful.” During one scene, Leonard confessed his love for Penny and she answered, “Thank you.” She couldn’t bring herself to say the words. She said she just wasn’t ready yet. “I’ve said the L word too soon,” she confessed. He admitted that he’d been in the relationship much longer and promised to have patience. Unfortunately, Penny was quick with using the L word when talking about some chilly cheese fries. Leonard dripped with sarcasm when he told her that it was wonderful she could tell the fries that she knew for a few minutes how much she loved them. The disagreement led to a break.
The break didn’t last and they tried again. Penny was working on a project with a handsome college peer and Leonard got jealous. They were arguing in the hallway. She said over and over again that he was the one she chose. Finally she blurted out “You know that I love you!” They both were stunned. “That is the first time you ever said that,” he said. She agreed and ran off so that he wouldn’t see her tears. They are now married. They still have arguments, struggle with worries, fears and jealousies, but they also have found a way to live together amidst the craziness of their lives.
This is, of course, a storyline of the television show “The Big Bang Theory,” but there are many real life romantic stories that follow the same pattern. People are individuals and they need to experience love in different ways. Penny was hesitant based on her history. Leonard had loved Penny from first sight, so he was ready to commit himself immediately. Romantic love changes over time, beginning with a passionate, physical love and growing into much more. It is a joy to see elderly couples out for a day who after fifty years of marriage still hold hands and share their lunch. They truly become one in body, mind and spirit. This is so true that in later years, when one spouse dies, the other often follows quickly.
It is nearly impossible to define love. Webster’s defines it as; “an intense affection for another person based on personal or familial ties.” But what does that mean? Love shows itself in many different ways. There is a special love between a mother and her children which includes hugs and giggles, but also discipline. We love our pets, which provide us love, companionship and protection. They require our care and we show our love in the actions we take for their well being, such as buying food and toys, and keeping their living areas clean.
We love our friends, although love reveals itself differently with each one. We have some friends that we love deeply, our best friends, with whom we share our joys and tears, that we know will be around no matter what we do right or wrong. With other friends, our affection is not as intense, though we still enjoy spending time with them and doing things for them. It is harder to love people like strangers or enemies. How do we do love those who do not love us back? How do we show love to someone who acts with evil intent, jealousy, hatred, or lies?
God is love. He loves us with a love that is beyond anything we experience on earth. Even if we are willing to love another sacrificially, our ability to do so is limited by our humanity. He gave everything; He loved us so much that He gave up His own Son so that we might be reconciled to Him. He calls us to do the same. His love is a love in which we give everything we are for each other. Perhaps that love will manifest differently, but in all cases true love is unselfish. We love because God first loved us. Let us share that love today.
“Besides, they also learn to be idle, going about from house to house. Not only idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.” 1 Timothy 5:13, WEB
A couple weeks ago we talked about the process of bringing a brother or sister in Christ to repentance. If they sin against you, talk to them alone. If they don’t listen, take one other. If they still don’t listen, take it to the Church.” The reason for this process is to assure that we do not sully the reputation of our brothers and sisters. See, we may think we have been hurt by that person, but we may not always know the whole story. By having that one on one conversation, we might just learn of our own sinfulness in the situation. We might learn that it was not intentional. We might even learn that the person has not really done anything to hurt us. If we take our hurt to others, then the person will always have the accusation hanging over their heads, even if it is proven wrong.
Reporters often make mistakes. It is not unusual for a newspaper to have a place where they will print retractions. Sometimes they rush to publication before all the information has been gathered. Sometimes there is a typographical error. A newspaper once published a story about a musician. In the article they claimed, “His band mate was on drugs.” The sentence should have read, “His band mate was on drums.” There is a huge difference between those two sentences. Can you imagine being the drummer’s mother and read that your son is on drugs? Of course, she would probably understand it was a typo, but would others? Would they see the apology the next day? Too often we see the mistake and we never see that it was wrong. That typographical error could lead to people around the water cooler saying, “Did you hear the drummer is on drugs?” The rumor, despite being a mistake, could ruin the reputation of that man.
It is even more difficult today than it has ever been thanks to social media. How many times have we seen a post on twitter or facebook, shared it and later realized that it wasn’t true? It is impossible to take back the post and most people who read it will never follow up with the truth. It doesn’t take very long for a viral post to reach millions of people.
We are all guilty of passing on information that turns out to be untrue. Most of these mistakes are insignificant, but we have all seen how a viral post can ruin someone’s life. Someone once said, “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?” Someone added, “Does it improve the silence?” it is bad enough when something is said that can hurt a person, but it is the gossip that truly impacts their life. It is the second, third and fourth layers of people who never learn the truth or apologize for the mistake. Gossip can hurt people, but if we remember the three gates, we might stop the spread and spare someone the harm it can cause.
Notice that the quote starts with whether or not it is true. Sometimes those things we pass on turn out to be true, but we are to then ask if it is necessary. What good will it do to pass on the information? Finally we are to ask if it is kind. If we honestly ask this question, we’ll find that we aren’t passing on many stories because even if they are true, they are certainly not necessary or kind. Ultimately, the fourth question brings it all together, “Does it improve the silence?” Be careful of the words you speak because they can truly impact a life in ways we might never even see. Speak only good things, lift up others and make the world a better place.
“‘For I, Yahweh, don’t change; therefore you, sons of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my ordinances, and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says Yahweh of Armies. ‘But you say, “How shall we return?” Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me! But you say, “How have we robbed you?” In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with the curse; for you rob me, even this whole nation. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, and test me now in this,’ says Yahweh of Armies, ‘if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there will not be room enough for. I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast its fruit before its time in the field,’ says Yahweh of Armies. ‘All nations shall call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land,’ says Yahweh of Armies. ‘Your words have been stout against me,’ says Yahweh. ‘Yet you say, “What have we spoken against you?” You have said, “It is vain to serve God;” and “What profit is it that we have followed his instructions, and that we have walked mournfully before Yahweh of Armies? Now we call the proud happy; yes, those who work wickedness are built up; yes, they tempt God, and escape.” Then those who feared Yahweh spoke one with another; and Yahweh listened, and heard, and a book of memory was written before him, for those who feared Yahweh, and who honored his name. They shall be mine,’ says Yahweh of Armies, ‘my own possession in the day that I make, and I will spare them, as a man spares his own son who serves him. Then you shall return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him who serves God and him who doesn’t serve him.” Malachi 3:6-18, WEB
Helen Keller once said, “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes real happiness. It is not obtained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”
Eric Hoffer said, “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”
Kim Hubbard said, “It is pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness: poverty and wealth have both failed.”
Bertrand Russell said, “To be without some of the things you want is an indispensible part of happiness.” George Burns said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
Ok, that last one was a bit of humor in the midst of an important subject. What is happiness? What does it mean to be happy? Verse 14 of today’s reading is a sad statement, but one I think many of us can identify with: we call the proud happy. The NIV translation says, “We call the arrogant blessed.” The Message says, “Those who take their life into their own hands are the lucky ones.”
I once read an article about happiness in Reader’s Digest. An interesting sidebar gave a history of happiness. When I first saw that, I wondered how they could put happiness into a time line, but then I read the list. They began with a quote from Aristotle in 350 BC that said, “Happiness is the best, most noble, and most pleasant thing in the world.” In 1776, the writers of our Declaration of Independence included that all men have the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” Laughing gas was invented in 1799. Books about parenting in the early 1900s focused on children’s happiness. The term “Happy Hour” came into use by sailors in the 1920s. The song “Happy Birthday to you” was copyrighted in 1935. The laugh track for radio and television was invented in the 1950s. The term ‘happy pill’ for tranquillizers was coined in the 1950s. The idea of national happiness and happiness in international relations came into style in recent years.
In 2010, Matt Salzberg said, “My vision of success is based on the impact I can have, much more than the pursuit of money or prestige.” Perhaps Matt was the first one in that timeline to get it right.
The article gave several steps to finding happiness. First, they recommend valuing your relationships. In a University of Illinois study, researchers discovered, “The highest levels of happiness are found with the most stable, longest, and most contented relationships.” Second, those who are happy express themselves. According to a Wake Forest University study, participants were tracked over a two week period and they found that they were happier when they were more outgoing and less happy when reserved or withdrawn.
A study done by the editors of forbes.com discovered that people were happier when they used their money to buy things for others. They gave cash to strangers, from $5 to $20. Half the group was told to spend the money on themselves and the other half to spend it on someone else. Those who bought something for someone else were much happier. The fourth step is to focus on the positive. They recommend keeping a journey and writing down three good things that happen each day. Those who did this found themselves to be much happier. Finally, the article suggested drinking water. Apparently, dehydration can cause mood swings.
I think it is true that happiness comes when we do not put the focus on ourselves, but turn our actions and thoughts to others. Those who take their lives into their own hands are not the lucky ones. God says, “Return to me, and I will return to you.” They didn’t understand. “How have we turned away?” “How have we robbed you?” God told them that they were focused on the wrong things. They were more interested in themselves and their own happiness. Instead of sharing their blessings with others, they were keeping it for themselves.
Instead of serving God, they served self. “It is vain to serve God. What profit is it that we have followed his instructions, and that we have walked mournfully before Yahweh of Armies?” They thought it was a waste of their time and resources to serve God. We might think that a new car or party dress will make us happy, but true happiness comes when we love God and live for Him in this world. This doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t have the new car or pretty dress, but let’s remember what matters most. Our happiness comes from living the life God is calling us to live, with Him in the forefront, doing His work in this world.
Scriptures for Sunday, September 24, 2017, Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 27:1-9; Phillipians 1:12-14, 19-30; Matthew 20:1-16
“One thing I have asked of Yahweh, that I will seek after, that I may dwell in Yahweh’s house all the days of my life, to see Yahweh’s beauty, and to inquire in his temple.” Psalm 27:2, WEB
Apparently someone has decided that Jesus is coming on Saturday. When Bruce read me the headline, I said, “That’s ok. I’m ready. Come, Lord Jesus.” The reality is that no one knows the day or the hour, so I’m still making plans for Sunday. I used to joke that as long as people predict the end of the world, God will keep putting it off. He can’t have some human reading His mind, now, can He? I joke, but as I’ve grown older, I know that I’m ready. Jesus’ return would certainly solve a lot of our problems, wouldn’t it?
I may be more than willing to see the end of the world in three days, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready for this world to be over. There is still so much to do. Our Sunday school class has barely begun digging into the text from John’s Gospel (even though we have been working on it for years.) My children have not gotten married nor had children. There are places I want to go, things I want to see. Someone (or a lot of someones) still needs to hear the Gospel and be saved. There’s a retreat coming up, my daughter’s graduation from grad school, my husband’s mission trip to Honduras. There are paintings I want to paint and books I want to write. I can’t do it all in three days.
Yet, I’m ready. Anything that will come after Jesus’ return will be greater than all the great things I still look forward to experiencing. Jesus is preparing a place for those who love and believe in Him. The eternal banquet will be filled with an overabundance of the best food and drink, more delicious and satisfying than anything on earth. Jesus’ returns means that we will join together for an eternity of worship and praise of the One who has saved us. Yes, I’m ready. Come, Lord Jesus.
It will be great, but we can’t count on it happening Saturday. God knows the right time. He knows who still needs to hear the Gospel message and Jesus won’t come until the last ear has heard the Good News. That doesn’t mean we have been left stranded and abandoned to the chaos and suffering that is in the world today. God is with us now; He will come again, but until that day we can trust in His presence as we live life in this world. As the psalmist says, “All I ask is to dwell in God’s house all the days of my life.” The promise that will be fulfilled the day Jesus returns is already ours in the present. We dwell in God’s house in the here and now by faith in Jesus Christ and we have access to God’s grace through Him.
Have you ever known someone who had a certain peace and joy no matter their circumstances? They can praise God even when struggling to get through each day because of health issues, or financial difficulties. They smile when they should be in tears. They laugh when they should be angry. They love and trust God even when it seems as though He has abandoned them. The prayer of the psalmist has been answered in their lives; they are dwelling in the house of God today.
We don’t get it. How can Christian suffering make other Christians confident in the Gospel? As a matter of fact, it seems as though many Christians today have decided that it would be better to be silent than to suffer the ridicule and frustration that we meet when we try to share our faith with the world. A woman lost her job just for saying “God bless you.” Children are suspended from school for wearing “Jesus loves you” t-shirts or reading bibles during free time. Business owners are fined for making business choices that reflect their understanding of the scriptures.
American Christians have not yet had to deal with the suffering that Paul experienced: prison, beatings and even death. We know Christians are suffering all over the world, in places like Africa and China, but that is far away and completely removed from our experience. It is much easier to just go along with expectations of the world around us than to stand firm on what we believe. After all, why would we risk our lives and our livelihoods when it is just as easy to say “Have a nice day” or wear a different t-shirt? We can even find ways to remain principled in our business dealings while minimizing risks. We aren’t willing to be one who suffers for the Gospel if we can avoid it.
So, how did Paul’s suffering make the Christians of Philippi more confident and bold to speak the word without fear? Shouldn’t they have been running off into the catacombs, hiding their faith, safely worshipping God apart from the prying eyes of their enemies? I think it is important to understand Paul’s history with that Christian community to see how much of an impact he really had on them.
Paul begins today’s lesson by saying, “Now I desire to have you know, brothers, that the things which happened to me have turned out rather to the progress of the Good News; so that it became evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest…” The Christians in Philippi saw the impact Paul had even in his suffering, which had an impact on the entire congregation. His imprisonment really did make them more confident in the Lord.
It wasn’t his suffering that did it, but rather it was the fact that Paul lived for the glory of God. The Church grew because Paul knew that whether his circumstances were good or bad God could make incredible things happen. Paul simply trusted God and the people of Philippi learned from his example. It wasn’t his death or his suffering that encouraged them, it was the way he lived his life. Paul lived in the Kingdom of God even as he waited for the Kingdom to come.
Paul wanted Jesus to come again. To put it bluntly, Paul wanted to die. He wasn’t suicidal, but he knew that life would be so much sweeter in eternity. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I feel the same way. However, Paul knew that it was not yet time for him to be with his Lord Jesus. He still had work to do; he still had Christians to encourage. He was, as they say, between a rock and a hard place. He wanted to be with Jesus, but he knew that his life had purpose. “But if I live on in the flesh, this will bring fruit from my work; yet I don’t know what I will choose. But I am in a dilemma between the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Yet, to remain in the flesh is more needful for your sake.” He fought his martyrdom as long as he could so that he could continue preaching the Gospel and teaching the Christians how to live.
We live in the hope of the things to come, and I admit that I cry out almost daily, “Come, Lord Jesus,” but there is a reason we are still waiting. In good times and in bad, we are here to glorify God by sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. There is someone God intends on hearing the Good News, so it is up to us to continuing speaking the words that they might hear.
So what if that person hears that Word on Saturday morning, believes and is saved when Jesus comes? Suppose they have spent their life doing nothing good, perhaps doing everything evil. How will we feel if that evil has been done to us? How will we feel when we see that person sitting at the banqueting table?
Let’s be honest with ourselves and with God: there are just some people we’d rather not share in that joy of eternity. Quite frankly, we don’t want our enemies to know God’s forgiveness or ours. We withhold God’s grace from those we have judged unworthy. We don’t think it is fair that someone can lead of life of willful disobedience to God and His Word and then make a deathbed confession and find their place at the banqueting table in the house of the Lord forever.
We can make today’s Gospel story a lesson about a living wage and God’s generosity. We can discuss the rightness and fairness of an employer paying the guy who works an hour the same wage as the guy who works ten. That’s where the discussion always goes. We take our human experience and put it into this story. In a sense we are reminded that even the human landowners have the right to be as generous as they please, as long as they uphold their promises. That’s what happened in this story. The first to be hired, however, expected that if the landowner was so generous to the ones hired last, then surely they must be worthy of even more. They thought it was unfair that they all earned the same payment, but there was nothing unfair about the landowner. He fulfilled his contract.
As we look at this story from a spiritual perspective, the wage is an eternity in God’s presence. How could we possibly expect anything greater than the promise? Do we, who have been Christians for our whole lives expect to have a larger mansion in the heavenly city than the guy who made a deathbed confession? Is there anything greater than an eternity at the feet of our Lord God Almighty, worshipping Him and singing His praise? How can God give anyone any less?
It is not natural for us to have such intense faith in God that we don’t care if there is a tomorrow or that those late to faith will experience the same grace. We grow in our faith, or at least we should, as we live out our salvation in this world. Isaiah writes, “Seek Yahweh while he may be found. Call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to Yahweh, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” The ability to have joy in the midst of trouble comes from a deep personal relationship with God. This takes communication; it takes prayer, study, communion, and fellowship with other Christians.
A German man named Count Zinzendorf had the motto, “I have one passion; it is Jesus, Jesus only.” He was passionate for Christ, constantly desiring His presence. He lived during the 18th century, a time when Christians were being exiled from Bohemia and Moravia. He allowed the exiles to establish a community on his estate. They called this place Herrnhut that means “Under the Lord’s Watch.”
He understood the necessity and the power of prayer, and his passion was passed on to the community of Moravians. In 1727, twenty-four men and women covenanted to hold to constant prayer, each member of the group taking one hour a day. This small but committed prayer team grew as others joined. Their community was strengthened by unceasing prayer. They met together once a week to share prayer requests and encourage one another. Eventually, this constant prayer led to greater outreach when Zinzendorf suggested they send missionaries to other nations.
This prayer meeting, which began in 1727, lasted a hundred years. Over three hundred missionaries were sent around the world. The Moravian fervor touched the lives of two men in England, John and Charles Wesley, bringing them to Christ. These two men have had a significant impact on the Christian church, in music and preaching. The Moravian’s passion for Christ and for lost souls had an impact on the Church around the world, playing a role in the Great Awakening, a revival that spread through Europe and America. These twenty-four people prayed unceasingly and touched the lives of millions. The results of their prayers will last for eternity.
Seeking the LORD and calling on Him is spending time in prayer. Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians realized that God is always present with us and that they should be in prayer without ceasing. Not only did they have this group of people interceding constantly, but they also lived within a community of believers that practiced lives that showed the fruit of prayer. They lived like the early Christians in Acts, having everything in common, spending time together in fellowship and worship. They had a heart for spreading the Gospel and did what was necessary to bring Christ to the world. They knew the great gift of salvation and they were willing to follow their Lord Jesus anywhere. The dwelled in God’s Kingdom on earth.
Isaiah reminds us that our lives are meant to be focused on God. As we travel through this journey of life, we learn that we aren’t in control of everything and that we shouldn’t even try. We want to avoid suffering and so we let ourselves be led down a dangerous path. It just doesn’t seem worthwhile to fight that which seems like it can’t be fought. Sometimes these experiences are painful or inconvenient. Yet, God uses them for our good, to bring us to a deeper faith and closer relationship to Him. God knows what He’s doing, and His ways are always perfect. We can’t imagine any good that might come from our suffering, but we can be like Paul, trusting that God can and does do incredible things even through our pain.
I don’t know what will happen on Saturday, although I am probably a better prophet than the Christian numerologist who has predicted the end of the world. I will rejoice if I do see Christ coming because I know He will be faithful to His promises. I look forward to worshipping Him for eternity in the Kingdom He has built for those who love Him. However, I will also rejoice if I get to worship Him in the community of faith at my church on Sunday morning, gathered together in the midst of our hopes and our sufferings to commune with our God in Word and in Sacrament. And I will look forward to the work He has for me to do in the days, weeks and months to come.
The world is a dangerous place for Christians, and lately it has seemed like the dangers are more imminent. Our human nature, of course, tends to make us see our situations as worse than anyone else’s. Our pain is greater, our suffering deeper, our needs more intense. We think it should be easier for them to get over it, to pay their debts, to offer their forgiveness, but we think that no one knows what it is like to really suffer but me.
We might have good reason to be afraid. There are folk who are determined to steal our lives, to harm our children and to destroy the things we hold dear. Yet, we are called to fear only one: the Lord God Almighty. This isn’t a fear of loss, as if God will steal, harm or destroy us, but rather an attitude of awe for the One who is our light and salvation. No matter what threatens us, we can know God’s grace and mercy and love. We can dwell in His house today. In Him we can find peace in even the most difficult of circumstances; we can trust that He will make all things right.
Paul’s suffering gave the Christians in Philippi reason to be confident in the Lord because God did a good work in that prison. It is possible many came to be saved because of his joy in the midst of his suffering; at the very least they looked at the Christians with a new understanding. Each one, despite any harm they may have caused to Paul and the other Christians, were given the chance to know the Lord God Almighty, to experience His grace and receive His forgiveness so that they might, too, spent eternity dwelling in the house of the Lord.
It wasn’t easy for the Philippians. They still experienced persecution and even death. The same is true for us. For Paul, the Gospel of Jesus Christ creates an expectation of life for himself and for others who have heard the Good News. He expects that Christ will be glorified whether he lives or dies, is free or imprisoned. Paul also expects that those who have come under the grace of God will live the life worthy of the Gospel, the life that expects Christ to be glorified in good times and bad. The life lived in faith will always glorify God with confidence.
Let us trust God because our bold proclamation of the Gospel can impact the world in ways that we would never expect. Jesus could come and the world could end today, but it could happen in a thousand years. He has plans we can’t even imagine and people who still need to hear the Gospel message. He has given us the promise of eternity and has invited us to share that same promise with others even those we think do not deserve His grace.
His generosity may not seem fair to us from our human point of view, but God’s ways are higher than our ways. He can’t give less than everything to anyone who trusts in Him, whether faithful for a lifetime or a minute. He is generous beyond our imagining and has more than enough for us all. No matter what we face, whether good or bad, we can know by faith that we will dwell in God’s house today, tomorrow and forever. Thanks be to God.
“Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you such a long time, and do you not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father. How do you say, “Show us the Father?” Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I tell you, I speak not from myself; but the Father who lives in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me; or else believe me for the very works’ sake. Most certainly I tell you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also; and he will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father. Whatever you will ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you will ask anything in my name, I will do it.” John 14:8-14, WEB
The water cycle is made up of four stages: evaporation, condensation, precipitation and collection. This is elementary school science knowledge and many classrooms include a cute little poster that shows the cycle in a way that young students will understand. There is generally a little smiley-face raindrop that goes through each stage. He is pulled up in the sky, gathers his buddies in the clouds, falls to the ground as rain and then ends up in a river flowing into the sea. This helps us to see that the water just keeps going around and around. Today’s water is the same water that was here when the earth was first formed, it just keeps getting recycled through the system.
It is cute that they use the little smiley-face raindrop as an example, but would it really be possible to follow a single drop of water through the entire cycle? It seems to me that as it goes from one stage to another, the drop itself changes in substance as it move from river to cloud to river.
As I sit and watch the water of a river or the crashing surf at the seashore, I ponder what it might be like to follow the path of a single drop of water. Even if you took a drop of red food coloring, it would not take very long before the color would dissipate. As it is swept away, it would mingle with the other water, making it impossible to retrieve exactly the same drop. That drop becomes part of the whole and can’t be removed as it was.
I know that the example of a water drop is not a perfect analogy for our relationship with one another in Christ Jesus. Though we are part of the Church, we remain individuals and can be distinguished from our brothers and sisters. However, we can’t become part of the fellowship of believers without being changed in some way. We become part of the whole. We are bound together by the Holy Spirit with the Lord living in our hearts. We can’t remove ourselves from that fellowship without being changed. Oh, we can reject God completely, but even though we might appear to be the same to the world (same hair, same smile, same personality) we lose our heart and soul.
It would do us well to remember that when we believed in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we became part of something much greater, like a raindrop that joins a raging river. We can’t go it alone and though we are still individuals we are one in Christ. A single raindrop will not change the path of a river, but the millions that flow by every second are constantly changing the landscape through which it moves. We, as part of the fellowship of believers, can do incredible things; sharing the love and mercy of Jesus Christ together through our gifts so that many will come to know Him and be saved.
“My son, attend to my words. Turn your ear to my sayings. Let them not depart from your eyes. Keep them in the center of your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and health to their whole body. Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it is the wellspring of life. Put away from yourself a perverse mouth. Put corrupt lips far from you. Fix your gaze directly before you. Make the path of your feet level. Let all of your ways be established. Don’t turn to the right hand nor to the left. Remove your foot from evil.” Proverbs 4:20-27, WEB
In the old days, chain letters were sent through the post office and though generally harmless, they could be annoying. I remember receiving recipe chain letters. They letter included a list of people and you were instructed to send a recipe to the person on the top, remove their name and add yours to the bottom, then send the letter to a certain number of your friends. In the end you were supposed to end up with a bunch of new recipes. The letters often included the threat of something bad if you didn’t do it. Snail mail chain letters were sent as early as 1888.
Before the computer, preparing the letters to send to friends meant copying by hand. Eventually the letters could be copied on a photocopier, but that wasn’t always an option. Some of these chain letters were actually illegal because they were asking for money. The promise was that in the end you would end up with lots of dollars, all for an investment of a few stamps and a dollar to the name at the top. I never got the promised amount returned whether recipe or money.
Email didn’t stop the chain letters. They were easier because they were send via the Internet, but they were just as annoying. These email letters couldn’t promise financial gain, but they promised that some blessing will come to the send if sent within a few minutes. They still threatened bad things would happen to those who ignored the message. The latest incarnation is on social media, with chain letters popping up on Facebook and in Messenger.
Some of these are lovely, and they have messages that we want to share. Yet, the internet, whether email or on social media, offers a greater problem. The messages can have viruses attached that can affect your computer. Sending the nice message to bunch of friends will cause problems on their computers, too.
There is a virtual war between hackers all over the world. Viruses have caused problems on major networks, even with excellent security features. One of the characteristics of these viruses is to automatically open the receiver’s address book and forward the mail on to those people. This creates a snowball affect, first affecting one person, but then affecting all their friends, and all their friends’ friends, and all their friends’ friends’ friends. Social media messages can also give access to the hackers of friend’s lists. It is amazing how quickly these things can grow. One chain letter can become thousands in just hours as the people send it to their friends.
The same can be said of sin. For example, a little white lie can grow into a series of deeper lies and other sins. One angry word can lead to an argument and even physical violence. One moment of lust in our hearts can lead to adultery and even divorce.
Jesus told us to avoid the things that would lead to greater sin. He said that it wasn’t enough to not murder, He told us to not be angry. One small sin can lead us down the wrong road, and cause us to be unable to do our work as a servant of God. Solomon writes in today’s text from Proverbs that we should guard our heart. When we allow things like lust, anger and dishonesty to affect our lives, sin creeps into our heart and builds. Thanks to the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are forgiven for our failure, but we must guard every thought, word and deed and fix our eyes on our Savior. In this way, we stay on track and can do His work.
“But his face fell at that saying, and he went away sorrowful, for he was one who had great possessions. Jesus looked around, and said to his disciples, ‘How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter into God’s Kingdom!’ The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus answered again, ‘Children, how hard is it for those who trust in riches to enter into God’s Kingdom! It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into God’s Kingdom.’ They were exceedingly astonished, saying to him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus, looking at them, said, ‘With men it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God.’” Mark 10:22-27, WEB
It was a long time ago, but I can still remember the days of dealing with my young children. I was reminded yesterday when I saw a woman juggling two children in the grocery store, keeping them entertained while she did her shopping. The shopping cart was filled with the usual paraphernalia that moms carry: diaper bag, purse, carrier and baby. I can imagine the stuggle getting those two children to the shopping cart and into the store. A mother is burdened with so much baggage and yet she still takes care of her tasks. I joked with someone the other day when someone wanted to help me with an armload of stuff that I was ok. “I still have my mom arms.” Moms just seem to gain a few hands during those early days of childhood.
Doors often provide a difficult obstacle when our arms are full, particularly when they are locked or open toward us. At times it is necessary to put down the burdens we carry to move forward. I am always thankful when someone willing helps by opening the door to let me in without having to deal with my burdens. How joyful it is when we have someone who will help us through. When there is no one to help, it becomes necessary to put down our burdens so we can do what we need to do.
Our burdens are not always the things we carry in our arms. We hold onto pain and anger, hatred and fear. We struggle with the realities of living in a world that is imperfect. We struggle with the reality of our own sin. Yet, we think we can handle these burdens ourselves. Even as Christians, we tend to carry our own pain, unwilling to involve others in our troubles, including God. We try to be SuperChristians, defeating the greatest evil with our own power. Yet the very act of trusting in ourselves is one of the biggest sins against God.
During His ministry, Jesus met a rich young man who wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus questioned him and the young man ecstatically declared that he had kept the Law for his entire life. Then Jesus told him to sell everything he had, give it to the poor and follow Him. The young man was greatly distressed at this answer. Perhaps he was looking for Jesus to tell him how great he was for having followed the Law so diligently. He wanted to receive praise for his goodness and encouragement to continue to live the life he was living. However, Jesus challenged him to give everything to God, including his very life.
In this story, Jesus references a gate called, “the eye of the needle”, a tiny gate that led into Jerusalem. It was convenient to the trading routes, but was so small that a fully loaded camel could not fit through. It was not impossible, but the merchant needed to unload the camel, lead him through, and then reload the things onto his back.
We need to unburden ourselves of everything that keeps us from walking through the gate. For the rich young man, it was his wealth. Our burdens are individual, but none are so great for God. We just need to give everything to Him: the good things as well as the bad. We need to give Him our pain and anger, hatred and fear. We also need to give Him our families, our wealth, our bodies, and most of all our hearts. Jesus tells His disciples that because they have given up their very lives for Him, they will receive blessings far greater than they left behind. The same is true for us, we will be blessed for our submission. Our treasure will be in heaven.
“But let him who is taught in the word share all good things with him who teaches. Don’t be deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not be weary in doing good, for we will reap in due season, if we don’t give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let’s do what is good toward all men, and especially toward those who are of the household of the faith.” Galatians 6:6-10, WEB
I like to watch a show called “Flea Market Flip.” Two pairs of contestants buy items from a flea market, flip them and then try to sell them again at the same flea market. They are given a certain amount of money to purchase everything they need for a list of three projects to complete. The list is a basic guideline, but the couples are given the freedom and resources to create their vision. Some of the items are beautiful and worth the price they want, others not so much. Everyone has their own sense of style; I understand from experience how difficult it is to sell something so personal as an item that was designed out of an imagination. I can also understand why some items never sell.
I was enjoying the episode that was on as I dressed for church yesterday morning, but I had to leave before it was over. I hit record on the DVR and planned to watch the end to see which couple won the episode. I finally turned it on this afternoon and watched to see what happened. I thought I knew who won as one of the couples sold their first piece at a huge profit. They other couple did not reach that profit with two sales. Both couples managed to sell all three of their projects and they made good profits. I wanted to see if I was right. Unfortunately, the recording ended just as the host was about to announce the winner. I think I know what happened, but I can’t be certain.
There was an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” during which Sheldon refused to delete the recording of a television series that ended with a cliffhanger. He wanted to be able to rewatch the shows before the next season, but Leonard told him the show had been canceled. “Well, they can’t cancel it. It ended on a cliffhanger.” He decided to call the network to complain. “They have to help the viewers let go.” He eventually found the number for the writer of the show and asked where he planned to take it. “Um, your show ended on a cliffhanger. Could you please tell me how you planned to resolve it? Uh-huh. Mm-hmm. I see. Well, that all stinks. No wonder you got cancelled. Bye.”
Sheldon found closure and I’m sure if I wanted to take time I could discover who one that episode. I’ll probably see a repeat eventually, anyway, and I will find out then. However, we don’t always find out the “rest of the story.” Think about all the times you have shared a word of hope with a stranger but never see them again. How many times have you prayed for someone on a prayer list but don’t hear the outcome? How many people have we impacted with God’s Word, but we never know if they came to a saving, living faith?
We like closure. Most of us don’t go to the extreme like Sheldon, but we want to know that work we do has had an impact. We want to know that we are doing a good job. We want to know that our lives have value. We want to know the rest of the story. Yet, we won’t always know how we have touched someone with our words or actions. We won’t know if they experienced the life changing grace of God. But is it for us to know? We don’t do what we do to discover our value in the world; at least we shouldn’t. As Christians, we do what we do to glorify our God. Sometimes He’ll give us a glimpse of the impact we are having in the world, but let us never miss an opportunity to share His grace with someone because we don’t know how it will end.
Scriptures for Sunday, October 1, 2017, Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-10; Philippians 2:1-4 (5-13) 14-18; Matthew 21:23-32
“Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins, he shall die.” Ezekiel 18:4, WEB
The soul who sins will die.
I must confess that my newest guilty pleasure is watching the Dr. Phil Show. It can get a little crazy, but at least it doesn’t go over the line like some other similar talk shows. Dr. Phil is accused of practicing pseudopsychiatry, and perhaps he is, and there’s always a certain amount of shock involved, but in the end I believe he is really trying to help people.
One thing that is common on his show, as well as many of the other daytime shows, is the tendency to play the blame game. The people who are interviewed will often point fingers. The teenagers say it is all the parent’s fault. The husbands blame the wives. Meanwhile the parents or the wives think they are innocent and place the entire blame on the other party. In the end Dr. Phil shows how there is plenty of fault to go around. Broken relationships are never one sided.
The blame game is not limited to personal relationships. Look at the headlines and you’ll see that we are suffering from so much brokenness in the world and everyone is trying to point the fingers at everyone else. The reality is that we are all sinners and we are all at fault in some way. As we draw near to the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses, many point to his writing against the Jewish people of his day and blame him for Adolph Hitler. Luther was not gracious toward the Jews for many reasons, not the least of which was his frustration that they couldn’t see Jesus as the Messiah, but much of what he said was cultural. Everyone in his day had trouble with the Jews. He didn’t call for their murder and despite his harsh words would have stood with Dietrich Bonheoffer in opposition to the extermination of a whole nation.
Hitler claimed to be Luther’s kind of Christian, but he wasn’t a Christian at all. He misappropriated Luther’s words and used them to do the unthinkable. Yet, Luther is still being blamed for the evil that happened in Germany in the 1940’s. There are plenty of reasons why Luther was not the perfect Christian, but he can’t be blamed for Adolph Hitler. Hitler was to blame for the things he did, especially misrepresenting what it means to be a Christian.
The proverb represented in today’s Old Testament lesson may point back to a verse from Exodus. “I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me.” This is what is known in some circles as the generational curse. In this, it is claimed, that the children will experience the punishment for all that has been done wrong. We still suffer from the original sin, born into the world as sinners because of the actions of our father Adam and mother Eve.
This is seen more clearly in today’s world in impoverished communities. The children certainly do suffer from the sins of their parents. How many children are living in subpar housing because their fathers have committed crimes? Those fathers are usually following the path they were taught from fathers who also were criminals. The children follow the same footsteps, joining gangs or doing drugs. Too many women are on welfare because they became pregnant as teenagers and have no other means of support. Their daughters learn that this is the life they will live and they follow down that same path. The children, their children, and generations to follow do not see that life can be any different, so they continue doing the same old thing.
There are those who claim that they don’t have a choice. Some blame society for making it impossible for them to get out of the cycle. Others point to the scripture from Exodus and claim that they are suffering because their fathers sinned. They, as the people in Ezekiel’s day, believe the proverb, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?” In today’s passage, Ezekiel tells the people that God has commanded them to reject that proverb. “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins, he shall die.”
The text that is not in our lesson for today (Ezekiel 18:5-24) lists a bunch of sinful behavior such as worshipping false gods and disobeying the commandments, showing that a righteous father can bring up an unrighteous son, and an unrighteous father can bring up a righteous son. We see this in the stories of the kings of Israel. One king finds favor in the sight of God, but the son does what is evil. Soon, perhaps not the next generation but eventually, another son was righteous, turning to God.
Should the righteous son pay for the sins of his father? God says no. He says, “The soul who sins, he shall die.” But the people say, “The way of the Lord is not equal.” This word is also translated “just.” The proverb is taken as law, and so any grace on God’s part is seen as injustice. This is ironic coming from people who were not practicing justice. They thought that the generational curse was just, and thus the children should suffer for the sins of their fathers. Just as many are expected today to make reparations for sins that were committed against ancestors by ancestors. Justice is demanded from today’s generation who is expected to pay for the sins that were committed many generations ago.
There is reason to be concerned. We live in a fallen and sinful world. Human beings are imperfect and fail to do the things God expects us to do. We are unrighteous and unjust. Each and every one of us. We all deserve God’s wrath; we all deserve to experience His justice. Instead of pointing our fingers to our fathers or to the forefathers of our neighbors, it is up to us to face the reality of our own sinfulness. We aren’t going to solve today’s problems by blaming our neighbors for yesterday’s sins.
In so much of God’s relationship with His people, the blessings and the consequences seemed absolutely determined by the actions and words of their forefathers. They were a people dependent on national identity and relationship to the past. Yet, we also see in the lives of those forefathers that God is interested in a personal relationship with individuals. God cares about each of us and we will experience His mercy and justice as individuals because He loves each of us as individuals.
God put a halt to the blame game. Each one receives justice for their own sin; each person pays the price for their own unwillingness to obey God’s Word. Though we can talk in terms of each sinful action and the consequences we suffer from our wrong living, the sin of greater concern is that which separates us from God. This is our natural inclination to be our own god, to take control of our own life and to seek justice and fairness according to our own ideology. This is the sin that sets us against God and His will. While some of our burdens can be blamed on the sins of our forefathers, we should be more concerned about our relationship with God.
John the Baptist, and later Jesus, called the people of Israel to a more personal relationship. They could not blame suffering on the past or receive blessing through heritage. The Kingdom of God was given to those who believe, who had a change of heart and made God be the center of their lives. God loves us and He wants us to reach out to Him, to seek Him, to follow Him. He wants us to raise our hands in worship and in prayer. He longs to embrace us as His own.
When my children were small there were times when I was, perhaps, a bit too busy when they came looking for attention. They would hold up their hands, wanting to be picked up for a little snuggle. They usually wanted this attention when I was busy in the kitchen cooking dinner or on the telephone. It was almost as if those were the moments when the children felt as though I had forgotten them, so they reached out for my love.
It is amazing sometimes to see how much like children we are when it comes to our relationship with God our Father. We have moments when we feel as though He has forgotten us, as if He is too busy to take care of our needs. In today’s Psalm the psalmist asks God to forget the sins of his youth, but also to remember him. We not only want to be forgiven, we want to know that God remembers us. We reach out to Him with our beings, lifting our hands and our souls up to Him, as a child might lift his or her hands to a mother.
The trouble is that we are always trying to get to the top of that garbage heap, most concerned about ourselves and unwilling to become humble. We are so caught up in blaming others that we miss out on the opportunity to be loved by God and to receive His blessings on our lives. The greatest blessing, God’s grace, is found in forgiveness. As we learned a few weeks ago, God calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven. Where is the forgiveness when we blame our neighbors for the sins of their fathers?
We think that we are different than those who lived in biblical times, but we have the same broken hearts and perishable flesh. The people to whom Ezekiel was speaking knew and understood the scriptures from a point of view that they were specially chosen and preferred by God. So, they saw suffering as a punishment for sinfulness. If someone was sick or poor, they were so because they’d done something wrong. Those who were righteous were given the blessings of God. We think with that same mind.
There are those who think that it is unfair that the sinners might be saved. We find it hard to accept the lesson of last week, where the generous landowner paid the late workers the same amount as those who worked through the heat of the day. Yet, in salvific terms, the deathbed conversion is as welcome in heaven as the person who was baptized as a baby and who lived the Christian faith for their whole lives. According to the Gospel lesson for this week, the one converted on the deathbed might just be more welcome than the lifelong Christian.
I suppose that doesn’t sound fair, but listen to the words of Christ, “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first, and said, ‘Son, go work today in my vineyard.’ He answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind, and went. He came to the second, and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but he didn’t go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” So, what’s the answer? Which of the two did the will of the Father? The one who came to obedience late, or the one that said the words but never really obeyed?
Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “It is easy to think that by making a promise you have at least done part of what you promised to do, as if the promise itself were something of value. Not at all! In fact, when you do not do what you promise, it is a long way back to the truth.” We are cautioned to be careful that we do not say “Yes” too quickly, because it is too easy to break those promises we make. But we are also called to discern the work that needs to be done so that we do not miss out on the opportunities we’ve been given to live as God has called us to live.
The first son represents the ones who initially said “Yes”; they are like the chief priests and teachers of the law who were religious but who refused to do the work of the Father (to believe in Jesus.) The second son represents those who initially said “No way, I like what I’m doing too much!” but who later realized their mistake and believed. The sinners were the ones who would receive the Kingdom because they were the ones who did the work of believing in Jesus. It might not seem fair according to the ways of the world, but God is righteous and judges according to His good and perfect justice forgives us for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ. We can’t even forgive our neighbors for the sins of their fathers. Who is unjust?
The chief priests and elders thought they had the authority to speak for God, yet they were acting on their own authority. They had interpreted God’s Law in a way that made it a burden for the people that was impossible to carry. Even they only carried the burden as far as it was convenient, but condemned the people for their unrighteousness. They took the authority given to them by God and made it their own. Instead of speaking in God’s voice for the sake of the people, they spoke their own voices for their own sakes. They made living for God a self-serving endeavor.
Many today talk about justice, but is it really? Or have they taken upon themselves the authority to blame neighbors in a self-serving and unforgiving way?
The chief priests and elders wanted to know by what authority Jesus was speaking and doing his work. He turned the question back on them, asking by what authority John the Baptist worked. They wouldn’t answer because they didn’t believe it was by God’s authority, but they knew that the people would rebel if they said so. Jesus then told them this parable, showing them that the one who truly believes God’s messenger is the one honoring the king. They didn’t believe John, and therefore were like the son that said “Yes” but did not do what was asked. The people believed John and turned to God. They found God’s forgiveness even though it seemed like they did not deserve it. Isn’t that Grace?
We are all judged according to our hearts. The soul that sins will die. There may be those today who still carry the sins of their fathers, who have followed in his father’s footsteps, continuing the injustices of the past. God will see their sin and will deal with them in His way. We may not like His answer; they may be forgiven based on their faith in Jesus Christ. Who are we to hold on to sins that God has forgiven? Or to judge people according to sins that were never theirs to begin with? God judges each man or woman as individuals.
Paul tells us that our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ. That attitude is one of humble submission to God’s Will. As we look at the life of Jesus Christ, and more particularly His death, it is hard to imagine why anyone would die for the sake of sinners. If we truly consider our failures in light of justice as we know it, it was completely unfair for Jesus to die for our sins. Yet, Jesus did not simply die because we can’t control ourselves; He died because we are separated from our Father. He died for forgiveness, not for each individual sin but because I am incapable of willfully obeying His Word. He died to reconcile God to His people. Whatever has happened in history is no concern; the father’s sin will not kill the child. Christ made it possible for all men to live in relationship with God the Father and to receive his blessings. Jesus willingly gave up the splendor of heaven for the muck of earth.
Jesus put aside the glory of heaven to become like us. He came from heaven, sent by God and given great power and authority. He was perfect in every way, generous, knowledgeable and loving. He was the Son of God! But Jesus never boasted about who He was, He lowered Himself to be like a servant and referred to Himself as the Son of Man. He willingly went to the cross and died for our sake. Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi to have the same mind as Christ with the words of an ancient Christian hymn (verses 5-11). The “Kenosis” hymn was a creed in which the early church confessed their faith that Jesus humbled Himself for our sake. “Kenosis” means “to empty”; Jesus emptied Himself of that which made Him equal with God to be a man like us.
We respond to Jesus’ humility with the realization that if Jesus, who was the Son of God, could be humble, we should also. We are certainly no better than Jesus or anyone else for that matter. In this way we can be just like our Lord Jesus Christ, humble before the Lord and each other.
The temple leaders didn’t know what it meant to be humble. They ignored John and they accused Jesus. John came with a message of repentance, “Turn to God!” Jesus came with the same message, but He knew that it was impossible for man to do the will of the Father. Only Jesus could make it possible. Paul knew that he could not save anyone by his own power, but that sharing the truth of Christ would bring faith to all who hear and believe. It is by faith we are saved.
It is by God’s grace that we live in faith. Thanks to Christ Jesus our relationship with God has been restored and we have been called to trust in Him. In faith we can sing praise to God even in the midst of our troubles. We can turn to the Psalms to seek comfort and peace when the world around us seems to be falling apart. David sang, “To you, Yahweh, do I lift up my soul.” The world is filled with injustices and we should work to reconcile neighbors to neighbors. We are called to bear one another’s burdens, but not to lay upon others the burdens of sin from the past.
It all begins with faith. God will judge; it doesn’t always seem fair, but we can trust that God is just and good and He will always do what is right. Thank goodness, because if He meted out justice according to the ways of the world, we would all deserve to suffer His wrath. Thankfully, we are made righteous by believing in Jesus and by His grace we are saved. By His obedience we are forgiven. By His life we are given eternal life.
We are nearing the end of the season of Pentecost. It has been a time of learning what it means to be a Christian. An ongoing theme over the past few weeks has been about trusting God. We trust God to do what is right. We trust God to be merciful. We trust God to be just. We trust God to save. We trust God to lead, instruct and teach us how to live. We trust that God will give us that mind of Christ, so that we can live as He has called us to live.
We trust that God is active in the world today, not a passive being that set the ball rolling at some point in history. He knows each of us. He loves us all. He wants us to be saved. He calls us, guides us, and helps us so that we might also be active in the world. The first work is to believe, but in faith we continue to constantly work out our salvation. It is not by our own power or authority that we can do this, but it is God who works in us as we humble ourselves before Him. In trust we can pray as the psalmist, seeking His help to do all He has called us to do. God is active for our sake so that we’ll be active for the sake of others, not in judgment but in grace.
So let us have the mind of Christ, humble and obedient before God. Let us hear His messenger and turn to Him, learning and following His Word. Let us trust that God is fair, in His way, and that He will be faithful to His promises for our sake and for the sake of the world. For God does not want any to die. We all belong to Him and He desires that we will all will know and experience His love and mercy into eternity.
“Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth, who has set your glory above the heavens! From the lips of babes and infants you have established strength, because of your adversaries, that you might silence the enemy and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man, that you think of him? What is the son of man, that you care for him? For you have made him a little lower than God, and crowned him with glory and honor. You make him ruler over the works of your hands. You have put all things under his feet: All sheep and cattle, yes, and the animals of the field, the birds of the sky, the fish of the sea, and whatever passes through the paths of the seas. Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8:1-9, WEB
I love to visit the zoo. The San Antonio Zoo has an excellent breeding program, and I enjoy seeing the young animals interacting with their parents and with the crowds. I have especially enjoyed watching the big cats and their cubs. We’ve had recent births of tigers, lions and jaguars. The other habitat I frequent is the one with the flamingos. A few years ago I visited often enough to see the mating dance, the building of nests and the dance of the chicks. The babies are adorable and so fun to watch.
I’ve visited many other zoos, including the one in San Diego. That zoo is filled with thousands of interesting and unusual animals. The displays are designed to reflect the habitat and lifestyle of the animals and they are grouped according to some similar characteristic such as origin. It is fascinating to read the descriptions of the different animals and to listen to the caretakers who give talks and answer questions about some of the more unusual animals, such as the pandas.
I learned many things that day, but one of the most surprising facts is that the hippopotamus is the most dangerous animal in Africa. A hippo does not appear very dangerous, after all we see them as mild-mannered because they spend so much time wallowing in the water. Their sheer size gives the impression that they can’t move very fast or attack with any great strength. Hippos weigh about 8000 lbs, but they can run faster than a human, 18 miles an hour. They turn over boats and have mouths large enough to rip the head off a human. When they swing their head, it is like a large sledgehammer. They are very dangerous when threatened or when something stands between a mother and baby. They are aggressive, unpredictable and unafraid.
It is interesting to consider the animals and what makes each of them special. The peregrine falcon is the fastest animal, able to fly 100-200 miles per hour. The rhinoceros beetle is the strongest, able to lift 850 times his own weight. The blue whale is the biggest and the giraffe is the tallest. The howler monkey is the loudest; his howl can be heard up to three miles away.
When we compare animal abilities against human abilities, we find that we fail in comparison. Bats, cats, dogs, dolphins and elephants have a better sense of hearing. Buzzards have a better sense of sight. Dogs and cats have a better sense of smell. Even the star-nosed mole has a better sense of touch. No wonder the psalmist asked, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
Yet, we are reminded in today’s passage that God has created us in His image, crowned with glory and honor. We have been given dominion over the whole earth, to rule with reason, grace and humility. Everything that is God’s has been given to us as His agents to act on His behalf. We are cautioned to remember that it is God’s world, God’s creation and God’s kingdom over which we have been given rule. He is Sovereign, and though we also have authority and power, honor and glory, His rule and glory is above all the heavens. His name is majestic. How majestic is His name in all the earth!
“Praise Yahweh, you angels of his, who are mighty in strength, who fulfill his word, obeying the voice of his word. Praise Yahweh, all you armies of his, you servants of his, who do his pleasure. Praise Yahweh, all you works of his, in all places of his dominion. Praise Yahweh, my soul!” Psalm 103:20-22, WEB
One of the most incredible places we visited during our time in England was an island off the coast of Cornwall called St. Michael’s Mount. The island rises out of Mount’s Bay, and can be seen from the hilltops that dot the West Penwith peninsula, the westernmost corner of England. There is a causeway that is revealed at low tide a causeway which allows visitors to walk to the island, but at all other times it is necessary to travel by boat. Over the centuries, the mount has been a port used for tin trade, a monastery, military outpost and a private home. It has been the site of numerous battles throughout history and many have sought control of this important property.
As with many things around England, particularly Cornwall, St. Michael’s Mount is known for several ancient legends. One story talks of a giant that lived on the island that could easily walk across the causeway to the mainland to steal sheep for his lunch. The story goes on to say that a boy went to the mount to fight the giant and tricked him into falling into a hole. This tale became the story we know called “Jack and the Beanstalk.” There are also legends about King Arthur that are placed at the mount as well as stories about the Celtic saints.
The mount was name after the Archangel known as Michael who is described as a mighty warrior angel in the Scriptures. One of the ancient legends of the mount claims that some fishermen saw him standing high above the sea on a rocky ridge on the island, as if he were guarding it. Scriptures show Michael fighting the devil in the heavenly realms, such as the story from Revelation 12 where Michael fights the dragon and casts it to earth. Many churches and religious institutions that were built high atop hills or mountains were named after Michael.
Angels are very popular today, although they tend to be pretty little figures that decorate cards, plaques, statues and jewelry. Movies like “Michael” and television shows like “Touched by an Angel” give angels very human characteristics. Those in mourning are often told their loved one has gone to heaven to become an angel. Angels aren’t dead people who are made new in heaven; God created them as unique beings that live and move in the spiritual realm, as we are unique beings that live and move in the temporal. They are able to move throughout the dominion of God, passing into our world in obedience to God’s will. Their main purpose, as is ours, is to glorify God in all they do. Angels are generally messengers, but they were created to minister to us, to bring hope, comfort, protection and the Word of the Lord.
Today is Michaelmas or the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. In the modern quest to rationalize all things spiritual, we have lost touch with the beauty and importance of God’s angels. We forget that there is a spiritual world beyond what we know with our senses and our mind. We don’t see angels or hear about them every day, so we reject the notion that they are real. However, angels are a means of God’s grace, a way by which God reveals Himself to the world. Human beings are just a small part of the created order. The earth, plants, animals, angels and demons are all under the dominion of the Lord God Almighty with us.
Whenever we praise God, we join in the chorus of praise and thanksgiving from the angels and all the saints who have gone before us that is constantly glorifying God in the heavens and on earth. The psalmist in today’s lesson encourages all of God’s creation to sing His praises, from the angels and all those who serve Him in heaven and on earth, to the soul of the individual Christian saved by His grace. May we always join in that chorus of praise.