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


New Beginnings
























Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.

A WORD FOR TODAY, August 2006

August 1, 2006

New Beginnings  It is hard to believe but today is once again the anniversary of the beginning of A WORD FOR TODAY. Yesterday we completed seven years together. There have been some difficult times in the past seven years, times when I thought it might be impossible to write a word, times when I thought the work was pointless, times when I thought it was ridiculous that I even thought I could do such a thing. There have been some wonderful times, times when the message brought me hope, peace, joy. The best times have been when you have written to tell me that the message has touched your life in some small way. It is such a blessing to know that God is able to use this insignificant ministry to bring a glimmer of His grace to the world.

Just as we are beginning our eighth year together, I am undergoing a time of uncertainty in my life apart from the computer. The issues are too great to mention, except to ask for your prayers for my family and myself. I do know that during this time I have felt nudging from God to new things, things I do not yet recognize or understanding. I do know that it is a time for new beginnings. Just as the eighth day is the beginning of a new week, so too the eighth year is going to be for us something new.

A WORD FOR TODAY will continue as it has, five days a week, as long as I am able. The change will come in the format presented each day. As you may be aware, I also write a weekly devotional on Wednesday called "MIDWEEK OASIS." For those of you who are familiar with lectionary scripture sources, MIDWEE OASIS is based on the texts used by millions of Christians each Sunday. The lectionary consists of four texts – an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, a passage from one of the Epistles and a Gospel text. These scriptures fit into the context of the church year – passages fitting the season in which we are living, be it Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter or Pentecost. Throughout the year we see the story of God and His people, and the story of Christ from beginning to end to beginning again. The lectionary runs on a three year schedule, so it will take us three years to get through all the texts.

This change in format will also mean a change in focus. Instead of focusing on the daily stories of our lives, A WORD FOR TODAY will focus more closely on the texts. There will still be opportunities to share personal stories and every day life. Anyone who has paid attention during the sermon on a Sunday morning will realize that God is amazing in how He is able to make the assigned text fit into the circumstances of our lives. Since the lectionary was established in the past, it is even more amazing than when seek after scripture that meets our daily circumstances. To hear the WORD read and realize that at some point in the past God knew that we would need to hear that message on this very day is nothing less than miraculous.

I pray that A WORD FOR TODAY will continue to bless you each day. Feel free to share your thoughts with me as this new format comes to life. It may take a few weeks to establish the new disciplines necessary and to figure out the best way to present the texts and the thoughts that come from my study. It is an exciting time even while it is a frightening time. We enjoy living in our comfort zone and new beginnings can be difficult to experience. As always, I am extremely grateful for each of you.

As Paul writes, " I thank my God upon all my remembrance of you, always in every supplication of mine on behalf of you all making my supplication with joy, for your fellowship in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is right for me to be thus minded on behalf of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as, both in my bonds and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment; so that ye may approve the things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and void of offence unto the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God." Philippians 1:3-11 (ASV)


August 2, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 6th: Exodus 16:2-4, Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

The way it will work: Our week will begin on Thursday, with our texts being those that will be used on the Sunday ten days out. Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday we will look at each of the texts – an Old Testament lesson, a Psalm, an epistle and a Gospel text, in no particular order. On Wednesday, we'll look at how these texts fit together, how they fit into the church calendar and how they fit into our lives. In other words, today we will complete the week for Sunday, August 6th and tomorrow we will begin looking at the text for Sunday, August 13th. I use the Revised Common lectionary as used by the Lutheran Church. Generally the text will be similar to those you might hear in most churches that use a lectionary. There are occasionally slight differences with one or more of the texts.

Since we haven't had a chance to look over the four texts for this Sunday, today will be just a brief overview of all. We are in the midst of the stories found in John 6 – the stories about Jesus feeding the five thousand and as He describes Himself as the bread of life. In the Old Testament lesson we see the story of the manna in the wilderness. Poor Moses was only being obedient to God and the people gave him nothing but grief. In Exodus 16 they complain against Moses, but in doing so they complain against God. They even think it would have been better to stay in Egypt than to die in the wilderness. They were hungry – we all complain during times of difficulty, and we all look to the grass on the other side of the fence as if it is greener.

God answered their complaints with so much quail it made them sick of eating meat and with a substance called manna. The psalmist today writes, "And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved." God did indeed meet their physical needs, but He did so along with a test. The manna came with rules – they could only take enough to eat in one day, except on the sixth day when they could take enough for the Sabbath. Each day God provided enough. Just enough. When everyone had enough, the manna disappeared. If they tried to hoard it, it went bad immediately. God provided and the people learned that He provides enough. It was a tough lesson. Many failed the test, being disobedient to the Lord's command, but they learned.

As history passed, Moses became the hero in the wilderness, the deliverer and the one who gave them the manna. The crowds following Jesus could have written the same words as the psalmist, "And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved." And they wanted more. They sought after Him, ready to make Him king. Jesus was annoyed because they sought after more bread, they sought full bellies. Jesus had something far better to give them, Himself, the true bread from heaven. The people wanted Jesus to prove himself. After all, feeding five thousand or so one meal was nothing compared to what Moses did – feed a million people for years. Could Jesus prove Himself like Moses proved himself?

Jesus answered their demand with the truth – Moses did not feed them in the desert, God did, and the manna was temporary. Now God was feeding them with the true bread from heaven, the bread that will give lasting, eternal life. Then He told them, "I AM, the bread from heaven." This was the first of the "I AM the…" statements found in the book of John, the statements which Jesus used to establish His character and identify Himself with His Father.

It would be impossible to give a brief comment on the passage from Ephesians, which is filled with so many powerful messages for the Church today. Paul tells us from prison that we are to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called. This implies that there is work for us to do – which Jesus has described as something we might think is no work – to believe. It appeared as though the people following Jesus believed, but their faith was shallow – it was only in Jesus' ability to feed them, not in Him. A life worthy of our calling is a life in which we believe in Jesus. This means trusting Him and maturing in our faith until we are truly all that He wants us to be – one body, bound together by the Spirit of Christ, sharing Christ with the entire world.


August 3, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 13, 2006: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

1 Kings 19:4-8, "But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God." (ASV)

Oh, woe is me. I know exactly how Elijah was feeling at that point. He was running from persecution, Jezebel had threatened to kill him. He felt like a failure, like nothing he had done as a prophet was worth anything. We all begin a task with the idea that we will be able to do better than those who come before. We think that we are the ones that will make a people turn around and walk rightly. We think we are the ones that will find the solution to the problem. We think we are the ones who are truly chosen by God to accomplish the task. And then we fail. And then we feel sorry for ourselves.

Elijah whined, "Take my life because I am no better than the others." He felt like he was a failure and that he was useless. He would much rather have God take him home than to face continued failure. And he certainly did not want his enemy to succeed. How much better for him to perish alone in the wilderness than to be killed by an evil woman!

God refused Elijah's request and pushed him to go further. His work was not done and though he thought he was a failure, God did not. God knows far better than we what has to be done and what can be done with the circumstances. Just when we think there is no hope, God grants us His grace and points us in the direction we are to go. He did not allow Elijah to go on without giving him the strength to continue. He fed Elijah, not once but twice, with enough food to sustain him through his journey. This was not the end of anything, it was just the beginning.

Notice that God did not tell Elijah where he was going, but after forty days and nights Elijah ended up at Mount Horeb. We do not hear the next part of the story, but it is one of my favorites in the whole Bible. This particular journey did not take him to a new city or to a new task. It took him to a mountain where he was all alone. Yet on that mountain was one of the most life changing encounters of all of scripture. It was there that Elijah stood in the presence of God. It was there that Elijah heard the words we all dread. "Go back. There's still work to be done."

We think we can run away from God's will and purpose for our lives, and perhaps sometimes we manage to get away for a season. God did not send Elijah immediately back into the battle. He gave Elijah the strength to go forward, a chance to reflect and then a life changing experience to encourage him in his purpose. After this experience, Elijah was no less in danger, but he was fortified for the task. So too does God deal with us. Though we might feel like we have failed and are useless, though we too might try to run, God deals with us. He does not discount our woes, but gives us the time, the strength and the nourishment – both physical and spiritual – so that we can go back into the fray with a new outlook and a new sense of purpose. Thanks be to God.


August 4, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 13, 2006: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

Psalm 34:1-8, "I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him." (ASV)

The psalm is a song of praise in response to answered prayer. The introduction of this psalm describes it as "Of David. When he pretended to be in sane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left." Scholars suggest that this refers to the story found in 1 Samuel 21:10-15. In this story, David was being pursued by Saul, so he ran to the king of Gath. When the king realized that this was David, the one who was ten times greater than Saul, he became concerned about his own safety and that of his nation. He knew that David was extremely popular among the Israelites. David saw that he was in a dangerous situation so he pretended to be insane. The king of Gath was annoyed that his servants would bring him a madman and he sent David away.

Now, as we read this story, we see David as a cunning man escaping from a bad situation, but David looks upon the experience much differently. In the verses of the psalm that we hear today, David takes no credit for the escape. He praises God for His saving answer to David's prayers. David goes on to tell others that what He has done for him, He will do for those who fear Him. When we call out to the Lord God, He will answer. He will deliver us from our fears and save us from our troubles. David's encounter with the king of Gaul kept him out of Saul's hands and then his quick thinking kept him out of danger in another enemy's house.

David calls others to sing praise with him. "O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together." David then gives reason why the Lord should be praised – He hears the prayers of His people and He answers them. In this psalm David calls us to a life of praise and worship of God in all our circumstances. "Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed." When we worship the Lord together we stand in His presence and His glory shines on us. We have no reason to be ashamed, particularly in the presence of our enemies, because God is with us. He hears our cries and answers.

The final verse in this passage uses language of food to call the people into this life of praise. "O taste and see that the Lord is good." This brings us into the language that we are hearing in our Gospel texts for the next few weeks – that Jesus is the bread of life. While we are not being called into a cannibalistic relationship with God, Jesus tells us He is the bread of life and that we are to eat the true bread from heaven. We have tones of foretelling of the Eucharistic meal, a meal of thanksgiving and praise. As we kneel at the altar rail and receive the body and blood of Christ, we are taking refuge in the One who saves. It is there we find blessedness – happiness. Thanks be to God.


August 7, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 13, 2006: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

Ephesians 4:25-5:2, "Wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak ye truth each one with his neighbor: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need. Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you. Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell."

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Whether this is true or not, we have a tendency toward imitation in our society. Walk around your local mall for an hour and you will see dozens of teenagers wearing clothes that imitate their favorite singers, actors or sports stars. Even adults imitate their role models, buying the vehicles, homes and material goods they see the rich and famous collecting. Advertisers rely on our tendency toward imitation to sell their products. This is why they get famous people to represent their products. If you like the star, you'll buy the products they use. It might make the star feel pretty good and the company wealthy on the profits, but is this what we should be imitating?

The cost of imitating people can be rather expensive. Even if you are able to find manufacturers that produce decent knock-offs, the clothing can still cost more than too much money. Chasing after an image that is beyond your means can change your attitude and cause you to do things that go against your better judgment. A person who wants the hot new sports car will work long hours at a job they hate while overlooking their vocation as a spouse and parent, friend and neighbor. Some will do anything necessary to get what they want, even willfully disobeying the law to ensure their own satisfaction. They will lie, cheat and steal, perhaps even murder. If they don't get their way, they become bitter and angry; turning their wrath on whomever is in their path. We don't even realize we are being imitators sometimes, but we are. We just have to recognize who it is we are imitating.

Paul gives us a better way. "Be ye therefore, imitators of God…" We might want to imitate the popular star or the sports hero, but following after the ways of an imperfect human being is likely to lead us down a path which would be better to avoid. Even if the person is someone who appears to be righteous, we have seen the best fall under the pressure of being a role model. Eventually we discover the skeletons in their closet or see them fail. Then we face disappointment.

But God does not disappoint. Perhaps He does not live up to our expectations, but as we begin to follow the example He has set – of love – we realize that our expectations which are based on our worldly perspective are not the reality. So, God calls us to live differently. Paul gives us a number of suggestions. Don't lie, but speak the truth. It is ok to be angry, but beware that the anger does not cause you to sin. Don't steal, but work honestly. Don't speak evil, but speak love.

If you are a parent, you understand that next thing Paul writes, "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption." We do our best to train up our kids to be imitators of our way of life. Perhaps this is not the best thing for us to do because we fail to live righteously as much as we succeed. However, we want our kids to share our values, to share our perspectives and to live according to the way we have established, obeying our rules and fulfilling our expectations. When they do something wrong, we are very disappointed. So is God. He is grieved when we do not live according to the life He has called us to live.

Rather than imitating the world, living in bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander and malice we are called to live in kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness. We are called to forgive as we have been forgiven. This is the imitation that will make God happy. Thanks be to God.


August 8, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 13, 2006: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

John 6:35, 41-51, Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty… Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The series of stories that we are reading in John 6 were shocking to the listeners to whom Jesus was speaking. Even to our post resurrection Christian ears, the idea that we are to eat His flesh and drink His blood is rather strange. For those who are not Christian, the words seem cannibalistic and bizarre. For the Jew listening to Jesus, the words were even worse – they were at best disobedient to the Law of Moses and at worst they were blasphemy.

But that wasn't the real problem in today's text. Today we see a group of people familiar with Jesus – so familiar that they knew His mother and His father. They knew Mary and Joseph; they knew Jesus when He was just a baby. They knew all the embarrassing stories that parents love to tell about their children. They knew about the day Jesus first walked and talked. They knew about the day Jesus got lost. They'd seen Him grow up. They knew Him just as we know our neighbor's children.

While we have high hopes for our kids, it is hard to imagine them really growing up to be famous, rich or powerful. I think my daughter is an incredible actress, but will she ever win an Oscar? Who knows? Think about your own classmates who have become successful since graduation. Did you ever imagine the class clown would become CEO of a Forbes 500 company? It would be strange to find out that the kid who annoyed me in Algebra class became a U.S. Senator. I might say things just like those in the crowd around Jesus. "Isn't that so and so's son? Isn't his dad teaching him to become a carpenter?"

We can understand how the kid next door might try to be more than he can be, but Jesus was really going over the top with His claims in this text. "I have come down from heaven" is not what we would expect to hear from the youngster we bounced on our knee when He was just a baby. They knew from whence Jesus came – the normal way. He was born of a woman who was married to a man. Beings that come down from heaven aren't born, they just show up. Think about the stories of Old Testament appearances of angels or 'sons of God'. They were never babies. They appeared. So, who is this Jesus claiming to have 'come down from heaven"?

It was radical that Jesus was referring to Himself as the bread of life and telling the crowd that they would have to eat this bread to have life. They might have even believed Him if Jesus had just appeared out of nowhere. But this Jesus was the boy next door, the son of Joseph and Mary. They could not accept the words He was speaking because they knew Him too well. They could not believe He was the bread of life because they knew from whence He had come. How can a mere man born of human parents be the source of true life?


August 9, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 13, 2006: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

"No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him: and I will raise him up in the last day."

On Sunday, August 13th we commemorate the life of Florence Nightingale. Miss Nightingale is remembered for her work reforming health care and hospitals in England. She lived in the 19th century, a time when even the doctors did not understand the importance of sanitary conditions. It was Miss Nightingale who realized that an act as simple as washing hands could make a very real difference in the outcome of the care offered. She is remembered for her hard work, her healing touch and the fact that she walked away from a life of comfort for a difficult life as a nurse.

We honor Florence Nightingale for her work, and as we look at the scriptures for this week we can see a call to action. Despite his failure, he ate and went to the mountain of God, being obedient to God's command even though he wanted to die. David's song is reminiscent of a time when he managed to escape the hands of his enemy by his shrewd actions. Paul talks of the life we are called to live, the life in which we imitate God.

Yet, Jesus says, "No man can come to me…" It is easier to hear Paul tells us that we should speak rightly and let go of our grumbling against one another than to hear Jesus say that we can't come to God. We like to believe that our good works will bring God to us. We think that if we are good enough we deserve heaven. I imagine that the crowds around Jesus at this time were righteous folk. They knew the law and they were obedient. They were more than willing to receive the blessings Jesus had to offer but they began to question the words He spoke. They were not trained to understand theological things, but they knew Jesus was speaking blaspheme. He said He came down from heaven. He was either mad or He was claiming to be God.

In answer to their murmuring, Jesus says, "No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him." This is shocking for us to hear because it seems as though Jesus is telling us that the crowds will not believe because God won't give them faith. It is as though eternal life is impossible for this particular crowd. We feel sorry for them and angry at God for not drawing them to Jesus. However, we have to remember that the time had not yet come. Jesus had not yet been raised to the cross. Jesus had not yet died for our sin. Even the disciples who'd been specially chosen did not yet truly believe. They had been privy to more in depth teaching and they still didn't understand.

The point of this verse is not that Jesus is saying they would never believe, but that they would not believe until the Father teaches them and draws them to Him. This would be fulfilled after Pentecost, when God would pour the Holy Spirit into the world to teach us and give us faith. And then we will believe. And when we believe, we will truly taste and see that the Lord is good and we will take our refuge in Him for eternity. And when we believe, we will live as we are called to live – praising God for our blessings and imitating Him. Thanks be to God.


August 10, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 20, 2006: Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Proverbs 9:1-8 Wisdom hath builded her house; She hath hewn out her seven pillars: She hath killed her beasts; She hath mingled her wine; She hath also furnished her table: She hath sent forth her maidens; She crieth upon the highest places of the city: Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: As for him that is void of understanding, she saith to him, Come, eat ye of my bread, And drink of the wine which I have mingled. Leave off, ye simple ones, and live; And walk in the way of understanding.

The book of Acts describes the way the first deacons were chosen and the reason for their position in the church. Peter and the other apostles realized that as the church grew it was impossible for them to do everything that needed to be done, so they selected seven men to be deacons, to accomplish administration duties of the church while the apostles focused on preaching and teaching the Word. It was the deacon's task to take care of the needy among them, to ensure that the physical needs of the congregation were met. Stephen, one of those first deacons, was the first Christian martyr, willingly facing stoning for the sake of Christ.

Several hundred years later there was a deacon in Rome named Lawrence. Lawrence lived in a time when the Roman Empire was still in control and when the emperor Valerian persecuted Christians. Lawrence was responsible for the financial matters of the church and the care of the poor. The emperor demanded that Lawrence turn over the treasures of the church to him, so Lawrence brought before him a group of lepers, orphans, the blind and lame. He told Valerian, "Here is the treasure of the church." This angered Valerian and Lawrence was sentenced to death.

This doesn't seem like a very smart move to us. Why anger the guy who holds your life in his hands? Yet, Lawrence understood wisdom in a much different way. He understood wisdom as wisdom is given to us by God. The wise among us are not those who can con and manipulate their way through problems, but those who face their troubles with the trust and faith that God is in control. Lawrence might have been able to survive in the Roman world as a deacon if he'd been street smart or wise in the ways of the world. However, Lawrence offers us a vision of Godly wisdom, wisdom that puts the truth of God's Word before survival.

The Proverb offers a personification of wisdom as a woman who has established a place of comfort and grace. She has set a table with good food and drink and invites all those who hear to come to eat. She does not invite the intellectually superior, but rather she calls the simple. It is not that she desires to have only the stupid at her table, but rather that many so called intellectuals are in reality not very wise. She seeks those who are humble, those who are willing to learn and grow, those who fear the Lord. We who will go to the house of wisdom will be fed and we will be satisfied. Thanks be to God.


August 11, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 20, 2006: Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Psalm 34:9-14 Oh fear Jehovah, ye his saints; For there is no want to them that fear him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger; But they that seek Jehovah shall not want any good thing. Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of Jehovah. What man is he that desireth life, And loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, And thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; Seek peace, and pursue it.

Look at the coats of arms of many families or the seals of many countries and you will often find a picture of a lion. The lion is used to symbolize strength, power, courage and nobility. The lion is called "the king of the jungle" and is found at the top of the food chain in most habitats. It is interesting how a pride works. The male, or males, are the dominant animal, but the females do most of the hunting. A male will protect his pride and their territory, a family of five to ten females and their cubs. Though some prides have more than one male, they tend to be brothers. Outsiders are not welcome. The male eats first and he eats as much as he desires until he is satisfied. Then the females and then the cubs get to eat.

When a male cub reaches the age of three, he is either kicked out of the pride or he leaves on his own. He wanders alone until he is strong and powerful, then he fights for a pride. Lions begin to weaken when they are about eight years old, so a powerful, younger male is able to defeat the dominant male and win the pride. Until that time, however, the young male lion is alone. He lives a nomadic life following the herds, which is a very difficult time. Some young males never grow strong enough, so they suffer hunger and even die.

Lions are an appropriate symbol for people to use because they are strong, powerful, courageous and noble, particularly if you want to compete in this world. Those in positions of authority prefer to have their subjects and their enemies recognize their superiority, so they establish the image of a lion-like existence. This is an image that says, "I'm number one. I'm independent. I do not need anyone." In modern business or politics lion is someone who is in control. They have gained control by taking control, as a lion would take over a pride in the wild.

The Psalmist writes, "The young males do lack and suffer hunger." For a great many people in our world today, a lion's life is the way they exist and seek success. They wander in the wilderness of the corporate or political world finding 'food' until they can defeat the dominant leader and take over.

But this is not the life we are called to live as Christians. "Oh fear Jehovah, ye his saints; For there is no want to them that fear him." Will we be hungry? Perhaps. Will we wander? Perhaps. However, there is no want in those that fear God because we are content. We trust that God will provide all that we need, both spiritually and physically. The psalmist tells us how to live the good life. "Keep they tongue from evil, and they lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it."

We've often talked about the saints of God, those whose lives provide for us a good example of what it means to be a Christian in this world. These are often people who have sacrificed for the sake of Christ Jesus, even to death. However, in this passage the saints are not the dead but the living, those living in the kingdom of God in this world. It is for those that the call to seek God is given. Though Christ has found us, it is by His grace that we can find God. A life lived well is the life that seeks God day in and day out – in prayer and study, faithful living and giving, in fellowship with other believers and through the sacraments that Christ has given to His Church. The world might think that it is good to be a lion, seeking dominance, pursuing power. But we are called to seek God, and there we will find true life. Thanks be to God.


August 14, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 20, 2006: Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Ephesians 5:15-20 Look therefore carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.

How do we spend our time? Do we spend our time well, producing good things or do we waste our time with petty grievances and unproductive chatter? I have to admit I spend way too much time grumbling. I am better at complaining about the sins of my neighbor than I am in recognizing my own sin. If someone is lazy at work, I’m quick to point it out to someone else. If someone has wronged me, I am adamant about making sure that someone knows. I can’t even guess how much time I’ve spent complaining about the words and actions of others.

Matthew Henry writes of one understanding of verse 15, “If you are to reprove others for their sins, and would be faithful to your duty in this particular, you must look well to yourselves, and to your own behavior and conduct.” He also suggests that this passage could provide us with a remedy or preservative from sinful behavior. Paul is encouraging the Ephesians to walk carefully, wisely and circumspectly.

He gives us a set of actions that will be beneficial, not only to the world, but also to the individual. The world will benefit because right living means that we will care for our neighbors and not do them harm. Martin Luther, in his small catechism, always gives both the negative and positive perspectives of the Law. For example, Luther writes, “We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all life’s needs.

This right living, or walking carefully, is also beneficial to the individual. When we waste our time unwisely, acting as fools, drunken and unthankful, we neither accomplish anything for ourselves or for the world. We fall into sin, turning away from the loving embrace of God and suffering the consequences. However, when we walk wisely, taking advantage of the opportunities presented to us, following the will of God and rejoicing in God’s grace, we will find that life that He has promised to those who seek Him.

It is amazing at times that my greatest grumbling and complaining is against those who are my brothers and sisters in Christ. We have a bond that is unknown and misunderstood by unbelievers, but it is a bond that connects people who often differ in thought and action. Our differences might stem from a numerous reasons – age, gender, race, cultural upbringing and heritage, geography, educational background or financial circumstances. We see the way others walk and we don’t like what we see, so we complain. Yet all the while we do not recognize our own failures.

So, we are encouraged to walk wisely, knowing our own faults before we grumble about the faults of others. We are called to live out our faith with our whole hearts, filled with the Spirit of God, which leaves no room for foolish ways. We are called to use our time wisely, speaking words that will edify and inspire our neighbors rather than beat them down. We are not only to live without hurting others, but to also live in a way that will raise them up. This is the life of thanksgiving – the life that takes God’s grace and passes it on. Thanks be to God.


August 15, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 20, 2006: Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

John 6:51-58 I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: yea and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove one with another, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Jesus therefore said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life: and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. he that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father; so he that eateth me, he also shall live because of me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven: not as the fathers ate, and died; he that eateth this bread shall live for ever.

The Gospel lesson for the past few weeks have focused on this idea that Jesus is the bread of life. At first, the idea was not so crazy. After all, scripture uses symbolic language to refer to eating things that would not normally be eaten. Take Ezekiel, for instance. He is commanded to eat a scroll which tastes like honey in the mouth but becomes sour in the stomach. Did he really eat a scroll? No, the image of the scroll appeared to him in a vision. He was commanded to take God's Word internally – in his heart – so that it would become a part of his being. Only then could he preach to the people with passion and integrity.

So, the people might have thought it strange that Jesus was comparing Himself with the bread He served at that massive meal, and though they did not quite understand what He was saying, they could accept it as being something that comes from someone close to God.

His language has gotten progressively stranger and less understandable with each passage. He miraculously fed them and answered their quest for more, "Seek food that endures." Then He compared Himself to Moses. Actually, He made it sound like what He was offering was greater than anything Moses gave to the people. Then He compared Himself to the manna, the bread that came down from heaven. As He drew deeper and deeper into the heart of what He was trying to tell the crowds, they became more confused and more disturbed by the words He was using.

In the beginning He told them that the work that God requires is to believe, but then He presented them with the most outlandish idea – that they should eat His flesh and drink His blood. He leaves little room to question the meaning of this statement, bluntly telling them that His flesh is meat and His blood is drink. It was a stretch for them to believe His earlier statements, but they could get around their doubts and explain away His meaning. However, in today's text there is no question. Jesus is telling the people that eternal life comes from this seemingly cannibalistic practice of eating His flesh and drinking His blood.

So, how do you believe that eternal life comes by eating Jesus? Even today, living in this post-resurrection world, this is too difficult to understand. We still ask the question, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" We know, of course, that this passage is foretelling of the gift of the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, Communion. Yet, we still can't quite grasp the depth of the command. What does He mean? Is it just symbolic? Is it literal? Is there some way we can come to a temporal understanding of exactly what He meant? The answers to these questions continue to cause division and discord even among those who believe in Jesus. And the whole issue causes many without faith to reject Christianity completely.

The bread of life passages take us into a place of discomfort because Jesus asks us to believe in something that is beyond our understanding. He goes from a very tangible gift – one of bread and fish that the people were able to eat and enjoy in His presence, to something mysterious. The people standing before Jesus would not eat His flesh or drink His blood that very day or even in a year. The promise in this passage could not be fulfilled until Jesus died and was raised. Only now can receive Him in this way, and receive the promise of eternal life that gives to those who believe. We are reminded of that promise when we approach the throne of grace and receive the gift of His body and blood.

Do we fully understand? Perhaps not, but do we need to have a logical explanation for such a gift? The Eucharist is a meal of thanksgiving that needs no explanation. It is taken outside of time and space by the body of Christ as we all kneel before Him and share the bread and the wine He has so graciously given. And in that meal Jesus continues to show us that He is greater than the bread they eat, greater than Moses, greater than the manna, for He continues to feed His people today, tomorrow and always with the same bread of life. Thanks be to God.


August 16, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 20, 2006: Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Proverbs 9:6 Leave off, ye simple ones, and live; And walk in the way of understanding.

Many Christians shy away from the words mystic or mystical. These words tend to give us an impression of some sort of new age practice or are identified with actions that many consider pagan. There are certainly many people who mystics that present faith from a perspective that is non-Christian at best, and some are anti-Christian. However, this does not mean we should throw away the word or practice as Christians. Faith in Christ does have a mystical facet.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the word 'mystical' means, "having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence" or "involving or having the nature of an individual's direct subjective communion with God or ultimate reality." Interestingly, the example they give is "the mystical food of the sacrament." The sacrament for Christians is, of course, the Eucharist – the thanksgiving meal. Another definition given for 'mystical' is "mysterious" or "unintelligible." While we can offer intelligible definitions of Communion, there will always be a mysterious or mystical aspect to the sacrament.

Sunday, August 20th is the commemoration day for Bernard, the abbot of Clairvaux. Bernard lived in the late eleventh, early twelfth centuries and was a Cisterian monk. He was sent by the abbot of the monastery of Citeaux to found a new monastery in Clairvaux and he served as abbot there. He was known for his deeply spiritual life and for his devotional writings that are still read to this day. He was a Christian mystic and he knew the value of believing the things of Christ that are both mysterious and unintelligible.

Bernard had great authority, choosing between rival popes and convincing the secular governments to support his choice. He fought against heresy, most particularly known for his refutation against the heretics of Languedoc that were drawing many away from orthodox faith. In another case, Bernard was critical of Peter Abelard who preached modalism, which is an incomplete understanding of the trinity as understood by orthodox faith. Bernard's criticism of Peter was that his approach to faith was too rational and did not provide enough room for mystery.

I think there are times in our modern age when we are much too rational about our faith, ignoring or rejecting the mystical or mysterious aspects of God. This makes scriptures like the ones we are hearing this week particularly difficult for us to accept. The cannibalistic image of eating Christ's body and blood does not fit into our image of God. The idea of wisdom being something which the simple and foolish possess rather than the intellectual and powerful is beyond our comprehension.

Paul's message to the Ephesians doesn't make much sense either. Which seems more foolish in our world today – to sing our way through troubles or be streetwise? Yet, Paul encourages us to be filled with Spirit, to speak psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to one another. We are to live by our heart rather than our head. Then we are encouraged to be thankful at all times. How is that possible when the world is filled with suffering and pain? How can we be thankful when we are grieving or when we are being persecuted?

Of course, the scriptures do not discount our brains – we are to seek God with our whole beings. Yet, this week we are reminded that there is a mystical, mysterious aspect of faith. This is not something we should ignore or reject because there are simply some aspects of our Christianity that are beyond our human understanding. That's ok, because God is far greater than we will ever be. Yet, in and through faith – seeing that understanding is not necessarily rational or logical but of believing Christ – we will receive the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God.


August 17, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 27, 2006: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18 "And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt of old time beyond the River, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor: and they served other gods. Now therefore fear Jehovah, and serve him in sincerity and in truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt; and serve ye Jehovah. And if it seem evil unto you to serve Jehovah, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah. And the people answered and said, Far be it from us that we should forsake Jehovah, to serve other gods; for Jehovah our God, he it is that brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and that did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the peoples through the midst of whom we passed; and Jehovah drove out from before us all the peoples, even the Amorites that dwelt in the land: therefore we also will serve Jehovah; for he is our God." (ASV)

We face decisions every day. We decide whether or not to get out of bed in the morning. We decide what to eat and what to wear. We decide whether or not to go to work or school. Some of our decisions are more enjoyable than others. Sometimes we get to decide what we want to do with our free time, where we want to go on our vacation and how to celebrate a special day. Some of our decisions are tedious, like what to cook for dinner. Some of our decisions have a predetermined answer. Most of us can't really decide whether or not to go to work. We need the money or we recognize the responsibility we have to others such as our boss or our co-workers. Yet, when we get up, get dressed and drive our car to that job, we have made a decision to go to work.

We don't always realize we are making a decision. We don't consciously consider whether or not we will go to work, it doesn't even seem like a decision. Some of our decisions are life changing – like whether or not we will get married or which house we will purchase. Many of our decisions change over time, like our career path. From a very young age, children are asked what they want to be when they grow up. I wonder how many children really pursue those goals. For most children, the choice changes on a daily basis and it is not until we are much older that our goals are established.

Others help us with our decisions. Parents, teachers and other adults in our lives help guide us along the way. They teach us right from wrong and they set examples for us. From them we even learn what happens when we make wrong decisions. We don't want our kids to choose wrongly, but we also know that they must learn from their mistakes. So we give them the opportunity to make decisions. When they fail we help them through. When they succeed we rejoice with them. We continue to teach and to guide them as best we can.

In today's passage, Joshua offers the people a choice. We don't like to talk about choice when it comes to matters of faith. We know that God has first chosen, that God first loves, that God first saves. Yet, God also gives us a choice – how will we respond to the gift of grace? Joshua reminds the people of all that God has done – choosing Abraham and bringing him out of the land where his fathers worshiped many gods. He tells them of the Exodus out of Egypt and God's guidance to the land they now possessed. When he has reminded the people of their deliverance from false gods, Joshua tells them to fear God only. Then he asks, "Who will you serve?" They answer that they will serve God.

Sadly, our reading ends here. Though the people have made their choice, the covenant is not yet complete. Joshua answers the decision with the statement, "You can not serve the Lord." He tells the people that they are rebellious and that God is jealous, they will suffer the consequences of their rebellion if they become unfaithful. The people answer a second time, "No! We will serve the Lord." Joshua completed the covenant by establishing the witnesses. The people agreed. Then once again Joshua reminds the people to throw away their gods.

Joshua did not accept the first answer and then let the people go. He completed the covenant with the people, establishing witnesses and laying out the consequences. He encouraged them to make the commitment several times, to establish not only on their lips, but also in their hearts and in their minds. It was an important decision they were making. It was the beginning of a relationship that would last for their lives and for the lives of their offspring.

All too often we treat the decisions of faith with little care or concern. We provide people with the opportunity to hear God's Word, meet Jesus and share in the salvation that He so freely gives. This invitation is so often answered once, but then never repeated. We are called to ask the same question of the world that Joshua asked the people of Israel – "Who will you serve?" They might answer "We will serve the Lord" but unless we continue the relationship and complete the covenant in a way that it will be written on their hearts and in their minds, it will be little more than words on their lips. This is why we are commanded to not only make disciples by baptism, but we are also to teach them to obey the commands of God. Otherwise, faith is shallow and is easily lost.


August 18, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 27, 2006: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

Psalm 34:15-22 The eyes of Jehovah are toward the righteous, And his ears are open unto their cry. The face of Jehovah is against them that do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cried, and Jehovah heard, And delivered them out of all their troubles. Jehovah is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, And saveth such as are of a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; But Jehovah delivereth him out of them all. He keepeth all his bones: Not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked; And they that hate the righteous shall be condemned. Jehovah redeemeth the soul of his servants; And none of them that take refuge in him shall be condemned.

Ask a non-believer why they do not believe in God and you are likely to hear an answer that something has to do with suffering. Those who outright reject Jesus are likely to share a story of someone they know, or someone about whom they have heard who is – or was – a person of great faith who suffered cataclysmic troubles in their life. Even if this person never wavered in faith, the non-believer will reject God for them. "I can't believe in a god that could allow something such horrific things to happen to someone who loved him with such a heart." To them, justice is rejecting the one at fault – God.

It is hard for us to hear passages like this one from the Psalms, particularly when we are in the midst of difficulty. When I was younger, my mom went roller skating with me as a chaperone for a group to which I belonged. She was having such a great time, enjoying the girls and the skating. She skated often when she was a young person herself, and it did not take very long for her to become comfortable on the rink. At one point a young boy slipped in front of her, causing her to fall to the ground. Her arm hit the floor much too hard and bones broke. Though my mom was certainly having a good time at the skating rink, she was there for very unselfish reasons. She was there to ensure the safety of the girls. She gave up her time so that we could have fun. And she was the one who was hurt.

It doesn't make sense for God to promise that the righteous will never have a broken bone. I think it is probably safe to say that most people experience a broken bone at some point. All too many stories of the martyrs include some torture that includes the breaking of bones. Perhaps that is just one technique used by a non-believer to discount the words of God. Yet, a broken bone is unlikely to destroy the faith of one who believes. As a matter of fact, my mom was always thankful that if she had to break her arm at that moment that she was doing something she loved.

What we should notice in this passage is that God's deliverance is not necessarily in the physical world. The psalmist writes, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous." The deliverance out of affliction is not to be understood as a life without suffering but a promise of escape into the eternal presence of God in His time. I suppose it is more noticeable in the American Standard Version, where verse 22 says, "Jehovah redeemeth the soul of his servants and none of them that take refuge in him shall be condemned." Faith does not keep us from broken bones; it helps us to get through the broken bones to the day when our bones will never break again. God's watches over those He loves and those who love Him and He hears their cries.

There is an additional promise to God's people. The evil will suffer the consequences of their rejection – they will not know the saving hand of God. This is a promise because there will come a day when their evil ways are forgotten and their memory will be extinguished. In the hearts and minds of those who believe, there will be no remembrance of those who have served to bring them pain and suffering. They will be forgotten forever. This is indeed a wonderful promise, because it means that our eternal life will not be darkened by the remembrance of suffering, but will be lit by the joy of living in the face and presence of God.


August 21, 2006

Ephesians 6:10-20 Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Wherefore take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; withal taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: with all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints, and on my behalf, that utterance may be given unto me in opening my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

A friend of mine went fishing this weekend. At one point during the day, they decided to run into a store to pick up some supplies. They were hot, sweaty and disheveled from their time on their boat, but they didn't want to take the time to clean up since they were heading out for some more fishing later. As they were leaving the store, my friend's husband said, "Well, we might look terrible, but we were dressed better than most of the people in there." The store is not known for high society clientele.

Most churches have gotten to the point that they do not expect their parishioners to dress in special clothes. Many churches even publicize the fact that they welcome anyone, "Come as you are." Of course, even in those informal churches there are limits. Overly revealing clothes or shirts with offensive slogans are inappropriate. Our church asks those who will be serving during the worship to dress in a way that does honor to God and respects the role they've been asked to fill. Some folk still dress up, but for many the clothes we wear really are not an issue.

Paul writes of an outfit that every Christian should wear, though it has nothing to do with clothing the body. It is the armor of God and the purpose of this outfit is to keep us well in the day and in the world that is filled with danger that threatens our life and our faith. The outfit consists of six pieces: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. Some pieces are used for offense and others for defense, but all will help the Christian stand firm in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We could easily take a day for each of these pieces, but as a whole the armor is the most appropriate clothing for a Christian because worn over the white wedding robe given by Christ it makes a person whole and prepared to face whatever will come. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation are all wrapped up by the Spirit of God to both give the Christian the strength to guard against temptation but also the boldness to speak the Gospel to the world.

The world is not a safe place. Paul tells us that the struggles we face as Christians are not against flesh and blood, though we all have experienced those kinds of struggles. No, we face even more difficult struggles. The devil and those that serve him, the powers of darkness and spiritual forces of evil seek to destroy faith and keep Christ's body from growing. Paul knew the temptations and persecutions that a Christian faced daily in the world. As a matter of fact, he was in prison at the time he wrote this letter to the Ephesians. He asked for prayer – the one thing we can use to clothe one another. He needed his brothers and sisters to pray for him so that his armor would stay strong through his trials. We can do that for one another. We all must wear the armor of God, but it is stronger when we join our prayers together and fight against the rulers and authorities as one body, Christ's body. Thanks be to God.


August 22, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 27, 2006: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

John 6:56-69 He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father; so he that eateth me, he also shall live because of me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven: not as the fathers ate, and died; he that eateth this bread shall live for ever. These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum. Many therefore of his disciples, when the heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it? But Jesus knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at this, said unto them, Doth this cause you to stumble? What then if ye should behold the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who it was that should betray him. And he said, For this cause have I said unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it be given unto him of the Father. Upon this many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Jesus said therefore unto the twelve, Would ye also go away? Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God.

This is a hard saying. "Eat me and live" says Jesus. How can anyone believe such a thing? How can anyone respect someone who says such a thing? It is just too hard.

It is hard, which is why Jesus said, "For this cause have I said unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it be given unto him."

In this story we hear that many of the people who have followed Jesus for some time – at least since the feeding of the five thousand – turn away. They simply can't grasp or accept what Jesus has said. Even the disciples are having a difficult time of it. It is hard. Actually, it is impossible without faith; faith comes from the Spirit. And at this point in the story, the Spirit has not yet come as it will come. In other words, Jesus is pointing ahead to a later time. God is not yet drawing all men unto Himself because Christ has not yet given His body on the cross.

We often look at a scripture like this and feel sorry for those people because they didn't stay around long enough to see the entire story. They left before Jesus was crucified, so they left before He fulfilled the plan which would bring about the life He has promised. Yet, why is it we assume we know what happened to all those folk? They did leave that day, but they left with a seed of hope planted in their hearts, a seed of faith that would grow in God's time according to God's way.

It has taken us five weeks to read the sixth chapter of John, a passage that covered no more than perhaps a few days of time. It may seem to us that these events happened slowly, but in reality Jesus took them from a perspective of flesh and blood to a spiritual perspective in a blink of an eye. That's what we are seeing in this passage. While Jesus does talk about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, and we can see that as a foreshadowing of the gift of the Eucharist, He also says that the Spirit gives life. John writes, "He that eateth my flesh.. abideth in me." But then later he writes, "…the flesh profiteth nothing…" Jesus then goes on to say that the words He has spoken are spirit. We are to eat His words, the chew on what He has said, to ingest Him completely and with our whole selves. As Peter confesses, "You have the words of eternal life."

It would take time. Jesus had a great deal to experience before the seeds of faith planted in this passage would grow. He had to die and rise again. He had to ascend into heaven. He had to send the Spirit. Then, and only then, would men be drawn to Jesus by the Father. Then perhaps a few of those who ate the bread at the feast on the hill might eat the living bread from heaven. If only one came back, if only one believed, it would still be a miracle. If only one person walked through the doors of the Church looking for Jesus, it would be a miracle, even more so for us to gather in groups of two, ten, a hundred or a thousand. Faith, the gift from God, is a miraculous thing. And we can't do the work of God – which is to believe in Jesus – without the faith He gives. We receive that faith by His grace, manifest in the Eucharist and in our relationship with God. That relationship is made strong and grows as we continue to eat His flesh – His words – through study, prayer, worship and fellowship in the body of Christ. And we live in hope that the seeds of faith that have been planted in the hearts of those who have walked away will eventually grow into a belief in the One who is the living bread. Thanks be to God.


August 23, 2006

Scriptures for Sunday, August 27, 2006: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

And if it seem evil unto you to serve Jehovah, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah.

The scriptures this week begin with an important, but difficult command, "Choose you this day whom ye will serve." Joshua stands as an example. He says, "As for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah." This passage is about a relationship. The relationship is between a man and his God. It is about a covenant, a covenant that will come with blessings for obedience and consequences for disobedience. Yet, this covenant is not founded on the decision made by Joshua, or by anyone else. It is founded on the promises of God and the works He has already done for His people. Joshua does not present the command to the people without a solid basis. He lays out the facts, the truth, of what God has done and the people recognize this as the truth. They repeat the wonderful works of God and proclaim, "Far be it from us that we should forsake Jehovah to serve other gods."

We know that this confession and commitment did not last very. Within a generation or two, the people were already turning away from their God of salvation and looking to the gods of their neighbors. They not only sought the benefit of local gods, but they forgot God's word. They forgot all that God had done for them; they followed their flesh – their passions and their needs.

Despite their disobedience, God remained faithful. The scriptures tell us story after story of God's people turning to false gods, hearing God's Word and returning to Him. Each time they repented, He was right there, waiting patiently for them. The psalmist this week writes, "The eyes of Jehovah are toward the righteous and his ears are open unto their cry." God's eyes are on all people. However, it is those who are facing Him – the righteous, the ones who are in a relationship with Him – that see. It is those who know God's Word and live accordingly that receive the blessings of that which God has already given.

It is so easy to become distracted. There are entities in this world that constantly seek to keep us from dwelling in God's presence. We are tempted by our physical needs and desires. Our flesh leads us to seek after all the wrong things – stuff – chasing after the perishable rather than looking toward the imperishable. Our busy schedules keep us from studying God's word or spending time in prayer, building up the relationship we have with Christ. This is why Paul writes that we are to wear the armor of God. Six things will keep us looking at the One who offers us life – truth, righteousness, readiness to proclaim the Gospel, faith, salvation and the Spirit. These are all gifts of God, the gifts He has given us through Jesus Christ.

After many of the disciples following Jesus after the feeding of the five thousand left, Jesus turns to His closest friends and asks, "Would ye also go away?" Peter answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God." For a brief moment, Peter saw everything clearly. All this talk of bread was pointing to the Living Bread who is Christ. This command to eat Jesus' flesh, while it would point to the Eucharistic meal, also points us to the Word of God which is incarnate in the body of Christ. Jesus says, "Eat me and live." He means, "Chew on my word. Remember it. Hold it. Take it close to you. Take it inside your heart and your head. There you will find life." It is given to us to know all that God has done, and in knowing we can make the choice. Do we stay or do we go? Do we choose this day the Lord, or do we choose other gods. It is a choice made possible only by that which God has done already – in, with and through our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.


August 24, 2006

Deuteronomy 4:1-9 And now, O Israel, hearken unto the statutes and unto the ordinances, which I teach you, to do them; that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which Jehovah, the God of your fathers, giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of Jehovah your God which I command you. Your eyes have seen what Jehovah did because of Baal-peor; for all the men that followed Baal-peor, Jehovah thy God hath destroyed them from the midst of thee. But ye that did cleave unto Jehovah your God are alive every one of you this day. Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, even as Jehovah my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the midst of the land whither ye go in to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, that shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what great nation is there, that hath a god so nigh unto them, as Jehovah our God is whensoever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that hath statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes saw, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but make them known unto thy children and thy children's children.

The first verse of this passage uses two legal words to describe the Word of God. In this version, the American Standard Version, the words are "statutes" and "ordinances." If you read other versions, you will find words such as "rules," "decrees," "laws," "regulations," and "teachings." In some cases, these words are used interchangeably. For example, NIV translates the passage "the decrees and laws." The New Living Translation translates it as "these laws and regulations." It seems, as we read, that the speaker is simply repeating himself for the sake of making a point. "Pay attention, I'm telling you something important."

In his notes on this text, John Wesley wrote, "The statutes –The laws which concern the worship and service of God. The judgments – The laws concerning your duties to men. So these two comprehend both tablets, and the whole law of God." So Wesley saw this repetition as not only an emphasis but also as defining the aspects of the rules we are to follow – rules that demonstrate love of God and love of man. We can find a similar division in the Ten Commandments – those laws that concern our relationship with God and those that concern our relationship with one another.

We are called to obedience to the whole Law, not just the parts that we would want to obey. This obedience is not simply a knowledge of the laws, for many can recite the Commandments as they learned them in Sunday School. It is an active obedience in which one does what is right according to the intent of the Law. In Martin Luther's Small Catechism, the explanation of the Ten Commandments contains not only the directive to not do the things that are wrong, but to also do that which is right. Most of us can easily say we have not killed our neighbor, but have we done everything we can to ensure that he or she has life? We may not physical take our neighbors things, but do we do everything necessary to help our neighbor keep what is theirs?

So, why keep the statutes and ordinances of God? This passage suggests that if we keep the laws of God, the nations will see us as wise. For these laws are not established as a way to keep the people down as are so many human regulations, but rather as a way to lift the people and the nation up. They were given to guard and protect the people of God, to make them and to keep them whole. Our relationship with God and our relationships with one another are vital to our wholeness.

The laws are good, right and true. God's laws – God's Word – are complete just as given. There are no laws of any country that are more perfect, or more righteous, or more just than the laws of God. In these statutes and ordinances are found true wisdom. We should not think ourselves more wise than God to add to or take away from what He has given. All too many of us think that if we do all that is right according to the statutes, we can ignore a part of the ordinances. For example, we think that if we do all that is required to worship God, we can tell a little white lie or take something that is not ours. At other times, we add to His Word by justifying our actions that are against His ordinances. Yet, God calls us to live according to His law completely, just as it was given.

Finally, the writer tells us, "Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes saw, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but make them known unto thy children and thy children's children." We are to hold fast the knowledge we have about God and His laws, and we are to teach them to our children. It is not only the rules we should remember and hold dear to our hearts, but rather it is the story of God and His relationship with His people that will keep us well. God does not love us because we have obeyed His commands. God loved. He showed His love in many ways and then He called His people to live in that love. He gave the rules to keep His people in that love. We obey to stay in the gift and we teach our children so that they too will remain in God's loving care. Thanks be to God.


August 25, 2006

Scriptures for September 3, 2006: Deuteronomy 4:1-9; Psalm 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Psalm 15 A Psalm of David. Jehovah, who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, And speaketh truth in his heart; He that slandereth not with his tongue, Nor doeth evil to his friend, Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor; In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honoreth them that fear Jehovah; He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not; He that putteth not out his money to interest, Nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.

How hard it is for us to hear the answer to this pilgrim's question, "Who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle?" It is hard for us because the answer is filled with impossible expectations. Though we might strive to walk uprightly, work righteousness, speak truth, keep our tongue from evil and treat our neighbor well, we fail much too often. We turn disappointed from the doorway, thinking we are unworthy to enter.

While we are unworthy to enter, there is hope when we look at the tabernacle from God's perspective. A tabernacle is a temporary dwelling – a tent – in ancient days it referred to the tents used in times of war. It was a place of rest for the soldiers, a place to refresh their bodies and minds after battle. While the tabernacle was considered God's dwelling place among His people, it was also used as a tent of meeting, a place for the people to gather to worship. For the Hebrews, the battle in the desert was not always fought against a human enemy. Though they had to fight for the Promised Land, they spent forty years wandering and fighting their own fears, doubts and the temptations of their flesh. The tabernacle offered a place of rest for the people as they went there to worship the Lord each Sabbath.

The tabernacle was given by God with very specific dimensions and design. Each part and furnishing of the tabernacle symbolized some aspect of God or the relationship between God and His people. The Hebrew word translated "tabernacle" shares the same root as the word for "neighbor." By placing the tabernacle in the midst of the community He was building, God became their neighbor. He welcomed them into His home, invited them into a deep and intimate relationship with Him. They could not forget His presence among them because they had a visual reminder.

The tabernacle was pointed forward to another time, a time when God would dwell amongst His people in a new and different way. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus identified Himself with each of the furnishings in the tabernacle. In each of the "I AM" statements found in John, Jesus tells us that He is incarnation of the presence of God. The writer of the Hebrews also makes the connection. In chapter 8 the tabernacle is said to be a copy and a shadow of what is in heaven. Jesus is the real, sent from heaven to dwell among us. As a man, He is the only one worthy to dwell in the tabernacle, yet as God He has come to dwell among us. He has come to be our neighbor.

So, who shall sojourn in the tabernacle? First and foremost it is Jesus, but we are invited by His grace to also dwell in the presence of God. While we are called in and through that relationship to strive to be all that the psalmist describes, it is not our actions that will bring us into the relationship. God came to dwell amongst us, first in the tabernacle in the desert and then in the tabernacle of Christ's body. When we do not keep these ordinances, we lose touch with our Lord and God. As we walk rightly, work righteousness, speak truth, keep our tongue from evil and serve our neighbor, we will not be moved from our place in His presence. Thanks be to God.


August 28, 2006

Scriptures for September 3, 2006: Deuteronomy 4:1-9; Psalm 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

James 1:17-27 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Ye know this, my beloved brethren. But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But he that looketh into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and so continueth, being not a hearer that forgetteth but a doer that worketh, this man shall be blessed in his doing. If any man thinketh himself to be religious, while he bridleth not his tongue but deceiveth his heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

I found a small, very cheap, handheld, battery operated fan on a clearance rack the other week. When I purchased the item, I knew it would not be worth very much, but then I did not pay very much for it. You might think this simple item would be simple to handle, but it was somewhat problematic. I could not figure out which way the batteries were meant to be installed. After some trial and error, I found the right way and the fan worked.

I'm not an expert, but in the simplest terms the electricity from a battery is created by a chemical reaction. The chemical reaction is started by the movement of electrons from the positive to the negative terminal. When the appliance is turned on, the current is allowed to move in and through the battery causing the chemical reaction that creates more electrons. If you just take a wire and hold it to both ends of a battery, you will create electricity in the wire. It will move very quickly and can be dangerous; it will wear out a battery very quickly. An appliance (load) is placed along the wire to slow down and control the electrons, using the electricity for practical purposes. If there is no path along which the electricity can run, the battery does nothing. It just sits there, lifeless.

After reading information on batteries, I just had to try creating a circuit to see what would happen. I found a perfect wire and a very low voltage battery. I touched the ends of the wire to the battery and before long I could feel the heat of the electricity running through the wire. The battery even got hot to the touch. If I had left it go more than a minute or so, it might have even been hot enough to burn something. It was amazing to see how a simple wire could make a battery come to life. It is even more fascinating to watch the motor of the fan work, or a flashlight, or to listen to a radio. All those appliances would be lifeless without the battery and the battery would be lifeless without the appliance.

That's how it is with faith. Faith is the battery, installed by God, which gets us moving. If we, the appliance, is never turned on the battery will never be able to do its work. On the other hand, if the battery is weak or dead, the appliance can not do the work.

Faith is a gift from God. It can be used and abused – just like the battery with just a wire running between the terminals. It can be dangerous as seen in the person who thinks faith gives them license to live a sin-filled but 'forgiven' life. It can be dangerous as seen in the life of the person who will use faith as a weapon. It can be dangerous as seen in the arrogance or oppression of the powerful. Faith can also be ignored, like the battery sitting in the junk drawer in the kitchen eventually wasting away.

However, God has given us faith to be used for His glory. He gives it to His people who are gifted in ways that will serve humankind through their vocation in this life. He installs our faith like a battery – not so we will sit around letting go to waste, but so that we go out into the world taking our gifts and sharing them with others. It is then that the world will see the power of God. It is in our actions others see the love of God. Without the battery we are useless. Yet, if we are never 'turned on' our faith is also useless. When we are turned on, when we are running on faith, our lives will manifest pure religion as described in this passage. We will be the kind of people who take care of those in need and who live a life that is good, right and true according to God's word. Thanks be to God.


August 29, 2006

Scriptures for September 3, 2006: Deuteronomy 4:1-9; Psalm 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 And there are gathered together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of his disciples ate their bread with defiled, that is, unwashen, hands. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands diligently, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market-place, except they bathe themselves, they eat not; and many other things there are, which they have received to hold, washings of cups, and pots, and brasen vessels.) And the Pharisees and the scribes ask him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with defiled hands? And he said unto them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, But their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men. Ye leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men. And he said unto them, Full well do ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition. For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother; and, He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death: but ye say, If a man shall say to his father or his mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is Corban, that is to say, Given to God; ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father or his mother; making void the word of God by your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things ye do. And he called to him the multitude again, and said unto them, Hear me all of you, and understand: there is nothing from without the man, that going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man. If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was entered into the house from the multitude, his disciples asked of him the parable. And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Perceive ye not, that whatsoever from without goeth into the man, it cannot defile him; because it goeth not into his heart, but into his belly, and goeth out into the draught? This he said, making all meats clean. And he said, That which proceedeth out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, evil thoughts proceed, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetings, wickednesses, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, railing, pride, foolishness: all these evil things proceed from within, and defile the man.

I have a picture of my son when he was a little bit over a year old. We were living in California at the time and we had some potted plants living on our patio. He was outside playing; I was busy just inside the patio door. He decided it would be fun to play in the dirt. It was springtime and the plant had been recently potted with fresh potting soil. He didn't have long, I was constantly checking on him while I worked nearby. Yet in minutes he'd managed to get himself covered in fresh dirt from head to toe. His face looked like he'd been eating Oreo cookies and most of the cookie part missed his mouth. I don't know how much he ingested, but he's no worse for the wear. As some wise mother once said, "A little dirt never hurt anyone."

Of course, I couldn't help but laugh and I grabbed the camera. He was teething at the time, so every part of him was covered in drool. This made it even better for the dirt to stick to his body. I imagine every parent has a similar picture of their children from that age. Perhaps it is a picture with the first birthday cake or a plate of spaghetti in which more of the food ended up on the child than in him or her. It might be when they went a little overboard with the fingerpaints at school or the egg dye at Easter.

We might be terribly annoyed by the mess, because the food is never confined to the skin which can be easily cleaned. The clothes, the furniture, the floor and sometimes even the walls are covered in mess. Yet, we spend the rest of our lives giggling about that moment, remember how cute they looked all covered in mess and keeping those pictures to be used later in life when they most wish not to be embarrassed – like when they bring a special friend home to meet the parents.

Sometimes we are able to get the stains out of the clothes, sometimes we can't. What matters most, however, is that we are able to get their bodies clean. Of course, some stains take a little longer than others such as those left by markers or ink pads. Yet, even then it only takes a day or so for the body to return to normal. Except for the pictures, the incident is forgotten as soon as all the mess is gone. Nothing is changed by a brief roll in the dirt or a few handfuls of birthday cake in the hair.

There is no doubt that handwashing is a valuable practice for our health. We pass so many germs between one another when we shake hands, pass money or handle food. Florence Nightingale changed the nature of health care with the simple practice of washing hands regularly, and the practice is continued today. Jesus wasn't telling us in today's lesson that we should not wash our hands.

I wonder what the conversation might have been like if the Pharisees had asked a slightly different question. They asked, "Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with defiled hands?" What if they had asked, "Why do your disciples eat their bread with defiled hands against the Word of God? God gave the law about cleanliness for a purpose – because it is healthy and sanitary to cleanse the hands before eating. However, the Pharisees were more concerned about the disciples doing as they do, being as they are, rather than obeying the Word of God.

Jesus answered their question with a statement about how they hold their tradition above the Law. Moses gave them the Law that says "Honor your mother and your father" but they were willing to accept a vow that would dishonor that authority. The vow, that everything belonged to God, was not lived out as if everything actually belonged to God, but rather was a convenient excuse not to take care of one's mother and father. The tradition was held above the Law and was abused and misused for justifying dishonorable and unfaithful practice. The Pharisees really did not care whether or not the hands were dirty, only that the people who claimed to be 'holy' fit into their mold. Jesus turned the tables. He answered their questions with the intent of God's Law and opened the door for more people to dwell in the presence of God.


August 30, 2006

Scriptures for September 3, 2006: Deuteronomy 4:1-9; Psalm 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Jehovah, who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?

Christine is a character on the television show "Yes, Dear." Christine is married to a guy who is not very successful and not very motivated. They live in her sister's guesthouse and feed off the hard work of the brother-in-law. Their conflicting lifestyles create situations which make us laugh. In the end, sometimes we learn that we should slow down and enjoy life and sometimes we have to work a little bit harder and do things a little bit better.

During a recent episode, Christine decided to go back to college to try to get her degree. She found it difficult to assimilate into the college community because she was much older than most of her classmates. Some of the students in one of her more difficult classes decided to begin a study group and they invited Christine to their sorority to join them. Christine went and found it to be a very positive experience both academically and socially. Even though the sorority girls were much younger, they looked up to her. When they found out she was a mother, one of the girls got very excited. "Babies! I love babies!" They asked her to join the sorority.

While all this was happening, there were pledges being ordered around by the sisters. When they asked Christine to become a sister, she said, "I don't think my self is esteem is good enough to be put under such humiliation." The president said, "Oh, you don't have to pledge, we'll make you an honorary sister." When Christine asked if they really could do that, the president said, "I'm the president, I can do anything."

Sororities are closed communities. The people who want to join that community must follow the rules to become a sister. Sometimes that means demeaning and humiliating themselves in front of the other sisters and in front of the world. The rules are not set in stone; they are established by the people who are already in the community. While not everyone belongs to such a closed community, they are a part of our lives. Some folk like in gated housing communities, others belong to fraternities. Some people work in businesses that are very tightly knit, which makes it hard for an outsider to get their foot in the door. Small towns can be closed communities. Churches can even be closed communities.

However, that's not how Jesus intended the Church to exist. Jesus opened the religious doors to those who lived beyond the mold established by men. He was like the president of the sorority who was able to put aside the rules out of mercy. Obedience to God's law did not give the people access to God. Faith gave access to God and that access gives us the freedom to live within the boundaries He has established as being healthy for us and for the world. Unfortunately, we spend a great deal of time creating new rules – or just adding to the ones God has given us – as a way of keeping people out. We make it too difficult for people to be part of our community, just like those Pharisees who refused to eat with outsiders and who were offended by dirty hands.

They lifted the traditions of the elders above the Word of God and created barriers that God never intended for His people. They saw anyone who did not live up to their expectations as people who could not enter into the temple of God. However, Jesus ripped down those curtains and invited those who believe to enter into the presence of God. He enlarged the borders of God's kingdom rather than building the walls of exclusivity. He gave us the freedom to live in obedience to the Law of God without being bound to the laws of men. Thanks be to God.


August 31, 2006

Scriptures for September 10, 2006: Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17; Mark 7:24-37

Isaiah 35:4:7a Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing; for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the glowing sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.

Have you ever known someone whose very presence changes the atmosphere in a room? Perhaps it was a favorite aunt whose sweet demeanor was able to calm the nerves at a family reunion. It may have been a very good teacher who could cause a room full of rowdy children to be quiet and attentive in an instant. These people have something special that brings about transformation in the world around them.

I think for most of us, transforming power comes on a much smaller scale. A romantic partner can change our mood in a heartbeat. A kindhearted neighbor can help us to see that we should not trample through her flower beds. A Sunday school teacher can plant the seeds that make us want to know more about Jesus. This type of transformation is more lasting – it transforms not only a mood for a moment, but our lives forever.

Israel was in a bad place. They were exiles in Babylon, far from home and far from the dwelling place of their God. They felt abandoned. They had little hope. However, Isaiah spoke these words of hope into their lives, words that promised transformation. The day would come when Israel's God would come to save them, and that day would be the most spectacular experience. God's presence among His people would change the entire atmosphere of the desert. It would heal brokenness and restore wholeness.

The time was not at that moment, they only had the promise of what was to come. However, trusting in the promise the people are called to be strong and to not have fear. They might be in a bad place for a moment, but God will not allow them to stay there forever. He is coming and He will bring change. The enemy will be punished and those who are hurting will see God's grace.

While this promise was fulfilled when God saved Israel from Babylon, the promise also looked forward to an even better day – the day of the Messiah. This passage points to the reign of Jesus Christ, whose very presence brought about healing and peace. He is the living water that will nourish the perishing people who are caught in the darkness of sin and death.