Welcome to the August 2012 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, August 2012
August 1, 2012
Sunday, August 5, 2012, Pentecost Ten: Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35
“But unto each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” Ephesians 4:7, ASV
I went roller skating with a group of my friends. We were part of an organization and we had the skating party as a fellowship event. My mom was one of the chaperones. My mom was quite the roller skater when she was young, and she had not lost any of her grace and ability at the skating rink, despite the fact that she was well into her forties, possibly in her fifties, on that evening. She glided across the floor, impressing us all with her twists and turns. She even skated backwards.
Unfortunately, her reflexes were not quite as quick on that night as they probably were when she was young. She was skating backwards and a small child fell down right behind her. She tripped over the child, landed squarely on her hand and broke her arm. Her arm was never the same. The injury hurt, but she laughed about it. My mom was a bit of a fatalist. She had this idea that things were fated to happen, and if had decided that if she was supposed to break her arm that day, she would much rather have done it on the skating rink than in some other way. “At least I was having fun when it happened!”
I can hear that same attitude in the voice of the Israelites in today’s Old Testament passage. “Would that we had died by the hand of Jehovah in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh-pots, when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” They would have preferred dying as slaves in Egypt than to starve to death in the desert. The problem with this point of view is that God had no intention to let them die. He had a plan for His people.
Sadly, the people were remembering life in Egypt with rose-colored glasses. They might have had enough food to live, but were they really satisfied by the food they were given as slaves? How long would they have had enough? Pharaoh was concerned by the strength and power of the nation of Israel within the borders of Egypt and was slowly but surely limiting their freedoms and resources. He was even making it difficult for them to do the work that he required of them. Was life so good in Egypt really?
No, life wasn’t that good for Israel in Egypt, and the fatalistic point of view offered a false promise. Death would not be better in Egypt; God promised them real life and freedom in the Promised Land. The desert wandering was a time of testing. Would they trust God? Would they follow His Word? Would they do what was right or would they follow their own thoughts?
Now, they didn’t come out and blame God for their troubles. Moses and Aaron were easy scapegoats for their wrath. God assured Moses and Aaron that it wasn’t their problem. The tests were not how well they could convince the people to believe in God. The test was whether or not the people had faith.
Isn’t it amazing how much God does to prove Himself to His people? I don’t know about you, but I’m just as likely to say “fine, you don’t think I can do it so oh well” and walk away. If they wanted to go back to Egypt, I’d probably let them. Then at the end I would get to say “I told you so.” I’d rather not fight with those who didn’t appreciate me. Thankfully, God is not like me. Perhaps I should be more like God.
See, God heard their cries and send everything they needed to survive in the wilderness. He told the people that they would see meat in the evening and bread in the morning. The quail came, and they were fed. The manna came, and though they didn’t understand it at first, they were fed and satisfied. Sadly, the people would eventually get sick of quail and manna and they would begin complaining again. But in this story we see that God provides what we need even if we do not trust that He will. He hears our complaining and He answers with His grace. Would that we could be so gracious.
The trouble is that we often look to the wrong source to supply our needs. The people looked to Moses and Aaron. They were fallible human beings with no special powers. They could not buy bread in the desert. They couldn’t even grow the grain, harvest the wheat and make the bread for so many. They could not provide for God’s people. But Moses and Aaron weren’t called to provide for them. They were chosen to lead the people to the Promised Land, with God as guide and provider. The wandering was a time for God to prove Himself to the whole assembly. By the time they got to the Promised Land, they’d have to trust God even more. And in their history they would need to trust Him even more. If they could only trust Him to give them meat and bread, they might trust Him to protect them from the more deadly dangers they would face.
But we don’t think about those other things when our bellies are grumbling. We don’t think about our soul when we are hungry. We fight for the tangible things, but ignore the things that really matter. That’s what Jesus saw in the crowds on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. After feeding the crowd of five thousand or more, people who were seeking Him because He was doing miraculous things, Jesus saw that they still did not understand. They recognized that He was the Messiah, but they wanted an earthly king. They wanted someone who would lead them out of occupation into a golden age of prosperity as a sovereign nation. They did not know that they had a deeper need, the need for forgiveness and the hope of eternal life.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ teachings seemed to contradict that which was given to the people by Moses. When Jesus told the crowd not to work for food that perishes but to work for food that endures, they asked, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” They, of course, were expecting Jesus to repeat the Law which was given to them by Moses. They expected to hear a list of rules to obey and things to do. They wanted to receive God’s blessings based on their own actions. That’s the way it has always been. Moses gave them the Law. Moses gave them the manna. If Jesus contradicted Moses, then He’d have to prove Himself.
Jesus didn’t come to feed the hungry or heal the sick. He did those things to prove to the people that He is who He is. He did it, just like God proved Himself in the desert, to prove Himself to us. And all He wants in return is that we believe, and trust that He will do what is good and right and true. He will provide what we need. And while we do need food for our bellies, the true bread is Jesus. In Him is life; in Him is eternal life.
We forget that we need salvation when we are hungry. We forget that we are sinners in need of a Savior when we are suffering in some way. When our tummies grumble, our mouths grumble and we look for someone to blame. We blame the person in charge. Yet, we learn in today’s lessons that when you grumble against those whom God has chosen, like Moses, you grumble against God. Moses was the person whom God sent to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, but he was not their Savior. God was their Savior, so if they were unhappy being away from Egypt, it was Him they had to blame.
Moses became more than a man. He became a legend. He became their savior. He became their deliverer. He became the one to whom the people turned in times of stress and distress. He did not make it into the Promised Land, but he was with them always because he gave them the Law. When there was a question, they turned to the Law. The Law was their god at times, even when they were not faithful or obedient. That was true in Jesus’ day.
The psalmist said, “So they did eat, and were well filled; And he gave them their own desire.” God gave them what they desired; He fed them bread and they were full. Yet, the gift came with a test. It was a lesson; God wanted to see their obedience. Would they believe Him? Would they trust Him? The feeding of the five thousand was also a test. How would the disciples respond to the need? What would the people do when their bellies were full? Would they continue to look to Jesus for the things they really needed? We’ll see how that goes next week.
The psalm is a lesson in the relationship between God and His people. It tells of how God proved Himself to the people over and over again even though they continued to sin. The psalmist tells of God’s grace despite the people’s unfaithfulness. It tells of God’s mercy even though the people turned their back on Him. The text for today focuses specifically on the story of the manna in the wilderness, but we see how God provided for them until they had their fill. We see the same in the relationship between Jesus and those who were following Him.
God had a plan then. He had a plan in Jesus’ day. He had a plan for the early church, and that plan continues for us today. He calls us to faith, to live in faith, to act faithfully. Paul reminds the reader to “walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called.” Paul encourages us to work. The question we ask, then, is what calling? Jesus told us: God calls us to believe. Don’t misunderstand; this is not a passive faith. It is an active and living faith that naturally works the work that pleases God. It is the faith that leads to maturity, and that maturity leads to love. In this faith we trust that God provides us with everything we need. He gives us the gifts to take His promises into the world. He joins us to one another so that together we can share His grace with those who misunderstand. See, despite the miraculous ways God has proven Himself over and over again, the world continues to look to the wrong sources.
At times it seems even the Church, like the Israelites, have lost touch with the reality. Life isn’t really that good in Egypt. It isn’t better to be slaves. We might think we have more food around the flesh pots of that old place, but the real bread is from heaven. The real bread is Jesus. Yes, the people need food to eat, and we are called to believe that God will provide us with all we need to help them. We cannot look to others to do that work for us. We cannot trust others to do what God will do through us. Will we believe and go forth in the world trusting in Him?
Why do we continue to put our trust in human beings and institutions who cannot do what God can do? The Israelites trusted in Moses, but He was not their savior. They didn’t learn the lesson that God taught them in the desert. The Jews trusted that Jesus could be king, but they missed what Jesus was really teaching them when He fed them with the bread. There will be grumbling of bellies and mouths, but God hears and He does provide. God has called us to believe and He provides all we need. Let us never forget, however, to give them the bread that comes from heaven, our Lord and true Savior, Jesus Christ. All we have to do is believe, and God’s grace will flow.
“Make a joyful noise unto Jehovah, all ye lands. Serve Jehovah with gladness: Come before his presence with singing. Know ye that Jehovah, he is God: It is he that hath made us, and we are his; We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, And into his courts with praise: Give thanks unto him, and bless his name. For Jehovah is good; His lovingkindness endureth for ever, And his faithfulness unto all generations.” Psalm 100 (ASV)
My kitties make me so happy. Each one has certain habits that just put a smile on my face. Delilah loves a stuffed animal we have on our bed, and every night she comes to snuggle with me and that stuffed bunny. Tigger has gotten into the habit of jumping onto the arm of the chair where I sit to watch TV. He’ll stay there and let me pet him for a very long time; he even insists of being touched if I stop. Sammy asks to play by sitting near a favorite toy and meowing until I pick it up and play with him. I love to watch them all when they are watching the world outside our windows. We have plenty of birds and squirrels to keep them busy for hours.
There’s nothing productive about watching my kitties, or playing with them, or snuggling with them, or petting them in front of the television. Yet, those are the best moments of my day, and I know that we are all healthier and happier because of those moments. Simple pleasures like those moments remind us that there is far more to life than working and cleaning and accomplishing something.
What are the simple pleasures that bring joy to your life? Who are the people that make you smile? What makes you laugh? Have you ever had the experience of discovering something you remember from your childhood at the grocery store? A recent trend of Facebook has been to post pictures of things from ‘the olden days’ with the comment “Like if you remember using one of these.” A friend posted a silly thing we used to buy at the local store, packs of pictures with gum. The picture reminded me of simpler times and old friends.
It is so good to be thankful for those simple things, but it is even better to be thankful for the greatest gift. We are God’s people. That doesn’t seem like much, especially to those who do not believe that there is even a God. However, God is active in our world today, continually creating and recreating the world for His glory. In the flowers, our relationships and even our kitties and memories, God manifests His love for us in tangible ways we can see and experience with joy. When we look for God in the simplest of pleasures and sing for joy with thanksgiving and praise, we’ll experience the grace that God has for us in the most unusual places.
“But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:10-12, ASV
I’ve been so busy with moving into the house and making it livable, that I haven’t done much for myself. I’ve gone shopping nearly every day, but I have been buying furniture, window treatments and other objects for the house. Even the art supplies I’ve purchased have been for very specific purposes, like paintings for the house or donations for upcoming fundraisers. I haven’t really had the time to go shopping for the sake of going shopping, or even take an out of town trip. I had the perfect excuse yesterday because my sister was visiting Austin and she wanted to have dinner with any of her Texas friends who were available. It was a long drive for dinner, but it was an excellent excuse to pamper myself.
My route north took me by the local outlet center, so I left early and went shopping. It was one of those rare occasions when I actually spent my time shopping for myself. Yes, I know it sounds very selfish, but I don’t do it very often. I usually spend those shopping trips searching for clothes for the kids and Bruce. I often look for those incredible deals that will be good for Christmas gifts or donations for clothing drives. I have to admit that the kitchen items are helpful to me, mostly, but can you really call anything related to any sort of work, even enjoyable work, ‘personal’?
Now, because I’m all about saving a buck (after all, I was shopping at the outlets), I downloaded a bunch of coupons to get even better deals. I belong to the super saver club and I had a bunch of special coupons that they sent me in the mail. I was ready to save a lot of money. I went into one store with an excellent 20% off coupon and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the entire store was on sale. I asked one of the clerks if my coupon would still be good and she, without looking at the coupon, said “Yes.” So, I happily found two new shirts for myself. One of the shirts was much more money than I would spend on myself, but I would pay the price minus 20%. Unfortunately, the coupon was not good for merchandise that was already discounted.
I was disappointed, of course, and I decided not to buy the expensive shirt. I commented to the girl that it seemed strange that they would offer an unusable coupon. “Why offer 20% off if I can’t use it because everything in your store is on sale?” I’ll admit that I probably would not have gone into that store yesterday without that coupon, but I’ve shopped there on other occasions. The store is always well discounted. The girl said that the current sale was a special because they wanted to clear out their inventory to make room for new stock, so I should return another day and I’ll be able to use that coupon. I’ve worked retail; I know the point of coupons is to get customers in the store. But I don’t think the girl was forthright with me; I doubt I’d ever be able to use the coupon in that store. I’m not sure the policy on that coupon was a good policy. They would have made a good sale even with the extra discounts and they would have been rid of another item from their inventory.
Yes, I like a deal. I’d rather pay $17 for a shirt than $70. I’m sure the shirt was never really worth $70 which is why it ended up on the outlet center clearance rack. I think it is funny when I hear about these couponers who manage to get grocery carts full of things for nearly nothing. How do they get boxes of cereal for a nickel or get paid a dime to buy packs of Tic-tac’s? It seems to me that there’s always some rule that limits the amount you can get discounted. Nothing is free.
Well, there is one thing that is truly free, and that is the grace of God. Many in our world reject the free gift from God and they refuse the good things He has to offer. God will provide for your every need, and as you grow in faith and trust, He will fill your heart with the desire for the good things in life. Jesus Christ is the bread of life. He is the Word made flesh. He was sent from heaven to live, die and rise again to new life so we can freely live in the love and glory of the Most High God. It costs us nothing. We don’t even need a coupon to get the deal. And we don’t need to worry that He is simply trying to get us into the store with this spectacular deal. He will be faithful to all His promises.
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:14-21, ASV
From Wikipedia: “A home is a place of residence or refuge. When it refers to a building, it is usually a place in which an individual or a family can live and store personal property. Most modern-day households contain sanitary facilities and a means of preparing food. Animals have their own homes as well, either living in the wild or shared with humans in a domesticated environment. ‘Home’ is also used to refer to the geographical area (whether it be a suburb, town, city or country) in which a person grew up or feels they belong, or it can refer to the native habitat of a wild animal. Sometimes, as an alternative to the definition of ‘home’ as a physical locale (‘Home is where you hang your hat’), home may be perceived to have no physical location, instead, home may relate instead to a mental or emotional state of refuge or comfort. Popular sayings along these lines are ‘Home is where the heart is’ or ‘You can never go home again.’”
Poor Zachary. We picked him up in May from college, brought him home and gave him four days to pack his room before we moved. We moved on a Saturday, and he left the next morning to go to his summer job at a Christian camp. He was able to come home a couple of weekends throughout the summer, but never spent more than a night or two. He hasn’t had time to unpack his boxes, to organize his room, or settle in. We did a little of the work for him, but how can I decide where he wants his things? As of this morning, he’s slept in his new bedroom a total of seven nights.
But now he’s home. Camp is over for the summer and he’s got a few weeks before he has to return to college. He will have plenty of time to go through and repack his college things, and make his room livable. For me, it is nice to know that he’ll be here for awhile. It is nice to know that we are all here together, if only for a few weeks. Our house is really a home, because it is filled with love. I included the text from Wikipedia about “home” because I thought it was funny, and sad, how cold it was. A home is where you store personal property? It is a place with sanitary facilities? Then, at the end, the entry talks about the popular saying, “Home is where the heart is.” Perhaps it is a little cliché, but isn’t it the truth? You can live in almost any building, but is every place where people live a home? I’m not so sure. There are, perhaps too many, dwelling places that are not really homes.
We decided we wanted to have a housewarming party when we bought this house. We wanted to invite all our friends and have them celebrate our new life. It took awhile to organize, but we waited until now because we wanted both the kids to be home for it. We wanted it to be more than just a gathering, so we invited a pastor friend to officiate at a service of blessing. We prepared a ton of food and invited all our friends. We were honored and delighted that so many people could join us. The house was filled, very literally, with love.
Our pastor spoke during the service about how the home is not the bricks and mortar in which we live, but it is that place where we find love. Home is truly where the heart is. Yes, we find within the buildings all the things that make a blessed dwelling place: a place to gather, to share, to sleep, to eat, to cook, and even sanitary facilities. But a house without love is not a home. He reminded us that a home is not just inside the walls, but it is inside our hearts.
The kids will move on. Zack will go back to college and Victoria will find a job and begin her new life. We won’t always have a large crowd of friends to share our food and enjoy the fellowship. It will often be quiet, perhaps even a little lonely. And yet, this house will always be a home because it has been filled with the laughter of friendship, the tears of compassion, the joy of hope and the witness of faith. The relationships between those of us who have found love in this house will exist even when we aren’t all under the same roof.
The most important thing that we saw yesterday is that God dwells with us in our relationships with those who joined us to celebrate this new life. God was here, not only in the scripture read during the service, but also in the greetings and conversations between friends. He was in the food that was shared and in the gifts that were given. He was in the good wishes and the love that was so obvious. We may have had the service to bless our house, but the blessing fell on each of us in a way that will last forever.
“And in this mountain will Jehovah of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering that covereth all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He hath swallowed up death for ever; and the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth: for Jehovah hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is Jehovah; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:6-9, ASV
There is a divorce lawyer who advertises on one of my local television stations. The commercial drives me crazy because it is not very professional. The text is repetitive in a way that doesn’t make sense and lists reasons to choose him as the lawyer that make strange priorities. He’s especially concerned with childcare, which is important, but his tone of voice sounds like he didn’t think he said it previously in the commercial. It is just a bad commercial, but is typical of the commercials that are put together with a very limited budget. The lawyer wants a public face but doesn’t have an on camera personality. It’s real, but quite frankly not very appealing.
The worst part of the commercial is when the lawyer says that he’ll make your divorce simple, painless and affordable. Really? He thinks he can make a painful life change like divorce painless? It seems to me that he must think very highly of his abilities if he thinks he can make it painless. Even the most callous spouses deal with the grief, doubt, fear and regret that comes from a failed relationship. All those who go through divorce deal with pain; everyone mourns in some way.
Pain is part of the human condition. There are ways of dealing with pain, but the legal process is not one of them. A lawyer might be compassionate, and may help deal with the pain, but he certainly cannot make the process painless. Pain is something survived, not avoided. It takes grace and mercy. It takes forgiveness. It might sound like a cliché, but getting through the pain does make us stronger. We discover so much about ourselves, including strengths we may not know we have. Pain hurts, but it can be very helpful. It’s like surgery, sometimes you have to make a painful cut to remove the problem.
It is easy to try to find the easy way out, like hiring a lawyer who claims he can make the process pain-free. There are other ways people avoid the pain, and though they may seem to make it lesser, they often cause even greater pain. The pain will eventually stop hurting; it may take a long time but it will go away. We know this because God has promised to be with us through the pain and to get us through. He will give us the strength. He will help us forgive. He will comfort us and keep us with His grace. He feels our pain. He cries at the sight of our tears. But He has promised that there will be a rainbow at the end of the storm.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 12, 2012, Pentecost Eleven: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
“Oh taste and see that Jehovah is good: Blessed is the man that taketh refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8, ASV
The story is still fresh and we do not have all the facts, but a man has been charged with murder after shooting his wife in her hospital bed. The hospital has not revealed the reason she was in the hospital, but she was in critical condition. Emergency personnel had responded to a call at the home which involved advanced life support, including oxygen and a heart monitor. The man and the woman had been married for forty-five years. He is claiming it was a mercy killing. His lawyer has reported that the killing was done out of deep love.
We may never really know the motivation of his actions, or what was happening in his heart. This devotion is not meant to open discussion on the issues involving mercy killing or end of life questions. I’m not sure I’d want to be shot in the head even if I was dying in a hotel room, but the questions I’m asking after reading today’s Old Testament lesson are not really about that particular incident but whether or not you would want to choose the way you die.
Now, we’ve all seen the scene in a superhero movie. In the middle, when the villain seems to be winning and the superhero is under his control, the villain will often say, “Pick the way you will die!” Then he offers the superhero a number of terrible tortures meant to end the life of the superhero. Of course, the superhero always knows the weakness of every torture and can choose the easiest to escape. The villain never seems to know about those weaknesses, so he is unprepared for the superhero to win. The superhero does not die, but gets out, catches the villain and justice is served. In the end, everyone lives happily ever after.
Would you want to choose the way you die? The choice leads to escape in the superhero movie, but we all know that one day we will have to die. Would you want to choose between being shot in the head or dying naturally from the disease that had the woman in the hospital? Would you want to choose between being boiled in hot oil or dropped into a pit of slimy snakes? Would you want to choose between being hit by a bus or being shot during a robbery at a convenience store? Yes, this is a morbid question, but it is one that Elijah seems to be asking.
See, Elijah had just done a miraculous thing, or should I say that God did a miraculous thing through Elijah. The people of Israel, including King Ahab, were worshipping the Baals. Elijah called together the prophets and the people. He asked them how long they would worship both God and the Baals. We tend to worship every god just in case, but we can’t. We have to choose between God and everything else.
Elijah suggested that they hold a competition between God and the Baals. They had four hundred and fifty prophets, but Elijah was alone. Surely so many prophets could make a miracle happen, right? When the prophets of Baal sacrificed a bull and called on their gods, there was no response. Elijah prepared the bull as usual, and placed it on an altar that the people repaired. Then he surrounded the altar with wood, but covered the wood with water. He covered the wood with more water. He made it impossible to burn. When Elijah prayed to God, fire fell upon the altar and not only set it ablaze, but it burned everything from the bull to the wood to the rocks and soil and every drop of water. With this, the people knew which God was real.
After the fire, Elijah commanded the people to capture the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and kill them. This particular act upset Jezebel, Ahab’s wife. She threatened to kill Elijah just as he had killed her prophets. He was frightened and ran away. Despite the positive response from the people, Elijah knew that their hearts were fickle. They might believe that the LORD is God, but how long would it last, particularly if Jezebel succeeded? Despite the failure of the prophets of Baal, it would not be long before they people were turning away from God. Elijah thought he failed. He thought he was no better than all the other prophets of God. He just wanted to die.
Now, he didn’t want to die at the hand of Jezebel. That would have been a horrible death. She surely would have found some way to make it a painful and tortuous experience. She wanted revenge for her prophets. She wanted him to suffer. Elijah knew that God would be merciful. He knew that death at the hand of God would be just and right. He could die in peace.
Elijah was afraid. He might have had very good reason to be afraid, but his fear affected his judgment. He ran away, wishing for God to end his life (take his life-breath) so that he would not die at the hand of Jezebel. He let his feelings take over and he stopped trusting in God’s protection and provision. He wanted to choose his death. He went to the desert to die. But God would not let him die. God fed him, and sent him on a journey that would remind him about God’s goodness. At the end of the journey, Elijah would be ready to face the rest of the work God had for him to do.
It is the age old problem of human beings: we want control. We want to decide what is right and true and good. We want to follow our desires. As Paul writes, we want to use our brain power, but our brains are not always faithful. Paul calls them futile or vain. We are, surely, self-centered. If we were able to choose the way we would die, would we not try to choose the way that would be quick and easy and without pain? Like the superhero, we would probably try to find the way that has an escape. Or like Elijah, we’d seek God’s hand rather than that of our enemy.
We may want to be in control, but we aren’t very good at controlling things. You might be strong enough to avoid chocolate, but I have to admit that it is a weakness for me. Others have trouble controlling their need for coffee. Yet others can’t stop playing video games. Yet others desperately need to be loved or need the approval of their friends.
We all have something that we know we should avoid but we think we can keep it under control. We click that button or eat that potato chip certain that this time we can stop before we go overboard. But as soon as we open the door, we find ourselves lost in the very things we vow to avoid. In the end, we’ve probably not hurt anyone by wasting our time or eating a few too many chips, but we have succumbed to temptation and next time it will be harder to resist.
That’s what happened with God’s people throughout history with the false gods of their neighbors. It doesn’t seem harmful to allow someone to believe in a different god. I know many people who find comfort in the worship practices of different religions. There are those who do not believe in some aspects of Christian faith but love others. They like certain things about other faiths and choose to include them in their faith life. They pick and choose what they like and find comfort and peace in their choices. Their faith turns out a bit eclectic, but who are they hurting?
The trouble is this: you can’t worship God and the Baals, or whatever name you have attached to your gods. You can’t reject the hard parts of Christianity and still be a follower of Christ. You may have faith. You may be a good person. But like those Israelites who wanted the best of both worlds, you aren’t being faithful to God.
There are parts of the Christian faith that are hard. In the series of passages that we are studying these weeks of Pentecost, Jesus claims to be the bread of life or the bread that gives life. He does not give them this word without also establishing His credentials with His miraculous signs and wonders, yet, they murmured against Him. They were not really even bothered by His claim to be the bread of life. They had trouble with the fact that He said He came down from heaven. They knew Him. They knew His mother and father. He was born just like everyone else. How could He claim to have come down from heaven? Their stories tell of beings that came from heaven, but they weren’t born, they just appeared. If the Messiah was to be some ‘other worldly’ being, then Jesus can’t be it. He’s the boy next door and to claim otherwise is blasphemy.
Then Jesus gave them the most shocking revelation of all. “Eat my flesh and you will live forever.” We’ll have to wait until next week to see their reaction, but we can already see where Jesus is going with this. They say hindsight is twenty-twenty vision and we live on this side of the cross. We know that Jesus offered His body for our sake and that in partaking of Him we’ll have eternal life. We also know that Jesus has given us a remembrance of that reality in the Eucharist. Each time we gather around the table we eat the body of Christ and drink His blood. This is a very hard part of Christianity. The world thinks we are cannibals. They call the practice disgusting.
We Christians have many different understandings for what this means. Some believe that the bread and wine become actual flesh and blood. Others believe that it is simply symbolic. The Lutheran understanding is that Christ is in, with and under the elements substantially so that we are both partaking of the bread and wine as well as the body and blood. They elements aren’t changed, but Christ becomes a part of them. It is no wonder the world doesn’t understand, and why we try to talk our way around our faith. It is strange and confusing.
And it is no wonder that the people were shocked when Jesus said that He is the bread they should eat. They wanted God to fit their understanding and they wanted the Messiah to be their earthly king. We can try to come up with some understanding of God on our own, or follow the teachings of some great leader, but we can’t see God unless He reveals Himself to us. We see Him in Jesus; we see God through the words that Jesus spoke, the miracles He did and the gifts He gave. Jesus knew it was not enough for us to have just the words to experience Him, so He gave us ways in which we could hold, touch, see, smell and taste the living bread from heaven. Today's Gospel ends in the promise of the Eucharist, the means of grace by which we can partake of the living bread from heaven.
Sometimes people do not want to experience God or do what He calls them to do. Elijah had just done a most incredible thing. Through Him God revealed His power and defeated the prophets of Baal. Jezebel threatened revenge and Elijah was tired of it all. He ran away and asked God to let him die. But God did not give Elijah what he wanted; He fed Elijah and then sent Him on a journey. He was about to reveal Himself more fully to Elijah the prophet, so that he would have the strength to continue God’s work in this world. He also reveals Himself to us in the Eucharist and gives us the strength to continue to do His work in the world.
We see things as we wish to see them. In today’s Gospel lesson, they saw Jesus as the carpenter’s son, not as the Son of God. They were offended by His presumption of heavenly birth. It didn’t fit into their understanding of the world or of faith. How often do we approach faith from the same perspective? We want it to fit into our understanding of the world and we reject the ways God has revealed Himself to us. But Paul reminds us to not give place to the devil. See, the devil wants us to put God in our own little boxes so that we lose touch with the reality of His power. We rely on our strength, which is weakness, and we ignore God because we often think He’s weak. After all, what god would choose to die? But our God did die; Jesus willingly went to the cross and sacrificed His own life for our sake. The world might think that is weakness, but God’s weaknesses are greater than any human strength.
Paul writes, “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.” We are called to become more than just a copy, but to be part of the kingdom of God that has extended over time and space. God is in, with and under each of us, just as He is in, with and under the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Just as the bread and wine are more than symbols, we are more than reflections. Our relationship with God is not some disconnected affiliation, but we become part of the very body of Christ through faith.
Paul encourages us to share the bread of heaven by living as God would have us live, free from falsehood and anger, gaining good things in a right way and speaking encouraging words. We are to rid ourselves of negative feelings that grow into unhealthy action. We are to let go of the control, to trust in God and follow only Him. Paul writes, “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.”
We fail. We see God as we want to see Him, not as He is. But Jesus tells us, “I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: yea and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.” We might want to have the control, to be able to decide things which are not ours to decide. We might want to relieve the pain of a loved one or find the escape hatch. But life with Christ is about faith; it is about believing in the One God sent. We will fail because we only see the world through our own eyes and experiences and biases. But as see God as He reveals Himself to us, we recognize that our salvation and the blessings of journeying on the path God has chosen for us. It is there we’ll find true life and peace.
The introduction to today’s psalm describes it as “Of David. When he pretended to be insane 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, it might seem as though David is making a choice to do what he thinks is best in a difficult situation, but in the Psalm David gives all glory and honor to God. In many ways David is just like us, too. He failed at times, sinned against God and man. But David kept His eyes on His God.
I don’t know what I would do if I were in the same situation as the man in Ohio, though I doubt I would take a gun into the hospital and kill my loved one, no matter how much I felt her pain. And I don’t know how I would answer the question if someone ever asked how I wanted to die. I don’t have an answer. I do hope that if I am ever in a life and death situation that I can keep my eyes on God, trust in Him to save me whether the answer is life in this world or my time to enter into the next. I hope I will never try to take control of the things that only God can faithfully accomplish.
By faith we are made part of a Kingdom that is not limited to this world, but it is a kingdom that demands our faithfulness. Will we put God first, sacrificing the old ways for the new? Will we trust that even when the things of God seem so complicated, that God is forever faithful? And will we reject the ways the world tries to make our faith more palatable? Will you partake of the Living Bread from Heaven and join me in the meal that feeds so much more than our bellies? Taste and see. Though it seems so strange, Jesus has invited us to receive His flesh and blood so that we will be a part of His body; it is there we truly find refuge. Taste and see that the LORD is good.
“For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1, ASV
We went to the zoo today. I think the zoo is one of my favorite places because I love to watch the animals. Though they are certainly not human, the animals so often have human characteristics or mannerisms. Victoria and I provided soundtracks to the antics of the monkeys, laughing when the young one seemed to be annoying the mother the way a toddler can annoy a human mother. The kangaroos were using their paws to hold and carry items. The nursing warthog stood patiently as the baby had a bite to eat, but we could almost hear her sigh as her baby just clung there uncomfortably. The birds talk to each other. The porcupines hold meetings. The babies of so many species try to imitate the actions of the adults.
The gibbons have a large habitat that is surrounded by what appears to be chainlink, although it doesn’t seem like it is necessarily metal. Perhaps it is netting, which gives the gibbons the flexibility they need for flying from one hold to the next. The habitat is filled with ropes and toys, like a large ball and a bucket. There is also a hammock. The habitat is green with trees and shrubs, grassy areas and vines. Though they are fed well, the often pick leaves off the trees to munch as they are playing.
At one point we noticed one of the gibbons was hanging from the net that covers the habitat and encloses it. I imagine without that net the gibbons would easily escape since they can jump very far. What we thought was particularly funny was that no matter how many trees and bushes were green with leaves within the habitat, this particular gibbon was determined to get leaves from the trees outside.
We often hear it said, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” I guess that gibbon thought the same thing. And yet, is it really greener? Is that thing you are trying to get on the other side really better? Is the life you are chasing really better than the life you have now? It might seem so, but we usually discover that it isn’t so. We usually discover that we miss what we had when we catch what we were chasing. The gibbon managed to get some of those leaves above the net, but didn’t even really eat them. It dropped the leaves to the ground and eventually sought a snack at the enclosure.
Do you ever feel like you are a zoo animal, trapped in a cage and unable to get to where you want to be? Do you chase after a dream that seems impossible because something is in the way? Do you want to be on the other side where you think the grass is greener? While the animals at the zoo seem to have some human characteristics and mannerisms, they also seem very content with their lot in life. We saw the tiger lying on his back, happily resting in the shade. We saw the warthogs digging in the dirt, just as they would be doing if they were on the savannah. We say the monkeys playing together, the birds chatting, the elephant enjoying a bath. The rhinos sniffed their poop (something nature, though not understood) and the hippos enjoyed the fish who were eating the tiny parasites that grow on the hippos’ skin.
Would those animals be happier free to live in their natural habitat? Perhaps. Freedom is always better than captivity. However, they would also face the dangers of the predators, lack of food and water, harsh weather and other troubles. They are safe in the zoo, and loved by those who visit. The grass is not really greener on the other side of that fence or net or wall. Inside the zoo, the animals have the freedom to live without fear or hunger or thirst.
There may be times when we think that our faith limits us. We should not follow the ways of the world but should live according to the word of God. It might seem boring, or oppressive, or restrictive, but there is a reason why God has established His commands. Live might be more fun or easier if we could just do what we want to do, experience that life we are chasing, but is it really better? Or do we discover when we catch it, that the dangers are far worse than the benefits? And isn’t the freedom we have in Christ really far more freeing because we don’t have to live in fear or hunger or thirst because he provides all we need?
“And when David had made an end of offering the burnt-offering and the peace-offerings, he blessed the people in the name of Jehovah of hosts. And he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, both to men and women, to every one a cake of bread, and a portion of flesh, and a cake of raisins. So all the people departed every one to his house. Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to-day, who uncovered himself to-day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself! And David said unto Michal, It was before Jehovah, who chose me above thy father, and above all his house, to appoint me prince over the people of Jehovah, over Israel: therefore will I play before Jehovah. And I will be yet more vile than this, and will be base in mine own sight: but of the handmaids of whom thou hast spoken, of them shall I be had in honor.” 2 Samuel 6:18-22, ASV
A number of people asked what they should wear to our party on Sunday and I had to laugh. I laughed because I hadn’t even thought about dress code. The party was in my house. I answered one query with, “casual and comfortable.” I also said that they’d be lucky if I put shoes on my feet. It is hot in Texas and I expected a lot of people. I didn’t anyone to get so dressed that they would be hot and uncomfortable in the house or on the deck.
I laughed, but I understood the question. Whenever we are invited to an event, I wonder what to wear. Should I put on a dress or will shorts be suitable? Should I wear something nice or can I get away with my everyday clothing? We want to look appropriate to the situation. I suppose it is also true that many of us want to impress the other guests. When we go to an event for Bruce’s work, I want to look my best and represent Bruce in a positive way.
At times it might seem like worry over clothing is a vanity thing, but there is good reason to dress nicely. We go to the trouble to wear Sunday clothes to church to show our respect to God. We dress well for a job interview to show the employer that we care about our appearance and they see that we will care about the impact we make in the job. We dress appropriately when we go to the store so as not to be rude to others participating in the activities. The proper clothing is important in sports and other leisure activities.
Now, expectations are different today than they were fifty years ago. We do not expect people to be dressed up on Sunday morning. We overlook the person who arrives at the wedding reception in blue jeans. We may even ignore the young lady who shows up at the grocery store in a bikini top and short shorts. I may not always approve, but I doubt I would ever say anything. In most cases, the inappropriate clothing is not a matter of disrespect; they dress as they are able. Some people come to church before or after working a shift. The person at the wedding may not have a suit. The girl in the bikini might be headed to the pool and needed sun block. We know it would be better to cover up, but we don’t know what brought her to that moment.
I wonder how we would react if we saw David dancing in a loincloth down the street. It seems like a completely inappropriate outfit for such a solemn moment. He was moving the Ark of the Covenant into a more permanent home, celebrating the wonderful things that God had done for the people of Israel. It was like a parade, and we might expect that the king would respect the LORD by dressing in his finest. King Saul certainly would have done so. He would have covered himself in fine fabrics and gold chains. He would have dressed to impress the people so that they would give him the honor due as ruler.
David, on the other hand, was wearing almost nothing. If he lived today, he might end up on one of those websites that post pictures of people who have dressed inappropriately. Michal, the daughter of King Saul, was offended by David’s antics. She thought his lack of dress was not only inappropriate but also disrespectful. “Look at the shame you have brought on Israel today!” But David dressed as he did, in only an ephod or loincloth, because he was approaching the Lord with humility. He knew that he was nothing compared to the Lord. He knew that he had nothing without God’s blessing. He knew that he would be dead without the saving hand of God. He didn’t dress in a loincloth to be disrespectful to God or the people, but to show the world that he is humble before God.
So, how do we make a story like this relevant to us today? There might be reason to be like Michal, to ask why those around us dress inappropriately. It might have been best for the king to make the right impression on the crowds at such a solemn occasion. But Michal didn’t understand David’s reasoning. She didn’t understand that his dancing was an act of humility and praise before God. He didn’t dress to impress, he dressed to confess his worthlessness before God. Perhaps we should look at our neighbors not through the eyes of Michal, but through the eyes of grace, we might discover a heart of faithfulness where we once saw vanity.
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.” John 12:32, ASV
When I was a teenager, one of the leaders of our church youth had a small cabin along a river. The group enjoyed trips to the cabin to go tubing on the river. We would all pile into a few cars, and the drivers would take us up the river a few miles. We’d get in and tube back to the cabin. Then we’d do it all over again. It was a fun way to spend a day. We would laugh all the way down the river, floating along with the current. The river was diverse along that section, with places that had fast running water and other places that were deep where the water ran slow. Sometimes we’d get close enough to the bank to grab onto an overhanging tree branch, fighting the current. Or, we’d get stuck on a particularly large rock or extremely low bottom. We did whatever we could to make the trip interesting. We’d even find ways to overturn each other’s tubes.
I like the statement in today’s lesson. Of course, we know that in this passage, Jesus was comparing Himself to the serpent that Moses created in the desert to save the people from the snakes. In that story, the people had grumbled against God, again, and God sent these poisonous snakes. Too many people died, but they cried out to God, seeking His mercy. He commanded Moses to create a snake on a pole, and all who looked to it when they were bit were saved. Though God provided the pain, He also provided the healing. We may not understand this story from our point of view, but it is a story of learning to trust God. When we are faced with the temptations of this world that ‘bite us,’ we too have a savior on a pole to save us. That’s why Jesus used the example.
The word ‘draw’ when it comes to the relationship between God and His people can be problematic because we often think in terms of God picking and choosing which people He will draw. I come from a faith tradition that focuses on God’s work in the story of salvation rather than the choice of the believer. We understand that it is God who gives us faith, and any choice we make is a response to what God has already done. Now, this perspective can be taken a step further, and some do, believing that it is impossible to believe unless God has chosen. This idea of election limits the number of those who can become Christian according to God’s will. In other words, some can’t believe because God has not chosen them.
However, as I thought about this idea that God draws us to Him, I thought about those lazy summer days on the river. It didn’t matter who you are: if you plopped your butt into an inner tube on the river, you were going to end up at the cabin. The river draws anything that is floating free in the direction it is running. It is possible, though, to get stuck along the way, either by choice or accident. Like those of us who would grab a branch we can decide that we don’t want to float with the river. We’d have to fight the current, but we could do it. At times we would get stuck by that boulder or shallow water. We wouldn’t choose to stop floating, but we couldn’t help it: circumstances made floating impossible. Yet, when we let go of the branch or got unstuck from the boulder or shallow water, we are once again drawn down the river.
Isn’t that the way it is with faith? We are drawn to God, because we have been created to worship Him. He doesn’t limit the number of people who can be drawn to Him. He wants all to believe. However, sometimes we get stuck, by choice or accident. How many people refuse to be drawn into God’s heart, so they grab onto something that keeps them from freely flowing with the current of the Holy Spirit? How many times do the circumstances of our lives get us stuck in one spot, unable to move on? We couldn’t get to the cabin without the river and we can’t believe in God without God drawing us in. Everyone is welcome. Have you let go so that God can draw you into His arms? Have you looked to the One who was lifted up to save you?
“Little children, it is the last hour: and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have there arisen many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us. And ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all the things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning. If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise which he promised us, even the life eternal. These things have I written unto you concerning them that would lead you astray. And as for you, the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any one teach you; but as his anointing teacheth you; concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye abide in him.” 1 John 2:18-27, ASV
Ok, I admit that I buy packaged lunch meat, especially when the kids are around the house and need lunch during the day. Bruce also likes to take a sandwich to work occasionally, and though we do try to buy some fresh sliced deli meats, the package stuff is more convenient and can be kept around a little longer. I suppose that is the real trouble with the packaged meat: it has so many preservatives it isn’t very good for you. There are those who will never buy it. I haven’t made it to that extreme, yet, because a piece of baloney tastes so good once in awhile, but our intake of those products has dropped significantly.
I was at the packaged deli section today to stock up for the next week and I looked at the packaged turkey. Now, we just had turkey breast the other day, roasted in the crock pot. The color of the turkey was a nice off-white, as it should be when roasted. I expect the turkey I buy in the deli section to be a similar color. Now, I know that the turkey is processed, so it won’t look exactly like it was sliced off a turkey breast. However, the packages on the counter were filled with a meat that looked more like baloney than turkey. It was pink. I didn’t buy any. Of course, the meat, even at that color, is safe to eat. However, there’s a difference between safe and healthy. The pink turkey won’t kill you today, but what have they done in the processing that will harm your body eventually?
We have made changes to the way we eat. We are probably still not entirely healthy, but I’d rather put together my own one pot meal with fresh ingredients than buy a prepared meal in a box. I’d rather buy fresh or frozen vegetables than those in the can. I try to visit the local farmers markets and butchers when possible. Have I given up all processed foods completely: I have to admit that the answer is no. But we are trying to eat healthier. We are trying to eat ‘real’ food rather than the stuff that has ingredients on that you can’t even pronounce.
I wanted to buy deli turkey, but decided not to buy the stuff on the shelf because it didn’t look ‘real’. I know that it is all processed, that even if it had the color of fresh roasted turkey that it’s been through some process. The texture, the flavor, and the shape all tell the reality. However, the turkey I saw on the shelf was so obviously not real that I decided to avoid it. Sometimes it is easy to tell the difference between what is real and what is not real. Unfortunately, the anti-christs do not stand out so clearly to us. They disguise themselves cleverly, appearing to be real even while they are leading people down a dangerous path.
We like to think that we can’t be fooled, that we will recognize the truth and reject the lies. But the anti-christ, or anti-christs, will sound very real. They will speak words that sound right. The serpent did that in the garden, and despite walking side by side with God Himself hearing His word from Him, Adam and Eve chose to believe the twisted word that came from the serpent. It sounded good, how could it not be true? We face the same difficulty. The words of the anti-christs seem to point to Christ, but twist the reality. The words might sound good, they might even seem to point to Christ, but if it anything is lifted above God then it isn’t from Him. Beware of the words you hear, and believe only that which puts God first.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 19, 2012, Pentecost Twelve: Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
“Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:17, ASV
Dr. Sheldon Cooper, a character on the popular television show “The Big Bang Theory” is very intelligent. He is a physicist and his understanding of mathematics is incredible. He read and solve equations that make absolutely no sense to most of us and he sees the world from a perspective that few of us will ever understand.
Sheldon is a genius whose knowledge goes well beyond just science. He is insulting at times, even to his friends who are well educated and highly intelligent, about their lack of knowledge. He has an incredible brain, an eidetic memory, which many confuse as being photographic. He has an amazing ability to recall moments, images, information that most people forget minutes after they happen. On one occasion, he described not only a pinky swear between other characters, but he remembered not only the vow, but also the circumstances of the moment. He could name the food he ate a dinner three years previously and which shirt he was wearing at the restaurant. His incredible brain surely helps him with his study of physics, because a brain that has such incredible recall can remember everything he knows and apply it to current questions. It is no wonder that he sees himself as more intelligent than anyone else.
And yet, Sheldon has difficulty dealing with everyday problems. He can’t drive a car. He doesn’t know how to deal with the quirks of Penny, the beautifully blonde neighbor. He can’t understand the human need for companionship, touch, emotion or faith. He has a practical view of the world. When he found some common interests with Amy Farrah Fowler, a highly intelligent girl who is a friend (and eventually Sheldon’s girlfriend), Sheldon decided that their DNA was worth preserving in offspring. Shortly after their first ‘date’ Sheldon and Amy suggested that they should produce a child. Of course, they wouldn’t do it the normal way, they would do it in a test tube and surrogate.
Sheldon might be highly intelligent and have an incredible brain, but he’s missing something of the human mind. He lacks wisdom in a way that he will never understand. He can’t see the world through human eyes. His experience and intelligence has not helped him with interpersonal relationships or everyday life. He cannot discern circumstances in a way that helps him respond properly to the people and situations he faces. Of course, this inability to deal with the world makes for some very funny moments for the viewers, but it is not a life well lived in the real world.
Wikipedia defines wisdom, “Wisdom is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding. It often requires control of one’s emotional reactions (the “passions”) so that universal principles, reason and knowledge prevail to determine one’s actions. Wisdom is also the comprehension of what is true coupled with optimum judgment as to action. Synonyms include: sagacity, discernment, or insight.”
The wise person can look at a situation and find the right way of dealing with it. Solomon, the wisest of all, knew how to deal with the two women who were fighting over one baby. The judgment of Solomon to cut the baby in half sounds ridiculous, but he knew that the real mother would never allow the child to die. How would Sheldon deal with a similar situation? I don’t know, but he sees the world in black and white, and the world is not always that clear. Sometimes there is some insight that isn’t obvious, a gray area that needs to be discerned through more than just facts. It takes the ability to deal with personal relationships, emotion, and faith, too. It takes seeing the world through the whole self, not just the brain.
Now, Jesus spoke words that went way beyond what the people could understand. The liked the miracles. They liked what they saw. The liked the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah, the One who would save them from the oppression they were experiencing. They liked that He filled their bellies and healed their sick. They liked that He had a large following, because with so many behind Him He would surely ‘win.’ They didn’t always understand what Jesus had to say. The parables were confusing. The attack on their faith was strange. They weren’t interested in anything spiritual, or even religious. They needed someone with practical answers to their problems.
His words in today’s passage are too shocking for the crowds. Not only had Jesus talked to them about being bread from heaven, opposed to the bread that Moses gave them, now He was telling them to eat his flesh and blood. This was the eating of human flesh and drinking of human blood, and it would not have been seen as life-giving. As a matter of fact, it was cause for death! This was too much for many of the disciples and Jesus’ following became much smaller. They were afraid, but not of the God who offers eternal life. They were afraid of the consequences of the things they did not understand.
Those who followed Jesus were simple people. They needed practical lessons on how to live in faith, but Jesus was teaching them about life beyond today. They did not understand. But like the psalmist, Jesus was teaching through word and dead a healthy fear of the Lord. He was calling the people to live as God intended them to live: to depart from evil, to do good, to seek peace and to pursue it. The fear of the Lord is doing good and seeking peace. It is about building right relationships.
We know now that Jesus was pointing forward to the great and promised feast that we now celebrate in part at the Eucharistic table. But how would we have felt if we had been in that crowd that day? Jesus said that His flesh is meat and His blood is drink. Would we have been any more willing to partake? It is easy to assume from our point of view that the people were being foolish for not believing Him, but would His words have seemed any less foolish to us? Would we have recognized this passage as being the will of the Lord? Or would we have followed the crowd in running away from this madman?
Several weeks ago we began reading a story of Jesus revolving around bread. In the beginning, Jesus was surrounded by a great and hungry crowd of people. He asked the disciples to feed them. They had only five loaves of bread and two fish, but Jesus blessed the food and it fed more than five thousand people. Though this miraculous event is beyond our physical explanation, the people grasped the idea of Jesus filling their bellies. They wanted to make Him king so that they would never be hungry again.
When Jesus told them to work for the imperishable, they asked Him, “What is the work we are to do?” He answered, “Believe in the One whom God has sent.” That is the point of the sixth chapter of John, the stories we’ve been hearing for the past few weeks. We are meant to believe that Jesus is the bread of life. Yet, Jesus makes it very hard to believe this. As we get further into the chapter Jesus gets progressively difficult, and it would have been even worse for those who were listening to Him that day.
Jesus first compared Himself to Moses, and though they wanted to make Him king, He was no Moses. Not even King David, most certainly the greatest king of Israel, was Moses. Then He compared Himself to the manna. How could He compare to the manna? The manna came and fed them for forty years! He said He was the bread “that came down from heaven.” This was not only beyond belief; it was blasphemy. He was identifying Himself with God. Finally, in today’s passage, Jesus tells the people that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life. This is not only hard to believe, the idea is repulsive. We are not cannibals. How could anyone claiming to be from God ask His people to do something that is against God’s law?
Wisdom is calling us to listen and understand that Jesus is teaching us something outside the everyday. He did not literally want those people to kill him right then and there. He did not want them to follow the practices of the pagans who practiced human sacrifice. It is speak such spiritual words to people who live so matter of factly. Like Sheldon, who can see beyond the science that is his livelihood, the people heard the words and thought Jesus meant that they should understand them literally.
Matthew Henry writes, “What is meant by eating this flesh and drinking this blood, which is so necessary and beneficial; it is certain that is means neither more nor less than believing in Christ. As we partake of meat and drink by eating and drinking, so we partake of Christ and his benefits by faith: and believing in Christ includes these four things, which eating and drinking do:—First, It implies an appetite to Christ. This spiritual eating and drinking begins with hungering and thirsting (Matt. v. 6), earnest and importunate desires after Christ, not willing to take up with any thing short of an interest in him: “Give me Christ or else I die.” Secondly, An application of Christ to ourselves. Meat looked upon will not nourish us, but meat fed upon, and so made our own, and as it were one with us. We must so accept of Christ as to appropriate him to ourselves: my Lord, and my God, ch. xx. 28. Thirdly, A delight in Christ and his salvation. The doctrine of Christ crucified must be meat and drink to us, most pleasant and delightful. We must feast upon the dainties of the New Testament in the blood of Christ, taking as great a complacency in the methods which Infinite Wisdom has taken to redeem and save us as ever we did in the most needful supplies or grateful delights of nature. Fourthly, A derivation of nourishment from him and a dependence upon him for the support and comfort of our spiritual life, and the strength, growth, and vigour of the new man. To feed upon Christ is to do all in his name, in union with him, and by virtue drawn from him; it is to live upon him as we do upon our meat. How our bodies are nourished by our food we cannot describe, but that they are so we know and find; so it is with this spiritual nourishment. Our Saviour was so well pleased with this metaphor (as very significant and expressive) that, when afterwards he would institute some outward sensible signs, by which to represent our communicating of the benefits of his death, he chose those of eating and drinking, and made them sacramental actions.”
While we do eat and drink Christ in the bread and wine at the Eucharistic table, we also partake Christ by faith. Our lives lived in faith are lives that are nourished by Him. Our lives lived in response to the Gospel are lives that show our passion for Him. We eat His flesh and drink His blood every time we study the scriptures, pray and worship, share God’s grace with others. We join Him in a very spiritual way while being part of Him even in a physical way. Our whole selves become part of Christ. Our flesh and blood, our hearts and minds, our hands and feet are all joined with Christ through His body and blood. This sounds like foolishness, but there is wisdom in the words because it is God who calls us to come to the table.
We want to live according to the wisdom of the world, a wisdom that is founded on intellect. The world makes much more sense when we deal in practicality. Jesus made more sense to the people when He was feeding them bread and fish. He made more sense when He was talking about the Kingdom of God in language they understood. He lost them when He took them beyond their knowledge and asked them to see the Kingdom as something they could not touch. They rejected Him when He asked them to be part of the Kingdom in a new way.
Paul writes, “Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Jesus told us that the will of God is “to believe in the One He has sent.” The life well lived is not only the life that seeks God day in and day out, but it is the life of one who lives in communion with God and His people. Paul says, ‘Be filled with the Spirit.” The spiritual life is found in the body of Christ.
Paul writes, “Look therefore carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Paul is not trying to make the people of Ephesus afraid of the world in which they lived, although we aren’t much different than those to whom Paul was writing. And though times are different, the world is the same. We are surrounded by troubles. Many people today think that the days in which we live are evil. We are afraid because we do not know what tomorrow holds or how to get through today. But Paul calls us to be wise, to respond with faith. Foolish people respond to fear with senselessness. Wisdom responds by seeking the will of God.
Jesus asks us to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Paul asks us to sing and make melody with our hearts to the Lord. It is no wonder that the world sees Christian faith as foolishness. But the life lived in faith is truly wise because it sees the world through Christ and trusts that God is faithful. We are not simply living for today or to get through the troubles of today. Faith gives us hope in that eternal Kingdom that God has promised to those who believe. When we eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ, we join in His body and we live forever.
Of course, someone like Dr. Sheldon Cooper would want that statement to be very real and literal. He would want the pill that keeps his body alive forever. He once even tried to live through a virtual presence device to avoid the dangers of the world. However, the life Christ promises is not in this world, it is in a world we can only imagine. The best we can do today is partake in the bread and wine, eat His flesh and drink His blood at the Eucharistic table, while we wait for the day that all His promises will be realized. We can’t understand this completely in practical terms, but we can believe. We can give thanks for all things in the name of Jesus, knowing that He is the One whose grace promises true life in this world and the next.
“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” Leviticus 19:15, ASV
I like to watch “The People’s Court.” Marilyn Milian is intelligent, humorous, and right thinking. I don’t always agree with her judgment, but when I disagree I remember that I am not in the courtroom, I see only what the producers want me to see, and I do not have access to the documents that she has been given in preparation for the case. She sometimes believes the person I don’t believe, and does not believe the one I think is telling the truth, but I don't have all the information she has, so it is easy to be fooled. Despite my differences, I think she is a brilliant justice and makes good decisions.
I love when she digs deeper into the stories, even when digging deeper does nothing to solve the case. She brings out the best and the worst of those standing in front of her. Of course, she generally brings out the best in those who have something good to say and the worst of those who are not right. It amazes me how often people come before her who obviously live on the edge of the law. The drug sellers, the thieves, and the wife beaters never look good in her courtroom.
The best thing about Judge Milian is that she is determined to meet out justice. My favorite statement from her, which she says often, is that she isn’t there to make someone’s life better; her job is to make them whole and to make things right. In too many cases, the plaintiffs sue for more than they are owed, asking for pain and suffering or emotional distress. Others decide that they need a brand new laptop to replace the one that the defendant broke. They want to replace what they had with something better, so they sue for more than the actual value. Judge Milian often dispenses what she calls “rough justice.” She bases her decision on the amount she thinks that the item was worth at the moment it was ruined, not what it would cost to replace it with something new. Justice means making things right, and you can see that in the Bible as the word is often translated “righteousness.”
I suppose there are times when I’m watching those court shows that I want the underdog to win. I want to give the person who is suffering that extra money for pain and suffering, to give them a lift up, especially when the one they are suing are obviously better off. When the sweet renter can’t get her security deposit back from the jerky landlord, I want the judge to say, “Just eat it and give this poor woman her money.” But if that person had a dog that destroyed the carpet, it doesn’t matter how rich the landlord: the right thing is for the renter to replace the carpet her dog destroyed.
The question of justice is one that we face today; it is the focus of many ministries. There is so much we can do to make the lives of the suffering better, but we must be careful that we define that work properly. Is it justice to force a rich landlord to pay the cost of a ruined carpet just because the one who ruined the carpet has less? Justice is about making things right. If someone is suffering because something has been taken from them, then it is our responsibility to return to them what is rightfully theirs. It is not up to us to decide that they deserve more than they lost and take it from another. It is our responsibility to be fair, to make things right for all involved.
This does not eliminate the responsibility of the rich to share what they have with those who have less, but that is a matter of mercy and compassion, not justice. And that’s a subject for another day.
“Through him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Hebrews 13:15-16, ASV
We are often told that the subject most commonly discussed in the bible is wealth or poverty. Jesus and the prophets surely give hope to the poor in the message of the Kingdom that they will experience the blessings they missed in this world when they are welcomed into the life that waits us in the end. The rich are often warned that their greed will take them outside the gracious hands of God. The story of Lazarus and the rich man shows us that the man who is unwilling to share his blessings with others will find themselves lacking in the life to come.
We must beware that we do not take what we know about the scriptures and become legalistic about sharing wealth with others. It is easy to become the judge, to demand from others a response to God’s grace according to our expectations. When we see that our neighbor has that big house or fine car, we expect that they will give abundantly to the causes we hold dear, and when they reject our demands, we assume they are greedy. And of course, there are many who are greedy. But has God given us His Word to give us the authority to take from those who have more to give to those who have less? Or has God given us His Word to change our hearts so that we will be like Him and do what is right for those in need?
As I thought about these questions, two very different bible stories came to mind. The first story is from the book of Acts. Ananias and Sapphira were Christians who sold a piece of property. There was such passion in the early church that the believers were generous with everything they had, giving freely so that everyone would have enough. There was no expectation to share, it was a natural response by the people to the incredible gift of God. They met the needs as they saw the needs. If a neighbor was hungry, they shared their bread. They knew that when they were hungry someone would share with them. There wasn’t a law about this mercy and compassion; the people simply did as they were able.
Unfortunately, Ananias and Sapphira saw this as an opportunity to show off. No one expected anything, but Ananias and Sapphira took an offering to Peter, claiming it was the entire proceeds from their sale. This story would have turned out much different if they had simply said that they were giving a portion to the work of the Church, but they wanted to acclaim that came from such an incredible sacrifice. They saw it happen with Barnabas, and they thought they could get away with acting the same way. Unfortunately, they kept some of the prophets for themselves. Again, the problem here is not that they kept the wealth; it was that they lied about their gift. They were quite generous, but they claimed to be sacrificially generous.
Now, let’s look at the other story: the story of the Good Samaritan. In this case, a man was robbed and left to die on the side of the road. Another man, a Samaritan, found the beaten man, picked him up, cleaned his wounds, took him to an inn to recuperate, and paid for his care until he could return. The Samaritan responded with mercy and compassion to the needs that he encountered along the way. We don’t know how generous he was in other circumstances? Did he tithe? Did he give regularly to the food bank? Did he have a foundation to help widows and orphans? We simply do not know. We do know that in this circumstance he was extraordinarily generous.
That’s what God wants from us. He doesn’t want us to force everyone to give what we expect them to give. He does not want us to demand a certain response with our blessings. What can happen, as may have happened in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, is that the givers present their gifts for all the wrong reasons. We usually assume that Ananias and Sapphira were motivated by greed, but what if they had simply been responding to the peer pressure of the community. After all, if Barnabas could give the entire proceeds of his sale, should not the same be true of Ananias and Sapphira? But what if they needed some of those funds to pay their bills or feed their children?
They might have been lying to make others happy or to fit in. God does not ask us to sacrifice; He gives us the freedom to live sacrificially. None of us can know for sure what our neighbor is able to give or what they have done with the resources they have been given.
Most of us reading this message have more than we need. How do we use our blessings? And how does God want us to use those blessings? Is He demanding that we give a certain percentage to a specific place? Does He ask our neighbors to judge the way we use our money? I don’t think so. It is not our responsibility to tell others what to do with their wealth. God calls us to live faithfully and freely with the blessings we have been given. God has given us faith and transformed us into His image so that we will respond like the Samaritan to those opportunities for mercy and compassion that we encounter along our own path. It might not be obvious to our neighbors what we are doing, but God knows. Our generosity is never meant to be a visible proclamation that we are good; we are called to faithfully respond to God’s grace with our own.
We can have the type of community they had in the days of the early church, where everyone shares as they are able. We don’t need to demand that our neighbors give according to our expectations. If we all lived like that Samaritan, giving as we are able to the needs we encounter, no one would be hungry.
“Take, brethren, for an example of suffering and of patience, the prophets who spake in the name of the Lord. Behold, we call them blessed that endured: ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord, how that the Lord is full of pity, and merciful.” James 3:10-11, ASV
We had a horrible thunderstorm Saturday night. We haven’t had such a severe storm for a long time; the lightning and thunder woke both Bruce and I. We wandered around the house for awhile, looking out windows to see the rain. We turned on the television to make sure that we were safe from extreme weather like hail and tornadoes. The electricity went off at one point during our wandering, but can back on quickly. Just as we were getting ready to go back to bed and try to sleep, lightning struck nearby. We heard the sizzle, the whole house lit up and then there was an immediate clap of thunder. It shook our house and chased the kitties under the bed. We listened for a bit, but it didn’t seem like there was dangerous damage nearby, so we went to bed.
The storm passed and we went about our normal Sunday schedule. There was not much damage that we could see. We suffered the normal loss of twigs and leaves from our trees, but the grass was greener from the nitrogen in the lightning and the rain. The neighborhood seemed no worse for the wear and I think we were all happy for the rain even if we did lose some sleep from the storm.
I don’t know where the lightning struck, if it really did. We didn’t hear about any fires nearby and we didn’t see any damage. By the afternoon, even the memory of the storm had passed. I decided to run out to the store to get a few things we needed. Zack heads back to college this week, so we wanted to make sure that we got everything done in his room and for his new school year.
I pulled into the parking lot at about 3:00 p.m. and I was struck by how empty it was. I parked in an extremely close spot, unusual for a Sunday afternoon. There was no line at the customer service desk, which made some business easy. The aisles were empty, so I managed to get everything quickly. About halfway through my trip I went to the grocery section of the store to get a few things. I was shocked when I saw that every cooling case was empty. There was no milk, no butter, no cheese or meat. There was nothing in the frozen section, so you could not buy ice cream or vegetables. Luckily, my shopping didn’t require many items from those sections, so I finished picking up my items and went to pay.
It was at the check-out that I learned the store had opened at 3:00 p.m. They did not have any electricity for hours and all the food had to be thrown out. I thought it was bad enough that our electricity went off for ten minutes, making us reset all our clocks, but their electricity had to be out for nearly ten hours. Our loss was so minimal compared to theirs. Can you imagine how much they lost in food? The losses would not have only been what they could fit on the shelves, but everything that they had stored in the freezers in the warehouse. It must have been thousands of dollars worth of food that had to be destroyed because of a storm.
I have to admit that I was very tired when we woke up Sunday morning because my sleep was interrupted by the storm, and I grumbled when I had to fix the clocks in the house. But at the store I realized we had no reason to complain. The storm was tough, perhaps even a little frightening, but we were safe through it all. How many times do pity ourselves because we are facing difficult times, but we do not realize that we are blessed despite the storm? We often do not see how the storms of life affect our neighbors. We might have scary moments and inconveniences, but our neighbors might just have unbelievable losses. It would do us well to remember that when we are in the midst of our own storms. There may just be someone out there who is facing a much more difficult time who needs our help, our mercy and compassion.
“And he said, How shall we liken the kingdom of God? or in what parable shall we set it forth? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown upon the earth, though it be less than all the seeds that are upon the earth, yet when it is sown, groweth up, and becometh greater than all the herbs, and putteth out great branches; so that the birds of the heaven can lodge under the shadow thereof.” Mark 4:30-32, ASV
We spent the past few days taking our son back to college. He goes to college about four hundred miles away, so we always plan several days for the trip, especially on move-in. We wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to unload the car and shop for things that he needed to set up his room for another year. We could have done it in two days, but decided to take three. Our plan was to travel Tuesday, move Wednesday and then travel home on Thursday. Our trip went so well on Tuesday we ended up moving him into his dorm room. By 8:00 in the evening we did almost everything we expected to do on Wednesday.
Now, we thought about coming home early, but decided to stay. I’ve visited the college town so many times but I’ve never been there on a day I could visit any of the museums. Unfortunately, we are generally there on a Monday and the museums are all closed on Monday. We spent most of the day Wednesday visiting those sites and we stopped by one on Thursday on our way out of town. It was fun and I’m sure the next few devotions will focus on lessons learned at those different places, including an archaeological site, a prairie dog habitat, a diverse university museum and a center honoring Buddy Holly.
Buddy Holly has been remembered long after his music career ended so tragically with a plane crash when he was just a young man. His career lasted less than two years, but in that time he impacted some of the most famous musicians of all time. We watched a brief video about his life and music which included interviews with people like Paul McCartney. Paul spoke about the impact Buddy Holly had during a tour in England in 1958, when he and his friends watched Buddy Holly play and then tried to copy his style during late night jam sessions. He admitted that the first forty songs that he and John wrote were directly inspired by Buddy Holly. The same can be said about other stars of the British invasion like the Rolling Stones and the Hollies. The Stones’ first release was a Buddy Holly song “Not Fade Away” and the Hollies so admired Buddy Holly that they named themselves after him.
One of the interesting things I learned was that the Crickets, who played with Buddy Holly from approximately February 1957 to November 1958, had originally wanted to call themselves the Beetles. From the Buddy Holly timeline, “Buddy is restricted from recording any of the songs that were done under his contract with Decca. A name is needed in order to release the new version of ‘That’ll Be The Day.’ J.I. Allison searches through an encyclopedia under ‘Insects’ in order to find a name for the band. They consider briefly, then discard ‘The Beetles’ before selecting ‘The Crickets’. Over the next month, the band members of The Crickets come together: Buddy Holly, vocals and lead guitar; J.I. Allison, drums; Joe B. Mauldin, bass; and Niki Sullivan, rhythm guitar.”
As we wandered through the gallery, I overheard someone ask the question, “How would history have changed if the Crickets had become the Beetles? I don’t know if anything would be different except the names. When the Beatles were forming, they wanted to choose a name that would reflect the influence of Buddy Holly and the Crickets. If it had been Buddy Holly and the Beetles, it is possible that the band from England might have been called The Crickets! (A manager suggested that they spell beetle with an ‘a’ to include the musical term ‘beat’ in their name.)
The one question that is repeated over and over again is “What would music be like today if Buddy Holly had lived longer?” Buddy Holly was an innovator. He used the technology available to create new and unusual sounds. He added strange instruments, layered the sound, even used a cardboard box to make the sound he wanted for a song. He did all this long before digital capabilities. He was well beyond his time and those who followed had him to thank for inspiring them to reach for the stars with their music. He also stood up for his individuality, refusing to be formed by the industry or those who produced his work. He was a creative musician and refused to allow that creativity to be smothered.
It was certainly tragic that Buddy Holly died so early. We can certainly grieve the loss and wonder how the world may have been changed by him had he lived. But I thought about this from another point of view. SonnyCurtis said, “Buddy Holly lives wherever rock ‘n roll is played.” Buddy Holly was the spark that set in motion something spectacular. If Buddy Holly had continued his tour, would the Beatles have pushed forward into their career? Would The Rolling Stones have started their career with a cover song from the Crickets? Would the Hollies have felt they could name their band after a living man? Buddy Holly’s creativity may have oppressed the creativity of all those other artists. He has had an incredible impact on the world of music perhaps because his career was cut so short. It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and Buddy Holly’s spark hit exactly the right hearts.
When someone dies too early we grieve their loss and wonder what might have been if they had lived longer. It is natural for us to grieve and wonder, but let us also praise God for what we have been given. Buddy Holly had a huge impact despite the small seeds he planted. So too, those we’ve lost too early can be remembered for the impact they’ve had on the world. Even now, whatever seeds you have planted may be changing the world, no matter how small they seem. So, instead of focusing on what could have been, let us celebrate what is and look forward to what will grow out of what has been sown.
“He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is of the earth, and of the earth he speaketh: he that cometh from heaven is above all. What he hath seen and heard, of that he beareth witness; and no man receiveth his witness. He that hath received his witness hath set his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for he giveth not the Spirit by measure. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” John 3:31-36, ASV
One of my favorite places to visit in England was Warwick Castle. If you are planning a trip to England, this is a good place to start, especially if you want to see bits and pieces of English history from all the major eras. Warwick Castle has been developed into a tourist site that has created exhibits that show you about life at different times in English history. There is a place where the original wall still stands, and though that has been left to become natural, you can still see how they built defenses more than a thousand years ago. A dungeon area shows how they dealt with criminals during the dark ages. A wax museum shows a garden party in progress at the turn of the twentieth century. The lawn is filled with medieval crafters and games including jousting tournaments for the visitors to watch. Some may find it a bit touristy, but if you want to see a thousand years of history in one place, Warwick Castle is a great place to visit.
We aren’t used to so much history in America. Here in Texas, most of our historic sites are less than two hundred years old. We simply do not have the history here that they have in England. I have to laugh when I see signs on businesses that say, “Serving the public since 2002.” Really, ten years is a big deal? I recall pubs in England that have been serving the public for hundreds of years. There is more history in the East, but even in places like Jamestown and New England, the oldest buildings are no more than a few hundred years old.
Now, we do have older history. There are places with rock hewn buildings from ancient native Americans and rock paintings that are thousands of years old, but we know very little about the people who created those places or painted those paintings. We try to guess what their life must have been like, but there is no way for us to know for certain when they arrived, when they left or even why they lived there when they did. Those places are very limited in the information visitors and archaeologists can gain. It is still worth seeing because we learn so much about ourselves by seeing that which has been left from those who came before us.
The big difference between those ancient sites in America and the history found in England and the east coast is that the former has no written history to go along with the physical evidence. Historians have papers and books and documents and even pictures that help them recreate what was happening during each era of the castle’s history. On the other hand, those ancient Native American sites have no written history. There is physical evidence like tools, pottery, paths, burn marks along with the hewn and painted rocks, but in so many cases we have to guess what had happened. We can make educated and well informed guesses based on information archaeologists find all over the country, but they are still guesses.
We visited an ancient site during our trip last week, and it was a fascinating adventure. Lubbock Lake Landmark is part of the Texas Tech University system, and is an active archaeological site. They dig every summer and have discovered many artifacts. The most interesting thing about this particular site is that it is more like Warwick than the others because it is the only known place in North America where there has been continual human habitation for thousands of years. During excavations, they have found evidence of human life in every layer of the strata. The lake was an ancient watering hole where the animals of the planes visited regularly. The humans who lived there had a ready source of food.
Like the displays at Warwick, the interactive display inside the visitor center at Lubbock Lake Landmark showed how life changed over thousands of years. They have found spear points and knives that show how the technology developed. They have found the bones of whole animals, although in most cases the bones have been adapted for human use as tools. They can see when the humans began using animals to transport and the ways people cooked their food. The artifacts tell amazing stories, but in the end we can only guess what their life was like.
When you think about it though, do we really know what life was like for those who lived in Warwick Castle, especially those who lived a thousand years ago? What would archaeologists think of us in a thousand years? One of the ladies at the landmark told us that she asks children that question when they visit the site. She tells them that what they find when they dig is simply the garbage of a former age. What would the archaeologists find if they went through what was left of our garbage? Almost everything besides stone and bone would disintegrate. They aren’t sure what will happen to plastic. Will they think our homes were castles (especially since most average homes today are larger than many English castles)? Even with the written evidence, would they understand what life was like for us? Can you imagine if some archaeologist decided that Harry Potter was historical?
It is interesting because we can ask many of the same questions when it comes to the evidence that has been found throughout the history of man in relation to our relationship with God. Archaeologists have found many things that they claim prove the words found in the Bible. They might be right, but do we need to really have such proofs? We don’t need to know the garden party at Warwick really looked like the one they’ve put on display in wax figures. We don’t need to know what the cave paintings mean to know that people lived there. We don’t need to understand everything about the life of those who lived near Lubbock Lake to appreciate what a special place it is.
What we need to know is that God is and what He has done for us. We know these things not by proof but by faith. Oh, the artifacts are fascinating and the stories compelling, but God is outside the limits of archaeology. He is beyond matter and physical evidence. He is even more than the words on the page. He is, and He loves us so much that He gave Jesus so that we might be His. There is nothing that can be found in a hole in the ground or a landmark that can change that.
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven of God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God: and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4, ASV
Lubbock Lake Landmark has a number of bronze statues around the site. They have a giant hort-face bear, a northern pampathere (giant armadillo), an ancient bison and a pair of Columbia mammoths. These bronzes are based on actual skeletons found on site, so the size is indicative of the animals that used the watering hole. In one photograph that I took that day, I had Bruce stand beneath the head of the mammoth and raise his hand as high as he could. In the photo, his hand is at least a food below the mammoth’s chin. The baby even stood almost as tall as Bruce. It is amazing to think that animals like these lived, and that they lived so close.
Just inside the interactive center is a wall mural painted by John R. Thomasson. It shows what life may have been like on the southern plains. The painting shows fifteen different animals and the plant life that covered the plains. The painting was based on archaeological evidence from the Pleistocene era. Some of the animals were not surprising. We would expect rattlesnakes and prairie dogs. We know that coyotes and rats would live in that type of environment. We might even expect animals like horses and sabertooth cats. The one that surprised me most is that camels were indigenous to the southern plains.
Now, the Pleistocene era came just after the last ice age, when the glaciers had lowered the depth of the oceans so significantly that land bridges existed between continents. We all learned in science class about the migration of people and animals across Beringia, the land bridge that once connected Russia and Alaska. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always envisioned that migration as one directional—west to east. As we were talking to one of staff members at Lubbock Lake, I commented on how surprised I was that camels lived on the plains. We talked about how the change in weather as the ice melted likely caused animals to migrate or even disappear because they could not adapt to the new landscape.
I wondered if the camels had come over the land bridge to the south plains but then could not survive in the new environment. The staff member explained that the camels actually began here and moved to Asia. The camels we know today are actually ancestors of those that lived here; they traveled east to west across the land bridge and disappeared completely from the North American continent.
I don’t know why I always assumed the migration only came toward North America when it is perfectly logical that there would be migration both ways. We have a human tendency to see things one directionally. The same is true when we are thinking in terms of faith. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make the connected needed with God. Religions throughout history have encouraged adherents to reach up to heaven, to lift themselves to new heights, to try to become like the gods. Even today, many Christians believe that we must do something to be worthy or to earn that which God has done for us. They believe we must decide, we must take action, we must rise above the rest of the world to grasp that which God has done. We make the journey one we take from earth to heaven.
But the reality is that God comes down. He traveled to us. He sent His Son to us. He did everything that is necessary for us. We don’t cross the bridge to Him; He came to us so that we might be made new. We believe. We respond. We live our faith. But we don’t act to gain God’s grace, God’s grace acts to draw us in to His heart.
Scriptures for Sunday, September 2, 2012, Pentecost Fourteen: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Psalm 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
“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.” Mark 7:6b-7
Doesn’t it seem like scientists are constantly changing their minds about what is good for us and what is bad? Perhaps it is not the scientists themselves, but those who report what they hear from the scientific community. One day we are told we should not drink coffee and the next we are told that coffee can be good for us. We’ve been told to avoid alcoholic beverages and that wine is very healthy to drink. We have heard it said that we should avoid all red meats and yet there was a successful diet that recommended heavy meals of protein, including red meat. Who is right? Which is the right answer? Should we drink coffee, wine and eat meat or should we avoid them? It is hard to know the truth when the expert opinions change almost daily.
I had to laugh the other day when I heard another report, this time about circumcision. The same confusing opinions have been reported for decades about circumcision. One day it is good to do, the next it is not. There was recently a controversy over this very practice as some wanted to outlaw it, despite the Jewish religious belief that it was commanded by God. The latest report I heard has said that it is good to have a boy circumcised very early in life. So, which is right? Is it good or is it bad? Is it so bad that we should outlaw it?
When I heard this latest report, I have to admit that I thought to myself, “Well, if people would listen to God, we wouldn’t be so confused.” Yes, the circumcision of baby boys is a religious practice, but God did not command anything that would harm His people. The laws about pork are good, because we know today that any pork eaten without proper cooking and refrigeration can cause serious illness and even death. The laws about blood and other bodily fluids are good because we know that disease passes through those fluids. We know the laws about cleanliness are good because it helps to stop the spread of disease. Though these laws often sound archaic to our modern understanding, there is good reason for them and we would do well to consider why God commanded those laws.
There is a lot of law in today’s scripture lessons, and I think that makes us a bit uncomfortable. We are not very good at keeping the law. Though most of us can say that we haven’t murdered anyone, I would guess that most of us would not be able to say the same thing about traffic laws. How many of us speed once in a while or forget to turn on our turn signal? We may not have robbed any banks, but which of us hasn’t ever told a lie? Can any of us say that we have never skipped church on a Sunday morning because we were just too tired to get out of bed? Haven’t we all, at some point, hated our mother and father?
We think about law the way we do Santa Claus. We think of it like God is our dad and he’s bribing us to be good. If we do something, then we’ll get something. We think of the blessing as an earned reward. That’s why we are so uncomfortable about the text today. We don’t always do what we should, and so we know we don’t deserve to get the reward. We fail daily to live up to the expectations of the Law and expect to receive the punishment. But God is not Santa Claus, and He’s not bribing us to be good. The Law is set out to make our lives better. If we do this, we’ll experience the world as it is meant to be. If we don’t, we will live in a world that is skewed and broken. God is not demanding obedience, but He’s showing us the right way to live. If we are obedient to the food laws and the hygiene laws, we will find that we are healthier and will live longer.
The psalmist asks, “Who will dwell in the house of the Lord?” The description of that person is that he or she is one that walks rightly, does good works, speaks truth. He or she does not slander others or harm people with word or deed. The ones who dwell with God are those who fear God and honor those who fear God, who keep their promises and act with grace and mercy. Those who do these things will stand firm, and it is those who abide with God.
But when we waver, when we do not walk rightly or do what is right, we tend to wander away from God’s holy house. It isn’t that God pushes us away, but that we leave that which God has given to us. With God, obedience is not a matter of “if you do this, then I’ll give you this.” God says, “If you do this, you’ll live in the world I have created as I meant it to be.” Blessedness is not a reward for good behavior; it is the fulfillment of everything God intended.
It is easy to convince ourselves that the life we choose by going our own way is the right one, especially if there is some semblance of faith involved. The Gospel text for today does not include the story of Corban, but it is worth considering as we talk about the law. The commandment tells us to love our mother and father. This is not just a matter of saying “I love you,” it is a matter of carrying for them when they need us. Unfortunately, the religious practice of the day was to give Corban, which means “Given to God” while ignoring the needs of the aging parents. The practice looked good and holy because it was a gift to the ‘church’, but it left elderly parents in need.
Do we ever do anything similar? Do we give to the church when the need is closer to home? Do we ignore the needs of our neighbor because our congregation needs a new basketball court for the kids? Do we forget to feed the hungry because we want a bigger sanctuary? How do we give to something that appears ‘holy’ when it ignores what God really intends for our resources? Sometimes we get so caught up in our understanding of the Law that we miss the intention of it. We end up living in a broken world rather than in the world which God has created. We lose the blessedness and experience the loss, not as a punishment but because we have turned away from God’s Word.
In our lesson, Jesus turns His attention to the crowd and says, “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.” The laws we obey are very helpful for keeping us healthy. We know, after all, that eating raw pork is dangerous and that washing our hands helps keep us well. But Jesus tells us that it isn’t our obedience to the Law that will manifest God in this world; it is living the life He intends us to live that will make God’s grace apparent. Those who care for their mother and father will show others what it means to care for those in need. A donation to the church will not.
The Old Testament lesson from Deuteronomy tells about the gift of God to His people: the Law. It was never meant to be a burden; God gave them the Law for a purpose. God is glorified by the obedience because the world will see how great things can be if we live rightly. They would be seen as a great nation not as a reward, but because they would manifest God’s plan. “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?”
They knew they would be blessed by the keeping of God’s Law and set apart from the rest of the nations. They would be different because they would live as man was meant to live. But they fell short. They forgot to tell their children and their children’s children about the Lord and all they had done. They forgot His Law and turned to other gods. They sought the help of other nations instead of trusting in the Lord. Rather than understanding that the Law was a gift, they lived as if they were being rewarded for their good behavior. The interpreted the Law and turned it into hundreds of rules. They made God’s gift into a burden, expecting the people to keep the rules according to their understanding. Their righteousness was self imposed, not a manifestation of God’s grace. And they condemned those who did not live up to their expectations, like Jesus’ disciples when they did not wash their hands.
When they approached Jesus about his disciples, He answered with a prophecy from Isaiah. “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.” Then He told them that uncleanness had nothing to do with dirty hands. It is about heart, about faith. He went on to tell them that what comes out of a man is what makes him unclean. “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.” When we go our own way, follow our own righteousness, we end up in a world that is broken and distorted.
James tells us that it is the word of God that saves us, which He sent from heaven to give us a new birth. The perfect law was a gift from God, one that frees us to be all that God has blessed us to be. Our religiosity does nothing for our faith; our traditions do not bring us closer to God. Too often these things harden our hearts and make us turn from the truth. We are unable to find peace or salvation in our works; we can’t make the world a better place doing what seems to be holy if it isn’t what God intends. It is only through the grace of God, found in Jesus Christ, that we can truly be righteous, and in that grace we are called to live in the world God has created and that He intends it to be. In that world we will be blessed because we’ll be dwelling in the temple of God’s creating, not our own.
“And he that sitteth on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he saith, Write: for these words are faithful and true. And he said unto me, They are come to pass. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit these things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” Revelation 21:5-7, ASV
There is a fun place to visit in one of Lubbock’s public parks. It is called “Prairie Dog Town.” In the 1930’s, the federal government was aggressively poisoning the local prairie dog population because it was out of control. A man named K.N. Clapp was concerned that the prairie dogs would become extinct. He joined with a friend named Ross Edwards and they built an enclosure where they placed two breeding pairs of prairie dogs. The habitat has been there for nearly eighty years and the prairie dogs are thriving.
I noticed this place listed in the tourist book about Lubbock, and I was curious when I was planning my visit last week. I could not understand how this place could be so impressive that it was listed as a “must see” site. I’ve visited prairie dog exhibits in zoos and they are definitely fun to watch, but I don’t think I would go out of my way to visit any of them. The listed was confusing, too. There was no price quoted or hours listed. Visitors are directed to the city park. Again, I wondered how this place could be so terrific that it rated so high on the list of things to do. How can anything that is open and free be so great?
I had a few minutes to spare in between activities one day, so I decided to drive by Prairie Dog Town. I thought that if there were some hidden charge, then I could just leave and go to my next destination. As it happened, it really is just there in the middle of the public park, with parking right next to the enclosure. The habitat was renovated a few years ago, with a pavilion, trails and better parking to make it an even more pleasant experience. Even before the modifications, Prairie Dog Town was the fifth most visited attraction in Lubbock by out of towners.
I could see why: the prairie dogs are adorable. I only had about twenty minutes, but I could have spent hours watching them play. They are well fed, perhaps a little bit too well fed, as some of them were roly-poly bundles of fur. Someone must visit regularly with food for the prairie dogs as there was a whole watermelon and a cob of corn near the parking lot. They also enjoy the native plants and grasses that grow in the enclosure. I thought they were so cute that I made Bruce go back with me later that evening to watch them play again.
As I watched the prairie dogs, I realized, as I often do when watching animals, that they all had very individual personalities. One kept stealing a leaf out of the hands of another, even though he was sitting on a whole plant full of leaves. Two played chase tag. One laid down flat to the ground, exhausted from the hike from one hole to another. You could see looks of emotion on the faces of these characters, some happy, some frustrated, some tired, some crazy. I watched as one carefully entered hole, curious about what was happening inside. Suddenly a pile of dirt flew out and into his face. I was taking pictures at the time and it appears as though he looked straight at me with the question in his eyes, “Why did he do that?” He tried to enter again, and got dirt in his face a second time. He looked at me again, exasperated. Finally he made it in the hole, and then I saw both heads pop out. The other guy almost seemed to say, “Ha, got ya!”
Once in awhile one of the prairie dogs will stand tall on its hind legs and make a very high pitched bark. Others will then follow the lead and do the same thing. At one point during my visit, I heard the very distant sound of an ice cream truck. I could not see the truck, but I could tell the direction of the noise. So could the prairie dogs. They heard it and they all got on their hind legs, facing toward the truck, and barked. It was as if they were calling the ice cream truck to their enclosure. I watched, laughed and took pictures for my entire visit and then did it again later. It was well worth my time and effort.
We assume that because something is cheap or free that it isn’t valuable. I couldn’t imagine it would be worth going out of my way, but the reviews were so good that I decided to try. I was glad I did because it was a highlight of my visit to Lubbock. I am sure I’ll go back to visit when I’m in town again. We spend so much money when we are tourists, paying to visit museums, buying souvenirs, paying for hotels and food that we forget sometimes the best memories come to us for free. We forget that the best things in life don’t cost money.
“For ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth), proving what is well-pleasing unto the Lord; and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them; for the things which are done by them in secret it is a shame even to speak of. But all things when they are reproved are made manifest by the light: for everything that is made manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee. 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; subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.” Ephesians 5:8-21, ASV
The purpose for our trip last week was to take our son back to college. Our plan was to drive on Tuesday, move him in on Wednesday and return on Thursday. I was hoping to find time during the week to visit some museums and other tourist sites. Obviously that worked to my favor because I managed to get to several sites and I had a great time. The back to college trip is always filled with hard work and too much shopping for essentials, so it was a pleasant surprise to have so much time to play.
Our plans changed as we neared the city because we were arriving much earlier than expected. Our new house is nearly an hour closer to the college, and we left at our usual time, so we arrived by mid-afternoon. We were originally going to go right to the hotel, but we knew that a few hours might be enough to get Zack settled in to his room. Even if we couldn’t get everything done, we thought we could at least empty the car and do the rest of the work in the morning. Zack could still stay in the hotel with us if we didn’t get enough done. As it turned out, we not only managed to empty the car, we also emptied the storage unit where we kept many of his things like his refrigerator. Even though his roommate was not arriving until the next day, some of the other boys on the floor helped bunk the beds and get the furniture in place. We managed to get out to the store to get him some necessities. He even emptied a suitcase and a few boxes that we were planning to bring home with us.
We had very little to do on Wednesday. Overnight Zack made a list of things he needed from the store, including a few items that we couldn’t buy the night before because the store was picked clean. We helped him, but Zack did most of the work. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that everything happened so fast. I was looking forward to having Zack around for that night in the hotel. I wanted him to enjoy a museum or two with us. I wanted to treat him to some good food and spend time with him before we left for home. We didn’t have much time with him during the since he worked at a camp for most of the summer, and I just wanted as much time as possible. He was anxious to see his friends and get a start on the new year. But the advantage of getting it done was that we could relax. If we had waited until Wednesday to move him into his dorm room, we would have had no time to play. Zack also had time to make sure that he had everything he needed and we had time to go to a second store to fill in the gaps. We might have been rushing around on Thursday morning if we had procrastinated.
What do we put off, in life and in faith? And why do we put it off for another day? Do we want to rest? Do we want to spend just one more day with our loved ones? Do we want to eat, drink and be merry before the hard work begins? What happens when we put these things off? Do we miss the opportunity to enjoy life? Do we get rushed into making poor decisions or have to push to get things done? Do we lose the chance we’ve been given to do something good?
All too often we wait to live our faith because we have too much else going on in our lives. We think that tomorrow is another day and we can share the gospel with others then. We think that we aren’t good enough to do it, so we wait until we are better. We think that tomorrow we will have better resources or more time. Yet, do we ever have more? Do we really get better? Do we have another day? We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and if we do what God is calling us to do now, at this moment, we might just find that tomorrow will be an incredible blessing.