Welcome to the August 2019 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 2019
I am back. The purpose of my trip was to spend time with my daughter and to attend a theological conference. My husband and I enjoyed seeing our little girl all grown up. She acted as tour guide and we saw so many interesting places. We visited her workplace. We ate meals together and talked about so many subjects. The conference was interesting. I listened to five theologians talk about the Holy Spirit, and while it was a little overwhelming to listen to the brilliant men who spoke, I did manage to get something out of each. You’ll see the fruit of that experience in upcoming posts.
The only problem with the vacation was its timing. I missed writing on a very important anniversary day. As of August 1st, I have been writing this devotional for twenty years. It began long before there was such a thing as social media, when we corresponded via email. I belonged to an online discussion group and the moderator was going on vacation. She asked if I would ensure that the members had something in their email boxes every day. She usually did cute things with graphics, but I decided to write a brief devotional each day for this two-week commitment. At the end of the first week, I wondered how I would ever make it through to the end. By the end of the second week, I had ideas for more in mind. So I just kept writing. Now, by God’s grace, A WORD FOR TODAY continues.
Many changes have occurred since those first writings. That mailing list disappeared years ago. Though some still receive it via email, most of my readers see it on Facebook. I’ve had readers from all over the world. Many readers have come and gone. I added a website in the first year, and now it has the archives from the past twenty years. I began writing Midweek Oasis a few years into the work, and though it is now part of A WORD FOR TODAY on Wednesday, it continues to look at the lectionary for the coming Sunday. I’ve changed the version of the Bible that I quote each day. During those first days I never expected anything like this. One thing has remained the same: my love for our Lord Jesus Christ and for each of you. This would not have continued for so long without the blessing of God or without your faithful encouragement and prayer.
I was curious about those first few posts. It is probably not surprising to hear that my writing has changed significantly over these past twenty years. I’ve become a better writer. I’ve grown in my faith and knowledge of scripture. My life has changed as my children became adults, my husband retired from the military, and we settled down to one place. It is sometimes hard to come up with new ideas, so I confess that I go back to the archives and post an edited version of a previous devotion. After all, I’ve written more than five thousand devotions over the years.
I thought it might be fun to post the first devotion on this twentieth anniversary. You can see how far I’ve come over the years. Thank you, my friends, for your support, love and encouragement. I do love you all, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us praise God together every moment and may He be ever glorified in A WORD FOR TODAY and in our lives.
August 1, 1999
Movie. It is incredible to think about the amount of money and waste that goes into the making of a movie. Just yesterday, I was watching a documentary about set making. In one instance, the team needed to reproduce a town in miniature, so that they could make it appear as though a volcano was destroying it. It took months of hard labour and tons of bucks… If there were even the tiniest mistake, a misplaced wire or a mispushed button... the whole shot would be ruined, and they would have to begin construction again. All this for about 30 seconds of film.
The crew puts so much of themselves into creating something that is set for destruction.
“What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath made for destruction...” Romans 9:22, WEB
When a team begins to make a film, they have an image of what they want it to be. They start with an idea which becomes reality after years of intense labour. As with all human endeavour, the reality does not always look like the original thought. Cost, practicality and law often stand in the way of the original intent.
“...and that he might make known the riches of his glory on vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory...” Romans 9:23, WEB
The glory that shines in the film is not the carefully and lovingly prepared set. It is the 30 seconds of film produced by its destruction.
Our flesh nature is like that film set. It is the object of God's wrath and is prepared for destruction... It seems like such a waste. The destruction must happen for the glory to be revealed.
We were created in the image of God, but the cost, practicality and law stands in the way of the original intent of God. When it seems like your life is filled with senseless destruction, remember that God has prepared you in advance for this moment, so His Glory may be revealed.
“But the end of all things is near. Therefore be of sound mind, self-controlled, and sober in prayer. And above all things be earnest in your love among yourselves, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, employ it in serving one another, as good managers of the grace of God in its various forms. If anyone speaks, let it be as it were the very words of God. If anyone serves, let it be as of the strength which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:7-11, WEB
The theme for conference I attended and other events of the week was “Walking by the Spirit with the Fruit of the Spirit.” The focus, of course, was the Holy Spirit. Each theologian spoke from a different point of view, pointing to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in the Bible, and in the Church. I confess that I am often overwhelmed by the lectures. One speaker was kind enough to give us a PowerPoint presentation to watch as he spoke, but he spoke so quickly that the screens were often gone before I could even read them completely. Most of my notes from that lecture are half sentences. Still, I heard what he said and as I’ve processed each speaker’s talk, I’ve managed to get something out of each. I don’t know if it is what the speaker meant for me to understand, but I hope I am able to honor God with these new insights.
Stuff. We spend a lot of our time chasing after stuff. This includes not only the souvenirs we buy when we are on vacation, the extra pair of shoes we really do not need, and the pile of school supplies that tempt us at the back to school sales. It is also about the big purchases like the cars we buy and the houses in which we live. How do we see that stuff through the eyes of faith? There are many who talk about the need for us to simplify, to not chase after stuff. Though there is some truth to that, Dr. Derek Nelson suggested that what we need to do is to be deliberate about our inglorious junk.
His point was that we live in a time when the Gnostic point of view is gaining favor among Christians. Gnosticism was an ideology that insisted that the soul has become entrapped in the flesh and that the material world is of no value whatsoever. This has led down several different roads. Some Gnostics think that we should reject everything material, to focus solely and completely on the spiritual. Others think that we can use and abuse the material world in any way we want because it doesn’t matter anyway. Dr. Nelson said, “We are becoming removed from the real. Everything is disposable.”
We know that this disposable world is causing very real problems. The plastic rings that hold together a six pack have killed animals. The landfills are overflowing with electronics that quickly become outdated as new technology is created. Apartment complexes not only destroy lush landscapes, but also add hundreds of new cars to the roads. There are those who insist that we are destroying the world and if we don’t take radical measures, we’ll all be dead soon.
I don’t have such a hysterical view of our pending demise, but I do make changes to my lifestyle when I learn that something I do can cause something a problem. I have been cutting six pack rings for years, ensuring that there are no closed loops that could get caught on an animal. We recycled aluminum cans and newspapers long before the city waste management did the work for us. I try to not waste electricity and water. These life choices have happened because I’ve seen my error, repented, and allowed myself to be transformed by God. It is about being a good steward of what God has given.
The material world is a holy place of the Spirit’s glorification and our love for God should motivate us to do what is good and right with God’s creation. The problem with Gnosticism is that it does not take into account the reality that the material world belongs to God. God created the world and said it was good. Even when we fail to live up to what God intended for us, He forgives us through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. The flesh matters, so much so that Jesus took on the flesh. In the Incarnation, the body was good enough to fit the fullness of God.
There are those who will try to guilt us into changing so that we can save the world. There are others who will try to enlighten us that the changes we need to make to make things right will be for our own self-interest. Neither of these points of view will truly motivate us to make the changes. We can’t save the world, anyway. God can, and He does, and He has. He can and will heal what is broken, even in the creation. What should motivate us is the love we have for God. Instead of thinking that the material world does not matter, we would do well to remember that God dwells in the midst of our stuff. He created and redeemed the whole world, including our inglorious junk. Instead of trying to save that which we cannot save, we would do well to make better decisions and become better stewards because everything in this world belongs to the God we love. In doing so, we will glorify the God who loved us first and who loves us more than we can ever imagine.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 18, 2019, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: Jeremiah 23:16-29; Psalm 119:81-88; Hebrews 11:17-31, 12:1-3; Luke 12:49-53 (54-56)
“Yahweh of Armies says, Don’t listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you: they teach you vanity; they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of Yahweh.” Jeremiah 23:16, WEB
Jeremiah had a lonely life. He was a prophet who had a very unpopular message. The other prophets of the day were promising good times to the people. They were promising sunshine and roses, peace and prosperity while Jeremiah prophesied the coming destruction. He was persecuted and rejected because he did not speak words the people wanted to hear. Would we have been any different? After all, it is much better to hear about peace and prosperity rather than destruction. How many preachers today are guilty of similar warm fuzzies when they should be calling people to repentance?
Mother’s have this way of knowing what is going on without even having eyes on the situation. I have been known to tell my children that I have eyes on the back of my head. The children often believe this because we seem to know things we should not know. We are able to see things beyond the reasonable scope of our senses. We are really not omniscient, but we hope they will believe that we can see everything and that it will make them think twice about doing something disobedient when they grow older. We can’t be everywhere, however. Step by step they grow up and move on without us, often testing the limits of our omniscience.
Unfortunately, we do the same thing with God. We’d rather think of Him with limited scope and sight. This is why the gods of the early people were local entities, more like extraordinary humans than divine beings. They looked to them as greater and looked to them for help and salvation, but it was convenient that they were just local gods. They could be ignored by those outside their jurisdiction. We do not need to deal with a rain god if the weather is just right. We do not need to honor some god of the fields if our fields are producing well. The Lord God Almighty is greater than human beings, but we often give Him the same limited characteristics of those local gods. We think that we can ignore Him when we do not need anything or hide from Him when we are doing something wrong.
When we discount the Lord God Almighty and make Him less than He is, we easily fall prey to those who would use and abuse His power for their own benefit. In Jeremiah’s days there were prophets on every corner, prophets who claimed to know God’s mind and His intensions. They cried, “I had a dream” and interpreted the dream to their advantage. By claiming to have received their message directly from God, they sought to gain power and influence over people. Yet, their message was lacking. It led people astray. It sent people to the altars of the false gods and made people forget the Creator and Redeemer God.
How do we tell the difference? There are many people today who claim to be prophets and who say that they have been given a special message from God. These messages often come in the form of dreams, but they also say, “God told me.” While it is important to hear what they have to say, we are to always remember that God’s Word does not contradict itself.
In the passage from Jeremiah, God asked, “What is the straw to the wheat?” Straw is part of the wheat; it is the stem that is left after the wheat kernels are taken. Straw has value: it can be used for bedding, for warmth, for building. Yet, straw is limited. Wheat, on the other hand, is life giving. The kernels can be used for food or they can be planted to grow more wheat. God’s word as compared to that of the false prophets is life giving. It is forgiving. It is filled with grace and hope and peace. God’s word might be demanding. It might be powerful, like the hammer that breaks the rock into pieces, but it is healing and it is transforming. Most of all, God’s Word reveals His faithfulness.
Who do we believe? This is a question we have to ask ourselves daily. Which news is real news? It is becoming very difficult to know what is true. I’ve watched too many videos of people who can’t answer simple questions correctly because they’ve trusted what they have heard without searching for the truth. People will continually repeat misinformation until it becomes “known fact” despite being untrue. With the viral character of the Internet, this type of misinformation can ruin people’s lives and reputations.
How many of you have said, “God will not give you any more than you can handle,” believing that you have spoken a word of scriptural truth? We have heard this throughout our lives and are led to believe that life will never be difficult. Ask Jeremiah if God gives people more than they can handle. Life was rough. It was lonely to be persecuted and rejected. Jeremiah remained faithful not because he thought God would away the difficulty but because he knew that God would get him through. We believe this word because we want to be in control. This is not a statement of trust in God; it is a statement of trust in our ability to make things right in our own lives. We know, by the Gospel through the scriptures, that we could never make things right. That’s why we needed Jesus Christ to die for our sake.
Our scriptures lately have focused on our trust in God and having patience to wait for His will to be clearly known in our life. We looked at Abram and Sarai whose faith in God’s promises gave them a vision of the future that they would never see during their lives. They saw the beginning - the birth of their son Isaac - but they would never truly see the offspring who were as numerous as the stars in the sky, at least not in this life. They still had faith. We are amazed by the examples of faith we have been given in the scriptures, almost to the point of wondering if they are truly historic stories or just merely myths to give us confidence to live in faith.
I think the point that makes these stories real to me is the fact that these saintly, divinely inspired faithful people were not perfect. They failed. Even after Abram was given the promise over and over again, he went to Hagar for a child. In the list of the faithful given to us by the writer of Hebrews, we see others who were faithful but who also failed to be perfect. Rahab was of questionable morality. Gideon repeatedly demanded proof from God. Barak demanded things to be done his own way rather than according to God’s will. Samson fell to the temptress. Jephthah made a deal with God which meant the death of his beloved daughter. David’s indiscretion brought the death of a husband and a child. The people who crossed the Red Sea did not remain faithful to God. Samuel and the prophets failed in their own ways.
In the story of Jericho we see that sometimes the patience with which we wait is accompanied by a period of repetition, experiencing the same things over and over again until we reach the point of truly trusting in God. Would the walls have tumbled down if the Israelites had played the horns on the first day? No, God called them to a period of patience and obedience despite their inability to see how it might be worthwhile. In the end, they believed and the walls fell.
So it is with us. By repetition we learn what we are doing wrong and we learn how to do it right. Our life of faith is a growing, maturing journey that lasts our entire lifetime. We have the advantage over those people of faith in days gone by because we know that the promise has been made real and eternal in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but we still fail. We still forget God’s promises and need to be reminded. We still have doubts. We still have to learn. We go through the same problems over and over again until we get it right and then God will move us on to a new phase of our journey. Unfortunately, trusting God with such faith can lead to a life like Jeremiah’s.
Jesus said, “I came to throw fire on the earth. I wish it were already kindled.” This sounds almost like the boast of a warrior king who has come to bring destruction and wrath. Jesus’ message becomes more difficult to hear as He moves closer to the cross. Life in God’s Kingdom will not always be easy; there will be persecution. The Gospel is not a unifier, it is a divider. But Jesus comforts His disciples with the promise that they will not be alone.
Last week Jesus warned His disciples to be ready. Ready for what? The religious leaders were already pressing Jesus to catch Him in some crime so that they could be rid of Him. The inevitable end of Jesus’ ministry would be on the cross. Jesus certainly wanted the disciples to be ready for what was soon to come because His passion and death would be trying on them as well. But Jesus constantly reminds them not to be afraid. “They can’t really kill you because your Father in Heaven is willing to save you.” No matter how wonderful this message sounds to us, there are too many who do not hear and believe.
That’s the dividing that comes with the fire Jesus’ throws on earth. He divides hearts; some are inflamed with the divine love of God, others are left cold. The fire is not a fire that destroys, but one that fills the hearts of God’s people with His love. Jesus wishes that it was already burning, but it would take something very radical for it to happen. Jesus had to die on the cross, and then after His resurrection, the Holy Spirit could be thrown upon God’s people, filling them with everything God has promised to those who believe.
Living fully and faithfully in God’s divine love means turning away from the expectations of the world. It means being at odds with those who would make vices acceptable and prosperity the goal. It means dwelling in God’s grace and being transformed into the person that God has created and redeemed you to be.
Sadly, many in Jesus’ day did not recognize the signs of His coming. They didn’t see that He was the fulfillment of God’s promises. They didn’t recognize the signs of the coming age because of their spiritual emptiness. It is no wonder that Jesus wanted to fill them with the fire so that they could hear and understand His teaching that God’s Kingdom had arrived. They wanted God to fulfill His promises in their way and they could not hear what Jesus was saying. There are many who continue to live like that today. Prophets preach messages that sound good to listening ears, but are not truly from God. They are messages that offer peace and prosperity rather than a call to repentance.
God does not always lead us into a path of wealth and happiness. The lives described in the passage from Hebrews were not lives most of us would choose; the faithful throughout God’s story did not find peace. However, the descriptions of the martyred saints throughout the history of the church are pictures of people who died with faces filled with joy and peace, even if they were burned or beheaded for their faith.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the faithful throughout history did not see the promises of God fulfilled. Abraham had a child, but he never saw the multitudes that God said would be His offspring. Isaac, Jacob and Joseph never saw what would come. Moses never entered the Promised Land. The writer of Hebrews lists many other faithful people who accomplished great things but never fully saw what was to come. The promise of Jesus was always there, in their words and in their hope, but they didn’t live to see the day. Even the earliest Christians, many of whom knew Jesus personally, did not see the ultimate fulfillment of His work on earth. They lived in faith knowing that God was faithful, trusting that God would, in His own time and way, be faithful. We are still waiting for that day, the day when He comes again to make everything right. We are waiting for the day when we will all be welcomed back into the Garden to dwell in His presence forever.
We’ll make mistakes. We’ll follow the wrong voice and follow the wrong path. We’ll choose that path that seems best to us even when another path might be even better. We are afraid. We doubt. We are uncertain about which voice is real. The promise of God is not peaches and cream. It is peace and joy unlike anything we can experience in this world.
What does it mean to have the peace of God? We might like to think that peace is a life without conflict. We might like to think that joy is a life without sadness. But that is not what God promises. Jesus was a man of peace, but the peace He brought was a peace that passes human understanding. It is a peace in the heart, a peace with God. It is a peace that is not dependent on human effort. The Christian’s life does not always appear peaceful or joyful, but there is something about their attitude that manifests before others. Those who live in the passion of Christ often have lives that look like His own passion, but they face those difficulties with thanksgiving and praise. They walk in faith, trusting that God is with them every step of the way.
Through Jeremiah God speaks to us, “Am I a God at hand, says Yahweh, and not a God afar off? 24 Can any hide himself in secret places so that I shall not see him?” God is not penned up in our buildings. He dwells in Heaven so He can see the bigger picture. We can’t hide from Him. We can’t go about our own way expecting that God will ignore it. Those faithful in the passage from Hebrews knew God and He knew them. He knew their hearts and He knew their failures. He knew their sins and He loved them because they had faith. Though they failed to be perfect, they trusted in God.
Dr. Derek Nelson said, “The revelation of God is embodied and concealed.” God is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and yet continues to be a mystery to our human minds. God is both at hand and far off. He sees us even if we can’t see Him. He is so close, but we will never be able to keep Him under control. He is far away, but knows every hair on our head. God is with us. He is in our hearts and in our lives. We can know the difference between the false prophets and those who are faithfully speaking God’s message to the world, because God helps us to hear with ears of faith. His true word brings life and growth and hope.
In the Gospel lesson Jesus said, “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky, but how is it that you don’t interpret this time?” They knew what the temporal signs meant for their lives. Their agricultural livelihood depended on knowing the right time to plant and the right time to reap. The desert heat can be dangerous for travelers who might be on a dusty road for days at a time. Knowing the signs meant the difference between life and death.
We look at the stories of Jesus and wonder how they could have been so foolish. He was right there, close to them. Jesus did miraculous things; He made a difference in so many lives. However, there were many miracle workers and people claiming to be the Messiah. They could not recognize the real because they had seen so many false prophets. They had become cynical. Besides, Jesus did not fit their expectations. He was not the Messiah they were looking for. He was not the Savior they predicted. They couldn’t read the signs because they were looking for all the wrong things.
Jesus said that they did not know how to interpret the signs. Certainly He did many miraculous things, but there were others who did miraculous things. What they missed was that Jesus did things that no other person could do. His signs were not just miracles, they pointed to something greater. His work pointed to the grace of God, to the salvation that He promised and that He would faithfully provide for those who heard and saw God’s presence in Jesus. They believed the signs according to their own interpretation, but they had a skewed understanding of God. Do we have a similarly skewed understanding of God? If we look at the signs of our times, it is easy to wonder if Jesus is speaking to us, too.
We are called to repentance, to live the life of faith in peace that might not be so peaceful. Our passion for Jesus Christ might bring discord even among our families. The world will not approve of the choices we make. We might suffer. We might die. But we are being called to take our faith into the world no matter what might happen. This means acting as Jesus taught us to act, doing what Jesus commanded us to do. Jesus calls us to follow in His footsteps, even though the circumstances may be difficult. The world cannot take the peace we have in Jesus Christ. We might suffer persecution, even persecution from those we love in this world, but let us walk in the passion we have for Jesus and let our faith flow. He has called us to call sinners to repentance so that those who are dying might receive the grace and forgiveness that saves so that they might have eternal life in the family of God.
“In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up from the water, he saw the heavens parting, and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. A voice came out of the sky, ‘You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ Immediately the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. He was there in the wilderness forty days tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals; and the angels were serving him.” Mark 1:9-12, WEB
When Jesus taught us to pray, He included a line that says, “Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Some translators suggest that it would be better to translate “temptation” as “a time of testing.” We wonder why Jesus would teach us to pray this because as James writes, “Let no man say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God can’t be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one.” If God does not tempt us, why ask that He not bring us or lead us into temptation?
Then we read the text for today and see that God drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. The purpose of this wilderness wandering was to be tested. How can God the Father do such a thing to His beloved Son? This is, of course, one of the reasons why people reject the God of the Bible. They do not believe that a loving God would allow suffering in the world. Matthew and Luke tell us that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, a much kinder movement of the Spirit. Yet, there is something to be learned from this perspective from Mark.
Dr. Matthew Levering’s lecture at the theological conference focused on the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation. He spoke mostly about a number of different historical theological points of view and how the Spirit has been understood throughout church history as active in the lives of Christians. He talked about how the Spirit reveals Christ to us, how the Spirit helps us to grow, how the Spirit gives us a consciousness of the love of God and unites us with the God of our salvation. He also suggested that we should let go of the ideas and objects of the world that keep us from a relationship with God. “The Spirit helps us keep our hearts on Christ.”
We should be amenable to the promptings of the Spirit. This is not always easy, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit sometimes makes us question the work and intent of God. Just as we ask why the Spirit would drive Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, we wonder why we are being driven into uncomfortable situations to be tested. “But God does not tempt us!” we say. We answer this question by seeing how Jesus responded to being driven into the wilderness. Did He say that it was not fair? Did He argue with the Spirit’s promptings? No. The wilderness experience for Jesus led Him into prayer and fasting. The Spirit drives us into our own wilderness experiences to bring us to the same humble response. Elizabeth of the Trinity said, “To experience His salvation is to dwell with Him, to plunge boldly into the furnace of love with is the Holy Spirit.” She said that we have to climb our Calvary.
We may look upon the wilderness testings as an evil of the world, but the reality is that the Holy Spirit drives us into these times so that we’ll seek a closer and deeper relationship with our Father. God does not want evil for us, but wants us to have every good thing. This means leading us into testing which will drive us to prayer and fasting. We may not enjoy our wilderness experiences, but if we face them knowing that we are not alone, we’ll come through with a stronger faith. The Spirit will be with us, helping us to grow and to prepare for whatever good things God has prepared for the next phase of our lives.
“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph.” Psalm 77:11-15, WEB
There is a video circulating today that uses the rock group Queen’s music “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It is called “Opinion Rhapsody.” The creator changed the words to talk about life in Internet conversations where anonymous people can yell at, mock and threaten other anonymous people because of differing opinions. At one point in the song, the singers wonder what would happen if they tried to discuss the issues face to face. The video ends with everyone knocked to the floor in a fist fight when the anger and hatred took a physical and violent turn. We believe our opinions are right and true and that anyone who disagrees is wrong and foolish.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe my point of view is right, but that doesn’t mean I should get angry and hate those who disagree. The reality is that I probably have some things right and other things not quite right. The truth is often halfway between one opinion and another. While it is true that people are not changed by Internet conversations, it is especially true if we do not at least listen to one another. We are certainly never going to get anywhere if we consider them enemies or call them names.
Sadly, there are too many Christians who question the salvation of other Christians based on their human, imperfect opinions. We wonder how they can believe one thing and still consider themselves saved. Division in the Church can be healed if we can find the Christian foundation of our faith even while we disagree on the things of this world, including politics.
Disagreement in the Church is not something new. Even Peter and Paul did not agree. Throughout history, people have met to discuss how to interpret the scriptures and decide how best to be Church. It was not pretty; Martin Luther’s arguments with just about everyone didn’t appear on the Internet, but were no less heated. The same could be said about other periods in Church history. Sometimes it led to martyrdom. Sometimes it led to division. It never pleased God.
We want to believe that God is still active in this world in which we live, but it doesn’t seem that way because we don’t see anything miraculous happening. When you think about the differences that we have had with one another over the last two millennia, it is a wonder that the Church even continues to exist. In his lecture, Dr. Robert Benne stated the only way that the Church could have survived is by the power of the Holy Spirit. He even called it a miracle. We may not be seeing people being raised from the dead, but the fact that even one person comes to faith is an act of God’s grace. And the fact that a hodge podge of imperfect, disagreeable human beings can still gather in one place and praise God together is only by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When we are in the midst of arguments, when we think that are brothers and sisters in Christ are wrong and foolish, we can remember that this has happened throughout the history of the Church. Yet, even in the worst times, God was with His people, His Spirit was guiding His lives. His promises were true for them, and they are true for us today. The past shows us our failures; it shows us how much we need the Lord. When we forget history, we are doomed to repeat it. When we recall the people, places and events of those who came before, we can see what we need and avoid their failures. The worst times came because they forgot the Lord; they rebelled against Him and suffered the consequences. Their failure and redemption remind us that God can make miracles happen; the Church still exists because of the faith the Holy Spirit has placed in the hearts of God’s people.
“Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think reasonably, as God has apportioned to each person a measure of faith. For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members don’t have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Romans 12:1-5, WEB
On December 21, 1937 the Walt Disney Studios released what was affectionately called “Disney’s Folly.” The full-length animated movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” has been a beloved film for every generation since then. Though not the first animated full-length movie (several foreign films beat Disney to the theaters) it was a first in many ways. It was the first animated feature film to become widely popular in the English speaking world and it was the first in Technicolor. Using adjusted numbers, “Snow White” is the tenth highest grossing film of all time; in 2007, it was the only traditionally animated film listed in the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American films of all time. It even won an Academy Award. “Snow White” was called Disney’s Folly because no one thought that movie goers would be willing to sit through a ninety minute animated film. Walt’s wife told him, “No one will pay a dime to see a dwarf movie.”
Film writers do not always stick by the original story. We can see that in features such as “Cinderella,” “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas.” The same was true of “Snow White.” The story, written by the Brothers’ Grimm, describes the dwarfs as neat and kind. The dwarfs, according to the story, were gold miners. The wicked queen is said to have visited Snow White three times, each time killing her a different way. In their version, it was not a kiss that brings Snow White back to life, but a clumsy prince who drops her and dislodges a piece of poison apple that was caught in her throat.
We have come to know and love the Disney version of this story in which the dwarfs are miners of diamonds. When Snow White stumbled upon their house, she thought that it was the home of seven untidy children. They were selfish and self-centered. They did not care for one another and did not seem to understand about love. They owned a diamond mind and must have had great wealth, yet they seemed to be very poor in spirit. When they returned from the mines, Snow White agreed to stay to take care of them. She taught them to love and to care for each other. When she was attacked by the evil queen, they loved her so much that they willingly suffered with her and faught for her.
In Disney’s version “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is a story of transformation. Through love, the seven dwarfs are given a new perspective on life. They learn to love one another and others, to the point of willingly sacrificing themselves for the sake of another. When Snow White fell asleep by the wicked power of the queen, the dwarfs could have gone back to living as they did before they knew her. Instead, they continued caring for each other and Snow White. They put aside their greed and messy living for that new life. In this story we see the kind of transformation that is expected when we are raised with Christ Jesus.
“I will sing of loving kindness and justice. To you, Yahweh, I will sing praises. I will be careful to live a blameless life. When will you come to me? I will walk within my house with a blameless heart. I will set no vile thing before my eyes. I hate the deeds of faithless men. They will not cling to me. A perverse heart will be far from me. I will have nothing to do with evil. I will silence whoever secretly slanders his neighbor. I won’t tolerate one who is arrogant and conceited. My eyes will be on the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me. He who walks in a perfect way, he will serve me. He who practices deceit won’t dwell within my house. He who speaks falsehood won’t be established before my eyes. Morning by morning, I will destroy all the wicked of the land, to cut off all the workers of iniquity from Yahweh’s city.” Psalm 101, WEB
Rebecca Nurse was the mother of eight and a grandmother. She was married to a man named Francis who was a well respected artisan of wood products and who served as the constable of their town. She was a well respected woman in her community, Salem Town. She was kind and had a reputation of exemplary piety. She was the least likely candidate to be accused of a horrific crime. Yet, she was the most shocking victim of the Salem witch trials.
Salem and all of New England was filled with mass hysteria in the year 1692. It began when several young girls blamed a slave accused a slave named Tituba. She was likely targeted for her ethnic background and she was known for telling stories from a treatise on witchcraft called “Malleus Maleficarum.” It didn’t help that the family of the accusers was in a dispute with the family that had Tituba as a slave. Two other women were among the first to be accused, a homeless beggar named Sarah Good who had a unacceptable reputation and a woman named Sarah Osborne who was disliked in the town because she had her own self-interests in mind. These women did not fit the puritan expectations.
It was a fractious time, and it was easy to blame witchcraft on unusual circumstances that were occurring. The girls were having fits that could not be attributed to any particular disease. This was happening in other communities, also, and the only explanation at that time was that the girls were suffering from some sort of witchcraft. Some modern theorists claim that the fits were probably caused by something in the air or something that the girls ate, but at that time they could not diagnose the reason for the fits. It didn’t help that it was politically and personally feasible for the women to be accused. In the end, nineteen people were executed for witchcraft and at least six others died because of the accusations. Most of them were found guilty based on spectral evidence, including Rebecca Nurse.
Spectral evidence was the use of visions and dreams to prove the guilt of the accused. It was the claim that the spirit of the accused appeared to the witness in a dream or vision and did them harm. The claim that it was the spirit was enough to convict the accused of the crime even if they were nowhere near the victim. Rebecca Nurse was found guilty because of spectral evidence. During her trial, the townspeople insisted on her innocence, even risking their own lives by signing a petition addressing her good and faithful character. She was found not guilty, but renewed fits by the victim caused the judge and jury to reconsider. The afflicted claimed that Rebecca was causing their troubles. Rebecca could only rely on God. Unfortunately, she was found guilty and was hanged for being a witch. She was 71 years old, innocent, and because of her upright and righteous life could be considered a martyr.
Unfortunately for Rebecca, one of the most prolific accusers, Thomas Putnam, had a disagreement with Rebecca about their shared property line. Rebecca’s death led to the expansion of the Putman estate. Ann, Thomas’s daughter, eventually repented of her sin against Rebecca. She was responsible for the accusations against 62 people, but confessed in 1706 that she acted as a false witness. The survivors and family forgave Ann and were reconciled to her, though others did not receive such mercy.
There is a reason why the term “witch hunt” has come to mean a campaign against people or groups of people who hold an unpopular view. It doesn’t matter if the popular view is wrong or right, the witch hunters will accuse anyone who stands in their way or who is against their agenda. This type of process has ruined lives, not only of those like Rebecca Nurse in the seventeenth century, but of people in every age, including our own.
The Bible warns us against being a false witness. Is there someone who is being wrongly accused of something? Perhaps it seems like there is good reason for the accusation, but no real proof. What do you do? Do you join in the mass hysteria and further to accusations, passing on information that may or may not be true? What if there is someone accused is definitely not guilty? Are you willing to stand up for them, to risk your own reputation for their sake? That false information can ruin their lives, their reputations. Martin Luther says in his small catechism, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.”
The evil of false witness is known by God and will be judged by God. For today, our Christian faith demands that we live in a way that does well for our neighbor, even if they are in some way against us. God will make things right. Meanwhile, let’s speak only goodness about our neighbors and do what we can to protect their reputations so that they will not be ruined by false witnesses. We might suffer for standing up for them, but God always blesses the upright with the promise of life in His Kingdom forever.
Scriptures for Sunday, August 25, 2019, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 66:18-23; Psalm 50:1-15; Hebrews 12:4-24 (25-29); Luke 13:22-30
“Strive to enter in by the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will seek to enter in and will not be able.” Luke 13:24, WEB
Josh Gates is an archeologist-explorer who has had several different incarnations of his television show. He’s chased after myths and legends, followed history, and visited legendary locations. His adventures often get him into some very tight spaces, literally. He goes into the depths of caves where some of the passages are barely big enough for an adult man. He has followed experts into tunnels that were so small that the air quality was dangerous. In one episode, he was lowered through a hole that was smaller than a manhole so that he could explore beneath the Temple in Jerusalem. He always ends up going through the narrow door, often into the unknown.
We visited a park during our vacation a few weeks ago and hiked the trails. One led to a lovely waterfall and another led to a cave. The cave was tiny, not like another cave we toured in southern Indiana. It was barely a hole in the wall, with a ceiling height of barely five feet. I’m short and I would have had to stoop through most of the cave. The entrance was four feet and some places were less than two, so I didn’t even try. I was happy to visit the larger cave, to walk on their developed pathways and enjoy their creative lighting. Even there, the pathway led through one area with a rather low ceiling with a very tight entrance. It is nothing like what Josh experiences, but it was a little cramped for those of us used to having plenty of room to pass.
We definitely prefer the wider door. I am one of those people who like to make as few trips from the car to the house after a visit to the grocery store. I hang as many bags on my arm as I can carry, hopefully all of them! This usually means a little juggling at the door as I fiddle with the lock, but our door is wide enough to fit me and all my bags. I can’t imagine trying to get even one bag through some of those narrow places I saw on our trip or on the television shows.
I loved the doors in the cathedrals in England. I loved all the architecture and decor, but the doors were fascinating. In Europe many of the churches have huge front doors, made of thick wood. These doors were often made even sturdier with iron belts. The churches were often the last line of defense against an enemy, so they were built like fortresses. The huge doors were often two or three stories high, so large that they seemed really impractical. They were rarely opened because it took several men to do so. They were generally used only for ceremonial purposes, the large doors allowed processions, including men on horseback to enter.
There was no need to open these larger doors because the builders included a much smaller door for regular use. These smaller doors are often very small; I often had to stoop to walk through them. I always thought about today’s Gospel lesson when going through one of those doors. It would certainly be easier for me to go through the big doors than to stoop to go through the little one, but Jesus reminds us that the way of Christ is not the easy way. It is a narrow door. These smaller doors are not only more practical, they remind us to follow the narrow path.
The door leading into the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is called the “Door of Humility,” a reminder that we are entering into a holy place where God Himself entered into our world as flesh and blood. And now we are invited to enter God’s kingdom through the door that is Jesus Christ.
The reading from Isaiah is a message of judgment and hope. God says, “For I know their works and their thoughts.” God knows our hearts; He knows what we do and don’t do. He says, “The time comes that I will gather all nations and languages, and they will come, and will see my glory.” He promises to set a sign for all to see His glory, and by that sign to know that He is God. That sign is Jesus. We see in Jesus the love, mercy and grace of the Father, as well as His glory. He is the door. He is the light. He is the way. He is the only path. Those who believe this will survive the judgment; those who reject Jesus will not.
It has never been easy to follow Jesus, but it seems to us that it is especially difficult. Our struggles are different than past believers, although in many ways they are the same. How do we live faithfully in a world that won’t let us say the name “Jesus”? How do we act as a witnesses when others violently reject the Gospel message? How do we bring the nations to see His glory in and through Jesus Christ when they think that any path will do?
Isaiah writes, “‘For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me,’ says Yahweh, ‘so your offspring and your name shall remain. It shall happen that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh will come to worship before me,’ says Yahweh.” We should not assume that this is true now, or that it is true that all faiths will be part of this joyous worship. Only those who walk through the narrow door, who believe in the sign which is Jesus, will dwell in His presence for eternity. God does not want anyone to perish, and He’s calling us to lead them toward true life. We do so in work and in action; our faith is made obvious in our passion to share the Gospel with the world. But too many of us do not have that passion, in church or in our daily lives.
There is a comic circulating that shows a vested pastor and others standing in the front row of a church with cell phones plugged in. The caption says, “To encourage our congregation to sit in the front pews, I’ve installed cell phone charging stations in the first three rows.” It is bad enough that we pay more attention to our phones when we are at dinner with our family, but how often have we checked those phones while we should have been focusing on the God who is our Creator and Redeemer?
A story is told of a dream a man once had of worship from the perspective of heaven. An angel took him into church one Sunday. Everything was normal; the people were singing with the musicians and listening to the minister speaking God’s word, yet there was no sound. When the man asked what this meant, the angel answered that it was how worship was heard in heaven, for though the lips of the people were making the motions; their hearts and minds were elsewhere.
This is not just a modern problem. Even the ancient Jews did not know how to worship God as He desired. They were obedient to the rules about sacrifice, presenting their offerings in the hope that the LORD would accept them and bless the people. Yet, it is never enough to just go through the motions, God expects true spiritual sacrifice. He wants our hearts. He wants our attention. He wants our whole lives, not just a few minutes of singing or our presence on a Sunday morning. He wants us to love Him from the deepest reaches of our hearts with a love that flows from His grace.
The psalmist dwelt at a time when the people were giving many offerings and sacrifices to God, but they were not giving Him their heart. Though we do not kill bulls or lambs in our modern worship, what sort of offerings are we giving Him? Do we grumble when we write our weekly check? Do we moan as we roll out of bed on a Sunday morning? Is our worship silent in heaven because we are thinking about the cares of this world or checking our cell phones, turning our attention away from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ? Just like the Jews in days of old, it is almost as if we think that God needs our bodies there at worship, but what He truly wants is our hearts.
God expects more from us than Sunday, morning, too. Worship should not be limited to an hour a week and it is meant to go beyond the church doors. The psalmist writes that God is not looking for our sacrifices. He doesn’t need our bulls because they are already His; we cannot give Him anything for nothing is ours. We can only sing songs of praise and thanksgiving and look to Him above all else in this world. He is the Lord God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer and Comforter. True spiritual worship will focus entirely on Him, not only during a worship service but always. That worship will bring blessings.
The greatest act of spiritual sacrifice is to share the Gospel with our neighbors, even when doing so puts us at risk. God wants us to be missionaries, to share His Word with the world whether across the sea or in our own backyards. He wants us to invite more people into His presence. He wants us to lead them through the narrow door, to help them see that any other path leads to nothing. God is calling us to bring them into the Church so that they too might join in the eternal banquet. If we accept their faith as ‘good enough’, we will condemn them to a judgment that will lead to death rather than life.
In the year 1899, Charles H. Duell, commissioner of the US Office of Patents said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Yet the 20th century was a time of great technological and industrial growth. As a matter of fact, more has been invented since Mr. Duell made his statement than in the entire history of humanity.
Other interesting predictions come from men whose own careers proved their statements wrong. In 1980, Bill Gates said, “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” In 1977, Ken Olson, the president of Digital Equipment Corporation said, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” In 1968, an engineer at IBM responding to the microchip said, “But what… is it good for?” In 1943, Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
There is a wide variety of low cost electronic gadgets this day. I remember paying more decades ago for a scientific calculator than some phones cost today, and they do more than that original calculator could have done. You don’t need to buy a DVD player anymore because you can watch movies digitally on watches. New computers are far more advanced than the original ones and are so inexpensive that nearly everyone can have one in their homes. The sale aisles are filled with new gadgets for the kitchen that dice, chop, bake, grill or freeze anything you want to cook. The toy stores have hundreds of new and improved items that will satisfy the desires of any child.
All this technology has impacted our lives in many ways, and it has not always been positive. Yet, I would not want to live in any other time of history. I like my microwave, my radio, and my computer. I am able to drive my car into town to run errands in the morning and return home in minutes The telephone and Internet has made it much simpler to contact family and friends who are far away. Laundry can be completed in the course of a day while I’m doing other tasks, and dinner doesn’t take a whole afternoon to prepare. I have more time to do other things. The new is better than the old.
The book of Exodus describes God as coming to the Hebrews at the foot of Mt. Sinai like a dark cloud, with lightning and thunder and a great trumpet blast. The mountain was engulfed in fire. Everyone in the camp trembled in fear. When Moses took too long to come off the mountain, they turned to the religion that made more sense to them. It was easier to worship a golden calf they could see than to worship the God that they could not see. They went through the wide door.
The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that they could not bear to even listen to the Word of God because they were afraid. It was much the same for the people in Jesus’ day. They trembled, but not at the foot of the mountain. They trembled at the foot of the Law, out of fear that they would do something against God. They listened to the council of the leaders who burdened them with long lists of rules and taught that God’s grace depended on their obedience. They did not trust in God’s grace. They took the wide path.
Everything old was made new again when our Lord Jesus Christ came to dwell among us according to God’s promise. He was born to bring forgiveness for our failure and to give us the power to live in His grace. We do not have to be frightened to stand in the presence of God our Father, because Jesus stands before us as mediator. The Old Testament is filled with predictions about how God will deal with His people which were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. There was great blessing in living in a covenant with God, being obedient to His commands. But I would not want to live in any other time than now, in the New Covenant found in my Lord Jesus Christ. The new is better than the old. The narrow path is the way to true life.
The writer of Hebrews gives us two visions of life under the rule of God. In the first there is fear. The people stood at the base of Mount Sinai, receiving the Law as given to Moses. That mountain was fearsome: not even an animal could set foot on it. Anyone who touched it would be stoned. The people were so frightened by the sound of God’s voice that they begged Moses to be an intercessor. Even Moses was terrified and trembling with fear.
But there is another way to live in God’s Kingdom: by faith. This means trusting God and believing in Jesus Christ. God disciplined His people when they turned from Him at the foot of Mt. Sinai. It was punishing, but full of grace because He did not reject or abandon them. Instead He called them to repentance and drew them into Himself. He remained faithful to His promises. They learned to trust in Him, but it didn’t happen overnight. As a matter of fact, He had to teach them that lesson over and over again. The story of God’s people has always followed the same pattern since the beginning: faith, wandering, discipline, repentance and faith. We hear this throughout the history of Israel and throughout the history of the Christian church. We wander because we want to go through the big door, to follow the wide path. We want to do things our own way.
Unfortunately, we get lost in the culture of our world and forget that God has warned us to stay on the right path. We forget that the door is narrow, and we open the big doors to let everything in. This leads us to worshipping with half-heartedness, focusing on the wrong things, and even chasing after a false Gospel. We all too often do what seems right but is not according to God’s will and purpose for our lives. We follow the wide road because it is easier, but the true path leads to eternal life.
God warns us not to follow the ways of the world. Those of us with faith in Christ have been welcomed into the Kingdom and are invited to the eternal banquet. We are given a life that isn’t restrained by a set of rules, but is made righteous by the blood of Jesus. This is a life God wants for everyone; He has promised to share it with all the nations. Will Jesus open the door for us if we are silent and conforming to the world? Will we, who were first, end up last because we are half-hearted and refuse to share the Gospel?
Only those who walk through the narrow door, who believe in the sign which is Jesus, will dwell in His presence for eternity. This is particularly hard to proclaim in a world where everything is good and acceptable. The narrow door is too limiting, the narrow path is too restraining. Yet, it is there we’ll find the grace that saves. He has sent us to be His messengers; they will not have faith if we are unwilling to risk everything to share His Word. We are called to be so passionate about the God who loves us that we can’t help but share the Gospel. We can do so with peace in our hearts because He has promised to be with us. God will indeed draw all nations into His heart, to reveal His glory and He has invited us to be partners with Him, to bring people into His presence to see that the narrow door is the only way to salvation so that they will follow Jesus into the eternal banquet where we will worship Him forever.
“He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath day. Behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years. She was bent over, and could in no way straighten herself up. When Jesus saw her, he called her, and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.’ He laid his hands on her, and immediately she stood up straight and glorified God. The ruler of the synagogue, being indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the multitude, ‘There are six days in which men ought to work. Therefore come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day!’ Therefore the Lord answered him, ‘You hypocrites! Doesn’t each one of you free his ox or his donkey from the stall on the Sabbath, and lead him away to water? Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham whom Satan had bound eighteen long years, be freed from this bondage on the Sabbath day?’ As he said these things, all his adversaries were disappointed and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.” Luke 13:10-17, WEB
There are two things about this Gospel lesson that stand out: the immediacy of Jesus’ response to seeing the woman and the extra mile He went to bring her not only healing, but wholeness. So much of the Bible talks about patience and waiting on God. In the past few weeks we’ve heard examples of people who held their faith even though they never saw the fulfillment of God’s promises in their lifetimes. Abraham never saw his multitude of offspring, he saw only his boys, but he believed that God would make him into a great nation.
The woman in today’s story waited eighteen years to be healed of her dis-ease. I have to wonder how many times in those eighteen years she went to the synagogue, to the rabbis, for healing. Over and over again, patiently hoping that God would take care of her illness, but never finding relief in the hands of the rabbis. Her infirmity would have not only affected her daily living, but it would have also affected her relationships and her place in the society. It was common belief that God would never allow someone faithful and godly to suffer from such a debilitating and painful affliction. The woman never lacked faith. She went to the synagogue to worship whether she received healing or not.
Jesus was not so patient in this story. It was the Sabbath, and according to Jewish law, healing was considered work and could not be done on the Sabbath. The woman had been crippled for eighteen years. Why would it have hurt to wait just one more day? The leader of the synagogue was indignant and said, “There are six days in which men ought to work. Therefore come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day!” The woman had not come to be healed; she did not ask Jesus to take care of her infirmity. He saw her. He called her over to Him. He spoke the words that would change her life.
Things might have been different if Jesus had simply spoken those words of healing. If He had just said, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” Then the leader would not have had anything to say about the situation. After all, they gathered in the synagogue to hear God’s Word spoken. However, Jesus went the extra mile. He took the extra step. He touched her. The touch was important in this case, because she was a woman who’d been eighteen years without the human touch. The Jews - even her family and friends - were likely afraid to touch her flesh for fear of being made unclean. We have our own dis-eases today that make healthy people cringe out of fear, most certainly this would have done the same for the people in that day. Jesus touched her, not for the healing of the body but for the healing of the spirit. He made her whole, not only releasing her from the prison in which she’d been confined for eighteen years but also welcoming her into relationship again with God and His people.
I wonder how many times the synagogue leaders had tried to lay hands on the woman and bring her relief. Perhaps they had offered some medicinal help over the years but nothing helped. I wonder if they ever tried to touch her, to give her a restorative hand that would have made her well in spirit as well as body. If they did, they failed. Then they watched Jesus do what they could not do. Would they have made such a big deal about the healing if it had been done on another day? Or if it had been done in another way? Perhaps their problem was not that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, but that He healed her at all. He did what they could not, and He had to be stopped. The Sabbath was as good excuse as any. That’s why Jesus called them hypocrites.
He put them to shame because they were unwilling to allow a woman to be healed by God’s Word on the very day when God’s Word is meant to be shared in community. They were offended that she was set free by the touch of a hand because that touch constituted work. They were hypocrites because they claimed to be faithful to God’s Word, but they rejected it and Him when Jesus was in their midst. The woman waited for eighteen years for something in her life to change. When God came, He did not wait another day but offered for her at that moment the freedom in body and spirit that she needed for so long.
“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their hearts. They, having become callous, gave themselves up to lust, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you didn’t learn Christ that way, if indeed you heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus: that you put away, as concerning your former way of life, the old man that grows corrupt after the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.” Ephesians 4:17-24, WEB
We’ve all seen it happen. A child, ordered to clean their room, seems to take a very long time to get the job finished. The parent, curious about how much has been done, checks in on the child, only to find nothing accomplished and the child is on the floor playing with a long lost toy. “I thought you were cleaning your room,” the parent scolds. The child answers, “But I found my favorite toy and I had to play with it.” The old toy, long buried beneath a lot of new toys, is suddenly new again.
The child does not need to be little for this to happen. Older children might not play with toys, but they will reminisce about favorite books or school papers they discover as they are cleaning. Even now there are items around my house that make me remember my past, the people and places that meant the most to me. In those memories, the things that are old become new again. I usually don’t sit down and play with the items I’ve found, although I have been known to pick up that favorite book and begin reading it again.
My husband has spent the last eight months reminiscing. His mother died in January and his father was put into a care facility, so the family has had to deal with the estate. Understand, his family has dwelt on the land since the time of the Revolutionary War, and the house is about 175 years old. Some of the items found in the house may date back to that time! Bruce has returned home several times to help with cleaning, sorting, purging and saving items from the home. They had an auction, and nearly every item has found a place. He drove his car for the last trip and filled the back with all the treasures he wanted to keep.
It was funny to watch the process. When they found something interesting, or historic, or funny, or inspiring, Bruce posted a picture on his Facebook page. I wasn’t there, but I could imagine him sitting on the floor, looking through piles of photos or drawings his father made as a child. I can imagine the memories that surfaced as they went through the attic, as they found their toys from their own childhoods. I don’t have to imagine; Bruce brought many of those toys home with him.
I walked into the living room last night and found Bruce on the floor, surrounded by the pieces of an old metal farm set that was one of his favorite childhood toys. He was lovingly cleaning each piece, restoring it to like new. Everything old is new again. He was so excited about it. He pointed out every piece, drawing my attention to the cows and pigs, the fences and tools. He showed me how you could put plants into dirt to make rows of crops. There was even the stump of a tree. Like a child, he became focused on this old toy that was new again.
It made me think about our lives of faith. We have such passion when we first hear about Jesus and love Him. One of my favorite memories of a former church was of a little girl who joyfully shouted “Amen” and sang “This Little Light of Mine” in the middle of worship. She loved Jesus and she showed it. As adults we tend to be more subtle with our love of Christ, not only because we are trying to be respectful to others, but because we lose that passion as we grow older. Perhaps our faith becomes more mature, but we are less likely to get lost in our love of Christ.
Perhaps it is time for us to rediscover the Gospel, to renew our relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps it is time for us to stop what we are doing, no matter how important it is, and sit on the floor with our Bibles, reading once again the story that set us free. Perhaps it is time for us to find the old, old story and make it new again in our lives. Perhaps it is time for us to remember that we were once old, but God has made us new again, renewed by His grace to be His children forever. That is something about which we can truly be excited.
“Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God. For I say through the grace that was given me, to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think reasonably, as God has apportioned to each person a measure of faith.” Romans 12:1-3, WEB
Thomas Becket lived in 12th century England. He was well educated and became an Archdeacon in Canterbury. However, Archbishop Theobald thought it was in the best interest of the church to have a representative close to the throne. So, he nominated Thomas to be the king’s chancellor. In that position, he enjoyed the good life. He wore fancy clothes and liked to hunt. He supported the king in all his policies and even loved war. He had no desire to rise in the hierarchy of the Church, and was the last many his peers would have guessed to become a martyr. Thomas and Henry were close personal friends
When Theobald died in 1161, King Henry nominated Thomas to be Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest position in the church in England. Henry was certain that his friend would continue to support him creating an alliance between church and state in England. Thomas could no longer support Henry’s policies, particularly those that affected Church authority. He had been ordained a priest the day before he was consecrated as Archbishop, and he was transformed spiritually. Henry accused Thomas of embezzlement and Thomas escaped to France and lived in exile for six years. In 1170, the king of France brought the two men together again and Thomas returned to England. It was not long before the two men were bickering again.
One day, Henry asked, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” It was a foolish statement, not meant to be heard by anyone or even taken seriously. Yet, four of the king’s knights heard it and sought to kill Thomas for the sake of their king. On December 29th, 1170, these four knights followed Thomas into Canterbury Cathedral where he was brutally murdered. Several years later, Henry performed penance for his role in the murder. On July 12, 1174, he put on sackcloth and ashes, walked barefoot into Canterbury, was beaten by 80 monks then did penance at Thomas’ tomb. Soon after Thomas’ death, miracles were attributed to him. He was quickly declared a saint, and his shrine became a place of pilgrimage. Even today, though the shrine no longer exists, people journey to Canterbury to stand in the footsteps of this man who was transformed in the service of God.
It is unlikely that you will be martyred for your faith by being murdered in a cathedral. However, Thomas gave himself as a living sacrifice long before his flesh was destroyed. He gave up the high life of being an advisor and friend to the king so that he could serve God to the best of his ability. He humbled himself before God for the mistakes he made, and lived a life of exile and austerity. He did not compromise, but rather stood firm in faith.
Are you willing to be like Thomas, transformed by God’s grace to do according to His good and perfect will, even if the world seems to have something better to offer?
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and humility, with patience, bearing with one another in love, being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, even as you also were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all, and in us all. But to each one of us, the grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” Ephesians 4:1-7, WEB
Think about this: Paul spent time in prison. He was in good company; most of the apostles spent at least some time imprisoned for their faith. Ultimately he was martyred. This doesn’t sound very righteous; should we really be looking to them as an example? We know that they were put in prison because they were hated by the Jews. They spoke openly about the Lord Jesus Christ, which was blasphemy according to the Jewish understanding of God’s law.
All the disciples had flaws. Peter was impulsive. Thomas doubted. Mark was afraid. Mary Magdalene had a past. Martha was focused on the wrong things. James and John sought positions of greater authority. Phillip was too practical. They all quarreled amongst themselves. They abandoned Jesus at the moment He most needed them. They didn’t believe in the resurrection at first. The disciples on the road to Emmaus gave up and went home. Despite these flaws, we love them for what they have taught us, for their witness to what happened two thousand years ago. We know about their flaws, but we focus on their faith.
Unfortunately, we aren’t as good at putting the best construction on the lives of those who are our neighbors today. We tend to focus on their flaws. In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, Martin Luther wrote this about the peacemaking beatitude: “If a woman were as beautiful as the sun, and had any mark or little spot upon her body, one should forget about everything else and look only for the spot and talk about that.” This isn’t what we should do, but what the people in his day were expected to do.
Isn’t that how it seems these days? Someone in the public eye accomplishing great and wonderful things are often faced suddenly with a report of something negative they have done, and their career is ruined. These flaws are often ancient history, things they did in high school or college, words they’ve said in the heat of a moment. Haven’t we all been there? Haven’t we all done something that we know was not right, that we all have flaws that make us imperfect? Should the world focus on our flaws and failures?
Martin Luther also said, “Such are the real poisonous spiders that can suck nothing but poison our of a beautiful lovely rose, and ruin both the flower and the sap, whilst a little bee sucks nothing but the honey out of it and leaves the flower uninjured.”
One more quote from the text from Martin Luther, “There is no person upon earth so bad that there is not something in him that one must praise.” To be a peacemaker is to find the good about a person and to highlight that aspect of their life. Unfortunately, as soon as a flaw is discovered, that flaw becomes the entire focus of those who are set to destroy those who disagree with them. Gossips find the minute flaw and magnify it until that is all anyone sees. As peacemakers, it is up to us to overcome this negative image by lifting up the good things. A Christian who is humble and patient will love their neighbor, finding the honey so that the person will not be harmed by the gossip.
Scriptures for Sunday, September 1, 2019, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: Proverbs 25:2-10; Psalm 131; Hebrews 13:1-17; Luke 14:1-14
“Yahweh, my heart isn’t arrogant, nor my eyes lofty; nor do I concern myself with great matters, or things too wonderful for me.” Psalm 131:1, WEB
Our national church voted for a new bishop to lead us for the next few years. The list of nominees was lengthy, including several people who I had met. One was a friend. I laughed as I read his answers to the questions they asked of each nominee because I could hear his voice in the words. To someone who did not know my friend, the answers may have seem flippant, perhaps even insincere, but I knew that they revealed how he felt. He had been nominated and willingly accepted the nomination, but he had no desire to be elected. He accepted because he believed that if it was God’s will, then he should follow and he would do the best job possible. He was willing, but he refused to pursue the position because he did not think it was his to have. His answers may have seemed flippant and insincere, but they shined the light on his humility. I told him, “The best person for a job like this is the one who does not pursue it.” Much to his relief, he did not win, but I am certain he would have done a terrific job if he had.
I understand his point of view. I’m not very good at self-promotion. I hate to write biographies because I find it very difficult to boldly proclaim my virtues to the world. I would rather my talents and experience stand for themselves. When I think about my positive traits, I can counter each one with an equally strong negative trait. I’m detail oriented but I hate making decisions. I’m creative but when I get involved with a creative project I become very narrowly focused, leaving mundane tasks like organization and clean-up until tomorrow. I much prefer to be humble because I recognize my faults and I would rather that someone else lift up my assets.
Just as we were getting ready to leave England, the vicar at the church we were attending asked if I would give a testimony on our last Sunday. As we discussed what I should say, the testimony became a sermon. It was the first opportunity I ever had to preach. The vicar saw something in me and gave me an opportunity. In the end, everyone said they wished they had known I could do that; they wanted me to preach to them again. A few months later, at our new home church, the ladies were beginning to plan an area wide gathering. I didn’t wait for someone to ask if I could lead a workshop. They did not yet know me or my gifts. I boldly offered and they were surprised but excited. They would not have asked if I had not offered.
It is a fine line we walk between boldness and humility. We know on the one hand that we’ll never get ahead if we do not take the reins of our own future. It often seems that if we act humbly, then we are ignored. Sometimes it is important that we tell people about our gifts and talents so that they will know what we are able to accomplish. The key to doing what is right and finding the blessedness of living our faith is finding the right balance.
The Gospel lesson reminds us that the life of faith, the life of humility, is manifested in a life that is lived for others. When we trust in God, we need not pursue after the places of honor or the satisfaction of our lusts and greed. Humility sometimes means presenting our gifts to those who are in need so that we can serve them. It is all about motivation and trusting God to provide opportunities for us to do what He has given us to do.
The Gospel lesson begins at a dinner. Jesus has been invited to dine with the rulers of the Pharisees, and they are watching Him closely. They were people for whom outward appearances were of utmost importance. They wanted to see if Jesus was living according to the Law, doing what He was supposed to do. Would He maintain His own purity, especially in their presence?
Jesus noticed a man with dropsy, a disease that made the man unclean and untouchable. Jesus asked the lawyers if it was alright to heal someone on the Sabbath. They didn’t answer, so Jesus “took him, and healed him, and let him go.” The word here translated “took” means to take hold of or grasp, so Jesus didn’t just say a few words and send him on his way. Jesus touched the unclean man, an act that would have made him unclean in the eyes of all those lawyers. Before they could say anything, Jesus asked, “Which of you, if your son or an ox fell into a well, wouldn’t immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” They couldn’t answer this one, either, because they knew they would disobey the Sabbath laws to save their sons or oxen.
Jewish theologians believed God’s providence continued to govern the world. This was confirmed by the fact that people continued to be born and die on the Sabbath. Consequently, the belief developed that God exercised two prerogatives on the Sabbath: He gave life and he executed judgment (2 Kings 5:7.) So only God could “work” on the Sabbath and healing was considered work. By healing the man with dropsy, Jesus not only touched the untouchable, but He did the unthinkable: He blasphemed. He made Himself equal with God.
Now, that may seem like an odd lesson on a day when the lessons talk about humility. However, Jesus is the ultimate example of humility. After all, He is God and yet left the glory of Heaven to do the Father’s will, to take on flesh to suffer the humiliation of man so that we might join Him in the glory of heaven. See, Jesus took the lowly seat at the table, was raised to the place of glory. He invites us to join Him.
Just as Christ was a humble servant for the people to whom He was sent, we are called to live in faith and share the message of forgiveness and freedom from our burdens with the world. We are given opportunities to use our gifts to share the Gospel with the world. By living a life of humble action, giving to others and sharing God’s grace, we may not end up with fame or fortune or have a huge impact, but we will bless those who see God glorified in our life. The humble will be lifted and the place of honor is much greater than anything a man can offer. We will be seated in the presence of God to bask in His glory for eternity. For this we most certainly can praise God.
We do tend to think highly of ourselves. We each have talents and knowledge that makes us a little better than another. I’m a better photographer than some professionals. I’m a better writer than some bloggers. I’m a better painter than some artists. While I might be better than others, I know that there are many more who are much better than I am. That’s the trouble with thinking too highly of ourselves: even though we might be good at what we do, there is always someone better. I could never hope to compete with professional photographers, writers and artists in this world, and I don’t think I want to try. I’m happy to do what I do and hope that those who experience my work find joy in it.
As Christians, we live in a paradox. On the one hand, the world expects us to boldly blow our own horn so that we can get ahead. As Christians, however, we are reminded that we are called to be like Jesus, who had it all but humbled Himself for the sake of the world. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells the crowds not to rush for the best seats at a banquet. He reminds them that there are others who may deserve to sit higher, and that it is better to sit lowly and be raised rather than sit in places of honor to be humiliated when asked to move. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” So, too, it is with us: if we think too highly of ourselves, we will find that there is someone greater. But if we humbly accept the least, we’ll find ourselves raised.
The passage from Proverbs includes a number of random thoughts; each would make a powerful sermon. In the passage from Proverbs, the writer tells us that God’s glory is in what is hidden, but kings’ glory is in the search for God. We might know that heaven and hell are far from us, but we can’t know what’s in the heart of a king. Silver must be refined, for it is in the silver without the dross that we’ll have something precious, so too a king must be cleansed of wickedness to be righteous. The rest of the passage talks about our humility before the king, remembering to take the lowly place and to deal with our neighbors privately.
The writer of Hebrews talks about being a good host, because in doing so we might actually entertain angels. We should seek justice, live honorably and chaste, avoid greed, be obedient to those who have been chosen to lead us, do good and share our resources with others. This passage is about love for others. We not only love others by doing things for them, but in helping them to what is good and right and true. In our world today we are afraid to be hospitable because that the stranger may be someone who can harm us, but what if that stranger were an angel? The marriage bed has nearly become a joke, with divorce statistics so high and unfaithfulness nearly acceptable. Greed, the root of many of our problems, can creep up on us and grow as we see more and more that we think we need to have whether it is material possessions or intangible things.
We are encouraged by today’s scriptures to settle for a lower place until someone values us enough to give us a lift, yet we live in a world that demands we “sell ourselves.” How do we live in this paradox? How do we do what it necessary to succeed and yet also remain humbly respectful of those who are inevitably better? This isn’t a question of worth or ability. It is a matter of pride. It is good to give an employer reasons to hire you, to do a good job and show that you are a valuable asset to any company or organization; it is not good to be too proud.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “But don’t forget to be doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” It takes humility to live for others, to do what is best for our neighbors. It sometimes means doing less for ourselves. Through it all there is one thing to remember: we are to trust in God.
When we put our focus on ourselves, we see the world from a self-centered point of view. We fear that everyone else is also trying to get ahead. We become paranoid that they are willing to do anything to get to the top. When we are not content with our lot in life, we think that no one else is content either. This leads to an attitude of fairness that demands equality in everything, like an eye for an eye. When we are kind to someone, we expect them to return the favor. When we have a dinner party, we anticipate the dinner parties we will be invited to attend in repayment for our hospitality.
Jesus tells these men of power and position that rather than inviting their good buddies, their peers who can repay them an eye for an eye, they should invite the poor to come to their house. This must have been a difficult thing to hear because the purpose of these dinner parties had little to do with feeding the hungry. They were about business, the business of getting ahead. What good could a poor man do for a Pharisee? Besides, the poor, the lame and the blind were cursed and unclean. They could not, by law, have them at their table.
So, Jesus makes the guests look at the world, and the law, from a whole new perspective. What would it be like if they welcomed the hungry to their table? What if they treated the lame and the blind with mercy and compassion rather than contempt? What does the world look like from a position of humility? It is a place of contentment, a place where we are so happy with what we have that praise to God comes before our own needs.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. Empathy is identifying with our neighbors even if we have not had the same experiences. Most of our problems come at us slowly. Bad financial times do not usually come with the purchase on just one item, but with a lifestyle of buying too much for our income. A dollar here and a dollar there can build to a debt that is out of control. Long standing relationships do not fail over one fight but over years of miscommunication. Nobody gains a hundred pounds overnight. Instead it comes one chocolate bar at a time.
Once we are stuck in the middle of our problems it is hard to see a way out. Our accumulated debt is impossible to overcome. Our broken relationships seem beyond repair. Our physical problems are out of our control. Sometimes it takes an outsider to help us find the solution. There are credit repair agencies, relationship counselors, fitness coaches all willing to help us overcome our problems. We may look at them and think that they cannot possibly understand our situation, but they do. They can see from the outside the journey we took. They have often experienced it themselves and have overcome, giving them insight to the problem that we cannot have. Even if they haven’t experienced it, they have knowledge that can help. We can also be empathetic, to identify with our neighbors and help them find a way through.
It is not easy to allow someone into our problems to help us. It is even harder to empathize with others. The writer of Hebrews reminds us to “Remember those who are in bonds, as bound with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you are also in the body.” How do we identify with people in prison or tortured? How do we stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, especially when we know that we would never get into the same type of trouble?
Unfortunately, we don’t always know how to find the balance between humility and boldness.
The blessings of our life of faith are great. Those who seek after the high places are the ones that will fall, those who are humble will be lifted up. The life of contentment is a life that has no fear, except the awe inspired fear of God. When we trust in God, we need not worry about our position in the world or strive to make it better. We can give of our wealth for the sake of others and know that tomorrow will be blessed. God honors those who give. On the most basic level we can see this as a giving of our resources to help those who are less fortunate than us. As Jesus told the Pharisees to invite the poor, the lame and the blind, so too we are called to give to those in need.
Yet, we have resources that go far beyond our material wealth and there are needs that are not so visible as those of the poor, lame and blind. We automatically assume that because someone has a big house or a pretty car that they are happy. However, in truth many people who seem to be blessed suffer from even greater dis-ease than those who are poor, lame and blind. They are sick in heart and soul and needs God’s grace for forgiveness, hope and peace. They need to hear the words of Jesus, to let go of their pride and humble themselves before God. We must remember, however, that pride is not limited to the rich and healthy. Everyone is tempted to seek the high places. The healing of a person’s soul, the turning from self is the heart of Jesus’ ministry.
The psalmist writes, “Yahweh, my heart isn’t arrogant, nor my eyes lofty; nor do I concern myself with great matters, or things too wonderful for me.” How many of us look for the big impact without realizing the impact that small actions have on others. Take, for instance, the guy who needs a job, but refuses to work in the mail room because it is below him. He has graduated with a degree and deserves something higher. Some even think they deserve a place in an executive suite without even taking the time to learn what it is like to work in a cubicle. Those people who rush or a rushed through the corporate ladder never learn how to deal with those who remain on a bottom rung. But the guy who humbly accepts the lesser job quickly learns how to rise. With both the education and experience, the humble person who works hard and does his job well will be noticed. None of us are too good for the lowly work of this world and we are not better than those whom we serve.
If we live in a quest for self gratification, we chase after our own wants and needs. In Christ, we are called to live differently. The writer of Hebrews gives us an image of the life of faith manifested in this world. He calls Christians to love one another, to be hospitable to the stranger, empathetic to the imprisoned, faithful in relationships and content in everything. He calls us to look to God who supplies everything we need physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Pride means putting ourselves above the God who is our Creator and Redeemer. Humility means sitting in the lesser place and meeting the needs of others. When we put others, especially God, ahead of ourselves and do what is right, we will find ourselves to be greatly blessed. God sees the humble heart and draws it to Himself. There is no better place for us to dwell. Trusting God is where we’ll find hope, joy, and peace.
“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Yahweh, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’ For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers. Under his wings you will take refuge. His faithfulness is your shield and rampart.” Psalm 91:1-4, WEB
Slowly, but surely, the children are making their way back to school. Some began a few weeks ago, others are preparing to begin in the next week or so. The past month has been spent in the back to school aisle buying all sorts of new materials, according to shopping lists put out by the teachers. Many children are filling brand new backpacks with crayons and folders. Local charities have provided the same for children whose families can’t afford everything. Teachers have been decorating their classrooms and readying their lesson plans.
I get a little nostalgic at this time of year. I loved being involved with my kids at school, volunteering in their classrooms. I enjoyed that walk down the back to school aisle and buying new pencils and notebooks. I confess that I also looked forward to a quiet house during the day when I could get things done. Even though I have that freedom all the time these days, now that my children are grown, I have to admit that I sometimes miss the chaos of those school days.
It was sometimes chaotic. A teacher once shared this story with me: “A dad who had never helped in the classroom spent the day with us. I was not certain what he could do to help, but I always enjoy having a parent volunteer in the class. So, I gave him the digital camera and had him take some pictures of our activities. He took many photos and was having a fun time with the children, but as the day wore on, I could tell he was getting a bit frazzled and tired. At the end of the day he said, ‘I don’t know how you do this every day. They are like a gaggle of geese milling together. They are there with you, but you never know the moment they will decide to just take off!’”
Watching a teacher gather the children to do something is really like watching someone who cares for geese, especially the littlest ones. She calls them to her and they come. They arrange themselves in a line. As this is happening, one or two always seem to take off in another direction because they’ve forgotten one thing or another. Once one goes, they all seem to take off. Then she has to call them back again. It is exhausting to watch. Christians are like a gaggle of geese. God gathers us together to lead us in the right direction, but someone always takes off in another direction. Others follow, so God must once again call us back into His presence. At times we think we know the better way. We don’t realize how much safer it is to stay close to Him.
There are times when a classroom seems chaotic, but a good teacher is able to control the children even when they seem to be out of control. The teacher sometimes gives them the room to make mistakes so that they will learn that it is better to be obedient to the rules. The children learn and grow in the teacher’s care, and they seem to end up where they are meant to be. God Himself is the Good Teacher. He is able to keep us grounded and to draw us near to Him so that we will learn and grow in His Kingdom. At times He gives us space, allowing us to take off in the wrong direction for a moment, so that we will realize it is much better under in His presence. It is there that we will find protection. He is our refuge, our hope, our peace, and our joy.
“For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. There is no creature that is hidden from his sight, but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account. Having then a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let’s hold tightly to our confession. For we don’t have a high priest who can’t be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin. Let’s therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace for help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:12-16, WEB
The movie began with a romance writer with extreme writer’s block and a deadline looming. Her editor was her best friend that happened to have a family villa in Europe. “Go, have some fun, get inspired.” As it happened, the best friend’s brother was also having difficulty in his job, and he went to the villa to hide for the summer. They struggled at first, but eventually fell in love.
The writer had a teenage daughter that went with her on the trip. The daughter hated the idea. She expected a summer in a European villa would be boring. She complained as they arrived that she couldn’t get a signal for her cell phone. “I have to call my best friend. I told her I’d call the minute we got here.” The daughter struggled with that relationship as she discovered her best friend became friends with someone else and the ones left behind were making fun of her for being in Europe. Perhaps they were jealous, but their feelings were manifest in negative and destructive ways. The relationship was ruined. As the daughter came to love the place, and the man who loved her mother, she found peace. It is never easy to lose a relationship, though.
Children have a very simple way of dealing with their anger. When they are having a problem with a friend, they say “I never want to see you again.” Like in the story, one friend finds another and the two new friends find ways to hurt the old one. Fortunately, children usually overcome their anger quickly and the two friends become three as everyone forgives and forgets the incident. Sadly, some children in our world today have more difficulty dealing with the emotions of brokenness. They become loners and choose weapons of destruction, such as guns and knives, hoping they will solve their problems.
How often do we try to solve our problems by separating ourselves? When our friends hurt us, we break off the relationships. When we can’t handle our spouse, we get a divorce. When we see the human imperfections of our brethren at church, we decide that we do not need such Christian fellowship to have a relationship with God. We separate ourselves from our relationships, but that separation causes bitterness and anger.
Adam and Eve broke the most important relationship that any human could ever have: the one with our Father in heaven. That brokenness required a radical solution. God put us out of the Garden. He did not do so as a punishment, but rather because Adam and Eve, and all humankind, could not live eternally in fear of God. He did not abandon us, though. He could have allowed the separation to be complete. Instead, He stayed with us through our rebellion, always providing a way out of our evil ways.
Eventually, according to His promise, He came in flesh to live among us, tempted by the same things but always without sin. Jesus Christ knew what it was like to be human. He loved us so much that He went to the cross, taking upon Himself the wrath of God that we deserve so that we could be reconciled to our Father forever. By His Spirit, through faith, we are now transformed into His children. Our flesh will continue to struggle with the anger, bitterness and strife that cause brokenness in this world, but Jesus makes it possible for us to approach the throne of grace, to experience God’s forgiveness and to dwell in the love and peace of God forever.