Welcome to the June 2009 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes

























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


June 1, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 7, 2008: Holy Trinity: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-7

Romans 8:12-17 So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh: for if ye live after the flesh, ye must die; but if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.

Summer vacation is right around the corner. Zachary just has a few days left and then he will be free for the next three months. He only has one trip planned, so it is going to be a much different vacation than last year when he went to Costa Rica, Space Camp and Boy Scout camp. He’ll need to find something to do with himself, something besides

When I was a kid, my mom worked in a fabric store in a mall. I often went with her for the day during the summer, spending hours wandering around the mall, having lunch at the drug store fountain and helping her around the store. I remember hiding in the small office in the back reading books and playing solitaire. We didn’t have computers back then, no game boys or other portable electronic games. I’m sure I got bored, but I also remember having fun sometimes. Once in a while my mom would let me bring my friend Lori along and we would spend the day together. There was a movie theater in the mall, and we spent plenty of hot summer days in the dark coolness of the theater watching the hit movies of the day.

I’m pretty sure “Bednobs and broomsticks” playing on one occasion I remember vividly. I don’t remember because of the movie, I remember because of something that happened before the movie. Lori and I got to the theater early, bought a huge tub of popcorn and went into the theater to wait for the show to start. They played a short documentary first, something about animals in the wild. Don’t ask me why because there is no good reason for doing it, but I put the bucket of popcorn on top of my head. It slipped and most of the popcorn spilled all over the floor, and the chairs, and us. We couldn’t help but burst out in laughter. It was a most inappropriate response to what was happening on the screen: Despite the pictures of lions eating a gazelle, or something equally serious, we couldn’t stop the giggles. Through the whole movie, every time one of us would look down at the floor, we’d begin laughing all over again.

There was, unfortunately, a gentleman sitting nearby who was not pleased by our shenanigans. Every time we burst into laughter, he looked at us with a very stern face. It didn’t help. We were too caught up in our joke. Emotion is a very powerful thing, and when we are in the heat of emotion it is impossible to do anything else. You can not reason with a child in the midst of a tantrum. You can’t stop the giggles once they are started. No matter what you try—positive or negative—won’t make a difference until that emotion is released. We try. Our immediate reaction to extreme emotion, especially when it is inappropriate, is to balance it with the opposite emotion. We tell a screaming child to be happy. We tell an excited child to calm down. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to share the emotions of those who are happy or hurting. We can’t help people through their circumstances from the other side. We are blessed when we go through it with them.

It is easier to experience joy with our friends, like the laughter in the movie theater. It is much harder to stand by those who are suffering. It is even harder to share in the suffering of Jesus Christ because the whole idea of it is outrageous and foolish. We can’t understand why salvation had to be brought through by such horrifying means. There are many who have reduced the cross to little more than a spiritual experience. But Jesus really did die on the cross. He really was raised from the dead. And because He did these things we are made children of God and heirs with Jesus of the Kingdom. As we join in His suffering, with our own suffering and sharing in the suffering of others, we will also realize the glory of God. We are blessed not only when we laugh with others, but also when we cry. We are blessed when we walk through the valleys with those who suffer because there we also see God’s mercy and grace.


June 2, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 7, 2008: Holy Trinity: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

John 3:1-17 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came unto him by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God! That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew. The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things? And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him.

I heard a bit of news yesterday that did not make sense, but was reported as absolutely true. The person who told me had checked sources and couldn’t wait until he could share this incredible news with others. It didn’t make sense to me; it was news that should have received more widespread attention. So, I decided to search the news agencies to see if I could find it anywhere. The news had not made it to the international news services. It wasn’t on the national news websites. It wasn’t anywhere to be found on the local news pages. I finally did a search using key words from the story and I found a page that gave me the details, including a posting date from two years ago. Since it was a story about someone who died who is very much alive, I realized that it was a hoax.

We can’t believe everything we hear or see, especially if we are getting second or third person accounts of a story. Have you ever been at the water cooler, involved in a conversation that turns into a debate because everyone has heard different versions of the same story? “I heard ten were killed.” “The radio just said fifteen.” “The news website reports that the sheriff said the early figures were too high, there were only two killed.” Not a pleasant example, but the confusion is more distressing when the reporters can’t get the story correct. When the dust as settled on the situation and someone finally takes charge of the information, we can finally get the real answers to our questions. Unfortunately, in today’s world we can receive news immediately and the reporters are more than willing to continue talking even if they do not know what they are talking about.

We don’t know how Nicodemus came to hear the message Jesus was sharing with the crowds. He may have been lingering on the edges of the crowd, listening along with the rest, although this possibility is questionable. He obviously was concerned about being seen with Jesus because he came at night. He was part of the leadership that was considering what needed to be done about Jesus. According to John, Jesus had just cleared the temple and He was amazing the crowds with miracles and they were beginning to believe in Him. He had also offending the leadership with talk of destroying and rebuilding the Temple of God. They didn’t realize He was talking about his body. They laughed at the thought of Jesus rebuilding a building that took their forefathers forty-six years to build. Jesus was quickly making enemies, and Nicodemus wasn’t sure what might happen to him if he showed an interest in what Jesus was doing.

But Nicodemus heard something and he wanted to know more. Whether he heard the words from Jesus, or he had just heard the stories that were being told about him, Nicodemus needed to clear up the confusing in his mind. Something he heard made him think. It made him want to study and learn and understand. Even face to face, the words Jesus was speaking didn’t make sense. But Nicodemus took what he heard, that which made him seek out Jesus and that which Jesus told him directly, and continued to ponder. Nicodemus later argued for fair treatment for Jesus (John 7:50) and helped Joseph of Arimathea with the burial of Jesus’ body. We don’t know if he ever really understood, but we do know that he became more open with his support of Jesus.

There are many people who try to tell us what the Bible says and how we should live according to God’s Word. We live in community and God has given us teachers to help us understand. But Nicodemus was a teacher and he needed to continue to learn. He didn’t know what to believe, so he sought knowledge and pondered what he heard. We have an advantage. We live after the crucifixion and resurrection, after Pentecost when God sent His Spirit to His people. Now when we hear things, we have the Spirit, along with the Church and the written Word, to help us see what is true and what is not. With His help we can share the message of Jesus with the world, so that others might also receive the gift of the Spirit and learn what it means to be loved and forgiven by God.


June 3, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 7, 2008: Holy Trinity: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

Yea, Jehovah sitteth as King for ever.

I’m not sure if there is any doctrine in the Christian church more difficult to understand. In the spirit of Abbot and Costello, someone wrote the following dialogue:

“When you come to church you need to know the key players… you know, the ones who are worthy of honor and praise.”
“Honor and praise huh? Well who are they?”
“O.K., now listen closely. There is one God.”
“One God. That seems easy enough. What do you call this one God?”
“This one God is called, ‘God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.’”
“Now wait just a minute. You told me that there is only one God.”
“That's right!”
“So which is it?”
“So which is what?”
“Which name do you use for this one God?”
“The name I gave you.”
“But you gave me three names.”
“That’s right.”
“What’s right?”
“God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.”
“So you have three Gods?”
“No, one God.”
“So which is it?”
“Which is what?”
“Father, Son or Holy Spirit?”
“Yes to what?”
“That’s God's name.”
“Which God?”
“Our one God.”
“Why did you give three names.”
“Because they aren't the same.”
“But you just told me there is one God. So which is it?”
“Which is what?”
“Which name is the name of your God?”
“I told you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
“But that is three.”
“Yes, but it’s only one.”

On Sunday we celebrate the Holy Trinity. The dialogue seems very confusing, but that is the reality of the concept. Three in one, one in three is beyond our ability to comprehend. We can come up with dozens of different analogies to help us explain the doctrine, but those analogies always come up short. Something limits the validity of those human explanations of a divine reality. Take, for example, the analogy of water. Yes, water can be liquid, gas or solid when it is warm, hot or frozen, but it can not be liquid, gas and solid at the same time. It is alright that we can’t reduce the Trinity to simple human terms. If we could, God wouldn’t be God.

While knowledge is not a bad thing, and our connection with our God grows stronger as we seek and study and learn about Him, there are some things that must be accepted by faith. Unfortunately, too many are willing to reject Christ because they can’t accept doctrines like the Trinity which they find foolish and beyond proof. So when confronted by something like the Trinity, how do we respond? Do we stand before God like Isaiah and raise our hands when He asks who will go? Do we sneak around at night hoping to find answers? We who have been given the power of the Holy Spirit can say “I believe,” living according to the spirit in faith and trust and hope no matter what circumstances we face, knowing that God is God even when we can’t fully understand what that means.


June 4, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 14, 2009: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; 2 Corinthians 5-10 [11-13] 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

Ezekiel 17:22-24 Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: I will also take of the lofty top of the cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I will plant it upon a high and lofty mountain: in the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it; and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all birds of every wing; in the shade of the branches thereof shall they dwell. And all the trees of the field shall know that I, Jehovah, have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish; I, Jehovah, have spoken and have done it.

God has a way of using unusual voices to help us see and hear the word He has for us. A few years ago, when I was actively ministering on the Internet, I had an acquaintance who had become an atheist. He had been a Christian, actively involved in the ministry of his church, but something happened to destroy his faith. We conversed via email for a long time. He asked a million questions but didn’t accept the answers. He rejected the idea that some questions only have faith answers. I’m not sure what purpose our conversations had; I certainly wanted to help him see the love and mercy of God again. But I’m not sure what he wanted to come of our discussions. I don’t think he wanted to destroy my faith, although many of his questions were difficult. For some people, the lack of answers can be a faith breaker.

Did he want to find God’s grace again? I’m not sure, but his questions certainly helped me seek God’s Word for myself. I may not have found suitable answers for him, but the search made my knowledge of God and my faith stronger. The more I knew the more confidence I had to share God’s grace with those who were questioning God. I learned a great deal from this former-Christian-atheist. He had an insight into the scriptures that was beyond the norm. It is still sad that his insight didn’t help him know God or love him. There’s always hope. Perhaps God still has work for him to do as an unbeliever, helping others grow strong enough to share God’s word with the world.

God can do the impossible. Today’s passage is a promise to do the impossible. Israel had turned away from God. The kings had lost their way. The people were no longer worshipping only the God of their forefathers. They were not doing justice or living as God intended them to live. The only way to get their attention was to use the nations of the world. God gave Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians the power to defeat Israel in Jerusalem and take the king captive. The king made a vow with Nebuchadnezzar, and the Babylonians did not destroy Jerusalem. But the king thought he could be unfaithful to the covenant he made with Nebuchadnezzar, so he sought the help of Egypt. Egypt did not help Israel. As a matter of fact, Egypt helped with the destruction of what little was left. God allowed this to happen because the king was not faithful to the vow he made in God’s name.

So, the parable found in Ezekiel 17 tells the story of this time in the life of Israel. Our passage takes this story in a new and unexpected way. God will take a shoot and make it grow where it can never grow. A shoot clipped from the top of a cedar tree will not grow on the top of a mountain. Even if that snippet could grow, it wouldn’t grow into a vine. But, just as God could use Nebuchadnezzar to bring His people back into His heart, He can also bring life to that which should be dead. He does this so that the world will know that He is God. God turns the world upside down so that we can see His power and His mercy and His grace.

Sometimes that power and mercy and grace is found in the unexpected. We don’t always have the patience to wait for God’s plan to come into fulfillment. We can only go forth in faith knowing that God does know what He is doing. God is faithful. He will do the impossible if He has promised to do so. He can make a cutting turn into a haven for hope. He has made Jesus Christ, who was cut and replanted through the cross and the tomb, bring life to the world. He has turned the world upside down.


June 5, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 14, 2009: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; 2 Corinthians 5-10 [11-13] 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 It is a good thing to give thanks unto Jehovah, and to sing praises unto thy name, O Most High; to show forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night, with an instrument of ten strings, and with the psaltery; with a solemn sound upon the harp. For thou, Jehovah, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands… The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of Jehovah; they shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and green: to show that Jehovah is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

It is valuable to look at the different ways words are translated in the scriptures because it sometimes gives another level of understanding. It is hard, however, because sometimes the passage seems to have a completely different and perhaps opposite meaning when two translations are compared. In one case, I found that words as simple as “a” and “the” can completely change the meaning. The identifier “a” is indefinite. It can mean “any” as in “a bird” or “a car.” The identifier “the” is definite as in “the bird” or “the car.” It means something very specific. In the passage, the noun was a tent, and the difference between being any tent and being a specific tent changed the legitimacy of what was happening inside the tent. I checked fourteen different versions of the Bible. The translations came out equally: seven for “a” and seven for “the.” It wouldn’t have mattered if I stuck to only one version, but I learned something valuable in the search: we have to be careful when we interpret the scriptures and recognize that there might be more than one way of understanding what it means.

Take today’s passage, for instance. Verse 4b says, “I will triumph in the works of thy hands” in the American Standard Version, which I use for posting the scriptures. I use this version because it is not copyright, and I can not legally (or financially) use the copyrighted versions that most readers prefer. Although I post in ASV, I usually read and study the scriptures in New International Version and New Revised Standard Version. I also occasionally use The Message, King James and the New Jerusalem Bible. On rare occasions I’ll find other versions online to check out specific words and phrases, just to see how those translators chose to word the translation. Sometimes you can find interpretive bias in the way it is translated, and that is helpful to know, also.

So, in this passage from the ASV (and King James) we see the word “triumph.” In other versions, the word is translated “sing for joy.” Now, since triumph can be defined “to rejoice over a success or victory,” “sing for joy” makes sense. This song is a liturgical hymn of praise used in the Temple worship on the Sabbath after the exile, in the morning when the sacrifice was offered. The people are joyful and thankful for the works of God’s hands.

But the word “triumph” can also mean “to be victorious or successful.” As we look at the rest of the passage, we see that the psalmist is singing over the success which God gives. God will make His righteous people flourish like a palm tree. They shall grow like the tall cedars of Lebanon. They shall bring forth fruit; they will be healthy and green. Notice that the triumph here is not human success or victory. The triumph is God’s. He does these things. When the psalmist says, “I will triumph in the works of thy hands” the psalmist is not saying that he will be triumphant, but that God will make him triumphant. It is all about God’s hands, all about God’s works, all about God’s triumph. All that we have, all that we are, is thanks to God. Whether we rise to the heights of a palm or cedar tree, or if we spread out like a vine, our fruit is brought to the world by God’s hands.

And so we sing about the triumph of God and we triumph in His hands. We both sing of His success and are victorious in His grace. He is faithful. His lovingkindness is manifest in the lives of His people, as they share His grace so that the world will know that He is God.


June 8, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 14, 2009: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17 Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord (for we walk by faith, not by sight); we are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord. Wherefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well-pleasing unto him. For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad. [Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest unto God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. We are not again commending ourselves unto you, but speak as giving you occasion of glorying on our behalf, that ye may have wherewith to answer them that glory in appearance, and not in heart. For whether we are beside ourselves, it is unto God; or whether we are of sober mind, it is unto you.] For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, that they that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again. Wherefore we henceforth know no man after the flesh: even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new.

Late spring and early summer is an exciting time of year because for many people it is a time of great change. School is letting out for summer, and the students are getting ready for three months of freedom and fun. For many, the end of school means a new chapter of life as they graduate from one place to go into another. Preschoolers are headed for Elementary School. High School students are headed to college or the working world. College students have to find jobs and homes and lives as full-fledged adults. This is also a time of weddings. Marriage means a whole new way of living, a new way of relating to people, not only the spouse, but also to family, old friends and in-laws.

We all want to succeed, and it is often at this time of year we are tested about our success. Even as graduations are happening, alumni are gathering for reunions, renewing old friendships and making new ones. Those married at this time of year are celebrating anniversaries and measuring their lives. Families are gathering for picnics and parties. It is inevitable at any of these celebrations that some will be calculating the success of others, comparing their own accomplishments against family and friends. Who has the best job? Whose kids did well in school? Whose marriage has lasted the longest? Those who have not found that perfect job or whose marriage fell apart after just a few years are looked down upon as failures. If someone does not have that vacation house on the lake or the top of the line car, they are disappointments. Those who don’t have a houseful of perfect children are selfish or immature or unmotivated.

But what is success? Is success defined by the size of a house or a bank account? Unfortunately, many people do define success by material things. It was happening in Corinth with those who were in opposition to the work Paul was doing with the new Christians there. They were claiming greater success because they were being paid and were thriving in their positions in the church. However, Paul refused to be paid. He preferred to give the Gospel to the people for free so that no one could question his integrity. To Paul, success was not about how much he had gathered in material but how well the people who have heard his message were living. Were they sharing the Gospel with others? Were they glorifying God with their gifts both material and spiritual? Were they loving as Christ loved and living as Christ lived? Have they been transformed by the Gospel message into a new creation whose desires are the same as God?

Reunions of any sort are often difficult gatherings to attend, especially when there are people who are comparing the successes of the other guests. Those who are at peace, however, are those who are content in their circumstances: the guy who loves his work, even though it isn’t a high paying job, the woman who is happily single, the couple that loves their imperfect children and their small apartment—they are not conforming to the expectations of the world, but living happy in their circumstances today. As for Paul, he was confident in God’s grace and could continue to do the work he was called to do even though it seemed to some that he was a failure. He knew that God knew him and to Paul, that was all that matters.


June 9, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 14, 2009: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

Mark 4:26-34 And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed upon the earth; and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, he knoweth not how. The earth beareth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the fruit is ripe, straightway he putteth forth the sickle, because the harvest is come. And he said, How shall we liken the kingdom of God? or in what parable shall we set it forth? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown upon the earth, though it be less than all the seeds that are upon the earth, yet when it is sown, groweth up, and becometh greater than all the herbs, and putteth out great branches; so that the birds of the heaven can lodge under the shadow thereof. And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it; and without a parable spake he not unto them: but privately to his own disciples he expounded all things.

Advertising is designed to make us want something and to do so in a short amount of time. A good ad, whether it is on television, in a magazine or on the radio, catches our attention. It makes us look twice. It makes us study the information so that we will go after this thing they are selling. If an advertisement doesn’t catch our attention, it will never make us go buy the item. We tune out or run to the bathroom when an ad appears on television. We flip over to the next page if the print ad is too boring. We change stations if we aren’t interested in an ad we hear on the radio.

So, advertisers spend a great deal of money every year trying to get our attention. Some strategies work. I’m sure most of us can think of a jingle that we remember from the past. The day after the Superbowl we gather around the water cooler talking about all our favorite ads. And who can forget some of the classic characters in advertising: Mr. Whipple, the “Where’s the Beef” lady, Mikey.

Some of my favorite radio commercials are the Bud Light “Real Men of Genius” spots. These commercials take the worst (or the best, depending on how you look at it) of beer-drinking American men and pays tribute (or makes fun of) the things that they do as if they are heroic in their enterprises. Take, for instance, “Mr. T-Shirt Launcher Inventor” whose t-shirt launcher can send t-shirts into the nosebleed section of the stadium. Actually, anywhere the t-shirts fly is the nosebleed section. Or how about “Mr. Rolling Cooler Cooler Roller” whose rolling cooler is so big that it can fit food to fit an army, a cooler for the guy who ‘has everything but a friend to help him carry the cooler.” These commercials are hysterical, and we always become very quiet when we are in the car and hear the music starts because we want to hear which “American heroes” they are singing about this time. The commercial itself rarely has anything to do with beer, but there is no doubt to which company has sponsored the ad.

Some commercials aren’t so easy to understand. There was a car commercial a few years back which, to be honest, I can’t even remember the brand name of it. At the end of the commercial you were left scratching your head in wonderment: what was that all about? I think sometimes the advertising creators want to leave us confused so that we’ll have to think about the commercial and watch it even more closely the next time it is on. I’m not sure those campaigns work very well, most people just tuned it out, which is why the campaign didn’t last very long.

Advertisers like to tell stories. They don’t always focus on the product itself, like the Bud Light radio spots, but in the end you know what they are selling. Sometimes it is better to tell an interesting story, to get people thinking, to make them search out the product in other ways, because then they will become more invested and really consider buying the item.

Jesus was selling something, too, but sometimes when we hear the stories He told, they make little sense to us, like the strange advertising campaigns that didn’t even tell us what they were selling. What does a seed have to do with the kingdom of God? If you aren’t a farmer, the agricultural references might be pointless. And we look at these stories and know that they aren’t completely true. Yes, a plant grows without the help or knowledge of man, but what farmer doesn’t put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into his farms? And we know that the mustard seed isn’t really the smallest seed and we also know that it doesn’t grow so big that the birds can build nests in it. Yet, these parables have long helped us to understand that God is in control and that He has begun a great thing with just a tiny seed. We know this because we’ve studied these tests, thought about it and learned what it might mean physically and spiritually.

So, though the parables on the surface are just stories, they cause us to think more deeply about what Jesus is saying, to take ownership of the information He is sharing. He often explains these parables to the disciples, and we benefit from their confusion. But it does us well to look beyond the story and think about what it meant not only for the disciples and early hearers, but also for us today.


June 10, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 14, 2009: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and green: to show that Jehovah is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

Last Sunday we looked at the doctrine of the Trinity, which is central to the Christian understanding of God. The concept is mysterious and confusing, leading to misunderstandings between Trinitarians and non-Trinitarians. Those who see the Godhead as three-in-one are accused of worshipping three separate gods. As the early Christians studied the scriptures, both the Old Testament and the witness of the disciples, they began to see the Trinity and found it to be the logical expression of the God they saw revealed in and through Jesus Christ. Some things Jesus said did not make sense without this understanding of God. Some of the things He did had far more meaning when seen through this light. What was a small seed of an idea became a foundational teaching by the fourth century because the Church fathers were finally able to bring together all the questions, answers and ideas into one concise creed. It was at the council of Nicaea that the doctrine was finally given full expression.

It took a lot of discussion and study. Origen, Tertullian and Athanasius were the early scholars working through the ideas. They came to their understanding as they fought heresy in the early church. Others continued to develop and defend the doctrine, including a group of men we remember on this Sunday called the Cappadocian fathers: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus. These three were bishops and doctors of the Church. These three men were influenced by Macrina, a teacher and abbess and sister to Basil and Gregory of Nyssa. She was intelligent, learned and committed to a faithful and faith-filled Christian life of perfection. She provided a place for her brothers and their friend to pray and live and study at the community she established on the family estate.

Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus were both unwilling leaders of the Church, but served with humility and dedication. Basil established a rule of monastic life that is still used today, preferring community life to hermitage. Gregory of Nazianzus was a great preacher, working especially where the Arian ideology had taken root, planting Orthodoxy to regions where Orthodoxy was not widespread. Gregory wrote about spiritual life and the Christian use of worship and sacraments to contemplate God.

It is interesting to note that these early church thinkers were able to hold their own against the philosophical thinking of the Greeks. Though much different than the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, they saw Christian faith in an almost scientific manner, centered in the healing of the soul and union with God. Perhaps that scientific and logical thinking is exactly why these three were so deeply involved in the defining of the Trinity, as they were essential in developing the wording that the godhead is “three substances in one essence.”

It is interesting to think of these three men the week after Holy Trinity, but also on this Sunday when the images in our scriptures have to do with big things happening out of small beginnings. These early church fathers were certainly valuable as individuals, each providing good things in the development of the Church. However, we remember them together, each recognized as a part of a whole community that made a difference in the lives of Christians. Along with Macrina, these brothers and their friend each had a part in growing the church—one in establishing how to live in community, one in preaching the message and one in teaching people how to worship God. We are reminded by their stories that we are all individuals, part of the larger community. We all have our own individual gifts. Valuable as our gifts are for the continuing growth of the Church, we need one another for the Church to be whole and the message to be complete. We might seem small and insignificant, but we are part of a much larger thing, a thing that spreads like a vine to reach the four corners of the world.


June 11, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 21, 2009: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

Job 38:1-11 Then Jehovah answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel By words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; For I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. Who determined the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who stretched the line upon it? Whereupon were the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner-stone thereof, When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut up the sea with doors, When it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb; When I made clouds the garment thereof, And thick darkness a swaddling-band for it, And marked out for it my bound, And set bars and doors, And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; And here shall thy proud waves be stayed?

Every generation has a “Where were you” question. Where were you when Pearl Harbor was bombed? Where were you when JFK was shot? Where were you when the astronauts walked on the moon? Where were you when the Challenger exploded? Where were you on 9/11? People can generally remember where they were when these history changing moments happened, or at least where they were when they heard about it. The stories about more recent events usually end up with families gathered around the television watching the events unfold.

We can ask the question about more personal events in people’s lives. Where were you when you met your spouse? Where were you when you proposed? Where were you married? Where were you when you decided what you wanted to be when you grew up? Where were you when you became a Christian?

For those of us in the military, and other transient communities, knowing where we were helps us to remember when something happened. Where were we when Zack broke his finger? Where we were when the kids got that shot? Where were we when we bought that piece of furniture? Where were we when the song or movie or television show was popular?

The question is also used in the courtroom. The lawyer will ask the defendant, “Where were you on the night this crime happened?” The question is meant to establish an alibi for the accused. Other questions might be asked to establish the whereabouts on other important moments, like when a gun was purchased. The lawyer is trying to prove that the defendant could not be guilty because he or she was not there. The questions might be asked by the prosecutor, too, as he or she tries to put the defendant in the right place at the right time, thus proving them guilty.

God asks this question of Job in today’s passage. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” In this case, the question is meant to establish that Job has no right to question the will and purpose of God. Job was not even a glimmer in his mother’s eye when God spoke the creation into existence. God has been from before the beginning and after the end. Human beings are simply unable to know or understand everything about the God we worship. He wouldn’t be worthy of worship if we could. It is especially hard when God allows terrible things to happen in our lives. We want to be angry. We want to go to court with God, to question Him, to insist on answers to our questions. But God reminds us that we weren’t there when He established the foundation of the earth and we’ll never fully understand Him. What seems to be bad from our point of view may lead to something beyond our imagination. We know that God is faithful. We can rest in God’s promises even when it seems like things are falling apart. Where were we when God laid the foundations of the earth? We did not yet exist in the flesh, but we were loved. Of this we can be sure.


June 12, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 21, 2009: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 O give thanks unto Jehovah; For he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of Jehovah say so, Whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the adversary, And gathered out of the lands, From the east and from the west, From the north and from the south… They that go down to the sea in ships, That do business in great waters; These see the works of Jehovah, And his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, Which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths: Their soul melteth away because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, And are at their wits' end. Then they cry unto Jehovah in their trouble, And he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, So that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they are quiet; So he bringeth them unto their desired haven. Oh that men would praise Jehovah for his lovingkindness, And for his wonderful works to the children of men! Let them exalt him also in the assembly of the people, And praise him in the seat of the elders.

I often put in seventy or more hours a week when I was working in retail. For a brief period, I was doing two full time jobs—one as a manager of a store, the other on the refurbishment team of another store. I worked seven days a week, sometimes 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. or later. It was one of the most exciting times in my life. I enjoyed my job. I liked the people with whom I worked. I really loved being on the refurbishment team. There’s something therapeutic about putting up shelves and putting out merchandise according to the plan-o-gram. Add to my work time the hours I spent commuting to and from work, or between jobs, and you’ll find that I spent very little time at home. I didn’t have time to do anything else. There was no time for dating, movies, visits to my folks. There was no time for Church. And really, there wasn’t much time for God.

At that point in my life, I have to admit that while I was a firm believer and committed Christian, God didn’t play a huge role in my life. Though I was never perfect, I tried to live a life that would make God happy. Though I always knew God was with me, I didn’t pay very much attention. I didn’t pray regularly. I didn’t spend much time reading my bible. I barely ever made it to church. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that God is, and should be, visible in my every day life.

Perhaps it is easier to see God when you have a job like that which is described in today’s psalm. The sailors and shippers spent so much of their time on the sea, where much was still mysterious. They didn’t know a great deal about what laid below the surface. They were certainly familiar with some of the animals, but not in the way we have studied them. What must a blue whale have looked like to a sailor on a boat not much larger than some of today’s modern houses? It is no wonder that many myths and legends come out of the sea. Mermaids were probably nothing more than seals seen in odd light by tired sailors. Though they were at work, those sailors couldn’t help but see the majesty of God in His creation, in the wind and the waves and the night sky.

It is harder to see the majesty of God when hanging cards of pens on racks in a retail store. It is hard to see God when customers complain and when employees are less than committed to their work. It is hard to remember that God is present when we are exhausted by long hours and heavy burdens of responsibility. We see God in our worship, in the sacraments, in our study of the scriptures. We sense His presence in our prayer and life of service. But we tend to forget He’s around in our every day life. We forget that He is with us at our jobs. So, we are reminded to give thanks to God in all our circumstances, even when we are having a bad day at work or our co-workers are less than compassionate. He’s there. His love endures and we make His love manifest in our own lives of praise. Whether our circumstances are happy or sad, good or bad, it is good to ask ourselves the question, “Where is God in all this?” and we will see Him. He’ll calm our storms and bring us home.


June 15, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 21, 2009: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

2 Corinthians 6:1-13 And working together with him we entreat also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain (for he saith, At an acceptable time I hearkened unto thee, And in a day of salvation did I succor thee: behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation): giving no occasion of stumbling in anything, that our ministration be not blamed; but in everything commending ourselves, as ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings; in pureness, in knowledge, in long suffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. Our mouth is open unto you, O Corinthians, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own affections. Now for a recompense in like kind (I speak as unto my children), be ye also enlarged.

There are a lot of reality television shows right now, everything from shows to pick the next top model to top chefs to apprentices for business moguls. These shows begin with a group of contestants and over the weeks they are given tasks that test their abilities. On the show “The Next Food Network Star” the contestants are put through many tests. The judges are not only looking for great cooks, but also personality, on screen image, fast thinking, simplicity, and the ability to relate to the television watching public.

As I watched the program last evening, I was amazed at how these food network stars have grown into their own celebrity. Who would have ever thought that cooks (not all of them consider themselves chefs) would have such fame. They now have best selling books, commercials and appearances apart from food related events. They are becoming rich, owning their own restaurants and lines of popular products for the kitchen and home. I wonder if any of today’s food network stars even thought that they would be able to support themselves with the job when they first began, and now they are very successful.

Now, of course, those who are trying out to be the next food network star expect that they will have the same success as those who laid the foundation. They are looking forward to the fame, the book contracts and the other possibilities. I don’t know how they choose the final ten contestants, but if it is like any of the other reality television shows, the pool probably began with thousands of wanna-bees. Even if there were only one thousand, these ten were in the top ten percent of the possibilities. That makes them a winner. As I did some research, I discovered that some of the previous season contestants, despite not winning, were able to find their own nitch as an on screen personality. Sometimes it just takes getting a foot in the door. These ten, whether they win or lose, are ahead of their competitors on the job market.

You might think it would be easy for these contestants who have made it this far, but it is far from easy. As a matter of fact, some of the tasks are impossible even for the best of cooks. They might be asked to make a dish out of a large cut of meat that needs long slow roasting. This was a problem for one contestant recently. The meat was not cooked when it was presented to the judges. The meat could have been cut into smaller pieces, but if the contestants aren’t prepared to step outside the usual, they may fail. On top of the challenges, the contestants on these shows are forced to work beyond the norm. It is exhausting, often being called into service at odd hours or expected to work long into the night.

They are being tested because the job they are working to win will not be easy. For the next Food Network Star, the shooting schedule will be long, the days will be exhausting under the hot lights, writing those cookbooks takes time and patience. They won’t become a success just because they’ve won the contest. They’ll have to work hard to succeed. The viewers may not like them. The recipes they’ve tested may not work in other people’s kitchens. The advertisers may not want to support the star. They might suffer at the hands of harsh critics and be canceled after just a few shows. When they fail during the show, they are labeled as imposters, unable to handle the contest or the prize.

In today’s passage, Paul tells us that today is the day of salvation. This is marvelous news, but we have to understand what this means. Salvation is present, but it doesn’t always seem that way, does it? We know that as saved children of God, we have been adopted into His family, made heirs to His kingdom. It sure doesn’t seem like we are princes and princesses sometimes. We suffer. We fail. We are persecuted. Paul tells us that he was imprisoned, beaten, and faced hardship. He suffered sleepless nights and hunger. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, he endured these things and lived a life that did not take God’s grace in vain. “Through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report, genuine but regarded as imposters,” says Paul.

When we suffer in our faith, we are also regarded as imposters, yet what the world thinks of us does not matter. What matters is that today is the day of salvation and we are called to live in the grace of God through the bad times in hope for what is to come. In doing so, God will be glorified, if not today but in His time and way. It won’t be easy. The tasks are sometimes impossible. The burdens are too heavy to carry. But God is with us. He has saved us, but that salvation will never guarantee an easy life. We are called to work in this world whatever the circumstances so that God’s grace is not in vain.


June 16, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 21, 2009: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

Mark 4:35-41 And on that day, when even was come, he saith unto them, Let us go over unto the other side. And leaving the multitude, they take him with them, even as he was, in the boat. And other boats were with him. And there ariseth a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the boat, insomuch that the boat was now filling. And he himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion: and they awake him, and say unto him, Teacher, carest thou not that we perish? And he awoke, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye fearful? have ye not yet faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Have you ever known anyone that seems to be content no matter the circumstances of their life? They seem happy even when times are rough. They can find the silver lining in every cloud. They have the strength and courage to do whatever needs to be done when trouble surrounds them. I don’t know about you, but I look at these folks with wonder. I don’t know how they do it. I can’t help but worry and when someone isn’t worried about something that I would be worried about, I wonder how they can do it.

We often read in this passage a cry from the disciples for Jesus to help. It makes sense, after all, they were caught in a terrible storm and the boat was rocking in the waves. I imagine that the bottom of the boat was being flooded with water, threatening the stability of the vessel. The disciples, many of whom were trained fishermen, knew the dangers they faced. The boat could capsize or sink at any moment. Every hand was probably necessary to protect their lives. Even the best swimmers would have difficulty surviving those waves. But Jesus slept, and His disciples asked, “Teacher, carest thou not that we perish?” This is a cry for help. “Help us or we will die.” And Jesus helped.

What has always bothered me about this passage is that Jesus slept. I have trouble sleeping when I’m in a safe, warm house during a thunderstorm. I’m often wakened by the flashes of lightning and booming thunder, and I end up pacing around the house checking to be sure everything is alright. Sometimes I turn on the television, to make sure there is no chance for tornadoes, ready to wake my family and move them to a safer place in the house if necessary. If I can’t sleep in the house during a storm, I’m sure I’d never be able to sleep in a boat. But Jesus slept. He wasn’t worried. How did He do that?

The disciples may have wondered, also. While they may have been seeking His help to keep the boat afloat, it is just as possible that they didn’t know how He could sleep when there was a chance they would die. How could He be so content in the midst of such a difficult storm? How could He sleep? He was not worried like the others; He had a peace that gave Him the freedom to rest in the midst of the storm without fear or worry.

Jesus answered their question with help. He rebuked the storm and caused the wind to cease. He did something that put them at ease, but in the process He caused them another sort of fear, an awe-inspired fear of something far more powerful than themselves. He didn’t help them by bailing out the water. He helped by rebuking the storm. Then, He rebuked them for being afraid. He rebuked them for not having faith.

How do we look at our own troubles: through worry or the eyes of faith? It is easy for us to assume that this lesson tells us that Jesus will stop all our storms. But we all know that people of faith do not necessarily have the perfect life. Water pours into our boats sometimes. There is plenty in our world about which we can worry and be afraid. We can certainly pray to Jesus, “Why don’t you care about how we are floundering here?” and hope that He will tell the wind and the rain to stop. But we know that the wind and the rain won’t always stop just because we’ve prayed for it to do so. Sometimes the storm is the very way that God helps us to grow and learn and mature. No, this isn’t a story about God doing our bidding because quite frankly our response to that kind of miraculous salvation is often the same as the disciples. We wonder with awestruck fear about who this is that can calm the storm.

No, this story is also about being like Jesus in the midst of those storms. He asked the disciples, “Where is your faith?” He was right there. He was not going to let them die. As we face our storms, it might seem to us that Jesus is sleeping on a cushion at the end of the boat, but He knows what’s happening. He is with us. We might have to suffer, as we bail out the boat or hang on for dear life, but He won’t let go of us. The lesson is to have faith in the midst of those storms, to know that He is with us, to be content even when it seems like the world around us is falling apart.


June 17, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 21, 2009: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

He maketh the storm a calm, So that the waves thereof are still.

On June 21st, the ELCA and Oromo Churches commemorate the life of a missionary, translator and evangelist from Ethiopia. Onesimos Nesib was captured by slave traders, bought and sold several times until he was finally freed and educated by Swedish missionaries. His birth name was Hika, but he was given the name Nesib by his captors and then took on the name Onesimos when he became a Christian. It was an appropriate name for a slave set free by the Gospel, since the book of Philemon tells a similar story about a man name Onesimos. His original name, Hika, was appropriate also because it meant “translator” in his native language. We remember him on June 21st because that is the day he died in 1931, at about age 75.

After he was educated and trained to be a missionary, Onesimos wanted to return to his native land to share the Gospel with the people. It was a difficult journey; it took many years and several tries before he could get through the politics of both secular and religious authorities. It didn’t help that travel was difficult, with poor weather, poor roads and conflict. He was often given misinformation and his company of missionaries suffered from illness. They experienced so many roadblocks that Onesimos fell into deep despair at least once, giving up the mission. He pulled through each obstacle, finding other ways to share the Gospel in other places until he was finally able to make back to his home. With the help of a native Oromo (or Galla) speaker, he was able to translate the Bible into the native language. As we remember Onesimos on this day of commemoration, we see how he lived out the life described in our passages. God brought him through; by faith he continued despite the obstacles. During those times when he faced despair, he was reminded of God’s presence and of the fact that God knows what humans can never know. He always went back to work, no matter what he suffered.

June 21st is also a special day in America to celebrate fathers. Like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is not a church holiday, but unlike Mother’s Day, kids do not necessarily make church attendance a way of honoring father. Though churches will probably make mention of the day for those fathers in the pews, and prayers will be lifted for all fathers, it is hard to incorporate the idea of Father’s Day into the liturgy and lectionary of the day.

But as I was doing research about Onesimos Nesib, I found an interesting story about his life that brings it all together. Translating the Bible into his native language was important to Onesimos because he wanted his people be able to read and hear the Word of God in their own voice. When the translation was complete, he personally oversaw the publication of the book, attending to the printing himself. During that time, he received word that smallest child died and his other children we also sick. He wanted to drop everything to return to his family, but he didn’t want to leave his work. His wife wrote to him to encourage him to stay with the printing, that all would be well with the family. She felt his work was very important and that she could handle things at home. He was torn, but did as his wife suggested.

Haven’t we all been torn between our families and our work? This is, perhaps, even more true for fathers who often put in so many hours at the office that they do not have time to spend with their families. It doesn’t matter what work we do, whether we are translators, missionaries, garbage men, office workers, nurses, teachers, businessmen, skilled or unskilled laborers: whatever we do, we are called to do it well and to do it to the glory of God. But fathers, who are often the main or sole breadwinner in a family, are also called to be a good father and husband. This is probably the toughest part of being a Dad: where to draw the line between responsibilities at home and at work. But through it all, our fathers can be reminded on this Sunday that God is with them through their storms. He stands with them as they try to figure out how to do it all in a world that demands so much from them. And when times are especially tough, they can face the storms with peace.


June 18, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 28, 2009: Lamentations 3:22-33 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-23; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

Lamentations 3:22-33 It is of Jehovah's lovingkindnesses that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. Jehovah is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. Jehovah is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should hope and quietly wait for the salvation of Jehovah. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and keep silence, because he hath laid it upon him. Let him put his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope. Let him give his cheek to him that smiteth him; let him be filled full with reproach. For the Lord will not cast off for ever. For though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses. For he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.

One of the hardest things a parent has to do is to ensure that their children receive a fair and equal amount of the parent’s resources. It is hard because it isn’t always easy to compare the things they are given. A girl may need more expensive clothes than a boy, but the boy’s toys might be more expensive. How do you tell a child that the one package under the Christmas tree containing the Wii is equal to the packages of dolls and doll clothes and play kitchen accessories his sister found. We hope they won’t notice and try teaching them the value of their things, but this is a lesson that takes a long time to learn. To them, a dollar is the same as a hundred dollars. They base equity on what they can see, not on the reality.

I’m not sure we ever completely grow out of this idea of equality. It seems like in our world today, fairness means everyone having exactly the same thing. I can’t tell you how many times the kids stood in the kitchen staring at chocolate sundaes trying to decide which one they would take. They want the one with the most ice cream, or the most chocolate syrup or the most whipped cream. If it even appeared as though one had more than the other, the child with the lesser bowl cried foul. “It’s not fair.” There’s no way to know, in the end, whether anyone has received their fair share of anything.

So, as we are thinking about this question of “fair share” we have to wonder what it is we want our fair share of. Do we want our fair share of wealth? What does that mean? Do we want our fair share of time with those we love? How do we define time spent, by minutes, hours or quality? Do we want our fair share of love? It is impossible to measure love, but I can safely guess that at least a few of my readers feel like a sibling was given more love (or time or stuff) than his or her brothers and sisters. How do we assess whether or not we’ve received our fair share and what do we do if we learn that we’ve gotten too little or too much?

This is a ridiculous argument because there will always be people who have less and people who have more than us. We can’t go to the rich man and demand that he give us a portion. We can share with those who have less, but we all know that our resources only go so far. We can’t spend money we don’t have. We can’t share when our resources have been depleted.

The same is not true of God our Father. He is able to give as we need, whatever we need, because His resources can not be depleted. Despite the tough times the people of Judah were facing, particularly with the destruction of Jerusalem, they were still able to sing about the faithfulness of God. The singer, an individual singing for the entire nation, says that the Lord is his portion. The Lord is his fair share. Nothing else matters. Yes, there was great loss, but God’s love is steadfast. In the midst of our troubles we can wait for Him and He’ll come. We might have to suffer as we wait, bearing the yoke, sitting in silence, burying our face in the dust, offering our cheek to those who would strike and filled with disgrace. It might seem as though we have not received our fair share, unless we remember that God is our portion. We aren’t empty. We aren’t alone. We don’t need to have the same amount of stuff as our neighbor. He is enough.


June 19, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 28, 2009: Lamentations 3:22-33 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-23; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

Psalm 30 I will extol thee, O Jehovah; for thou hast raised me up, And hast not made my foes to rejoice over me. O Jehovah my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me. O Jehovah, thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol; Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. Sing praise unto Jehovah, O ye saints of his, And give thanks to his holy memorial name. For his anger is but for a moment; His favor is for a life-time: Weeping may tarry for the night, But joy cometh in the morning. As for me, I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved. Thou, Jehovah, of thy favor hadst made my mountain to stand strong: Thou didst hide thy face; I was troubled. I cried to thee, O Jehovah; And unto Jehovah I made supplication: What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth? Hear, O Jehovah, and have mercy upon me: Jehovah, be thou my helper. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; Thou hast loosed my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Jehovah my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.

Have you ever listened to a song that seemed written for you personally? Most couples have a song that they call their own, sometimes because those songs tell a story similar to theirs. Some songs speak of sadness or loneliness that the listeners have experienced. Sometimes the songs speak about things we would like to do, like fall in love or climb a high mountain. We cry because we relive those experiences and laugh along with the singer when we are reminded of the lighter moments of our lives. Most of the time our reaction to the song has little to do with the actual reason the song was written, but we identify with it just the same, putting our own experiences into the music.

I heard a song this morning on the radio. It was about fathers, although I can’t find the name or artist. The entire song was made up of phrases that every day has probably said at some point in their life as a father. “You’re grounded.” “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” “Because I said so.” Which of us didn’t hear those words from our own fathers? Or mothers. And which of us parents have never used those same words with our own kids? That song made me laugh because I could hear my parents saying “Turn that music down!” And it brought back fond memories of family road trips when the singer sang, “No we’re not there yet.”

Our psalm today was probably written by David at a dedication for the Temple. Though David did not actually build the building, he did dedicate the land and the materials that would be used. It was an exciting time for the people, but it was also a dangerous time. David was not safe. He was still in danger from enemies as were the people of Israel. That’s why David didn’t get to build to Temple himself—too much blood was shed under his rule. But he was given the promise that his house would not end and that his heir would build. Solomon did build the Temple. David may have then planned for this psalm to be used when that Temple was complete.

It was also used later in the liturgy of God’s people. It became a regular part of the Hanukkah celebration. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus. Those who developed the liturgy recognized the worth of this psalm and its appropriateness for that occasion. It is a song of praise, a song that remembers a time when God’s people became arrogant and forgetful. It is a song that is still appropriate for us today. We are reminded of our own failure to live up to the expectations of our God, the God who has done great things for us. As we gather together to sing praise to God, we are humbled by His extraordinary love and mercy. He takes the reality of our failure and turns it upside down so that we can sing His praises and give thanks to Him forever.


June 22, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 28, 2009: Lamentations 3:22-33 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-23; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 But as ye abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all earnestness, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also. I speak not by way of commandment, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity also of your love. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich. And herein I give my judgment: for this is expedient for you, who were the first to make a beginning a year ago, not only to do, but also to will. But now complete the doing also; that as there was the readiness to will, so there may be the completion also out of your ability. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according as a man hath, not according as he hath not. For I say not this that others may be eased and ye distressed; but by equality: your abundance being a supply at this present time for their want, that their abundance also may become a supply for your want; that there may be equality: as it is written, He that gathered much had nothing over; and he that gathered little had no lack.

I have this project I started a long, long time ago. It is a counted cross-stitch piece, started as a gift to give to Bruce when he retired from the Air Force. I’ve carried this project with me though a half dozen moves, always in the bag I used to carry it when I was working on it. It is a picture of the Air Force Seal, pretty large for a cross-stitch project, requiring a great deal of work to complete. I decided long ago that I wouldn’t finish the project. At this point it isn’t something we would want to hang on our wall. I looked at it a year or so before Bruce’s retirement, but decided then that I would rather focus on some other ways of remembering his time served. At this point, the project is probably ragged and stained and not worth the work. The bag hangs in a place I see daily, and I’m constantly reminded of the project I never finished.

There are many reasons why we leave projects incomplete. Homeowners who begin renovations might run out of money for supplies. We might become too busy with other work to do the work necessary to complete the project. Time passes and things we begin become unnecessary. It would be a waste of our time to continue with something that is beyond use. Health issues can make some things impossible to complete. There are some very good reasons, and some even better excuses for not finishing what we start.

It doesn’t matter much whether I finish the project or not. I didn’t make a commitment or give a promise to anyone. No one’s life will change for the better or the worse because of the cross-stitch emblem. But we make commitments and promises all the time that do matter. Unfortunately, when we fail to complete those commitments, someone may suffer for it. There may be very real and important reasons why we can’t complete the commitment, but that doesn’t help the one waiting for us to live up to the promise.

Take, for instance, a pledge to donate something to an organization. That organization plans their budge around the pledge. If they do not get all the funds expected, they can’t pay their bills. There may be a perfectly good reason for someone to renege on their pledge. They might have suffered ill health or financial collapse. They might have found a better way to share their resources. We make sometimes make commitments and then realize that the organization is wasting the fund. We make the conscious decision to take our money elsewhere so that it will do the most good. Whatever the reason, however, our decisions will impact those who are relying on our commitments. There are many reasons why we should finish our commitments even if there are good reasons not to.

The Corinthians made a commitment to help the poor in Jerusalem. We don’t know what might have spurred them to make this commitment or what might have happened that would delay to fulfillment of the promise. But Paul writes to encourage them to finish what they started. This encouragement is not only because the poor in Jerusalem need their help. The act of giving will also serve as an example to the world of Jesus Christ’s generosity. As they say, we are not Christ’s hands in a world where He is not visible to those who do not believe. So, by fulfilling our promises despite the hardships it might cause, the world sees our faith in action. It isn’t enough to want to do something. It isn’t enough to be eager and to talk about what we might do. Good intentions never fed a hungry child. We are encouraged by this text to complete what we have started, to do what we’ve said we would do.


June 23, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 28, 2009: Lamentations 3:22-33 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-23; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

Mark 5:21-43 And when Jesus had crossed over again in the boat unto the other side, a great multitude was gathered unto him; and he was by the sea. And there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and seeing him, he falleth at his feet, and beseecheth him much, saying, My little daughter is at the point of death: I pray thee, that thou come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be made whole, and live. And he went with him; and a great multitude followed him, and they thronged him. And a woman, who had an issue of blood twelve years, and had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, having heard the things concerning Jesus, came in the crowd behind, and touched his garment. For she said, If I touch but his garments, I shall be made whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her plague. And straightway Jesus, perceiving in himself that the power proceeding from him had gone forth, turned him about in the crowd, and said, Who touched my garments? And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what had been done to her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague. While he yet spake, they come from the ruler of the synagogue's house saying, Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Teacher any further? But Jesus, not heeding the word spoken, saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Fear not, only believe. And he suffered no man to follow with him, save Peter, and James, and John the brother of James. And they come to the house of the ruler of the synagogue; and he beholdeth a tumult, and many weeping and wailing greatly. And when he was entered in, he saith unto them, Why make ye a tumult, and weep? the child is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn. But he, having put them all forth, taketh the father of the child and her mother and them that were with him, and goeth in where the child was. And taking the child by the hand, he saith unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, Arise. And straightway the damsel rose up, and walked; for she was twelve years old. And they were amazed straightway with a great amazement. And he charged them much that no man should know this: and he commanded that something should be given her to eat.

One of the most difficult things the church has to deal with is the reality that congregations match a certain demographic. A church located in a middle class neighborhood will be attended by a majority of middle class people. A center city church will be home to those who live in the city. A country church will host farmers. The pews in a church in high retirement area will probably be filled with elderly. This is not how we want it to be, and we spend a great deal of effort trying to find ways to make our churches a diverse community. Unfortunately, the reality is that we want to go to a place where we feel comfortable and we feel most comfortable in places with people with which we have something in common.

Despite the fact that our congregations do not appear to have much diversity, I don’t think any of us would come right out and say that we are a place for only certain people. We even spend time trying to find ways to bring diversity into our community. We change our music or liturgy. We offer programs to meet the needs of other demographic groups. We create mission statements that are inclusive and far reaching. And yet, do we really reach out to different people with open arms?

Take, for example, the congregation whose minister preaches the prosperity gospel. This is the message that God will make his faithful people prosper. There is an underlying message in these churches that if you are prospering, then you must not have enough faith. The message can go the other way, too. There are those congregations that focus on the idea that Jesus came for the poor. It is true that much of His teaching revolves around wealth and He lifts up the poor, but some churches preach a message that the rich can not enter into heaven. In one church, the poor are excluded because they do not have enough faith that God will make them rich. In the other church, the rich are excluded because they do not have enough faith to give away all their wealth for the sake of others.

Jesus didn’t notice. It didn’t matter to Jesus is a person is rich or poor, old or young, male or female. He didn’t notice race, creed, nationality. He didn’t pay attention to hair color, skin color, body mass index, clothing styles. He did speak about the rich that were greedy and the poor that were lazy. He did tell people to stop sinning. He did teach us all lessons we have to learn to live as He has called us to live. But He was blind when it came to the things we tend to use to divide ourselves from our neighbors. When we keep our eyes on Jesus, we tend to be blind to those differences, too.

Look at this story. Jesus didn’t send the man Jairus away, despite the fact that he was a leader of the synagogue and probably held some wealth. Instead, he followed the man who had enough faith to ask for help. As He walked, He was pressed in by the crowd, a crowd that was also blind to the people around them. They didn’t see the ill woman push her way through to Jesus. I’m sure many of the people in that crowd must have known the woman. Perhaps even Jairus, as a leader in the synagogue, was aware of her dis-ease. She’d been sick for 12 years. Since she was required by the religious laws to stay away from others while she bled, the community would have known her. No one noticed, they were too busy focusing on Jesus.

I wonder if our churches would become more diverse if we stopped paying so much attention to our differences, trying to draw people in by offering them programs to meet specific needs or teaching things that are really exclusive even though they seem to speak of things biblical. In this story we are reminded that Jesus breaks down all barriers, that Jesus is blind to everything but our needs. We are reminded that this is the life we are called to live: gathered around the Savior, with our eyes on Him, in a community that sees everything through Him.


June 24, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, June 28, 2009: Lamentations 3:22-33 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-23; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-23 …because God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal… for God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it. (NRSV)

What is death? In the most common definition, death is when a physical body stops living, when a living thing breathes no more. I’m sure most, if not all, of us reading this today have experienced the loss of someone we knew and loved, whether it was a person or even a pet. Death is the ultimate separation because except for the memories, we have no connection to that person or animal after they’ve died.

But death can be understood in a wider sense, to include objects and ideas as well as physical beings. Psychiatrists tell us that people grieve any sort of loss, just as they might grieve for a dead loved one. The loss of a job means separation from the workplace, co-workers and financial security. When we are separated from a friend because of an argument or a change in the relationship, we go through a period of grief. It can feel like we’ve died when we have been faced with the reality that our opinions or ideas are wrong, especially if those ideas or opinions are deeply rooted and long lasting. Any of these experiences can cause division, separation: walls built between people.

God did not intend for us to live divided by walls, but we do a tremendous job of building them. Some people want to divide us according to some visible distinction, whether it be race, gender, age or any other physical attribute. Others want division based on ideas. Yet others want lines drawn between nations and cultures, classes or politics. It isn’t always easy to tell who belongs to which group, but the walls are built anyway.

Every time a wall is built, a death occurs. Yet, as our scripture for today makes clear, God did not intend us to be separated according to these differences. God created us to last forever, living together in His Kingdom, under His rule, with His grace as the bond that ties us all together. Unfortunately, we live in a world corrupted by sin, our own and the sins of others, from the days of Adam and Eve until now. That sin causes death: death of body, mind and spirit. It causes death in relationships. It causes death in the human connection to the divine, our Creator God.

God did not intend for His creation to die. He did not intend for sickness. He did not intend for violence. He did not intend for there to be borders between people. Solomon writes, “Nevertheless through envy of the devil came death into the world: and they that do hold of his side do find it.” We find death. We find illness. We find destruction. We find (or cause) broken relationships. All too often death finds us because we have not lived as God intended. It began in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve listened to the voice of the serpent and believed him above the voice of God. We continue to suffer the consequences of that choice, but we also suffer the consequences of our own choices. We hold on to the devil and in doing so, we find death.

But God created us for life, and so He sent His Son to break down the walls that cause separation and brokenness. Jesus came to destroy death. Not only will we live eternally in the presence of God by faith, but we can also see the benefit of faith in our daily lives. We can live blind to our differences, ignore the walls, reach out to those who are different, open our hearts and minds to others. We don’t have to become door mats or give up our principles. We simply look at the world through Jesus’ point of view and we’ll see things differently. In faith, by grace, we have been changed. We do not need to suffer from death. We have been created to live and live abundantly.


June 25, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 5, 2009: Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

Ezekiel 2:1-5 And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak with thee. And the Spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet; and I heard him that spake unto me. And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to nations that are rebellious, which have rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me even unto this very day. And the children are impudent and stiffhearted: I do sent thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah. And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard self-proclaimed prophets make the statement, “Thus says the Lord.” This statement is supposed to make the hearers tremble in their shoes as if in the ‘prophet’ will be made credible just in the speaking of the words. All too often, however, the message they bring is not one which the Lord would actually send. They think that the use of that statement will make anything they think true. Some are even arrogant enough to consider themselves equal to God. They also think that everyone should hear their words just because they claim it comes from God. This is what makes them self-proclaimed prophets.

Real prophets aren’t given any guarantees. In today’s passage, Ezekiel is told that the people who hear the message will probably not even listen. When it comes to God’s prophets, however, it doesn’t matter whether they hear or refuse to hear: God will cause His word to be known. It won’t take a powerful person, or someone highly respected. The prophet won’t enjoy popularity or receive the respect of the hearers. As a matter of fact, the prophet will probably be spit upon, beaten and threatened. But God’s Word gets through, is heard, even if the listeners do not realize it at the moment. In the end, God will prove His prophets to the world.

Now, teachers and parents are not like prophets, and yet what teacher or parent hasn’t experienced this refusal to hear? The reality is that teachers and parents aren’t always right, but they do have important and valuable things to say. What parent hasn’t seen that glazed over look in the eyes of their teenager when trying to explain why they shouldn’t do something or why they should? What Sunday school teacher hasn’t wondered whether any of the Bible stories they’ve read made an impact in the lives of their students. We can’t always tell whether the lessons we teach have been learned or whether they will be remembered later in life.

I remember a day when I was teaching preschool, when the students were not listening. We had been outside for play time and it had been a beautiful day. They were wiggling in their seats and very inattentive. We were constantly telling them to sit down and pay attention, to no avail. I kept telling the stories despite the fact that they weren’t hearing me. A few days later, one of the students remembered the lessons from that previous day. I was amazed, but assumed that the student’s mom had told him the story. She told me he had not. He must have heard something on that crazy day.

I have often wondered whether my own kids have heard the lessons, but have been very proud of them through the years. Though it seems like they haven’t heard, they have proven over and over again with simple words or actions that they really do listen. I’m sure I’ve made mistakes over the years, the things that matter are taken to heart and manifest when it matters.

That’s what happens to God’s word when spoken by those prophets whom God has chosen. It may seem like no one is listening, but when it matters those words will be remembered. Then they will know the truth. The self-proclaimed prophets would do well to speak the word and let it go from there. They should not seek popularity or respect, but speak what God has given them and let Him do the work. Though it isn’t easy to be ignored and rejected, it isn’t about us, anyway. It is about God. We speak not to build up ourselves, but to give the world a revelation from the One who changes rebelliousness into faith.


June 26, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 5, 2009: Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

Psalm 123 Unto thee do I lift up mine eyes, O thou that sittest in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes look unto Jehovah our God, until he have mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O Jehovah, have mercy upon us; for we are exceedingly filled with contempt. Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scoffing of those that are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud.

Zachary played in a golf tournament this week. It was a tough week physically because the temperatures were too high and they were pushed hard by the tournament schedule. Unfortunately, Zachary didn’t do well in the qualifier, so he was placed at the bottom of the pack. Then, for the first round, he was matched with a great friend, a friend who is better than him on the golf course. Zachary held his own, however, and though he lost, he did not need to be ashamed. He went on to the consolation rounds, won his first match and then lost the second match. Some of the matches were tough because the weather was unforgiving, and though he had some bad rounds, we could see that there has been some definite growth to his golf skills in the last year. He’s getting better, and that’s what matters.

Zachary’s friend’s mom told me she was concerned when the boys had to play together that it might cause a rift in their relationship. It didn’t. As a matter of fact, at lunch yesterday, the boys talked about their games. They highlighted each other’s best shots and commended each other for those that were well played. They laughed over the stupid shots, the ones that could not possibly work but they tried anyway. They commiserated together over the failed shots, the ones that might have turned the matches around. It was fun to listen as they proved what good sportsmen they are.

It could have been much different, and might have been with other boys. These tournaments can be very competitive. Though golf is supposed to be a gentlemen’s sport, there are those who take it so seriously that they will do anything to win. One favorite tactic, used in many sports, is to try to psych out the competitor. Taunting words are used to discourage the other players, to make them think that they can not succeed. If you convince someone they will fail, and they can’t get over it in their own mind, they usually fail.

That’s what was happening to the Jews. They’d returned to Jerusalem after the exile, and under Nehemiah’s leadership tried rebuilding the city walls. They faced a real difficult situation. Many of the wall rocks had been burned so badly that they were broken and crumbling. It didn’t help that there were leaders from other nations that wanted the Jews to feel defeated so that they could not grow strong again. According to Nehemiah 4:1-3, Sanballat said, “What are those feeble Jews doing?” and Tobiah the Ammonite asked< “What are they building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones.” They wanted the Jews to think that the work they were doing was useless, so they insulted the work of their hands.

The singer of today’s psalm must have known what it was like to be treated with such derision. Perhaps these words even came from the work they were doing at that time. The scorners were proud and arrogant, wanting the Jews to fail because then they would have more power. However, the singer knew that their derision did not matter. He or she looked to the God who sits in the heavens. The singer is not humbled by the taunts of the enemy, but by the graciousness of God, who provides for His people like a master to a servant.

We may face similar taunts in our life, when we are trying to do work that others do not want us to accomplish or that others think we are incapable of doing. We do not need to worry about their point of view. We need only keep our eyes on the Lord our God who provides us with all we need. It may seem like the tasks are impossible to accomplish, but we can live at ease knowing that God will have mercy on us and is with us through it all.


June 29, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 5, 2009: Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not; or whether out of the body, I know not; God knoweth), such a one caught up even to the third heaven. And I know such a man (whether in the body, or apart from the body, I know not; God knoweth), how that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. On behalf of such a one will I glory: but on mine own behalf I will not glory, save in my weaknesses. For if I should desire to glory, I shall not be foolish; for I shall speak the truth: but I forbear, lest any man should account of me above that which he seeth me to be, or heareth from me. And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch. Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

I take a lot of photographs. Most photographers will tell you that a relatively small percentage of the pictures they take are actually good photographs. No matter how good the photographer and the equipment, there’s so many things that can make a photo less than ideal. Bad lighting can wash out the color. A tiny movement can cause a blur. The photographer can easily miss a tiny detail that appears like a blatant mistake when the photo is printed. We often laugh at those news photos that have odd things sticking out of people’s heads or sides. Every photographer can make that mistake.

With today’s digital cameras it is so much easier to get that perfect shot, simply because the photographer can afford to take as many pictures as necessary. When using film, the photographer has to consider the costs involved. Film is expensive and so is developing. When we went to Disney a few years ago, I took about 150 pictures with my digital camera of a show we watched in the Magic Kingdom. Most of the pictures were pretty good, although I could find things I didn’t like about most of them. In one the dancers were facing the wrong direction. In another one person was in front of another. In yet another, a person in the crowd lifted a child over his head and she was hanging in an add position. It might seem wasteful to take 150 pictures, but I got an absolutely fabulous shot of the cast in finale pose with fireworks exploding overhead. The castle is perfectly lit. The crowd is mesmerized. It is one of my favorite photos of all time. If I’d been using film during that show, I might have taken a dozen photos. I might have gotten lucky at the end. Most likely, however, I would have just missed those fireworks, catching only the smoke. I would probably have clicked a second too late and not gotten the posed cast members. The crowd would have begun moving, with those shoulder borne kids getting in the way of my view.

The trouble with me is that I have a hard time getting rid of any of my pictures, even the bad ones. I know there’s no reason to keep that fuzzy, dark photo with someone’s head cut off, but even with the digital shots I have a hard time deleting it. I suppose it is because there are lessons to be learned from our failures. When I look at my perfect shot at Disney, I think maybe I’m a great photographer. When I look at those out of focus shots, I am reminded that I’m not perfect. Our failures are humbling, but in humility we are willing to learn and to accept the help of others.

Imagine what it must have been like to be Paul. He was pretty incredible, a specially chosen man called to do an extraordinary task. He would have been right to hold his leadership and authority over the members of the congregations he established. He could have demanded payment for the work he did. He could have insisted that the Christians do as he said. He had the authority based on his experience. It was obvious that he was chosen by God. He was gifted and God’s grace was manifest in his life and work. He even had some remarkable things happen to him that serve as proof of God’s hand in his life.

The conversion on the road to Damascus was more than enough to establish Paul as God’s helper, but in today’s passage Paul tells another story. This was probably an important moment in Paul’s ministry because in it he was given a vision of Paradise and given a message from God that he could not share. Now, for many modern day prophets, this type of experience is the center of their ministry. They demand respect, attention and obedience because they can make this claim. Now, they might look to this text to make this type of boasting acceptable, since Paul seems to do so.

However, Paul is humble about it. He refuses to be the center of the story, claiming it is about someone else. Then Paul reminds the congregation about his imperfection. He talks about his thorn, whatever that might be. I know that many try to insert their favorite cause or disability into this text, but whatever was wrong is not important. The point to this text is that Paul was not perfect. Though he was gifted and blessed, called by God and given the most incredible spiritual experiences, he insists that his authority is not based on his mountain top experiences or even his incredible gifts. His authority is based on God’s grace. And so it is with us. There might be visions or revelations we’ve received that prove to the world that we are chosen and called by God. But it is in our failures that we are humbled to remember that we are nothing without God’s grace.


June 30, 2009

Scriptures for Sunday, July 5, 2009: Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

Mark 6:1-13 And he went out from thence; and he cometh into his own country; and his disciples follow him. And when the sabbath was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, Whence hath this man these things? and, What is the wisdom that is given unto this man, and what mean such mighty works wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended in him. And Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house. And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages teaching. And he calleth unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and he gave them authority over the unclean spirits; and he charged them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no bread, no wallet, now money in their purse; but to go shod with sandals: and, said he, put not on two coats. And he said unto them, Wheresoever ye enter into a house, there abide till ye depart thence. And whatsoever place shall not receive you, and they hear you not, as ye go forth thence, shake off the dust that is under your feet for a testimony unto them. And they went out, and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.

I saw a picture of an old friend the other day, someone I haven’t seen for a very long time. This friend has changed a great deal since the last time we were together, so much so that I’m not sure I would know him if I saw him in a crowd. Change is natural. We all change as we grow. We gain or lose weight, change our hairstyles, grow wrinkles. Sometimes the changes brought on by our jobs or poor health are extreme. I’m sure I look much different than I did back in high school, too.

Change doesn’t only happen on the outside. We change inwardly, too. We grow in knowledge and wisdom. We realize our failings and we repent. We get through difficulties and learn new ways of living. Sometimes we learn knew skills, things we might never have been able to do before. We take up new habits or give up the old. Those who knew us in the past remember us as we were. The changes might have been gradual for us and for those around us, but those we see again after the change are shocked by what has happened. They often do not believe it to be true. Can a chain-smoking, beer guzzling person really kick those habits? We have a hard time seeing them as anything other than that chain-smoking, beer guzzling person.

Jesus was different, at least to those who knew him best. His family and friends from his hometown knew Jesus the man. They knew the education he’d received. They knew the work he was skilled to do. They knew his strengths and weaknesses. He wasn’t brought up to be a priest or rabbi or teacher. He was a carpenter, the son of a carpenter. They couldn’t believe that this kid they knew was there teaching and preaching. They remembered what he was and couldn’t see beyond the memories to what was standing in front of them.

Now, it is possible to overcome this bias. After all, Jesus’ mom was there with Him in the end and His brother James followed in his footsteps. I’m sure others in the community eventually believed in Jesus. It takes some work, but we can convince our old friends that we have changed. But this story stood as an example for the disciples.

In the second half of our passage, Jesus sends the disciples out into the towns and villages to preach and heal. Jesus sent them out without wallet or food; they were expected to trust in God’s grace as they shared the message of the Kingdom. But it might not have been as hard as we might expect. They were probably heading into places where they had family and friends. They could easily knock on the door of a cousin and be received with open arms. Or would they? Would they find a welcome or would they be rejected just like Jesus. If Jesus was not believed by those who knew and loved Him most, how could they expect anything better?