Welcome to the June 2012 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, June 2012
June 1, 2012
“Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Matthew 28:19-20, ASV
I read an article this morning about a woman who has a special needs child. She said that when her daughter was born, she realized that some of the language she used was uncomfortable and inappropriate. She found herself rejecting words that had never really mattered, like abnormality, disability, high-risk pregnancy, genetic counseling, special needs. “I started to use ‘people-first’ language, calling her a baby with Down syndrome instead of a Down’s baby. I substituted ‘normal’ with ‘typical’ when it came to describing other children. In my subsequent pregnancies, I talked about the ‘chance’ of having another child with Down syndrome instead of the ‘risk.’”
Words matter. We learn as children that sticks and stones may break bones, but words never hurt. But words do hurt. A girl who hears that she’s fat too often will begin to believe that she’s fat, and even worse she’ll begin to feel worthless. A boy that hears that he can’t do something will eventually give up trying. A special needs child who hears that other children are normal will see themselves as abnormal.
But we have a hard time understanding the importance of certain words, or the importance of avoiding certain words, if we do not have personal experience with it. Most of us do not understand why it is so hurtful to call someone with special needs ‘abnormal.’ After all, they are different than the norm. It wasn’t until the author of the article had her own child that she saw the importance of using the right language. She even changed the words she used about the possibility of a special needs child, giving the possibility a positive spin by using the word ‘chance’ instead of ‘risk.’
The language of faith is difficult for those outside the faith to understand. Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday, the day when we focus on the whole Godhead, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the One in three, three in one God. This is the most difficult of our Christian doctrines for outsiders to understand. It is difficult for us insiders to understand, so much so that we tend to leave it alone. We don’t want to bring up the subject because it is too hard to explain to those who can’t understand. Human analogies are so limited, unable to truly describe the reality of the Trinity. We aren’t the first to have this difficulty; the Christian church has been agonizing over the concept since the beginning.
Throughout the history of the Church there have been those who have advanced theories and doctrines that deny the Trinity, heresies that reject the wholeness of God. The Church has gathered over and over again to establish teachings that are standard for all Christians throughout space and time. The Creeds were written to help Christians speak with one voice about the beliefs of our faith. Most churches use the Apostles Creed on a regular basis, and many also use the Nicene Creed. There is a third creed, however, that is valuable for our knowledge and confession that is largely ignored. There is some question as to its author, but not to its authority. Many do not like it because it includes anathemas, condemnations of those who disagree with the creed. It is also terribly long, and you can hear an audible sigh in the congregation when it is used.
It is, however, appropriate to recall the Athenasian Creed on Holy Trinity Sunday. Though the word trinity is not found in the Bible, we have been commanded to take the entire Godhead into the world. Our most important task in this world is to take the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to those who are lost in the darkness of the world. We don’t take three Gods, but baptize in the name of the one God who is three. Because it is appropriate for this one Sunday to confess our faith in the Trinitarian God, I’m going to post the Athenasian Creed with today’s Word. May the Father, Son and Holy Spirit bless you with grace and peace today and always.
The Athenasian Creed
“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic* Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic* Faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is all One, the Glory Equal, the Majesty Co-Eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father Uncreate, the Son Uncreate, and the Holy Ghost Uncreate. The Father Incomprehensible, the Son Incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost Incomprehensible. The Father Eternal, the Son Eternal, and the Holy Ghost Etneral and yet they are not Three Eternals but One Eternal. As also there are not Three Uncreated, nor Three Incomprehensibles, but One Uncreated, and One Uncomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not Three Almighties but One Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not Three Lords but One Lord. For, like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the Catholic* Religion to say, there be Three Gods or Three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father, and of the Son neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is One Father, not Three Fathers; one Son, not Three Sons; One Holy Ghost, not Three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore or after Other, None is greater or less than Another, but the whole Three Persons are Co-eternal together, and Co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity is Trinity, and the Trinity is Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting Salvation, that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man.
God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the substance of His mother, born into the world. Perfect God and Perfect Man, of a reasonable Soul and human Flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His Manhood. Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but One Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into Flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by Unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one Man, so God and Man is one Christ. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into Hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into Heaven, He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the Catholic* Faith, which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.”
*The word “catholic” refers not to the Roman Catholic Church, but to the universal church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another; in honor preferring one another; in diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing stedfastly in prayer; communicating to the necessities of the saints; given to hospitality. Bless them that persecute you; bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Set not your mind on high things, but condescend to things that are lowly. Be not wise in your own conceits.” Romans 12:9-16, ASV
I didn’t know what to expect when I began writing A WORD FOR TODAY in 1999. I certainly had high hopes that my writing would go viral, with thousands of subscribers, but I never expected to have a readership beyond my immediate group of friends. I’m still amazed every time I see a new reader is from another country or when I see someone from the other side of the world has visited the devotional on facebook or my webpage. I love the notes and comments I get from virtual strangers who are not really strangers but brothers and sisters in Christ.
A remarkable number of visitors and subscribers come from Africa, particularly from Nigeria. Now, we hear about disasters and tragedies around the world on a regular basis. Our hearts break for those who suffer at the hands of Mother Nature or from the evil of men’s hearts. Every bomb that blasts or storm that kills sends us to our knees in prayer and sympathy. We often try to find ways to help, although for many the only way we can really do anything is to write a check for some organization that is on the ground in the disaster area. It often seems to be a shallow way of helping, but I know every dollar can help.
We are usually very disattached when we feel the call to help after a disaster or tragedy. Even when a hurricane or tornado hits the United States, Americans have a connection to the victims, but we rarely know someone directly affected. We help because we care, even if we don’t know the names of those who have suffered. We help when the disasters are farther from home because we know we have the resources that others do not have. While we have sympathy, we rarely feel any real relationship with the people we help.
That’s why I was surprised at how much grief I felt when I heard the news about the plan crash in Nigeria. Some of my readers are from Lagos, and though the population of Lagos is in the millions, I realized that one of my brothers or sisters in Christ could have been directly affected by the disaster. I felt the grief and shock of those so far away. I joined in the mourning for those lives lost. I would have prayed for the victims anyway, but I found my prayers to be more personal and genuine.
Our faith connects us to people we may never meet. It makes us part of a family that reaches beyond our hands, neighborhoods, even nations. God brings us together into one body whether we live in the United States or Nigeria or anywhere else on the globe. This disaster struck me in a way I never expected, but it also helped me realize that even if I don’t have any known readers in a particular place, I do have brothers and sisters in Christ. Our compassion is never limited to our relationships, but we are reminded that even if we do not know anyone personally, we are joined with many of those victims by something deeper than blood. We are connected by faith.
So, to my brothers and sisters in Christ in Nigeria, may you experience comfort and peace as you deal with the aftermath of the plane crash this weekend. Know that you are not alone; around the world your brothers and sisters in Christ are praying with you. We are one, and we join with you in your suffering, mourn with you in your grief.
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:21-23, ASV
Victoria and I went on an adventure the other day. That’s what I call getting lost. I was never really lost, I was just headed in the wrong direction. Some of the roads on this side of town are oddly configured, going in diagonals instead of in a grid, so it is often hard to get from one place to another without making zigzags. I was doing well and found a road that I recognized, but when I turned the corner I checked the compass on my car. It said I was going north, and I knew that was wrong so I turned around. Unfortunately, when I turned around, it still said I was going north: must have been solar flares. There was no easy way to turn around again, so we just took the next road. I could no longer count on my compass, but I knew the road I was on, and knew generally where it went. In the end we went way out of our way, but we had fun; an adventure. And we familiarized ourselves with more of our new neighborhood.
I like to take adventures because I get to see what’s available. I discover restaurants we might want to try or stores that offer something I may need some day. It helps to learn which direction the roads go so that I can get past detours or road construction in the future. It helps learn traffic patterns and timing. I love to go on those adventures; Victoria, not so much. I never really felt lost since I was familiar with the names of the roads we were on, but we’ve had some not so pleasant adventures and Victoria gets nervous. She’d rather get to where we are going and learn all those lessons another day.
Have you ever felt like you were lost in life? Have you ever wondered why you are somewhere or what purpose you are meant to serve in this world? We ask the question, “What is the meaning of my life,” but as we worry and wonder about it, we miss out on the opportunities to learn and grow along the way. Perhaps our purpose is to enjoy the journey rather than get to a destination.
George MacDonald wrote in “The Marquis of Lossie,” “I find the doing of the will of God leaves me no time for disputing about His plans.” What a brilliant statement! We spend so much of our time thinking about why things are happening and what we should be doing next that we often miss the opportunities that are right in front of our eyes. We are afraid of getting lost, so we map out our every move, but in doing so we forget that God might have something along the way that He wants us to see or something that He wants us to learn. By following His guidance, rather than sticking to our plan, we experience life so much more fully and we share God’s grace in so many new and wonderful ways.
This life is meant to be an adventure of following God’s will on our way home. Are you trying to get there so fast that you have missed the adventure? Have you made heaven your goal and missed accomplishing what God is calling you to do?
Scriptures for Sunday, June 10, 2012, Pentecost Two: 1 Samuel 8:4-15 or Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 138 or Psalm 130; 1 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
“I will give thee thanks with my whole heart: Before the gods will I sing praises unto thee.” Psalm 138:1, ASV
Think about the people of authority you have known in your life. Think about the teachers, pastors, bosses or elders in your life. Which ones have had the greatest impact? Do you remember the leaders who were strong, powerful, successful, important, unbeaten, controlling, tough? What adjectives would you use to describe those people of authority?
I had a teacher in High School. Actually, he wasn’t one of my teachers, but he was the man who served as our class sponsor. He was a special education teacher, teaching reading recovery and helped provide tutoring. He helped troubled students; he helped those who needed extra help. He had student helpers, like me, who went into his room during our breaks and lunch. We helped him help others.
I’m not sure I would have become involved as a tutor if it weren’t for that teacher. He was a joy to be around. He was considerate, compassionate and kind. He made everyone feel important and worthy. He was a man of authority, but he never made you feel powerless. He gave tutors and tutees the space to make decisions. He rejoiced with every success and had a way of encouraging us all through our times of trouble. He was easy to talk to, had good advice, and never acted superior. He allowed us to make bad decisions, and then helped us through the consequences. He was a humble man, a man who was courteously respectful of all the students.
Humble people are often misunderstood to be weak. As a matter of fact, there are those who thought that my teacher was weak. He didn’t always succeed. Some kids still dropped out, even after he tried to make their life better with his undemanding style. They thought if he were more demanding, he would succeed with those kids. But some students just didn’t want to be helped. Some were too far gone for a program in a regular school. Some students were beyond his help, so he failed with them. But he succeeded with so many more.
The best authority figures are those who are unassuming. They are not arrogant. They understand the need for making those whom they lead to feel like they have some power and control. A good leader is one who gives those they lead freedom to do what they do well, to make choices, to take control of their own work and life. Now, that good leader will also provide good guidance; they will help those leaders make the right choices. That teacher left us alone to do what we could do, but he did provide a foundation on which we could base our choices. He was always willing to do what needed to be done, but he gave us the room to do what we could. We all benefited from his humble attitude; we shared in his joy and his successes.
Those of us who loved this teacher could not understand those who did not. We could see all the good he could do for them; we could see how their lives could be changed. Yet, they rejected him because he did not give them what they wanted. Sadly, they often did not even know what they wanted.
Do you see some parallels between my teacher and our God? You can’t be more powerful than the Creator God who makes the earth go round. You can’t be more authoritative than the God who rules over kings. You can’t be more majestic than the God who dwells above the heavens. Yet, that very same God is humble. He gives us the freedom to be who we are; He lets us make choices and live as we want to live. He provides guidance, laws, encouragement, and hopes that we will live as we are called to live, but He allows us to go our own way. He humbly accepts our rejection and waits patiently for our cry for help. Then He helps us through the consequences of our poor decisions.
The elders of Israel saw the leaders of the world and thought that it would be a good idea for Israel to have a king. They did not realize they needed no king but God; they thought that a human king would make everything right for their nation. We might think that the God of the universe should reject such a request and insist that the people call Him King. He certainly has the authority, power and majesty to be the only King. Yet, this God who moves heaven and earth humbly accepted the people’s choice. He let them have a human king. He warned them of the pitfalls and then let them go. Samuel was upset by the rejection. He thought they were rejecting him as their judge, but God knew that they were rejecting His authority.
They weren’t the first to reject God’s word and will. Adam and Eve rejected God in the garden. They believed the word of the serpent. Human beings have done the same ever since. We want what we want, even if what we want is not what is best for us. Just as those students who refused the help of my teacher, so too we can refuse the help of God. We can go our own way, make our own choices. Unfortunately, our way is rarely the best way, and we often have to suffer the consequences of those choices. However, the humble God that allowed us to go our own way is nearby and ready to help us through those consequences.
The first half of the church year focuses on the story of God. We hear what God has done for us. We hear about Jesus, His birth, ministry, death and resurrection. We hear about the history of His relationship with His people. We hear about why we need Jesus. Beginning with this Sunday, the focus turns to us. Now that we know what God has done for us, we consider what we will do in response. Pentecost is about growing in our faith and action. It is about listening to God’s call and going forth in faith. It is good and right to study the story of God, but it is meaningless if we aren’t changed. It is worthless if we do not respond to God’s grace.
While we will look at the call to action in the world, it is helpful to begin this season with the most important response we can give: thanksgiving. St. Paul writes, “For all things are for your sakes, that the grace being multipled through the many, may cause the thanksgiving to abound unto the glory of God.” This is our first purpose. This is our first response.
As we study the text over the next few months, we’ll look at our own lives of faith. We think about what God is calling us to do. We will think about our gifts and the opportunities that God is providing for us to share His kingdom with others. For today, however, let us consider first the Lord God Almighty and our place in His kingdom. Are you fulfilling the purpose for which you were created? Are you glorifying God with your life? Everything else will fall into place perfectly and completely when you realize that it is in humbleness and submission to the humble God who created the universe that you will truly fulfill the purpose for which you were designed and ordained in this world. Praise God and you’ll see clearly the direction He is leading you to go.
It was hard to believe that there were students who did not appreciate the work that teacher was trying to do for them. They didn’t want to have a better life. They didn’t want to succeed in school. They rejected his kindness and ultimately failed. Although some may have thought that it was the failure of the teacher that they were sent to another school or dropped out, it was their own choice to walk away. The same is true of those who do not believe in Jesus. They reject the reality of what Jesus has done and choose to go their own way.
We might think that it would be better for Jesus to follow after those who reject Him, to convince them that He is the Lord, but Jesus does not force anyone to believe. He offers Himself and embraces those who follow, letting the others find their way to Him. We understand the rejection from the leaders of the Jews, because we know they had their own reasons for seeing Jesus as an interloper not a Savior. We find it harder to understand that Jesus’ own family would reject Him. They wanted to take Him home, to keep Him from making a fool of Himself. They thought He was mad. He wasn’t eating right, He was teaching great crowds. He was not acting as they thought He should act.
God does not do what we want Him to do, He acts according to His will. But though His will is good, and right, and perfect, He does not force us to comply. He gives us the freedom to live in the faith He offers or to reject Him and go our own way. As we enter into this season of Pentecost, blessed by God’s grace and sealed by the Holy Spirit, let us begin by singing thanksgiving to God and we will be as those who do the will of God, and be to Jesus brother, sister and mother.
“And Moses said unto Jehovah, See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found favor in my sight. Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found favor in thy sight, show me now thy ways, that I may know thee, to the end that I may find favor in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people. And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest. And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. For wherein now shall it be known that I have found favor in thy sight, I and thy people? is it not in that thou goest with us, so that we are separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth? And Jehovah said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken; for thou hast found favor in my sight, and I know thee by name.” Exodus 33:12-17, ASV
I was a little worried about the kitties a couple days ago. They seemed to be eating way more than usual and sleeping all the time. Now, I know that it is typical for a cat to sleep many hours in a day, but they didn’t seem to be interested in their toys or playing at all. The only exercise they were getting was when they roamed around the house confused by the constant activity and changes. While they seemed to be finding a happy place in this new house, they were still feeling stressed by it all.
I realized, however, that part of the problem is that we were not paying them much attention. Oh, we’d talk to them as we were going about our business, but we didn’t stop to play. We didn’t get out their toys or chase them around the house. We weren’t giving them the attention they needed to really feel like this was their home. So, I decided it was time to get them active. A couple days ago I finished on the computer, jumped up out of my chair and made funny noises at Sammy. I then chased him into the other room. Tigger, who was nearby, followed us. We ran from one end of the house to the other. When we got to the living room, I ran through some paper that I’d left on the floor, making lots of noise. They love to play in paper. I found some of their toys, sat on a stool close to the floor and began playing. Victoria joined in the fun. We had all three kitties jumping, pouncing, running, and playing.
Since then, we’ve noticed a few things. First of all, Sammy is acting like his usual self, meowing for us to play with him. He can be very demanding. The food bowl did not empty nearly so fast yesterday. They are still sleeping like cats sleep, but they are not hiding in dark corners so much. They were definitey calmed by our little moment of craziness, so we are now making time every day to play. Though they had settled into the house and knew we were not going to abandon them in this strange place, they needed to know that we were going to be here for them in active and loving ways. That brief play time made a very real difference.
Moses knew that God would be with the people as they traveled to the Promised Land, but he needed more assurance. It is so easy for us to both believe and doubt. We trust that God will be with us, but we prefer to have some tangible evidence of the things and people we trust. We have all been disappointed by someone who has failed us, and we need continued encouragement and we are much happier when we have real proof that those we trust will do what they have promised to do and we are afraid to step out in faith. Moses just wanted to know that God would be with them. He did not want to leave the comfort and safety of the mountain to wander in the desert to a place he did not know. But, he knew that if God was with them, they would be ok.
The kitties are going to be ok, too. Day by day they are becoming more comfortable with this new house. Perhaps they are becoming a little too comfortable. I found Sammy lying comfortably on my brand new dining room table this morning, as if it was his bed. I did not want to be angry, but I had to yell at him so that he would never do that again. As we hear the story of God’s people wandering through the wilderness, we see that everything did not go perfectly, but God continued to walk with them. He had to correct and rebuke them along the way, but He never left them. He never leaves us, either. We can trust that He will be there in the midst of our chaos.
“And Jehovah said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken; for thou hast found favor in my sight, and I know thee by name. And he said, Show me, I pray thee, thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and will proclaim the name of Jehovah before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. And he said, Thou canst not see my face; for man shall not see me and live. And Jehovah said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon the rock: and it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand until I have passed by: and I will take away my hand, and thou shalt see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” Exodus 33:17-23, ASV
Moses found favor in the sight of God. God knew him by name. God was willing to do what Moses asked; He would be with Moses and the people as they journeyed to the Promised Land. This is an amazing thing to read. How many of us have ever had such assurance from God? We all hear God’s voice, although for most of us that voice comes to us through the scriptures, the sacraments, and other Christians. We rarely hear God say, in no uncertain terms, that we have found favor in His sight.
It is no wonder, then, that we often feel like we need some sort of proof that it is God’s voice. We are so deceived by our hearts, by our desires, by our biases. We are so deceived by our own opinions, ideas and circumstances. If I hear something that sounds good to my ears, I want to believe it. I don’t want to believe that it is the voice of Satan trying to confuse me or set me on the wrong path. But I know that the world does try to fool me into believing that God wants me to conform to its ways rather than His ways. So, I look for confirmation from God. Is this really His will? Is this really His voice? Is this really the way He wants me to go? Even when I feel I’ve found proof, I still wonder and doubt.
Yet, here was Moses who spoke directly to God. He heard God’s voice. He experienced God’s presence. He heard God’s promise, “I will do this thing.” Moses need not worry because God promised to be with the people. Yet, even Moses, who found favor in God’s sight, had doubts. He wanted more. He wanted to see God’s glory. Now, when I make a promise, I want people to believe me. I know I’m a fallible human being, but I do try to be faithful. Still, I fail. I hate to think that someone might not believe it, but it is understandable that others might doubt me. However, Moses was not dealing with a mere human; he was talking to the Creator. God is faithful. He is worthy to be believed. Faith does not seek proof. Or does it?
Moses wanted more than God’s word. I might be upset by the demand for proof of faithfulness, but God wasn’t. God did what Moses asked; He showed Moses His glory. This was a dangerous proposition for Moses, because seeing God’s face meant certain death to even the most favored humans. But God did it in a way that Moses would get the assurance he needed but still stay safe.
The world is filled with so many confusing voices. Christians even disagree about so many things. How do we know? How can we be sure? God is not too big for our doubt; He is big enough to overcome our doubt. Now, I don’t expect to be placed into the cleft of a mountain, held by God’s hand against seeing something I shouldn’t see. But this story tells me that God is not offended by our demands for proof; He finds a way to make us feel encouraged and confident.
“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live: and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander to the peoples. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not; and a nation that knew not thee shall run unto thee, because of Jehovah thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.” Isaiah 55:1-5, ASV
We went to a farmer’s market yesterday to see what we might buy for dinner. The farmer’s markets have locally grown and produced foods, including meat, cheese, bread and houseplants along with the fruits and vegetables. We were surprised by the variety, but pleased with the things we could buy. We found some delicious farm fresh cheese, a loaf of bread, some vegetables and a roast that we savored for dinner. I looked at some orchids, but I am not very good about keeping plants alive.
One booth had decorative air ferns for sale. Now, I remember buying these air ferns when I was a kid. We thought they were great because they didn’t need soil or water to grow. Well, they needed a little bit of water, but not much, and they were seemingly impossible to kill. They were definitely a conversation starter because they were usually displayed in a glass ball, which made it apparent that there was no soil keeping them alive.
I was a little surprised to see these air ferns for sale at the farmer’s market. While it was fascinating as a kid to see these plants that grow on air, I’m not quite as fascinated right now. See, I have ball moss (a plant similar to the type I saw sold in the farmer’s market) all over my trees. These plants are not parasitic, but they can do minor damage to the tree if they grow too thick. Unfortunately, the ball moss makes a perfect home for insects and they litter the ground when they fall off the branches. They are annoying and ugly. And they aren’t easy to remove. I have a man who is trimming my trees and cleaning out my bushes. He will also remove the ball moss. Unfortunately, every ball must be hand picked off the tree; there is no way to do a mass extermination. The process is going to cost me a lot of money.
Why in the world would I want to buy a plant that I could pluck out of my tree and stick into a glass ball for free?
Several people were visiting the air fern booth at the farmer’s market. Now, the vendor had a different type of air fern, one that apparently comes out of New Mexico. They are a little more attractive, and did look lovely in the expensive glass containers used for display. Despite the differences, those plants are the same as the plants being removed from my trees. Obviously those who wanted to buy the plants are not dealing with an infestation like I am. It just goes to show you that beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder and some people are willing to pay for something when they think it has value.
Is there value in something just because someone puts a price tag on it? Perhaps, but I was reminded at that farmer’s market to beware of what I am willing to spend money to buy. Some things simply do not have a financial value, and we should be careful not to spend money on things that we can get for free. The Gospel was not free, but it was paid for by Christ. We need not pay for it, though many in today’s church think that they can buy it with money. Unfortunately, what they are buying is someone’s idea of the Gospel, a faith that has no real connection to God. Like the ball moss that hangs from the limbs of trees, bought faith might seem to be a part of the kingdom, but it has no real part. It might look pretty displayed in a glass ball, but it is useless.
“Seek ye Jehovah while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto Jehovah, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Jehovah. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, and giveth seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing; and all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree; and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle-tree: and it shall be to Jehovah for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” Isaiah 55:6-13, ASV
Victoria is job hunting. She is sending resumes off to places and seeking job listing sites. People have been offering her advice, making suggestions about where to look and even giving her names of people to call about jobs. Every rejection is hard, but she is trusting that God has a place waiting for her. She’s taking advantage of this brief break, resting and recuperating from an exhausting senior year of college. On the one hand, she’d like to have to assurance that there is a job waiting for her; on the other hand, she’s happy to have a vacation.
The most frequent question that Victoria is asked is, “What do you want to do?” Isn’t it amazing that children are asked that same question from the time they are very small. When I was a preschool teacher, we had a whole unit about career possibilities. We talked about all sorts of jobs and encouraged the children to think about what they might want to do. We directed them in activities that make them think about what they want to be, like drawing pictures of themselves in those roles. Most children come up with typical answers. They want to be firemen, nurses, ballerinas or doctors. They want to do what their dads do or they want to be like their moms. Some want to be president and others say they want to be princes or princesses. While some of the answers are preposterous, we let the children dream of being anything they wanted to be. Most of the time, they had a new hope the next day.
We let them dream big because it is in dreaming big that we reach toward the impossible. There might come a time when we have to become more realistic, like in that first job search after graduation, but we should not stop dreaming. Even if Victoria has to settle for a job in the short term, she should always be seeking that perfect career path. No one ever succeeded having their role models and mentors telling them to reach toward the bottom of the ladder.
Some of our preschool kids will never attain the career they are thinking about right now. For a few, it will be because they are simply not able to do the work necessary to accomplish the task. Yet, we should not put them down, but rather encourage their gifts for the next twelve or so years so that they will find their calling in this world. That calling might seem out of our reach. We may hear God asking us to do the impossible. We may be encouraged to step out in faith to a career that is beyond our expectations. Yet, we do not have to do it alone.
In today’s passage, God tells us that His ways are higher than our ways and He encourages us to reach for the stars. As we live in our faith and walk in the light of our Lord Jesus Christ, He manifests His fruit in our lives. Our gifts and purpose come from Him. The opportunities we get to work in this world are given by Him. The strength to walk in faith comes from Him. We might fail. We might have to settle briefly while we wait for God’s will to become clear. We might feel rejected and wonder if it is even possible to find our place in the world, but we can trust that God can see what we can’t see and that He will do what He has promised.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 17, 2012, Pentecost Three: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17; Mark 4:26-34
“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.” Ezekiel 17:24, ASV
“The kingdom of heaven is like…” Matthew uses this particular phrase many times, comparing the kingdom of heaven to everything from a mustard seed to a net. Each parable tells us something about the kingdom of heaven, helping us to see it from different points of view. The parables reach into our understanding about the world and compare God to that which we have experienced. Parables are imperfect, of course, because they are so limited. Do we, who do not plant mustard or bake bread, really understand what it means? Intellectually we might be able to put a meaning to the parable, but sometimes they are hard words for us.
Now, Mark does not use the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” but many experts agree that his “kingdom of God” means the same thing. If you do a parallel comparison, you’ll find that Matthew uses heaven where the rest of the Gospel writers use God. There may be reason that Matthew made that choice of wording, but I don’t think it matters. The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God belong to God, and we are made part of it by faith. The question is: what is the kingdom of God like for us? If Jesus were here with us today, what parables would He use to help us understand? What parables can we use to help others see the kingdom that has been proclaimed by Jesus?
Of course, we know that the parables are not always understood by those who hear it. Even the disciples, who knew Jesus intimately, did not understand what He was saying. He had to explain it to them later, in private. What’s the point of telling stories that do not help someone come to faith? I think parables are meant to make people think, to make us reach beyond our comfort zone, to seek answers to questions that are brought to light by the story. What is the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, like? What does it mean that the kingdom of God grows by itself? What does it mean that the kingdom of God is small but grows large and provides protection for creatures of the earth? What is the kingdom of God? It is in thinking about these questions that we draw near to God.
Parables are not meant to give us answers, but to guide us in asking questions. Faith is not something that is tangible. It isn’t something we can describe in so many words. It isn’t something that is the same for you and for me. It isn’t even the same for me throughout my life. Paul writes, “…for we walk by faith, not by sight…” I will never fully understand the kingdom of God until I dwell in my eternal home. Until that day, Jesus will continue to tell me stories that make me think about what it means to me today. If the kingdom of God is like a man who spreads seeds, am I a seed? Am I the man? There have been times in my life when I have been both. I’ve been the one sharing the stories of Jesus with others. I am also a seed that continues to sprout and grow. The point here is that the kingdom of God does the part that we can’t. We can’t make others become Christian. We can’t even make ourselves into a Christian. God does the work.
This is particularly true as we read in the Old Testament lesson. Ezekiel, speaking for God , says, “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.” In this passage, it is all about what God will do. And what He is proposing sounds impossible.
Can you really take a cutting from the highest branches of a cedar tree and put in the rocky soil at the top of a mountain and expect it to grow? According to tree experts, cedar trees can be propagated, but it is not an easy process. It is much easier to grow new trees from seeds. Reading through several websites on the subject, I doubt that you could just take a bit from the top of the tree and plant it. It doesn’t help that the top of the mountains above Israel are not suitable for tree growth. Though Israel is not known for having towering mountains like Everest or Kilimanjaro, Mount Hermon is tall enough to have snow covered peaks and a line beyond which it is impossible for large trees to grow. If you or I would try to plant a cedar tree on the top of Mount Hermon, we would fail; we certainly could not make it bear fruit.
Yet God will do this thing. The people in Ezekiel’s day needed to hear that there is a promise for new life. They were like that twig that had been cut off the top of the tree, although it seems as if it wasn’t God doing the cutting. They were in exile. They had been taken from their home and were living in the midst of strangers, pagans. They had lost it all; they had even lost their connection to God. They felt abandoned.
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, while it might seem like Nebuchadnezzar was the one doing the plucking and planting, it was God. He took that remnant and placed it in a place that seemed impossible for growth. And yet, He made it grow. God spoke and did it.
The psalm is a song of praise, thanking God for being faithful. 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.
I think that it is interesting, then, that in the Gospel lesson, we don’t really hear that it is God doing the work. The kingdom of God is like a man casting seed. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, planted in the ground. We see in the first parable that the man who cast the seed does not know how it happens to grow. He sleeps and rises, but the seed grows without his help. The mustard seed is small but grows to be something big enough for birds to dwell. This happens without the help of any man.
Yet, who plants the seeds? Yes, the seeds can be cultivated by nature. Seeds are spread by the wind. They drop into the ground. The plants in the wild die, but new plants grow in their place. In these stories, though, the seeds are planted. What is amazing about this is that we know that God is at work in the growing of those plants, and yet He calls us into partnership. He calls us to plant seeds. He asks us to help Him with the work He is doing in this world. He can do it alone, just as He saved Israel from Babylon, just as He took that tender twig and made it grow in impossible soil, He can make the kingdom of God grow without our help. But He wants our help. He wants us to be a part of it. He makes us colleagues.
So, as Paul writes, it is up to us to live pleasing to God always. Paul faced difficult times. As a matter of fact, there were many who would have preferred for his ministry to fail. He was attacked, not only according to his theology, but also personally. People in Corinth were trying to undermine his ministry and the seeds he had. But Paul did not give up. It would have been much easier, and better, to be in heaven. He would have preferred experiencing the promised life in the eternal presence of God, whatever that means. He wanted to be with Jesus. But he knew that there was still work to do. He was a partner with God in the kingdom that He had established here and now. The kingdom of God might be something we will experience in the future, but it is also right now.
Paul writes, “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.” Even though he wanted to be home with the Lord, he stayed to continue the work Jesus called him to do—planting and nurturing the seeds of the kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven is like so many things. The kingdom of God is like the world we see around us. The stories we tell to others about the kingdom help them to think about the God who can do the impossible. Those stories are not easy to understand, especially since we know that God cannot be reduced to earthly and earthbound things, and yet we can see God in the experiences of our lives and share that with others. The kingdom of God is like a mother, taking her child to kindergarten. The kingdom of God is like the cashier at the supermarket down the street. The kingdom of God is like the mailman delivering the mail. How? I don’t know. But perhaps these examples will make us think about how God does do what He does in this world. Does He carry the child across the street? Does He greet the harried shopper with a “Have a nice day”? Does He deliver a letter of good news to His people?
Does it matter if we do not fully understand what the kingdom of God is? No. We walk by faith, not by sight. We believe that God has not abandoned us and that He can do the impossible. We think about the stories we hear and we ponder what they mean in our lives at this moment. And in faith we join with God in His work, spreading the seeds that will grow into something so big that God’s people will be able to rest under the leaves.
“Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Matthew 28:19-20, ASV
We have been watching “So you think you can dance.” I like to watch the audition shows of those reality contests, mostly because I particularly enjoy seeing the ones who think they can dance but they really can’t. Ok, I like to see a disaster in the making; don’t we all? Unfortunately, they show very few of those bad dancers these days. Too many of those who try out are truly good. I do like to watch them, too, but I look forward to seeing them as they grow throughout the season.
During the auditions, the judges will often ask about the teachers and mentors. One dancer last night had a problem with is feet. He was flawless otherwise. The judge asked, “Does your teacher get on you about your feet?” The young man said, “All the time.” The judge, as he handed a ticket to Las Vegas and the next stage of the competition said, “We’ll have to work on that.” What I like about this particular show is that the dancers are mentored. They are taught how to do new dances. They are given advice. They are pushed until they overcome their faults. At the beginning of the season, those top twenty are the best of the best. By the end of the season they are spectacular. It is the training, the mentoring, that makes them America’s favorite dancer.
It is obvious from the footage that the dancers are trained by the choreographers. I have often wondered about what goes on behind the scenes at some of the other reality television shows. Take, for instance, “Hell’s Kitchen.” Now, that show is all about Gordon Ramsey being a tyrant. We expect him to yell and kick the chefs out of the kitchen. We expect the contestants to argue with one another and suffer for their failures.
I have wondered, though, if Gordon Ramsey spends any time mentoring those chefs. Now, they are all accomplished chefs to begin with, and should know the basics of working in the kitchen. But have they ever made Beef Wellington? On another show, Chef Ramsey admitted that Beef Wellington is his least favorite dish, and the one that scares him the most. So, when he expects the chefs on “Hell’s Kitchen” to make it perfectly the first time they step in the kitchen, has he shown them what to do? Or does he assume they know? We don’t see that part.
What we do know is that those chefs will never learn if they are just beaten to the edge of their confidence. They need more than yelling. They even need more than experience. They need mentoring. They need an accomplished chef to show them how to do it. They need Chef Ramsey to show them how to make the food he wants to provide the customers at his restaurant. Does he give them that mentoring? Or does he make them learn it on their own?
I would like to think that both shows mentor the contestants, to help them grow into the type of dancer or chef that will succeed in the future. I would also like to think that all evangelists are the same way, mentoring those whom find faith through their work and words. Unfortunately, many people are more than willing convince people that they should be Christians, encouraging them to speak the words of some prayer and invite Jesus into their hearts, but then abandon them to figure out how to be a Christian on their own. True evangelism does more than just leads people to faith, it disciples people into a living faith that will last eternity.
Are you like Chef Ramsey, beating people with the Gospel and hoping they will believe? Or are you like the choreographers who teach the dancers to be the best they can be? The Great Commission does not just send us out to baptize; we are called and sent to make disciples, teaching one another how to live in faith in this world.
“And judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: release, and ye shall be released: give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they give into your bosom. For with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again. And he spake also a parable unto them, Can the blind guide the blind? shall they not both fall into a pit? The disciple is not above his teacher: but every one when he is perfected shall be as his teacher. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me cast out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote that is in thy brother's eye. For there is no good tree that bringeth forth corrupt fruit; nor again a corrupt tree that bringeth forth good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth that which is evil: for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh. And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” Luke 6:37-46, ASV
I recently read an article that talked about how we overreact to so many things today. The news gets hold of some shocking event and it ends up recycled repeatedly on the news. People panic because they make it sound like it is a common problem. Experts are invited to talk about ways to keep these things from happening again. Laws are created. School curriculum is developed. The world is changed because of one bizarre circumstance. One example given in the article was about a bus that was evacuated of elementary school children because someone found a peanut rolling around. Now, we know that a peanut allergy can be dangerous, and that some are so sensitive that even touching a peanut can be harmful, but did we need to evacuate the entire bus because one was on the floor?
Or, what about the city that drained a reservoir because a young man was caught urinating into it? Is it disgusting? Yes, but the few drops of urine could not possibly be worth emptying an eight million gallon lake, especially since fish and other creatures live in it. Do they empty the water every time a fish expels waste? One town banned barber poles, not because one actually created a problem, but because someone was afraid they might cause someone a problem some day. “We don’t want signs to be distracting, especially to motorists.”
It was a funny article, even as it was sad that we have come to this point. Many jokes are made about product warnings, like the tags you find on electrical items like toasters that they should not be used in the bathtub. You can pick up many items that have the warning to keep out of the reach of children because of small parts, even items that would never be around children. Most warning labels are unnecessary, but are added to the packaging so that the companies will be covered in case someone does something stupid. Unfortunately, there’s always someone willing to do something stupid. Does that mean we should overreact to every situation and warn people about every possible danger? The stupid person is going to do the stupid thing anyway.
What I found was particularly funny about this article is that it was followed by an article about health news horrors. It talked about stories that the editors had recently read that would make you afraid. They also offered advice about how to avoid those horrific things. On one page, the magazine laughed about how we overreact to so many things. On the next page, they were reacting (and perhaps overreacting) to news headlines. Perhaps there is a difference between evacuating a bus for a peanut and the risk of a doctor operating on the wrong body part, but the irony is obvious. They warned against overreacting and in the next breath they did the very same thing that they laughed about.
How many of us juxtapose words and actions that do not seem to go together? I’m thinking about those people who preach morality but then go out and commit adultery. Or those who talk about loving one’s neighbor but then steal from the guy next door. Perhaps these extremes do not happen all that often, but we are all hypocrites in something. We all say one thing and do another. We all tell people to act one way while we go and do the opposite.
There are those who say we should not judge anyone of anything, that we should not tell people about the sins they commit. There is some truth to being aware of the words we use and how we help people become the people that God wants them to be. We should not judge anyone’s eternal salvation, not even based on their actions. However, we are encouraged to preach God’s Word and teach one another the right way to live. We are given the command to reprove, rebuke, exhort one another. We must beware, however, that we do not say one thing and do another. It is up to us to first change who we are and then we can teach others. What good does it do to warn people about the dangers of sin if we are willing to live the same sinful lives?
“Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Jehovah. Lord, hear my voice: Let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, Jehovah, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for Jehovah, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord More than watchmen wait for the morning; Yea, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in Jehovah; For with Jehovah there is lovingkindness, And with him is plenteous redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” Psalm 130, ASV
Yesterday was Father’s Day and many people took the opportunity to spend time with their fathers. Others remembered fathers who were lost. It is a special day, a day to honor the men who have had such an important part of our lives. Zack even came home from camp, albeit briefly, to spend time with Bruce this weekend. Not everyone has such fond memories of their fathers. Some recall fathers who were abusive. Others remember fathers who were absent so much of the time because they were too busy working. Some have memories that cause tears.
A woman named Mary Anna Martin tells the story of her own painful relationship with her father. He was a good man, a man who did whatever he could to take care of his family. He was a baker, but unfortunately lost his bakery during the depression. He held several jobs, but the times were tough and jobs did not last forever. He eventually found a job as a janitor at the local junior high school. Mary Anna was happy until she went to school at that junior high. That’s when the reality of her father’s job situation became clear. Her daddy was nothing but a janitor, and this embarrassed her. She denied even knowing him when someone realized that they had the same last name.
For fifteen years she kept her secret, ashamed of how she had denied her father. She did everything she could to make it up to him, loving him in word and deed, but she never felt better about that one moment of denial. She broke in tears down one day when she was visiting her father who had Alzheimer’s disease. Her guilt at denying her father was too great. Her mother asked why she was crying and she told the whole story, and said that she’d sought forgiveness from God but had never been able to forgive herself. Her mother assured her that her father knew that she loved him. “Simon Peter denied that he knew our beloved Jesus before he was crucified on the cross, and Jesus loved him just the same.” From that moment, Mary Anna experienced peace.
Many people celebrated Father’s Day yesterday, but not everyone. Though there are truly some men who have been bad fathers, many people with strained relationships with their fathers have brought it on themselves. They have not found a way to make amends for youthful indiscretions, and they haven’t found a way to experience the forgiveness that is ours thanks to the work of Jesus on the cross. Though our relationships may be broken, even with our fathers, we know we can live in peace because God promises reconciliation and forgiveness to those who live in guilt and shame.
“And Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus, and said, Ye men of Athens, in all things, I perceive that ye are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. What therefore ye worship in ignorance, this I set forth unto you. The God that made the world and all things therein, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is he served by men's hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and he made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain even of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.” Acts 17:22-28, ASV
An artist entered an art museum last Wednesday with a can of spray paint and a stencil. He approached a priceless Picasso and proceeded to spray paint a picture of a bull with the word “conquista” across the face. The entire act was caught on video camera and quickly posted on YouTube. Fortunately, the museum staff discovered the vandalism quickly and they were able to remove the paint without destroying the painting. The man has not yet been charged, but police and museum security are investigating.
It has been reported that the videographer said, “I just thought it was pretty cool how he just went up to the painting without fear, spray painted it and just walked off.” Another report says, “A bystander who videoed the man in action says the vandal identified himself as an up-and-coming Mexican-American artist who wanted to ‘honor’ Picasso’s work.” The video was posted with the title, “In Dedication to the art beast Pablo Picasso.”
You do not honor a man’s work by defacing it, and I would question the authenticity of an artist that would do such a thing. We do not know why he did this thing. Was he trying to grab his moment of fame, to get attention for his own work? Was he making a political statement? What about the videographer? Was he involved? It seems impossible that any art lover would take a video of an act of vandalism and not do anything. He apparently spoke to a news reporter at some point, but I’ve seen no reports that suggest that he’s been interviewed by the police or by the museum. Do they know who he is? If he spoke to the ‘up-and-coming Mexican-American artist’ does he know the man’s name? Sadly, once this situation is settled, I am sure there are art collectors who will support this ‘artist.’ If he is discovered, he will pay the price for his actions, but he will also find his fame and possibly wealth. He’ll find a platform for his agenda. The videographer’s opinion may not matter since he may have been involved, but someone will really think that it is cool that the guy had the guts to do it.
I called the man an artist in the first sentence, but I do not think he is one. An artist would not destroy another artist’s work for his own benefit. A creator would not destroy the creation of another creator with their own work. Yet, I have to wonder… don’t we do that? Don’t we destroy that which God has created by our own works? It is impossible for us to live in this world without using the creation God has given us and changing it some way for our purpose, yet there are many ways we destroy God’s creation for our own benefit. How many people use plastic surgery to make themselves look better? We run sprinklers in the desert to create perfect lawns and cut down forests to build parks. We take God’s good work and change it to suit our own vision.
As I said, it would be impossible to live in this world without touching God’s creation in some way, and He has given us dominion over everything for our use. But when is our action like that of the vandal in the art museum? When do we deface God’s creation? What do we do that destroys that which God has called good? How often do we ignore the value of something that God has created and change it by adding our own mark? We are created to honor God. Let us do so by treating His creation as if it were a beautiful piece of art to be embraced and enhanced for His glory, rather than our own. We are God’s children, and as co-creators in this beautiful world, it is up to us to honor God however we can, by respecting everything He has made because it is very good.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 24, 2012, Pentecost Four: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
“Why are ye fearful? have ye not yet faith?” Mark 4:40, ASV
The psalm for today focuses on a specific group of people: seafarers in trouble. This connects with our Gospel lesson for today, which is Jesus calming the storm. However, the psalm speaks about others in trouble, about four groups of people who cry out to God in their need.
The first group is described as those lost in the desert. Now the singers of the psalm would clearly have understood this to mean the wandering Israelites when they were journeying to the Promised Land. They were lost and wandering for forty years, faced thirst and hunger. They were desperate. They cried to God and He saved them. He gave them food from heaven and water from rocks. He took care of their needs. The singers would also know from firsthand experience what it was like to journey through the desert. This psalm was likely used during one of the high holy festivals of the Temple, when many pilgrims had journeyed to Jerusalem. They had faced the dangers of the desert and found the City of Jerusalem and their God waiting at the end.
We may not get lost in the desert or even have to journey across long miles of wilderness to get from one place to another, but we do get lost. Our deserts tend to be of a more modern nature, like the wilderness of unemployment or broken relationships. We get lost in the quest for material wealth or fame. We get lost in the confusion of too many choices. We get lost in the chaos of too many voices. We all have times when we are faced with temptations that try to lead us down the wrong path; those are our desert times. We are reminded by this psalm to cry out to God. He is with us. He will provide for us. He will get us to that city where we will be safe. He will satisfy our hunger and our thirst with good things.
The next group of people described in the psalm are prisoners. In this case, the prisoners are confined because they have rebelled against God. Again, the singers would have recognized the story as referring to those who had been led into exile by foreign conquerors. They knew that though it was the enemy that took them, it was God who allowed it. They suffered the consequences of their rebellion. But God did not abandon them, He stayed with them and when they cried for His help, He saved them and led them home. The Jews in Jesus’ day would understand the cry of the oppressed as they were suffering under the hands of the Romans. They were free to live, but only as free as you can be as an occupied nation. They, too, were experiencing the consequences of rebellion against God, led by leaders who were more driven by their own power and position than the truth of God’s Word.
How do we rebel against God? In what ways are we oppressed and seemingly cut off from our Father? We are sinners, in desperate need of a Savior, but all too often we try to solve our problems by following the ways of the world. The Israelites were exiled because they did not trust God. They turned to alliances that put God last in their lives. They trusted in false gods and the strength of men. The Jews trusted in their self-righteous works and the Law. They trusted in their own strength. We do, too.
We may not be prisoners of some occupying force or exiles in a land that is not our home, but we are not free to be everything God has created us to be because we are caught up in our own darkness. We turn to the things of the world to save us from our troubles, ignoring the God who will make everything right. We try to fix the world with our own strength, rejecting the God who can restore the world. When we cry out to God, however, He is right there to break our chains and lead us into the light.
The third group described in the psalm is the sick. We can identify with this group the most because we all experience sickness. We get colds, we feel pain, we suffer sadness. In this psalm, it seems as if sickness is suffered as a consequence of rebellion, like the wandering and darkness. Certainly the singers may have looked back to the story of the Israelites in the wilderness when their rebellion brought the poisonous snakes. In that story, the people suffered dis-ease because had turned from God. In the days of the Jews, the people were harsh, blaming every illness on the sin of the sick. They were not concerned with the care of the sick; instead they made them outcast. We know that illness is not a punishment for sin. We know that sickness is a natural part of living in this world and sometimes we will get sick. There are some diseases that can be attributed to bad habits, but God does not punish us with illness.
We also know how hard it is to be thankful to God when we are in the midst of pain and dis-ease. It is not unusual for a cancer patient to ask “Why?” and to blame God for their pain. It is not uncommon for the ill to be angry with God. The most common question asked by those who do not believe in God has to do with suffering; how could a loving God allow people to suffer? Illness, unfortunately, is a part of the imperfect world in which we live. But it is also a time when we can trust in God’s faithfulness and seek His healing touch. Thanksgiving comes not only when we are healed, but when we know that God is able to heal and we turn to Him.
The final group described in the psalm is those who are facing the storms at sea. This particular part of the passage is included in our lesson for today because the Gospel describes the disciples facing a dangerous storm. The psalmist talks about the dangers of the mighty waters. Sailors spent so much of their time on the sea, but it was mysterious; they didn’t know what was under the surface of the water, except for those few glimpses of those odd creatures of the sea. They had surely seen the sea creatures, but they did not have the kind of knowledge w have today. What did a blue whale look like to a sailor on the deck of a boat not much larger than the fish? It is no wonder that many myths and legends come out of the sea. The sailors did not understand the sea, but they knew that God had the power to save them from the dangers.
We forget that God has the power to control the world around us because He laid the foundations long before we were born. Instead of trusting in Him, we try to control the world with our own strength, and we fail. When we suffer the consequences of our faithlessness, we blame God. We worry. We are afraid. We are desperate. It is when we are desperate that we finally remember God; it is then that we cry out to Him. Thankfully, He hears us and answers. He hasn’t abandoned us. He hasn’t been sleeping. He is there, always ready to save us.
It will never be clearer that God is present in the midst of our storms than during the story in the Gospel lesson. Jesus was right there. And yet the disciples were afraid. They couldn’t believe that Jesus would sleep through the storm. I have a hard time understanding it, too. I do not sleep well, even under the best of circumstances. The threat of storms can keep me awake for hours. Jesus was in a relatively small vessel on a dangerous lake during a powerful storm. It seems impossible that He could sleep. They were afraid that they would die, but Jesus had no fear. He had a peace that gave Him the freedom to rest in the midst of the storm.
That peace comes from living thankful lives, trusting that the God who laid the foundation of the earth will bring His people through their troubles. He wandered in His own wilderness, trusting that God was with Him. He faced darkness, knowing that God would light the way. He confronted the pain and dis-ease of this world knowing that God’s healing hand could make a difference. He shouted down the storm and it stopped.
How do we face our own troubles? Do we live in fear and worry, or do we thank God knowing that He is with us in the midst of them?
Poor Job. Job was a righteous man who had fallen prey to the adversary. He lost everything; he lost his wealth, his health and his family. The book describes his lament and shows us how even the most righteous can find themselves in the midst of a storm of doubt and uncertainty while undergoing suffering. Job comes to the point of blaming God for his troubles, a response to the questions raised by his losses. “Where was God? How could the Almighty allow this to happen to me? Why?”
I don’t think there is anyone who hasn’t uttered those words at some point in their life. We all wonder where God is when we are facing some desert, darkness, sickness or storm. When a tornado destroys and entire town or a gunman shoots a dozen victims at a school, we ask why God didn’t do something to stop it. When cancer destroys someone we love or we face unemployment because the company can’t survive the economic conditions of the day, we wonder how God could allow it to happen. Why would we be any different than Job? If he could doubt, we can, too.
God answered Job’s condemnation with some questions of His own. “Were you there at the creation of the world? Did your hand lay the foundation of the earth?” Now, we probably understand the creation better than Job. We know the sea better than those sailors. We can explain, and even heal, the illnesses that people face. We have roads that take us straight through the most dangerous deserts. But despite all our modern accomplishments, we can’t do what God does. We can’t make a tree. We can’t create life. We can’t control the storms.
God asks Job if he has acquired the ancient wisdom that would allow him to know the mind of God and the mysteries of God’s will. There is only so much that Job, even righteous Job, will ever know. There is only so much that we will ever know, no matter how much we study the world. “And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; And here shall thy proud waves be stayed?” God’s answer to Job might seem harsh. It is almost as if He is simply saying, “Shut up.” We can’t be God no matter how hard we try. We can’t find our way out of the desert, the darkness, the sickness or the storms.
In response to Job’s condemnation, God asks, “Who are you?” He pulls rank on his human challenger and puts him in his place. Jesus confronted the disciples’ fears with the same attitude. “Where is your faith?” He asked. Where is our faith when we face the troubles that are bound to come, whether we bring them on ourselves or are a natural part of living in an imperfect world? Where is our faith when we are wandering in a desert facing the temptations that try to lead us down the wrong path? Where is our faith when we are in darkness and it seems like God is too far away? Where is our faith when we are sick or facing the storm? Are we afraid, or are we singing thanksgiving to God?
Paul knew what it was like to live in the storms. During his entire ministry for Christ he faced difficulty from the Jews, from the Gentiles and from all sorts of authorities. He has a long list of sufferings to his credit. He spent time in prison. He was hungry, cold and tired. He was shipwrecked, beaten and rejected. He knew what it was like to be on the edge of death. He endured many things for Christ and for those who would come to know Him through his ministry. Through his hardships, Paul remained true to God, for with every hardship he suffered he can list an even greater virtue in which he is called to live. “…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…” Whether the circumstances were good or bad, Paul was there to share the kingdom of God with the church and the world. He faced it all with rejoicing because God could, and would bring salvation to someone, somewhere at some time. Paul got it; he knew the Lord of the sea and did not live in worry or fear.
Isn’t it funny that Jesus, the Lord, had more faith in fallible man than the disciples had in their God? Jesus did not come to do it all, to feed them or clothe them. He did not come to take care of all their problems or make their lives easy. He came to teach them how to trust God and go out in faith to do the work they were called to do.
We are going to fail. We are going to complain when we are wandering in our desert times, wondering why God has sent us on this journey. We will conform to the world in which we live, dwelling in the darkness rather than seeking the light. We will ask why we are sick; we may think we deserve it. We may even blame God. We will feel like we are drowning and ask God whether He even cares. We will do these things. God knows. He even understands.
But we can live in faith. We can work together, keeping each other from falling. We can see God in our neighbors and thank Him that He is present with us in our troubles. We can believe that He will provide and protect, heal and save us, thanking Him for His faithfulness even while it seems like He’s missing. We can do these things because we have the assurance of God’s grace. He has saved us. He has healed us. He given us the light and led us through the desert. He did all this through Jesus Christ our Lord. It might seem like Jesus is sleeping in the boat, but He is always able to calm our storms. Let us join with the psalmist and give Him thanks, for His love does, indeed, endure forever.
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:11-12, ASV
Today is Prince William’s thirtieth birthday. It does not seem possible for Prince William to be thirty years old, after all, it seems like just yesterday that he was born. I know. It wasn’t yesterday. My kids aren’t babies anymore, either. Victoria is job hunting; Zachary just finished his first year of college. I’m getting older. I haven’t been thirty for decades, and of course he’s getting older. We all do. But it still seems impossible that he is thirty years old.
Now, thirty is an interesting age. For many Americans, thirty marks the time between youthful high spirits and the seriousness of adulthood. By the time we are thirty, most of us are married. Those lucky and talented enough are deeply embedded in a career. Some already have children, but those who have not been so blessed are thinking about starting a family. This is a time when many set aside their sports cars for something more sensible. They give up their leisure activities and spend more time devoted to work and family. Many will become more interested in religion and the church.
By age thirty we realize that we aren’t superhuman, we realize we will one day die. Some will have lost grandparents, or even parents, or favorite aunts and uncles. We start to feel the effects of age as we need glasses and our muscles ache after a hard day of work. We can’t run quite so fast or jump quite as high. We all begin to notice that our hair is not as golden or as thick as it once was, but our waste lines are a little thicker than we’d like. Our knees sometimes creek and our backs often ache. Oh, we don’t like to think that we are getting old, but by thirty we begin to notice that it is happening.
Perhaps the reason that so many do not want to become thirty years old: it is the age we are expected to grow up. There is something particularly special about thirty years old, however. In many societies, thirty is the age when a person can become an elder or leader. For the Jews, thirty was the age when a man could become a priest. By age thirty we have wisdom we didn’t have when we were young. We’ve experienced the world. We have had time to love. We’ve experienced loss. We have suffered rejection and learned that we aren’t infallible. We understand that death is a part of life. The young think that they are indestructible, but there comes a time when reality changes us in a good way. We learn to live more fully.
In the past few days, I’ve heard several reporters ask the question, “What will Prince William do now?” They are thinking about this idea that thirty is so important. Will Prince William take a more active role in the monarchy? Will he find his place in the governance of England? Will he become a father and buy a minivan? I wonder if Prince William has been dreading this day. Is Kate planning a party with “Over the Hill” signs and black icing on the cake? Perhaps, but it is not a day to dread.
It is said that Jesus was thirty years old when He began His ministry. Unlike Prince William, whose entire life has been broadcast since the day he was born, we don’t know much about Jesus’ life before then. We do know that it was the right time. Perhaps Prince William’s life won’t change all that much now that he is thirty because in many ways he has had to grow up already. It will be interesting, though, to see the wisdom of age become apparent in his life and work in the world.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ASV
This text from Ecclesiastes is perhaps one of the best known, and yet it is not necessarily a beloved text. We like that there is a time to be born, to plant, to heal, to build, to laugh, to dance, to gather, to embrace, to seek, to keep, to sew, to speak, to love, for peace. We don’t like that the teacher reminds us that there is also a time to die, to pluck, to kill, to break down, to weep, to mourn, to throw stones, to refrain, to lose, to cast away, to rend, to keep silent, to hate, for war. Those negative attributes of life are the things we try to avoid.
Matthew Henry writes, “We live in a world of changes. The different events of time, and conditions of human life, are vastly different from one another, and we are continually passing and repassing between them. In the course of nature (James 3:6) sometimes one part is uppermost and by and by the contrary; there is a constant ebbing and flowing, waxing and waning from one extreme to the other. When we are in prosperity, we should be content, and yet not secure—not to be secure because we live in a world of changes, and yet to be content and, as he had advised (ch. 2.24) to find satisfaction in our work, in a humble dependence on God, neither lifted up with hopes, nor cast down with fears, but with evenness of mind.”
How much easier would life be if we didn’t have to face the highs and lows? But would it really be better? We don’t want to kill, but would we grow any food if the seed doesn’t die? We don’t want war, but sometimes we have to fight for justice. We don’t want to break anything down, but we can’t build something new without getting rid of the old. The highs are good, but would we even know they are highs if we didn’t experience the lows? Would we really experience life if we never had to face death?
We do live in a changing world. We experience highs and lows. We may want to avoid the lows, but it is in those times when we experience God. Now, we might prefer the experience of the mountain top, but we can’t stay there. Like Jesus after the transfiguration, we need to go back into the valley, into the muck of real life. That’s where God’s hand is most at work. Who would we heal if there were no sickness? Who would we comfort if there were no pain? Who would we seek if none were lost? It might be easier to see God’s grace in the highs, but it is in the lows where God is really at work. There is, indeed, a season for everything, and God is at work in it all.
“I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers in a pure conscience, how unceasing is my remembrance of thee in my supplications, night and day longing to see thee, remembering thy tears, that I may be filled with joy; having been reminded of the unfeigned faith that is in thee; which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and, I am persuaded, in thee also. For which cause I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee through the laying on of my hands. For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:3-7, ASV
Zack is spending the summer at camp, and Victoria is busy searching for her future with trips for job interviews. It is exciting to watch them grow older and independent, but it is also hard. They’ve a constant part of my life for so long that the thought of them being so far away is difficult. It is certainly easier than it would have been twenty years ago. Technology means that we live in a very small world. Our communication is instant. We can text one another or send messages on the computer. We don’t even have to worry about long distance phone bills anymore.
That doesn’t diminish the sadness I feel as life goes forward. They are not my constant companions anymore. Now, I have to admit that I like the newfound freedom of not being burdened by that twenty-four hour a day responsibility of caring for children, but they have been such an important part of my life for so long that it is hard to adapt.
The other day I found a corkboard with a bunch of memories pinned to it. There are a few comic strips that remind me of moments of my kids’ lives. There is a picture from a coloring book that Victoria colored and gave to me a long time ago. There is also the inside of a Christmas card that I received from Zack one year. I like to reread that card because it is a loving sentiment from my son that I hope he still believes. I hope it is something that both my children will remember even when they have kids of their own.
The card reads, “Top 10 reasons why Mom is better than Santa. 10. You can hug Mom without getting tickled by a beard. 9. Mom doesn’t always wear the same boring red outfit. 8. Location! Location! Location! Mom is right here, not the North Pole. 7. Mom leaves milk and cookies for you. 6. Mom doesn’t have creepy elves hanging around. 5. You don’t have to share Mom with all the other kids in the world. 4. Mom gives you a lot of wiggle room on the ‘naughty or nice’ issue. 3. You can tell Mom what you want for Christmas without writing a letter. 2. Moms are around every day, not just Christmas. And the number one reason Mom is better than Santa… Mom is real. (Yeah. I’ve known the truth about Santa for a long time. I was just playing along for the presents.)”
The card is funny, but there is a truth found in the words. I hope that if he made a list today, it would include other things. I would hope that he would say something about faith, about support and encouragement and lessons learned. I hope that his life manifests the love of God and the love of the mother who has been a very real part of his life. He won’t become a Timothy; his gifts and goals and expectations are not of a career in ministry. But he can be like Timothy, living a life of faithfulness, doing whatever it is he is called to do in this world.
“Now therefore fear Jehovah, and serve him in sincerity and in truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt; and serve ye Jehovah. And if it seem evil unto you to serve Jehovah, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah. And the people answered and said, Far be it from us that we should forsake Jehovah, to serve other gods; for Jehovah our God, he it is that brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and that did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the peoples through the midst of whom we passed; and Jehovah drove out from before us all the peoples, even the Amorites that dwelt in the land: therefore we also will serve Jehovah; for he is our God. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve Jehovah; for he is a holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgression nor your sins. If ye forsake Jehovah, and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you evil, and consume you, after that he hath done you good. And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve Jehovah. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you Jehovah, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses. Now therefore put away, said he, the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto Jehovah, the God of Israel. And the people said unto Joshua, Jehovah our God will we serve, and unto his voice will we hearken. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a great stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of Jehovah. And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it hath heard all the words of Jehovah which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness against you, lest ye deny your God.” Joshua 24:14-27, ASV
Ok, so I’m going to admit it: I’m reading “The Hunger Games.” My kids read the books, beginning with Zachary. He justified the read as helpful to his work at camp this year, since many of his campers had read it. It gave them something in common, a subject to talk about in their free time. He encouraged Victoria to read the books, and then I joined the party. I have to admit this, too: I’m addicted.
Now, I won’t give anything away, since I’m sure there are many who would like to read the books but have not yet done so, or they are not as far into the books as I am. I will say that the story revolves around games where the victor is the only one left standing at the end. In other words, everyone else in the game dies. It is war like, violent and pointless, but the story shows us a world where people realize they are being manipulated by a government that uses and abuses its power for its own purpose, which is often entertainment.
In the arena, the contestants must make life and death decisions, including whether or not to build alliances. It is hard to rely on people that you know must die if you will live, but in the beginning alliances can be very helpful for survival. Another contestant might just know something that you don’t know; they might have a skill you don’t have. How do you create a trusting relationship between people who know they have to kill one another? As the story progresses, the hero realizes that the question is not so much about which contestant to trust, but who is the enemy. The answer to that question is not so easy to answer.
Can you imagine what it must have been like to be among those Hebrews who traveled through the wilderness to the Promised Land? They suffered a great many hardships. They faced hunger and thirst. They even faced enemies. They were traveling on the word of a God they could not see, touch or hear; led by fallible human beings that made too many mistakes. It is no wonder that in the generations that followed, the Israelites pondered the question, “Who is my enemy?” They often turned to alliances that might seem foolish to us, but made sense to them. After all, wouldn’t you want a strong army to help you in your time of need? But the Israelites were always promised help from a greater power, if only they’d known who to trust.
Of course, those allies always turned on them, and in the end they found themselves crying out in fear and hopelessness to the God who promised to be faithful. Despite their failure, He always came through. In today’s passage we see the beginning of that relationship, of Israel promising to be faithful. Joshua knows better. He knows they will fail and warns them of what will happen. But God accepts their confession of faith and blesses them. Sadly, like them, we often forget who the enemy is and we treat God as if He is the one against whom we fight. Thankfully, He remains faithful, even when we don’t.
Scriptures for Sunday, July 1, 2012, Pentecost Five: Lamentations 3:22-33 or Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43
“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.” 2 Corinthians 8:9
Imagine what it must have been like in Corinth. They were blessed to have received the Gospel of hope. The church in Corinth was started by Paul, who visited Corinth during his second missionary journey. He kept in touch with all the churches he founded with letters. The letters we have help us to understand our faith, the church and the doctrines that still hold us together. Unfortunately, Corinth was also visited by false apostles, those who meant to destroy the ministry of Paul. They taught false doctrine and caused the church to doubt Paul’s authority and his words. Paul wrote to encourage them, to restore them and to correct the falsehoods that had been confusing the people.
It seems that the relationship was nearly restored when Paul wrote the 2 Corinthians. His letter is written to encourage the Corinthians to be the Church that God meant them to be, to return to the way that they were going when the false apostles entered the picture. Apparently they had begun to take a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. Perhaps the false apostles suggested that there was a better way to use that money. Perhaps they convinced the Corinthians that they should have it.
What we do know is that Paul has seen the faith and generosity of the Corinthian church in action, and he’s encouraging them to continue. He has the authority to do more than encourage, but he doesn’t want to force anything. This is a call to faithfulness. This is a call to prove that they believe. “If you do this, we will see that your faith is real.” Living faith is faith in action.
Now, the situation must have changed at some point from when they began taking the collection and Paul’s letter. The money they collected is gone. Perhaps, like so many of us today, they were feeling the effects of some financial crisis. Perhaps they’d given all their leftovers, which were used for some other purpose. Perhaps the harvest was not good or some other situation in the city was causing want. Whatever happened, the offering to the people in Jerusalem was going to be a struggle. Yet, even with some fear gnawing at them, Paul knew they could still offer something.
Of course, they probably set a goal. Don’t we do that for our fundraising? We even make pretty boards with pictures of something to ‘fill up’ as we collect the money. We use a thermometer which we color red until it hits the desired ‘temperature.’ We get creative and use different pictures, often related to the focus of our fundraising. Are we planning a garden? We add pictures of flowers to a green meadow. Are we planning a building? We add brick upon brick until the building is built. Are we planning to restock our kitchen with new serving dishes? We stack cardboard cutouts of plates until we have enough to cover our costs.
Perhaps the church in Corinth had their own way of counting the offering, but in the year between Paul’s letters they lost count. They knew there was no way they could finish the work. They couldn’t color the whole board red, or add the final flowers or place the final bricks or even glue on that last cardboard plate. They were discouraged. They were probably feeling guilty, too, having abandoned Paul for the ‘super-apostles’ and for losing the gift they’d gathered. How could they send less than they intended? Wouldn’t it be better to give up?
Paul says, “No, it would not be better to give up.” He knows that even in their loss they had more than enough. They certainly had more than the believers in Jerusalem. Even though they did not have as much as they intended to give, any gift would be helpful to make things right for the believers in Jerusalem.
How many of us have thought, “If only I had more, I could share with others.” Especially at times like these, when so many of us are struggling to make ends meet, we want to give to charity but we wonder how. How can I give anything when I do not have as much as I need? We decide to wait until we have enough, both for ourselves and to give a donation that is worthwhile. What good is a five dollar bill when there are hundreds of homeless people in our town? What good will one can of beans do for a family who is hungry? What good is a ten dollar box fan?
For the elderly in San Antonio, as we suffer temperatures over a hundred dollars, a ten dollar box fan is an amazing gift. Instead of sitting in the stifling heat that surely permeates their homes they can run a fan on their legs which will help keep them cool. Yes, it isn’t as comfortable as an air conditioner set to 65 degrees, but it is lifesaving. I think about those people and wish I could make their homes as cool as mine, but I know I can’t afford it. But I can give a ten dollar box fan. Is it what I want to give? No. Is it enough? I don’t know, but it is certainly better than nothing.
Why do we do these things? I think the answer is best left to a story about Patricia Cornwell. We were in England, and I had taken a friend on a visit to Lavingham, a quaint England village. While we wandered the streets, we noticed a camera crew outside a pub. They noticed us, too, because we were Americans. The reporter came up to us, checked to make sure we were Americans and then asked us about something that happened in the pub. “The writer, Patricia Cornwell just left a tip to her wait staff of five thousand pounds. What do you think about that?” Of course, it took a little coaxing, but we learned that the reason she left the tip was because she discovered the wait staff in the pub were having a fundraising drive for an organization that helps the families of restaurant workers who need help. The reporter was pushing for the angle that she was just showing off, flaunting her money.
When asked, I answered, “I don’t know if she’s a Christian, but if she is she was simply doing what we do naturally: respond to the needs in the world. I’m impressed that she would respond so generously when she heard about the fundraiser.” That’s not what the reporter wanted to hear, and unfortunately it isn’t what was aired on the news. The report made her look like a greedy American only concerned about the publicity.
See, most of us do simply respond to the needs we see around us. We don’t think about it too much or plan how we can best serve ourselves. We see a neighbor in need and we offer to help. We hear that there is a woman who is bullied on a bus by a bunch of silly kids, and we donate to a fund to help her. We hear about a family that has lost several children in a car accident, and we give funds to help pay for a decent funeral. We hear about a tornado or hurricane or wildfires and we do whatever we can to help. We hear about all these things and we pray for those affected. We don’t think about it, we just do it. We do it naturally knowing that even the little bit we can help will make a difference.
It is when we think about it that we lose sight on the reality. When we plan a budget for benevolence and never waver from that path, we miss the opportunities God gives us to share. When we color in the chart to see the progress we are making toward our goal, we forget to spontaneously respond to the cries of God’s people in the world. When we stick to a plan, we lose sight on the reality that what we have is thanks to God and what we can give is His already, so we take the glory from God and give it to ourselves.
The Old Testament lessons, including the text from the Apocrypha, remind us that God is in control and that His love never ceases. It might seem, at times, that the suffering in the world could have been avoided, if only God had done something. The psalmist is even bold enough to remind God that his death would be meaningless and even harmful. “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth?” The text from the Wisdom of Solomon reminds us that God did not create us for death, but for life. “...for God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity.” Even the lamenter trusts that God’s love will win. God can’t ignore the needs of His people. When He hears their cry, He answers.
He answered our cry with Jesus. What Christ did for you and I gives us all we need to respond to the world with the same grace. Jesus’ response to those in need was not calculated. He gave each as they needed, no matter what it did to Him. Even when it seemed like He was being zapped of power, He had enough power to do more.
Our Gospel lesson for today is a long one, but it is necessary to read the whole thing as it has been written, to see both stories in context. Each story can be taken separately, but there is something fascinating about the way the woman breaks into the man’s story. Jesus responded to the need of the synagogue leader and then allowed His mission to be interrupted by the bleeding woman. He didn’t think about how the leader might interpret His conversation with the woman. He didn’t tell her to go away because He was too busy. He questioned the flow of power but never said that she’d taken away His ability to help the others. He simply did what needed to be done, trusting that God would provide.
That’s what it is all about, isn’t it? Trust? The Corinthians may have had reason to be concerned about the finances of their church or even their personal finances. Paul wasn’t even asking for them to give what they’d first promised. He simply asked them to be faithful. “Finish the work you began.” Jesus started the work, in both the synagogue leader and the woman’s lives. He spoke, they heard and believed. They cried out to God for help and He answered. He finished the world He began.
Now we continue that work. It is easy to believe in God, to have faith. It is much harder to trust that God will do what He has promised. It is even harder to live that faith that God will do what He has promised by responding to the needs of those around us. We might find excuses, even good ones. The Corinthians may have used their resources for something they deemed valuable. Perhaps they thought another use was more beneficial. Perhaps they thought the false apostles deserved payment. Perhaps they really were facing hard times as a congregation and as individuals. But God didn’t do what He did so that we could have a dead faith. He saved us so that we might help others. He restored the relationship with us so that we could continue His work in this world.
Paul writes, “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.” God calls us to live the faith we have been given. God listens to our cries and answers our prayers. He finishes His work. Life in Christ means more than just having faith. It means responding to the cries we hear in the world with trust, knowing that God will not abandon us. His love is eternal and He is faithful. We may not be rich, but we are rich in Christ, so let us use our resources to continue the work He began until it is finished and the whole world is glorifying Him.
“For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1, ASV
I finished the books from “The Hunger Games” series last night. The three books didn’t take very long for me to read, but I have to admit that I’ve been a bit addicted to the books, anxious to find out how the conflict is settled. I didn’t accomplish anything of any substance over the past few days because I couldn’t pull myself away. I was nearly as much a slave to the books as the characters were to their government.
Of course, I wasn’t really a slave. I could put the books down anytime, and I did. My family didn’t starve. I managed to do my writing. The laundry and dishes were cleaned. I went out to the grocery store. I did what I need to do, but every other minute was spent with my nose in the book. I may not have seemed like a slave, but there was something that drew me in at every opportunity. Something that kept me glued to the pages.
Slavery does not always look like the image we learn about in the history of America. Slavery is not always about men and women chained together, slogging through the fields doing menial labor. Some slaves seem to have an enviable life. In the books, it was obvious that the people in the districts were slaves to the government, but it seemed like the people who lived in the capital were free. It is eventually obvious but they, too, were slaves.
We are slaves to sin, whether we seem like we are slaves or not. Our tendency is to always turn to the path of least resistance, to do what is simple. We always do what we think is best for us. And we are easily fooled. Sometimes we are manipulated into believing that what someone else wants us to do is what we want. That’s when we become slaves to someone else’s wants. The tempter might be family or friends, it might be the world. It might be the devil. Whatever draws us from the path that God intends makes us slaves.
In the passage that follows today’s verse, Paul is warning new Christians that they do not need to follow the rituals of the past to be loved and saved by Jesus. Some leaders were insisting that the new believers could not be part of the church without first being circumcised. But Paul reminds us that it isn’t the rituals that make us Christian, it is the work of Jesus Christ that does so. Our works will never save us, and those who insist on those works are making us slaves to something. Christ freed us from that slavery. He freed us from the bondage of ritual and duty. He freed us so that we would be free to live exactly as He created us to live: as one of His children, led by the Spirit to share His love in the world.
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I reprove and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.” Revelation 3:14-22, ASV
William Holman Hunt created a painting called, “The Light of the World.” In this painting, Jesus is seen standing beside a doorway that is long covered over with weeds. There is no doorknob on the door. Jesus is carrying a lamb and has his hand raised as if knocking. Hunt is best known for this painting, which was created in 1853. Of course, many other versions of this scene have been created, including another well known version by Warner Sallman called “Christ at Heart’s Door.”
The paintings reference the passage above from Revelation, where Jesus stands at the door knocking. Now, many interpret verse 20 and the paintings as a reference to the non-believer opening his or her heart to the Lord; it reminds us that Jesus does not force anyone to believe in Him. We do have the free will to reject Christ, so it is understandable that some might interpret this verse in this way.
But as Christians, we must be aware that it could very well be us on the other side of that door. After all, the passage from Revelation 3 is a letter written to the church at Laodicea, believers who had lost their passion for the faith. In William Holman Hunt’s painting, the doorway is covered in weeds, obviously unused for a long time. Do we ever get so caught up in our own ideas and agendas that we ignore Christ, who is waiting to be invited into our fellowship and work? How many times do we forget to prayerfully consider what God intends for us to do? How many times do we jump into the work without prayer?
We forget that though we are saved, we are still wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Though we are believers, we still need Christ. We receive Him and embrace the blessings of faith, but eventually we think we are rich and in need of nothing. We lose sight of the reality of our live in this world. We are still tempted. We are still capable of sin. We still fail. Though we have been forgiven until the end of time, we need to be forgiven on a daily basis. We are neither hot not cold. We are lukewarm because we have lost touch with the One who renews and transforms us every day. We focus on what we can do, ignoring what Christ is still doing for us.
Let’s not let the weeds grow on the other side of the door, daily opening it to Christ. Let us begin our days and our work with prayer, with study, with confession and we will experience the grace that Jesus offers us so freely. He is knocking on our door. Do we hear? Will we let Him in?