Welcome to the June 2020 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 World English Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, June 2020
June 1, 2020
“At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honored him who lives forever; for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he does according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can stop his hand, or ask him, ‘What are you doing?’ At the same time my understanding returned to me; and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and brightness returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven; for all his works are truth, and his ways justice; and those who walk in pride he is able to abase.” Daniel 4:34-37, WEB
There’s a song called “The Greatest Love of All” that is often dedicated to children who struggle in school. It certainly seems appropriate when you hear the first words of the song: “I believe the children are our future teach them well and let them lead the way...” One line, “I found the greatest love of all inside of me,” always made me think of my faith and Jesus. After all, His love is truly the greatest love of all.
The singer, Whitney Houston, was known as a Gospel singer. Even to the very end of her life, Whitney’s friends said she never stopped believing. Articles and interviews that came out at the time of her death repeatedly centered on her love of Jesus and her continued commitment to Him. She was troubled for many years; she abused drugs and she sought help for her addictions. In 2002 during an interview she said, “Pray for me as a person. Pray for my soul, that I’m stronger. I know I’m a child of God and I know He loves me. Jesus loves me, this I know.” The last song she sang in public before her tragic death was “Jesus loves me.”
I heard her son very differently as I listened to it one day. It was not, as supposed by the beginning line, a love of children. It was not about Jesus, as I supposed by that line about the love being inside. It is ultimately about loving oneself. “The greatest love of all is easy to achieve. Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all.” This was important to me in the 80’s when this song was so popular. I did not have a lot of friends. I was picked on by my peers. I was a little lonely and sometimes sad. A song reminding me that I was beautiful and that I should love myself was not a bad thing. It helped me see my self-worth, and I’m sure it did for many others.
I used to think that it was a song about healthy self-esteem, but I realized the other day that it is about pride. It is certainly not about faith in the God who can do the great things. “I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadows. If I fail, if I succeed at least I’ll live as I believe. No matter what they take from me they can’t take away my dignity.” I could not help to think about the very end of her life as I heard her singing these words. Where was her dignity, then? According to the proverb, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
We certainly can’t know a person’s heart is, especially at the moment of death, but this song was on my mind as I read through the fourth chapter of the Book of Daniel. The first few chapters of the book are about Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were young Hebrew nobles who were taken into captivity by the Babylonians and trained to be leaders in the administration of the empire. King Nebuchadnezzar learned about the power of their God in several ways. They were healthier, wiser and more gifted than the wisest men of his kingdom. They were able to interpret dreams. And they were devoted to their God. When they refused to be obedient to the rules of Babylon, they didn’t protest but courageously and boldly stood on their faith; the king watched as their God saved them from his punishment. He even praised God after he had thrown Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace.
Yet, sometime later, Nebuchadnezzar fell into the sin of pride. God gave him a dream, which Daniel interpreted. The dream of a tree showed the king’s greatness, but then the tree was cut down. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that the dream was about him. Despite his power and greatness at the moment, he had forgotten that there was One greater, the God of the Hebrews. “You shall be driven from men, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass as oxen, and shall be wet with the dew of the sky, and seven times shall pass over you; until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever he will.” Daniel warned Nebuchadnezzar to repent, to profess the greatness of God and to do God’s will in his kingdom.
A year later, because God is patient, Nebuchadnezzar was standing on the roof of his palace, looking over the greatness of his kingdom and said, “I built this.” At that very moment, the prophecy of the dream came true. The king went mad and for seven years lived in the wilderness with the wild animals. At the end of the time, Nebuchadnezzar publically confessed the greatness of God and was restored to his kingdom as we see in today’s passage.
We are taught in our world today that the greatest love is for self. “Follow your heart.” “Do what makes you feel good.” “Take care of yourself.” “Me” is the most important person in our life. There might be some validity to these admonitions, because we can’t serve others if we aren’t healthy in body, mind or spirit. However, we must always remember that we are not God. As a matter of fact, we are sinners in need of a Savior. The greatest love of all is the love He had for us, the love that sent His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ to save us from ourselves. We’ll still face difficulty even when we stand on our faith. We might end up in the fiery furnace. But we can confess God’s greatness even in the midst of our troubles and trust that He will be with us through it all.
“Let no man despise your youth; but be an example to those who believe, in word, in your way of life, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity. Until I come, pay attention to reading, to exhortation, and to teaching. Don’t neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the elders. Be diligent in these things. Give yourself wholly to them, that your progress may be revealed to all. Pay attention to yourself and to your teaching. Continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” 1Timothy 4:12-16, WEB
I like to shop the clearance racks. I’ve never been one to worry so much about having the most popular fashions. It doesn’t bother me if I am wearing last year’s color or style. As a matter of fact, I get frustrated when I can’t find my favorite colors or styles because they aren’t “in” this year. The clearance racks mean that I can buy more clothes for less money, and I’m likely to find the item that no one else wants because it is out of vogue.
I checked out a clearance rack one time when I was a young woman. I was a mobile disc jockey at the time, so I was always looking for fancy dresses to wear at a show. I found an incredible dress on a clearance rack one time, but I wasn’t sure I could afford it. I visited that store regularly, so I decided that if it was there again, then I would think about buying it. I didn’t buy it on the second trip. Finally, I noticed that the dress was still on the rack on my third trip. I looked at it. I tried it on. I looked at the price tag. The dress was 75% off. I couldn’t leave it on the rack at that price!
I had a friend that did not like to shop the clearance racks because they are overwhelming. All too often the clearance racks are a hodge podge of different sizes, styles and quality of merchandise. An “as is” item with a pull or stain might be right beside an item of higher quality. The clothes are often on a hanger with the wrong size tag. You have to look at every single item hoping that at the end of your search you will actually find something worthwhile. To her, it wasn’t worth the time. Yet, as we shopped together, she was amazed at how I could go right to the sale rack and find some incredible buy.
My daughter now shops the sale rack because she saw me do it. We learn things by watching others. Students learn how to do math, science and grammar by watching their teachers. An athlete learns a great deal by watching other athletes, not only about how to do it for themselves but also how to compete. Even in our Christian life we learn from others. Our parents, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and fellow Christians are models of Christ-like actions in our world.
We live our life learning from others, taking their knowledge and experience and applying it to our lives. Thankfully we have many people who are willing to share these things with us so that we might learn both from their mistakes and from their successes. Many aspects of Christian faith come naturally because they are gifts from God, but we look to those who come before us to teach us how to live the Christian life.
Timothy was a young man, but he had grown up in a home with women strong in faith. He knew God, and his faith was strong when he became a Christian. He learned from Paul and he was in every way capable of leading other Christians despite his youth. Paul encouraged Timothy to be the person he had been created, redeemed, and taught to be so that others would see his example and follow the right path. We are encouraged by these words to do the same. God gives us what we need; He has shown us through Jesus, the apostles, and every Christian that came before us how to live. We learn from Him, and them, so that we can make a very real impact in the world.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 7, 2020, Holy Trinity: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; Acts 2:14a, 22-26; Matthew 28:16-20
“Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8:9, WEB
Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday and the scriptures for this week help us focus on one of the most confusing and mystifying aspects of the Christian faith. How do you explain the unexplainable?
I have been reading a book by Timothy Keller called “Jesus the King.” It looks at Jesus’ life from the perspective of the Gospel of Mark. In it, Keller talks about the “Dance of God.” This is a concept he talks about repeatedly. The following quote is from another of Keller’s books, “The Reason For God: Belief In An Age Of Skepticism.”
“What does it mean, then, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit glorify one another? If we think of it graphically, we could say that self-centeredness is to be stationary, static. In self-centeredness we demand that others orbit around us. We will do things and give affection to others, as long as it helps us meet our personal goals and fulfils us.
“The inner life of the triune God, however, is utterly different. The life of the Trinity is characterized not by self-centeredness but by mutually self-giving love. When we delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we centre on the interests and desires of the other. That creates a dance, particularly if there are three persons, each of whom moves around the other two. So it is, the Bible tells us. Each of the divine persons centers upon the others. None demands that the others revolve around him. Each voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight and adoration into them. Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to and rejoices in the others. That creates a dynamic, pulsating dance of joy and love. The early leaders of the Greek church had a word for this – perichoresis. Notice the root of our word “choreography” within it. It means literally to “dance or flow around.”
“The Father…Son…and Holy Spirit glorify each other…At the center of the universe, self-giving love is the dynamic currency of the Trinitarian life of God. The persons within God exalt, commune with, and defer to one another… When early Greek Christians spoke of perichoresis in God they meant that each divine person harbors the others at the center of his being. In constant movement of overture and acceptance each person envelops and encircles the others.”
There are many different symbols used to represent the Trinity. The triangle is the simplest. The cloverleaf has been used often. The fleur-de-lis is a stylized lily that represents several different ideas, including the Trinity. I think my favorite is the Triqueta, which is an early Trinitarian design found especially in Great Britain, its three equal arcs represent equality, its continuous line expresses eternity, and the interweaving represents indivisibility. Keller’s description of the Trinity in the above quote is best represented by the Triqueta because the lines seem to dance.
Our scriptures this week begin with the Creation story. It is amazing to hear over and over again the story of God’s work of creation. It is beautiful in its simplicity and yet so very real in its description. Whatever you think about the science answers to the questions about the origins of life, the Bible and the scientific records tell basically the same story. The only difference is that science says it was all a great coincidence, and the Bible says that it was God. Genesis says that God created sky and water, land and sea, plants that bear seed and fruit, trees, the sun, moon and stars, living creatures in the sea and sky, animals that crawl on the ground both wild and those to be domesticated, and then man and woman. Isn’t that the order reported by the scientists?
I remember reading the book “Hawaii” by James Michener. In the first hundred pages (it seemed that long), Michener described the creation of the islands. First an underground volcano exploded, sending forth lava that set down a foundation. Over and over again that volcano exploded, setting down more foundation to the mountain until the mountain peak poked out of the water. Eventually the mountain peak was large enough to contain life. Erosion created soil. Birds brought seeds from other islands which grew into plants. Animals found their way to the land. And then man arrived. We might not agree that the first amoeba eventually became man, but we can see how creation progressed from the smallest beings at the beginning of time to the birth of God’s crown, man.
In the beginning, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered it. The Creator was able to speak and transform that formless and dark void into something new. He said, “Let there be light” and there was light. He ordered the days and the substance. He brought order to the chaos. He filled the emptiness with good things. He did all this in a way that makes sense, each day building upon the work of the previous day. He did not create the animals before there was food for them to eat. He did not create plants until the land and the sea were separated so that the plants had a place to dwell and water to make them grow. He did not create the fish before there were bodies of water in which they could live.
In the creation story we see that God is. He is powerful. He is compassionate. He is wise. He is capable. He is magnificent.
How do we respond to the story of the creation? We respond first with fear and trembling. A Creator who can bring order out of chaos and life out of nothingness is certainly powerful and worthy of our awe. Based on this story we can trust in God, because God provides for our every need. It is humbling for us to see the wisdom of God in the story but also in the creation we see when we look out our windows.
How is it that the bluebonnets know to spring forth in March of every year? And how do the animals learn to migrate? Everything is according to God’s plan, the earth turns and is recreated daily according to His design and purpose. There is comfort in knowing that in our times of difficulty, God is able and willing to transform our lives with just a word, to bring order out of our chaos and hope out of our emptiness. The One who has created this world in which we live must, of necessity, be magnificent, greater than all of creation. This is the God worthy of praise and worship. God spoke and it was good.
We can’t possibly understand God completely, for He is greater than anything we can even imagine. However, He is good. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. We can believe in Him, not out of reason but out of faith. There is a place for reason, a place to study the words and try to understand what they mean. There is a time to consider the science. But some days we need to simply dwell in the mystery that is God and praise Him for His goodness.
As an artist, I tend to be very observant. I see the details as well as the whole. I visited a car museum once, and though I took pictures of some of the cars, I focused heavily on the smaller things. The grills were so interesting with the chrome and the light and the shadows that many of my photos were just of the grills. My father looked at my pictures and thought those photos were mistakes. He wanted to see the whole car, but I wanted to record the patterns and beauty of those details.
I love architecture, too. Have you ever looked up at a skyscraper with amazement, not only for the incredible engineering but the beauty of the lines? We can build towers that reach to the heavens. In Dubai, the Burj Al Arab is a luxury hotel that grabs our imaginations. It looks like the sail an Arabian vessel. It is built on a man-made island off the shore of Dubai and looks like it is floating in the Persian Gulf. I have been awed by the classic architecture of European cathedrals and by the modern steel and glass skyscrapers of American cities. The product of human ingenuity can be breathtaking.
I have wandered in some of the most beautiful gardens in the world. Gardeners can take a few simple plants and arrange them in a way that is inspirational and magnificent. I can sit for hours in front of an aquarium filled with tropical fish, enjoying the patterns they make as they provide us a vision of what life might be if they lived in the ocean. There is something very special about hearing a well trained choir presenting a cantata that proclaims the story of God.
Yet, no matter how wonderful the things we do in this world, no matter how wonderful the things we build, nothing can even stand close to that which God has done. We can visit the universe, using technology to see planets and stars that are beyond our grasp. We can delve into the depths of the sea and study the life that has adapted under those extreme conditions. We can study the smallest particles through high powered microscopes. Composers create music and painters masterpieces that can take us away in a sense of wonder, peace and joy. But nothing compares to the work of God.
We can create new flowers by cross-pollinating two others. We can plant a forest. We can artificially inseminate human embryos into a woman’s womb. We can even clone animals. We can do so many things with the creation that God has brought forth with a word. We do these things with the intelligence God has given us. But no matter how unbelievable the things we can accomplish in this world, nothing human hands have created will ever come close to that which God has created.
Here’s a joke for you, “God was once approached by a scientist who said, ‘Listen God, we’ve decided we don’t need you anymore. These days we can clone people, transplant organs and do all sorts of things that used to be considered miraculous.’ God replied, ‘Don’t need me? Let’s put your theory to the test. Let’s have a competition to see who can make a human being, say’ The scientist agrees, and God declares they should do it like he did in the good old days when he created Adam. ‘Fine’ says the scientist as he bends down to scoop up a handful of dirt.” “Whoa!” says God, shaking his head in disapproval. “Not so fast. Get your own dirt.”
God is greater than His creation. He is wiser than the wisest man. He is more loving than the most loving mother. He is worthy of our praise and worship. Though we are able to create the most beautiful gardens and build awesome structures that have surpassed the Tower of Babel, we will never be much more than a speck on the planet, a brief blip in the expanse of time and space in which we live. Still, God has made us the crown of His creation. He has made us sons and daughters. He has given us dominion over all that He has done. It is a tremendous responsibility. We are reminded on this day, however, that without God, we would not be able to do anything.
I went to the grocery store the other day and I noticed that some of the shelves were still rather empty. The initial problem of empty shelves at the start of the pandemic had been fixed, but recently the stores have struggled to keep up with demand. There are multiple reasons for this, but I think one of the reasons is that people are still eating at home. Though many people are going back to work and restaurants are opening, the families are still gathering around the dinner table. Kids are home and need three meals a day.
It has been fun watching people on Facebook as they share their newfound love of cooking. Many people have posted pictures of food they have tried to make, and they’ve inspired others to try. My daughter made pretzels one day, and since I had found a pretzel recipe I wanted to try, I made some too. It was fun to share the experience even though we live so far from each other.
I like to cook. I tend to be experimental in the kitchen, making stuff up as I go. I use recipes occasionally, especially when I am trying something new or if I’m baking. You have to really understand the science of cooking to experiment with cakes and cookies. I’m usually very careful about ensuring each ingredient is properly measured and added to the batter. I do make mistakes, however. I once forgot to add the sugar to my mother’s cookie recipe. I tasted one right out of the oven and I knew something was wrong. They were terrible! I was able to add sugar to the rest of the batter, but that doesn’t really work and that batch was not good. I am now in the habit of checking not just once but three or four times to make sure I haven’t forgotten something.
Even though I’ve been complimented on my cooking, I worry that everything I make will be less than satisfactory. I’m afraid that I’ve forgotten something or that my combinations are really not as successful as I think. I still put the dishes on the table worrying that they will not be satisfied.
We can be confident and doubtful about many aspects of life. The disciples had lived and worked with Jesus for three years. They’d seen Him crucified and raised. They had undergone an intense forty days when the risen Christ trained them in their mission and ministry. They touched Jesus, heard His voice, and loved Him like a brother. They had seen the miracles happen, eaten the bread that Jesus blessed and tasted the wine of the covenant from His own hand. They confessed faith. They believed. And they doubted.
We wonder how this could be, but it is a very natural response to God. How could they doubt anything after all they had seen and experienced with Jesus? The Greek word ‘distazo’ is not as concise as our modern definition. It isn’t that they didn’t believe, but that they did not want to choose one way over the other. They wavered.
This doubt was probably not so much about doubting God, for they had seen the power and authority by which Jesus had ministered. Despite the training and encouragement they received, they had also made many mistakes. They couldn’t cast out the demons. They argued about who was the greatest. They were as confused as the crowds about what Jesus was meant to do. Peter confessed faith in Jesus and then rebuked Jesus for saying that He had to die. The disciples were often self-centered and selfish. They hid in fear, refused to believe the news of Jesus’ resurrection. They failed over and over again. Though Jesus had confidence in the ones He had chosen, they did not have confidence in themselves. They knew all too well how imperfect they could be. How could they do what Jesus had done? How could they go on without Him? They believed. And they doubted. They wavered because it was all too much for them to accept.
Jesus answered their doubts. “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” They were being sent into the world to do an awesome thing: to change the world. Eventually they separated, each apostle going the way the Spirit led and they took the Gospel to the four corners of the earth. They doubted because they did not know how they could accomplish this great thing, but there was no need to worry. God was not sending them alone. He was there with each one and as they baptized each new believer in the Trinity, He made them part of the body He had created in Christ.
Why Trinity? Three is a good number. Most of our chairs have four legs, but have you ever thought about how much better it would be if they only had three? A chair with four legs must set perfectly flat on the floor. If one of the legs is slightly longer or slightly shorter than the other three, the chair does not sit properly. If the floor is uneven and one of the legs sits in a hole or on a bump, the chair wobbles. However, if the chair has only three legs, even if there is some imperfection in the legs or the floor, the chair stands firm.
A committee of three usually has no leader. The three are equal, all having a voice and a vote. If two argue, the third can acts as a peacemaker. If two are overly passionate about something, the third can act as a stabilizer. In a triangle, each side has a relationship with the other two sides. In a trinity, no one person has to be responsible for everything. No one person can be blamed if something goes wrong. No one person gets the credit when something goes right. Maybe that is why Jesus kept the three disciples (Peter, James and John) close to Him, so that they might learn to balance and support each other. The three parts of any trinity helps keep each other accountable. This is especially important in human relations because we are so likely to fail that we need others to help us stand firm. In the Trinity, the three dance to glorify one another.
We set aside one day a year to focus on this concept. Although the word trinity is not specifically written or defined in the scriptures, Christians from every age have experienced God in three persons since the beginning. Despite two thousand years of explaining and defining it, the Trinity is still a mystery. Three in one, one in three, what does it all mean? We struggle with mysteries because if we can’t grasp something intellectually, we doubt if it is real. Like me in the kitchen, we are not always sure that we have gotten it right, especially when we can’t describe it in words others can understand. We can’t answer the question, “What is the Trinity?” so we doubt. Doubt is a part of our human condition.
The first apostles might have doubted, but they went forth in faith that Jesus would be with them to the end of the age. They may not have been perfect, but by the power of the Holy Spirit they were being perfected daily as they walked in the hope of the fulfillment of all God’s promises. They passed that faith on to us through their witness to that first generation of Christians who then went out to make more disciples.
Faith is yet another mystery of God. It is easy to talk about believing in God, until you are asked to explain your reasons to someone who cannot believe. Even more mysterious, however, is how someone hears the Gospel and believes. Every Christian is a miracle. Every heart that has turned to God is a miracle. The entire story of Christ is ridiculous: God is born in flesh, lives for thirty three years teaching about God and then is destroyed in a heartbeat by men who claim to believe in God. Three days later this God in man appears alive again and His ministry is continued by the most unlikely rag-tag group of disciples. They aren’t educated. They aren’t righteous as the religious leaders of their day. They don’t have power or position or wealth. How could they possibly impact the world?
What is the Holy Trinity? The Trinity is one of the most confusing and mystifying aspects of the Christian faith. How do you explain the unexplainable? Some theologians in the sixth century set out to explain the Trinity in language which the common man could understand and it took approximately seven hundred words. The Athanasian Creed, which is often used in churches on Trinity Sunday, seems to go around and around in circles dividing the persons of the Trinity while holding them together. It is a long creed to recite and generally brings a sigh of annoyance from the congregation whenever it is said. And yet, is a powerful reminder of the incredible nature of the God we worship. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He Is.
Jesus said to them, “All All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” The only one able to give such authority, the authority in heaven and on earth, is the One who created it all. We see His goodness in our Old Testament lesson where the story of the Creation is laid out so poetically. He took chaos and made order, darkness and filled it with light. He organized the sky and water, the land and sea, the plants and the animals. Then God made man in His image. Man was created last, not because he was to be the least of all, but because he was to have dominion over all of the creation. God blessed them, made them part of the whole creative process and gave them the authority to care for the earth.
He knew, even then, that we’d disappoint Him. He knew we’d be imperfect. He knew we would fail. But He calls us into a relationship with Himself, the Trinity, to be transformed by His grace to move together as one body to continue transforming the world.
When we were created, we were given the authority to take care of the entire world, to continue the creative work of the Father. In Christ, through our baptism, we are given a new authority: the authority to speak forgiveness and grace into the lives of those who are living in chaos. We are called to continue the redemptive work of Christ, to make disciples and teach them all that He commanded.
In the Great Commission, Jesus tells the disciples to “Baptize into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Our faith in Christ brings us more fully into our identity in the image of God. The world is not as God intended. Sin and death were not what He wanted for His creation. The Creator was separated from the creation He loved and He was the only One who could remove the chasm that had formed between heaven and earth. Just as He created the world out of nothing, He brought order out of the chaos it had become. When the time was right, Jesus came in flesh to bring redemption and reconciliation. And He has called us to be part of His creative and redemptive work by the power of the Holy Spirit, not to change the world but to continue what God started.
We have been invited into the Dance of God, to join with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as they glorify one another. We may doubt, but we believe and we worship Him because of the faith He has given by His Word. He is so awesome that even His name is majestic. So, let’s go forth with the assurance that this great and good Trinity is with us and that He has given us the authority to do His work, the work we were created and redeemed to do for His glory.
“Now the king of Syria was at war against Israel; and he took counsel with his servants, saying, ‘My camp will be in such and such a place.’ The man of God sent to the king of Israel, saying, ‘Beware that you not pass this place; for the Syrians are coming down there.’ The king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of; and he saved himself there, not once or twice. The king of Syria’s heart was very troubled about this. He called his servants, and said to them, ‘Won’t you show me which of us is for the king of Israel?’ One of his servants said, ‘No, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.’ He said, ‘Go and see where he is, that I may send and get him.’ He was told, ‘Behold, he is in Dothan.’ Therefore he sent horses, chariots, and a great army there. They came by night, and surrounded the city. When the servant of the man of God had risen early, and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was around the city. His servant said to him, ‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?’ He answered, ‘Don’t be afraid; for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Elisha prayed, and said, ‘Yahweh, please open his eyes, that he may see.’ Yahweh opened the young man’s eyes; and he saw: and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire around Elisha.” 2 Kings 6:8-17, WEB
Arnold Schwarzenegger played a cop named John Kimble in the movie “Kindergarten Cop.” The movie was about Kimble and his partner, a woman named Phoebe O’Hara, played by Pamela Reed, who were sent to a small town school to find and protect the ex-wife and son of a drug dealer. The drug dealer thought his ex-wife had stolen millions of dollars from him and was trying to locate her to get it back. He also wanted custody of his son. The plan was to put Phoebe, who was a former teacher, into the kindergarten class to discover which of the boys might be the drug dealer’s son, but Phoebe got the stomach flu and could not teach.
So, they sent John Kimble into the classroom instead. Imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Kindergarten teacher! You might think that the children would be completely overwhelmed by such a presence, but the movie played it the other way. Kimble did not know how to deal with a room of screaming little children. He left the room briefly and by the time he returned the were screaming, running around willy nilly, destroying the classroom; the room was in total chaos. The school principal didn’t do anything to help because she was sure it would make him quit in a short period of time. He walked in, shocked by how quickly it got out of control and then he exploded. He suddenly screamed, at the top of his lungs, “SHUT UP!” And then he yelled it a few more times. It got the children’s attention, but then they all started to cry. He found a way to calm the situation and he eventually figured out how to be a good teacher. He also managed to catch the bad guy, save the damsel in distress, and protect the boy from harm. In the end, he retired from the police force and took the job of Kindergarten teacher which the principal happily offered him.
Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that you didn’t know how you would go on? Do you ever feel like screaming because things are so out of control? I think we can all say that we have been stressed over the past few months for many different reasons. For some it even seems like God is nowhere to be found. The psalms are filled with prayers of people making outcries to God, “How long?” they ask. This is generally understood to mean “Enough is enough. It is time for you to do something!” This is probably how the servant of the man of God felt in today’s scripture passage.
John Kimble may not have had back up in the classroom or in the case, since his partner was sick, but we are not in the same position. We are reminded by Elisha that there is no reason for us to fear. God has not abandoned us in our struggles and stress. He is working in ways we simply do not understand and that we can’t see. Perhaps we should pray, “Lord, open our eyes,” although I’m not sure that we would be calmed by the sight of an army of flaming chariots. We can open the eyes of our hearts and trust that God is there, that He is doing something, even if we can’t see it with our eyes.
“When they came down to him, Elisha prayed to Yahweh, and said, ‘Please strike this people with blindness.’ He struck them with blindness according to Elisha’s word. Elisha said to them, ‘This is not the way, neither is this the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.’ He led them to Samaria. When they had come into Samaria, Elisha said, ‘Yahweh, open these men’s eyes, that they may see.’ Yahweh opened their eyes, and they saw; and behold, they were in the middle of Samaria. The king of Israel said to Elisha, when he saw them, ‘My father, shall I strike them? Shall I strike them?’ He answered, ‘You shall not strike them. Would you strike those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master.’ He prepared a great feast for them. When they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. So the bands of Syria stopped raiding the land of Israel.” 2 Kings 6:18-23, WEB
The scriptures tell us how to deal with those who hurt us. Turn the other cheek. Walk the extra mile. A soft answer turns away wrath. Bless those who persecute you. This seems impossible for us to believe. How could God ask us to do these things?
I was reading a story about a young minister who did missionary work. He was in Mexico when he met a young woman. She was only 19 years old and had been a sex slave for ten years because she was sold to a cartel as collateral for her parents’ late rent, and when she was too old and sick to be valuable she was dumped in the trash. Her parents had not yet finished paying the debt, so this missionary collected enough money from his team to pay it off and set her free.
It is a natural human response to such evil to get angry and to want revenge. Another story I read was about a man who was waiting in a gas line in the 70’s when there were severe gas shortages, and the man had been a line so long that he ran out of gas. As he pushed his car toward the gas pump, a young lady in the car behind him cut him off and jumped the line. It turned out that they had the same kind of car; the only difference was their gas cap. His was lockable, hers was not. So when she was in the station paying for her gas, he switched gas caps and kept the key so she could not pump her gas. This act of revenge might make us laugh, but we know that the scriptures tell us that we should not seek retribution. Turn the other cheek. Walk the extra mile. A soft answer turns away wrath. Bless those who persecute you. It is hard to live this life, but it is the life we are meant to live. Jesus was an example for us, and we are called to follow Him in this very hard path.
Today’s scripture is a follow-up to yesterday’s story. Elisha and his servant were surrounded by Syrians. The servant was afraid until Elisha told him to trust God. Elisha prayed for the servant’s eyes to be opened so that he could see the army of God surrounding them. The Syrians had surrounded Elisha because he was ruining their war plans. Every time they made a decision to try to attack the king of Israel, the word got out and the king was able to avoid the confrontation. The king of Syria thought someone in his camp was a traitor, but his servants said it was the man of God. So, the Syrian king went to destroy Elisha.
Elisha was threatened, and he had the army of God in his power, but he did not have the army attack or kill the Syrians. Instead, he blinded them to recognizing him, and led them to the place where Israel was waiting. When they arrived in Samaria, Elisha prayed that their eyes would be open, and the army saw that they were in trouble. The king of Israel was ready to get vengeance for the years of border skirmishes that had harmed his people. Instead, Elisha told the king to treat the army as honored guests and then to let them go. The act of kindness changed the situation. The story ends with, “So the bands of Syria stopped raiding the land of Israel.”
There are many reasons we have to feel anger. It is natural that we would want to seek revenge. However, we are reminded by this story, by Jesus’ example, and by His commands, that we should not seek vengeance. A negative plus a negative will never make a positive. Our kind actions may not work; we may suffer further at the hands of our enemy. As Christians, it is up to us to be the example, to live the life that models goodness and light. It isn’t easy. We want revenge. We want the even out the playing field. But we have an army that surrounds us, God’s army, and He knows what He is doing. The solution to our problem might just be honoring our enemy and letting them go. And even if it isn’t, we know that God will make all things right in the end.
“I heard, and my body trembled. My lips quivered at the voice. Rottenness enters into my bones, and I tremble in my place, because I must wait quietly for the day of trouble, for the coming up of the people who invade us. For though the fig tree doesn’t flourish, nor fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive fails, the fields yield no food; the flocks are cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in Yahweh. I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! Yahweh, the Lord, is my strength. He makes my feet like deer’s feet, and enables me to go in high places.” Habakkuk 3:16-18, WEB
Barbara Taylor Bradford tells the story of a time at the beach when she saw a sea turtle. The turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, and then they return to the sea. This mother had come ashore in the evening, but she went in the wrong direction after she laid her eggs. Instead of being in the cool ocean, Barbara found the turtle on the hot dunes dying. She soaked the turtle with water and gave it some food to eat, then called a park ranger for help. The park ranger came with a truck, turned the turtle upside down and dragged her through the sand to the ocean. It must have been a harrowing experience for the turtle, sand in her mouth and eyes and frightened about what would happen. She had no control. But when the waves of the ocean began to pour over her body, she revived and swam away. As Barbara watched the turtle go away she thought about the terrible ride to the sea. She realized that sometimes it is hard for us to know whether we are being saved or killed by the hands that turn our lives upside down.
Do you ever feel like that sea turtle? Have you ever felt like you are being dragged through the sand on your back to some unknown fate? The Israelites certainly knew what that was like. The wilderness experience after Egypt left the people wondering if they would ever stop wandering around the desert. There were other times when Israel turned from the LORD. He used her enemies to conquer them so that they would turn to Him and remember the blessings of His love. God was never far from His people even when they were in exile, but those times were never pleasant. They must have felt just like that turtle, afraid of the salvation they didn’t understand. Even as they were dragged through the muck of war, God’s promises gave them hope.
We do not always know why we are going through rough times. God uses all our experiences to help us to grow, to draw us closer to His heart, and to remake us into the people He has created us to be. Sometimes we have taken a wrong turn like the turtle who went toward the dune rather than the ocean. Sometimes God knows it is the best time for a lesson we need to learn. Sometimes we simply run into situations that are beyond our control. No matter how we come to those times of trouble, we can rest in the knowledge that God is with us through it all.
How do you face challenging times? The thing that struck me about Barbara’s account is that the turtle never fought the ranger as he did those horrible things to her. She let him turn her over, tie her feet and drag her through the sand. She was exhausted, nearly dead, so perhaps she had no fight left. But isn’t that how it is for us? We usually fight until we finally reach the end of our rope and then we give it up to God. We try to solve our problems; we turn to all the wrong sources for help. It is only when we have nowhere left to go that we turn to the Lord our God. It is then when we discover that He was with us all along, reaching out with His mercy and love to save us from everything that threatens us, including ourselves.
“Listen, my son, and receive my sayings. The years of your life will be many. I have taught you in the way of wisdom. I have led you in straight paths. When you go, your steps will not be hampered. When you run, you will not stumble. Take firm hold of instruction. Don’t let her go. Keep her, for she is your life. Don’t enter into the path of the wicked. Don’t walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, and don’t pass by it. Turn from it, and pass on. For they don’t sleep unless they do evil. Their sleep is taken away, unless they make someone fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the righteous is like the dawning light that shines more and more until the perfect day. The way of the wicked is like darkness. They don’t know what they stumble over.” Proverbs 4:10-19, WEB
I had a friend who had a troublesome son. The young man was having problems with his vehicle and started begging for a new one. He had abused his car, driving it hundreds of miles every day without taking care of the routine maintenance that would keep it running properly. He was spending a fortune on gasoline and was unable to make his payments. He begged, borrowed, and pleaded for money from his parents and grandparents. He looked to them for help.
They were frustrated by his lack of responsibility. It was all a game to him, it seemed. They tried to tell him for months that he was going to be in trouble because no vehicle can take that kind of abuse. They warned him that it would be his problem the next time it broke down. Eventually the car did need expensive repairs and he did not know what to do. He couldn’t afford a new one himself, but the old one was going to make getting to and from work very difficult. His parents refuse to help him. The wisdom they had tried to teach him went unheeded and buying a new car would only make him continue on his current path.
We try to teach our children the right way to go, and sometimes we are blessed that they follow. It is important that they find their independence and their voice when the grow up, but they sometimes ignore or reject the wisdom we’ve tried to teach. They go their own way, following paths that are not right and good. We all have moments when we do foolish things, especially when we are young. As parents, we can only hope that they will learn the lessons we teach and eventually get on the right path.
Teaching wisdom is not easy, but it is our responsibility to do what we can to lead our children down a good path. We can only pray that our children will listen and learn. All too often the lessons will be understood only after experience shows them that we are telling them the truth. Sometimes they have to live without a car for a season.
We must teach, however, and pray that they will listen to the wisdom of this proverb. A blessed life comes from walking in wisdom. Going in the ways of wickedness will cause us to stumble and we often do not even know what it is that making us fall. My friend’s son lived under the impression that somehow money grows on trees. They could not waste money at the time because my friend was experiencing financial difficulties and was looking for a job. His son needed to learn how to live within his means. It takes a strong will for parents to let our children to learn the lessons the hard way.
The lessons of wisdom are not just for our children. We have to listen to wisdom and learn how to walk in the light so that we will not stumble and fall in the ways of wickedness. The path of wisdom is an ever growing light, that light being Jesus Christ our Lord. We grow in faith and knowledge of Him through prayer and the study of God’s Word, day by day the way we should go becomes brighter and easier to see.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 14, 2020, Second Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus 19:2-8; Psalm 100; Romans 5:6-15; Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-20)
“For Yahweh is good. His loving kindness endures forever, his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100:5, WEB
I reached Psalm 100 in my study of the psalms last night. It was a welcome relief. Some of the psalms are very heavy, even depressing, especially from our New Testament point of view. Of course, we read them from our point of view, and I’ve come to understand those laments and imprecations much more as I’ve looked at the songs in a new way, but I was very glad to finally reach a series of happy psalms. Some of the psalms in the 90’s are very familiar to us; the words are found in the music we sing today. I found myself humming some of the old Vacation Bible School songs as I worked through those texts.
Unfortunately, many of our churches have had to cancel Vacation Bible School or replace it with something virtual. Our church has teamed with four others in town and they are all preparing a week of at home activities that are being shared with all four churches. Each week a different set of plans are sent to the congregation, then people are asked to share photos or thoughts on the Facebook pages. Though I don’t have children, I have played along a few days. One of the activities has to do with music. Each day there is an assignment to find a song on Youtube and listen to it as a family. These are not necessarily the typical VBS songs, but they are songs that speak to the message of the day.
The songs we teach to children about faith are simple, easy to remember, and have catchy tunes so the children learn them quickly. Those same songs often drive the mothers crazy the rest of the day because they are so catchy that the children sing them over and over again.
Music is a wonderful way to learn. When we were little children, we learned so many things through music. Sesame Street taught, and still teaches, valuable life lessons through the song. Which child did not learn their letters by singing the Alphabet Song? Every child in Sunday school learned about the love of God with the classic, “Jesus loves me.” Music is not only fun, but it also writes the words and ideas upon our hearts. They become so much a part of us that we find ourselves humming our favorite songs or hymns as we go about our daily task. The music in our soul keeps us close to the things we love.
The story is told about a famous theologian who, after giving a lengthy presentation on Christianity, was approached by a reporter who asked him to summarize his lecture. The professor thought a moment, and then said, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” There are times when such simple words express more than elaborate dissertations on theology ever could. These simple and familiar words come from the song “Jesus Loves Me,” written by Anna Bartlett Warner. The song was written by Anna as a poem for inclusion in one of her sister Susan’s books and was set to music by William Bradbury. Anna was a Bible study teacher at the Academy at West point and shared the song with her students. The cadets were often heard singing it on campus. Who would have thought that such a simple song could become such a powerful witness of God’s grace?
So, as I read the psalms for my study, I thought about all those old Sunday school songs. I can hear us singing “I’ve got the joy down in my heart” and “Enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart.” These songs remind us of the joy of living in a relationship with God, of being joyful in His presence. It is in the power of music that we are able to remember the simplest, but most important, things about God. He has written His Word on our hearts, and we can easily reach for those words in the songs that we hold dear. In our singing or humming or words of praise, we keep God close to us, remembering His truth and sharing them with the world.
The best part of Psalm 100 is that it is the Gospel message. The psalmist invites the whole world, all nations, to enter the sanctuary of God to praise their Creator and Shepherd. It is a universal psalm that looks forward to the day when everyone will acknowledge the Lord and confess His Holy name. This is not a confession just from the head and mouth, but it is about living a life of thanksgiving. It is true that not everyone lives by this today, but we are called to go out into the world to share the Gospel message with others, to invite them into God’s sanctuary to join us in singing His praise. The Lord is good, His covenant love is forever, and it is for everyone.
This is why Jesus sent the disciples into the world. Of course, in today’s Gospel lesson, the disciples were still a small group and they were still babies in this new and different faith. The lesson begins at the end of chapter nine, and it is the first time we see the list of the twelve specifically mentioned. Up to this point, Matthew has reported about Jesus’ birth, early life, baptism, and temptation. He has described the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He has given us the Sermon on the Mount, which is a description of what it means to be a Christian in the world. In chapters eight and nine, Matthew reports about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the amazing things that He was doing in the world.
Then Jesus told the disciples, “The harvest indeed is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” The Twelve were the first, but the work would require so many more.
Matthew writes, “Now the names of the twelve apostles are these. The first, Simon, who is called Peter; Andrew, his brother; James the son of Zebedee; John, his brother; Philip; Bartholomew; Thomas; Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus; Lebbaeus, who was also called Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.” These were the men who were closest to Jesus. There were other disciples, others who followed Jesus from the beginning. They were also sent into the world. Luke tells of a second mission when seventy-two went to share the Kingdom of God with the nations.
There is an order to Matthew’s list. Peter is listed first and we know from the scriptures that Peter was the one chosen to lead the other disciples after Jesus was gone. The book of Acts tells of amazing works of power. Peter raised the dead and healed the sick, signs of his authority to do what God called and gifted him to do. Andrew, Peter’s brother, is a key character in the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry. Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus. Andrew was also a disciple of great faith who handed Jesus a small boy’s lunch as a way to feed thousands of people. Next are listed James and John. They were part of Jesus’ inner circle and were present with Him at the transfiguration and are part of other key moments. Philip, Bartholomew and Thomas are mentioned in the Gospels. Matthew is identified as a publican or tax collector. We know little about the second James, Thaddeus and the second Simon. Judas Iscariot is the betrayer.
Jesus gave the disciples the power to heal and the authority to do His work. These words are very similar but they are different. When we look at Matthew the tax collector, we see that in his vocation he had power and authority. The power was in being able to collect the taxes. It takes a certain talent to get people to give their money to the rulers, and Matthew seemed to do well at their job. He also had authority to do it, which was given to him by the Romans. He had power, the ability to do the job, but he could not have done it on his own. I doubt the Roman government would have stood for a guy collecting taxes without the authority, especially since a freelance publican is not likely to give his take to the government.
Matthew not only had the power to collect taxes, he had the authority to do so. The Roman government gave Matthew the right to exercise his power. Roman authority made his claim of vocation legitimate. The disciples not only had the power to heal the sick and cast out unclean spirits, they also had the authority that Jesus gave them which came directly from God. That authority continued to be passed from generation to generation through God’s Word and the Holy Spirit.
The twelve apostles would never be enough to continue the work of Jesus Christ in the world. The mission on which Jesus sent them in today’s story was just the beginning. They were just learning how to be His messengers, how to use the power, and how to handle the authority. They had so much more to learn and Jesus would spend years teaching them. For that moment, however, it was just twelve men going out into the world to share the Kingdom of God with others. Jesus said, “Pray therefore that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into his harvest.” Even today we need more people to share in the work of Christ. The world gets bigger even as it gets smaller. There are more and more opportunities to take the Gospel to others, and never enough laborers. It isn’t an easy task, but God gives all that is necessary. Then He calls us, as He called the apostles, to share freely all that He has given.
Jesus sent the disciples into the world with nothing. They were not to take extra money or clothing, not even an extra set of shoes. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time packing light for even a weekend excursion. I take everything I need so that I’ll be prepared. The apostles were commanded to trust God. They were expected to enjoy the hospitality of the people in the towns they were visiting, staying in one place for a time so that they could meet and teach the villagers. I know people have traveled this way for thousands of years, but I can’t imagine not knowing where I will sleep or find a meal on my journey. They didn’t have a LaQuinta or McDonald’s every few miles.
The disciples were sent on this first missionary adventure and told not to force themselves on anyone. If they were not welcomed, they were not to stay. Jesus said, “Shake the dust off your feet.” Remember, these were new disciples, not yet trained. This story gives us confidence to know that Jesus doesn’t expect us to do work we are not yet trained to do. They had power and authority, but they did not yet have everything they needed to fight the spiritual battles they would face.
He assured them that there would be consequences for the rejection. “It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.” This does not seem very merciful. However, we have to remember that this was a training mission. The disciples, though gifted and authorized, were inexperienced. How could they convince people when they were not really familiar with everything Jesus would teach them? Unfortunately, those who reject the disciples might not have the chance to hear the good news again.
The work would not be easy. Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves.” Some people will not only reject them, some might even threaten them. The people were often afraid after Jesus did miraculous things, like the time he sent the demons into the pigs. Jesus was able to get through those tough times, but the disciples might not have had the faith to do so. It was better for them to leave the places where people rejected them than to face spiritual, emotional and physical harm. Jesus said, “Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” They were not being sent into the world to be hard or harsh; wisdom sometimes means leaving unbelievers behind.
Though the work they were being called to do was difficult, Jesus reminded them the source of their power and their authority. He encouraged them to not be anxious because God would give them the words to speak. It is His Gospel that is spoken through His disciples. The same is true for us today. Sharing the Kingdom of God is not something we can do by our own power. It is His power that brings healing and restoration. He approves those whom He calls and gives them (us) the authority to do the work. He speaks through us. The word that saves is His. When we face those tough times, we need not worry for God is with us. We have a job to do, we are priests in the Kingdom of God.
The purpose of priests was often different in the ancient religions. Take Egypt, for instance. The priests of ancient Egypt did not serve the people. They did not preach or teach. They did not act as doctors or judges. They were set apart to meet their god’s every need, from sun-up to sun-down. At the break of day, the Egyptian priests sang a hymn calling their god to awake for the day. The priests then opened the sanctuary door, the place where their god slept, and said a prayer over the image of the god so as to bring it back to life again. The god’s image was bathed, anointed and purified. Linen clothes were removed and fresh garments were put on the image. The sanctuary was cleansed with incense. Perfumes and cosmetics were applied to the image. Food was laid out for the god. The sanctuary was sprinkled with water, natron (which is a salt mixture harvested from dry lake beds,) and resin. The doors were closed and sealed. This ritual happened three times a day. The priests spent their lives serving the physical needs of the god of their temple.
We see God from a much different perspective. Our God does not need to be aroused in the morning. He does not need to be cleansed and clothed. He does not need meals laid at His feet or baths of water, natron and resin. We do not give God anything because everything we have is His.
Our Old Testament lesson is from the story of the Exodus and we see the Hebrews at the end of a journey. It is just the beginning, but they had just arrived at the base of Mount Sinai. They finally met the God that had redeemed them out of Egypt. He was the God of their forefathers, but they had lost touch with Him. They had nothing to instruct them in the way they should go, only the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even Joseph’s memory had been lost to the people after four hundred years of living in that foreign land.
Moses went up on the mountain to speak with the LORD. God answered, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples; for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
This is what is called a “suzerain-vassal covenant.” It is a promise by a greater party that is dependent on the actions of the lesser party. In other words, it is an “if, then” covenant. If Israel will be obedient to the Law, then they will live under the guardianship of the LORD their King. Many of the ancient kingdoms were like this: the king owned the land and the fortress. If the vassals wished to be protected in time of war and danger, they had to be invited inside the walls of that castle. Since all was owned by the king, the people even needed him for their daily bread. If they wanted food to eat and a place to sleep, then they had to obey the law of the land. This is the type of covenant that was established between God and Israel at the foot of Mt. Sinai.
Moses took the message of God to the people. “If you obey, you will be His people and He will care for you.” They eagerly agreed. “All that Yahweh has spoken we will do.” Yet, we know that the Bible shows us that they could not keep that covenant. They often turned from God; they even did so while Moses was getting the Law! They created a golden calf and bowed down in worship to that god while Moses was in the presence of the true God. The god of the idol, like the gods of those Egyptian priests, could never have taken them out of Egypt. They thought Moses was dead and returned to the life they knew. Sometimes following God means having to wait, trust, and suffer. We’d rather have control of our own life. We’d rather pack everything we need for the journey so that we will be prepared. We try to use our own power even though we are really powerless.
God promised that His people would be a Kingdom of priests if they kept His covenant. This was not a priesthood like those in Egypt, although the priests of God do serve Him. They would serve Him, however, by serving others. They were His treasured possession, blessed to be a blessing to the world. Unfortunately, they forgot their calling and let others act as priests, mediators between God and man. Modern Christians still set aside certain people to do very specific work of God. Yet, the promise in today’s Old Testament is still meant for us. Peter applied that same promise to Christians in his first letter (1 Peter 2:5) called to serve God as His priesthood and to dwell in this world as a holy nation.
That’s what the disciples were sent to do on that first missionary journey. They were to serve God by sharing His grace with those who would listen. They had the power to heal and the authority to invite others into the Kingdom of God, into the sanctuary to sign praise and thanksgiving to the God who is Creator and Shepherd. We follow in their footsteps and do the same.
It is not hard to see the appropriateness of today’s Psalm since it is a song of thanksgiving and joy. It is the song we should sing each day, no matter what we face in our journey of life. We prepare when we travel in our world today: we plan our trip, decide what to pack, and reserve hotel rooms. We do this because the nature of hospitality is different in our world today. Yet, when it comes to matters of faith, when it comes to sharing the Gospel, we are called to live as they did: trusting in God to provide all we need, sharing everything freely because we have received it freely.
None of us are perfect. We fail and we suffer the consequences of our failure. We make mistakes, but faith brings us through our times of suffering, as we persevere through tough times with God’s promises as our firm foundation. We will break our promises. We will even break our promises to God. Yet, we can trust that God will be faithful through the rough times; He will give us all we need to be the priests of His Kingdom, to be His holy nation. We have reason to shout for joy and sing songs of thanksgiving, drawing from those simple songs that have been written on our hearts, those powerful witnesses to God’s Good News that He has called us to take to the whole world.
“But Saul increased more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived at Damascus, proving that this is the Christ. When many days were fulfilled, the Jews conspired together to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They watched the gates both day and night that they might kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall, lowering him in a basket. When Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join himself to the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.” Acts 9:22-27, WEB
We often think of the Bible characters were strangers who were brought together by the charismatic nature of Jesus. We read some of the stories and are amazed that these people would drop their own lives to accommodate Jesus’ commands. However, as we put together the story, we discover that it is not so much a miraculous gathering of strangers, but a transformation of community into something new. Let’s take, for instance, Barnabas whose feast day is today.
The author of the Gospel of mark was a young man named whose mother Mary had a home in Jerusalem with a large upper room. It was to this room that Peter returned after being released from prison in Jerusalem. Herod, who was concerned about the growth of this new religion and who was anxious to keep the Jews happy, had arrested Peter after the killing of James, the brother of John was received so well by Jews. An angel of the Lord appeared to Peter in prison and set him free. The angel led Peter out of the prison, but Peter thought he was experiencing a vision. When he realized that what was happening was real, he went to the home of Mary where many people had gathered for prayer. (Acts 12:12) This room had been very important to the ministry of Jesus Christ during His final days.
Mary had a nephew named Barnabas who was an early leader in the church. Barnabas is described as “a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” His name means “Son of Encouragement.” (Acts 4:36) He is reported to have made a donation of funds to the new Christian church after the sale of some property. (Acts 4:37) He was probably among the seventy sent by Jesus ahead of Him to every town and place. (Luke 10:1) He was probably with the disciples in the upper room for the Last Supper.
So, Jesus may have known Mary through His relationship with Barnabas. When Peter and John (Luke 22:11) were sent to make preparations for the Passover meal, the homeowner was very accommodating and had the room ready for them. Perhaps Jesus made arrangements through Barnabas to use his aunt’s house for the meal. There is some conjecture in this line of thought, but there are enough connections in the scriptures between these characters to consider the possibilities. Besides, we know that Mary’s home became a gathering place for those first Christians. Wouldn’t it make sense that they returned to the place where they’d last eaten a meal with Jesus? They needed a safe place to hide after the crucifixion and a place to pray after the ascension. (Acts 1:13) Jesus appeared to the disciples in this room on the night of the resurrection. Since Mary was an early believer, she knew Jesus personally and may have been a disciple; she welcomed Jesus and His followers into her Jerusalem home from the very beginning. That is probably where they spent much of their time during the forty days after the resurrection.
John Mark eventually traveled with his cousin Barnabas and the Apostle Paul. Barnabas and Saul/Paul were teachers in Antioch, where Barnabas was the leader and Saul’s mentor. (Acts 13:1) They were sent by the Holy Spirit to Cyprus (Barnabas was from Cyprus) to share the Good News with the people there. John Mark traveled with them. (Acts 13:2) Saul, whose name became Paul at this time, was beginning to take over the leadership of the group. When they left Paphos and went to Perga in Pamphylia, John Mark left them to return to Jerusalem. Was John Mark upset that his cousin Barnabas was being pushed aside? We don’t know why John Mark left, but whatever happened, John Mark’s abandonment of the mission upset Paul and he later refused to take John Mark with him on his second missionary journey. That decision caused Barnabas to leave Paul. (Acts 15:39)
Despite an argument and separation, it is obvious that Barnabas had a very real impact on Paul’s life and ministry. In today’s passage from Acts, Luke tells us that Paul’s preaching had gotten the attention of the leaders in Jerusalem and they were cynical because he had been so zealous against the Christians. They were afraid that he was trying to destroy the Church from the inside. Barnabas recognized that Paul’s ministry was not man-made and he testified for Paul before the leaders. Barnabas mentored Paul as they ministered together for a long time, helping him to grow into the apostle that changed the world. We celebrate Barnabas’s life today and look to him as a model of encouragement. He may seem like he was just a minor character in the story of Jesus, but he was central to the relationships between Jesus and the people who would follow Him in ministry.
“Soon afterwards, he went to a city called Nain. Many of his disciples, along with a great multitude, went with him. Now when he came near to the gate of the city, behold, one who was dead was carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. Many people of the city were with her. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said to her, ‘Don’t cry.’ He came near and touched the coffin, and the bearers stood still. He said, ‘Young man, I tell you, arise!’ He who was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.” Luke 7:11-15, WEB
Jesus was in Nain and saw a funeral procession for a man who had died. The man was the only son of a widow and her grief was for more than just the loss of her child. As a widow, she was left alone which meant she was as good as dead without someone to provide for her needs. Jesus had compassion for her, told her not to week, and then touched the bier that held the dead man. His life was restored.
Two things stand out for me in this story. First of all, Jesus did this miracle in public. Many of Jesus’ miracles were done behind closed doors, out of the public eye. It is not that Jesus wanted to hide God’s power from the world, but He knew that the people would be drawn to the miracles rather than the Word. The other thing that I noticed is that the widow never asked for Jesus’ help. He saw her and decided to do something. In the NIV translation, verse 13 reads, “His heart went out to her.” He had compassion on her in a very real and life-changing way. He went out of His way to help her, even stepping over the boundaries of proper social etiquette and the religious rules of the day. We hear the phrase “our hearts go out to them,” so often these days. It is a way of saying that we will pray for someone who has suffered some sort of loss. Unfortunately, that’s often where our compassion ends.
One of the things I have been doing during the lock-down is to have a “Kindness Corner” for the neighbors as they pass by on their daily walks. I have put our little surprises and left pen and paper for my neighbors to leave prayer requests. Some of my neighbors have shared some very real problems on those papers, including a woman who needed a job. She came back just days later to report that she found one.
Just the other day I received a prayer request that broke my heart about which I struggled. A man left his name and phone number. He needed help. He had an addiction to pain medication and he needed to find a church. My heart when out to him, but to call a total stranger was a little frightening. I knew, however, that it was not enough to say that my heart when out to him or that I would pray. It was not enough to take that piece of paper and hang it on my wall with all the others. I did a little research and then called him. I did not have the resources to help him, but I could offer some suggestions. I did what I could and I promised to pray.
When our “hearts go out to others” it should be more than a passive feeling of compassion. We are called by faith to reach out and touch the dead, to bring healing and peace to those in need. This is not about bringing attention to ourselves. Our ministries might give us credibility and bring attention to what we have to say, but it is God’s Word that will change lives and bring life to this dying world. We are called to manifest the kingdom of God in very real ways, to touch the untouchable, to have compassion in a very real and life-changing ways. It is up to us to be like Christ in this world, willing to step up to make a difference and to glorify God.
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and humility, with patience, bearing with one another in love, being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, even as you also were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all, and in us all. But to each one of us, the grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” Ephesians 4:1-7, WEB
Pastor Jack Hayford was once quoted as saying, “Yes, we are all a part of the whole body of Christ, but as Israel camped around the Tabernacle in tribes, so we need to, every once in a while, be with our tribe and accept the ministry given to our tribes.” The tribes of Israel began with the sons of Jacob. In Genesis 49, Jacob blessed his sons, a speech that defined the unique character and fate of each tribe. As the story of Israel unfolds in the Bible, we find that these blessings are true. The descendents of Jacob fulfill the blessings, most notably is the rule of Judah from whom “the scepter will not depart.”
Each tribe had a purpose and was given the gifts and personality to fulfill God’s will for them. Together, Israel was complete but they suffered greatly when they were divided. In the later years, there were two kingdoms and two kings. Under this separation, the Israelites were attacked, exiled and dispersed, never to be whole again. The people turned from God, and were left with the consequences of their sin. However, God our Father is merciful and filled with such love that He sent our Lord Jesus Christ to draw His people back to Him. Jesus brought forgiveness and reconciliation that was not possible through the blood of animals sacrificed in the temple.
The Jews in the days of Jesus were looking for a worldly Messiah, a king who would reunite the Israelites and make them a whole nation once again. However, God’s intent had nothing to do with worldly rule. He wanted His people to be reunited with Him, whole and holy as He created them to be. For this purpose, Jesus suffered death on the cross, taking upon Himself the sins of the whole world. He was the perfect sacrificial lamb. This was not enough to complete the redemptive process. God desired that we have more than just a life in this world forgiven of our sin. He wanted us to have a personal relationship with Him, not just for today but for eternity. So, our Lord Jesus Christ was raised from death into new life and we are given the hope of eternal life when we live in Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit. God our Father, who loves us with a love that is beyond our comprehension, binds us - all Christians - together by this gift.
The Israelites were bound together by the promise of God in the days of our forefathers. As Christians we are also bound together by a promise. Theirs was for the Promised Land, ours is for eternal life. They had the hope that one day they would be one nation under God. Our hope is in Christ.
In Israel, each tribe was unique and God used their individuality for His Glory. Christians also have unique personalities and purposes, not only as individuals but also as tribes or denominations. Will we follow the path of Israel and separate by choosing to follow earthly kings or will we rejoice together as we follow the King of Glory? Today, let us share in that one hope we all confess, the hope of eternal life in Christ. Be at peace with one another and bear with each other in love. Do all things for the glory of the One who loved you so much that He gave everything so that you might have every blessing He desires to give.
“Therefore subject yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether to the king, as supreme; or to governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evildoers and for praise to those who do well. For this is the will of God, that by well-doing you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God.” 1 Peter 2:13-16, WEB
When I began writing yesterday’s message, I was trying to focus on our individual callings in the world. God made a perfect machine and gifted each one of us with the tools necessary for the job He has for us to do. We run into trouble when we try to make people be a cog when they are meant to be a gear. God is able to use our individuality for His glory. When all the pieces are in place, the machine of the Church works well. Unfortunately, we all too often try to fit people in the wrong places, forcing squares into round holes, not respecting and honoring the work they are called to do by insisting that they do the work we want them to do.
See, we think our focus is the best, the right one, without realizing that someone else sees the world through a different lens. We might think they are selfish or misguided because they are not doing or saying what we think needs to be done or said, without realizing that God has something else for them to do or say.
I have heard it said in the wake of the protests and riots that have happened in the past few weeks that silence is complicity. It has even said that silence is violence. I have not personally made any public proclamations about what is happening. My point of view is best visualized by several memes I’ve seen that say it is ok to believe that not all blacks are criminals, not all whites are racist, not all cops are bad. In everything there is good and bad. My focus has not so much been about the worldly issues facing us, but that we are in a spiritual battle. When I raise my voice, it is to turn to God and to seek His help to make things right in the world. This not to say that there should not be voices crying for true justice; we need another Martin Luther King, Jr. right now. Sometimes, however, silence is necessary from those who do not have the gift so that those who are called can be heard.
Some will say that I’m being complicit because I’m not out on the streets screaming for change. The problem with so many of the protesters is that they do not even know what they are fighting for. It is even worse for the rioters. The people in these neighborhoods deserve a safe place to live, grocery stores where they can buy food for their children, and schools that provide an education that promises a better future. These people need resources to help them overcome the real problems in their families. Just as some businesses are beginning to open after being closed because of the virus, they are being destroyed by people who don’t really care what will happen to the people in those neighborhoods. That means lost jobs and less access to the things they need.
I have noticed a lot of people who are making posts on the Facebook pages showing their support for the protests. Of course, there are an equal number of people making posts showing their disdain for what is happening in our streets. The thing I don’t see is anyone really making a difference for the people who are suffering in the wake of everything that has been happening. Too many of these posts are being used as proof that they care, but they aren’t making a difference to the people who really need justice.
Many people have been making donations to pay to get the rioters out of jail, but did they ever consider using their money to make a difference in these neighborhoods before all this happened? Did they help rebuild housing that is not fit for human habitation? Did they encourage businesses to move into these neighborhoods to give jobs to locals? Did they even once think about the children suffering from child abuse? There are some good souls that are helping clean up, but will they be there later to mentor the children who have suffered through this disaster? Most people who live in these neighborhoods are trying to make a better life for themselves, but they face more problems from the “activists” than they do from an “enemy” like me.
Silence may be complicity, but silence may sometimes be the best response. First of all, we listen better when we are not talking. Also, sometimes the best way we can speak is with action. I don’t totally agree with St. Francis’ statement, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” because the Gospel needs to be spoken for people to believe, but when it comes to dealing with what’s happening in our world today, perhaps we should be talking less and doing more. In the spiritual battle we face, the devil wants us to out on the streets yelling at each other and making worthless posts on Facebook; he knows that love, kindness, and real action will win the battle against evil.
Justice will not be won with words, but will be won when real change happens in the neighborhoods of those suffering the most. With proper housing, access to food, jobs, and good education, those neighborhoods will benefit and our children grow up ready and able to do what God has gifted and called them to do. By acting we might just silence the anger and encourage very real change in our world.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 21, 2020, Third Sunday after Pentecost: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 91:1-10 (11-16); Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:5a, 21-33
“Being made free from sin, you became bondservants of righteousness.” Romans 6:18, WEB
Henry VIII did not like to hear bad news. The people he kept close were never willing to tell him the truth if they thought it might make him angry. Most people learn not to punish the messenger for an unwanted message, but not Henry. Men and women were cast out of his court when he did not like what they had to say. Some were even executed because they brought news that made Henry unhappy. The people in His court learned quickly never to say something that he would not like.
The people of Israel in Jeremiah’s time were much like Henry VIII. They preferred good news. The prophets of the day learned quickly that they would do much better if they gave the people, especially the kings and leaders, words that they wanted to hear. If they thought the king wanted peace, they spoke of peace as if it were coming right from the mouth of God. If they thought the king wanted to go to war, they promised that God was behind the war and that they would be victorious.
Jeremiah had no good news for the people. As a matter of fact, the words which God had given him to speak were hard for the people to hear. The words were so hard that Jeremiah was persecuted. It is impossible for a man to speak such truth when there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of prophets speaking something different. The loudest voices often override any other sound, including the truth. We like to assume that the truth is found in the numbers. Surely the majority would be right? But that is not always true when it comes to God’s word.
Jeremiah surely had no idea how hard it would be when God called him to be a prophet. It would have been so much easier for him to be a prophet like all the others, preaching words that tickle the ears of the kings, leaders, and people. Jeremiah was upset with God, even to the point of blaspheme. Some translations suggest that God persuaded or enticed the prophet in the first line of today’s Old Testament lesson. Most versions, however, translate it “O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived,” (ESV) Perhaps Jeremiah was expecting the job of prophet to be an easy one. Yet, despite Jeremiah’s hard words against God, he still had faith. Despite the persecution he faced by the world to which he was called to speak, Jeremiah still believed in God’s grace. He really wanted to stop being a prophet, but he knew there was no way he could stop speaking God’s word to the world. In the end, his terror gave way to praise because he knew that whatever God planned would benefit His people in the end.
Jeremiah said, “If I say, I will not make mention of him, or speak any more in his name, then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones. I am weary with holding it in. I can’t.”
We would rather be silent. We identify with Jeremiah’s desire to remain silent. It would be so much easier to live our faith quietly and peacefully. After all, faith is a personal thing, right? In our world of individuality, we all need to let our neighbors believe what they believe. We don’t evangelize because their religious life is none of our business. We know our neighbors do not want to hear that they are sinners in need of a Savior, so we decide not to tell them. We might talk about Jesus, but Jesus is not a Savior unless the people know they are slaves to sin and need His forgiveness.
The Romans understood slavery. As a matter of fact, of all the ancient worlds, the Romans held the most slaves. It was a common practice around the world. Many slaves were taken as prisoners of war and since the Romans were fighters and occupiers, they had many prisoners from vanquished nations who could serve in their homes, businesses and even the army. The highly trained and intelligent slaves were worth the most money and often served as singers, scribes, jewelers and doctors.
Slaves were not only prisoners of war. A man, woman or child could be sold into slavery to pay a debt. Any child born into slavery was automatically a slave. For some, slavery meant a better life than they could ever have lived in freedom. The slaves were usually well cared for, often treated as family. Female slaves were often very close to their mistresses, serving as advisors and confidents as well as servants. Most military men were slaves. Treasurers were often slaves. Slaves served in the mines and in other dangerous jobs. These slaves were often condemned criminals.
Slavery was not a dead end street for many of the slaves in Rome. A slave could be freed by the mercy of the master. Some slaves were given a salary of gifts, and he or she could buy their way out of their slavery with money they have saved. Though they had no rights as citizens, they were acceptable witnesses in court. They were not allowed to enter into public buildings such as the bath house, but were not held prisoner. They had the freedom to move about the city, especially the domestic servants who went to the market and did other errands for the house. The Roman economy depended on slavery, but most of the slaves were well treated and many were able to get out and live as a citizen again.
So, as Paul wrote to the Romans, they understood the concept of slavery. Many of the Christians who heard this letter were probably slaves; there were more slaves in Rome than citizens. Slaves were lesser people; they were at the bottom of the class structure. Christians were also looked down upon since they did not follow the Roman faith. For many slaves, the Christian message was one of hope for even them, one of equality, one of grace. So, slaves found great comfort in Jesus Christ and believed wholeheartedly in the Way.
In some ancient cultures, a freed slave could choose to stay with a master. If such a choice was made, the slave was nailed to the doorway of the master’s house, the nail through the earlobe. This was a statement that the slave chose to stay as part of the household, willingly serving rather than forced to serve. In the freedom of choice, the slave became a servant for life, welcomed by the master as part of his household forever.
Paul tells us that we are slaves. It is a hard concept for most of us to understand, because we never personally experienced any kind of slavery whether in Rome or even our own nation. We are slaves to other things, sometimes foolish things. We are slaves to our jobs, our schedules, our kids’ activities. We are slaves to our habits and our desires. We are slaves to sin, just as those Christians in Rome were slave to their sins.
We, like them, have been set free, however. We no longer need be a slave to sin. We have been given a much better choice, to willingly serve the Lord. We are set free from the bondage of sin and invited to choose to serve a Master that will treat us well. As slaves to sin, we are bound to suffer the consequences of our sin. As slaves to righteousness, we will receive the fruit of His grace. As we live in His household, we grow closer to our Master and are transformed and sanctified into the kind of servant He has ordained us to be.
There was once a commercial for some sort of special water that was designed to keep you healthy. The commercial showed a man take a drink of the water and suddenly realize that he was walking on bubble wrap. The voice over said, “It helps protect your body.” So, the man went around the city doing ridiculous things, things you could not do without the bubble wrap, things that you shouldn’t do anyway. He rolled down a huge set of steps. He jumped into a wall. He rode an elevator to the top of a skyscraper and jumped off. No matter how good the water, it would never save a person from the certain harm of leaping from the top of a very tall building. The water probably has some health advantages, but that does not mean that those who drink it will never suffer pain or dis-ease. A bottle of water might help keep us healthy, but we will all still eventually know pain and death.
Jesus said, “Aren’t two sparrows sold for an assarion coin?[c] Not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.” We have dozens of birds that hang out in our yard. We have bird feeders filled with seed that they love to visit. They spend their days eating and playing in our bushes. It is funny to watch the way they share; they purposely push the seed to the ground so more birds can have some.
Our cats also love to watch. They sit in the window meowing at the birds that gather in the bush and feed from the feeders. They sometimes even come right up to the window as if to say hello. It would be very dangerous for the birds to be so close to the cats, but the window protects them. Unfortunately, the window is also a danger. When the sun is shining and the sky is reflected in the glass, the birds think they can fly in that direction. We hear birds fly against the window several times a day. They usually fly off to safety in a tree until they recover and then quickly come back for more seed.
God knows each time those birds hit my window. He knows their pain and He rejoices when they are able to fly again. Sparrows could be purchased in the marketplace in Jesus’ time for just two for a penny. They were used as food, although a sparrow could not make much of a meal. Human beings were created and charged with the rule of all God’s creation. We are His crown. As Jesus says, “Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.” This does not mean that God will cover the entire world with bubble wrap so that we will not suffer the pain of injury. We might even experience the persecution that comes from those who do not believe in the Lord God, but this is not a sign of abandonment. God is with us through the good times and the bad. He knows every hair on our head. He loves us, the ones who follow Him.
God calls us to be His voice in this world; He sends us to tell people about Jesus and their need for Him. We want to ignore the call, but we can’t. There’s something within us that demands our faithfulness. Can we truly praise God in the privacy of our homes and the comfort of our congregations when He is calling us to go out in the world to speak His Word to those lost in sin and darkness? We might avoid persecution, but are we being faithful and obedient by being silent? We don’t have to be afraid of the persecution. Jesus promised that He would be with us wherever we go until the end of the age.
We are in the season of Pentecost. During the first half of the church year we study the story of God, particularly as manifested in the life of Christ. We experience the birth, ministry, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. We see Him complete His work, ascend to heaven and send the Holy Spirit to the disciples. Now, in Pentecost, we are asked the question, “What are you going to do with this?” What do we do with the gift we have been given? What do we do with the knowledge that has been imparted? Now that the ministry has been handed over to us, where will we go with it?
During the season of Pentecost we read about the ministry of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, watching as Jesus teaches the disciples how to do the work He is calling them to do. In today’s text He told them not to be afraid of those who can cause harm to the body because He can save the soul. Jesus doesn’t wrap us in bubble wrap, but we can go out into the world with the promise that He will not abandon us.
We may suffer for speaking God’s Word into the world. Unfortunately, Christians are being persecuted. Some are being beheaded. Others are losing their children to enemies who kidnap them or governments that take them away. Yet others are having their reputations and businesses destroyed. Churches have been burned. Too many Christians have been led down paths that seem faithful but for the sake of tolerance or acceptance; they do not remain true to God’s Word. Too many have become the prophets who preach warm fuzzies into the ears of their listeners. Anyone who speaks against their way of faith supposedly does not understand God’s unconditional love; they are rejected for standing true to God’s unwavering holiness.
They are preaching useless good news because they are ignoring the reality of sin. The Gospel is not simply “God is Love,” it is “Jesus loves you so He died to save you from your sin.” That’s too hard for the world to hear, so they seek a sugarcoated faith. They are willing to believe in the Jesus who is friend and model of good living, but they aren’t willing to accept that they need His forgiveness. As a matter of fact, many Christians spend too much of their time pointing their fingers at everyone else’s sins while ignoring their own sinful nature.
We are called to speak the Gospel, to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are given the power and authority to cry out for repentance and to invite our neighbors to experience the forgiveness that God has promised. We are called to invite our neighbors into the Kingdom of God so that they might die to self and live for God. If we were bold, fearlessly preaching the Gospel even when we know that they will reject us and possibly harm us, then we would see the Kingdom grow. See, for every person who rejects the word of God, there are more who hear and believe. God’s Word does not return to Him void, so while there are those who will reject the reality of their sinful nature, others will see the truth and the truth will set them free.
I have to admit that sometimes I’m afraid. If we trust God, however, we can’t be afraid of those who threaten to kill the body because we know they can’t kill the soul. My fear is less about them and more about my own failure. How could God possibly choose someone like me to be a prophet? I’m nobody. I’m ordinary. I sometimes can’t even get those who love me to listen or to understand what I’m trying to say. How can God ever think I could speak to the world?
But that’s the point of these texts, isn’t it. We aren’t speaking; we are called to let God speak through us. It isn’t our words that matter, but God’s Word. We don’t need to be afraid because we are already dead but He has promised us eternal life. When the world rejects us, even if it is our closest relatives, we can go on knowing that God can make miracles in the most extraordinary circumstances. See, every person who believes the Gospel is a miracle. They believe by God’s hand, by God’s grace, by God’s Word. And we are called to share in the making of these miracles, even if we have to experience persecution or death to do so.
But we need not be afraid. As the psalmist says, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” God is with us. Jesus will be at our side wherever we may go. The Holy Spirit will guide us in the right paths and give us the words to speak. We have no reason to fear because God is our refuge and our strength.
A number of years ago there was a huge news story about an escaped suspected rapist running around Atlanta. Somehow he allegedly got a hold of a deputy’s weapon, killed and wounded several people, beat a reporter and stole a car. For hours the authority hunted this man, to keep him from harming more people and to bring him to justice. The ordeal ended Sunday after a woman called 911 with information that the man was in her apartment.
While the authorities were searching and the city was in fear, a woman was suffering a more personal horror. She arrived home at about 2:00 A.M. and parked her car at her apartment complex. When she left her car, the man stuck a gun in her side and ordered her to go into her apartment. He tied her up and told her to be quiet. He warned her that he would kill her if the police found him there. Though she must have been frightened, she calmly spoke to the man and made him feel comfortable. Eventually he untied her. They talked through the night, watched television together and she made him pancakes. They talked about God and he admitted that he did not want to hurt anyone else. The man wanted to stay at the apartment for a few more days, but he let the woman go to see her daughter. Whether or not he expected her to return is not known. When she left, she called the police and they came prepared to take the man by force. It was not necessary, he was ready to surrender and he went with them peacefully.
The woman could have easily responded with fear, anger and hatred, but she treated him with compassion and love. He was overwhelmed by her kindness. We don’t have a transcript of that conversation, but we can know that God was there with them, speaking through her as He reached out to the man. He was terrifying in the beginning killing those who stood in his way, but something about the woman’s trust in God transformed him. The woman told the man that she thought God brought him to her door, and she took the opportunity to talk to him about His love and mercy. Her compassion helped to calm him and it brought an end to the violent episode, thus saving her own and perhaps more lives.
Faith does not guarantee we won’t face difficulty. No matter how much we trust in God, we might find ourselves in a frightening situation that does not end well. However, we can look to the woman’s trust in God for inspiration and encouragement. When we are in the midst of terrifying situations, we should hold fast to God and speak boldly with compassion and love no matter what the consequences. If we die, we die knowing we stood firm in God to the end. If we die, we know that Jesus will acknowledge us before His Father because we acknowledged Him before the world.
We might just see the miraculous power of God’s word transform the situation and bring hope out of terror.
Will I have the courage to be like that woman? I don’t think any of us will ever really know until we face the possibility of death. Will we remember that God is with us when we are too afraid to think? I hope I will have the courage if the time comes, but until that day we are all called to walk in faith and continue to build our relationship with God. One way we can do so is to write the words of today’s psalm on our hearts, holding them so close that we will not forget that God is with us when we face the hate of the world. Those words won’t protect us from being hurt, but they will always remind us that no matter what happens, God will be there to pick us up and take us home.
“But though he had done so many signs before them, yet they didn’t believe in him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, ‘Lord, who has believed our report? To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ For this cause they couldn’t believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes and he hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and would turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things when he saw his glory, and spoke of him. Nevertheless even many of the rulers believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they didn’t confess it, so that they wouldn’t be put out of the synagogue, for they loved men’s praise more than God’s praise. Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in me, believes not in me, but in him who sent me. He who sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in the darkness. If anyone listens to my sayings, and doesn’t believe, I don’t judge him. For I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects me, and doesn’t receive my sayings, has one who judges him. The word that I spoke will judge him in the last day. For I spoke not from myself, but the Father who sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. I know that his commandment is eternal life. The things therefore which I speak, even as the Father has said to me, so I speak.’” John 12:37-50, WEB
We had a walk in pantry in our previous house. It was large enough for our washer and dryer, a commercial freezer, shelves filled with food and other things used in the kitchen. There was a door to the garage and room for large items like brooms and mops. The only problem with this room was that there were no windows. It did not matter the time of day or the brightness of the sun outside, it was necessary to turn on the light to see in that pantry.
I noticed something strange about this situation. Light bulbs shine the same amount of light whether it is day or night, and yet during the day the room was not as bright as it was at night. The pantry was right next to the kitchen that was brightly lit during a sunny day, and just enough of that light filtered into the pantry. Yet, it was never enough to make it possible to see. So, that little light from the kitchen made the light bulb seem less bright. It actually made it hard to see, even with the light turned on. In the dark, the light bulb in the pantry was bright with plenty of light to see well. During the day, that same light was nearly worthless.
We live in a world full of darkness. Evil and self-centeredness abound all around us. In such a world, the goodness of one person can shine pretty bright. Think about the people who are known for their good works, Mother Teresa for example. When we look at the things she accomplished in the midst of such horror and tragedy, we see her as a bright light. Yet Mother Teresa did not see herself so highly. She lived in the presence of God, who dwelled in her heart and His light shone through her life. Her light was little more than that light bulb in the pantry. It seems bright in the darkness of night, but next to the light of Christ it was worthless.
Our light shines as brightly as that light bulb in the pantry and we do many good things with our lives. Yet, our light is nothing compared to the light of Christ. Our good works are worthless when we stand next to our Lord Jesus Christ. We are nothing without Him.
Should I keep the light in the pantry turned off during the day? No, because without the light I can’t see anything. At least that light bulb gives a little help when trying to find something in the room. So, too, we are expected to shine our light into the world, because our light is a reflection of the light of Christ. Our good works are a reflection of the good works of Christ. Our love is a reflection of the love of God. He sent His Son to be both an example for us and to be our Savior. We can never be a savior to anyone, but we can continue to be an example, to share the love, mercy and grace of Christ with the world.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, don’t resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. If anyone sues you to take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and don’t turn away him who desires to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42, WEB
I confess that one of my guilty pleasures is to read the Facebook time wasting posts that gather stories that fit specific themes. They show photos of people doing strange things in stores, ways people overcome those who park poorly, passive aggressive ways to deal with lunch stealers at work, ugly wedding dresses, funny family photos, and more. Some of these are tough to read, especially the stories from writers who arrogant or whiny. Even worse are those who are both because they are certain they righteous victims. A few have posted stories about social media influencers and how they either fake their posts or feel entitled to everything for free. I just shake my head and celebrate with those who call them out.
One of these lists disturbed me very much. It was meant to be funny stories of ways adults dealt with annoying children. I have to admit that I’m bothered by annoying children, but I was shocked that anyone would feel these methods were acceptable. The writers told of smacking kids, purposely tripping them, telling them lies, stealing toys, and dozens of other acts that were meant to teach the kids a lesson.
One story was particularly disturbing. The writer was an American teacher in a foreign school and the methods of discipline were much different than in the U.S. Corporal punishment was acceptable in that culture, but the teacher refused to use it as a form a discipline. Unfortunately, the teacher had one particularly disruptive and disobedient student. He became angry and frustrated and knew he had to do something because the class was not getting anything done. I agree that corporal punishment is never the best way to deal with misbehavior, but I was shocked by the teacher’s solution. He made the boy stand in front of the class, and then allowed every student to write on his face with a pen. How is this better than a spanking? It was cruel and inappropriate in every sense of the word.
The worst part of the post is that the teacher had no regrets. It didn’t bother him that he’d been a bully; he happily shared his inability to find a more suitable way of disciplining his student, even suggesting that his method was more acceptable than what was allowed and expected in his school.
Every story on that post had a sense of vengeance and every writer had no regrets about what they did. I am sure the kids they were dealing with were horrific; there are plenty of children out there that do act like fools and parents don’t do anything to discipline them. The parents are often offended when you tell them their children are acting in appropriately and they get upset when you take appropriate measures. I suppose that’s why some people think it is ok to act like a bully and force discipline by any means necessary.
The words from Jesus in today’s lesson are among the hardest which He taught to His disciples. We live by the idea that everything should be fair; punishing perpetrators with an equilateral deed is acceptable. Yet, Jesus tells us to persevere through hardship without harboring any need for revenge. He tells us to give more than they ask and serve further than they demand. How can we live this out in the real world? After all, would that not make us doormats to be stepped on by every wicked man? The writers on that post certainly would not accept this as the right thing to do.
Christ calls us to live differently than the world. He calls us to forgive, really forgive. Jesus’ words in today’s lesson are radical, nearly impossible for us to keep. Which one of us would actually walk with the thief who stole our clothes or allow our enemy to beat us? However, we are called out of the world by the love of Christ to be sent back into the world with that love for others. We too were once enemies of God. In His love we can bring others into His loving embrace so that they will no longer be enemies, but brothers.
Two wrongs never make a right. A thought has been in my head for the past few days: you can’t use injustice to fix injustice. It doesn’t make things right, it only makes things worse. Yet, it seems impossible that we should not only keep from accomplishing our goals by any means necessary, but that we should turn our backs and allow ourselves to be bullied. It doesn’t seem fair, and it makes us seem weak. But we have learned in the past that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend for it has creative and redemptive power. (Martin Luther King, Jr.) Despite the evil done to him, MLK preached non-violence and the redemptive power of love.
Craig Keener wrote about this passage: “Jesus’ words strike at the very core of human selfishness, summoning us to value others above ourselves in concrete and consistent ways. Some misread this text as if it says not to oppose injustice; what it really says, however, is that we should be so unselfish and trust God so much that we leave our vindication to Him.” Jesus’ words are hard for us, but faith in God will lead us to face our struggles with grace and love. We can go forth in the knowledge that God will be with us, blessing every stop done in faith. God is trustworthy. We can be certain that He will make all things right, perhaps not today or tomorrow, but when it is according to His good and perfect will.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you desire. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. If we live by the Spirit, let’s also walk by the Spirit. Let’s not become conceited, provoking one another, and envying one another.” Galatians 5:16-26, WEB
We were able to meet at our church for adult forum for the first time since the lock down order three months ago. We were a small group to begin, but it was nice to gather with others in study of God’s word. Weekly Bible studies began a few weeks ago, but Sunday morning was more difficult because of space and social distancing. Our room is not really conducive to conversation, but we’re glad to be at it again. We need to finish our study on the Sermon on the Mount so that we can begin the Psalms in the fall.
Jesus instructed the disciples in the Sermon on the Mount on how to live the life He was calling them to live. The intended audience was those who already believed in Jesus and the Kingdom of God. The lessons are hard; Matthew chapters five through seven are filled with expectations that are impossible for fallen and fallible human beings. We struggle with these because we want to be obedient, we want to be faithful, but we just don’t know how to do it. The comfort we have in all this is that Jesus is with us, the Holy Spirit guides us, and God our Father loves us even when we fail.
These chapters of Matthew are not meant for unbelievers, but there were many people in the crowd listening as Jesus preached. There were people who were curious about Jesus. There were also people who would eventually become adversaries to Jesus. The unbelievers were watching to see what Jesus would do, and then they watched the disciples as they went out to do God’s work. The curious listened and some became believers. The adversaries found every reason to reject Jesus and the Gospel, even if they were miniscule transgressions. The Gospels tell us repeatedly about how the leaders tried to trick Jesus into doing something deserving of punishment. The same thing happened to the Apostles not only when they were with Jesus, for during their many years of ministry after He returned to the Father. Life didn’t end well for most of them.
We may have to worry about adversaries, too, but I think it is more important to live according to the Sermon on the Mount for the sake of those who are curious. They want to know what it is about the Christian life that should make them want to believe. The idea of obedience and possible persecution isn’t very friendly to those who are drawn to the faith, but love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control are fruit that will the seekers into God’s grace. When they see us living merciful and gracious lives, they will want to know more about the One we follow.
We live in a world that has become very dark. Hearts are hard; people are angry and are acting out in ways that are bringing more anger and hatred. Even Christians are responding with raised voices. But lessons of the Sermon on the Mount remind us that the world is watching us. What will they see? Will they see us standing in the gap, speaking with love and patience, acting with kindness and self-control? Will they see people of faith who trust God even when it is risky to do so? We do not know how our faith will impact someone. Evil is running rampant, there is no doubt. Satan thinks that he is winning. However, we know the end of the story, Satan never wins. Never. God has already won. It is darkest before the dawn.
The world is watching us. Will they see Christians acting on their faith, doing God's will, shouting the Good News from the rooftops? “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said. We might be called by our God to do something that is very uncomfortable but we need not fear tomorrow or worry about the chaos. God is sovereign and He has already won the victory. Have courage; God knows every hair on your head and He values you more than you can ever imagine. The very least we must do is to shine His light into the darkness. You might just be the person who shines the light that will heal a heart filled with darkness.
“‘Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me; and the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, behold, he comes!’ says Yahweh of Armies. ‘But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like launderers’ soap; and he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver; and they shall offer to Yahweh offerings in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasant to Yahweh, as in the days of old, and as in ancient years.’” Malachi 3:1-4, WEB
Don’t shoot the messenger, but as of tomorrow, we are just six months from Christmas. Are you already shopping for those Christmas gifts?
All kidding aside, we know that it is six months because tomorrow is the day we celebrate the Nativity of John the Baptist. He was born six months before Jesus, and we pay attention to the date because he was an important character in the story of Jesus. He was the voice crying from the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. He cried out for repentance, so that the people would be prepared for that day when Christ came, so that they would be ready to receive Him. John was a herald.
A herald is an announcer, someone who proclaims some important bit of information or news. In Medieval times, most of the news was delivered by traveling heralds who spoke to the people in the marketplace. Today’s anchormen are like those ancient messengers, only their platform is much different. A herald might also be an official representative for the leaders of an army, something like an ambassador who helps the negotiations during war.
Another type of herald is someone who announces the participants at a tournament. In the movie “A Knight’s Tale” the young man William, who pretended to be a knight, needed someone to be his representative. His motley little crew came across a man who was naked and needy who was willing to act as William’s herald. The character’s name was Chaucer and he was full of words, able to arouse the crowd into a frenzy; he built William’s popularity on the tournament circuit. In modern terms, the announcer at a wrestling match has the same purpose: to warm up the crowd and make them excited about the battle ahead.
Finally, another kind of herald is the man who proclaims the coming of a king. The image we have of this type of herald is one wearing colorful robes with a long horn. He blows the horn to gain the attention of the crowd and then yells “Hear ye, hear ye. Here comes the king!” In every case, the herald prepares the way for something greater that is coming. Though the herald himself is of little importance, usually a man of low position, he has a very important task. If the herald does not get the attention of the people, or if he puts them to sleep with a boring speech, then the message he proclaims will not be heard and the one he announces might be missed.
John the Baptist heralded the coming of the Christ, proclaiming the kingdom of God and calling for repentance. He was sent first to warn the Jews that they must turn back to God or they would miss the Messiah for whom they were waiting. The Jews were longing for deliverance; they wanted to be freed from the Romans that bound and oppressed them in that age. Yet, they did not realize they were bound by an even harsher master: sin and death. It was not an earthly kingdom that was coming, but God’s Kingdom. His salvation would not be for the flesh. Jesus Christ brought eternal life to those who believe and John the Baptist prepared the way.
Tomorrow we remember the nativity of John the Baptist, and honor him for the role he played in the ministry of Jesus Christ. We remember, however, that John was just the herald, the one who came before to proclaim the coming of the King. He knew that he was unimportant, and once Jesus arrived on the scene, he willingly stepped aside so that Jesus would have center stage. John is in some ways an example to us today. We are also called to be witnesses to the coming of Christ, yet our role is different because Jesus has already completed the work of salvation. What we learn from John is that we too are called to proclaim Him, but then step back and let Him have all the glory for He is the King.
John the Baptist came to point the way toward Christ. We hear all about John during Advent, so the story is familiar. Yet, it is good to be reminded of his birth during this season of Pentecost, to see that we are called to be like John, crying out in the wilderness and pointing toward the One who brings healing and peace. Though Christ has already come, it is up to us to prepare the way to the Lord for those who are still lost in the darkness and buried in their sin. We look to John as our example. He knew that he must diminish so that Christ could increase.
So it is with us. As we grow in faith and knowledge of God’s grace, we become less and less until the day when all God will see is His Son in our face. In Malachi, we are reminded of the story of the silver refiner, who heats the silver over and over again until there are no longer any impurities left in the metal. When the silver is perfectly refined, the refiner can look into the molten metal and see His face. This happens in our lives as we are transformed into His image.
In the passage from Malachi, we are asked a tough question, “But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will stand when he appears?” Who, indeed can stand against the power and the authority of God? We won’t find the answer to the question in the ranks of soldiers or in the palaces of kings. We won’t even find the answer in the religious bodies of self-righteous men. The one who can abide the day of His coming is the person of faith, the one who believes that Jesus came to reveal God’s Kingdom of forgiveness to the world, the one who has become an heir to that Kingdom by His grace.
Scriptures for Sunday, June 28, 2020, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 119:153-160; Romans 7:1-13; Matthew 10:34-42
“Don’t think that I came to send peace on the earth. I didn’t come to send peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:42, WEB
Jeremiah was wearing a yoke like an oxen would wear; it was a symbol of political submission. Jeremiah told the people that they should submit themselves to the Babylonians and he stood as an example to them with the yoke around his neck. Hananiah was a prophet preaching a much different message, a message that promised that the yoke of the Babylonians would be broken and they would be free. To make his point, Hananiah took Jeremiah’s yoke and broke it, not only showing the power of his message against the Babylonians, but also showing that Jeremiah’s power over the people was broken.
At first sight, today’s Old Testament passage seems very hopeful. Jeremiah seems excited about the idea of peace for Israel. In the verses just prior to today’s text, Hananiah prophesied good news. Peace. “Amen!” Jeremiah answered Hananiah. Then he followed with a warning. Jeremiah reminded the people that the prophets of the past had prophesied about war, evil and pestilence. Hananiah’s prophecy is certainly one we all would like to hear. Peace is our cry. Peace means that the people would no longer be oppressed and held as slaves. They would be restored to their homeland and a king of Israel would rule again. This is a message filled with hope. Surely Hananiah is the prophet of God because he is speaking the message that the people long to hear. It is no wonder that they rejected Jeremiah. Jeremiah walked away.
There are many people who claim to be prophets of God, saying “Thus says the Lord” with self-imposed authority. They speak a message that the people want to hear and reap the rewards of their pleasure. If anyone doubts their authority, they make some grand gesture to prove their authority and gain the trust of the people who want to hear a good word. The one who contradicts these so-called prophets are condemned and rejected, just like Jeremiah.
Jeremiah did not fight. He agreed with the prophet’s words, saying “Amen! May Yahweh do so.” But then he reminded the people that a prophet’s words must come true for the prophet to be speaking from God’s mouth. Hananiah would be proven to be a prophet from God when the peace comes.
We learn quickly in the story, however, that Hananiah was a false prophet. “Listen, Hananiah! Yahweh has not sent you, but you make this people trust in a lie.” He might have broken a yoke of wood, but God responded to the grand gesture by making Israel wear a yoke of unbreakable iron. While a yoke of wood represented submission, the yoke of iron was symbolic of servitude. The people could have lived in quiet submission to the Babylonians for a season, but because of Hananiah’s arrogance and their rejection of the truth, they would live as slaves to Babylon. Hananiah prophesied that they would be restored in two years, but he was dead in just two months.
A message of peace is not necessarily a false message and a prophet who preaches peace is not always speaking against God’s will. We are reminded by this story that sometimes the thing that sounds most hopeful is not always the way to peace. Sometimes God has something else in mind: a lesson learned, a call for repentance, a chance for transformation and change. We want the warm fuzzies now, the message that promises good things ahead, but we might just need a season of something we don’t want to bring us to the place God intends us to be.
Jesus makes it clear in today’s Gospel text, “Don’t think that I came to send peace on the earth.” He gives us peace, but it is never what we expect.
As is true of many of the Psalms, Psalm 119 was written by a poet who was suffering. There are indications through the one hundred and seventy-six verses that he had some sort of disease that threatened his life and that he was oppressed by enemies. The crescendo of his cries to God comes in the final stanzas, including the one for this week. The psalmist begged God to see his suffering and to save him. It is clear from the beginning of the psalm that the poet loved God’s law and was as obedient as possible, and he used his obedience as the basis for his cries for help. This is not to say that he thought he deserved God’s help because he kept the law perfectly, but his obedience was the manifestation of his faith and trust in God. God promised His help to those who believe, and the psalmist is reminding God of His promises.
The psalmist knows God’s divine word, His promises, and knows that God is faithful. He compares himself to those who do not know God’s promises. Despite their persecution, the psalmist has not turned away from God. The psalmist is seeking new life and trusts that God will be true to His Word. Our greatest enemy is our own inability to be true to God, but we can trust that He will save according to His promise. When we see our failure through the Law, we see most clearly that our only hope is in God’s mercy.
We’d rather not see sin for what it is. We don’t want to think that we are sinners; this is why so many Christians ignore the reality of our sinful nature. We want to hear God’s promises, but refuse to believe in God’s wrath. We want to experience God’s grace, but reject any thought that God might use the consequences of our sin to turn us to Himself. We’d rather hear fluff and stuff; the word “sin” has been removed from too many Christian voices. God is love, which is true, but He is also holy and just. He demands obedience.
Will obedience save us? No. Christ has saved us. He died and when we die through faith and baptism, we are raised to new life in Him. We are set free from the law and made captive to the Word, Christ. We are not capable of being perfect on our own; our flesh is weak and perishable. Christ saves us and calls us to a new life, a life of new obedience, not to the law, but to Him. He is the fulfillment of God’s law; we dwell in Him and we live for Him.
People in Jeremiah’s day knew what they wanted. They wanted to be free from Nebuchadnezzar, not so that they could live according to God’s Word, but so that they could do what they wanted. They were willing to hear anything that made them feel good. Hananiah gave them what they wanted: words of peace. He was tickling their ears with talk of hope, claiming to be speaking on God’s behalf. Who doesn’t want to hear words of peace and hope? We do, of course. Even Jeremiah said, “Amen!” The prophecy sounded good to their ears, and so they ignored the bad news and embraced Hananiah’s good news.
Today’s false prophets continue to make the people believe lies; they make grand gestures, but their word is not truly from God. God responds as He did to Hananiah. Though the people may not be made slaves to an oppressing nation, they are made slaves to the sin they refuse to let go. They are made slaves to their desires and suffer the consequences of the lives they have chosen to live.
If you read the whole tenth chapter of Matthew, you will see Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson in context. What was He doing? What was He teaching? What was He saying to the disciples? He was sending them out on their first missionary journey. He divided them two by two; He probably chose the pairs carefully so that they would complement each other. He sent them only to the Israelites, giving them the opportunity to learn how to tell people about the Kingdom of God among those with similar heritage, language and expectations. He told them not to take anything with them, to rely on the graciousness and mercy of those to whom they are sent. They were to find a home in each town that welcomed them and to share God’s peace in that place. Jesus warned them it wouldn’t be easy. Last week He told them to be on their guard. Their own people will reject them; even brothers will betray brothers. He told them that they should expect to be persecuted because the world will persecute Him. They will be rejected, just as He will be rejected.
Jesus continued these warnings in today’s Gospel lesson. Life in Christ will not be all peace. He was speaking to the disciples, but also to us today, warning that our faith will separate us from even those we love. It makes us wonder, “What will I do if someone I love rejects my faith?” I suppose some of my readers already know. Can we stand for Christ when faced with opposing expectations from those we love? Jesus is very clear in this passage: “Deny me and I will deny you.” That’s what God did to the people in Jeremiah’s day. They rejected the true prophet and they suffered the consequences. They chased after the fluff and stuff and ended up suffering an even greater punishment for their disobedience. They ignored God’s word and became bound to something far worse.
Jesus comforted the disciples with this word: “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. He who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.”
I’m not quite sure what reward a prophet will receive. In most cases, the true prophets in the Bible received little more than rejection and persecution from their people. And yet, they followed their calling with the assurance that they would receive the blessing of God. The reward is not necessarily found in this life or this world, it is found in the promise of what will be. Those who receive a prophet may not receive a reward of gold or silver, but they will have the assurance of the promise which is given to the prophet.
I’m not quite sure what reward a righteous man will receive. As a matter of fact, the righteous ones often suffer the same rejection and persecution that the prophets receive. The righteous ones are the ones who refuse to take advantage of others for their personal benefit. The righteous ones are those who end up as door mats and ladder rungs for the people willing to do anything to get ahead. The righteous ones do not boast of their greatness but quietly live as God has called them to live, in a relationship with Him. Those who receive the righteous will not gain anything but a deeper and stronger relationship with God.
To receive a prophet and a righteous man means receiving a reward, but not a trophy or medal. It means gaining a stronger and more personal relationship with the God to whom they are bound. This is more valuable than any gold or silver, it is an eternal gift, one that will last forever. Receiving the prophet and righteous man is a manifestation of the faith which God gives, the faith which saves. The reward, the assurance of true faith, is priceless.
Isn’t it amazing that the priceless gift of eternal life takes so little to achieve? Jesus tells us that we need only give a glass of cold water to a child in the name of God’s servants to keep that which God has promised. And yet, even this is too hard for us to do without God’s help. We cannot give a glass of cold water to a child in the name of a disciple without faith. We cannot serve God in this way without believing in the promise that is already assured through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. To receive a prophet or a righteous man takes faith, and that faith comes from God by the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
In today’s epistle lesson, Paul clearly differentiates between the Law and sin. The law is not sin, but with the law we become aware of the sinful behaviors that harm others and ourselves. When we hear the commandment, “Thou shalt not lie,” we realize that we are sinning everytime we tell an untruth, a partial truth or keep the truth hidden. Paul uses the law of covetousness in this passage. He tell us that before the law we did not know what it meant to covet something, but when we heard the law, we learned that it is wrong to desire something which is not ours. The law about coveting is not sin, but it opens our eyes to the truth that our desires go against God’s intention for our lives.
As Paul describes it, sin took advantage of the law, causing the one who heard the law to covet all the more. He wrote, “For apart from the law, sin is dead.” He went on to say, “I was alive apart from the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. The commandment which was for life, this I found to be for death; for sin, finding occasion through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me.”
The Law is not deadly. The Law is given to us so that we will live as God intended us to live. “Therefore the law indeed is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good.” The commandments, as we hear in the psalm for today, deliver us from the wicked ones and preserve our lives. But once we hear the law, we become slaves to sin. The law then shows us through death that we are sinners, and thus separated from God our Father. It turns us to Him, so that we might be saved.
I am trying to eat healthier these days, making better choices in my diet. But, I know as I wander and linger near chocolate at the grocery store that I’m not very good at avoiding the things I should not eat. By humbling me, the “law” I’ve given to myself helps me see the temptations around me. If I hadn’t made that “law” for myself, I would buy all the chocolate cake and ice cream I wanted without realizing how harmful it is to my body. But now that I have that “law” is am tempted by it everywhere I go. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. The same is true of God’s commandments. Knowing the Law makes us see when we are being tempted and we struggle; sometimes we succeed in being obedient to God’s rules, but sometimes we fail. If we had never heard the Law, we would never know we failed.
If we didn’t know we failed, we’d never know we needed Christ.
This life is never easy. We live in a time and culture where pursuing our desires is not only acceptable, but expected. Our friends tell us to ‘follow our hearts,’ even if following our hearts will hurt someone. Society tells us that little white lies won’t hurt anyone, that it is ok to want something so badly that you’ll do anything necessary to get it. We have been given permission to take care of ourselves even if God’s law commands against it, after all, those rules were made for another time and place. Certainly a God of love would want me to be happy, right? We’ve made ourselves gods, but in doing so have become slaves to sin and rejected the God who has our best interests in His heart and in His plan.
However, we would rather hear words that fit our desires. When I’m struggling over that piece of chocolate cake or candy bar, I want someone to say, “Go for it, it won’t kill you!” They are probably right, it won’t kill my flesh. We want our fellow Christians to stand beside us as we celebrate our decisions, no matter how unfaithful they are to God’s Word. We want to hear that God is love and that He loves everything about us. We want to hear the cry of peace.
The world has expectations and it is easy for us to follow the voices that say what we want to hear. But those answers yoke in ways we would never expect. We are yoked to our opinions, to politics, to government, and even to our churches. We don’t have to be yoked to any of that, because Christ has set us free. He has called us to set aside everything in this world, including those we love the most, to put God first. He has called us to live as God intends us to live, obedient to His Word and according to His law. He has called us to trust that even when things don’t seem to be going as we think they should, that He is still in control. He knows what we do not know. He knows what He has to do. It won’t be fluff and stuff; it will be hard, piercing, dividing. It may include rejection and persecution, suffering and pain. It might even mean physical death.
But it won’t mean the grave. Christ has saved us for eternal life and we are yoked to Him forever. We won’t lose what God has promised because He is faithful.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; 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 tear, 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)
Cats are creatures of habit, but they change those habits on a regular basis. We have three and they all have “their spot” until they decide they need a new spot. They expect to be fed at a specific time of day, and they get into phases when they are very demanding about their breakfast or evening treats, and then other times we can’t get them to come when we call. Sometime they love to sleep on the bed with us, and sometimes we have no idea where they are spending the nights. One of the three insisted on a daily nap with me, and now I can’t even find her most afternoons. Sometimes they like to cuddle, and sometimes they don’t.
They prefer to cuddle in the chilly weather, and they don’t want to spend as much time on our laps during the heat of the summer. I suppose that makes sense, because it really is too hot right now to have a cat on my lap. I’ll look forward to the cooler weather when they will want to be close to us again. They are all lap kitties, at the right time of year. For now they prefer laying on cool surfaces like the tile floors and dark corners. When the temperature goes down, they will change their habits, ready for the comfort, and the heat, of sitting on our laps.
People are, in many ways, the same as animals. There are things we like to do in the summer that we’d never think about doing in the winter, and vice versa. I tend to make soup in the winter and salads in the summer. Though I really like soup, it isn’t nearly as pleasant on a 100 degree day as it is on a cool, drizzly day. We pull out the hot chocolate the first time it is cold enough.
Even as we go through the seasons of the year and change with each season, we also go through seasons of our lives. They say that the springtime is when we are babies, just beginning our life with everything new and growing. Summer represents our youth, when we are active and vibrant. Autumn comes as we grow older, the middle ages of our life. Finally we enter into the winter, old age.
We live life differently from one age to another. Take, for instance, our relationship with our parents. During our spring, we look to our parents for everything we need. We learn from them and love them unconditionally because they are the center of our existence. That changes as we enter into our summer. As we grow into adulthood, we become independent. We have to learn who we are and what we meant to do, and that means separating from our past. It is still a time of growth, but we no longer need to rely on the work of others. We still love our parents, but it is a new love, a love that includes doubt and disagreement, as we begin to realize that they aren’t perfect and as we see the world from a different point of view. The autumn of our life brings us to another change in our relationship with our mothers and fathers. They are much older, in the winter of their lives, and it is a time when they come to depend on us. As the leaves are falling off our trees, the life is leaving theirs, and we have to deal with suffering and loss. We still love them, but our love is that of a caregiver, deeply concerned for their well-being but with fear and frustration. In the winter of our life, as we are nearing the end, the only things we have left of our parents are the memories. Our love changes again, holding on in that season to the good things, seeking the comfort of the love we received from them.
Our faith goes through seasons, too. There are times to laugh and times to cry. There are times to be close and there are times when we have to separate. There are times when we have to rely on others and times when we are the ones relied upon. There are times to serve and times to be served. There are times of growth and times when the leaves fall from the trees. There’s a time to live and a time to die. There are times when our faith is new and fresh and passionate and times when we wonder and fear and doubt. But through it all, no matter what season we are experiencing or how we are dealing with it, the Lord our God is near, loving us as He has always loved us.
“But the end of all things is near. Therefore be of sound mind, self-controlled, and sober in prayer. And above all things be earnest in your love among yourselves, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, employ it in serving one another, as good managers of the grace of God in its various forms. If anyone speaks, let it be as it were the very words of God. If anyone serves, let it be as of the strength which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:7-11, WEB
A story tells of a storm that left heavy damage to the area. Fallen trees blocked the roadways creating travel problems for drivers. There was one particular road where a large tree completely blocked the road. Two women were stopped by the tree, one was on her way home from work and the other was going the other direction to her job. Instead of staying in the cold with their cars or trying to find another route home, the women traded cars. They met the next day to trade back their cars.
This was a difficult situation. Those two women chose the easiest solution for both of them, and yet it was a difficult thing to do. Imagine the questions they had: is she a good driver? Will she make it through the bad weather in my car? Will she return the next day as promised? Yet, any other solution presented more troubling questions. Would there be downed trees on other roads leaving me stranded and alone? Would the other routes be dangerous? The women trusted each other so that they could make it home and to work safely.
We often run into roadblocks during our journey in this life. We need to face those moments with a clear mind so that we can make wise and mature decisions. The roads were dangerous and those women were facing a very difficult situation. It would have been easy to panic, worry and doubt. Yet they willingly turned over their vehicles to a stranger in a solution that helped them both reach their destinations safely.
At times God sends us people to help us overcome the roadblocks we face, at other times we are the helper. In the situation with those women, the help was mutual. In every case, we should be receptive and willing to do what is necessary to help one another. God will give you all that is necessary to accomplish His work: the strength, courage and gifts. Most of all, we love because He first loved us. Whenever we are forced to deal with a roadblock, whether it is one we face or if we need to help a brother, let us do so to the glory of God.
“This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don’t tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we haven’t sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:5-10, WEB
A toymaker in the 1800’s created a children’s oven that used wood pellets to create the heat for cooking. A few years later, an electric oven for children was invented. These toys never really became popular because parents were concerned about their safety. It doesn’t seem very smart to have children playing with burning wood. Then one day a toy salesman took an idea to his company, an idea that became more than a success: it became an icon.
Norman Shapiro was on a business trip when he noticed street vendors using heating lamps to keep their treats warm. He suggested that they see if they could do something similar to create a safe oven for children. Children love the idea of having a working oven because it helps them emulate what they see their parents doing in the kitchen. Besides, it is fun having a yummy treat to eat! The company, Kenner Products, did not simply follow the trends of the day. They wanted the unique products and were willing to take the risks. They were especially interested in ideas that replicated grown-up activities.
The toy they created was, of course, the Easy Bake Oven. It was introduced in 1963, and though it has changed over the years, it is still available for purchase. In fifty-seven years, toymakers have sold millions of the little ovens, and many more millions of the food that can be used in. The children can make more than little cakes; they can make pizza, candy, pretzels, and more. The children are limited only by their imaginations. While the pellet and electric stones may have been unsafe, I have no doubt children have used their Easy Bake Ovens to cook things that are not recommended on the label!
An Easy Bake Oven works with light bulbs, just like those street vendors. It seems impossible to believe that a light bulb could bake a cake. We’ve all touched hot light bulbs, and they can hurt, but we wouldn’t put a cake on top of one and expect it to bake. The key is the design of the oven. The light bulbs, two of them, are placed above and below the slot for the food. Inside of the confines of the oven, the temperature reached 350 degrees, plenty to bake a cake in a few minutes. The toy was a success because light bulbs seemed safe and harmless to pilots.
Even though we know the science works, it still seems hard to believe a light bulb could bake a cake. It works because light is actually energy and heat. Light can have a different affect on different things. The same sunshine will melt an ice cube and will harden clay. Under the right circumstances (a very hot summer afternoon) the sun can even cook an egg on a sidewalk. While it is the heat that changes the ice and clay, the heat wouldn’t exist without the light.
Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. We see that Light and it melts our hearts. We recognize our sinfulness and our desperate need for His grace. That Light changes us in a way that draws us closer to God and makes us His own. Unfortunately, that Light also hardens hearts. People look at Jesus and reject Him for a million different reasons. We don’t understand why they would not want His mercy, but for most of them, they reject even the idea that they need forgiveness.
Besides, Jesus is not the type of Messiah they expect. They want a revolutionary, not a preacher of love or mercy. Look at the Sermon on the Mount; Jesus’ teachings there are counter cultural, but not in the way the world demands. Jesus says love your enemy. Jesus says to let them slap you twice. Jesus says to give even (or especially) when it hurts. Too many people claim that they are continuing Jesus’ radical agenda, when they are simply following their own. In the process, instead of hearts melting, they are hardening against the work of the Gospel which is reconciliation and peace.
The Light shines, how will it change you today? Will Jesus continue melting your heart, bringing you closer and deeper into a relationship with Him that leads to bold proclamation of His love and mercy? Or will you continue walking your own path, the Light hardening your heart against the life He is calling you to live? Will you confess your sins, freed from them by the forgiveness He promises, or will you stand firm in the darkness, denying any need for Him?
“For this cause, I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that you may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, to the end that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strengthened to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and height and depth, and to know Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to him be the glory in the assembly and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:14-21, WEB
I have a lot of books. I could not fill a library, but I could fill a pretty large room. We have a dozen bookshelves around the house, all filled with different types of books. I am not a hoarder, per se; I do manage to purge books on a regular basis. Yet, I admit that I am far more likely to buy a new bookshelf than to stop buying books.
One of my bookshelves is filled with books for children. These are favorites, much loved stories and treasuries of favorite authors. I even have some of the books I purchased fiftyish years ago in Elementary school from the Scholastic Book Club. Those books are yellowed and falling apart, but they still bring happy memories. I used those books when I taught preschool and hosted a story time, and I look forward to sharing those books with grandchildren some day.
It is amazing how much we can still get out of those old books; the lessons learned are still important to us today, even as adults. What parent doesn’t tear up to the words in “Love You Forever” or find confidence in the story “The Little Engine that Could?” I giggle whenever I read “The Hungry Thing” and Dr. Suess’s “Green Eggs and Ham” will always make me smile. There are times when we all feel like returning to our childhood, to enjoy the simplicity of the lessons and the straightforwardness of those stories.
The First Lady of Texas Cecilia Abbot began a program after the stay at home orders began. She has invited some of the more famous Texas to be part of an online story time. They are meant to give the children of Texas a special treat, but I find myself watching them, fascinated by the presentations. The readers all have an image, fame does that to you, but put a children’s book in their hands and ask them to read it to perhaps thousands of children, and you will see a softer and kinder side to them. Chuck Norris read “A Very Hungry Caterpillar.” It was a joy to watch. (You can watch the story times at Governor Abbott’s Facebook page.)
Some of my books, of course, are faith based. I have a number of children’s bibles, with bright colorful pictures and simple retelling of the best stories about the people in God’s Kingdom from the Old Testament and New. Many details are missing, of course, especially those details that would be difficult for children to understand, but the Gospel is spoken and faith is encouraged. The children see how God’s people lived and loved and they learn the life and love they are meant to share. Just as those children’s books on my bookshelf can still teach me lessons in life, we would all do well to pick up a children’s bible to be reminded of God’s grace through those stories.
We spend a great many hours on Bible study, learning about God through the scriptures. We often make it so complicated, even arguing over the meaning of one passage or the application of another. There are libraries filled with books that interpret and explain the scriptures. My own library is made up of hundreds of volumes, some of which I struggle to read because they written at an intellectual level far greater than my brain can comprehend.
All of this intellectual discussion of the scriptures is good; it is important and vital to our growth and maturity in faith to challenge ourselves in our study. However, it does no good if our search for truth takes us away from the simple message found in those children’s books. The message is simple: Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you. This we know because God gave us the written word to learn and love and live out in the world with praise and thanksgiving. This is why we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I’m preparing a study on the Psalms for our Adult Forum class to begin in the fall. I’ve been reading a psalm or more a day since the middle of April, and I’m nearly done with the whole book. I’m taking notes from four other books, getting a variety of perspectives about the smallest details. It has been an interesting time to read through the laments and imprecations, but also good to remember that our ultimate focus is not on our need for vengeance or our self-pity. Our focus is to always be on God, our Father in Heaven, and His faithfulness to His covenant promises. As we begin a new journey of growth and learning, let us never forget that simple message that we learned as children: Jesus loves me. In His love, He has provided us with all we need to live in faith and walk in His light while sharing the Gospel with others.