Welcome to the June 2021 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 2021
June 1, 2021
“Be strong and courageous; for you shall cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous. Be careful to observe to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you. Don’t turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall have good success. Haven’t I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be dismayed, for Yahweh your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:6-9, WEB
The answer to today’s question from Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man keep his way pure?”, is an absolute “There is no way a man can do so.” All people are sinners and we can’t be righteous by our own power. But God can make us clean and can transform us into people who walk in the right path. It is by God’s Word that we learn how to live the life God has created and redeemed us to live, the life of obedience in response to His amazing grace.
Each verse in Psalm 119:9-16 refers to something different: the spoken Word of God, the obligations of faith, the promise, the teachings, the rules, the judgment, the rituals and the authority. Each have a place in our life and as we are obedient we will find a life blessed by God's graciousness. None of that will earn us eternal life in Heaven, but it will help us to live a life that glorifies God in this world as we wait for the promise He has won for us.
The answer to the psalmist’s question is to obey God’s divine spoken Word. We can look for Him in our religious obligations. We keep His promise close to our heart so that we won’t turn from Him and do what is wrong. We can seek God’s teaching on how to live properly and according to His rules. We accept God’s judgment when we do wrong and rejoice through our worship practices. We focus on God’s authority over our life and there we will find rest. The passage from Joshua also teaches us to keep God’s Word close in thought, word, and in deed.
God’s Word is written on our hearts when we meditate on it day and night. This means reading it and pondering what it means for our lives. It means studying it regularly. It even means memorizing the texts so that they are right on the tips of our tongues. God will be with us and He will put His Word in our mouths when we need it, but with practice, dedication, and perseverance our lives will shine with His Light.
While we can and should do as much as we can to embrace God’s Word, the final verse in today’s scripture reminds us to our eyes on what truly matters: that God is with us wherever we go. We can’t do it alone. We can’t do it without God’s grace. Obedience is not about the lawful following of rules, but about having God’s Word written on your heart to help you stay focused on Him for He will give you everything you need to keep your way pure.
Scriptures for June 6, 2021, Second Sunday after Pentecost: Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
“For whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, and mother.” Mark 3:35, WEB
It doesn’t seem so these days, but there was a time when I was extremely active in so many things. I took on multiple responsibilities at church, I was constantly available to help at my kids’ schools, and I was active with military related organizations. When I was cleaning my files and purging old paperwork, I discovered two years worth of calendars and I was amazed at my incredibly busy schedule. I remembered that it all became overwhelming at one point. I was committed to too many projects, which led to a bit of a breakdown. Everything fit into my schedule, but I was constantly busy with responsibilities.
One day I could not take it anymore and I just started crying. It was at that point I realized I could not do it all. I learned that sometimes we have to say “No” because God does not send us so much work that we can’t give it our best. See, that was my problem. I thought every time someone acknowledged a gift in my life that I needed to say yes to every request. I was selfish and self-centered enough to think that I was the only one who could do those jobs. I considered every request for help as a calling from God. I have since learned to pray and ask for His help as I discern His will in my life.
Have you ever known anyone who is so busy with responsibilities that they do not even have time to eat a meal or smell the roses? Do you ever want to just kidnap them for an hour or two, take them for a quiet lunch or a walk in the park? I wish someone had done that for me when I was over doing things. It might have helped me to slow down and realize I was doing too much. Fortunately I did not get sick and I learned to seek God’s will over every opportunity to serve. However, I think we all recognize these symptoms in someone we know and love.
It was getting that way for Jesus. Once the stories of miracles began to spread, the people sought Him out, desiring a touch of His hand and a word of hope. They crowded around Jesus and the disciples, followed Him on His travels. They never let Him alone.
Mark tells us, “The multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. When his friends heard it, they went out to seize him; for they said, ‘He is insane.’” The word translated “friends” in this passage is a Greek word meaning “people” and can be translated “family.” I often read those words and thought that Jesus’ family was like the scribes, looking at Him and His work with disdain.
But if we look at it from the point of view of loving family, we can see that they were looking at Him as one that was too consumed with work and overwhelmed by responsibilities. They weren’t rejecting Jesus as the scribes, but were worried about Him because He was not even taking the time to rest or find nourishment. And He was dragging the disciples with Him. They were concerned and wanted only to take Him away for an hour so that He could find renewal and refreshment. Jesus was not stressed or overwhelmed by the crowds and the work He had to do because He knew God’s Will.
This Sunday we enter into the longest season of the Church year. The paraments will be green for the next few months as we consider the life God has called us to live in this world. The first half of the church year focuses on the story of God. We hear what God has done for us. We hear about Jesus, His birth, ministry, death and resurrection. We hear about the history of His relationship with His people. We hear about why we need Jesus. Beginning with this Sunday, the focus turns to us. Now that we know what God has done, we consider what we will do in response. Pentecost is about growing in our faith and action. It is about listening to God’s call and going forth in faith. It is good and right to study the story of God, but it is meaningless if we aren’t changed. It is worthless if we do not respond to God's grace. Part of learning how to be a disciples is learning to listen to God’s will rather than the requests of the world and our own selfish, self-centered perspective.
We will be reminded throughout Pentecost that though we are saved by God’s grace, we are still sinners in need of our Savior. Many of the stories throughout the Pentecost season focus on the great work we can and will do for God. We will be reminded that we have been called to a holy priesthood, as witnesses to His grace. We can, and do, fall prey to the possibility that we are something special, that only our gifts and abilities will accomplish the world. We must always remember that there is a part of us, still, that is the same as those who have not yet devoted themselves to true discipleship in Christ, both inside and outside the Church.
Pentecost is a time when we learn to live in this world and as God’s church surrounded by both the faithful and the unfaithful. We learn how to be witnesses. We learn how to be servants. We learn how to follow as Christ’s disciples in a world where Satan still roams.
Jesus’ family may have been concerned about His well-being, but the scribes saw a whole different problem. They thought Jesus was possessed by the devil. Jesus asked the teachers whether a kingdom divided against itself can stand. “Why would Satan cast out his own demons?” Their accusation did not make sense, but don’t we often jump to the same judgment against those who disagree with us about the issues of the day? Don’t we assume that our opponents are from the devil even when they are accomplishing work that honors God just because they see the world through a different point of view?
There is a photo (or more than one) that shows politicians from decades ago working together even though they came from different sides of the aisle. The photos often come with a caption that says, “They argued in chambers but always came out as friends. They could socialize even though they fought against one another for their issues. And in the end, even when they won or lost, they still cared for their “enemies” and worked together on the next issue.
Now we see hatred and there is no way that they can work together on any issue. Sometimes it seems like they even take the opposite side not because it is the right point of view but because they cannot accept their opponent’s point of view. There is no way to accomplish anything if we aren’t even willing to listen to one another. We can all see the impact this has had on our nation. As Jesus said, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”
He then said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” He brought this closer to home, addressing the idea of division in a more personal manner. I have always struggled with this part of the story because we don’t understand why Mary would be so against Jesus’ ministry. After all, she knew from the beginning that He was born for a purpose. She pondered it all in her heart and she encouraged His ministry on other occasions. She was a mother and we all know how mothers can be. Paul reminds us “For we know that if the earthly house of our tent is dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens.”
Jesus’ family and the scribes, though for very different reasons, wanted Jesus to stop doing what He was called to do. Jesus answered the accusations of the scribes by telling them not to give credit to Satan for the work that He is doing by the power of the Holy Spirit. And though His answer to His mother and brothers might seem harsh, we are reminded that Jesus wants us to trust in Him. He knows what He is doing, just as God knew in the beginning what Adam and Eve needed. Jesus knew that for the Church to remain strong, it could not be divided. He did not reject His mother and brothers because we know the whole story of His relationship with them. He loved His mother to the very end, and His brothers went on to help establish the Church after Jesus ascended into heaven.
A house divided will fall, but Jesus reminds us throughout the scriptures that He is the foundation. He is the cornerstone. He is what holds us all together. When we trust in Him, even when we do not agree with one another, we will stand firm. Unfortunately, the Church these days is as divided as politics. We are, like our neighbors, sinners in need of a Savior. There are sins that need to be brought to light, for the sake of the sinner as well as for those who are harmed by the consequences of those sins. There is a right and wrong. There are truth and lies. These are things that matter. Words might sound good, but if they are twisted, then they will lead us away from trusting God. Unfortunately, we do not always agree what is right and what is wrong, what is truth and what are the lies.
Look at the headlines and you’ll see that we are suffering from so much brokenness in the world and everyone is trying to point the fingers at everyone else. The reality is that we are all sinners and we are all at fault in some way, but we want to lay the blame on others. This is why we need to learn how to work together again, to listen to one another, to find ways to accomplish the things that will make our nation and our families right again.
Even worse, we all sometimes lose sight of God. The world offers so many options that look good to us; they even look right. They divert our attention and lead us down the wrong path. That’s why it is important that we keep ourselves in God’s Word, stay in fellowship with His people and continue to be fed with His sacraments. These disciplines will help us to keep on the right track, to keep our eyes on God and if we are diverted will draw us back to Him.
The house of Christ will never fall, even though it is made up of people like us who do not as God has created and redeemed us to live. We are all sinners in need of a Savior, and it is that Savior who makes all good things happen. We inherited a nature that goes way back to the beginning, to the first people to reject God’s will. Adam and Eve rejected God in the garden. They believed the word of the serpent above that of their Father, and it ended with them being afraid of Him.
We struggle in a broken world and often find ourselves failing to live up to the expectations of our God. We do not always treat people with love or respect. We get angry with our children and our spouses, gossip about others, take things that are not ours. We fall to the temptations this world has to offer. We sin against God and our neighbor in our thoughts, words and deeds by what we do and what we fail to do. Despite our failure, God still wants a relationship with us. Like the psalmist, we can cry out to Him and He will hear us. He doesn’t keep a record of our sin, but forgives and forgets. “If you, Yah, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” We can’t stand, but we can have peace.
We don’t have to walk in darkness because we have the light of our Lord Jesus Christ and His forgiveness. We know by faith that even when we fail, we can turn to Him for forgiveness and help through our troubled times. When we fail and turn to God for forgiveness, He not only grants that forgiveness for the sake of our Lord Jesus, but He also forgets our sin. We don’t have a record or else we would become buried in the prison of our sinful nature. As we live in this hope, we find ourselves walking in the light of Christ, covered by the unfailing love of God and reconciled to Him by His own blood. When we wait for the Lord and watch for Him, we are less likely to fall into the temptations of this world. We will still sin, but we can trust in the Lord and rest in His forgiveness because He never fails.
He never fails because He is faithful and knows what needs to be done. Even in the beginning, He already prepared to send a Redeemer to make things right, even knowing we would never be able to hold up our end of the bargain.
I once knew a woman who wanted to be a Christian. She believed in Jesus, had even been involved in church at different times in her life. She wasn't attending anywhere when we were neighbors, and I invited her several times to come with me. She always refused. Though curious about our church and glad to be in a relationship with someone who knew the Lord, she was not ready to make a commitment. She had many excuses. One reason why she wouldn't visit my church was because she didn't think she could afford to tithe, but when I told her that our church had no such requirements, she told me that she couldn't attend a church that did not expect a tithe. The real problem was not how much money she had but that she did not think she was good enough to be in the presence of God and all those Christians. She wanted to get right with God first, then she might go to church.
We had several conversations over the course of our relationship, but no matter how many times I explained to her that we can't get right with God without being in His presence and in the company of other Christians, she was never ready. She never understood that Christianity is not a group of holy people, but a pack of forgiven sinners who gather to hear the Word preached and the Sacraments given so that we will know the love, mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ His Son. She did not want to step into the presence of God until she found a way to hide her imperfections.
God knows. He sees into the very depths of our beings; we can't hide anything from Him. He sees beyond our masks; He has known us since before we were born. God knows, and He loves us anyway. The only difference between those who are inside the church and those outside are the ones inside know that they are there by God’s grace. Those outside are like Adam and Eve, trying to hide from the very God who would be their salvation.
God loved Adam and Eve. He walked with them and He talked with them. As the song says, He told them that they were His own. One day, however, a fallen angel in the form of a serpent caused Eve and Adam to doubt the Word of God. “Did God really say...?” the serpent asked. Eve thought about it, and the words of the serpent sounded good. She didn’t hear the twist in the message. God hadn’t really said what the serpent repeated, but his words sounded better than the twisted truth. God did not keep the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from Adam and Eve because He wanted to keep anything from them. He forbade it because He knew it would cause them to think that they were not worthy to be in the presence of their Father. That’s exactly what happened; when they ate the fruit, they became afraid of God.
The serpent said, “You can be like God.” There are two lies in this statement. The first lie is, of course, that we can be like God. We aren’t omnipotent, omnipresent, or divine. We aren’t eternal, the beginning and the end, all powerful. We aren’t God. But, the second lie makes us think there is something to attain. We don’t have to attain to be like God because we were created in His image. In trying to attain god-like status, we turn our focus on ourselves instead of keeping our eyes on the One from whom all good things come. This is why we often get so caught up in work we think glorifies God when it is really our own selfish and self-centered perspective.
Adam and Eve tried to attain something that they already had, but they still wanted more. Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? But that’s what temptation is all about. The devil twists our circumstances, and the words, to make it seem like there is something good beyond what is already good. In the Garden, the serpent made Eve feel deprived of something, even though it was something she did not need. She reasoned that the fruit on the tree looked good and therefore must be good, so why should God keep it away? They had plenty of fruit to eat, and I’m sure the fruit on all the other trees must have been good, too. But temptation, the serpent, made her want the one thing she couldn’t have, and since she had the will and ability to do so, she picked the fruit.
Adam and Eve ate the fruit and they died. Their bodies didn’t die immediately but they were separated from their life with God. They were sent outside the Garden, into the dangerous world where they would no longer live under the protection of God or in His fellowship. This may have seemed cruel; how could a loving God do such a thing to those He created? The reason is that the knowledge of good and evil made them afraid. They feared God, experienced shame and hid from Him. They could not live forever in fear of their Father and Creator, so they were sent into the world of death.
We join Adam in the reality of our failure. We continue to be tempted by the same things that have plagued human life since the beginning. It is hard to be human. Unfortunately, sometimes Satan still twists God’s word enough to make us think that we are choosing good over evil. He can even use people to question the work of God.
We want what we want, even if what we want is not what is best for us. We can refuse the help of God. We can go our own way, make our own choices. Unfortunately, our way is rarely the best way, and we have to suffer the consequences of our choices. However, the humble God that allowed us to go our own way is nearby and ready to help us through those difficulties.
While we will look at the call to action in the world, it is helpful to begin this season with the most important response we can give: thanksgiving. St. Paul writes, “For all things are for your sakes, that the grace, being multiplied through the many, may cause the thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.” This is our first purpose. This is our first response.
As we study the lectionary texts of Pentecost, we will look at our own lives of faith. We will think about what God is calling us to do. We will think about our gifts and the opportunities that God is providing for us to share His kingdom with others. It won’t be easy. We may be tempted to take on too much work, thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. We will have to face those who will reject us and those who will try to confuse us. We will face those who have missed the truth of the Gospel or who will find any excuse to reject God. We will face true enemies who are doing the work of the devil. We will just have to walk in faith and trust that God will accomplish whatever He has ordained for our lives, remembering always that those who do the will of God are our brothers and sisters, heirs together in the promise given by our Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden to live away from the Tree that would provide them with everlasting life, He told them that the ground would be cursed and that it would yield thorns and thistles. In the end, when Jesus was crucified, thorns were used to adorn His head as a crown. Even as we live in this decaying world with so much division caused by the curse of Adam and Eve, we also live in the promise of the Gospel. God’s story leads us to knowledge of His promise through Jesus Christ our Lord. His life, death and resurrection won for us forgiveness of sin, the restoration of our relationship with God and eternal life in His Kingdom. We become His brothers and sisters, following Him in obedience to the Word of God, glorifying Him in thankfulness for His love and grace.
“This saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we have set our trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. 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.” 1 Timothy 4:9-16 (ASV)
Walter Reed was a Major in the U.S. Army at the turn of the twentieth century. Walter was born in Virginia and the son of a Methodist minister. He was extremely intelligent. Walter’s life turned out much different than he would have liked. His family could not afford the kind of education he wanted, one geared toward the philosophical rather than the scientific. Unfortunately, it was very expensive to get that type of degree, the medical degree was far more affordable. He received his first doctorate at the age of 18 and his second a year later, doing both two year courses in half the time.
For several reasons, Dr. Reed’s private practice never made it off the ground. He was so young that none of the patients believed he could actually be a doctor. He might have succeeded if he could have grown a beard which would have made him appear older, but hair would not grow on his face. Additionally, Dr. Reed was not from a social class where his social and family contacts would have given him the credibility and patients needed to build a practice. Before long, Dr. Reed gave up on private practice and joined the army. He was in love with a woman, but knew he could never marry her if he had no financial stability to offer. He became a surgeon and his time in the army provided many opportunities for success.
Since yellow fever was major problem around the world at this time. Scientists were just discovering the fact that many diseases come from microorganisms that are passed from person to person through the air or by touch. Dr. Reed, in association with other scientists, helped eliminate yellow fever by pinpointing the source of the contamination: mosquitoes. Dr. Reed’s dedication to finding the truth led to an experiment with twenty-four very brave soldiers who allowed themselves to be bitten by infected mosquitoes. They proved that it was the mosquito and not other sources as commonly accepted at the time. They realized that to reduce the number of people contracting the disease, they had to eliminate the carriers, so cities dealt with the breeding places and recommended that people have only enough water necessary for daily living in their homes and well covered.
Eventually a vaccine was discovered, thanks to the work of Dr. Reed. He died in 1902, having accomplished something great for humanity. He may have begun his life on a different foot than he wanted and laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery with these words as his epitaph, “He gave to man over that dreadful scourge, yellow fever.”
The hospital named after Major Walter Reed was first opened on May 1, 1909. It is an awesome way to honor this man who through his persistence and integrity managed to change the world and help many people. Yet, hearing his life story, we realize that in many ways he is no different than ourselves. He did not have control over much of his life but in the end he accomplished just what he wished to accomplish. He was too young and of the wrong social class; he could not succeed in one way but managed to succeed in an even greater way.
Timothy was also too young, but Paul encouraged him to ignore those who tried to stop him from doing his work for the Lord. We may have goals that seem impossible, but we can trust that God will use our gifts in some magnificent way, we need only follow God’s calling in our lives without worrying about how the rest of the world will react. The things that matter to the world don’t matter to God. He can use each of us according to His good and perfect purpose, even when we do not fit into the expectations of those around us. Give yourself fully to your own work for the Lord and He will bless the world through you.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have toward all the saints, because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the Good News which has come to you, even as it is in all the world and is bearing fruit and growing, as it does in you also, since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth, even as you learned of Epaphras our beloved fellow servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit. For this cause, we also, since the day we heard this, don’t cease praying and making requests for you, that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that you may walk worthily of the Lord, to please him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all power, according to the might of his glory, for all endurance and perseverance with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.” Colossians 1:1-16, WEB
I just spent entirely too much time reading one of those articles online that is filled with stories from people on the Internet. These stories are real life experiences of the posters. This particular article was about people who had been mistaken for store employees. Many of the writers talked about how the incidents went horribly wrong, not for them but for the people who were demanding their help. In most cases the demanding people probably deserved the outcome, although some of the writers went overboard with the revenge. I cringed a bit at some of their descriptions, but I can understand the frustration people have when they are berated for something that is not their responsibility.
I don’t know what it is about the atmosphere in our world these days, but there are people who really do think that they are always right and that they are entitled to demand certain obedience from others. I’ve had a few of those mistaken identity experiences, although my stories would be boring compared to those I read. I’ve never been yelled out for not having an answer for a customer. I have never been physically assaulted. I’ve never had someone threaten to have me fired. I also tend to respond differently than many of the writers. I worked in retail, so probably have “a look”, and though it is not my job, I try to help when I can.
I am one of those people who tend to wander around the craft store. I often think of a unique craft idea and then have to find the materials that will make it happen. Sometimes I have found just the right thing in a place I didn’t expect; that’s why I walk up and down all the aisles slowly, looking at everything on the shelves. This makes me very familiar with the store. I spend an especially long time in the art department, often spending more time than you can imagine just looking at all the different types of paint brushes, touching each one and wondering what sort of strokes I could make.
I have been in that department on numerous visits when others were searching for something they could not find. One day I noticed a woman with a list. She was taking an art class, something she’d never done, and she really didn’t even understand most of the items on the list. She seemed very confused so I asked if I could help. I showed her the different types of brushes and gave her suggestions about the other items. I even gave her one of my extra coupons so that she could save a few dollars on her sale. It wasn’t really a very big deal; I simply responded to the need I saw.
That’s what God wants from us: a natural response to His grace. He wants us to see the world through His eyes and to respond as He would respond. We can do that every day. We probably all do without realizing it. Did you hold the door open for the poor mother with her hands full pushing a stroller? Did you pick up that piece of garbage you saw on the ground and throw it in a garbage can? Did you let that very impatient driver merge into the traffic ahead of you? These questions sound insignificant, but these are the positive responses to God’s commandments that He delights in seeing us do.
Paul writes, “For this cause, we also, since the day we heard this, don’t cease praying and making requests for you, that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will...” The question we are faced with every day is “What is God’s will?” We wonder what God would have us do. We work diligently to plan the big project, to have the big impact. We work at putting together fundraisers to help with the work of different organizations. We make plans, put together programs, seek helpers and accomplish great things. We organize food pantries and clothing drives to care for the poor. These are all good things. I think, however, sometimes we are so busy doing the “we should” or worrying about the “we should not” that we miss those moments when we can touch someone in one of those simple but life changing ways.
I understand the response of many of those writers because the experiences were so strange and unnecessary. If the person making demands of the non-employee would just stop and listen, then it never would have happened. Unfortunately, though, I think some of the writers went so far in their quest for revenge that they made matters far worse. Perhaps if we started to treat kindly even those who do not treat us kindly, we can make things work out better for everyone.
It is hard sometimes to respond in the moment. We are meant to be kind, but we are human and we are sinners, so we don’t always do so. We have to learn how to be merciful. We need God’s help. That’s why Paul talks about praying for the people of Colossae. He’s heard of their faith. He knows that they want to do what is right, to glorify God in their works.
As Christians we are called to lives of mercy. Mercy shows itself in many different ways. It shows itself in the way we deal with those who make us angry, with how we deal with difficult circumstances, with how to deal with our relationships. It is tempting to make God’s Law into a long list of specific rules we have to obey so that we will be perfect. It is tempting to justify our actions, but we need to remember that God calls us to be merciful and to help our neighbors even when it isn’t “our job.”
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls, and doesn’t have another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one keep warm alone? If a man prevails against one who is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, WEB
Today’s question is from Psalm 139:7: “Where could I go from your Spirit? Or where could I flee from your presence?” A similar question though opposite question was on the lips of disciples when Jesus taught them a hard lesson. Peter answered His words about eating His flesh with the question, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of Eternal life.” These are related; since we can’t run from God, He is the only one who has the answers to our questions and solutions to our problems.
Gordon MacDonald, in his book entitled “Restoring Your Spiritual Passion”, writes that the apostle Paul had a great need for friendship. “The apostle Paul was clearly a man committed to raising up a band of special friends. He knew who they were, and he regularly recognized them for their contribution to his spiritual passion. His friends were a resource upon which he obviously depended and without which he would not have survived.”
Though we may be blessed with many friends, there are usually just a few that we consider our best friends. As someone once said, “A real friend is someone who walks in when everybody else walks out.” Our best friends will be honest when we need correction and will be present when we need comfort. They know us so well that they can almost read our minds and tell us what we are thinking. They will stop us from doing something stupid and encourage us to do the right thing. Even when we make a mistake, they are quick with forgiveness and slow to remember our faults.
I wrote a devotion twenty years ago that listed a group of friends on which I relied. The list I would write today has changed, but all these friends past and present are equally important to my spiritual life. It is a blessing to have friends who stand with us and help us through this life, but even our relationships with our best friends are imperfect. I have had friends over the years that have been lost to the ravages of time and sin. The contribution of those old friends has not been forgotten, but as it is with all relationships, time has passed and we’ve moved in different directions. We have grown apart for one reason or another, contact broken and never restored. Childhood friends take different paths, school friends move away. Arguments create irreparable damage and walls are built that separate us forever. We do not know what may affect our relationships over time.
We need our earthbound friends because they cheer us in the good times and help us through the tough times. Together we can accomplish more, we can encourage one another, and we can prevail. As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, we are not easily broken when we are bound together with others. The binding is even stronger with Jesus.
Our relationship with Jesus is one that will stand forever. He knows us better than anyone. The love of our Lord God Almighty is greater than any we can receive from our earthbound friends. He knows everything about our life, even before we know it. We cannot hide from Him. He created us and laid our path before us. He gives us everything we need to live in this world, His life and word. We can go to Him for whatever we need. He will guard and protect us; He will mold and guide us. He is our best friend on which we can depend and without which we would not survive. With Him, through Him, in Him, for Him, with the help of our friends, we will receive the promised reward of eternity in His Kingdom because we are stronger with Him. Thank You, Lord, for your love.
“But don’t forget this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some count slowness; but he is patient with us, not wishing that anyone should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore since all these things will be destroyed like this, what kind of people ought you to be in holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, which will cause the burning heavens to be dissolved, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:8-13, WEB
Our son moved out of our house a few months ago, leaving us as empty nesters. This change of circumstance began a process of renovation and renewal in our house. Our son’s room became my husband’s office. He had been sharing my office since the pandemic began, so my peaceful office space was restored to me. He works a job that requires constant phone and online meetings, and I need quiet to pray, study, and write. We painted his room and moved a desk that had been taking space in my office. We painted my office, rearranged the bookshelves and created a lovely reading area for me. There are still some details that need to be complete in both our rooms, including the purchase of comfortable chairs.
I have a chair in my reading area, but it isn’t really very comfortable. I can find some that I like online, but I don’t want to buy anything without trying it first. There is no point in buying another chair that is not right. It is frustrating because the chairs I find online are not on display in any of the stores. I have visited half a dozen stores already, disappointed every time. I have also been looking for a chair for Bruce’s office; he gave me an idea of what he wanted and I haven’t had any luck. He wanted a reading chair similar to what I’m seeking, and really didn’t want a recliner, so I never looked at those.
The other night we decided to go out to dinner, so I planned our outing around another furniture store. Even if Bruce didn’t find one he liked, it would help me to see what caught his attention. We wandered the store, sat on a few chairs, and I was disappointed again. He got to the recliner department and began trying chairs. He loved them all, but chose one. It was on sale, so really affordable. He’ll have to wait until it is delivered in six to eight weeks, but he’s happy.
He also felt bad. “You have been searching so hard for your chair, and I found mine in the first store.” The difference is we could have found his chair in any of the stores I had already visited. I am looking for a type of chair that is apparently out of vogue. I’m a couple decades too late. The furniture industry, like many other industries, is dealing with logistic and supply problems, which is why so much furniture is taking a long time to arrive. The sales person the other day warned me that prices are going to skyrocket in the next month or so. I may have to wait even longer to get the right chair, or take my quest in a different direction.
This quest for a chair really doesn’t matter in the eternal scheme of things, although I think many people search for the meaning of life the way I’m searching for a chair. They hop from church to church or religion to religion. They buy books or listen to podcasts. They try different practices and run in different crowds. They know they are searching for something but don’t quite know what they want. Many reject the God who is their Creator and Redeemer. They look over the Lord Jesus Christ, their Savior. They refuse to understand that all power and gifts come through God’s Holy Spirit. They search, but never find what they are looking for. Thankfully, God is patient; those who search will find Him. They just have to take their search in the right direction. Sometimes they need our help.
We learn from Peter that a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day for God. The search for meaning in some lives seems to take a long time, but it has only been a moment for God. They might think that God is taking too long to fulfill His promises and that’s why the look in all the wrong places. He knows when the time will be right; everything is not yet ready. God is patient because He is waiting for all those seekers to realize that the Gospel is truly the answer to their quest. There is great hope in this message: God does not want any to perish. He is patient and longsuffering. Christ will not come until the way is made right, when the road is level. He is calling us to help them find their way.
Scriptures for June 13, 2021, Third Sunday after Pentecost: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 1; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (11-17); Mark 4:26-34
“I, Yahweh, have spoken and have done it.” Ezekiel 17:24c, WEB
I visited an aunt in Colorado a few years ago and did some fun activities around Denver while I was there. One day I took the scenic trip up to the top of Mt. Evans, a 14,000 foot mountain in the Rockies. The twisty road with hairpin turns is the highest paved road in North America. It road climbs thousands of feet as you travel through multiple landscapes, including tundra. There is a point on the trip, as is true on all high mountains, when the trees disappear completely. They simply cannot grow at such high altitudes. There is not enough soil for their roots and not enough seasonal warmth for them to grow strong enough to survive the harsh winter weather. The wind is another problem, with sustained winds of twenty or thirty miles an hour and extreme winds that could compete with tornados or hurricanes. The conditions are too harsh for large plants, though the flora that does grow is beautiful.
If you are lucky, you might even find a herd of mountain sheep or goats along your path. You need to climb a long, steep path from the parking lot to the summit of Mt. Evans, a trek I did not make. I was foolish and forgot to pack a coat, and though the temperature in Denver was a hot 90 plus degrees, it was only about 50 degrees up there. I also found the thin air at that altitude made it difficult to breathe. But the views were still spectacular. You could see mountain tops and valleys for miles in every direction. It was a cloudy day, but still clear enough for me to be impressed with God’s amazing creativity on earth. You can clearly see the tree line; from that distance, it almost seems like the difference between life below and no life above.
I thought about this trip as I read today’s Old Testament lesson from Ezekiel. Listen to the words of the prophet, “The Lord Yahweh says: ‘I will also take some of the lofty top of the cedar, and will plant it. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I will plant it on a high and lofty mountain.’” God is able to do what seems impossible. He can plant trees on those high mountain tops where they naturally do not grow.
God can do the impossible. He can even use remarkable voices to help us see and hear the word He has for us. A few years ago when I was actively ministering on the Internet, I had an acquaintance who had become an atheist. He was once a Christian, actively involved in the ministry of his church, but something happened to destroy his faith. We conversed via email for a long time. He asked a million questions but didn’t accept the answers I could give. He rejected the idea that some questions have only faith answers. I never quite understood why he continued to talk to me. I hoped he would see the love and mercy of God again, but I’m not sure what he wanted from our discussions. I don’t think he wanted to destroy my faith, although many of his questions were difficult. The lack of answers can be a faith breaker for many people.
Did my friend want to find God’s grace again? I’m not sure, but his questions certainly helped me seek God’s Word for myself. I may not have found suitable answers for him, but the search made my knowledge of God and my faith stronger. I gained confidence as I gained knowledge, and I was better able to share God’s grace with those who were questioning God. I learned a much from this former-Christian-atheist. He had an insight into the scriptures that was beyond the norm. It is still sad that his insight didn’t help him know God or love him. There’s always hope. Perhaps God still has work for him to do as an unbeliever, helping others grow strong enough to share God’s word with the world. I sometimes wish I could talk to him again, to see where he is twenty years later and to see if I now learned a better way to share those faith answers so that he might believe.
Today’s Old Testament passage is a promise to do the impossible. Israel had turned away from God. The kings had lost their way. The people were no longer worshipping only the God of their forefathers. They were not doing justice or living as God intended them to live. The only way to get their attention was to use the nations of the world. God gave Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians the power to defeat Israel in Jerusalem and take the king captive. The king made a vow with Nebuchadnezzar, and the Babylonians did not destroy Jerusalem. But the king thought he could be unfaithful to the covenant he made with Nebuchadnezzar, so he sought the help of Egypt. Egypt did not help Israel. As a matter of fact, Egypt helped with the destruction of what little was left. God allowed this to happen because the king was not faithful to the vow he made in God’s name.
So, the parable found in Ezekiel 17 tells the story of this time in the life of Israel. Our passage takes this story in a new and unexpected way. God will take a shoot and make it grow where it can never grow. A shoot clipped from the top of a cedar tree will not grow on the top of a mountain. Even if that snippet could grow, it wouldn’t grow into a vine. But, just as God could use a non-believer like Nebuchadnezzar to bring His people back into His heart, He can also bring life to that which should be dead. He does this so that the world will know that He is God. God turns the world upside down so that we can see His power and His mercy and His grace.
Sometimes that power and mercy and grace is found in the unexpected. We don’t always have the patience to wait for God’s plan to come into fulfillment. We can only go forth in faith knowing that God does know what He is doing. God is faithful. He will do the impossible that He has promised to do. He can make a cutting turn into a haven for hope. He has made Jesus Christ, who was cut and replanted through the cross and the tomb, bring life to the world. He has turned the world upside down.
I graduated from High School forty years ago (on Thursday) and a committee is working out the details to our reunion. I am trying to decide if I can and will go home. Reunions of any sort are often difficult gatherings to attend, especially when there are people who are comparing the successes of the other guests. But we have to ask the question, “What is success?” Is success defined by the size of a house or a bank account? Is it defined by the accomplishments of children or the length of a relationship? Is someone with a corporate job more successful than a struggling artist?
Unfortunately, many people define success by material things. It was happening in Corinth with those who were in opposition to the work Paul was doing with the new Christians there. They were claiming greater success because they were being paid and were thriving in their positions in the church. However, Paul refused to be paid. He preferred to give the Gospel to the people for free so that no one could question his integrity. To Paul, success was not about how much he had gathered in material wealth but how well the people who have heard his message were living. Were they disciples of Jesus Christ? Were they sharing the Gospel with others? Were they glorifying God with their gifts both material and spiritual? Were they loving as Christ loved and living as Christ lived? Had they been transformed by the Gospel message into a new creation whose desires were the same as God?
Those who are at peace are those who are content in their circumstances: the guy who loves his work even though it isn’t a high paying job, the woman who is happily single, or the couple that loves their imperfect children and their small apartment. They are not conforming to the expectations of the world, but living happy in their circumstances today. That’s the upside down world that God wants for us. As for Paul, he was confident in God’s grace and could continue to do the work he was called to do even though it seemed to some that he was a failure. He knew that God knew him and to Paul, that was all that matters.
Paul was like that treetop that God planted on the mountain. Who would have ever expected a man like Paul who was so adamantly against “The Way” in the beginning to become the great minister who did so much to spread the Kingdom of God around the world? His work two thousand years ago laid the foundation for many churches and his letter continues to help us learn and understand what it means to be the Church.
Now, we know that Paul’s accomplishments are actually God’s accomplishments through him. I would never have been able to make my friend believe in God again. Though I could encourage him and share my faith, only God could have accomplished the impossible change of heart that was needed for him to have faith again. But God blesses us with opportunities and gifts to help cut off those treetops and to plant them on mountaintops. He uses our hands and mouths to do the impossible.
Jesus used parables as a way to explain the kingdom of God to those who would listen. Parables are not always understood by those who hear them. Even the disciples, who knew Jesus intimately, often did not understand what He was saying. He had to explain it to them later, in private. What’s the point of telling stories that do not help someone come to faith? I think parables are meant to make people think, to make us reach beyond our comfort zone, to seek answers to questions that are brought to light by the story. What is the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, like? What does it mean that the kingdom of God grows in impossible places? What does it mean that the kingdom of God is small but grows large and provides protection for creatures of the earth? What is the kingdom of God? These are the kind of questions my former-Christian-atheist friend asked that helped my faith grow. It is in thinking about these questions that we draw near to God.
Parables are not meant to give us answers, but to guide us in asking questions. Faith is not something that is tangible. It isn’t something we can describe in so many words. It isn’t something that is the same for you and for me. It isn’t even the same for each of us throughout our lives. Paul writes, “...for we walk by faith, not by sight...” I will never fully understand the kingdom of God until I dwell in my eternal home. Until that day, Jesus will continue to tell me stories that make me think about what it means to me today. If the kingdom of God is like a man who spreads seeds, am I a seed? Am I the man? There have been times in my life when I have been both. I’ve been the one sharing the stories of Jesus with others. I am also a seed that continues to sprout and grow. The point here is that the God does the part that we can’t. We can’t make others become Christian. We can’t even make ourselves into a Christian. God does the work. Who among us would ever be a Christian without God’s help? God can do the impossible.
It is interesting that in the Gospel lesson we don’t really see that it is God doing the work. The kingdom of God is like a man casting seed. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, planted in the ground. We see in the first parable that the man who cast the seed does not know how it happens to grow. He sleeps and rises, but the seed grows without his help. The mustard seed is small but grows to be something big enough for birds to dwell. This happens without the help of any man.
Seeds can be cultivated by nature. Seeds are spread by the wind. They drop into the ground. Plants in the wild die, but new plants grow in their place. In these stories, though, the seeds are planted. What is amazing about this is that we know that God is at work in the growing of those plants, and yet He calls us into partnership. He calls us to plant seeds. He asks us to help Him with the work He is doing in this world. He can do it alone, just as He saved Israel from Babylon, just as He took that tender twig and made it grow in impossible conditions, He can make His Kingdom grow without our help. But He wants our help. He wants us to be a part of it. He makes us colleagues. He calls us to use our gift and His creation to plant seeds and help them grow.
Advertising is designed to make us want something and to do so in a short amount of time. A good ad, whether it is on television, in a magazine or on the radio, catches our attention. It makes us look twice. It makes us study the information so that we will go after this thing they are selling. If an advertisement doesn’t catch our attention, it will never make us go buy the item. We tune out or run to the bathroom when an ad appears on television. We flip over to the next page if the print ad is too boring. We change stations if we aren’t interested in an ad we hear on the radio. Some ads are so annoying that we turn down the sound until it is over.
Advertisers spend a great deal of money every year trying to get our attention. Some strategies work. I’m sure most of us can think of a jingle that we remember from the past. Who will ever forget some of the classic characters in advertising: Mr. Whipple, the “Where’s the Beef” lady, Mikey.
Some of my favorite radio commercials were the Bud Light “Real Men of Genius” spots. These commercials used the worst (or the best, depending on how you look at it) of beer-drinking American men and paid tribute (or made fun of) the things that they did as if they were heroic in their enterprises. Take, for instance, “Mr. T-Shirt Launcher Inventor” whose t-shirt launcher could send t-shirts into the nosebleed section of the stadium. Actually, anywhere the t-shirts fly is the nosebleed section. Or how about “Mr. Rolling Cooler Cooler Roller” whose rolling cooler was so big that it could fit enough food to feed an army, a cooler for the guy who “has everything but a friend to help him carry the cooler.” These commercials were hysterical, and we always become very quiet when we were in the car and heard the music start because we wanted to hear which “American hero” they were singing about that time. The commercial itself rarely had anything to do with beer, but there was no doubt to which company has sponsored the ad.
Some commercials aren’t so easy to understand. There was a car commercial a few years back which, to be honest, I can’t even remember the brand name. At the end of the commercial you were left scratching your head in wonderment: what was that all about? I think sometimes the advertising creators want to leave us confused so that we’ll have to think about the commercial and watch it even more closely the next time it is on. I’m not sure those campaigns work very well, most people just tune it out, which is why those campaigns don’t last very long.
Advertisers like to tell stories. They don’t always focus on the product itself, like the Bud Light radio spots, but in the end you know what they are selling. Sometimes it is better to tell an interesting story, to get people thinking, to make them search out the product in other ways, because then they will become more invested and really consider buying the item.
Jesus was selling something, too, but sometimes when we hear the stories He told, they make little sense to us. What does a seed have to do with the kingdom of God? If you aren’t a farmer, the agricultural references might be pointless. And we look at these stories and know that they aren’t completely true. Yes, a plant grows without the help or knowledge of man, but what farmer doesn’t put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into his farms? We know that the mustard seed isn’t really the smallest seed and we also know that it doesn’t usually grow so big that the birds can build nests in it. Yet, these parables have long helped us to understand that God is in control and that He has begun a great thing with just a tiny seed. We know this because we’ve studied these tests, thought about it and learned what it might mean physically and spiritually.
Though the parables on the surface are just stories, they cause us to think more deeply about what Jesus is saying and to take ownership of the information He is sharing. He often explains these parables to the disciples, and we benefit from their confusion. But it does us well to look beyond the story and think about what it meant not only for the disciples and early hearers, but also for us today.
Paul invites us to live lives pleasing to God. He faced difficult times. As a matter of fact, there were many who wanted his ministry to fail. He was attacked, not only about his faith but also personally. People in Corinth were trying to undermine his work and the seeds he had planted, but Paul did not give up. It would have been much easier, and better, to be in heaven. He would have preferred experiencing the promised life in the eternal presence of God. He wanted to be with Jesus. I know how he felt. But he knew that there was still work to do. He was a partner with God in the kingdom that He had established in the here and now. The kingdom of God might be something we will experience in the future, but it is also right now.
Paul writes, “Therefore we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord; for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are courageous, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well pleasing to him.” Even though he wanted to be home with the Lord, he stayed to continue the work Jesus called him to do: planting and nurturing the seeds of the kingdom. We want to be with the Lord, especially at times when it seems like the work we are meant to do is impossible, but we have work to do. We go forward in faith knowing that for God all things are possible.
The psalmist writes, “Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand on the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in Yahweh’s law.” It is in God’s grace that we have the freedom to truly be what God has created and redeemed us to be. We learn from the psalmist that the righteous will live a fruitful life in God’s kingdom.
Psalm 1 was likely written by the person who gathered and organized the psalms as we know them today, possibly Ezra. Ezra was a relative of the last high priest of the first Temple in Jerusalem, had been in Babylon and returned with the rest of the exiles. Ezra reintroduced the Jews to the Torah. In Nehemiah 8, they read the Torah and expounded upon it to the people, who stood all day for the reading. Remember, they were in Babylon because they had been disobedient to God’s Word, so God allowed the Babylonians to take them into captivity. After seventy years, they returned to Jerusalem to begin again. God is the God of second (and third, and fourth, and a hundredth chances.) The focus in the Psalms of the Law is Ezra’s reminder that Israel should not go back to the path that led them into exile. The legalism that came after the exile (and was rampant by the time Jesus was born) was overcompensation, but the extreme legalism is just as bad as lawlessness because it leads to self-righteousness. The key is to trust in God.
God sees the world much differently that we do. He sees it through love, through mercy, and through grace. God can see goodness in the midst of darkness, He can see potential where there seems to be none. That’s why He can take a tender twig and made it grow in impossible conditions. He sees differently because He sees beyond the surface and into the heart of man. He sees beyond the moment. He sees His creation without the cloak of sin and death. In Christ we are given a vision of what God sees in us and in others. Life in Christ means we are meant to see the world through eyes of faith, to see it with love, mercy, and grace and to act accordingly.
God is doing amazing things. He brings life and in the blink of an eye He can make nothing something spectacular. God has promised to do the impossible and He did it. He did it in and through Jesus. He is still making all things new. He has called us to dwell in the shadow of His grace and to produce fruit in keeping with His forgiveness. He is taking the seeds that we have planted and He is bringing them to life. He is also making the seeds in our hearts grow. We are a new creation in Christ, called to live in the freedom of His Kingdom, partners with Him in the salvation of the world.
“Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom we also have our access by faith into this grace in which we stand. We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only this, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope: and hope doesn’t disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:1-5, WEB
I was not going to buy a chair online because I thought it was important to make sure that it was comfortable. I looked online to see if any of the stores had anything that I liked and then went to the store, hoping I could find that chair on their sales floor. Unfortunately, I learned in the process that most furniture stores only keep about 10-20% of their online merchandise in stock in their stores. This means that I couldn’t try any of the chairs I liked, and I would probably wait eight to ten weeks for delivery. I was getting frustrated, but I looked online at a new store, not expecting to find anything. Not only did I find something I liked, it was a type of chair I was willing to buy without trying, and it was in their clearance! I got a chair and ottoman with two day delivery for less than some of the chairs I was chasing all over town.
I thought about going to the store to look at it, but the website said it wasn’t on display. I had to use my best judgment. It is a large chair. It is what is considered a chair and a half, and my space was not very big. I measured six times before I clicked the button to buy. I read all the reviews to make sure the color was what I expected. I knew it would fit, but would it make sense? I hoped I could make it work.
We hope for many different things throughout our lives. As children, we hope that Santa will come or that we will get a certain toy for our birthday. As teenagers, we hope that we will pass that important test, get a date for the prom or that our team will win the big game. When we are young adults, our hopes turn toward graduating college, getting a good job and finding the perfect mate. As we grow older, we hope our children will do well and that we will wake up in the morning feeling healthy and satisfied.
Of course, we are often disappointed when our hopes do not come to pass. These hopes are little more than wishes and dreams that can fall apart. We do not always do well on those important tests or get the job that we want. We wake up many mornings feeling ill, sore or just plain depressed. The world around us is imperfect and that imperfection manifests in our lives, creating roadblocks to the utopian world we hope for in this life. It is impossible to rejoice in hope knowing that our health might fail, our money might disappear and our kids might not meet our expectations. It gets hard and harder as we grow older.
Paul calls us to rejoice in hope, but that rejoicing is not in hope that will disappoint. As it turned out, the chair is big, but it works and it is very comfortable. I look forward to many years of reading and cuddling with my kitties on that chair.
But the hope to which Paul points is hope in the promises of God. This world is indeed filled with fallen hopes and discontent. We question faith when things go wrong, finding disappointment when the things we hope for do not come to pass. However, we need to remember that the world is imperfect. We are stained by sin and death. We are perishable. We are corrupt beings that fall to temptation and fail to be holy. We should never rest our hope in anything less than the One true God, for He is the only one who is faithful. The joy comes from knowing that only by God’s promises and gifts can we even have hope, and that hope will be true. We hope for many things throughout our lives, but those hopes may disappoint us. Yet, we can rejoice in the hope that comes from faith in Christ because God is faithful.
“He spoke a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the best seats, and said to them, ‘When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the best seat, since perhaps someone more honorable than you might be invited by him, and he who invited both of you would come and tell you, “Make room for this person.” Then you would begin, with shame, to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes, he may tell you, “Friend, move up higher.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.’” Luke 14:7-11, WEB
I read an article today about Billy Joel. He said in a 2015 article in Billboard Magazine that he always holds back the front row tickets to his concerts. He has found over the years (and many concerts!) that the scalpers often get those tickets and sell them for ridiculous prices to people who can afford them but aren’t really excited to be there. The best fans, he said, are always in the worst seats in the house. So, he sends his road crew into the upper levels to invite fans down to the front. “This way you’ve got people in the front row that are really happy to be there, real fans,” he said.
Those who pay extreme prices for those front row seats might think of themselves as huge fans, but their actions at the concert didn’t show it. Billy Joel had noticed that they weren’t excited to be there. He wanted the faces of his fans to be lit with joy, their bodies moving with the beat. He wanted them to sing along. He wanted them to have the night of their lives. Jesus wants the same for us as we live our lives of faith in the world.
I used to volunteer at a local part that was built for those who are differently abled. The rides are designed with places for wheelchairs and the activities accommodate those with sight issues. They have taken into account those who have neurological difficulties. It is a fun place for everyone from the youngest to the oldest, no matter their capabilities. The man who built the park wanted a place where people with and without disabilities could learn how to play together.
They have paid staff, but they rely on volunteers. I gave my time for more than a year and loved greeting guests at the front door as they came for their day. One day we had a man come to volunteer who was very conceited: he was determined to have an important job or he wasn’t going to volunteer. He had an impressive resume and we may have found an appropriate place for him eventually. However, it took time for everyone to find their place. The park was new and they were still learning what tasks could be done by volunteers; we knew that it would take time for everything to fall into place.
The park did not have any volunteer positions that fit the expectations of the man. The type of position he wanted was held by the few paid staff members, by necessity. The time would come when volunteers were given more responsibility. Unfortunately, the man refused anything less than a position of importance, he lost the chance the find his niche. Instead of being raised up from the lower seat, he stormed out because we wouldn’t give him a higher one.
There was another man who was a very successful corporate executive who really enjoyed his job. He just knew that he had to be involved with the park when he heard about it. He was in a financially sound position, so he quit his high paying job in the corporate world and was hired as park maintenance for an hourly wage. He was so blessed by the work, glad to get his fingers dirty for the sake of others. He was well respected by his co-workers and he loved what he was doing.
The second man was willing to take whatever was available to be a part of this wonderful park. He didn’t walk in the door demanding a position appropriate to his power and position in his world. He humbled himself for the sake of others and has found great blessing in it. I stopped volunteering many years ago, but I imagine the man was able to offer his corporate experience in a positive way, perhaps even in management of the park.
Human beings tend to think highly of ourselves. Those who pay high ticket prices for their front row seats often think they are better than the poor fools who can barely see the stage from their nosebleed seats in the balcony. Those who volunteer with a spirit of conceit never really find their place in an organization. But those who really love what they are doing might just find themselves in the front row or in an executive office because someone has recognized their joy in what they do.
As Christians we live in a paradox. On the one hand, the world encourages us push ahead of our neighbor, whether it is to grab the best seats of a concert or the most important job at a park. Jesus reminds us in today’s less that we are called to be like Him; He had it all but humbled Himself for the sake of the world. Jesus tells the crowds not to rush for the best seats at a banquet. He reminds them that there are others who may deserve to sit higher, and that it is better to sit lowly and be raised rather than sit according to our expectations and be humiliated when asked to move. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” So, too, it is with us: if we humbly accept the least, we’ll find ourselves raised beyond our expectations.
“And whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord, and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24, WEB
Our question for today is taken out of the passage celebrating the Proverbs 31 woman. “Who can find a worthy woman? For her price is far above rubies,” (verse 10.) The word used here for woman is often translated wife, but for the sake of today’s writing, we are going to embrace “woman” since this text is about more than a good wife.
The Proverbs 31 woman has been misunderstood and misrepresented throughout the ages, leaving most women afraid to even attempt to become like her. After all, you’ll note at the beginning of the chapter that this is a mother-in-law’s expectations, “The words of king Lemuel; the revelation which his mother taught him.” Who has ever lived up to the expectations of their mother-in-law? Women have often tried to be everything to everyone: corporate executive, Supermom, great lover, volunteer of the year and perfect housekeeper. She tries to do it all. Perhaps you remember a commercial many years ago for perfume that sums up the ridiculous expectations of women by the world: “She brings home the bacon, fries it up in a pan and she’ll never let you forget you’re a man. ‘Cuz she's a woman!” The words describing the Proverbs 31 woman seem unreasonable.
I have always joked that the Proverbs 31 woman is “The Martha Stewart of King David’s Court.” She is an unattainable ideal. Martha Stewart runs her own business and is still able to create a magnificent dinner party for 20 at the drop of a hat. There is a story that often circulates around the holidays with letters between Martha Stewart and Erma Bombeck. Martha tells Erma that she has gotten up early to make placemats for breakfast for twenty guests, and she describes a million other things she will do that day. Later, she plans to deliver the note which is written on homemade paper using a homemade sled she created that morning out of barn wood and hot glue. Erma counters with how she tried to make her own paper but when it became a ball of mush, she just used the back of an old shopping list. “Pay no attention to the coffee and jelly stains.” Erma goes on to tell Martha about her out of control schedule and how she won’t get anything accomplished that day. Whose life sounds more common?
It is difficult to believe that any woman can do all that the Proverbs 31 woman does. After all, she chooses her own flax, makes her own cloth, clothing and bedding. She’s up at 5 am cooking for her family and her servants. She’s the corporate executive of the family, trades her homemade goods and buys the land on which she produces a vineyard. She’s intelligent and is well spoken, able to share the wisdom she possesses. She is hardworking, well loved, joyful and respected not only by those closest to her but also in the community.
Many people have said, “I could be a Proverbs 31 woman if only I had a few servants.” This is the misunderstanding. A search on the web for information about the Proverbs 31 woman finds many websites dedicated to making women domestic goddesses, beauty queens, perfect wives submissive to their husband’s every whim. Yet, the passage from Proverbs does not necessarily suggest she is beautiful, perfect, or submissive. She is competent, talented and smart. Her husband trusts her to run the household affairs while he serves in a high office. We do not know what she looks like, but her beauty runs much deeper than the skin.
The book of Proverbs is a book of wisdom. In it we learn how to handle our money, and how to work. We learn how to treat our parents, children and friends. We learn the differences between wisdom and folly, between righteousness and wickedness. The book of Proverbs tells us how to live according to the expectations of God, and the Proverbs 31 woman is an excellent example. She is the personification of wisdom. She is not simply the perfect woman; she is what the Church and all Christians are meant to be. We are the bride of Christ and our life should exhibit the virtues and characteristics that manifest in lives of faith. We are His and life as a “Proverbs 31 woman” begins with faithfulness. Do you know who you are in Christ? Do you recognize what He has done for you? Do you live your life in a way that the world sees your faith? Paul encourages us to live this life, glorifying God with our good works, serving Christ in ways that will manifest His grace to the world.
The Proverbs 31 woman does not have to be a wife or even a woman. As a matter of fact, every Christian should strive to be the King’s beloved. Those of us who profess belief in the Lord Jesus Christ should strive to fulfill all the expectations described by the king’s mother, beginning with the most important virtue: the fear of the Lord, for that is wisdom and wisdom is the place where true discipleship begins.
“Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Withstand him steadfast in your faith, knowing that your brothers who are in the world are undergoing the same sufferings. But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:8-11, WEB
I have a friend who answers the question, “How are you?” with “I woke up on the green side.” While this is an optimistic point of view, it isn’t the most uplifting point of view. It presumes the more likely place my friend expected to be is below the green, dead and buried. Not really a very optimistic thought! Of course, my friend is on the far side of the hill, and he believes that every day that is spent living and breathing is a gift. He’s not concerned about death, but it is definitely in the back of his mind.
I have found myself answering the same question with an answer that looks with joy at the present. “It is a great day to be alive.” “I am thankful for this beautiful day.” Oh, I’m as guilty as the next person of answering “Fine” all too often, but I’m trying to rejoice in the moment without thinking about the reality of our brief time on the green side. Quite frankly, I look forward to eternity, so I can empathize with those who see life through the lens of that reality, and though I have more bad days than I would like to admit, I have decided to enjoy each day for what it is: a gift. There are truly reasons to worry, but there are also plenty of reasons to rejoice. When we focus on the negatives, we open ourselves to the temptations of the devil.
In western society, we face the struggles of drugs and violence, worrying about our children every time they walk out the door. We worry about disease, pollution, and poverty. We are anxious about the decisions we make and how they will affect our lives and the world around us. In our personal lives, we are concerned about our health, finances, family and friends. We experience suffering of all sorts, emotional and physical. What has you worried today? A sick friend? A busy schedule? A lost relationship? The wrong job? Does your worry ever cause you to despair? What makes you afraid?
We each have anxieties, which are part of our day to day living. These worries are not healthy for us, and cause greater strain on our physical and emotional health. Even more, the worries place great strain on our spiritual health, and the devil is always lingering, watching for an opportunity to turn us from God. We need to face the fact that each of us has issues that we focus upon daily that waste our time and energy. When we recognize the stumbling blocks that can take over our lives, then we can do something positive, even if it is just an optimistic answer to a common greeting. The best place to begin is with an attitude that today is a great day to be alive, rejoicing that God has given us another day to praise Him.
God recognizes that there are issues in our lives that need to be handled. We do need to eat, rest in shelter, and take care of the sick. There are problems in our society that brings death and pain to our lives. He does not expect us to go around laughing gaily at every moment in the midst of pain and suffering. However, it is important that we do not let these issues make us anxious to the point of giving a foothold to the enemy. We are to keep our eyes focused on God and His amazing grace, remembering that we are not the only ones who are suffering. Keep in mind the great men of the Bible, such as Joseph and Job. They faced incredible hardship, stayed faithful, and were restored to a greater glory. Our greater glory is life in Christ Jesus, now and for eternity. Stand firm in your faith and tell the devil to take a hike.
Scriptures for June 20, 2021, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 124; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
“They were greatly afraid, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” Mark 4:41, WEB
I am reading a book that honestly confronts the unfortunate scandals that have plagued some churches over the years. Every denomination in some way or another has been embarrassed by stories of pastors who took advantage of parishioners or staff that has embezzled funds. While the Church is meant to be a place where truth and goodness are the norm, the Church is also made of very human people who sin. And they don’t often turn to truth and goodness immediately; they try to cover up their sin. They authors described different techniques used in these circumstances like blaming the victim, making excuses, and denying the situation altogether. They put up a facade and hope no one will discover what is lurking behind it.
The facades fell in the cases mentioned in the book. The truth was revealed. Light shined on the evil. And then, the churches could begin the process of healing and reconciliation. A lot of harm was done and at times it seemed as though God was missing. Lives were ruined, both the victims and the perpetrators, and the world blamed God because He seemed to be missing.
It isn’t just in the church where people put on facades. It happens in politics, in families, and in workplaces. We don’t always realize what’s happening behind the scenes. Politicians take bribes, parents abuse children, and coworkers will do whatever it takes to get ahead, even if it means destroying someone else’s career. Human beings put up facades so that the world won’t see the truth.
One of the favorite TV genres is reality television; unfortunately, there isn’t much reality in those shows. One show helps a family find a new house. They are taken to three possibilities and then have to choose one in the end. I have never understood why anyone would give so much power over their lives to a television show. There’s always something wrong with each of the choices; I would never pick one of them. However, I recently read an article about this show that revealed the couple “searching” had already purchased the house of their dreams and the ones they visited during the show are often not even on the market. Their responses aren’t real; they are acting as they “oo and awe” or “hmm and haw” over the houses. They wear a façade.
The same acting takes place in so many of the competition shows. This becomes obvious as the show goes on season after season. You can’t help but see that certain contestants are kept on not for their talent, but for their character. And there are always characters. One contestant revealed long after his time on the show that the producers wanted him to act a certain way. “I did it, but you didn’t see the real me on that show.” He wore a façade.
The contestants seem to be encouraged to say things like “I really didn’t want to lose.” Well, no kidding. None of the contestants wanted to lose. Sometimes they say, “The judges were wrong, mine was better.” Of course they think theirs is better, but they aren’t the ones doing the judging. I don’t know how much of that talk is real or is the work of the producers creating drama, but we have always remember that though the word “reality” is in the genre title, most of it isn’t reality. Those arrogant statements might just be another façade to make the television show interesting.
Paul didn’t wear a facade; he said what he was thinking. He was often accused of being too blunt and arrogant. He told the readers what was happening in his life so that it would help the reader grow in faith and discipleship. His claims sometimes seem like boasts, even those claims of bad experiences. He suffered more than others. He had more to offer. He had the right message. Read enough of Paul and you might just wonder if he was the right man to be given the role of apostle.
But God doesn’t make mistakes. Paul was exactly the man He needed; God knew Paul’s heart. Paul’s words ring harshly on our ears sometimes, but perhaps he is saying exactly what we need to hear. We need to know that there is a cost to discipleship, that it isn’t an easy path to walk. We need to know there are expectations for those who claim to follow Christ. We need to know that we will suffer for our faith. We need to be encouraged to follow his example to be all that God is calling us to be. We have to realize we are sinners in need of a Savior and that the Savior has called us to a roller coaster life that will have highs and lows, joys and pains, lessons to learn and to teach. God does not want us to be people who wear masks or facades, but rather people that are willing to speak what our hearts know is true. Honesty and integrity matter, and while we may not always like the man Paul, we can trust that Paul is honest and that his ministry had integrity. A life of truth and goodness is what we are meant to live. It is especially important to remember this when we realize that we’ve been wearing a façade, especially one that hides our lack of trust in God.
The very things that bother us about Paul might just be the very things that God wants to change in our lives. Are we complaining about our suffering? Then we need to know that suffering produces perseverance, etc. Are we having trouble forgiving our neighbor? Then we need to know that forgiveness is the only way to peace. Are Paul’s words convicting us of our sin? Then we need to repent. We don’t like Paul sometimes because Paul says exactly what we don’t want to hear. He doesn’t whitewash the truth because he knew that the truth will set us free. Even if it seems like the truth will make things more difficult, we will find that truth and goodness can lead to healing and reconciliation.
In today’s epistle lesson, Paul tells us that today is the day of salvation. This is marvelous news, but we have to understand what this means. Salvation is present, but it doesn’t always seem that way, does it? We know that as saved children of God we have been adopted into His family, made heirs to His kingdom. It sure doesn’t seem like we are princes and princesses sometimes. We suffer. We fail. We are persecuted. Paul tells us that he was imprisoned, beaten, and faced hardship. He suffered sleepless nights and hunger, often at the hands of those he should have been able to trust. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, he endured these things and lived a life that did not take God’s grace in vain. “By glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true,” says Paul. The world may think we are wearing a façade, but if we live as God has called us to live, we can go forth doing His will without fear.
The world calls us deceivers because we have faith in a God that they think should be blamed for our suffering. Yet, what the world thinks does not matter; what matters is that today is the day of salvation and we are called to live in the grace of God through the difficult times, always growing into the people He has saved us to be, glorifying God through it all. It won’t be easy. The tasks are sometimes impossible. The burdens are too heavy to carry. And we don’t always do what is right, because we are sinners in need of a Savior. But God has saved us. We are called to work in this world whatever the circumstances so that God’s grace is not in vain. We do not have to wear a façade to hide our failure because God sees our hearts and He has promised to make all things right in the end.
In today’s Gospel lesson, the disciples cried for Jesus to help. They were caught in a terrible storm and the boat was rocking in the waves. I imagine that the bottom of the boat was flooded with water, threatening the stability of the vessel. The disciples, many of whom were trained fishermen, knew the dangers they faced. The boat could capsize or sink at any moment. Every hand was probably necessary to protect their lives. Even the best swimmers would have difficulty surviving those waves. But Jesus slept, and His disciples asked, “Teacher Teacher, don’t you care that we are dying?” This is a cry for help. “Help us or we will die.” And Jesus helped.
I don’t know about you, but I never understood how Jesus could sleep through that storm. I have trouble sleeping when I’m in a safe, warm house during a thunderstorm. I’m often wakened by the flashes of lightning and booming thunder, and I end up pacing around the house checking to be sure everything is alright. Sometimes I turn on the television, to make sure there is no chance for tornadoes or hail, ready to wake my family and move them to a safer place in the house if necessary. If I can’t sleep in the house during a storm, I’m sure I’d never be able to sleep on a boat. But Jesus slept.
Jesus heard their cry and answered their fear by rebuking the storm and causing the wind to cease. He did something that put them at ease, but in the process He caused them another sort of fear, an awe-inspired fear of something far more powerful than themselves. They probably just wanted Him to grab a bucket to bail out water, but He proved His control over nature by rebuking a storm. Then He rebuked them for being afraid. He rebuked them for not having faith.
How do we look at our own troubles: through fear or the eyes of faith? We might want to think that this lesson teaches us that Jesus will stop all our storms, but we all know that faith does not guarantee that we will avoid suffering. Water pours into our boats sometimes. There is plenty in our world about which we can be afraid, some of it brought on by our own failures. We tend to be like the disciples and pray to Jesus, “Why don’t you care about how we are floundering here?” and hope that He will tell the wind and the rain to stop. But the wind and the rain don’t always stop just because we’ve prayed for it to do so. Sometimes the storm is the very way that God helps us to grow and learn and mature. Remember Jonah. This isn’t a story about God doing our bidding.
There is a story about a man who slipped and fell off a cliff while hiking on a mountaintop. On his way down he grabbed a branch. He was twenty feet from the top and a long way from the bottom. He feared for his life and cried for help. “A booming voice spoke up, ‘I am here, and I will save you if you believe in me.’ ‘I believe, I believe,’ yelled back the man. ‘If you believe me, let go of the branch and then I will save you.’” The man’s fear of death was so great he yelled, “s there anyone else who can help?” What he didn’t know is that he was just feet from a shelf; if he let go he would land and it would be easier to save him. We don’t always believe the voice. It takes faith to let go and trust that our Lord will save us.
Today’s Gospel story is also about being like Jesus in the midst of those storms. He asked the disciples, “Where is your faith?” He was right there. He was not going to let them die. As we face our storms, it might seem to us that Jesus is sleeping on a cushion at the end of the boat, but He knows what’s happening. He is with us. We might have to suffer, as we bail out the boat or hang on for dear life, but He won’t let go of us. The lesson is to have faith in the midst of those storms, to know that He is with us, to trust Him even when it seems like the world around us is falling apart.
The world looks at this kind of faith and thinks we must be wearing a façade. We appear “as deceivers, and yet true.” They can’t believe that our faith is real. Faith gives us the courage to stand on truth and goodness even when the world around us is falling apart. The book I’m reading gave some extreme examples of people in the church hiding their sinfulness, but we are all sinners who need to let down our facades and recognize our own sinfulness so that we can seek healing and reconciliation. It is never easy, but in the end God will be glorified when the world sees His people trusting in Him to get them through all our storms. God is glorified when we trust in Him.
Every generation has a “Where were you?” question. Where were you when Pearl Harbor was bombed? Where were you when JFK was shot? Where were you when the astronauts walked on the moon? Where were you when the Challenger exploded? Where were you on 9/11? People can generally remember where they were when these history changing moments happened, or at least they knew where they were when they heard about it. These stories usually end up with families, friends or coworkers gathered around a television.
We ask the question about more personal events in people’s lives. Where were you when you met your spouse? Where were you married? Where were you when you decided what you wanted to be when you grew up? Where were you when you became a Christian? For those of us in the military, and other transient communities, knowing where we were helps us to remember when something happened. Where were we when Zack broke his finger? Where were we when we bought that piece of furniture? Where were we when the song or movie or television show was popular?
The question is also used in the courtroom. A defense attorney will ask his client, “Where were you on the night this crime happened?” The question is meant to establish an alibi for the accused. Other questions help to establish his or her whereabouts on other important moments, like when a gun was purchased. The lawyer is trying to prove that the defendant could not be guilty because he or she was not there. The questions might be asked by the prosecutor to put the defendant in the right place at the right time, thus proving them guilty.
Job was a righteous man who had fallen prey to the adversary. He lost everything; he lost his wealth, his health and his family. The book describes his lament and shows us how even the most righteous can find themselves in the midst of a storm of doubt and uncertainty while undergoing suffering. Job began to blame God for his troubles, his response to the questions raised by his losses. “Where was God? How could the Almighty allow this to happen to me? Why?”
I don’t think there is anyone who hasn’t uttered those words at some point in their life. We all wonder where God is when we are facing some desert, darkness, sickness or storm. When a tornado destroys and entire town or a gunman shoots a dozen victims at a school, we ask why God didn’t do something to stop it. When cancer destroys someone we love or we face unemployment because the company can’t survive the economic conditions of the day, we wonder how God could allow it to happen. Why would we be any different than Job? If he could doubt, we can, too.
God asks Job the “where were you” question in today’s Old Testament passage. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” In this case, the question is meant to establish that Job has no right to question the will and purpose of God. Job was not even a glimmer in his mother’s eye when God spoke creation into existence. God has been from before the beginning and will be after the end. Human beings are simply unable to know or understand everything about the God we worship. He wouldn’t be worthy of worship if we could.
However, we struggle when God allows terrible things to happen in our lives. We want to be angry. We want to go to court with God, to question Him, to insist on answers to our questions. We want to blame Him for our suffering. God reminds us that we weren’t there when He established the foundation of the earth and we’ll never fully understand Him. What seems to be bad from our point of view may lead to something beyond our imagination. He simply asks that we trust Him.
God is faithful. We can rest in God’s promises even when it seems like we are dying. Where were we when God laid the foundations of the earth? We did not yet exist in the flesh, but we were loved even then. Of this we can be sure.
The disciples were fishermen. They knew how to handle a boat. They had experienced rough seas. The Sea of Galilee is known for sudden squalls that seem to come out of nowhere. It would have been somewhat frightening to face such a force of nature, but not unheard of for men in that profession. They knew how to handle the water, the nets and their boat, to get into safe harbor. What did they expect from Jesus? He was a carpenter and they were the experienced fishermen. He did not know how to handle a boat, even in calm waters. If He had not been with them, they would have gotten right to work to keep the boat afloat and steer it toward shore. Yet, because they had come to rely on Him for so much, they turned to Him in their fear.
“Teacher, don’t you care that we are dying?” Jesus seems to have had more faith in fallible man than the disciples had in their God. Jesus trusted that his disciples would use their talents to do what was necessary. He had no fear of the storm because He knew they could deal with it. “Why are you so afraid? How is it that you have no faith?” Jesus did not come to do all the work. He didn’t come to feed them or clothe them. He did not come to take care of all their problems or make their lives easy. He came to teach them how to trust God and to walk in faith doing the work they were called to do with the gifts, skills, and talents God gave them.
We are just like Job and the disciples. We forget that God has the power to control the world around us because He laid the foundations long before we were born. Instead of trusting in Him, we try to control the world on our own and we fail. When we suffer the consequences of our faithlessness, we blame God. We worry. We are afraid. We are desperate. It is when we are desperate that we finally remember God; it is then that we cry out to Him. Thankfully, He hears us and answers. He hasn’t abandoned us. He hasn’t been sleeping. He is there, always ready to save us.
We don’t know God’s mind; we don’t know His plans. God asked Job, “Where were you when I...?” Job was not there in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. We only know what He has revealed to us, and though Job was close to God, he can’t speak for Him. God’s ways are truly higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than ours. We can only walk in faith, trusting that God is in control.
That’s what Jesus wanted from the disciples that night on the sea. He wanted them to trust God, even when God seemed to be missing. God does not call us to do anything He hasn’t equipped us to do. Jesus suggested that they cross the lake, perhaps even knowing that the storm would come. He knew they were capable to handle whatever would come. Then He went to rest, leaving the work of taming the sea to those qualified to do it.
We, too, cry out in our pain and suffering, but we are answered with the question, “Why are you so afraid? How is it that you have no faith?” Have we not heard the lessons of Jesus’ stories? Do we not know that God is in control? Even when the struggles come because we have sinned, He has promised forgiveness to those who let down our facades and repent; He has promised healing and reconciliation for those who live in truth and goodness.
At the end of our Gospel lesson the disciples asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” The disciples never quite get it; they never quite get that Jesus is LORD. He is Lord of the Sea, Lord of the storm, Lord over our fears. Jesus is more than just someone who can speak the parables of the kingdom of God; He was the Word that was wrapped up in all those stories.
We ask the “Where were you?” questions and remember all those important moments in our lives, but there is another moe important question for Christians to ask. How we respond to the difficulties of life will depend on our answer to the most important question: “Who is this?” Is Jesus Lord? If the answer is “Yes,” then trust that He isn’t sleeping. He is with you and He will carry you through all your storms.
“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:31-40, WEB
My husband has a job that has always been possible remotely, so the pandemic lockdown did not affect him in that way. We set up an office space for him, and he easily transitioned to working from home. He occasionally went into the office, perhaps once every few weeks, to use the equipment or to get some supplies. Sometimes he went just to get out of the house. He was often there alone. A few months ago he started going into the office more often, once a week or so, and others were beginning to join him. A few weeks ago some of them decided to meet in the office a couple times a week.
We have two cats. It was surprising to them when Bruce was home all the time, but they quickly got used to having his constant presence, especially Sammy who has always loved Bruce more than anyone else. Bruce’s occasional trips to his office were hard on Sammy who wandered and cried all day searching for his buddy. It is getting easier. I suppose he is getting used to the idea of Bruce being gone once in awhile. Someone recently said, “Millions of pets are soon going to have to face reality again.” My cats aren’t the only ones who have gotten used to our constant presence in the house. They aren’t the only ones that will struggle as they are left alone.
For their human friends, however, the return to something close to normal is a relief. As much as we love our pets, we also need human companionship. I was reading an article about “touch starvation.” We went over a year without being able to give hugs or even handshakes to the people we meet. A nurse who was interviewed for the article talked about her need to take a shower after work before she could even touch her children. Her children learned the importance of that process after work and they reminded her to “get the hospital germs off” as soon as she walked in the door.
The article talked about more than touch salvation. It has been surprising how hard it has been to not have encounters with strangers. No one realized how vital those brief greetings are for our mental and emotional health. I don’t know about you, but my attitude and mood is boosted when I have even the briefest conversation with someone at the grocery store. We didn’t stop going to the store, but we did withdraw from chit chat. We stayed in our bubble, whether it is at home or in our own personal space out in the world, and we lost touch with the people who share our little corner of the world. We have been moving that direction for a long time because of cell phones and social media because they keep us from personal interaction, but the past year has made it worse because we were thrust into isolation. Experts are realizing now how unhealthy this has been.
We know that touch and connection are important in our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The bible gives us many examples of how we are made part of something when we come to faith. We are built into a building. We are joined in a body. We are born into a family. We are attached to a vine. Thankfully many churches are returning to more regular gatherings so that we can be physically present again. However, this need for touch and connection goes beyond our life in the Kingdom of God. After all, how will we ever gather new stones, join new bodies, welcome new family, and graph new branches if we never connect with others. We may even miss the opportunity to serve our Lord if we neglect those brief encounters that fulfills our human need for touch and connection.
A quick “Hello,” a brief smile, or a mundane conversation about the weather or a new product may not seem very holy, but each one is an opportunity to change someone’s attitude or mood. You never know what impact that might have on the rest of their day. They might just share that goodness with others they meet. They may go home to their family with a peace or joy that spreads in the house. The change of attitude might just open them to the possibility of hearing the Gospel. Jesus calls us to make connections, to do simple good works that will glorify God. Jesus finds joy when we touch our neighbors whether it is physically, emotionally, or materially, because it reveals to the world the grace of the God we follow and serve.
“In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don’t know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered. He who searches the hearts knows what is on the Spirit’s mind, because he makes intercession for the saints according to God.” Romans 8:26-27,WEB
You have probably seen a photo of a pastor sitting in a booth that looks like Lucy’s psychiatric booth in the cartoon “Peanuts.” Lucy is willing to give psychiatric help for a nickel, but the pastor has changed the sign to say “Spiritual Help 5 cents.” Others have taken the idea and opened similar booths offering prayer or theology debate.
When the pandemic started over a year ago, I thought about that booth and considered putting one in my yard. I live on the corner of two streets where many people were walking regularly. I thought it would be fun to offer prayer for my neighbors, but it didn’t come to be because it would not have been practical. While we have a lot of people pass by, they don’t come at regular intervals. I would have to sit out there all day to even have one or two people visit my booth.
I wanted to do something for the neighborhood, so I began putting out little trinkets for the children and for anyone who wanted one. Over the past year I’ve given away coloring books and crayons, silk flowers, jingle bells, and many other things. In the beginning I put out some pens and cards and invited those visiting my corner to leave their prayer requests. This was easy enough in the Texas summer because it never rains, but as fall rolled around and the chances of rain went up, I had to find a different way.
I eventually purchased a clear plexiglas box which I have hanging on the railing by my sidewalk. There is a pen and paper inside, and the neighbors are invited to leave their requests. A few have come back to leave thanks and reports of answers. One woman early in the pandemic had lost her job and asked me to pray. A few days later she left another note to tell me with joy that she got a great job. Several mothers have asked me to pray for their adult children who have wandered off the path of faith. Many have asked for prayer for health. One little girl asked me to pray that they would get to go back to school. It has been a privilege to pray for each one.
I received a note yesterday that said, “Thank you for praying for my family. Please continue. Thank you!” I was keeping all the prayer requests and returning to them, but the amount of paper hanging on my storage unit became overwhelming, so I got rid of them. So, I don’t recall the original prayers for that family, but I realized that it doesn’t matter. God knows. What is truly remarkable about this whole thing is that strangers are willing to share their deepest worries with me, trusting that I will take their requests to God. I have met and talked to a few of them; they appreciate what we do to lift the spirits of the neighborhood.
We don’t have to do anything big to make a difference. Oh, big organizations might impact more people than I will ever reach, but we can change the world one person at a time. It might not be practical for everyone to put a prayer request box outside their house, but there are a million other little things we can do to impact one person’s life. The best thing we can do is to pray. We don’t even need to know the needs of those for whom we are praying because God knows. Stand in front of your house and pray for the people in the houses you see. Sit in your car for a few minutes outside the grocery store and pray for the people who are rushing by. Pray for the people whose posts appear on your facebook feed. Give them and their worries, whatever they are, to God and ask Him to touch them with whatever grace they might need. You’ll never know the impact your prayers may have, but that’s ok. Pray anyway and trust that God hears and is making a difference in their lives.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour comes, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, will you worship the Father. You worship that which you don’t know. We worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’” John 4:21-24, WEB
The author of the book I’m using for our weekly question, (“The Jesus Code: 52 Scripture Questions Every Believer Should Answer,” O.S. Hawkins) wrote: “In reality, many of us play at or worship…worship our work…and work at our play.” His point is that we do not take seriously the fact that we are entering into the presence of God when we gather together to worship Him. He used the example of Isaiah, who had an incredible experience of God’s presence which ended with our question for the day, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
We may reject Hawkins’ observation, believing that we do go and worship God “in spirit and truth” as Jesus has commanded, but how many of us really experience worship as Isaiah did? The vision Isaiah experienced happened in a time of upheaval. King Uzziah had died and there was not yet a new king on the throne. Isaiah saw the throne of God, an awesome sight, as God was lifted high and his train filled the temple. He was surrounded by seraphim that were singing His praise. While the world was brought low, the LORD remained above all, worthy of the praises. He is indeed holy.
God’s holiness brought Isaiah to his knees. “I am undone!” he cried. He was certain that seeing the LORD meant his death. After all the scriptures tell us that nobody can see the face of God and live. Yet, in Isaiah’s cry was his confession that he was unworthy to be in the presence of God. We wear the same unworthiness; we are sinners in need of a Savior. We do not now, and will never deserve to be in God’s presence. Yet, God answered Isaiah’s admission, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips,” with forgiveness and cleansing.
Then, after Isaiah was made worthy by God’s grace, God offered an opportunity in today’s question. “Who shall I send?” Isaiah’s answer was a commitment to go. He didn’t just say, “Here I am.” He asked God to send him. “Tell me what I am to do for you, LORD.” God’s answer was hard, but Isaiah took on the task in response to the incredible experience of worship he experienced. Isaiah was told to go and tell God’s people that He was unhappy with them. They were not living according to His Word. They were blind and deaf to God’s truth. They were living in this world, perhaps even gathering for worship in the Temple, but they didn’t know God or truly live as God intended for them as a people. They were playing at worship. They were not experiencing the overwhelming and awesome holiness of God, it was not bringing them to their knees in repentance, or receiving the forgiveness and cleansing God has promised. Most of all, they didn’t commit themselves to go and do what God was calling them to do.
Are we? Do we experience the presence of God in a way that we seek forgiveness and hear God’s call? Do we hear God’s word and rush to tell others like the woman who met Jesus at the well? Her experience was different from Isaiah’s because she didn’t see God in the temple; she came face to face with Jesus Christ, God incarnate. Though she wasn’t overwhelmed with holiness, Jesus brought her to a place where she admitted her own need for God’s grace. When Jesus revealed Himself as the Messiah, she ran to others to tell them about Him. She worshipped, she confessed, she received and she went with joy.
Do we have that same excitement? Do we answer “Yes,” when God calls us to go? There is work for us to do, and if we are truly worshipping God in Spirit and Truth, we will never leave the sanctuary apathetic. We will take God’s amazing grace to the world with joy so that others will see God as He is, themselves as they are, and they will recognize their need for His mercy. And then when they are undone, they can receive the forgiveness and cleansing God has promised, so that they, too, will join us in answering God’s call to go with a resounding “Yes!”
“I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, hearing of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints, that the fellowship of your faith may become effective in the knowledge of every good thing which is in us in Christ Jesus. For we have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.” Philemon 1:4-7, WEB
Onesimos Nesib was a translator and evangelist from Ethiopia who was captured by slave traders, bought and sold several times until he was finally freed and educated by Swedish missionaries. His birth name was Hika, but he was given the name Nesib by his captors and then took on the name Onesimos when he became a Christian. It was an appropriate name for a slave set free by the Gospel, since the book of Philemon tells a similar story about a man name Onesimos. His original name, Hika, was fitting because it meant “translator” in his native language. The commemoration of his life as a missionary was yesterday, June 21st, because that is the day he died in 1931, at about age 75.
After he was educated and trained to be a missionary, Onesimos wanted to return to his native land to share the Gospel with his people. It was a difficult journey; it took many years and several tries before he could get through the politics of both secular and religious authorities. It didn’t help that travel was difficult with poor weather, poor roads and conflict. He was often given misinformation and his company of missionaries suffered from illness. They experienced so many roadblocks that Onesimos fell into deep despair at least once, giving up the mission. He pulled through each obstacle, finding other ways to share the Gospel in other places until he was finally able to make back to his home. With the help of a native Oromo (or Galla) speaker, he was able to translate the Bible into the native language. As we remember Onesimos, we see how he lived out the life described in our passages. God brought him through; by faith he continued despite the obstacles. During those times when he faced despair, he was reminded of God’s presence and of the fact that God knows what humans can never know. He always went back to work, no matter what he suffered.
Translating the Bible into his native language was important to Onesimos because he wanted his people be able to read and hear the Word of God in their own voice. When the translation was complete, he personally oversaw the publication of the book, attending to the printing himself. During that time, he received word that his smallest child died and his other children were also sick. He wanted to drop everything to return to his family, but he didn’t want to leave his work. His wife wrote to him to encourage him to stay with the printing, that all would be well with the family. She felt his work was very important and that she could handle things at home. He was torn, but did as his wife suggested.
The lesson from the book of Philemon is about living our vocation in and through the faith we have been given. This means both our vocations in the world and at home. It takes discernment to know how to balance it. Onesimus was an escaped slave, but Paul wrote to his master Philemon to encourage mercy and grace. Their relationship would have to change because Onesimus was more than a slave: he was Philemon’s brother in Christ.
While Onesimos had to decide if he should continue his ministry work or go home, Onesimus had to decide if he was going to stay with Paul or go back to life as a slave. Paul wanted to keep Onesimus because he had been very helpful to his ministry, but Paul sought to restore their relationship for the sake of God’s kingdom in Colossae. He thought it best for the two brothers might work together in forgiveness and grace to make the Church grow in truth and in spirit. It doesn’t matter what work we do, whether we are translators, missionaries, garbage men, office workers, nurses, teachers, businessmen, skilled or unskilled laborers: whatever we do, we are called to do it well and to do it to the glory of God. And sometimes it means making difficult choices that will ultimately enhance the kingdom on earth. We have to work out where to draw the line between our responsibilities at home and at work. But through it all, God is with us. He stands with us as we try to figure out how to do it all in a world that demands so much from us.
Lectionary Scriptures for June 27, 2021, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43
“‘Yahweh is my portion,’ says my soul. ‘Therefore I will hope in him.’” Lamentations 3:24, WEB
The book of Lamentations was likely written shortly after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. It consists of five poems that express grief of the destruction that was brought by the Babylonians who were merely human agents of God’s divine judgment. The book ends with a cry to God for His mercy to restore His people. The middle, of which today’s passage is a part, focuses on God. The lamenter confesses faith in the God of hope, love, salvation and restoration, despite the fact that it seemed as though God has abandoned His people. He had not; He was among them, doing what needed to be done to turn them back to Him. The writer knew that God was faithful and that His compassion is never ending.
We do not like to think of God as one who would destroy the lives of His people as punishment for their disobedience. After all, God is love, right? Many reject the God we hear about in the Old Testament because He seems out of character from the God of grace and forgiveness from the New Testament that we know and love. Yet, the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament is the same God. These songs of lament are part of our Christian heritage and worship. We sing laments around Christ’s passion because we are reminded of the very reason why Christ died: He took upon Himself the very wrath that we deserved. The God of the Old Testament took the final and permanent solution to our disobedience upon Himself by offering the final and permanent sacrifice of His own Son.
The Hebrew title of the book of Lamentations is the word “eikhah” which means “How...!” The laments begin with this word in a statement of fact rather than question: “How the city sits solitary...” “How has the Lord covered the daughter of Zion...” “How the gold has become dim!” These statements betray boldness in the midst of the humiliation the people experienced. “See how much we have lost!” It is a cry to God to notice the state of His people, to remember them.
In this passage we see that the cry was not one of arrogance, as if the writer thought he knew better than God, but of trust in the love of God. The suffering was not unwarranted. Israel sinned and deserved discipline. “It is good that a man should hope and quietly wait for the salvation of Yahweh.” We know that the Lord does not intend His people for destruction, even when it seems He has abandoned us. The lament is filled with hope. Those that trust in the Lord will be saved from the dust, from the one who strikes, from insult.
Despite the tough times the people of Judah were facing, particularly with the destruction of Jerusalem, they were still able to sing about the faithfulness of God. The writer, an individual singing for the entire nation, says that the Lord is his portion. The Lord is his fair share. Nothing else matters. Yes, there was great loss, but God’s love is steadfast. In the midst of our troubles we can wait for Him and He’ll come. We might have to suffer as we wait, bearing the yoke, sitting in silence, burying our face in the dust, offering our cheek to those who would strike and filled with disgrace. Our suffering might seem unreasonable unless we remember that God is our portion, our share. We aren’t empty. We aren’t alone. We don’t need to have the same as our neighbor. He is enough.
I think it is funny that there is a word used repeatedly in the Psalms that is similar, though different, from this word in the title of the book of Lamentations. It is translated “How long” but could also be translated “Enough is enough.” Have you ever gotten to that point with your life? Have you ever just wanted to cry out to God, “Enough is enough!”? Yet, we can turn that cry upside down as we remember that God is enough. We are usually crying out in pain and frustration and anger and worry and fear, but how much better would it be for us to cry out those same words with praise and thanksgiving and joy? Enough is enough, and while we want the bad to stop, we can remember that God always gives us enough of what we need.
The title of today’s psalm indicates that it was a song used at the dedication of the Temple, perhaps pointing back to the story in 1 Kings 8. Some experts suggest that David wrote it for the dedication of the Temple that was built by Solomon. David wanted to build God a house but David had too much blood on his hands. The story of David and Bathsheba comes to mind, but David was a warrior. God did not reject David, but promised to build David. One of his offspring would build the house for God. David spent the rest of his life collecting the materials for the building of that Temple, so his heart was in this. It is no wonder he might have written this Psalm for the dedication. This Psalm reminds us that David knew he was a sinner, but that he trusted in God’s mercy.
This psalm is very personal. In it we see testimony, instruction and lament, as well as praise. It is a song of reorientation after the disorientation of calamity.
We are reminded that though we are among God’s faithful, we may have experiences that leave us shaken. It is presumptuous for us to think that we’ll never be moved or dismayed because we will fail, sin, and experience God’s anger. Do not grow presumptuous about God’s grace. God will discipline those He loves, but we can trust that God will make things right. We can rest in the promise of God’s Word. We can sing with the psalmist, “For a moment is His anger, for a lifetime is His favor, for an evening weeping lasts, but in the morning, singing.”
This psalm was used in the Temple liturgy. It is a song of praise, a song that remembers a time when God’s people became arrogant and forgetful. It is a song that is still appropriate for us today. We are reminded of our own failure to live up to the expectations of our God, the God who has done great things for us. As we gather together to sing praise to God, we are humbled by His extraordinary love and mercy. He takes the reality of our failure and turns it upside down so that we can sing His praises and give thanks to Him forever. While we want to say “Enough is enough!” out of pain and frustration and anger and worry and fear, we can trust God and say, “Enough is enough!” with praise and thanksgiving and joy.
It isn’t easy to turn our attitude upside down. Some things we experience in this world are just too much. I’m sure many of us have been feeling the pain and frustration and anger and worry and fear of the past year, crying “Enough is enough” to our God. The worst thing we face is death, and we’ve probably all experienced the death of someone, or something, in the past year. My father-in-law died, my cat died, and I lost a lot of landscaping during the winter storm.
What is death? In the most common definition, death is when a physical body stops living, when a living thing breathes no more. I’m sure most, if not all, of us reading this today have experienced the loss of someone we knew and loved, whether it was a person or even a pet. Death is the ultimate separation because except for the memories, we have no connection to that living thing after they’ve died. But death can be understood in a wider sense, to include objects, ideas, and relationships. Psychiatrists tell us that people grieve any sort of loss, just as they might grieve for a dead loved one. The loss of a job means separation from the workplace, co-workers, and financial security. When we are separated from a friend because of an argument or a change in the relationship, we go through a period of grief.
Death was not God’s intention. He did not intend for sickness. He did not intend for violence. He did not intend brokenness for His people. We find death. We find illness. We find destruction. We find (or cause) broken relationships. All too often death finds us because we have not lived as God intended. It began in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve listened to the voice of the serpent and believed him above the voice of God. We continue to suffer the consequences of that choice, but we also suffer the consequences of our own choices. God created us for life, so He sent His Son to make all things right. Jesus came to destroy death. We do not need to suffer from death. We have been created to live and live abundantly. We might be crying “Enough is enough,” as we look forward to the day when our world will be “back to normal,” but for now we are reminded that God is enough.
Death hung in the air in today’s Gospel lesson.
The two characters in today’s Gospel passage trusted in God. The first was an important man, a leader in the synagogue. Apparently he was like an administrator, a man in charge of the property and organizing worship. Though most of the Jewish leaders were hesitant about Jesus, a few heard Him speak and believed. Nicodemus, whose story we heard just a few weeks ago, preferred to keep his interest quiet, approaching Jesus in the dead of night. He did not want to risk losing what he’d worked so hard to attain. Jairus was different, perhaps because he was spurred on by a different purpose. Nicodemus was seeking answers to his questions; Jairus was seeking answers to his prayers. Nicodemus was not willing to risk his life for an encounter with Jesus because he was not motivated by a higher cause. Jairus was willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of someone else: his twelve-year old daughter.
Mark tells us the Jairus fell at the feet of Jesus and pleaded with Him to heal his daughter. He was a man of authority, yet he knelt before Jesus. There were great crowds around Jesus, pushing and shoving one another. Everyone wanted to be near Him. What was their motivation? Did they want answers to questions or answers to prayers? Did they just want to feed their curiosity or did they really believe? We will see, as we hear the telling of Jesus’ story by Mark through this season of Pentecost that some had faith but many did not. They were not willing to follow Jesus when it became hard. Jairus boldly sought God’s grace, crying out for mercy to the One he trusted could help.
The woman in the story was not quite as confident but was equally as bold as Jairus. She is unnamed but she had faith. She had been bleeding for twelve years, which was physically, emotionally, and spiritually disabling. It was also financially disastrous. She must have been a woman of some means, for she had seen many physicians, but none could provide healing. There was no chance for atonement because she bled continually. She could not present her offerings, and so was left separated from the community. She had nothing left; she had nowhere to turn. She was an outcast and should not even have been in the crowd that day because her very presence made everyone around her unclean. No one could touch her and she could not go into the temple. She was just one of many in the crowd pressing in on this miracle worker. She knew it was not right for her to speak to Him, to ask Him to heal her, but she believed that she would be healed if only she could touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. She didn’t need to disturb the teacher; there were others far more important that wanted His attention.
But she had hope. She had heard about Jesus and knew that He would make her well. So she snuck through the crowd and touched the tassel of His robe. She immediately felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Jesus knew power had left Him. “Who touched me?” He asked. He didn’t ask because He was annoyed or upset by her need, but because He knew she needed more than physical healing. She needed to be made well. She needed to boldly proclaim her faith before the people present so that they see the truth that Jesus had been teaching. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who boldly approach God in prayer and seek His mercy.
In fear and trembling, she fell down before Him and told the whole truth. He answered, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be cured of your disease.” She felt the healing, but Jesus did more. Her faith was not enough. Would the frightened woman have been fully healed if she slipped into the crowd without hearing Jesus’ word of grace? Her suffering was more than the bleeding. It was the life of isolation, spiritual oppression, fear and lack of hope. Jesus set her free. He was her salvation and gave her hope for the future. She was healed physically by His power, but she was made whole by His Word.
In the meantime, Jairus received the news that his daughter was dead. The men told Jarius to leave Jesus alone; they didn’t believe it would do any good for him to go to the house. Jesus told Jarius, “Don’t be afraid, only believe.” Jesus ignored the doubters and went into the home where the child lay. He rebuked the crowd for mourning, saying she was merely asleep, but they laughed at Him. He allowed only a few people in the room: her father and mother, Peter, James and John. There He took her hand and told her to get up. Immediately she stood up and began to walk around. They were astonished, but Jesus ordered them to keep silent about the child's resurrection and told them to feed her.
This is a story about trust, risking everything because God is faithful. He promised redemption, reconciliation, and forgiveness. He has promised that we will be His through faith by grace. We hear, we believe, and we confess this trust in words and in hope as we wait for God to complete His work of salvation in our lives. Our laments are broken by words of hope, encouraged that those who suffer in faith merely have to wait patiently for the mercy of God, for salvation is never far from those who trust in Him. “For the Lord will not cast off forever.” Jairus trusted, the woman trusted, and though they were dealing with death, they experienced God’s great faithfulness.
We have a hard time understanding God’s faithfulness because we are not so faithful. We make commitments and promises all the time and when we fail to complete those commitments, someone suffers for it. Take, for instance, a pledge to donate to a fundraising program. Organizations plan their budgets around the pledges of their supporters. Unfulfilled promises mean that they can’t do the work they planned.
The Corinthians made a commitment to help the poor in Jerusalem. We don’t know what might have spurred them to make this commitment or what might have happened that would delay the fulfillment of the promise. Paul wrote to encourage them to finish what they started. This encouragement is not only because the poor in Jerusalem needed their help; the act of giving would also serve as an example to the world of Jesus Christ’s generosity. As they say, we are Christ’s hands in a world where He is not visible to those who do not believe. So, by fulfilling our promises despite the hardships it might cause, the world will see our faith in action. It isn’t enough to want to do something. It isn’t enough to be eager and to talk about what we might do. Good intentions never fed a hungry child. We are encouraged by this text to complete what we started.
The lessons remind us that God is in control and that His love never ceases. It might seem at times that the suffering in the world could have been avoided if only God had done something. Why would a young girl get sick and die? Why would a woman bleed for twelve years? Why do we ever have a need to lament? Jairus and the woman were bold enough to seek healing through Jesus. The psalmist was bold enough to remind God that his death would be meaningless and even harmful. The lamenter trusted that God’s love will win. God can’t ignore the needs of His people. He hears their cry and He answers.
He answered our cry with Jesus. What Christ did for you and I gives us all we need to respond to the world with the same grace. Jesus’ response to those in need was not calculated. He gave each as they needed, no matter what it did to Him. Even when it seemed like He was being zapped of power, He had enough power to do more. Jesus responded to the need of the synagogue leader and allowed His mission to be interrupted by the bleeding woman. He didn’t think about how the leader might interpret His conversation with the woman. He didn’t tell her to go away because He was too busy. He didn’t reject her because she was unclean. He simply did what needed to be done. He showed us how to trust in God.
That’s what it is all about, isn’t it? The Corinthians may have had reason to be concerned about the finances of their church or even their personal finances. Paul didn’t even ask them to give what they’d first promised. He simply asked them to be faithful. “Finish the work you began.” Jesus started the work, in both the synagogue leader and the woman’s lives. He spoke, they heard and believed. They cried out to God for help and He answered. He finished the work He began.
Now we continue that work. It is easy to believe in God, to have faith. It is much harder to trust that God will do what He has promised. It is even harder to live that faith that God will do what He has promised by responding to the needs of those around us. We find excuses, even good ones. The Corinthians may have used their resources for something they deemed more valuable or beneficial to the whole church. Perhaps they thought the false apostles deserved payment. Perhaps they really were facing hard times as a congregation and as individuals. We all have moments when we have reason to lament, crying out to God “Enough is enough.” But He calls us to turn that lament upside down, trusting that God is truly enough. He didn’t do what He did so that we could have a dead faith. He saved us so that we might live our faith in the world.
Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.” God calls us to boldly live the faith we have been given, trusting that God can and will restore our world as it is meant to be. God listens to our cries and answers our prayers. He finishes His work in our lives. Life in Christ means more than just having faith. It means responding to the cries we hear in the world with trust, knowing that God will not abandon us. His love is eternal and He is faithful. We may not be rich, but we are rich in Christ, so even though we have reason to cry “Enough is enough,” let us turn our attitude upside down so that we can praise God in our actions as well as our words, using our resources to continue the work He began until it is finished and the whole world is glorifying Him.
“His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people; and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets who have been from of old), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to Abraham our father, to grant to us that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, should serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life. And you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the remission of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the dawn from on high will visit us, to shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death; to guide our feet into the way of peace.’” Luke 1:67-79, WEB
June 24th is the Nativity of John the Baptist. We celebrate on this day because the scriptures tell us that John was born six months before Jesus. Therefore, we are six months from Christmas. Are you already shopping for those Christmas gifts?
All kidding aside, John the Baptist is a worthwhile figure to consider. In his ministry, we are reminded that he came as a voice 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 did come, so that they would be ready to receive Him.
John was Jesus’ cousin, born of Elizabeth and Zechariah and elderly couple. Zechariah was a priest in the temple and Elizabeth was barren, but God spoke to Zechariah and promised him a son. When Zechariah questioned the angel that gave him the good news, he was struck dumb, unable to speak. When the child was born, everyone thought he would be named after his father, but Elizabeth said he would be called John. They asked Zechariah, since it was not a family name. He said, “His name is John.” At that moment, Zechariah could speak again, and he praised God for the blessing of this son. John grew in spirit and lived a most unusual life.
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. Other heralds announced the participants at a tournament. 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, heralds announced the coming of a king. Though the herald himself was of little importance, he had 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 proclaimed would not be heard and the one he announced might be missed.
John went around the country preaching repentance. He baptized the people, a baptism of repentance, and preached the coming kingdom of God. He said “I indeed baptize you with water, but he comes who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to loosen. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16)
John the Baptist heralded the coming of the Christ, proclaiming the kingdom of God and calling for the repentance of the people. 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 and the salvation that was to be offered was not for the flesh. Jesus Christ brought eternal life to those who believe and John the Baptist prepared the way.
One day, Jesus went to John to be baptized. John tried to refuse but Jesus said it needed to happen. When John saw Jesus, he exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) John knew that he came to witness to the coming of the Christ, the Savior of Israel. He was a radical and preached against the leaders of the day. He condemned Herod for his life and was beheaded.
Herod was filled with pride and human foolishness; he considered himself much greater than he was. He killed John the Baptist for a few minutes of sensual pleasure, though he feared doing so because the people called John a prophet. Herod did not want to kill John but he was a fool. He was called a king, but he held no kingdom. The people gave him honor and respected his authority, but he was not deserving of such respect. He rejected the truth and followed his flesh. Out of his own pride, he offered a young girl anything she desired because she made him feel good, and she asked for John’s head to make her mother happy. Herod killed John because his wife was offended by the truth.
Today is the day we remember John the Baptist, his life and ministry. If there is one thing to remember about John, it is that he knew his place in God’s kingdom. When Jesus began his ministry, John’s disciples reported that everyone was going to Him rather than to John. John told his disciples that he was not the Christ. He confessed to his disciples, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” He came to point the way to the Lord Jesus, and he accomplished that mission. He was not jealous that Jesus was the focus. He lived, and died, in the joy of knowing that the Messiah had finally come to save His people.
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 an example to us today. We are also called to be heralds, witnesses to the coming of Christ. We become less and less as we grow in faith and knowledge of God’s grace until one day all God will see in our faces because we have been transformed into His image.
“Therefore Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31, WEB
Business leaders often talk about teamwork, what works and what doesn’t work. There are several characteristics common to the teams that are successful, from sports teams to creative teams to business teams. Thomas Edison is often used as an example of a good leader who knew how to encourage his team to work well. It is impossible to summarize a man like Edison’s in just a few paragraphs, but one thing is clear: he was viewed both positively and negatively.
Thomas Edison had a research and development center in Menlo Park, New Jersey. This was the first of its kind, with a variety of different laboratories in one area working on different inventions at the same time. Edison was a genius in team design who invited the most intelligent, creative and passionate men in diverse fields to join his team. These men were able to work together to create much of the technology that has become a staple of our lives today.
When asked about Thomas Edison’s greatest achievement, most people would say that he invented the light bulb. In reality, Edison had little to do with that invention; it was another man’s idea that was developed and perfected by his research team. Sadly, there are those who would put Edison down for this very reason, claiming that he can’t be considered the greatest inventor because he didn’t even invent the thing for which he is given the most credit. Yet, of the thousand or more inventions that came out of his research and development center, Thomas had a hands-on role for many and actually did invent quite a few. On top of that, Thomas Edison can be called “the father of the electrical age” because he was the one who first developed the standardized, commercially centralized, underground central power facility. By doing so, Edison proved that electric light and power could be made practically available to all of mankind.
When asked where this amazing historical event took place, many might say it was in New York City. Thomas Edison did work on such a station in New York, but the real success was developed in Brockton, Massachusetts. Edison was a practical man who knew how to handle the business aspects of inventing as well as the creativitiy. He knew that he would receive more publicity, acclaim and credit if he presented his work in New York. However, his work in New York paled in comparison to the work done in Massachusetts. His critics even agreed that Edison deserved recognition for the plant in Brockton. Yet, Edison kept his focus on New York.
Now the history of Edison’s greatest accomplishment is practically forgotten and school kids remember him for something that he really did not even do.
If you asked a student about Thomas Edison, he would most likely tell you something different than an electrician who would tell you something different than a historian. Some would have positive things to say, others would have negative things to say. Thomas Edison was certainly a man with great accomplishments, but he is also a fascinating study business savvy and ethics. He was an inventor, but he was also a man who received credit for the work of others. It was his very ability to choose the right men at the right time for his team that made him – and them – very successful.
Who is Jesus to you? This is a most important question, but it is a question that comes with as many answers as people answering. Your answer will be different than your neighbor’s answer, even if they are Christian. The non-Christian will have a totally different answer. Some say Jesus is a friend, others Savior, others a wonderful teacher, and others say He is a miracle man. The scriptures give us His story; they writers tell us the stories that revolved around His life. We see the people He chose. They were not always the most intelligent, creative, or passionate. At times they seem foolish in their uncertainty. However, Jesus did not depend on the people who followed Him. The disciples and others were chosen to support Him, to follow Him, to take His grace to the world. In the stories we see the human nature of those who believe in Him so that we will see ever more clearly the head of the Church that began with that ragtag bunch of people two thousand years ago: Jesus Christ.
He is indeed friend, Savior, teacher and healer. But He is much more. The scriptures show us that He is the Christ, the Son of God. Believe in Him and you will have life.
“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:26-31, WEB
The question for this week comes from the third servant song in the book of Isaiah. “Who among you fears Yahweh and obeys the voice of his servant?” (Isaiah 50:10, WEB)
We struggle with the word “fear” because it is understood as apprehension of negative consequences. We fear being punished. We fear being hurt. We fear losing something important to us. It is good to have a certain amount of fear because it protects us. If we fear bears, we will avoid being in a situation where we might be mauled by one. If we fear losing our job, we will be more conscious of the way we work. If we fear food poisoning, we will ensure safe cooking techniques and cleanliness in our kitchen. Though the fear is negative, our fear leads to a positive action that keeps us safe.
Some fear is not healthy. Take, for instance, the story from Mark when Jesus calmed the storm. The disciples, some of whom were veteran fishermen that must have dealt with similar sudden storms as they did worked, were frightened beyond the ability to do what they needed to do. They were shocked that Jesus could sleep while they were dying. The fear was real, no matter how many times they dealt with similar storms that fear should have spurred them to lifesaving action. Instead, their fear led them to accuse Jesus of not caring. He rebuked the storm and then rebuked the disciples. “Why are you so afraid,” He asked. Their fear of the storm was transformed into a totally different sort of fear.
“Who is this?” they asked. Who has such control over nature that He can calm a storm?
The Bible, especially the Book of Proverbs, repeatedly tells us that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Fear of the Lord is not a fear that leads us to be so afraid of punishment, hurt, or loss. It is a fear that leads us to a deeper and fuller relationship with our God. We know of His power. We also know of His mercy and grace. We know He is faithful. Wisdom is seen in the lives of those who live according to His good and perfect Word; not in the things we can see but in the things that are. This fear is not terror but reverence and it leads us to delight in Him because by His power, mercy, grace, and faithfulness He has done the greatest thing of all: He made us His children and heirs to an eternal kingdom. This should lead us to a fear that causes us to gaze upon Him with grateful reverence and obedience to His Word. We do not do so because we are afraid that God will punish us for disobedience, but out of love because we are so blessed we want to please Him.
The question for today comes from the Third Servant Song in Isaiah. There are four Servant songs, all of which refer to Jesus Christ as the Servant. In this one we see that the Servant continues to learn even when the Servant is a teacher. God has given the Servant the knowledge necessary and continues to give the knowledge the Servant needs to do the work He is called to do. It seems to me that Jesus Christ knew everything He needed to know, and yet we hear in this passage that He continued to be taught. Every day He faced new situations; every day He had to make decisions about how to respond to the needs of the world. And every day He listened to the voice of God so that He would do what God wanted Him to do. In this passage we see that He kept His eyes on God even when men were treating Him poorly. It did not matter that they were insulting Him or striking Him. He stood firm, listening to the teaching of the One who opened His ears. He rests in the knowledge that God is with Him, and no matter what happens to Him, God will stay with Him. He has learned that He has nothing to fear of the world because His wisdom comes from the fear of the Lord.
Jesus taught the disciples to fear the Lord. Like the disciples on that boat in the middle of the storm, we tend to fear the things that can harm us but we have forgotten how to fear the One who holds our life, and eternal life, in His hands. This fear is a humbling of ourselves before Him, acceptance that He is worthy of our reverence and obedience. This fear leads us to live like Jesus, who as the Servant from Isaiah did live according to God’s Word even though He suffered at the hands of the world. He had no fear of them, as He taught His disciples, but had wisdom that came from a fear the One with the power, mercy, grace, and faithfulness.
The question from Isaiah asks who fears God and connects that fear with obedience to God’s servant. We understand that the servant is Jesus Himself, who taught us this proper fear of God. He showed us what the life of God’s people will look like. He was the suffering servant who was persecuted, humiliated and insulted. He was even crucified on the cross. Yet, He never wavered, standing firm on the word that had been given to Him. The promise of suffering is enough to make us afraid of the world, but Jesus comforts us with the truth that God has us in His hands. He cares for us. Those who fear God rightly need not fear the what the world will throw at us because Jesus offers us hope in the midst of our suffering and pain because we are of more value than sparrows because we are children of God and inheritors of His Kingdom.
“What profit has he who works in that in which he labors? I have seen the burden which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in their hearts, yet so that man can’t find out the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice, and to do good as long as they live. Also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God. I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; and God has done it, that men should fear before him. That which is has been long ago, and that which is to be has been long ago. God seeks again that which is passed away.” Ecclesiastes 3:9-15, WEB
There is a special exhibit in San Antonio right now showcasing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings. The creators have taken photos of the many works and printed them on canvas panels which you can view up close. The prints are large, most of them are seven feet tall and five or more feet wide. Some of the larger pieces were fifteen feet wide. It is almost overwhelming to see these paintings so close, to experience the incredible details of these paintings by a master artist. Michelangelo never wanted to do the ceiling because he considered himself a sculptor, but his work carving human figures in stone gave him a unique perspective that came out in sculpted figures on the flat surface of the ceiling.
There are those who have written of conspiracy theories about the work of Michelangelo, claiming that he had hidden anti-Christian messages in the paintings. They point to the many odd choices he made of subject matter and symbolism. I must confess that as I walked through the exhibit listening to the self-guided tour, I wondered too what some of it meant. Why did he choose to paint the non-Biblical Sybils? Why did he choose the story of Judith slaying Holofernes, which is a story from the Apocrypha, books that many Christians do not accept as canon? Why are the ancestors of Christ portrayed as children rather than mature rulers? It is easy to hear the claims of conspiracy and wonder if they are right. After all, these things do not quite stand up to our modern understanding of Christianity.
The problem with this is that the conspiracy theorists are interpreting Michelangelo’s paintings from our modern point of view. They haven’t looked at them from the point of view of the Renaissance. We might consider their theology faulty because it isn’t what we learned and understand about God, but is what we believe always the best interpretation? Michelangelo lived at a time when scholasticism and humanism were a part of the Christian worldview. Even Martin Luther taught these ideas for a time, but eventually fought against them in his writings and teachings. These were common ideas in that age, and the Sibyls were acceptable images to use in Christian art during that age.
There are twelve prophetic figures painted around the ceiling of the Sistine chapel: seven Israeli prophets and five Sibyls. They all represented the coming of Christ. The alternating male and female figures are seated on thrones and are depicted reading manuscripts, books or scrolls. They are the largest figures on the ceiling. The pagan Sibyls were included to symbolize that the Messiah came for all people of the world, not just the Jews. It is said of the most famous of the Sibyls, the one from Delphi, that she was reading a scroll when she was suddenly moved by the Word of God. She prophesied that the coming Messiah would be mocked with a crown of thorns.
I think one of my favorite paintings was Michelangelo’s portrayal of Noah’s Ark. Instead of focusing on the flood, as most of us do, he focused on the people running from the rising waters. They sky is bright and clear except for one small cloud, and the water is absolutely calm. Noah and his family are not even seen in this painting. They appear in two others: the Drunkenness of Noah and the Sacrifice of Noah. The people we see are those who will be lost to the flood. They are desperate people seeking refuge. You can see their fear, their despair, their panic. You can see the worst of human characteristics shine, like those who were trying to save their possessions and those who were looking out for themselves. There are some who have better attitudes, like the man carrying another man to higher ground and some reaching out to help. Yet, their lives will also end because our good works cannot save us. Only those in the ark would be saved. The ark doesn’t look much like a boat; some believe it was meant to represent the Church as the only place of salvation.
Art has long had a place in the education of Christians. There have been periods of time when the common people were uneducated and illiterate. They could not read the Bible for themselves, so art was used to tell the stories. The people could look at the stained glass windows of their churches and see the Bible come alive. Paintings and statues had the same purpose. While we may not have made the same choices that were made for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, we can look back at those images and understand that they were created to glorify God, not only in the Church building but in the hearts and lives of those who would see them.
As the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, our understanding of God will always be limited. What we believe today will be questioned by those who live a hundred years forward. God always gives us a piece, a part, a portion, because we are human and cannot carry it all on our own shoulders and in our own hearts. We can rejoice today even if we have just a piece, part, or portion and enjoy what we have done for His kingdom because we know that He has given us the gifts to glorify Him. And everything God does is forever. Even when our philosophies are faulty, God’s Word will always remain true and He will use even our frailty for His glory.
Scriptures for July 4, 2021, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Mark 6:1-13
“They, whether they will hear, or whether they will refuse, for they are a rebellious house, yet they will know that there has been a prophet among them.” Ezekiel 2:5, WEB
I have always been hesitant about telling others about some of my experiences with God. One of the reasons is because they sound strange and even unbelievable. They are beyond our experience and our comfort zone. I don’t want to sound crazy. But I also don’t want to sound boastful. I don’t want anyone to think I’m trying to be more than I am. I don’t want to claim authority based on the stories of my personal experiences.
I have met people, however, that will use anything to gain acceptance and credibility even if they are grasping at straws. Years ago, when I was doing online ministry in Christian chat rooms, I met many self-proclaimed prophets. They spoke forth “words” and demanded belief from those who heard. Those “words” were accompanied by the proclamation, “Thus says the Lord,” as if this was supposed to give them credibility. Unfortunately, many of those “words” were not from God; they were often counter to what we read in the scriptures. They simply claimed it was a new revelation, but God does not contradict Himself. Some of these self-proclaimed prophets acted as if they were equal to God and demanded faith in their words as if they spoke for God.
When Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, he included twelve figures of prophets. Seven were biblical prophets and five were pre-Christian pagan prophetesses. These twelve characters are placed on thrones, representing their authority, but they are also painted with two small figures that are thought to represent messengers from God. All twelve also have books and scrolls within reach, reminding us that what they spoke lined up with God’s Word. The Delphic Sibyl is shown as if she’d just read a scroll and is about to pronounce the divine word. She is said to have predicted that the Messiah would be taunted with a crown of thorns. This portrayal of the true prophets shows their reliance not on self but on God’s Word.
Real prophets aren’t given any guarantees. In today’s passage, Ezekiel is warned that the people who hear the message will probably not even listen. When it comes to God’s prophets, however, it doesn’t matter whether they hear or refuse to hear: God will cause His Word to be known. It won’t take a person who is credible or accepted by the world. A true prophet won’t enjoy popularity or receive the respect of the hearers. As a matter of fact, the prophets of God learned that they’d more likely be spit upon, beaten, and threatened. It is God who makes His Word get through those hardened hearts and rebellious spirits.
We don’t think of parents or teachers as prophets, and yet what teacher or parent has never experienced a refusal to hear? We aren’t always right but we have valuable things to say. Over the years I realized how often my own mother was right. I used to call her on the phone to apologize and she’d ask, “What has Victoria done now?” It became a wonderful joke between us. Every parent as seen that glazed over look in the eyes of their teenager when trying to explain why they shouldn’t do something or why they should.
What Sunday school teacher hasn’t wondered whether any of the Bible stories they’ve read made an impact in the lives of their students. We can’t always tell whether the lessons we teach have been learned or whether they will be remembered later in life. One day when I was teaching preschool the children did not seem to be listening. We had been outside for play time and it was a beautiful day. They were wiggling in their seats and very inattentive. We constantly had to tell them to sit down and pay attention, to no avail. I continued the storytelling despite the fact that they didn’t seem to hear. A few days later, one of the students recounted that lesson. I wondered if that the student’s mom had told him the story, but she told me she had not. He must have heard something on that crazy day.
I often wondered whether my own kids ever listened to me, but they have shown in their lives that they have learned the lessons I taught them as they grew up. I’m sure I’ve made mistakes over the years, but it seem the things that matter were taken to heart and manifest in their lives.
That’s what happens to God’s word when spoken by those prophets whom God has chosen. It may seem like no one is listening, but those words will be remembered. Then the world will know the truth. The self-proclaimed prophets would do well to speak the word and let it go. They should not seek popularity or respect, but speak what God has given them and let Him do the work. If the “word” is true, God will make it heard. Though it isn’t easy to be ignored and rejected, it isn’t about us, anyway. It is about God. We speak not to build up ourselves, but to give the world a revelation from the One who changes rebelliousness into faith.
Imagine what it must have been like to be Paul. He was an incredible, specially chosen man called to do an extraordinary task. He would have been right to hold his leadership and authority over the members of the congregations he established. He could have demanded payment for the work he did. He could have insisted that the Christians do as he said. He had authority. It was obvious that he was chosen by God. He was gifted and God’s grace was manifest in his life and work. He even had some remarkable things happen to him that serve as proof of God’s hand in his life.
The conversion on the road to Damascus was more than enough to establish Paul as God’s helper, but in today’s passage Paul tells another story. This was probably an important moment in Paul’s ministry because in it he was given a vision of Paradise and given a personal message from God. Many modern day prophets would use this type of experience as the center of their ministry. They would demand respect, attention, and obedience because of this claim. They might even justify their boasting by pointing to Paul’s words in this text.
However, Paul was humble about it. He refused to be the center of the story, claiming it was about someone else. Then Paul reminded the congregation about his imperfections. He talked about his thorn, whatever that might be. We try to insert our favorite disability into this text, but the specific thorn does not matter. The point of this text is that Paul was not perfect. Though he was gifted and blessed, called by God and given the most incredible spiritual experiences, he insisted that his authority was not based on his mountain top experiences or his incredible gifts. His authority was based on God’s grace. And so it is with us. We might have had experiences or revelation that could prove that we are chosen and called by God, but it is our failures that we are humbled to remember that we are nothing without God’s grace.
I saw a friend in church the other day. She had not been in church for awhile because she has been sick. The pandemic made her recovery even longer; time and disease changed her appearance a little. I did not immediately recognize her. It was only after I put a few things together that I realized it was her. We all were happily surprised to see her face, to know that she is able to get out and about again.
I am planning a trip home to celebrate my fortieth class reunion. I posted a meme on our class Facebook page that said, “Don’t go to a class reunion. There’ll be a lot of old people there claiming to be your classmates.” It is certain that we will all look different than we did forty years ago. Based on Facebook pages, some are obviously older, but they still have the characteristics we remember. Others do not look anything like the people I knew forty years ago. Some of us have changed a great deal since we were together back then, so much so that we might not even recognize them in a crowd. Change is natural. We all change as we grow. We gain or lose weight; we change our hairstyles and grow wrinkles. Sometimes the changes brought on by our jobs or poor health are extreme. I’m sure I look much different than I did back in high school, too.
Change doesn’t only happen on the outside. We change inwardly, too. We grow in knowledge and wisdom. We realize our failings and we repent. We get through difficulties and learn new ways of living. Sometimes we learn new skills, things we might never have been able to do before. We take up new habits or give up the old. Those who knew us in the past remember us as we were. The changes might have been gradual for us and for those around us, but those we see after a period of time are often shocked by the changes. They often do not believe it to be true. Can a chain-smoking, beer guzzling person really kick those habits? We have a hard time seeing them as anything other than that chain-smoking, beer guzzling person.
Jesus was different to those who knew him best. His family and friends from his hometown knew Jesus. They knew the education he’d received. They knew the work he was skilled to do. They knew his strengths and weaknesses. He wasn’t brought up to be a priest or rabbi or teacher. He was the son of a carpenter; He should have been a carpenter. What could a carpenter’s son teach them about the scriptures? What could He know about God? How was this ordinary man who was “one of us” do the things He was claiming to do? They heard the stories about His miracles, but it didn’t seem possible that they were true. He could not, or would not, heal in that town because they had no faith. They remembered what he was and couldn’t see beyond the memories to what was standing in front of them.
It is possible to overcome this bias. After all, Jesus’ mother was there with Him in the end and His brother James followed in his footsteps. Others in the community eventually believed in Jesus. It takes time, but our friends can see and accept the changes in our lives as we live up to them. The purpose of this story is to give us comfort as Jesus is an example for the disciples and us who will also be questioned about the changes in our lives.
Jesus then sent the disciples out into the towns and villages to preach and heal. Jesus sent them out without wallet or food; they were expected to trust in God as they shared the message of the Kingdom. It might not have been as hard as we expect. They were probably visiting places where they had family and friends. They could easily knock on the door of a cousin and be received with open arms. Or would they? Would they find a welcome or would they be rejected just like Jesus? If Jesus was not accepted by those who knew and loved Him most, how could they expect anything better?
I’ve seen a meme that says, “If I said I will fix it, I will. You don’t have to remind me every six months.” This is a joke about the honey-do list every wife has given her husband. They promise to take care of it and then it doesn’t happen. This even manifested in my son’s life. It used to be his job to collect the garbage from around the house on the night before the garbage collectors. No matter how many times we reminded him about certain garbage cans, he always forgot one or more. I always hoped my nagging would help him remember the next time, but even as an adult he never completely accomplished any of the work we expected from him.
This is typical human behavior. We hear what we want to hear and remember what we want to remember. We hear when it will benefit our life as we want it to be and we do it when it is convenient for us. We all willingly jump into action when we will be rewarded for it.
We (believers) know that the Christian message is worth hearing and living. We know that it is freeing and that in it we find real peace and joy. However, those who do not believe find the message hard to accept. The idea of Christ on the cross, death for life, and sacrifice for mercy is ridiculous in the philosophies of this world. The Christian message is foolishness. God is a myth or He is dead. Spirituality is a delusion. What good is some far off heaven when people are suffering in this world? There are so many questions and doubts that can get in the way of hearing the grace of God.
One of the worst barriers, of course, is the human vessel sent to take the message. We are hypocrites because we talk of righteousness while we fail. Those who know us know that we aren’t saints. We are rejected, ridiculed, and ignored. It isn’t easy. Every young mother thinks her child will be perfect, that she’ll do everything right so that her child will not willfully forget to listen and be disobedient. Yet, every child goes through that period of time (it lasts longer for some than for others) when they reject, ignore and ridicule the authority figures in their life. We are by our nature rebellious. Even good kids manage to forget to do those things that they are expected to do.
This week we heard call stories about people who were warned that the people to whom they were sent would not listen. Ezekiel faced stubborn and impudent Israel. The Corinthians were interested in those who were successful, thinking they must be right because they were powerful and charismatic. Paul reminded them that God’s grace is more powerful than human power, especially in the weakness of His chosen. Even Jesus faced rejection from His own people. Why should we expect to do any better? Yet we can live in the words of the psalmist, looking to God for our strength because while the world holds us in contempt, God has mercy on us.
My son plays golf, although he was never a good tournament player. One time he was matched with a great friend who was much better than him. My son held his own and though he lost, he did not need to be ashamed. He didn’t win that day but his play showed that there was growth in his golf skills that year. He was getting better, and that was what mattered.
The other boy’s mom told me she was concerned that playing against one another might hurt the relationship between the boys. It didn’t. As a matter of fact, after their round the boys talked about their games. They highlighted each other’s best shots and commended each other for those that were well played. They laughed over the stupid shots, the ones that could not possibly work but they tried anyway. They commiserated together over their failed shots, the ones that might have turned the matches around. It was fun to listen as they proved what good sportsmen they were.
It could have been much different. These tournaments can be very competitive. Though golf is supposed to be a gentlemen’s sport, there are those who take it so seriously that they will do anything to win. One favorite tactic, used in many sports, is to try to psych out the competitor. Taunting words are used to discourage the other players, to make them think that they cannot succeed. If you convince someone they will fail, and they can’t get over it in their own mind, they usually fail.
That’s what was happening to the Jews. They’d returned to Jerusalem after the exile and under Nehemiah’s leadership tried to rebuild the city walls. They faced a very difficult situation. Many of the rocks had been burned so badly that they were broken and crumbling. It was discouraging. Even more so, the leaders from other nations wanted the Jews to feel defeated so that they could not grow strong again. According to Nehemiah 4:1-3, Sanballat said, “What are these feeble Jews doing?” and Tobiah the Ammonite asked, “What they are building, if a fox climbed up it, he would break down their stone wall.” They wanted the Jews to think that the work they were doing was useless, so they insulted the work of their hands.
The singer of today’s psalm must have known what it was like to be treated with such derision. The scorners were proud and arrogant, wanting the Jews to fail because then they would have more power. However, the singer knew that their derision did not matter. He or she looked to the God who sits in the heavens. The singer is not humbled by the taunts of the enemy but by the graciousness of God who provides for His people like a master to a servant.
We may face similar taunts in our life, when we are trying to do work that others do not want us to accomplish or that others think we are incapable of doing. It will happen when we are trying to share God’s Word with the world. We do not need to worry about their point of view. We may want to be accepted and respected by the world, but we need only keep our eyes on the Lord our God who provides us with all we need. It may seem like the tasks are impossible to accomplish, but we can live at ease knowing that God will have mercy on us and is with us through it all.
This world has always been counter to that which God intends. This world will always battle against Christian faith. He warned us that we would be hated as He was hated. He encouraged us not to be afraid, for He has overcome the world. Even when we are overwhelmed by what is happening in our world, we must always have hope. God is in control; He won the war even though we are still fighting the battles. What we need to do is learn how to fight that battle with grace and mercy. We have been called to take God’s Word to our family, friends, neighbors, enemies and the strangers in our midst. It might seem like it is an impossible task, but God promises that He will put His Word in our mouths and that His Word never comes back void.
Sadly, even when we do speak for God, many will not hear. The people didn’t hear Ezekiel. They didn’t believe the message because it wasn’t the message they wanted to hear. They wanted acceptance, peace and love, not a call to repentance. They wanted to do things their own way. The self-proclaimed prophets promised them good things; Ezekiel warned them what would happen if they continued to reject God. Which message would you rather hear? False prophets give the people what they want, that’s how they are successful, and they use their success as proof of their credibility. Yet, we learn over and over again in the scriptures that the true prophets of God will face difficulty and that God will prove them true when His Word comes to fulfillment.
We are called to keep our eyes on the Lord our God who provides us with all we need, and though the tasks seem impossible to accomplish we can be obedient knowing that God is faithful. He has a purpose for each of our lives and it will be accomplished no matter what difficulties we face, for it is in our weakness, pain, need, persecution and distress for Christ’s sake that God does His best work. As Paul writes, “For when I am weak, then am I strong.” God’s grace is indeed sufficient, and we can trust that He will be glorified by the lives we live for Him.
Our power to preach the Gospel comes from God, not from our own abilities, experiences or even our own desire to do so. God’s word is best shared by those who are humble before God, by those who trust in His grace. As we rejoice in our weaknesses God’s strength shines. People will reject, despise, persecute, insult and threaten us. They will believe the message that sounds better. They’ll chase after the warm fuzzies and ignore the calls to repentance. We can only hope that that one day they will know they have heard God’s Word. Until then, we’ll climb the steps of the Temple with our eyes on God, praising Him even in the midst of our suffering, for we know God’s strength will shine in our weakness and His Gospel will truly change the world.