Welcome to the March 2008 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes
























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

A WORD FOR TODAY, March 2008

March 3, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 9, 2008: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

Today’s WORD is an edited repeat from June 2004.

Romans 8:6-11 For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace: because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: and they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

Henry is a jerk. He can’t make a commitment to any one woman, so he takes advantage of every pretty one he meets. He lives on one of the Hawaiian Islands, so it is easy for him to meet tourist babes and have as many one night stands as he pleases. The women are often looking for a wild time without commitment anyway, so it was a win-win situation for both parties. One day, however, he met Lucy. She is a beautiful local girl—no chance for her flying off into the sunset in a day or so. It was love at first sight and Henry went back to get to know her better.

Unfortunately, Lucy suffered from a rare brain problem. After a tragic accident, the part of her brain that controls her short term memory was damaged. She forgets everything she experiences every night in her sleep. Every morning she wakes up as if it were October 13, the day she had the accident. Her family felt it was best to let her live in that day, and so they created a world in which she just kept living the same day over and over again. Henry likes Lucy so much, that he encourages her family to tell her the truth so that she will be willing to spend time with him. Each day he convinces her to fall in love with him.

This storyline is from a movie starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore called “50 First Dates.” At first, Lucy’s family and friends thought Henry was just out for a repeating easy one night stand—after all, if Lucy couldn’t remember the next day, she’d never get attached. But Henry was willing to do whatever was necessary to make her remember, giving himself fully to the relationship even though he knew that she would never remember tomorrow.

It made me think about how we treat God sometimes. He is willing to do whatever it takes to make us love Him, but we easily forget all that He has done. There are many reasons why this might happen. We get caught up in the cares of this world and forget that God will give us rest. When we are comfortable, we think we do not need God, so we forget that our success and prosperity comes from Him. We are easily distracted by the schemes of the devil or just with our daily living that we do not realize how near He is and how much He truly loves us. Once in awhile we wake up to the love and it is on those days we find ourselves truly rejoicing.

In the movie, Lucy’s family realized that Henry was good for her when they discovered that she sang every afternoon on the days she met him. Later she broke off the relationship, not wanting to hold Henry back from a normal life. Why should he give up his career and his goals for the sake of someone who would never remember him the next day? Henry did not want to go, but he did for her sake. In the end they could not live without one another. Though she forgot him every day, he lived in her dreams and in her heart and so they managed to have a joy filled life together.

Lucy survived the accident and was alive, but she had no life. She was reliving the same things over and over and over again. Her father and brother went to a great deal of trouble to restore the world to what she knew every morning so that she would not be shocked and upset by her brain damage. Henry was alive, but he no life either. He was doing the same thing time after time—one night stands with women whom he would never remember a week or even a day after they were gone from his life.

For both Lucy and Henry, life began when they met because they dwelled in each other’s hearts. That’s what happens to us when we have a relationship with God. He lives in us and we live in Him. His kingdom flows out through our lives by His Spirit. Sometimes we are like Lucy and we forget our God. We forget what He has done and how much He loves us. Yet, God never forgets and He will continue to come to us in mercy and grace to make us fall in love with Him again. He dwells in our hearts and we can rest in the promise that we will be with Him for eternity because of the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.


March 4, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 9, 2008: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

John 11:1-45 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, of the village of Mary and her sister Martha. And it was that Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. The sisters therefore sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. But when Jesus heard it, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When therefore he heard that he was sick, he abode at that time two days in the place where he was. Then after this he saith to the disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. The disciples say unto him, Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If a man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because the light is not in him. These things spake he: and after this he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. The disciples therefore said unto him, Lord, if he is fallen asleep, he will recover. Now Jesus had spoken of his death: but they thought that he spake of taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus therefore said unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said unto his fellow-disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him. So when Jesus came, he found that he had been in the tomb four days already. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary still sat in the house. Martha therefore said unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. And even now I know that, whatsoever thou shalt ask of God, God will give thee. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I have believed that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, even he that cometh into the world. And when she had said this, she went away, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Teacher is her, and calleth thee. And she, when she heard it, arose quickly, and went unto him. (Now Jesus was not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met him.) The Jews then who were with her in the house, and were consoling her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up quickly and went out, followed her, supposing that she was going unto the tomb to weep there. Mary therefore, when she came where Jesus was, and saw him, fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping who came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, and said, Where have ye laid him? They say unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. The Jews therefore said, Behold how he loved him! But some of them said, Could not this man, who opened the eyes of him that was blind, have caused that this man also should not die? Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus saith, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time the body decayeth; for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou believedst, thou shouldest see the glory of God? So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou heardest me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the multitude that standeth around I said it, that they may believe that thou didst send me. And when he had thus spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. He that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes; and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. Many therefore of the Jews, who came to Mary and beheld that which he did, believed on him.

Lazarus, Mary and Martha were friends of Jesus. I imagine they spent many hours hosting Jesus in between His journeys. They offered a home, a place to rest, the comforts of family and friendships. While Jesus was away from His friends, traveling near where John had baptized in the Jordan, Lazarus became sick. A messenger came to give Jesus the news. He was probably sent by the sisters to ask Jesus to come to heal their brother. Jesus did not leave immediately, telling the messenger that the illness would not end in death.

A few days later, Jesus told the disciples that they must go to Lazarus’ house. They didn’t get it when He said, “Lazarus has fallen asleep.” After all, He’d said just a few days before that Lazarus would not die. They were concerned for His safety. Those in Jerusalem were already plotting His death. He told them, “Lazarus is dead.” For their sake, He was glad that they did not go to Lazarus immediately.

This is the part of the story that does not make sense to us. Why would Jesus want Lazarus to die? Why would He allow His good friends to suffer the pain of grief for even a few days? By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, well beyond the possibility of physical resurrection. The Jews believed that the soul departed the body on the third day. There was no Lazarus left to resurrect. The sisters said to Jesus, “If only you had been here!” They still had hope in the spiritual, but they wanted their brother in flesh and blood.

In this story we see two sides of Jesus. We see the caring friend who comes to mourn with those who have lost a loved one. We wonder why Jesus might have waited. Wouldn’t He have at least wanted to be with His friend during the illness? Most of us have had to rush off to the hospital to be with someone we love who is suffering. It is hard for us to understand why Jesus would wait. Yet, in this story we also see the Divine. Jesus knew there was more to the illness. He knew the illness would not END in death. Lazarus did indeed die, but so that they—and we—might believe, it ended in resurrection—not just spiritual, but physical.

We are reminded that Jesus is indeed our friend, there for us in our times of need. However, He is also the Divine, the Son of God, and He knows the end of the story. We might think we need Him to be here at this moment, to heal at this time, to finish His work right now, but He sees beyond our immediacy. He knows the right time to come and He will be there. We will probably react like the sisters, complaining that if only He were there when we thought we needed Him, things would be different. We learn in this story, however, that God might have something even greater planned for us on the other side of our suffering. Trust Him. He is faithful.


March 5, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 9, 2008: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Jehovah. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.

Someone jokingly suggested this week that the Gospel lessons during Lent get progressively longer to train the readers for the crucial but very long readings during Holy Week. The Palm Sunday reading is nearly two chapters of Matthew. On Good Friday we hear two chapters of John. They also help train the people in the congregation for hearing the texts. We easily get lost in our thoughts when we have to sit or stand and listen to such long readings, especially since these are stories that we have heard so many times before. We believe we know every word, that we’ve heard it all before. So, we stop listening. I wonder how many of us did not even read the Gospel text yesterday before reading the devotion if only because it would take so much time out of our busy day? After the first verse or two, did you think, “I know what this passage says,” then skip down to my words?

The problem for a writer like me and all the pastors prayerfully planning their sermons for this week is that this text is filled with so many important lessons. This is a crucial moment for Jesus. It is a catalyst for what is to come. For the teaching pastor, there are a dozen details that could be expounded upon to help us better understand the time during which this happened and the people to whom it was happening. John writes well beyond the physical particulars of the story, so we could spend pages or hours discussing the spiritual dimensions of this story. We could look at the people and the relationships in this story, try to identify with their experiences and see God in our own pain and suffering. How do you take forty five verses of text and write a few hundred words or speak for a few minutes?

Though we take them for granted, these texts have incredible depth and are still invaluable to our Christian growth and maturity. They also have something new and unique to tell us today. We hear and respond to the texts according to our current circumstances, but if we do not listen we may not hear what God has to say. The story of Lazarus talks about death. Who of us is not dealing with death from one point of view or another most of our lives? As we hear this story, we might identify with any of the characters. Has someone you love recently died? Perhaps you can hear some words of comfort in the response of his sisters. Do you have a friend who lost someone recently? We can learn from the mourners how to help our friend, and how not to help. In the disciples we see fear about facing the circumstances. In Jesus we see strength in sorrow and concern for others. We can even identify with Lazarus. There are times in our lives when we are as good as dead, wrapped up in those grave clothes and buried in a tomb. It might be loneliness or depression. The burden might be an addiction or obsession. Whatever it is, this text may help us to hear Jesus calling out to us by name, commanding us to come out of the tomb. Through this text, we might even see that Jesus is calling us to be like Him, calling people out of their tombs to a new life of faith.

Whatever it is we face today, we can find some comfort or strength through the words of our scriptures lessons. Yet, we too often take these beloved and well-known stories for granted. We stop listening because we think we’ve heard it all before. This time, take special care to listen and meditate on the words. Hear God’s voice in the story, the voice that is speaking directly to you. This time it might not be just a story, it might hold for you the answer to your prayers.


March 6, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 9, 2008: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew [26:14-27:10] 27:11-54 [5-66]

Isaiah 50:4-9a The Lord Jehovah hath given me the tongue of them that are taught, that I may know how to sustain with words him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as they that are taught. The Lord Jehovah hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord Jehovah will help me; therefore have I not been confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He is near that justifieth me; who will content with me? let us stand up together: who is mine adversary? let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord Jehovah will help me; who is he that shall condemn me?

Bruce spent thirty years in the military, and as an active duty member of the military he could not wear a beard. The reason for this regulation is most likely safety, but there are other possibilities. Whatever the reason, Bruce stopped shaving almost as soon as his retirement ceremony was over. Within months he had a beautiful goatee which made him look very distinguished. I often joked that if he let his hair grow into a ponytail he would look like a college professor. He had the beard for about a year and then one day, out of the blue, he shaved it off. The kids hated the beard. I liked it, but it didn’t matter to me whether he had a beard or not. An ongoing joke in our house is Bruce’s threat to grow the beard again—it gets the kids in line quickly!

For many men today, whether or not to wear a beard is most often a personal choice, but that is not always been the case. Religious and secular law has long controlled the wearing of facial hair. For some, a beard is expected—to shave the hair is actually an insult to the gods or rulers. For others, wearing facial hair is the insult. There are often rules about how the beard could be worn—long or short, cropped or covering the face. In Greek society, a beard was a sign of wisdom. In societies where beards were the vogue, slaves were ordered to grow out their stubble so that they would be easily distinguished from their masters. Rulers often used the removal of a beard as a form of control. Beards were taxed by others. Along with a 100 ruble tax, Peter I of Russia made beard wearers also wear a medallion which had the words “beards are a ridiculous ornament.”

Depending on the society, beards were a sign of wealth or poverty, celibacy or manhood. Roman boys could not remove any facial hair until they reached adulthood. Amish men keep their faces clean until they are married. In some places, a man was not allowed to grow a beard until he had killed an enemy. The size of the beard was symbolic also. For those protesting, a long beard meant greater protest. A long beard meant greater wisdom. Alexander the Great insisted that his soldiers shave their beards because an enemy could grab a hold of the facial hair during battle and use it to his advantage. During World War I, it was discovered that facial hair affected the seal on the gas masks and so soldiers were very conscientious about keeping their face shaved clean.

Since wearing a beard is so much a personal choice for many men, we don’t understand the imagery found in today’s lesson. Why would “pulling a beard” be considered so horrible? After all, we laugh when we see those pictures of children sitting on Santa’s knees, pulling at his beard to ensure that it is real. Even funnier are the pictures of the child who finds a Santa with a fake. Yet, to pull a beard was a great insult.

As a matter of fact, the suffering servant faces the most horrific interactions between people. He was willing to be beaten, the standard punishment for criminals. He was willing to give his cheek to the person wanting to show him disrespect and contempt. He willingly faced the hatred of mocking and the disgrace of someone’s spit. We see in these words the final hours of Jesus’ life, for He was the suffering servant to which Isaiah was pointing.

The servant does not see himself as greater than anyone. He says he given the tongue of one who is taught, rather than identifying himself as a teacher. The words are passed on, and he does teach, but he recognizes that he is not the teacher. He humbles himself before God’s word and is obedient. He faces the suffering knowing that it is both God’s will and that God will be with him through it. Though the beating, disrespect, contempt, hatred and disgrace were humiliating, he knew no shame because God was near. His enemies were nothing because their condemnation was meaningless against God.


March 7, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 16, 2008: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew [26:14-27:10] 27:11-54 [5-66]

Psalm 31:9-16 Have mercy upon me, O Jehovah, for I am in distress: Mine eye wasteth away with grief, yea, my soul and my body. For my life is spent with sorrow, And my years with sighing: My strength faileth because of mine iniquity, And my bones are wasted away. Because of all mine adversaries I am become a reproach, Yea, unto my neighbors exceedingly, And a fear to mine acquaintance: They that did see me without fled from me. I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel. For I have heard the defaming of many, Terror on every side: While they took counsel together against me, They devised to take away my life. But I trusted in thee, O Jehovah: I said, Thou art my God. My times are in thy hand: Deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me. Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: Save me in thy lovingkindness.

The early celebration of Easter this year has caused an unusual calendar phenomenon. St. Patrick’s Day falls during Holy Week. While this is probably not a problem for a lot of people, there are some who take Holy Week seriously and they would rather not imbibe in green beer as they might in another year. For one college town, the early Easter means an early Spring break and a town emptied of paying customers at their bars. That town decided to have an early celebration of St. Patrick’s Day so that the students could still leave their money in the tills even though they were going to be gone on March 17th. Also, St. Patrick’s Day during Easter week means that we probably won’t hear much about the missionary this year.

It is said that on St. Patrick’s Day the whole world is Irish. It is certainly a holiday that a great many people commemorate. Many cities have parades and shamrocks are hung everywhere. The river that runs through downtown San Antonio is died green for the day, as are other rivers around the world. Many of the celebrants may not even know the full story of St. Patrick. For many it is a time to get drunk on green beer and chase after leprechauns in hopes of finding their pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. The only reminders of St. Patrick’s story are all the shamrocks that decorate the festivities.

The irony of our impression about St. Patrick is that the man was not even Irish. He was living on the Isle of Britannia, the son of Roman parents; he was sixteen when he was kidnapped by Irish marauders. He served as a slave in the hills of Ireland until he was able to escape on a boat to Gaul. In Gaul, which is now France, Patrick was educated. He returned to Britain to live with relatives and while there he had a vision calling him to serve as a missionary to the people in Ireland. He went back to France to study and was eventually consecrated as Bishop of Ireland. He returned to the land of his captors and preached the Gospel to the people there. His preaching against the pagan religion was first met with resistance but he was eventually able to convert the high king. The rest of the Irish followed.

It must have been difficult to face his enemies. How would you have felt if you had been given a vision from God calling you to go to a place where you only knew oppression and pain? Would you have listened and done all that was necessary to do the task to which you were called? Or would you have run in the other direction? Could you live in the midst of your enemies and share the love and forgiveness of Christ with them?

I imagine that there were times when Patrick felt like the psalmist. He was surrounded by his enemies, trying to share God’s grace but they were at first unwilling to accept the Word God sent to them through him. I wonder if he ever remembered the cruelty of his captivity and the injustice of his slavery. I wonder if he ever wished that he did not go to Ireland. Yet, through it all, Patrick held firm in his calling and did what he could to share the message of forgiveness. He remained faithful in the midst of his difficulty so that his enemies might come to know the love of God. Through it all, he trusted that God would keep him safe.


March 10, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 16, 2008: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew [26:14-27:10] 27:11-54 [5-66]

Philippians 2:5-11 Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

A story is told of a holy man who was sitting on the bank of a brook while meditating. He noticed a scorpion that was caught in a whirlpool in the brook. Every time the scorpion tried to climb on a rock, it slipped back into the water. The holy man took pity on the scorpion and tried to save it from certain death, but whenever the man reached out to the creature it struck at its hand. A friend passed by and told the man that his actions were futile because it is in the scorpion’s nature to strike. The man said, “Yet, but it is my nature to save and rescue. Why should I change my nature just because the scorpion doesn’t change his?”

Most of us are not so gracious. We are more like that friend, and at times we are perhaps even worse. While the friend may have just let nature take its course, we might even consider pushing the scorpion into a quicker death. We would justify our action, claiming at once that it would be better for the scorpion not to suffer and that it might save someone from being stung. There are certainly few of us who would take the time or the risk to save what is, in essence, an enemy.

It is in our nature, it seems, a tendency to try to come out on top. We work hard for the promotion. We’ll do what it takes to the nicest car, the prettiest house and the best lawn. We compete for the biggest trophies, the fastest times and the sports records. Our quest to be number one can easily become the sole focus of our life, as is seen so clearly in the training of athletes, especially as the Olympics draw near.

This isn’t true of everyone. I read a story in today’s newspaper about a pole vaulter. He held the record in his division and no matter how high they put the pole, he always cleared it by a foot. His peers said it was so amazing that they decided to test him. Instead of raising the bar an inch, they raised it six inches. He still cleared it by a foot. When they told him what they did, he walked away and never jumped again. He realized that however high he flew, someone would expect him to fly higher. He did not see how he could keep getting better. No matter how great you become, there is always room to do better.

Unfortunately, there comes a time when you can’t do better by your own power and then you face the real test. At some point everyone faces temptation that is difficult to overcome: the athlete that feels the need to use performance enhancing drugs to go one step further. In business, the temptation might be to steal a co-worker’s ideas or lie on a resume to appear more qualified for a job. In our relationships, we pretend to be someone we aren’t to win the prettiest girl or the richest boy.

The passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is thought to have been based on an early Christian hymn describing Jesus’ kenosis, which is from the Greek word meaning “emptiness.” This hymn tells how Jesus emptied Himself to become one of us, to take on our sin and face once and for all the wrath of God on the cross. God honored His humble obedience by exalting Him above all else.

It is easy to see this exaltation in the eyes of our human desires to be first and best. It is even possible for us to think that the way to get ahead in this world is to ‘be humble,’ justifying this attitude as following the example of Christ. However, this passage does not tell us Jesus humbled Himself so that He would be exalted. He humbled Himself because it was in His nature to be a servant—it was the life to which God had called Him to live and die. He became one with God because He emptied Himself and took on God’s will as His own. He calls us to do the same. We do not empty ourselves so that we might be exalted with Him, but because in Christ we have taken upon ourselves His nature, the nature that saves and rescues even when it puts our own life in jeopardy.


March 11, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 16, 2008: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew [26:14-27:10] 27:11-54 [55-66]

The scriptures listed are the texts for Passion Sunday. March 16th is also Palm Sunday. For today’s WORD, I will use the Gospel lesson that will be read during the Palm Processional in many churches.

Matthew 21:1-11 And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and came unto Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village that is over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any one say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. Now this is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, Meek, and riding upon an ass, And upon a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did even as Jesus appointed them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their garments; and he sat thereon. And the most part of the multitude spread their garments in the way; and others cut branches from the trees, and spread them in the way. And the multitudes that went before him, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, Who is this? And the multitudes said, This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.

We don’t know exactly how or when the donkey was domesticated, but it appears that they came from the African wild ass and were domesticated about six thousand years ago. Despite the human contact, donkeys are still quite independent, often doing only what is good for the donkey rather than what its human master wishes. We’ve all seen the visual image of a donkey refusing to move, impossible to budge from his chosen footing.

Donkeys have been used for many purposes. Donkeys were also used to trample seed into the field and to thresh the harvest. Donkey's milk is high in sugar and protein, so is very healthy to drink and use for food. They are beasts of burden, developed to help nomadic peoples move from place to place. The females (jennies) generally bear people while the males (jacks) carry the packs. Donkeys made it possible for whole families to move along with the flocks. Before the domestication of donkeys, the men would follow the flocks while the family stayed in one place waiting for their return. The tame donkey could be trained to be led on a halter or it could be trained to follow a particular path on its own.

Even with such abilities, we can’t help but see the humorous side of the animal. In the movie "Shrek" Donkey is an overanxious, stubborn fool, constantly annoying Shrek and creating stress in the lives of everyone he meets. Though at times he tries to be a peacemaker, his peacemaking never quite catches hold. In other images, we see the donkey sitting on his hind while his master, if he can be called a master, pulls at the rope in an unsuccessful effort to make the donkey rise and walk. Usually the donkey suddenly decides he is willing to move and the master ends up flat on his hind.

As is typical of Jesus, the humble, foolish donkey plays a very important role in His story. In the Christmas story, the donkey bears Mary on their long and hard journey to Bethlehem. The donkey is often portrayed as a sweet animal in his very special role. He takes care to move cautiously so as not to harm Mary or the baby.

The donkey is a humorous figure, a beast of burden, a loyal friend. It is not the way we would expect a king to travel. We expect a king to ride on a large white steed or in a chariot with splendid horses. But Jesus chose to ride the donkey into Jerusalem on His victory tour. But the people saw the donkey and recognized that the humble figure riding was exactly the one for whom they were waiting. The prophet promised that their Messiah would come this way. The humble donkey was the sign of the King. Jesus did not choose the biggest, the best or the powerful. He chose the humble and foolish to fulfill God's promises.


March 12, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 16, 2008: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew [26:14-27:10] 27:11-54 [55-66]

Due to the length of today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 26:14-27:66), I am including the links to Bible Gateway for Matthew 26 and 27. The links take you to American Standard Version, but you can switch versions at the site. Though the online links are very convenient, I highly recommend reading the text from your own Bible. Take your time, savor the story, listen to what God has to say.

Matthew 26
Matthew 27

The long Gospel assignment takes us through the entire experience—His betrayal, the Last Supper, the prediction of Peter’s denial, prayer at Gethsemane, the arrest, standing before the Sanhedrine, Peter disowning Jesus, Judas’ suicide, the trial, mocking, crucifixion, death and burial. For many church goers, some of those stories will be heard at worship services during the week. Maundy Thursday focuses on the Last Supper. On Good Friday we hear the story of the Crucifixion. We hear the entire story of the Passion on the Sunday before Easter because many people are not able to attend those midweek services. To understand Easter, we have to get through the Passion. The Sunday before Easter is also Palm Sunday, which I referenced in yesterday’s devotion.

On Palm Sunday we see the community adoring Jesus Christ. They see Him as the one who will fulfill the promises; they see Him as the Messiah who will remove the Romans and restore the nation of Israel to the Golden days of Solomon. They see Him as the King for whom they had been waiting for so long. Just days later at His trial, the references to His kingship are made with sarcasm and disdain.

In 27:11, Pilate calls Him “the king of the Jews,” a title that would insinuate that Jesus was usurping the throne of a puppet king. Herod had no real power. He did only what Rome allowed. If Jesus was to be king of the Jews, He would also have no power. He would be a puppet, at least from the point of view of Pilate. How could this weak and suffering man every defeat the great Roman Empire? Jesus answers Pilate’s question with “Yes, it is as you say,” but Jesus is not talking about usurping a puppet throne. His kingship is of something greater, a kingdom beyond Israel.

In 27:29 the soldiers mocked Jesus. “Hail, king of the Jews,” they said, after having stripped Him of His clothes and replaced them with a scarlet cloak. They made a crown of thorns and placed it on His head, adding to the humiliation and pain that He was suffering. They did not really think Him to be a king, but did it only to mock Him.

In 27:37, they made a sign that said, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Here we see the publication of His crime. He was charged with the usurpation of the royal throne. This was, in its own way, another mocking, as His throne is not covered with velvet and jewels but is nothing more than a humble cross on which He would suffer and die.

While He hung on that cross, the people came to the hillside to gawk and mock Him. In 27:42, the chief priests and elders said, “He saved others; himself he cannot save. He is the King of Israel; let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe on him.” They wanted proof of His right to the throne. If only He would get down from the cross, they would believe.”

The irony of the sarcasm and disdain is that Jesus never came to usurp the throne or save Israel from Rome. He came to save Israel from a greater oppressor—sin and death. As we heard in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Jesus emptied Himself. He did not come to be an earthly king or to lead His people in a revolt against the oppressive powers of this world. He came to do the will of God, which was to become one of us to die on a cross for the sake of mankind. The leaders thought that they had defeated Jesus and kept Him from the throne. However, they put Him on the very throne for which He was sent—the cross.

In the end, the only one who recognized Jesus was the centurion who pierced Him with a spear. Since that man was the Roman in charge at the crucifixion, his declaration was vindication for Jesus. In the end, Jesus was ruled innocent, righteous despite the horrific and unsettling end to His life. The centurion, probably without even understanding, proclaimed Jesus to be the King, not of Rome or even Israel, but over all of creation. For his obedience to the cross, God would, as Paul wrote, exalt Him above all else and give Him the name above all other names.


March 13, 2008

Scriptures for March 23, 2008: Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1-10 or John 20:1-18

Jeremiah 31:1-6 At that time, saith Jehovah, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. Thus saith Jehovah, The people that were left of the sword found favor in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest. Jehovah appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. Again will I build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel: again shalt thou be adorned with thy tabrets, and shalt go forth in the dances of them that make merry. Again shalt thou plant vineyards upon the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit thereof. For there shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the hills of Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto Jehovah our God.

“I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people,” says God in today’s scripture lesson. This was a very important thing for the people to hear, because it is repeated numerous times throughout the book of Jeremiah. It goes back to the promise before the Exodus, when God was establishing the relationship between Himself and His people. Exodus 6:7 says, “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” He promised deliverance from their bondage in Egypt and repeated the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.” (Exodus 6:8, NIV) Through this deliverance God would prove to both Israel and the nations that He is the LORD God.

The promise is renewed in Leviticus as God promises to look with favor on His obedient people. Here it seems as the promise is conditional—as long as the people do all that God has commanded, He will be their God and they will be His people. (Leviticus 26:1-13) This is followed by a list of curses that will come with their disobedience. If they do not listen to God and do all that He has commanded, they will suffer the consequences. The list is horrific: fear, illness, famine, defeat, oppression, discipline and wrath. It is an image of God that we would rather ignore, a picture of the jealous and angry God that heaps suffering on His people like a cruel father on disobedient children.

Jeremiah was writing to a defeated people. They had experienced the very horrors promised to the people who were disobedient. Jeremiah tells of the great sin of his people—idolatry, including even child sacrifice. The God who delivered them from Egypt was no longer their God. They worshipped others. In chapter seven, Jeremiah says, “Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt-offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat ye flesh. For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices: but this thing I commanded them, saying, Hearken unto my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people; and walk ye in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward. Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day, I have sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them: yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff: they did worse than their fathers.” (Jeremiah 7:21-26)

The consequence of their disobedience was the Babylonian invasion which led to their exile. God used political circumstances of their day, and a foreign nation, to bring the people to their knees. He turned from His people and allowed His hand of protection to leave them for a time, so that they would remember that He is their God.

See, He never forgot His promise, but in that covenantal relationship, God’s people forgot that they were His. They lost sight of their identity as they merged and melded with the world in which they lived. They worshipped the gods of their neighbors and turned to allies for their protection instead of trusting in God’s faithfulness. God does not forget, but we do. The horrors they faced were not really punishments from a jealous and angry God who no longer cares for those with whom He has made covenants. They were the consequences of turning away from their God.

But God is always faithful. In today’s passage we are reminded that God’s love is an everlasting love. Even while the people were in exile, there was hope for the future. One day it would be over and they would be restored to their God. He always remained faithful even as His people did not. In that day they would remember that He is their God and that they are His people. Again they would see the blessings of that covenantal relationship. They would return home in joy and thanksgiving.


March 14, 2008

Scriptures for March 23, 2008: Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1-10 or John 20:1-18

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 Oh give thanks unto Jehovah; for he is good; For his lovingkindness endureth for ever. Let Israel now say, That his lovingkindness endureth for ever. Jehovah is my strength and song; And he is become my salvation… The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous: The right hand of Jehovah doeth valiantly. The right hand of Jehovah is exalted: The right hand of Jehovah doeth valiantly. I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of Jehovah. Jehovah hath chastened me sore; But he hath not given me over unto death. Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will enter into them, I will give thanks unto Jehovah. This is the gate of Jehovah; The righteous shall enter into it. I will give thanks unto thee; for thou hast answered me, And art become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected Is become the head of the corner. This is Jehovah's doing; It is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which Jehovah hath made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.

I am reading a book called “The Eyre Affair” by Jasper Fforde. If I were to identify the genre, I would say it is a comedic sci-fi mystery crime drama. Describing a parallel universe where the entire seems to revolve around literature, it is a silly story with bizarre plot twists and interesting literary references.

One of the main characters is a superhuman mastermind criminal who seems to be indestructible. He is involved with the theft of a rare first edition copy of Charles Dickens' “Martin Chuzzlewit” which has led to murder and mayhem. The main character, our heroine, becomes involved with the investigation despite the fact that she is absolutely unqualified to be a hero. Her family is kidnapped, her friends are murdered and just to keep it light we see her face the humiliations of her past.

The criminal, Acheron Hades, says, “But you forgot murderer. Forty-two times a murderer, my friend. The first one is the always the hardest. After that it doesn’t really matter, they can only hang you once. It’s a bit like eating a packet of shortbread; you can never just have one piece.”

Sin begins small but builds, as it takes more and more to fulfill the desire, drawing us ever deeper into the sinful behavior. Take gambling, for instance. It usually begins rather innocently—a successful trip to a casino or a night of bingo. It doesn’t hurt to buy just one lottery ticket and how fun it is to win! So, the gambler goes back to play again, certain that luck is on her side or that he is destined to get rich. So certain are they of their promise, they go back time and again, even when they lose, expecting the next trip will be the winner.

The consequences of sin are not too bad in the beginning. As a matter of fact, there is usually some pay-off: the occasional win for the gambler, the buzz for the alcoholic, the excitement and intimacy of promiscuous sexual behavior. Ten bucks that pays five hundred in a few hours is a mesmerizing concept. Rather than give up when they don’t win, they go more and more. A weekly trip to the bingo hall becomes a daily ritual. Ten dollars becomes hundreds. The family is pushed aside so that the gambler can feed this desire to win, always hoping to recoup what has been lost. Eventually the money for food, rent and clothes is gone and the family is left desolate. Relationships break and the gambler is left with nothing but this need to gamble. Most hit rock bottom before they ever realize they have a problem. This is true for gambling and for other addictions. After a while the money runs out, one drink is not enough and promiscuous sex leads to disease or pregnancy. At that point there seems to be no way out, no hope for the addicted.

Yet, even in the face of such overwhelming sin, there is always hope. When salvation seemed impossible, God saved sinners from death and the grave. We all suffer the effects of sin in our lives, we are all tempted and we fall into that temptation. We may not be a gambler, drunk or minx, but we are sinners just the same. We are drawn so deeply into our sin that we know no way out. But there is always a way—God. He is our victory over the things of this world that threaten to destroy our lives. Even when nothing is left, there is hope in the salvation of our Lord. We have been saved from eternal death by His mercy and grace. In that grace God’s transforming Spirit makes us new and gives us the strength to face the things that threaten to destroy us.

I am only halfway through the book, but I am sure that Acheron Hades will get his due. I am sure that our heroine will find a way to overcome her own weaknesses to stop this superhuman mastermind criminal. We’ll probably see her reach a low point; see her end up at rock bottom before we see her rise to save the day. Sounds a little like the savior in today’s Psalm—the stone the builders rejected, becomes the capstone. Sounds a lot like Jesus, who willingly went rock bottom for the sake of the world.


March 15, 2008

Scriptures for March 23, 2008: Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1-10 or John 20:1-18

Colossians 3:1-4 If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory.

The play that the kids are rehearsing at school is a comedic story about a stage family who gets caught up in all sorts of hysterical circumstances. There is miscommunication, misunderstanding and misdirection from all the main characters. In the end, their foibles leave us rolling in the aisles with laughter. Victoria plays an older woman, the mother of the aging actress and grandmother to the young woman who has decided to leave the theatre life behind and try to create for herself a “normal” life with an average guy and a stable home life.

When they were planning costumes and make-up, the teacher asked Victoria to bring pictures of older family members, like her grandmother. By looking at how my mom aged, they could create a make-up design that would be real. With the right lines and shadows, Victoria might just look like my mother on stage.

I am not sure how well they will do, but it is certainly possible. She came home one evening with theatre make-up still on. They were still developing the design and it was actually incomplete. Even so, as Victoria sat in a chair close-by, I could not help but be amazed at how she looked. With her red hair (which comes from my mother’s genes) done up in a bun on her head and deep lines of age painted on her face, it seemed almost as though I was seeing my mother again. I can’t wait to see if Victoria ends up walking and talking like my mother. Though she was pretty young when my mother died and we lived too far for the kids to get to know her very well, Victoria shares some of her physical characteristics. As she pretends to be an old lady, I suspect that images of my mom will shine through in her character—especially Mom’s orneriness.

It is tempting to read today’s lesson and think that Paul is suggesting that we reject the world and look toward heaven. There are many Christians who think solely about those things “above,” rejecting the things of the flesh. Yet, Christ calls us to live in the world even while we are no longer of the world. In other words, in Christ we have been transformed into His image and we now belong to His Kingdom, and yet there is work to do in the here and now. So, we are joined with Him and as we grow in faith and mature in grace, God shines through our lives in every increasing glory. When Christ, who is our life, appears, the world sees the work of God in our flesh and in our works. We become more and more like Him and it is Him that the world sees when they see our life.

So, we are called to seek after the things of God, not only heaven, but also His kingdom here on earth. We are to look for the helpless and the hungry, the lonely and the sinners. These may seem like some to be the very things that are ‘below’, but it is in the suffering of this world that we find Christ. As we reach out to those who need to experience God’s grace, then God’s glory will be manifested in our lives.


March 18, 2008

Scriptures for March 23, 2008: Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1-10 or John 20:1-18

Matthew 28:1-10 Now late on the sabbath day, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was as lightning, and his raiment white as snow: and for fear of him the watchers did quake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye; for I know that ye seek Jesus, who hath been crucified. He is not here; for he is risen, even as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples, He is risen from the dead; and lo, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word. And behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then saith Jesus unto them, Fear not: go tell my brethren that they depart into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

It is easy for us to look at the Resurrection story with hindsight. We can imagine what it might have been like—the joy, the peace, the sudden revelation of everything Jesus had said. We look at the people involved and think to ourselves, “Why didn’t they know?” “Why were they afraid?” We think these questions because we have twenty/twenty vision when it comes to the story. We have seen the end of the story. We have seen where it goes. We have seen God’s work in its fullness. They didn’t have the same perspective. They were living it and they could not see what would happen next.

How do you feel when something exciting happens? Isn’t there a bit of fear when you have been blessed with something good? A new job is a wonderful thing, but everyone suffers a certain amount of fear and doubt. What if I can’t do the tasks? What if I fail? What if it is too hard? What if I can’t get along with my co-workers? We do this when we become involved in a new relationship. Will it last? Do we really have enough in common to make it work? What will happen if I’m left alone again? New mothers perhaps suffer the greatest fears. What if I can’t handle the responsibility? What if my baby gets sick? What if I do something wrong?

It might sound pessimistic, but it is a reality of our human nature. We will face a certain amount of fear when we are going into something new. We will face doubts and uncertainty when we do not know what is going to happen next. Those fears need not stop us from going forth, but we do have to learn how to cope with and overcome the fear.

In today’s story we see the women going to the tomb. Matthew doesn’t tell us what they were going to do, but in the other gospels they go to take care of Jesus’ body. He died while the Passover Sabbath was looming and they did not have time to prepare His body properly for burial. Joseph of Arimathea took the body to a newly carved tomb, but did little to give Jesus the honor due to a great friend and teacher. The women went back to do a better job, to anoint His body and wrap it correctly.

When they approached the tomb, a great earthquake shook the earth. If nothing else affected the women, an earthquake would have shaken them. However, they faced even greater surprises and revelations. An angel, whose presence would have been shocking and fearful, appeared before them and said “Do not be afraid.” I don’t know about you, but those words rarely have the intended affect on me. The angel told them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus had risen. After they saw the empty tomb, they began to run to tell the disciples. Matthew tells us that they departed with fear and great joy.

Along the way Jesus appeared and said, “All hail!” They fell at His feet and worshipped Him. Now, more than ever, you would think that they would let go of the fear. There was their friend and teacher standing before them. However, Jesus knew that there was still fear. He said, “Fear not” and repeated the command. The fear may have become so overwhelming that they might have not done as the angel said. Jesus came to them in the midst of this extraordinary experience to give them peace so that they could go on and do what they were called to do. Jesus comes to us in the same way, giving us the courage to go forward despite our fear and do what we are called to do in this world.


March 19, 2008

Scriptures for March 23, 2008: Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 28:1-10 or John 20:1-18

Acts 10:34-43 And Peter opened his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him. The word which he sent unto the children of Israel, preaching good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all.) -- that saying ye yourselves know, which was published throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; even Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the country of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom also they slew, hanging him on a tree. Him God raised up the third day, and gave him to be made manifest, not to all the people, but unto witnesses that were chosen before of God, even to us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he charged us to preach unto the people, and to testify that this is he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins.

I read an article about a website on the Internet yesterday. They included a link to the website, and of course I was curious enough to click on the link. Unfortunately, so did the other people reading the article. Suddenly, the website was inundated by people wanting to read it. Though the World Wide Web can handle a great deal of traffic, individual websites can handle only so much. It was like everyone in San Antonio decided they wanted to go see the Alamo at the same time. The link in the article created a huge traffic jam and it made it impossible for anyone to see the website.

We are torn when we discover something great because on one hand we want to share that great thing with others. On the other hand, we know that if too many people hear about that great thing it will become more difficult for us to benefit from it. I have to honestly admit that I don’t like to tell too many people about the scholarship opportunities we have found for Victoria. After all, every student who applies for a scholarship is another person who will compete against her. Do we really want to tell another job-seeker about a great job opportunity? We don’t want a favorite restaurant or a beautiful park to become too crowded, so we wonder if we should share our find with others. It is as natural for us to want to keep these secrets as it is for us to want to share our great find with our friends.

Peter thought it was right to keep the message of Jesus for a certain group of people because he thought it was given for them and them alone. He thought Christ came for the Jews, for God’s chosen people. He was willing to allow others to join into the blessings if they followed the prescribed path of a proselyte. They could not be Christian unless they first became a Jew. However, Peter learned a much different lesson when he met Cornelius.

Peter realized that God’s mercy is not given just for those we want to receive it, but God desires all to turn to Him because He loves us all. Christ does not play favorites, nor should we as we live our lives of faith in Him. We are called to rejoice when God has mercy on the enemy who turns to Him in faith, for in Christ we are no longer enemies but brothers. The world would truly be a much better place if we all loved our enemies by sharing the Gospel of Christ with them so that they will become our brothers in faith.

Resurrection Day reminds us that God was doing the unexpected. God did everything differently than they planned. Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they wanted; He didn’t teach the lessons they thought He would teach. He did not fellowship with the right people or do all the right things. I imagine it was tough for those first disciples as they discovered that God was doing something new in the world through them. God taught Peter an awesome lesson that day—that His love and mercy is for all men who hear and believe the Gospel message. Peter expected to minister to the Jews, to his own people. But when God called him to the house of Cornelius, he realized that God did not play favorites. The people who heard the Gospel were not all in the same circumstances. God provided the opportunity and the gifts for the apostles to share Him with all sorts of different people.

It is the same today. Those who need to hear about the grace of Jesus Christ come from all sorts of different place. Not all will be prepared for the message in the same way; not all will receive it with the same heart. But God does not play favorites. He does not care who they are or what they have done. It does not matter to Him if they are male or female, young or old. He does not look at a person’s credentials, their job or the people they know. He only sees the heart. His message is given for all those who will hear and believe.


March 20, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 30, 2008: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Acts 2:14a, 22-32 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spake forth unto them, saying… Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know; him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay: whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David saith concerning him, I beheld the Lord always before my face; For he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; Moreover my flesh also shall dwell in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul unto Hades, Neither wilt thou give thy Holy One to see corruption. Thou madest known unto me the ways of life; Thou shalt make me full of gladness with thy countenance. Brethren, I may say unto you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us unto this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne; he foreseeing this spake of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he left unto Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses.

Today is the first day of Spring. I’m not sure it is obvious around the country, but the weather has certainly been lovely in our neck of the woods. It is sunny, a little cool this morning but we are expecting spring like temperatures this afternoon. With our recent rainfall, I am expecting to see signs of spring suddenly appear in gardens and along the roadways. Some of the trees have already begun to blossom and I’ve seen the colors of some wildflowers emerging against the greening ground cover. Soon, very soon, the bluebonnets will be poking their heads out of the ground transforming the meadows and roadsides into a lovely shade of blue. We longingly wait through winter for this time of renewal and beauty; we know it will come because it is the way God has designed His creation. Through death comes new life.

The story of Christ is ridiculous. It is no wonder that many people consider it little more than a fairy tale. Much of what we know about Jesus is beyond scientific explanation, beyond reason, physically impossible. That God could, or would, become incarnate to live among men and then live to die is outrageous. Some might even say it is a lie. All too many have tried to justify the traditional Christian beliefs by claiming the story is referring to a purely spiritual experience. For them, living so far from the time and place of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the bodily aspects do not seem so important. We can not touch, hear or see Jesus in the flesh, so it is the Spirit through which we know and experience God.

However, our faith is founded in the reality of what Jesus did and what God did through Jesus. There are those who would prefer to reduce Jesus to little more than a rabbi, teacher and example by which we are called to live. While He was those things, He was also much more. He was the Messiah. Though He did not live up to the expectations of what the people in His day were waiting for, He did accomplish the work that God foreordained.

Peter makes it very clear that what happened to Jesus, the things that they witnessed first hand, were exactly what God had planned. Though He was crucified at the hands of human beings, it was as God had planned. Jesus went to the cross by God’s hand so that His plan for salvation could be completed. There are those who say that the New Testament writers give us the impression that the Jews were at fault for the death of Jesus because the writers feared retribution from the Romans. However, in this speech, Peter lays the responsibility on both the Jews and the Romans (those outside the Law), but ultimately the responsibility belongs to God. All that they did, they did because God planned it to be done.

Peter tells us that David was a prophet because he foresaw the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Referring back to the Psalm, Peter took the evidence of the things that they had seen and experienced with Jesus and lined it up with the things the prophet King David had foretold. David and Peter were not speaking about purely spiritual things. David died and was buried and his tomb still existed in that day. Jesus, however, died but was no longer buried. Jesus was the promised King, greater than King David because He was the Messiah, the promised One of God. His body would not stay in the ground and it would not decompose as David’s did.

Peter states emphatically that they were witnesses to these things and we believe based on their witness. Though we can not experience the flesh of Jesus as they did, though we can’t see Him or touch Him or hear Him as they did, we can believe based on their testimony. To reduce the Resurrection of Jesus to something purely spiritual diminishes the witness of Peter and the others. It also diminishes Jesus to less than was promised by God through His prophets. It may seem ridiculous to our modern human sensibilities, but it as God intended. Jesus lived, died and rose again by God’s hand and for God’s plan.


March 21, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 30, 2008: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Psalm 16 Preserve me, O God; for in thee do I take refuge. O my soul, thou hast said unto Jehovah, Thou art my Lord: I have no good beyond thee. As for the saints that are in the earth, They are the excellent in whom is all my delight. Their sorrows shall be multiplied that give gifts for another god: Their drink-offerings of blood will I not offer, Nor take their names upon my lips. Jehovah is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: Thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; Yea, I have a goodly heritage. I will bless Jehovah, who hath given me counsel; Yea, my heart instructeth me in the night seasons. I have set Jehovah always before me: Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth; My flesh also shall dwell in safety. For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life: In thy presence is fulness of joy; In thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

It has been such a blessing for me to be able to continue as a stay-at-home-mom. However, there are times when the financial strain gets overwhelming and I think about going to work again. I have seriously considered office work, and even interviewed for a few jobs in that career field. I have passed the tests determining computer knowledge and abilities for such work. I’ve not yet found the perfect job, and I don’t yet need to find it, so I’m still not working outside my home.

The official title of office workers has changed over the past few decades. They were once called secretaries, but are now more likely known as administrative assistants or administrative professionals. They job details depend on the nature of the business, but they are usually responsible for communication, scheduling, preparation of paperwork and other details. They do what we might call ‘the grunt work’ for their boss, taking care of the foot work so that the administrator can concentrate on the deal. The person behind the office door might be the person in charge, the boss, but in most cases he or she could not complete their work without their assistant. That is why the secretary, or administrative professional, is often called “the right hand man.”

They are often invisible, rarely get the recognition they deserve. It is a job that few people want to tackle, although it is also very important for the running of a company. That is why in 1952 Henry Klemfluss created what was once called Secretaries Day. It is a day to honor the work that they do, to show the world that they are an important part of the team at any office. It was Henry’s hope that this holiday would encourage more people to become secretaries because they are highly valued.

Even though many people have come to recognize that many offices would not run very well without the administrative professional, they are still sometimes looked down upon by the management. Even though the work would never be completed, they are rarely given the recognition due to them; one day a year is hardly enough for the work they do. Those who do the office administrative duties are the low man on the totem pole. They are hidden, forgotten, undervalued.

We could hardly say that about God. We know that God is the ‘head,’ the ‘boss,’ the Great I AM. He is the top of the totem pole, and yet in this psalm God is described as being at David’s right hand. In this psalm God is the right hand man. That is what is so incredible about the God we worship is that He never kept Himself above His creation, but instead came down to dwell amongst His people. The incarnation is absolutely ridiculous if we think about it in human terms, however, God does not think the way we do. His ways are higher. He stands as our helper, our guide, our hope. David recognized that he could do nothing without God at his right hand. He would fail without God’s help.


March 24, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 30, 2008: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

1 Peter 1:3-9 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ: whom not having seen ye love; on whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.

In the Castle of Edinburgh, Scotland, a visitor can see the Honors of Scotland, the royal jewels of the nation. There is a crown made of gold with a circle of precious gems. A scepter and sword are also on display. These artifacts have been used in the coronation of kings and queens, all three used for the first time when Mary, Queen of Scots took the throne. They are beautiful items, invaluable both in physical worth and to the hearts of the people of Scotland. They represent freedom, independence and authority.

Among the treasures of Scotland is a most unusual item. There, in a place of great honor, is a rock. This stone is 26” by 16” by 10 1/2” and is supposedly made of sandstone. The history and myth assures the people that this stone is exactly what it is said to be. The Stone of Destiny (also called the Stone of Scone) is a rock that has a story that goes back to the most ancient times. Said to have been the rock on which Jacob laid his head when he dreamed of the ladder, the rock somehow made it to Scone and became the coronation stone of the kings of Scotland. After his dream, Jacob stood the stone and poured oil over it as an altar to God. According to tradition, the stone then became a stand for the Ark of the Covenant. It moved through Syria, Egypt, Spain and Ireland before finally arriving in Scotland.

The stone was first used for the coronations of early tribal kings of Scotland, but eventually became the symbol of authority for national leaders. It was taken to London and used for the English monarchy and then for those installed as British kings and queens. When you look at this stone, it is little more than a rock, with a few long eroded engravings and some iron rings embedded for transport. It is an odd gray color instead of the red that one might expect, giving rise to claims that the stone is a fake. Its history includes a time when the stone was stolen, broken and hidden. One person claims to have seen the real stone in Scone, hidden to prevent the English army from stealing it. That story claims the stone in London was never real. Scottish nationalists stole the stone in the 1950’s and some claim the stone returned to Westminster was not real. Even now that the stone has been returned to Scotland, on display in Edinburgh Castle is questionable at best. Could Jacob’s stone really have found its way through such an incredible journey to end up housed in a glass case and honored by a nation as a symbol of their identity? There are those who even believe that Jesus will sit upon that stone to be crowned the Eternal King. Could a rock have so much power?

Our faith is built on a rock, but it isn’t a 26” by 16” by 10.5” rock that is displayed behind glass in a room of a Scottish castle. Our rock is Jesus Christ, who lived and died and rose again for our sake. The promise of eternal life in His is not dependent on whether or not the Stone of Scone is really the rock that Jacob rested His head upon in the desert. By faith that rock gives an earthly kingdom to all those who sit on it, but we have been given the eternal kingdom by resting on the True rock of our faith. The promise is real and the King is faithful. We may experience hardship and trials, but through those difficulties our faith will grow and mature. Our joy rests not on the blessings we will see in the here and now, but in faith that God has assured our salvation and that we’ll share in His glory.


March 25, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 30, 2008: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31 When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had said this, he showed unto them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord. Jesus therefore said to them again, Peace be unto you: as the Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit: whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and see my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and put it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name.

Today’s lesson is the story we always hear the week after Easter, appropriate because it describes an event that happened a week after the Resurrection. It is familiar and it is very comforting. In this story we see the worst of human responses played out by the people of faith from whom we have received the witness of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. If they could be afraid and doubt what was happening and experience the forgiveness of Christ, then surely His grace is also meant for us who live so far outside the events of His life. In this story we see that it is not our human strength or knowledge that gives us peace, but God’s power in the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ our Lord.

According to John’s account, at this point the disciples had word of Jesus’ resurrection, but they had not yet seen Him. The witness was Mary Magdalene. Despite her closeness with Jesus and her place among the disciples during Jesus’ ministry, she was still a woman and by some accounts not well-liked among the disciples. At the very least, the men had not seen Jesus for themselves. They had not heard His voice or experienced His presence. They only knew that one woman in her grief had met a man in the garden near the tomb and that he said He was Jesus. Could she have had a hallucination or was she just confused?

Jesus came and stood among them, appearing despite the locked door meant to keep out those who might destroy what little peace they had left. It was peace that Jesus brought, twice saying “Peace be with you.” In last week’s Gospel the women were twice told to have no fear. One word is never enough for certainty, especially if we are experiencing overwhelming emotions like grief, fear and doubt. Jesus knew that of all things, peace was the most important at this point. In peace, they could face whatever it was that waited for them outside the door to their room. They would not find peace out there, since the Jews and the Romans would eventually respond to the Christian story with violence and oppression.

From peace He moves on to the manifestation of peace—forgiveness. Or perhaps peace is the manifestation of forgiveness. They are inseparable. We can’t have peace if we are holding a grudge against someone. We can’t have peace if another is holding a grudge against us. But we can face the sin of our world with forgiveness, at peace with the reality of our brokenness and God’s forgiveness. As we dwell in His grace, we share that grace with others and we experience real peace.

Real peace is not the absence of conflict but an unassailable trust in God. The world outside our door is not conducive to that feeling of peace that we long for today. As a matter of fact, we face grief, fear and doubt every day. But Christ comes to us and says, “Peace be with you.” He is saying, “Trust in me and trust in my Father. His promises are true and He is faithful. Whatever you face, do so with faith, knowing that everything is already taken care of for your and for the world. Live in the forgiveness I have obtained for you and take it out the door into the world for others.”


March 26, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, March 30, 2008: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth…

Easter is a time of joy, and yet the scriptures for this Sunday hold a powerful message about the Christian life we lead in faith and how it is not all sunshine and roses. In the passage from Acts, Peter stands up before the crowds and lays the death of Jesus at their feet: “…ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay…” he said. This was not a sermon that would gain Peter many friends. Instead, it was likely to gain him many enemies. The earliest days of the Christian church were filled with the kind of fear and doubt that we see in the Gospel lesson from John. They were threatened by the same people who participated in Jesus’ death and His resurrection did little to assuage their uncertainty about the future.

In the midst of this doubt, fear and uncertainty, we are reminded that this is a time of great joy. We see in Peter’s sermon that even though these things were done to Jesus, it was by God’s hand and it was so that we could live in the assurance of hope in His promises. In Peter’s letter we see that even though they will suffer trials, they will come through the fire with a faith that though tested will result in joy as Jesus is revealed with praise and glory and honor. John writes the story of Jesus’ appearance and everything else that He has done so “that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name.”

We are reminded in the passages that the crucifixion is a very real and central part of our faith and that we will continue to experience the pain of the crucifixion as we go forth into all the world being witnesses for Jesus Christ. It isn’t all sunshine and roses. However, in the midst of that truth, we are also reminded to trust in God, to live in faith and to be joyful through the pain because our perseverance will bring us to the time of seeing our salvation in its fullness, enjoying the benefits of eternal life.

None of this may seem very humorous, especially when we are in the middle of difficult times. Though I doubt many of us are suffering the kind of persecution that the early church faced, we all can identify with Peter and the disciples. We’ve had to speak the truth that hurts to someone we love, words that bring broken relationships and mistreatment. We have all experienced fear and doubt. We do not know what tomorrow holds and though we have the hope of eternal life it is hard to remember when we are suffering today. We identify more easily with the suffering of the crucifixion than the joy of the resurrection.

Despite the reality of our Christian life as we see it in our passages for this week, this is indeed a time of great joy, joy that can be expressed in laughter and revelry. The earliest theologians recognized the humor in the way God chose to bring redemption to the world. They called the resurrection of Jesus, “a practical joke on the devil.” They said, “Easter was the supreme joke played on the devil.” Because of this, the Sunday after Easter was known as “Bright Sunday,” and was a time for joking and laughter. The people played practical jokes on their priests and the priests told jokes in their sermons. It was a day of joy and laughter.

Eastern Orthodox priests have been known to gather together during the week after Easter to smoke cigars, drink brandy and tell jokes. Risus Paschalis, the Easter Laugh, celebrated the joy of the season, a joy that perhaps was lost in the solemnity of after Easter lessons. In 1988, the Fellowship of Merry Christians began encouraging churches to return to the tradition. Easter had become too dark, so they resurrected Holy Humor Sunday. This Sunday is a time to lighten up, to enjoy the humor of God, to laugh at ourselves and to experience the reality of our life in Christ with merriment and happiness.


March 27, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, April 6, 2008: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-36

Acts 2:14a, 36-41 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spake forth unto them, saying, Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do? And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto him. And with many other words he testified, and exhorted them, saying, Save yourselves from this crooked generation. They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls.

Today’s passage is a continuation of the text from last week, a part of Peter’s sermon in Acts. It is fifty days after they discovered the empty tomb of Jesus. It is Pentecost and earlier that day the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples.

The Jews had three festivals that were tied directly to agriculture and the harvest. These celebrations also had historical remembrances attached, so they were celebrations in thanksgiving to God for His daily care for His people as well as His goodness to their people throughout the ages. Passover occurs first, and is a remembrance of the Exodus. On the third day of Passover, a sheaf of the first barley is given at the Temple as a wave offering. The priest literally waved the sheaf toward God so that He might accept it and bless it. No one was allowed to eat any of the barley wheat before the wave offering. This was also called the Feast of First Fruits.

The third feast was called Sukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. This festival occurred for a week in the fall and it celebrated the harvest. During this festival the people remembered the journey from Egypt to Canaan and to thank God for the productivity of Canaan. The religious life of God’s people went from Passover to Sukkot, just as the agricultural calendar went from planting to harvest. The people identified God’s deliverance and His provision by celebrating the harvest of their daily bread and the remembrance of their past.

Between those two festivals was another. Fifty days after Passover, the people celebrated the Feast of Weeks, also known as Shavu’ot or Pentecost. This was a festival of joyful thanksgiving to God for blessing the harvest by giving offerings from the first fruits of their work. Pentecost was also a time to remember the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Just as the people stopped briefly between their exodus out of Egypt and their journey to Canaan at the foot of the mountain, so too do the people stopped briefly during the year to thank God for the blessings He has already given and to hear once again the words given to them on the mountain. The giving of the Law occurred fifty days after the Passover in Egypt, so it occurred fifty days later in the yearly remembrance of God’s mercy. The reading of the Law was an important part of this festival.

The word Pentecost means “fifty days.” Jesus was crucified during the celebration of Passover, taken to the cross as the perfect Lamb of God. It is no surprise then that the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples fifty days later while the city was filled with people attending the Feast of Pentecost. On the first Pentecost, the people of Israel were given God’s law. On the first Christian Pentecost, the people were given the Holy Spirit, along with God’s power and authority. God’s Word was written on their hearts instead of tablets of stone.

It could not have been easy for Peter to stand in front of those pilgrims who were in Jerusalem to hear the reading of God’s Law to speak this first sermon before the crowds. It was bold and courageous. He was offering them a new promise, a different promise. As they heard his words, the people were “pricked in their heart” or “cut to the heart” and they wondered what they should do with this knew story. Peter told them to repent—not only of the sins they had committed, but also of the way they were doing worship and living their lives of faith. He told them to be baptized so that they would be forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit. He said many other things, testifying to convince them of the truth of what he was saying. His boldness brought the word of God, Jesus, to thousands of people in one day.


March 28, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, April 6, 2008: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-36

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 I love Jehovah, because he heareth my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. The cords of death compassed me, and the pains of Sheol gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of Jehovah: O Jehovah, I beseech thee, deliver my soul… What shall I render unto Jehovah for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of Jehovah. I will pay my vows unto Jehovah, Yea, in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of Jehovah is the death of his saints. O Jehovah, truly I am thy servant: I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid; Thou hast loosed my bonds. I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of Jehovah. I will pay my vows unto Jehovah, Yea, in the presence of all his people, in the courts of Jehovah's house, In the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye Jehovah.

I just finished reading a book by Philippa Gregory called “The Other Boleyn Girl.” A movie based on this book is currently in movie theatres. The writer looks at the story of the Boleyn family, and more specifically Anne Boleyn, from the perspective of Anne’s sister Mary. Though fictional, the writer used historical documents and theory to come to her conclusions about the family, their ambition and their willingness to do anything to get what they want. In the end, Anne is not remembered as the beloved queen she worked so hard to become. Instead, she was beheaded along with others who had disappointed the king.

The story of the Boleyn family is a classic tale of people of humble beginnings working their way to the top. The family patriarch was a tradesman who became a successful merchant. He found favor in the court of the king, earning titles and wealth at the king’s hand. They used his favor to get ahead and then had to work even harder to keep their place in the court. Kings like Henry VIII demand much of his people, turning on those who do not satisfy his every whim. Because of this, he was easily manipulated. However, it took very little to make him turn on his back on those who had been loyal.

Anne was a lady to Queen Catherine who became the queen herself. A lady is little more than a servant: not really a servant, but called to serve. The ladies and courtiers to the king were expected to be available at any moment to do whatever the queen and king desired. If the queen wanted her hair brushed, one of the ladies would do it. They did not do the dirty or heavy work, after all they were gentry. However they were servants at the monarchs’ beck and call. Anne served, but as she served the queen she caught the eye of the king. Then she manipulated herself into his heart and destroyed the relationship between the king and queen. She gained the throne by convincing the king that he was the only authority: above parliament, the church, and even God. That was her undoing. He used that authority to have her beheaded when she no longer pleased him.

Everyone acted as if they loved the king, willingly and willfully doing his bidding. However, it was exhausting for the ladies and courtiers to constantly keep up the act. They did not love the king, the loved what the king could give to them. They loved the wealth and the power they had because of his favor. They did not love the king because they knew that if he was unhappy, he would ignore their pleas and perhaps even destroy them. A compassionate king is beloved. A king that listens to the complaints of his subjects will hear also their heart filled praise. That was the big difference between Queen Catherine and Queen Anne in the story by Philippa Gregory. Catherine was gracious and merciful; Anne was not.

The psalmist sings, “Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.” The Lord God is gracious and merciful. He hears the cries of His people and He answers their prayers. Our psalm was used as part of the liturgy for the religious festivals throughout the Jewish year. It is a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for God’s deliverance from death.

Our experience is nothing like it must have been in the court of King Henry VIII, where everyone was an enemy because they stood in the way of one’s ambition. However, we do face enemies throughout out lives—the bully on the playground, the co-worker willing to do whatever is necessary to get ahead, the jealous boyfriend. Even our siblings can be like enemies: always working against us to get their own way. However, the greatest enemy we face is death and Christ has conquered that enemy for us. This is enough for us to sing His praise and proclaim our love.


March 31, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, April 6, 2008: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-36

1 Peter 1:17-23 And if ye call on him as Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to each man's work, pass the time of your sojourning in fear: knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a lamb without spot, even the blood of Christ: who was foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but was manifested at the end of times for your sake, who through him are believers in God, that raised him from the dead, and gave him glory; so that your faith and hope might be in God. Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently: having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth.

When I was living in Arkansas, I heard a talk given by a woman involved with a ministry called Second Genesis. This ministry manages a transitional house for women who are leaving prison. The speaker came to a workshop to encourage us to support the ministry in many ways. They asked for financial aid, but also encouraged us to support them with in kind gifts like women’s clothes, cosmetic and hygiene products and home comforts. The purpose of the ministry is to help women leaving prison find a new life. I am sure that there are ministries like this in every state.

See, what happens to these women is that when they leave prison they return to their old homes. Despite the changes that may have occurred during the sentence, the rehabilitation is quickly lost when living among the people who had played a role in developing the character that would do something illegal. Returning home meant going back into abuse, drug use and gang mentality. Second Genesis is designed to create a new family atmosphere for the women, so that they can see the world through new eyes and see that they can be different.

The program offers job training and they help find opportunities for the women to work. They provide clothes to give the women confidence and a professional appearance for job interviews and work. They protect the women from their old lives, providing access to only those things that will help them become successful in the world. If there are children involved, they will help with Child Services to ensure their safety and well-being. Second Genesis is about helping women grab hold of a new life, a better life.

Peter writes, “…knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers…” Jesus Christ died, His blood was shed, to give God’s people new life. There is some disagreement about who Peter was referencing—the Jewish forefathers or the pagan ancestors. Since Christianity is for all people, not just one race or another, it is likely that God intends for us all to look at our past and consider how He has brought us out of it into something new. What have we been ransomed from? What is it about our life that God wants to transform?

We inherit from our past so many things: health, tradition, culture, finances, property, business, personality, habits, politics, biases, debts, feuds, religion and interests. Some of these things can be good and are worth continuing into another generation. However, some of the things we inherit from our past have no value and can actually be harmful. Like the women at Second Genesis, there are things that we have to set aside to become the person we are meant to be. Jesus made it possible, redeeming us from the failures of our past. The sacrificial system had little value because it was not lasting. Jesus, as the perfect Lamb of God finished for all time the need for atoning sacrifice. In His grace, we are called to trust in God, love one another and living according to the world of God.