Welcome to the March 2022 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture on this page taken from the World English Bible which belongs to the public domain.
A WORD FOR TODAY, March 2022
“Isn’t this the fast that I have chosen: to release the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Isn’t it to distribute your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor who are cast out to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him; and that you not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out as the morning, and your healing will appear quickly; then your righteousness shall go before you, and Yahweh’s glory will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and Yahweh will answer. You will cry for help, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’” Isaiah 58:6-9a, WEB
All over the world today people are indulging in traditional foods as a part of Shrove Tuesday celebrations. In my home region, the food of choice is doughnuts or Fastnachts (which means fast night). Fastnachts are small donut like cakes. England celebrates Pancake Day and in France it is called Mardi Gras which means Fat Tuesday. Fat Tuesday is the eve before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
Shrove Tuesday is a national holiday and a day of celebration in many places. It is a religious day; after eating all the food made with forbidden foods, the people attend a church service to be shriven. This means that they receive reconciliation so that they can enter Lent free from guilt. Many churches in England have pancake dinners before they gather for worship. Some places make it a huge event like Olney, England where they have a Pancake Race.
This race is open to any woman who are 18 years and older who has been a resident of Olney for at least three months. The women gather at the starting line with a pan and a pancake. At the start, they have to flip their pancake, then run 415 yards to the finish line where they have to flip their pancake again. The race ends at the church door. Tradition holds that the race was first run in the year 1445. There were lapses over the past few hundred years, but the race was never forgotten and was revived in 1948 after the Second World War. Liberty, Kansas in the United States joined in the fun a couple years later and now the two towns compete against one another. The fastest runners win.
Fun is part of other Shrove Tuesday celebrations like Mardi Gras. The parties actually begin on Three Kings Day, January 6 and end with Mardi Gras. The carnival reaches a peak on Fat Tuesday with parades, feasts and costumes. The modern celebration of Fat Tuesday is wild, self-indulgent, and sinful, seemingly far from the Christian tradition of Shrove Tuesday. However, evidence of the Christian foundations of the day is still found in the fact that the party ends abruptly at midnight when Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent officially begins.
Lent was established in remembrance of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness which He spent fasting, praying, and preparing for His ministry. Lent is a time for us to learn about His life and ministry. Since Jesus fasted for those forty days, fasting has always been an important part of the season of Lent. In modern times, people choose something to “give up” until Easter. It is often things like cigarettes or chocolate. This practice began so that the participants would learn what Jesus went through in the desert. Lent is a time of repentance, a time of reflection and a time of preparation. Because of the seriousness of the Lenten journey, Fat Tuesday is seen as a last bastion of fun until Easter.
These old traditions no longer hold the same purpose as they once did since we do not empty our homes of things like flour and grease through Lent. Instead of a time of confession, the hedonistic party atmosphere of Fat Tuesday has become a day to get all our lusts and desires out of our system before the forty days of fasting during Lent. I don’t know of many churches that even have a Shrove Tuesday service where people are shriven for their sins before Lent begins. Lent fasting has become a practice of suffering rather than sacrifice, and many people can’t wait until Easter when they can indulge their base desires once again.
Many of us will not have the opportunity to gather with other Christians to confess our sins and receive the absolution that leads to reconciliation with God today. For most of us, that will happen on Ash Wednesday when we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we will return. As we prepare to enter into the Lenten journey for this year, let’s spend some time on this Fat Tuesday, considering how we will spend the forty days of Lent. Will we give up something that keeps us from a right relationship with God? Do we forget to do things that build our life of faith? Will we fast as God suggests in Isaiah, touching the lives of our neighbors in positive and uplifting ways? Lent practices do not have to be just fasting; we can add to our life prayer, study, service, and devotion that keeps our mind on Christ Jesus as we follow Him to the cross.
Scriptures for March 6, 2022, First Sunday in Lent: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-13; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13
“I will say of Yahweh, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’” Psalm 91:2, WEB
We own a few acres of land in Pennsylvania. I recently walked the property when I was home for a visit. It is lovely, with plenty of trees and other plants. Some of the land is rented by a local farmer who grows feed for his animals. Our family uses the land during hunting season. They also clean out brush and cut down trees to keep it looking nice. We both can picture where we would build a house but decided long ago that we want to live in Texas. Though the property is used and it belongs to us, we have not made it our own by putting our mark on it.
From the time of Abraham, God promised the Israelites that they would have a home of their own. He showed Abraham and the other patriarchs the land that would be their own. In today’s Old Testament lesson, God showed them how to make that land their own. Possessing the land meant more than just owning it. It even meant more than inhabiting it. The land had been given by God, and in response to God’s grace the people were called to dedicate all they had to God by offering the first fruits of the land to Him.
The ritual behind presenting the first fruits is found in this passage. The people are not to simply thank God for what they are able to give, but also to remember God for all that He had done for them. The exodus was more than an event in their history. God used the time in Egypt, the escape from slavery, the forty years of wandering, and the victories over enemies to mold them into the nation they were meant to become. These experiences were all gifts from God. Everything they had in the present was theirs by the hand of the same God who did so much for their ancestors.
When they presented the first fruits, not only in that first generation, but in every generation to follow, they were to remember their roots. How they got to that moment was as important as what they had to give. It was in the recitation of their history that they praised God for such incredible gifts. It did not matter that a future generation were not the ones who escaped and wandered; the gifts of God were given to every generation that followed.
Jesus was baptized by John at the River Jordan, during which God embraced His Son and called Him the beloved. After He was baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, He was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. God’s beloved was put to the test, and even though He was God incarnate, He had a human body that required the satisfaction of His physical needs. He was in the wilderness for forty days, too long for anyone to be alone without food. Though He was alone, He was not far from God, always dwelling in the presence of His Father. He was hungry at the end of the forty days, and Satan appeared to taunt Jesus. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered with the Word of God.
Satan taunted Jesus a second time. After showing Him all the kingdoms in the world, he said, “I will give you all this authority, and their glory, for it has been delivered to me; and I give it to whomever I want. If you therefore will worship before me, it will all be yours.” Again, Jesus answered with the Word of God.
A third time Satan taunted Jesus. “If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down from here.” In this temptation, Satan quoted from our Psalm for today. “‘He will put his angels in charge of you, to guard you;’ and, ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest perhaps you dash your foot against a stone.’” He twisted this scripture to tempt Jesus into tempting fate. Our faith is given, not to test God but to love and worship Him. Again, Jesus answered with the Word of God.
Satan had a point with each temptation. Jesus was hungry, should He not provide food for Himself? Jesus was about to begin a ministry that was not going to be easy. Wouldn’t it have helped if He had a head start with control of all the nations of the world? What sort of impact could Jesus have had if He had proved from the very beginning that He was truly the Son of God? Jesus knew that was not the way of faith. Faith does not mean that God will keep us from difficult times, but that He will get us through.
Each time Jesus faced Satan’s taunts He had an answer that came from God. He dwelled in the shadow of the Most High and the Almighty dwelt within Him. In that He was secure. He certainly did have the power to change stones to bread, to command over the nations of the world and to call the angels to His aid. Yet that moment was neither the time nor the place. Satan took God’s Word and twisted it, claiming for himself the authority that he did not have.
Unfortunately, this twisting even happens within many churches today. They take God’s Word and make it fit their desires. They seek God’s power for all the wrong reasons, to bring wealth and fame and power, rather than to glorify God. Jesus knew the temptations we would face today; He faced them Himself in that wilderness experience. Satan did not just offer Jesus a loaf of bread, a kingdom, or angelic protection. He was offering Him an incredible ministry of miracles, authority, and power. Satan was trying to prove Jesus was nothing more than any other man, easily tempted away from God’s will to a self-centered ministry.
Jesus proved He was the Son of God by dwelling in the presence of God and secure in His calling to save the world. Jesus did not come to feed the hungry, to rule over the nations, or to be a famous preacher. He came to die, to bring forgiveness and healing to a world that was sick and dying from sin. He was Immanuel, God with us, and from then until now God no longer lives in a temple. Instead, He lives within the hearts of those who believe.
This life He has given us began in the beginning and continues into the future. He calls us to this life to do more than just own it. We are meant to possess it, to put our mark on the world in which we live, to respond to God’s incredible grace by giving back to Him everything we have with praise and thanksgiving. We may not have the same connection as the Israelites had to the Exodus, but we are meant to remember God’s salvation every time we share our offering with Him. That salvation comes to us through Jesus Christ, but it also comes to us through the witness of the generations that have come before us.
I wonder if any of us really think about our ancestors and what God did for them as we offer our gifts to God. Do we consider how God’s hand was in their lives and do we praise Him for all that He did for them? Perhaps we should. We may not be able to claim the story of the Exodus for ourselves, but we have a story, too. We have a story in which God has saved His people which is all the Christians who have come before us and how He blessed them in this world. As we present our offerings, whether they are the tithe of our weekly paycheck or the first fruits of some harvest, let’s remember where we came from and thank God for the history that has brought us to each moment.
We tend to forget the past. We tend to think that we earned our present blessings with our own power and ability, ignoring the role that our ancestors played in getting us to where we are today. Their history is our history. Their successes have become ours; their failures are a part of how we have grown to be. Their life and their faith has imprinted on our lives and faith. Where would we be today if they had not shared God’s grace so that it would trickle down to us?
Unfortunately, we also inherited their humanness. That’s why we need Jesus. The next forty days are a time when we can think about the ways we need to be transformed by God’s Word. It is also a time for us to recall God’s story as it was lived out by those who came before us so that we can respond to Satan’s taunts with His Word. The hope is that we come out of our wilderness wandering closer to God than we began.
There is a movie starring Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon and Ed Harris called “Stepmom.” The movie is about a woman (Julia Roberts) who falls in love with a divorced man (Ed Harris). Susan Sarandon plays the ex-wife. Two children complete this very modern family.
Early in the movie Susan Sarandon’s character did everything she could to make it difficult on her ex and his new lady. She even tried turn the hearts of her children away from the new woman in their father’s life. The boy once told his mother, “Mom, if you want me to hate her, I will.” Julia Roberts did not know how to be a mom. She was young and inexperienced but willing to learn. One day the boy got lost because he wandered off when he was in her care. Julia’s character was scared, and his mother was angry, accusing her of not caring enough. She even threatened to restrict visitation. The daughter was a teenager who willfully fought her own mother was often rude and mean, trying to get her stepmom in trouble so she would be forced out of the picture altogether. Both children thought that if new woman was gone, then their family could be right again.
However, their mother got very sick with an incurable cancer. Though the doctors tried to make her well, her condition progressively worsened throughout the movie. She did not tell the family until it was too late. One day, when she was feeling very ill, she realized that her ex-husband’s new woman offered hope for her family. She knew she was dying so she began treating the stepmom with more respect. The children saw her change and also began treating her differently.
The mother told her daughter, “Try to see something good in her.” One day, Julia Roberts and the daughter were in their home and the daughter was frustrated by an art project. Julia asked her what was wrong. The daughter wanted to push her away, but eventually admitted the problem. Patiently and graciously Julia, who was an artist herself, showed her a technique that would work. That moment of grace was a turning point in their relationship. In the end the entire family accepted Julia Roberts, even the mother, and they all dealt with the future together.
It wasn’t easy. The catalyst for love was a dinner between the mother and the stepmom. The younger woman wanted to do things one way; the mother had her own way. However, they began to co-exist in a right relationship that helped the children to adjust to the inevitable. It took not only a mindful decision to cooperate, but also a love that was beyond their understanding. At first the mother grasped the importance with her head of making the stepmom welcome into her world. However, it was not until they knew each other in a deeper way - with their hearts - confessing their fears and their hopes for the children together, that they really came into a right relationship.
It takes heads and hearts for us to be righteous in God’s eyes, which is the righteousness about which Paul speaks between God and His people. In the Old Testament, righteousness came from obedience to the Law. However, Paul explains in the book of Romans that it we can’t be righteous by our works. Human flesh is unable to be good enough, to do right enough to be in that right relationship with God. God made it possible in a new way, with a new covenant. That covenant is found in Jesus Christ. God’s Word, which is Jesus, dwells in us and it is He that makes it possible for us to be right with Him. We love God. We know God. It is not enough to just love God or to just know God. For a right relationship, we need to possess Him with our hearts and our heads, to confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord. Salvation is found in Him, and it is ours when we give our whole beings to Him.
Paul reminds us that our faith in Christ is not just a heart thing or a head thing. It is both. Jesus Christ is Lord and as Lord He is the foundation on which a new covenant and a new relationship is built. Paul looks to the past, to the story of God as we read in the scriptures, to explain this new covenant of God. The people of the past personified wisdom as the manifestation of God. Paul identified Jesus as the One who manifested the Incarnate God who dwelled with His people. The past established what would be, and Jesus fulfilled the promises.
Everything that we are - our strength, our hope, our peace - is found in Jesus Christ. He is Lord. We dwell in Him. Our salvation is embraced by our love for God and our faith in Jesus, but it is also built on our knowledge of God as He is manifest in the flesh of Jesus. We dwell in Him but dwelling in Him does not mean that we should test His faithfulness. God will protect us, save us, empower us. However, we see in Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness that we can be tempted by things that appear good. We need to rest in all the gifts that God has given us - our past, God’s Word, and His promise - and with His strength we will be able to discern what is right and do what is truly good.
When we moved to Texas, we bought a house in a brand-new neighborhood. Some of the houses were only a couple years old and most of the houses had not yet been built. Even while that neighborhood was under construction, however, people were already selling and moving elsewhere. Our current neighborhood was much different. Though a few houses, like ours, have owners that have only been there a few years, most of the neighbors have lived here from the beginning. They built their houses, and though for most of them the houses are too big since their families are grown, they love it so much they stay.
The reasons for the sales in the last neighborhood varied. Some families were military and they had to move with the job. One family decided that they wanted to live in a different house in another area of that development. Unfortunately for some families the reason for moving was more financial. They bought their home with the expectation that they would be secure, but for one reason or another, the payments became unbearable. We came close to being in the same situation. Some people purchased a home more expensive than they could afford, hoping they could make it work. After a year or so they realized that they could not continue to live beyond their means. Fortunately, the houses were selling well, so they are able to get out of trouble into a better situation.
We put so much energy into taking care of ourselves and satisfying our deepest desires. We look for the perfect house, thinking that we will find happiness and security and contentment if only we have exactly what we imagine those things to be. I’ve known way too many people who have purchased above their means and then struggled for years. They never really experienced the security they expected to be found nestled in the perfect dwelling.
It is easy to get caught up in the idea that God will protect us from all suffering, as we hear in today’s Psalm. We want to think that if we have faith, we won’t struggle. We want to believe that if we have enough faith, our enemies will never be able to harm us. Yet, we know by experience that we will have times of trouble. The faithful expectation is not that God will keep us from all harm, but that God will make circumstances, both good and bad, work out to the best for those who love Him. Yet, in this Psalm it seems to say that no matter what we do, in faith we will not suffer or be harmed.
I suppose the lesson we can take from this is not that we should be running around stomping on snakes or lions, but rather living in the assurance of God’s presence in and through our lives. Dwelling in Him might not save us from hardship or financial troubles, but it will give us hope for the future and the strength to see ourselves through. When we know that God is with us, we live with an assurance that He will guard us, lift us, hear us, and deliver us from evil. We are called to trust in God, but not to do something stupid to test God’s faithfulness. Jesus never promised that we would have a life of ease; He showed us how to dwell in God’s grace as He helps us through the tough times.
We begin Lent with the story of Jesus’ temptation because we are encouraged during this time to face our own temptations and fight them with God’s Word, just as Jesus did in the wilderness. Jesus confronted the temptation to fill His belly with the word, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’” He rejected the temptation to receive worldly authority, because Satan demanded to be worshipped. Jesus answered, “ For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve him only.” He confronted the temptation to follow an easier path with the word, “It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” Jesus faced the temptations of flesh, power, and faith with God’s Word and He prevailed against it.
Jesus did not prove Himself to be the Son of God by doing foolish things like jumping off the top of the Temple. Jesus proved He was the Son of God by dwelling in the presence of God and relying on His faithfulness. He was secure in His calling to save the world. The proof was not in what Jesus did. Jesus did not come to feed the hungry, to rule over the nations or to be a famous preacher. Jesus proved Himself to be the Son of God because He dwelt in the power of the Most High God, turning to God’s Word and God’s promises as the foundation of all that He was to do. He came to die, to bring forgiveness and healing to a world that was sick and dying from sin. He was Immanuel, God with us, and from then until now God no longer lives in a temple. Instead, He lives within the hearts of those who believe.
First He gives the gift, and then we confess our faith. We believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths because God first loved us. Through grace, we dwell in the shelter of the Most High, resting in the shadow of the Almighty. He is our refuge and our fortress. In Him we can trust.
Someone once said (and many continue to say), “It does not matter what you believe, only that you are sincere in your belief.” This might sound good, a way of tolerating other people in a world where there is such diversity. Yet, the scriptures are very clear when they tell us that it does matter what we believe. Jesus is Lord. Salvation comes from no one else. We can’t earn heaven by doing good works, even if we fill our schedules with the busy-ness of ministry. We can’t prove ourselves to be faithful by our actions. We are called to live in the assurance that God is faithful. He has given us faith, and by His grace we are saved. His Word is on our lips and in our hearts. We won’t be put to shame because He is faithful, but we need not test God on this.
We who are not Jewish can not identify with the statement of faith that is found in today’s Old Testament lesson. The Exodus is not our story, nor is the taking of the Promised Land. However, it is part of who we are in Christ, because it is part of who He was as a man in flesh and blood. We remember, but that is just part of the story. We have another story – the story of Christ – on which our faith is built. He is the fulfillment of the promise, it is in Him and through Him our salvation comes. Though we have our differences, all who call on Jesus’ name and believes in Him will be saved for He is Lord of all. It is on this promise everything we have and everything we give is founded. So as we offer ourselves and as we offer our gifts, let us do so with the story of His grace on the tips of our tongues so that we remember that everything we have is His.
“Oh taste and see that Yahweh is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Oh fear Yahweh, you his saints, for there is no lack with those who fear him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger, but those who seek Yahweh shall not lack any good thing. Come, you children, listen to me. I will teach you the fear of Yahweh. Who is someone who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking lies. Depart from evil, and do good. Seek peace, and pursue it.” Psalm 34:8-14, WEB
There is a famous Greek myth called Icarus and Daedalus. Daedalus, the father, was a very clever builder who was called to Crete to build a prison for King Minos’ Minotaur. Daedalus took his son, and they built a Labyrinth, which was impossible to escape. Minos was so impressed by the work, he did not allow the two to leave the island, locking them in a tower beside the sea. Every ship leaving Crete was searched because Daedalus was clever enough to escape. There seemed to be no escape, but Daedalus refused to give up. He realized they could escape by air, so he used his gifts to create wings for each of them out of feathers and wax. When the wings were complete, he taught his son how to use them and warned him of the dangers. He told Icarus not to fly too high or too low: too high and the sun would melt the wax, too low and the sea mist would make the wings too heavy.
The two took off, and the flight was wonderful. Icarus felt great joy at the freedom of flying through the air. He soared higher and higher. Daedalus shouted a word of warning, but Icarus did not hear. He rose to such a height the wax melted and his wings fell apart. He crashed into the ocean and his father was never able to find him again.
It is important for us to listen to those who teach and warn us about the dangers of life. Parents warn children to stay away from the stove, to be careful when they cross the road; they try to help their children learn how to make good decisions and warn them about the consequences of bad ones. Teachers teach us the children about the possibilities of the future and warn them what will happen if they do not work hard and study. We are blessed with people in our churches that help guide us with God’s Word. As we grow in faith, it is important to listen to those God sends our way to teach, rebuke, correct, and train us in righteousness.
When someone speaks a word of warning, such as Daedalus spoke to Icarus, it is to guard and protect us from harm. There are times in our spiritual growth that we must listen to the warnings of others because we do not always see the dangers ahead. We feel such joy and peace in Jesus that we forget that the tempter is constantly trying to redirect us on a path that will lead us from God. We ignore the dangers; we refuse to listen to the warnings from those who have our best interest at heart. Some things look good, but they do not hold up against God’s word.
God has provided for us a great and wonderful gift: life in His Kingdom forever. Unfortunately, the devil seeks to destroy the faith of those who follow Jesus. The devil even tried to do it with Jesus when He was in the wilderness after His baptism. The temptations were not evil things, after all bread is good for the belly, God can do good things through faithful leaders, and reliance on God in all our circumstances can appear to be a faithful response to the world’s opportunities. Yet, the way the devil used those good possibilities by twisting God’s Word and Jesus recognized the deceit.
We don’t always recognize the twisting of God’s Word, so we need to listen to those who will guide us on the path that keeps us moving toward God. The warnings may seem frightening, but by knowing the dangers exist we can avoid them. Icarus did not listen to his father’s warnings and flew too high, which had physical consequences. When we do not listen to those who would help us live according to God’s Word, the consequences are eternal. Do not fly too high or too low. Live as you should, in truth and peace and love. Live in Christ. He is your refuge and He will provide you with all you need.
“Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many homes. If it weren’t so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also. You know where I go, and you know the way.” John 14:1-4, WEB
A man died last week. Since that day, the family and friends of that man have been grieving their loss. They have dealt with so many emotions; they have cried too many tears. He was a husband, father, son, brother, uncle, nephew, and friend. He was kind and compassionate. He struggled with the issues of life. He was laid to rest yesterday and those who felt the loss gathered together in church to remember him, to ask God for His blessing, and to comfort one another with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A man died last week, and though I speak from a specific experience, this paragraph could have been written about thousands of others who died last week.
Many people came to the funeral yesterday. There were rows of family members sitting together. There were many others who were friends of the man. There were also many people who were friends of the family. That’s the way it often is at a funeral; some of the people who are there do not feel the loss as deeply but want to be there to comfort their friends who are grieving.
As we left the funeral, I thought about all the people who were going about their daily lives. They didn’t know that a man died last week. They didn’t know the tears that have been shed since that day. They didn’t know he would be buried unless they found themselves behind the procession of cars going to the cemetery. Life was put on hold for the family and friends of that man, if only briefly, but the world continued to revolve, and the people continued to work and play.
It is not that they didn’t care. Nearly everyone, even the young, have had to deal with death at some point. We’ve been the family gathered to comfort one another. We’ve watched as our loved one has been lowered into the earth. We have cried too many tears. Death is a fact of life, and it hits us all at some point or another, but it hits us in different times and ways. Can you imagine how hard life would be if we spent all our moments grieving over every death? Can you imagine what the world would be like if we didn’t continue to live? Those family members for whom the grief today is still too raw will eventually heal. They will find peace in the loss of their loved one. They will go on while others grieve new losses.
Death was not meant to be. In the beginning when God created the heavens and earth, He planned to dwell in the garden with Adam and Eve. Then sin entered the world. Adam and Eve were afraid of God because they were ashamed. Can you imagine living forever in the Garden with the God of whom you are afraid? There would be no peace or joy. So, God removed Adam and Eve from the Garden so that they could not eat of the Tree of Life and set them in a world in which everyone and everything would die. It seems cruel to make death inevitable, but it was truly the most merciful thing God could do. Death freed Adam and Eve from fear.
God did not throw Adam and Eve out of the Garden without a plan. From the beginning He knew that He would send Jesus Christ to from ourselves and the sin that has caused so much brokenness in the world. We face the possibility of death every day, and though it might not touch us personally we know that one day it will. We go on day by day, living our life until that moment when we are the family or friends grieving a loss that brings tears to our eyes. And one day we will be lowered into the ground surrounded by tearful family and friends as they say good-bye.
But Jesus says that we should not let our hearts be troubled. Death is inevitable, but for those who believe in Him, a better life awaits us in the next life. Then the Kingdom will be as it was meant to be. We will once again be able to eat from the Tree of Life and dwell in the Garden with our God forever. Jesus Christ will set us free from this broken world and we will know true peace and joy in His presence. This is our hope. He has promised to prepare a place for us and we can believe His promise because He is faithful.
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid. In his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a merchant seeking fine pearls, who having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:44-46, WEB
One of the oldest and most notable Christian texts is a diary written by a woman who was arrested by the Romans because she sought baptism. Vivia Perpetua was imprisoned in Carthage with her servant Felicity and several men in 203 A.D. Perpetua was a young wife and mother, her baby still suckling, and Felicity was pregnant. Perpetua wrote about their sufferings until she died, and then the diary continued with the story of Saturus, one of the men. It was finished by an unknown person. It is an emotional account of Perpetua’s fears for her baby and the birth of her servant’s daughter. The story tells of the firm stance of all the prisoners, none of which wavered despite the many tactics to make them deny their faith. They answered the tests with this warning: “You judge us now. God will judge you.”
Perpetua reported that she experienced incredible visions of heaven, including a visit with an old man milking sheep who gave you curds, and the elders before the throne of God. They told her “Go and play,” she observed. “I was happy in the flesh. Now I am far happier,” she wrote. Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions were cast into the amphitheater to face scourging by a line of gladiators and then attack from a leopard, a boar, and a bear. When they were wounded by the animals, Perpetua and Felicity comforted each other with the kiss of peace, and then they were put to the sword.
The final editor of the diary described the women’s deaths. “But Perpetua, that she might have some taste of pain, was pierced between the bones and shrieked out; and when the swordsman’s hand wandered still (for he was a novice), herself set it upon her own neck. Perchance so great a woman could not else have been slain (being feared of the unclean spirit) had she not herself so willed it.”
The text of the diary records several encounters that Perpetua had with her father. Her father was a pagan and knew that the best way to end the imprisonment would be for Perpetua to recant her faith. He entreated her to deny she was a Christian. She refused. “Father,” she said, “do you see this vase here? Could it be called by any other name than what it is?” “No,” he answered. “Well, neither can I be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.” Her father visited her a second time and begged her to have pity on him, to consider his reputation, her family, and her child who would have no life after her death. He finally said, “Give up your pride!” She answered, “It will all happen in the prisoner’s dock as God wills, for you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves but are all in his power.” Her father was dejected, but still tried to intervene at her trial. In the end, the martyrs all stood firm and their lives were ended in that amphitheater.
The two parables in today’s passage have one main point, “The Kingdom of God is of immeasurable value.” The Kingdom of God is worth more than anything of this world. Many people will read the stories of the martyrs like that of Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions and think that they were foolish. Why die when you can just conform to the expectations of the world and live. They could still worship God in private, right? Shouldn’t they try to live to continue God’s work in the world? A dead Christian is worthless, right?
That’s what the world thinks. Can you imagine the family of the man who found the treasure in the field? “Are you crazy? What are you doing? If you sell everything, we won’t have any money to buy bread for dinner!” It is crazy to give up everything for something that many people think is merely a fairy tale. But for the one who has found the incredible grace of God, it is worth even giving up our very lives to honor God. It may seem foolish to the world, and the world will try every tactic to make us deny or recant our faith. You can’t get any deeper into a woman’s heart than to entreat her to have pity on her own beloved child. Yet, we learn from these parables that the Kingdom of God is worth more than anything, worthy our every possible sacrifice. We can’t buy our place in God’s Kingdom, but we are encouraged to give up everything so that we can possess it with our whole beings. This might mean, as it did for Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions whose martyrdoms are remembered today, even giving up our very lives.
“Then king Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages, who dwell in all the earth: ‘Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel; for he is the living God, and steadfast forever. His kingdom is that which will not be destroyed. His dominion will be even to the end. He delivers and rescues. He works signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.” Daniel 6:25-27, WEB
Daniel the Prophet lived during the time of the exile. He was found to be a great prophet by the Babylonians when he interpreted dreams and solved difficult problems with his insight, intelligence, and wisdom. He knew that all his gifts came from God, and though far from the Temple, Daniel continued to worship God according to God’s Word. Darius appointed Daniel as one of three administrators over the rulers of the kingdom because of his gifts. Daniel was such a good administrator, that Darius planned to set him over all the others. The other administrators and rulers did not like Daniel, so they plotted against him. They went to the king and said that he should publish a decree that for 30 days everyone must worship only the king and that all that worship another god should be put into the lion’s den. When Daniel heard of this decree, he went to his room and prayed to God. He continued to pray to God despite the danger.
The administrators caught Daniel in the act of prayer and told Darius about his disobedience. Darius was disturbed by this turn of events because he had great respect for Daniel, but a written decree could not be revoked. Darius tried to save Daniel, but at sundown he was thrown into the den. Darius said, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”
Daniel was left in the den, which was covered with a stone and it was sealed by the signet rings of the king and the nobles. The king could not eat or sleep through the night. At dawn, the king went to the den and called out to Daniel asking if his God had saved him. Daniel was indeed alive, protected by an angel of the Lord and found innocent before Him. The men who plotted Daniel’s death were then thrown into the den and crushed by the lions.
In this story, God proved His faithfulness to those who continue to walk in His ways and keep their eyes set toward Him. Daniel was willing to risk His life to stay in a close relationship with God. Darius liked Daniel and would not do anything to see him hurt, but the others touched on his ego and convinced him that all agreed with the decree. They lied and manipulated the situation to make their plan work.
Sometimes, those in this world who do not know the Lord God Almighty allow themselves to be set up by those who hate our faith. Satan uses such people to wreak havoc on the Church and believers. They do not understand what they have done. God protects His children, and in the end all will see His greatness and power. There are times when it appears that evil is winning in our world, but we know that God has already won the war.
Scriptures for March 13, 2022, Second Sunday in Lent: Jeremiah 26:8-15; Psalm 4; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
“Brothers, be imitators together of me, and note those who walk this way, even as you have us for an example.” Philippians 3:17, WEB
Lent may seem to be a depressing time to some folk because it is a time of self-examination, self-control, and self-sacrifice. It is a time for looking at our sin, for understanding our sinfulness and for being transformed into something different. This is a strange perspective in our world which focuses on the self in much different ways. We tend to be more self-centered and selfish. We spent at least a generation raising our children to be narcissistic by focusing on creating a strong self-esteem. We taught our children to see themselves as special, good, as gifted and yet we did not give them the tools necessary to see their faults and their failures. We need to know when we are wrong so we can grow and transform. Blame was placed on others.
Don’t get me wrong: it is important that we uplift our children to help them to be the best they can be by encouraging them in their gifts and talents. It is ok to tell a child that they are special, good, and gifted. However, we have gone overboard by training the children that they deserve whatever they want. This leads to the hedonism we see so often in reality television. Bridezillas think they deserve what they want because it is their day. Cooking show contestants think that the judges are wrong because they believe that no one could beat their food. Competitors on other shows are willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get the win that they are certain they deserve.
You’ve seen it on American Idol and other performance shows. There are always some auditioners that do not belong on the stage. They are awful. The audience knows that they are there for the laugh, but in the end they whine about how it isn’t fair. The cameras show their family comforting them in the loss by agreeing with their delusion. Other reality television shows give average people the chance to be extraordinary. While this is a wonderful opportunity for some folk, unfortunately that is not the way the shows usually work. Instead of using ordinary people, they purposefully select people with extreme personalities, often professionals who are given free rein to act as they please. This often means cruelty to their competitors for their own self-interest.
We point fingers at those who are on television, but do we ever consider how we are living in self-centered and selfish ways? What do we think we deserve? What are we willing to do to our neighbors to ensure our own self-interest? These are some of the questions we are meant to be asking during this season of Lent. This is the kind of self-examination that leads to repentance, confession, and forgiveness. It isn’t very uplifting to realize our own sinfulness, especially if we don’t understand that this self-examination leads to a realized of God’s mercy and grace.
Lent is also a time to test our self-control. Many people have committed to a fast of sweets, but the grocery store shelves are being filled with special candies only available at the time of year, sometimes our favorites! We are dealing with so much stress these days, and some folks have given up the things that help them deal with stress like coffee or video games. Do we have the self-control to continue our fast even when the world tempts us to do the very things we have given up? As we self-examine our lives during Lent, we need to consider our motivation for our fasting and the reasons why we do not have the necessary self-control. God can help us if we let Him.
I can imagine that for many people, the idea of self-sacrifice has become impossible. How can I give more to my neighbor when I can’t even afford to fill up the tank of my car? It may seem selfish when people around the world (not just Ukraine) are dealing with violence and hardship, but if I can’t fill my car, I can’t get to work and I can’t feed my kids. Those who struggle with the concept of Lent are not just those who are selfish and self-centered; we all struggle because we are facing tough times. How do we give up everything when it seems like we have nothing? Our self-examination should lead us to the reality that we are greatly blessed even when we struggle, and that God will help us through the bad times if we trust in Him.
Jeremiah is known as “the weeping prophet” and it is no wonder when you think about the life he lived. At the beginning of the book of Jeremiah, in his call story, God says, “‘They will fight against you, but they will not prevail against you; for I am with you’, says Yahweh, ‘to rescue you.’” And fight him, they did, but they never prevailed. He was attacked by his own brothers, beaten by a false prophet, imprisoned by a king, threatened with death, thrown into a cistern, opposed by another false prophet. He was in prison when Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem, and he was freed. He eventually escaped to Egypt.
Despite the threats and the horrific acts against Jeremiah, the biblical record does not tell us when, where or how he died. Jewish tradition holds that he was stoned to death in Egypt. Other traditions suggest that he died naturally in Babylon. Yet other sources insist that Jeremiah spent time in Ireland, though this is not likely. Whatever happened to Jeremiah in history, in the biblical record we see that God’s promise held true: though they fought him, they never prevailed.
Jeremiah was a prophet, one who remained obedient despite his frustration, self-doubt and depression, constantly speaking the word of God to the people. It was not good news. He lived and preached during the decline of the Judean kingdom. His message screamed repentance, but the people didn’t want to hear what he had to say especially since the others were preaching peace. In today’s scripture, the officials told the people he deserved to die. Jeremiah was unmoved by their threat. He said, “I am in your hand: do with me as is good and right in your eyes.”
So, even though we are truly special, each of us uniquely created and ordained for some special purpose in this world, God also calls us to humility. That’s what Lent is all about, remembering that even though we are saints, we are also sinners. Even though we are wonderfully and powerfully gifted, all we have is thanks to God’s incredible grace. There is a pattern by which God calls us to live, a pattern that has been laid out before us in the lives of the saints in the past. It is a life of humble and willing obedience to what God intends for our life even during the tough times like we see in the life of Jeremiah.
We have all heard the story about the scorched bird that forest rangers discovered in an area of a major forest fire. According to the story, the ranger knocked over the bird with a stick and discovered three tiny chicks beneath their dead mother’s wings.
This story has long been an inspiration to many, offering a parabolic image of Jesus the mother hen protecting His chicks. We are awed by the overwhelming love of a mother bird who gave her life for her babies. Unfortunately, the story is not true. National Geographic hates to debunk such an inspirational story, but though it was credited to the magazine, they have never published it. The rangers of the park have no record of such an event; none of the rangers that were present at the time of that fire had heard of this incident. Ornithologists say that it is impossible; the bird’s body could never offer the chicks the protection they would need to live through such intense heat.
Here’s another story. Indian evangelist Sundar Singh shared an experience during a fire in the Himalayas. Sundar was traveling through the area when they were trying to put out the fire. Along with a group of men he noticed a bird circling above a nest in a tree. She was frantic, knowing it was impossible to save her babies from the fire and yet unwilling to leave them alone. When the nest began to burn, the mother swooped in on top of the chicks and covered them with her wings. Everything was gone in seconds.
We certainly like the first story better because it has a happy ending. The babies were alive and we have a hero, the mother bird who willingly giving of herself for her chicks. In the second story there is no winner. The chicks are dead, the mother is dead, and the nest is gone. We are amazed at her sacrifice, but find it foolish because we know that if she had stayed away she would have lived another day. She could have built another next and hatched more chicks. To us the story has an ending with no new beginning.
Yet, the second story is so much more an example of the work of Christ in our lives. Yes, Jesus covers us with His wings and He dies in our stead. Yet, in Christian faith we are called to die also, to share in His death and we will also share in His glory. Our death is not like His; we do not go to the cross of the Romans to suffer a horrific end. We aren’t burned to ashes like the birds. However, in Baptism we enter into His death through the water and the Word.
In today’s Gospel lesson, some Pharisees visited Jesus to try to convince Him to run. Who were they? Were they men truly concerned about Jesus’ life? Were they threatening Jesus? Were they anxious about Jesus’ ministry and just wanted Him to leave before something happened that would upset the people? Perhaps they just wanted Him to go somewhere else to do it. By sending Jesus away from Jerusalem, they would not have to deal with the questions and accusations. Jesus could quietly disappear into the wilderness to teach and preach to the animals. Outside Jerusalem, He would not rock so many boats. But Jesus could not be deterred. His purpose was not just to preach the kingdom of God: He came to die so that we might live. And His death was meant to happen in Jerusalem. He answered, “Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the next day, for it can’t be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem.”
Jesus mourned the unbelief of Jerusalem. Jesus wanted for them the best of God’s Kingdom: the hope, the peace, the joy. He wanted to gather them under His wings, to give them fully and freely the gift He had to give. Perhaps He even wanted all this without having to face the cross. How much more wonderful would it have been if Jerusalem repented like Nineveh! Yet, Jesus knew that was not the way it had to be. He knew that He was destined for death on the cross. Salvation happens according to God’s time, in God’s way. Jesus will not be moved from the path on which He was set, for it is the path of true life for all those who believe.
Jesus stands as an example to us of one who stays on the right path. He does not take His own life into consideration or try to control that which He knows is not His to control. When the Pharisees warn Him that Herod wants to kill Him, Jesus tells them that He has to do what He has to do according to God’s will and purpose for His life. This is not a self-centered grasp for control, but humble and willing obedience to what God always intended for His incarnation.
I imagine Jeremiah may have spoken words like those in today’s psalm. Under the surface of his frustration, self-doubt and depression, he had an unwavering faith. He trusted in God’s promise that his enemies would never prevail. He had a peace that is beyond understanding. Just like the psalmist, Jeremiah called the people to a life of faithfulness so that they might, too, live in peace. He spoke God’s word because He wanted the best for his people, just as God always wants the best for His people.
They didn’t kill Jeremiah. In verse 16, which we do not hear in our lectionary, the officials say, “This man is not worthy of death; for he has spoken to us in the name of Yahweh our God.” His words hit their mark and they changed their mind. They saw the truth of his warning; if they killed him, they would have innocent blood on their hands. They believed that Jeremiah was speaking God’s word and so they did not turn him over to the people to be stoned. God remained faithful to His promise; they fought Jeremiah but they did not prevail. Ultimately it didn’t change the course of events. They still fell under the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar, but those who accepted it survived according to God’s word.
Jeremiah’s story shows us that God is faithful. He probably said, “Oh, that we might see better times!” but he also knew that God put gladness in his heart. He could lie down in peace and sleep easy because God is his help and refuge. We don’t know what happened at the end of his life. Jeremiah certainly died but we do not know when, where or how, but he probably died naturally in Babylon. God keeps His promises, even outside the witness of the scriptures, so we can trust God to be faithful to us.
Jesus might have even said the same words as Jeremiah to those Pharisees. “Do with me as seems good and right to you.” He knew that He would die at the hands of those who threatened Him, but He also knew that it would come at the right time. He answered them, “I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Jesus dwelt in God’s presence and willingly submitted Himself to His Father’s plan; He knew that they could do nothing to stop Him until God allowed it to happen.
Though it was what must happen, it was not what He wanted. It pained Him to see that they did not understand. He cried out to them to that He was the shelter where they could live in peace. Living under the Law did ensure God’s faithfulness. God is faithful without our works. He is faithful to His promises and calls us to believe and trust in Him.
Unlike Jeremiah, we know exactly when, where, and how Jesus died. The promise for Jesus was not that He would prevail against the world. The promise for us was that He would prevail against death and the grave. He died and was raised so that we might live. We join in His death and in His resurrection. We join in His glory. His life, death and resurrection has made an impact on our lives forever, and this is the purpose for which He came.
This does not mean that His teachings were unimportant or to be ignored. The parables may seem like homespun stories, but the lessons teach us how to live a right life. In the liturgy after Holy Communion, so churches pray, “Almighty God, you gave your Son both as a sacrifice for sin and a model of the godly life.” Jesus did both for us, and by doing so He changed the world.
We should beware who we make our role models. A woman once told me that she was glad my son was in her son’s life. Her son looked up to my son and she was glad that he had such a good role model. She was hoping that my son’s example would make him more committed to his activities. That mother was not the first to tell me they enjoyed having Zack around their children. They appreciated his kindness to them. He had an effect on them; they tended to act with more maturity and manners when he was around. They also emulated the things he did and were anxious to follow in his footsteps. Several of the boys at church wanted to be acolytes well before their time because of him.
Unfortunately, our children don’t always look up to role models that lead them on a right path. Even people who are sweet and well-behaved like my son could be led on the wrong path when a dominant negative personally is part of a group. It does not take very much to turn a crowd into a raging mob. While a positive attitude can make things pleasant, a negative attitude can have as much power. The group does not have to be something small like a congregation; it can be something as large as a nation or the culture.
As we look around us, we can see the impact of ideas and people on the world around them. In the right circumstances, one person can change the course of an entire nation. One designer can establish the clothing that millions of people will wear. One reporter can introduce an idea that will become a standard of policy and practice for many. One politician can set the agenda for the entire government. Good or bad, right or wrong, we can easily be led down a path of achievement or destruction by someone whom we look to as a role model.
It is not that we are all followers, blind, or ignorant. It is simply that the human flesh looks for someone to emulate, to people who will be an example for us to help us to grow and mature. Intelligent, powerful people will grasp on to a policy or practice that seems right, to help it to spread and change the world. Sometimes, unfortunately, we grasp on to the ideas that are not right. With all good intention, we sometimes follow examples that are not centered in Christ.
Paul encourages us to look to emulate those who hold firm to the Gospel of grace. There were those in the community of Philippi who were enemies to the cross. Though they were not necessarily people who meant to destroy Christians or Christianity, they sought after the things of this world. They chose to live a life of fulfillment and self-indulgence. This was not only in terms of satisfying lusts; some well-meaning people were satisfying the Law, keeping their eyes on earthly things.
We are not created or saved to live in either extreme; they do not reflect the life which Christ lived as an example for us. Paul reminds us that not only should we not get stuck in the pattern of self-righteousness of the path of self-indulgence. The best examples of role models we have are of people who are being transformed daily into the image of Christ, overcoming the world which tempts us to follow without question. The example we are meant to follow is the life of Jesus Christ, the life willing to step forth in faith, to do that which God has called us to do no matter the circumstances. As we live faithfully in God’s grace, we can stand as an example to the next generation.
Paul writes, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working by which he is able even to subject all things to himself.” The cross and its benefits are ours today, but they will not be fully realized until the Day of the Lord.
As we journey through Lent, we are reminded that we are meant to be examining ourselves, controlling our bodies, and sacrificing for the sake of others. We are meant to consider our own sinfulness and trust that God can transform us into what He has created and redeemed us to be. Though we have been transformed by the Gospel of grace, there is still work to be done. We continue to be transformed daily through our prayer, study, worship, and devotions. Though we share in His glory, there will come a day when that promise will be fully realized. For now, we have to wait and remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Though this might be a depressing point of view to the people of this world, but for those of us who have our citizenship in heaven, it is the very foundation of our hope and our faith.
We will never be expected to give our lives the way Jesus gave His for us, but we are called to live our faith in this world while we wait for that day God promised. We live that life of faith by building relationships with people, living not for ourselves but for others. We begin in the heart of God, following Jesus, and then sharing His grace with the world.
“But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, confined for the faith which should afterwards be revealed. So that the law has become our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to promise.” Galatians 3:23-29, WEB
Sequoyah was a Cherokee Indian who was born in Tennessee. When he was young, he lived with his mother in the Smokey Mountains, but he always dreamed about what it might be like outside his small village. He was a talented artisan and learned about healing herbs and roots from the medicine man. He remembered well and was a very intelligent man. When his mother died, he moved from village to village until he settled in Alabama. Many of the Cherokee were living in the ways of the white man, which made him sad because he saw their identity being lost. But one thing fascinated him most about the settlers, their talking leaves. This was his name for the pages of writing that helped the white men communicate.
Many of the Cherokee believed that there was magic on the pages and refused to have anything to do with it. But Sequoyah knew that if he could find the key - the magic - then the Cherokee could have a form of writing like the white man, and it could help them hold on to their heritage in such a difficult time. There was a great geographical divide between communities, and they were growing farther apart because of the distance.
It took many years for Sequoyah to develop his alphabet. He was ridiculed for his work, his wife left him and much of his work was destroyed by fire. He began his quest for a written language with a type of picture writing, one picture for every word. After a while he realized that there were too many symbols, it would be too difficult to learn. His daughter helped him with his work, and one day she found a book. As he studied the symbols on the page, he realized there were twenty-six characters repeated over and over again. He realized the key to a written language is in the sound made. So, rather than an alphabet with letters, he created a syllabary with a symbol for every sound. These eighty-five symbols were put together to make the words spoken.
When he took the syllabary to the tribal council, they laughed and did not believe that he could read like the white man. He had taken his daughter with him, and to prove that this was not some sort of trick, he sent her out of the room. He wrote every word they said and then called her back into the room. She read every word perfectly, and the leaders were amazed. They accepted this writing and began teaching everyone how to read and write. Within two years the entire nation of the Cherokee was able to use the alphabet. They created their own newspapers, books and were able to communicate with one another, holding the nation together through a tumultuous time. Despite such great strides for the people, they suffered terrible hardships, particularly when they were pushed off their land in the east and forced to move west to live. For many months the Cherokees followed the ‘Trail of Tears’ to their new home in Oklahoma. Many died along the way.
Thanks to the talking leaves that were created by Sequoyah, the Cherokee stories and ways did not die. Christian missionaries who went to share the message of Christ also used the written language to translate the Holy Bible into Cherokee for those who came to know the Lord. Though Sequoyah died alone in Mexico, searching for members of his tribe who were believed to have gone migrated there, he will always be remembered for his great contribution to his people.
All Christians have something in common. We have many things about us that are unique also. We all have different gifts, used for God’s individual calling on our lives. We are given unique opportunities to share the Gospel that fit our personalities, geography, and abilities. We have different perspectives on certain aspects of faith. We have different worship practices. We are all at different places on our journeys of faith. Yet, in Christ we are all the same.
We can see this in the way the Cherokee knew and understood Psalm 23. Their version is very close in many ways, but speaks more deeply to the Cherokee life. “The Great Father above a shepherd Chief is. I am His and with Him I want not. He throws me a rope and the name of the rope is love and He draws me to where the grass is green and the water is not dangerous, and I eat and lie down and am satisfied. Sometimes my heart is very weak and falls down but He lifts me up again and draws me into a good road. His name is WONDERFUL. Sometime, it may be very soon, it may be a long, long time, He will draw me into a valley. It is dark there, but I’ll be afraid not, for it is in between those mountains that the Shepherd Chief will meet me and the hunger that I have in my heart all through this life will be satisfied. Sometimes He makes the love rope into a whip, but afterwards he gives me a staff to lean upon. He spreads a table before me with all kinds of foods. He puts His hand upon my head and all the tired is gone. My cup He fills till it runs over. What I tell is true. I lie not. These roads that are ‘away ahead’ will stay with me through this life and after; and afterwards I will go to live in the Big Tepee and sit down with the SHEPHERD CHIEF forever.”
We are all loved, and God makes us sons and daughters through our Lord Jesus Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God gives us individual gifts and purpose, each according to His promise. We tend to stay near others who are like ourselves, choosing a church that best suits our needs. Unfortunately, we do not always live in harmony with other Christians. Human minds, ideas, and egos get in the way of our seeing others as fellow sons of God. God doesn’t see our differences as barriers to unity; He has given them to us as gifts through which He accomplishes His purpose. I pray we will set aside our own biases and live in harmony with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever their heritage.
“When he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Saul took him that day, and wouldn’t let him go home to his father’s house any more. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David with his clothing, even including his sword, his bow, and his sash. David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved himself wisely; and Saul set him over the men of war. It was good in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul’s servants. As they came, when David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul with tambourines, with joy, and with instruments of music. The women sang to one another as they played, and said, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’ Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, ‘They have creditd David with ten thousands, and they have only credited me with thousands. What can he have more but the kingdom?’ Saul watched David from that day and forward. On the next day, an evil spirit from God came mightily on Saul, and he prophesied in the middle of the house. David played with his hand, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand; and Saul threw the spear, for he said, ‘I will pin David to the wall!’ David escaped from his presence twice.” 1 Samuel 18:1-11, WEB
Jerry and the crew were having dinner with an ancient relative of Jerry’s on an episode of “Seinfeld.” They were all sitting at the table eating and talking about everything. Somehow the conversation turned to ponies and Elaine commented about how she always wanted a pony. At this point, for reasons unknown, perhaps he wanted to make Elaine feel better for never having a pony, Jerry blurted out “I hate people who had ponies.”
The old woman, who was an immigrant, had a pony when she was a child. She became upset about Jerry’s comment and eventually died from it. Jerry apologized and said he didn’t mean it. Then he tried to justify the comment by saying he didn’t know she had a pony and he wondered why anyone who had a pony would leave a country where kids have ponies to go to a non-pony country. His comment was misunderstood, and it led to tragic circumstances.
I doubt any of us have actually have someone drop dead from the words we say, but we’ve all said something that was misunderstood by those listening. Language changes and unfortunately we sometimes do not define words in the same way. Our experience colors our understanding and we don’t mean the same thing, causing discontent. Sometimes we think we are saying something helpful, but it is taken the wrong way. When someone says something that we don’t like, we take it personally and want to respond with hostility. Conversations quickly becomes “he said, she said” battles that lead to nowhere and miss the original point of the discussion.
In today’s bible story, Jonathon who was heir to the throne of Israel, loved David as a brother. He was even willing to give up his own inheritance for the man he knew would be king. He gave his own cloak and sword to David as a sign of his loyalty. His father Saul, on the other hand, was jealous of David. He thought his throne at risk, though David had no intent on stealing the kingship by force. As a matter of fact, David had several opportunities to kill Saul but he refused to touch God’s chosen. David knew that God would give him the throne in His own time and way. In the end, Saul committed suicide. He pursued David for years, threatening his life over and over again, but he died on the battlefield with his own sword.
Things could have been different. His jealousy seemed to begin on the day described in our story. The women of Israel sang a song of joy, using poetic language to describe war and victory. If they had switched the names, everything may have been different. But Saul was insecure and anxious, so he understood the song as a personal affront and thought the women were crediting David with a greater accomplishment on the battlefield.
Our words mean something, and we should watch what we say lest we hurt another, even if their fault for misunderstanding our meaning. We should also be careful not to jump to conclusions about what others say to us. We waste too much energy and break too many relationships because we do not hear what people are saying, we hear what we think they are saying. Today, may God help us to listen not just to the words that are spoken but also to the meaning so that we will be encouraged by one another rather than destroyed.
“The foolish woman is loud, undisciplined, and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city, to call to those who pass by, who go straight on their ways, ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here.’ as for him who is void of understanding, she says to him, ‘Stolen water is sweet. Food eaten in secret is pleasant.’ But he doesn’t know that the departed spirits are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.” Proverbs 9:13-18
I was in an online chat room one day when someone asked everyone’s opinion about a distressing situation in her life. She heard plenty of opinions, many of which were focused on the woman’s comfort and desires. “Do what you feel is best for you.” “You need to take care of yourself.” She took this advice with great excitement but rejected everything that questioned her motives. “What about your children?” “Have you considered your own role in this problem?” She asked the question because she wanted justification for what she’d decided to do anyway.
There are many opportunities to get insight and advice from experts in love, money and health. Radio and television shows have call-in formats that allow the listener to speak directly with a knowledgeable professional who will tell you the best way to deal with whatever situation troubles you. There are thousands of websites where posters can ask questions and get dozens of answers. Newspapers and other print media have regular columns where people write to seek advice. “Dear Abby” was just one of the many people who shared her opinion on everything from the right dress to wear to a wedding to how to get your boyfriend to marry you. Most often the writers have a preconceived answer they want to hear.
A young woman once wrote, “Dear Abby: I am a twenty-three-year-old liberated woman who has been on the pill for two years. It’s getting expensive and I think my boyfriend should share half the cost, but I don’t know him well enough to discuss money with him.” For this young woman, following her passions was more important than common sense. She was physically active with a man she couldn’t even talk with about important issues such as money. The difference between wisdom and folly is like night and day. She thought she was being wise by asking Dear Abby for advice about money, but she was lost in her folly.
We are so easily swayed by our own desires. We want to enjoy life, to taste sweet water and eat secret food. We want to enjoy our relationships without commitment. We want a good life without being tied down to the things that truly shine the light of Christ to the world. We want our flesh to be fulfilled and would rather set aside the truth that is God’s wisdom. We don’t want to be disciplined; we want to be accepted just as we are. This is why sound bite advice has been so successful in our world. It isn’t possible to get to the root of our problems in 30 seconds of airtime or a paragraph in a paper. So, the lessons learned are flippant, humorous, or satirical. Unfortunately, these answers call out to the passersby, “Come in here, this is the answer to all your problems.”
“The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge; but the foolish despise wisdom and instruction..” This statement is found repeatedly throughout the book of Proverbs. In our world today, what seems to be wisdom is actually folly, because it follows the desires of the flesh rather than the will of God. We can go to experts for advice on our problems, but those who revere the Lord will accept the words of wisdom that come from God, those words that turn our focus from our flesh to the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the life that comes from faith in Him.
“Finally, all of you be like-minded, compassionate, loving as brothers, tenderhearted, courteous, not rendering evil for evil, or insult for insult; but instead blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For, ‘He who would love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good. Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears open to their prayer; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’” 1 Peter 3:8-12, WEB
A seer once told Julius Caesar to beware of the Ides of March. On the Roman calendar, the Ides fell in the middle of the month, somewhere between the 13th and the 15th. In March it fell on the 15th. The Ides of March signified the new year and was a day of feasting and religious ceremonies. Jupiter’s high priest slaughtered a sheep and there was a festival in honor of the Roman goddess Anna Perenna which celebrated the first full moon of the year on the Roman calendar with drinking, picnics, and lively festivities. It was a favorite of the common folk. Another ritual of the day was Mamuralia, an observance akin to the scapegoat of ancient Israel. Instead of a goat, however, an old man was dressed in an animal costume, beaten, and cast out of the city, perhaps to symbolize the passing of the old year. Other celebrations followed the Ides of March, telling the stories of other gods and goddesses they honored. I suppose it is easy to come up with holy days when you worship so many gods.
Caesar was a man without fear, so he did not take the warning of the seer seriously. He was a powerful man. He expanded the Roman world by conquering many lands. But his success led to his destruction, he let his power go to his head. As he conquered more and more people, he took upon himself a title that was not deserved; he became a dictator, removing the authority of other men. Caesar said, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” He wasn’t just referring to his military victories; he was referring to everything about his life.
When the seer warned Caesar of the impending doom, he was indifferent. Men who he deemed loyal surrounded him. Take Marcus Brutus, his friend and a man who he pardoned from punishment. On March 15, 44 BC, Brutus led a group of upper statesmen in the murder of Julius Caesar. They were unhappy with the manner in which Caesar had usurped their authority. He named himself dictator of the empire, making the Senate worthless. Caesar expected men like Brutus to remain loyal because they reached their positions of authority by his grace. They did what they felt was necessary for the empire.
Caesar was not God; he was not even like a god. He was a man who stepped over the line of his given authority and stole an empire. However, murder is never the right solution. Caesar might be an extreme case of power gone wild, but it is not unique; every generation has had to deal with authorities that take more power than they are given. It happens in homes, in politics, in workplaces, and in religion. These usurpers use deceit and violence to get their way. Though this is wrong, we should not repay the deceit and violence with the same. Do not seek revenge when you feel you have been wronged. Instead, turn your eyes to God and let Him deal with the evil and trust that He will be faithful to overcome the usurpers by His power.
Lectionary Scriptures for March 20, 2022, Third Sunday in Lent: Ezekiel 33:7-20; Psalm 85; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
“Show us your loving kindness, Yahweh. Grant us your salvation.” Psalm 85:7, WEB
I always hated history. It seemed useless to me to have to learn all those people, places and dates. What good purpose was there in knowing what someone did a thousand years ago? After all, their culture and circumstances were much different than ours today. It even seemed silly to study history from just a few years ago. After all, what is past is past and we should not dwell on the things that cannot be changed but look forward to the future.
I had the same opinion of the Old Testament books of the Bible. What good did it do to read those stories of Israel? Their culture and circumstances were much different than ours today. It was a different world, with different people and different circumstances. This is true even more so for those who live in Christ. Jesus restored our relationship to God, offering through His blood the grace and forgiveness that gives us true life. He finished the work that God began thousands of years before in the lives of the patriarchs, the kinds and the prophets. The old stories are fun to read, but of the stories offer a view of God that seems contradictory to the image we have in the story of Christ.
My attitude about history changed when we lived in England for four years. You can’t walk down the streets of the cities and villages of England without seeing history. We almost rented a home that was five hundred years old with a hatch roof. The streets are made of cobblestone, the pubs have served fish and chips for hundreds of years, some of the churches have stood for nearly a thousand years. Warwick Castle is a fascinating place to visit because it has areas devoted to every era since it was built, from the original fort built by William the Conqueror in the eleventh century, to a wax figure display of a Royal Weekend Party from the turn of the twentieth century with the Prince of Wales as the honored guest.
My attitude about the Old Testament changed in a similar way. As I began to read and study the Bible, I saw the connections between what happened in the Old and how it impacted the New Testament. When you realize how much Jesus is found in the Old Testament, particularly in the promises of God, then you realize that those books about the story of Israel reveal the Gospel as God’s story unfolds.
They say that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. We study the things of the past, what worked and what didn’t work, to help guide our decisions for the future. The Bible tells us there is nothing new under the sun, and this is most certainly true in every aspect of human nature. American culture is not much different than other prosperous civilizations in ages past. Our political system was established based on ancient examples. Military, education and welfare policies were founded on principles used many times before. If we refuse to recall the lessons learned throughout history, we will continue repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
Just as ancient history is important for us to know and understand to keep from falling into the same traps, so too is the Old Testament witness important for Christians. The Israelites had Christ before them, reflections of the promise to come. They were given the manna as a promise of Jesus, who is the Bread of life. Water flowed from the rock, foreseeing the Living water that is Christ. Yet they did not remain faithful to the One who fulfilled their needs. As we look back on those stories we are reminded that Christ is the solid rock on whom we stand and get our strength. When we are tested, as the Israelites were tested in the desert, we are warned from their example to turn to God. Let’s not let history repeat itself in our lives; let’s learn from the past and stand firm for the future.
Today’s Gospel passage is tough. In it we deal with the not so uplifting themes of death, tragedy, and manure. It is even hard to see grace in this passage, though God’s grace is always in His Word.
It helps to put this story into context. When Jesus came down from the mountain where He was transfigured in the presence of His closest apostles, He set out on a journey toward Jerusalem. Nothing was going to stop Him from His goal. As they traveled, Jesus taught the disciples the things they would need to know to continue His work in this world. He healed the sick and He gave hope to the poor. Crowds were following Him, gathering wherever they might hear Him speak. He was calling people to a deep and intimate relationship with God. This was a message people wanted to hear. Even the Pharisees wanted to hear what Jesus had to say. There was a curiosity about Jesus: was He the one for whom they were waiting? Was He the fulfillment of those Old Testament prophesies?
One day a Pharisee invited Jesus to dinner. Jesus made quite an impression, and not in a good way. He offended the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law by the things He said and the things He did. They were determined to stop Jesus. The Pharisees understood righteousness and faithfulness from the perspective of the Law. The question of the Galileans and the victims of the tower collapse came up because the Pharisees were following Jesus, asking Him questions. They wanted to catch Him in a mistake that would halt His ministry.
Jesus’ answer to the thoughts of their hearts was that the Galileans and victims of the tower collapse were not greater sinners. Now, we might assume that because Jesus said this, He was lifting up the lowly and lowering the lofty. Yet, Jesus’ words are not a condemnation, but a call to repentance. Jesus says, “Unless you repent, you too will die.” Earlier in the book of Luke, Jesus gave the Pharisees and teachers of the Law a long list of sins, but repentance is more than changing the way we do things. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law had rejected Jesus. They had rejected the Word of God made flesh. They had rejected the mercy of God which is found in Jesus. Reject Jesus and you will die, because it is in Jesus Christ that we find true life.
So, Jesus was not saying that those who suffered death and tragedy were less sinful than the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. He was saying that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Receive the Savior, and you will have life. Reject the Savior, and you will die. We are given another message of grace in this passage. Jesus, who is the vine tender, tells the master (God) to give the unfruitful tree another year, another chance. Repentance, which is the recognizing sin and turning toward the Savior, will bring fruit. Jesus is willing to do everything He can to help us repent. He will work with us, feed us, water us, risk everything for us. We’ll have to put up with a little manure, but He will help us to turn to God.
Today is the day. There may not be a tomorrow. Today is the day of repentance. Don’t wait. Now is the time to believe, to receive the Savior, and to experience the life He has to give.
I was shopping with my daughter who was only a toddler at the time one day. We were in the clothing department. She played, as all little kids love to play, by climbing in and out of the racks as I searched to find the perfect outfit. I was probably not paying as much attention as I should have, but I suddenly realized she was not in the rack where I was standing. I called her name; after several times I began to panic. This happened shortly after a time when the news was filled with the story of a child kidnapping, and while I doubted that it would happen in this out of the way store in an out of the way place, I couldn’t help but worry. I called louder and she didn’t hear me. Others began looking with me. Finally, an employee from a department at the far end of the store found my daughter crying in a fitting room, heard our panic and came to get me. My daughter was safe, and while I was angry that she had wandered away, I was even more thankful that she had been found.
The tone of today’s Old Testament lesson is not very pleasant. It seems to focus on death. Even the righteous, if they sin, will taste death. Where is the fairness? Where is the mercy? After all, if I have done a million good things, shouldn’t they outweigh a bad thing or two? Even worse is the promise that the wicked will be saved if they just turn around. How is that fair to those who live a lifetime of goodness?
This understanding leads us to the fear that the last thing we do will not be good enough to be saved. It leads us to be afraid that we will meet our end if we wander away. Yet, we are also angry because we know that “those others”, the wicked, have done far worse things than we will ever do. Where is the justice?
We miss the grace in this passage when we ignore the word “repent.” This is a hard word because we live in a world that tells us we should go our own way. The world tells us that it is ok to follow our hearts. The world tells us that whatever path we choose is the path that is right for us. We have no reason to repent; this is what happens in a world that ignores the reality of sin. Sin is not just a list of things we do wrong. Of course, as we wander on our Lenten journey we are reminded to consider our own sin, to look at how we have failed to be the people whom God has created and redeemed us to be. We fast as a discipline so that we might be transformed in one tiny way, step by step becoming the people that God calls us to be.
Unfortunately, it is often useless because we fast something that we take up almost immediately after Easter Day. Instead of continuing in the path of discipline, embracing the transformation, following as God leads us into a better life, we celebrate the promise of salvation and then head in the opposite direction. We turn around and walk on our own path again.
During Lent we often follow a devotional practice of some sort, reading the bible more or praying daily, but as soon as Easter comes, we stop and go about our lives as they were before we started our Lenten journey. Instead of allowing the discipline to become a habit in our lives, we think seven weeks is enough to earn us the goodness and mercy of God for another year. “I did my duty: I fasted and prayed. So now I can go walk on my path until it is time to do my duty again. It must be enough to hold me over until next time,” we think. In the Old Testament they thought the blood of a lamb was enough to hold them over for a year.
The key word in today’s texts is “repent,” but it is not enough to simply say, “I’ve done this thing and I’m sorry. Forgive me so I can go on my way.” Repentance is more than saying I’m sorry. It is even more than confessing our daily sins. Repentance is turning to God, following Him, keeping Him in our sight, trusting Him to lead us on the right path.
The passage from Ezekiel is confusing and frightening. It seems to say that you will live or die based on the most current actions of your flesh. If the wicked repent and then die, they will live, but if the righteous commit iniquity and die, their righteous deeds will be forgotten, and they will truly die. This is confusing because we know that it is not by our works that we live or die, and it is frightening because we know that we are sinners and that we fail on a daily basis. What chance do we have to die at that exact moment when we are being righteous?
Verse 13 offers a bit of help with this problem. Ezekiel writes, “...if he trusts in his righteousness...” then he will die if he commits sin. It isn’t the sin that will kill him, but the reliance on a righteousness that is fallible. When we trust in the good deeds that we have done to save us, we’ll find that they are never enough to cover the bad deeds that we continue to do. Our works will never make us righteous. Repentance is not simply making things right after we have done wrong; there is no hope in that sort of faith. We can never know if we will truly be in the right state at the moment we die. Repentance is turning to God and trusting in Him. Faith is trusting that we are in a state of God’s grace so that no matter when we die, we’ll be saved by His righteousness.
It is so easy to get caught up in the belief that we can save ourselves. And if we believe that, then we just as easily see the disasters of others as a punishment from God, or at the very least the possibility that they have gotten what they deserve. That’s what was happening in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus responded to a question from the crowd about a group of people who died at the hand of Pilate by asking if they deserved to be killed in that way. Then He asked if a group of people who died when a tower fell if they deserved to die in that way.
He answered, “I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all perish in the same way.” Jesus did not suggest that they died because of their sin, but then He warned the crowd that they would die if they didn’t repent!
They did not die because of their sin; they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their story is important for us to hear, we could be in the wrong place at the wrong time, too. We could fall prey to a power wielding ruler who knows no bounds. We could be standing under a tower about to collapse. We could be in a car accident. We could get sick. We could lose everything because the world around us is falling apart. We don’t know what tomorrow might hold.
Jesus calls us to repentance, not to save us from the possibility that our world will collapse, but so that we will not die. We will all still die in the flesh, but when we trust in the righteousness that Jesus has promised, we will have life in the spirit that He has promised. He is calling the people to turn now, to not wait until it is too late. Tomorrow might be too late. Five minutes from now could be too late. God is patient and longsuffering. God is willing to give second and third and fourth chances. But as we hear in today’s Gospel lesson, we do not know when it will be too late.
When Jesus talks about life and death, He isn’t referring to the physical life and death; He is referring to spiritual life and death. The Gospel text is not a lesson about our own righteousness, but about trusting in God for true life. We don’t become perfect overnight. As a matter of fact, there’s only one who was able to live a perfect life in this world: Jesus. We aren’t Jesus, but we are covered by His righteousness when we repent and trust in Him.
The hope we have is not that we’ll be righteous at the moment that we will die, but that God will be faithful. And thankfully, we worship a God of second chances. Take, for instance, the parable in the second half of today’s Gospel lesson: the story of a fig tree. This tree is not bearing fruit and the landowner is ready to let it go. We might think that he is unmerciful because the tree is only three years old; however, it was probably more like six years. He would not have even looked for fruit until after the third year. That is when it should have started to bear fruit. At six years the fig tree has been a waste of time, land and resources. This unfruitful tree is stealing the nutrients from the trees that can produce. The gardener begged the landowner for one more year with a promise to work with the tree to try to get it to produce.
Perhaps the perfect sermon title for this text is “Death, Tragedy and all that Crap.” It might sound flippant or even offensive, but it is an honest assessment of how we deal with the troubles in our life. We look at suffering as “crap” without realizing that it might just be the manure that will help us grow in faith and maturity. God does not make us suffer, but He uses the circumstances of our life to help us to bear fruit in this world. We don’t understand. We ask, “Why me?” But we are called to repentance from our self-focus and trust in God who has promised to get us through. We don’t like to travel through the valley of death, because it seems like there is no hope, but there is always hope in Christ.
The Jews in Jesus’ day sought righteousness according to their own terms. They tried to be their own gods. They tried to control the world around them. They tried to be good, righteous, and worthy of whatever it is they wanted. Paul tells us that the ancestors of the Jews did the same thing. Though God delivered them from Egypt and gave them a taste of salvation and the waters of baptism through the cloud and the waters of the Red Sea, they forgot God. They became idolaters, eating, drinking and indulging in the pagan traditions of Egypt. They tested God and suffered the consequences of turning away from Him. They did not trust God so turned to find comfort, hope and peace through other means. We are meant to see in the histories what our ancestors did wrong so that we’ll walk more closely with our God.
But Paul reminds us that we are no different. We think we are better, more faithful than those who wandered the desert and those who lived in Jesus’ day, but we aren’t. Paul shares the stories of our forefathers as a warning that we naturally tend to go in the wrong direction. We would rather rely on our own strength and abilities, so we turn away from God.
The story of the fig tree shows us that God is willing to work with us, to help us to be fruitful. But we are warned to be careful: the day will come when it is too late. So while we can’t do it on our own, we are called to do something. We are called to repent, to turn around and trust God. Paul comforts us with the knowledge that we are no different. “No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
We will forget history. We will be tempted. We will fail. We’ll get angry with God and blame Him for our troubles. We’ll doubt and fear and go down the wrong path. We deserve to perish. But the vinedresser says, “Give me another year. I’ll feed it and it will produce good fruit.” He gives us another chance. Yet, He also calls us to repentance, lest we perish. We have another chance, but for how long? We could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We don’t know what tomorrow might hold.
The psalmist writes, “Mercy and truth meet together. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs out of the earth. Righteousness has looked down from heaven.” Truth leads us to a right relationship with God. The fullness of all the good things in heaven and earth - mercy, truth, righteousness and peace - come together in Jesus Christ. It is not up to us to be or create or earn these things, we are called to believe in Jesus and it will be ours.
God does not want us to perish. He shows us the past so that we can live toward the future. He wants us to live in His grace in this world and in His glory in eternity. He’s done everything necessary to make it happen. Lent is a time of repentance. It is a time for letting go of control, turning around toward God, and trusting in Him. Our righteousness will never save us, but His will. His righteousness has saved us. He did it so that we would have life, and so that we would bear fruit in a world that desperately needs to repent and trust in Him.
“Have mercy on me, Yahweh, for I am in distress. My eye, my soul, and my body waste away with grief. For my life is spent with sorrow, my years with sighing. My strength fails because of my iniquity. My bones are wasted away. Because of all my adversaries I have become utterly contemptible to my neighbors, a horror to my acquaintances. Those who saw me on the street fled from me. I am forgotten from their hearts like a dead man. I am like broken pottery. For I have heard the slander of many, terror on every side, while they conspire together against me, they plot to take away my life. But I trust in you, Yahweh. I said, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand. Deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me. Make your face to shine on your servant. Save me in your loving kindness.” Psalm 31:9-16
It is said that on St. Patrick’s Day the whole world is Irish. It is certainly a holiday that many people commemorate. Cities have parades and shamrocks are everywhere. The river that runs through downtown San Antonio is died green for the day, as are other rivers around the world. Often the celebrants do not even know the story of St. Patrick. For many it is just a time to get drunk on green beer and chase after leprechauns in the hope of finding their pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. The only reminders of St. Patrick’s story are 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.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30, WEB
We are in the middle of a “perfect storm,” although it is not bad circumstances, just a lot of things happening all at once. Our son is temporarily moving home, and we have had to move things around so that he will have a room. The big move happens tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’m preparing to go on a trip to visit our daughter. I leave on Sunday. In between tasks to prepare the house, I’ve had to pack. I’m driving so I can deliver some gifts for our daughter’s new home, including a painting I just finished. On top of all this, I’ve been reorganizing my studio so that my husband can do some work in there while I’m out of town. To top it all off, contractors will begin work on a bathroom remodel the day I get home.
It seems like every time I turn around there’s something else I need to accomplish. Just when I think I might be able to relax a little, there is something looming in the next moment that needs my attention. I don’t think that I’m stressed by it all, but I have to confess that during these times when so much is going on in my life that I don’t give God as much time as I should. I suppose that’s why I need a vacation. Unfortunately, when we go on vacation to find rest we tend to go, go, go! I will try to find some quiet time in the midst of my adventures.
Religion is often referred to as a journey, as a quest for God. Yet, even the most inexhaustible travelers must take time to rest. You can’t go on a lengthy trip without planning time to do nothing. Unfortunately, too many people become Christians and then spend all their time on the go, go, go! They are constantly trying to fill every moment with work to honor God. They want to read every book, try every activity, hear every message there is to hear. Yet, in the process of hopping from church to church they never actually experience God or hear His voice. They never find rest.
Hopefully I will find quiet time in the midst of my adventures, but we are reminded that true rest will only be found when we keep our hearts focused on God. I will take time for prayer and will continue my devotions; I will think about my experiences in light of God’s Word. I’ll probably even take some notes so that I have some ideas when I get home. I don’t have to go, go, go, to find God in the midst of my adventures. Jesus has promised to be with us wherever we go and in Him we will find rest. I just have to remember to keep my heart focused on Him through it all.
It will be good to have a break from the chaos my life has been during the past few weeks and I’m looking forward to the fun things we will do. Isn’t it interesting that we take vacations to rest, and yet we rarely do so? I am driving to Indiana, which is a long drive, and I’m planning to do some fun things while I am there. I want to go hiking and bird watching, and we will be visiting a museum. Most of all I look forward to spending time with my daughter.
I love writing A WORD FOR TODAY, but we all need time away from our work. You will continue to be on my mind as I travel, and I will constantly be looking for stories and lessons to share along the way. I’ll be back on March 28th, hopefully inspired with more ideas. As is true with all our vacations, I’m sure I’ll come home exhausted by it all, but I hope that I experience God’s rest so that I will be ready to continue to do whatever God has prepared for me to do next.
“I command you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at his appearing and his Kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all patience and teaching. For the time will come when they will not listen to the sound doctrine, but having itching ears, will heap up for themselves teachers after their own lusts, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn away to fables. But you be sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:1-5, WEB
There are several television shows that helps business owners overcome their failures; they send experts into dying businesses to help make it over to be successful. They find the faults and teach the owners how to do things right. They renovate both the space and the reputation. They teach good business techniques and often offer technology that will make it work better. These businesses are usually heavily in dept and empty on a regular basis. The owners and staff have lost their passion, yet they can rarely pinpoint the problem. Chefs think their food is the best. Hoteliers insist that they give a comfortable experience. Bar owners think they are offering a fun place to hang out. They can’t understand what is wrong and are in such denial that they can’t hear the truth when the experts point out the problem.
The businesspeople are often in denial. The experts are there to help them. They only have a few days to change things completely, so they can’t waste time waiting for a change of heart. The businesspeople have had years to do what they need to do, but they don’t see the problem. They play the blame game. It is always a problem with the economy, or the competition, or a partner. Some of the businesspeople argue with the experts, insisting that the experts have no idea what they are doing. They hate those who are trying to help and refuse to accept any of their ideas.
This is reality television, so we know that it isn’t really reality; the shows are scripted. Is the food really the worst ever? Does that hotel room really smell? Are the coolers in that bar really that bad? Are the guests who have been invited to be on the show really as unsatisfied as they show? The experts are often cruel in the way they call attention to the problems in the business.
I understand the point of view of the businesspeople. None of us like to hear we have done something wrong. We do not like to be critiqued on the things we believe we do well. We don’t like to change because of someone else’s opinions. It doesn’t help when the experts are so harsh, but they sometimes have to take extreme measures to get the businesspeople to listen. All these experts are reputed to be jerks based on these shows. They are just mean, and they seem to like being mean. These experts are often opinionated and harsh. If something is wrong, they don’t walk on eggshells. They are going to tell it like they see it. There is some psychology at play here: some people need to be dealt with harshly so that they will hear. All these experts are really quite kind and compassionate; they repeatedly tell the businesspeople that they are doing it for their own good. “I want you to succeed, and you will never get there if you don’t admit your failure.”
Martin Luther had a similar reputation. In a book about Martin Luther, James Kittleson wrote, “Although he was a professor who delighted in having a doctorate and flaunted in the faces of his enemies, he remained a pastor whose chief concern was for the spiritual well-being of his flock.” Luther wanted to reform the church. He wanted to create what he called “theodidacti” or “people trained by God.” His greatest accomplishment, expect perhaps the translation of the scriptures into German, were his catechisms. Yet, we know Luther as being harsh, even crude and rude. We know how he fought with his contemporaries and called them names. He has a reputation of being a chauvinist. Just like those experts trying to help businesspeople make things better, Luther sometimes used techniques he thought necessary to get his point across.
Sometimes our critics are right. Sometimes we need to change. Sometimes we need to hear the truth so that we will repent. We may not like it, but by listening to the honest opinions, we might just find that we do have something that needs to change. We have a responsibility to help one another and sometimes we have to accept the things we do not want to believe is true. While it is always best to deal with one another with mercy and grace, sometimes it takes a harsh word to get us to listen. After all, even Jesus turned over the tables in the Temple. We might be the one to be like the experts, offering a word in a way to get someone’s attention, but let us never forget to do so with the right mind, a humble and compassionate heart, and the best interest of the person we are meant to help. In the end the experts have an incredible impact on the lives of those businesspeople they help. In the end Martin Luther was able to impact the world through the theodidacti that grew out of the Reformation. In the end we might just make a difference in the life of someone who needs to hear the Gospel to be transformed by the grace of God.
“In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7, WEB
We live in what was once a model home in our development. Builders usually put on house on display so that potential buyers can walk through and see what is possible. They use the space that would be the garage as office space, adding temporary walls, floors, closets, and air. When they have sold out the spaces, the model home is reconverted and sold. The first people who bought this home wanted the extra space, so they left everything as it was and added a detached garage.
This extra space is why this house was perfect for us. One of the office spaces was located right near the laundry room, so we added a sink and made it my studio. Another space is my office. We use the third room for storage and other things. Unfortunately, the space still had the original (more than thirty-year-old) carpet, and it was ugly. It is also not smart to have carpet in an art studio. We have removed the carpeting one room at a time, replacing it with carpet and linoleum tiles. Bruce finished the final room, my studio, while I was away last week.
I spent time before I left making sure that the room was ready for the work. I have a lot of supplies, shelves full of boxes full of everything you can imagine. I was able to stash much of it, and my husband was able to work around the rest. He managed to get everything done. I told him that it was not necessary to put things back where he found them, because I planned to purge unnecessary supplies and rearrange the shelves. I started to go through all the boxes one by one yesterday and by the time I went to bed things were out of control. It was more chaotic than when I began! I did some more work today, and it is beginning to look better. Sometimes you have to create chaos to get to order.
We often wonder why God allows chaos in our lives. We look at the world around us and think it has never been so out of control. And yet things have been chaotic many times earlier. As a matter of fact, they were quite chaotic in Jesus’ day. The Jews thought they understood what God expected and how they should live. They had interpreted and reinterpreted the Law to the point that it was so burdensome that most people could not live according to it, but they used that unrighteousness as an excuse for the oppression of their nation. They thought that surely if the people had been living up to God’s Law, then they would not be living under the rule of a foreign power. If the people repented, God would send a Messiah to defeat the Romans and restore Israel. They were looking for a powerful, military solution to their problem. Many came forward as false Messiahs, promising peace through war.
However, they missed the prophecy that described the Messiah as a suffering servant, as a humble and peacekeeping king. They expected battles, so when Christ came in peace bringing grace, forgiveness and healing, they did not recognize Him. They wanted a king to ride in on chariots with an army, but Jesus did not come with swords to drive the unrighteous out of Jerusalem to make room for a new king. He did not come ranting and raving about sin. He did He did not even come to make changes to the earthbound control of His people. He came to show them the kingdom of God. He did this by quietly calling people into His presence, by speaking stories about faith and by touching the lives of those who crossed His path. He did not force people to follow, but rather drew them into His heart and called them to follow.
Is the world peaceful? No, there is war in many places. There is even war and chaos to be found in our homes, neighborhoods, and cities. We are human and we react in human ways against the difficulties caused by the human condition. However, there is a peace in this world that is not seen in the news headlines. It is seen in the hearts of men who believe in Jesus Christ. It is a peace that comes from the hope we have in Christ through His blood. Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies in ways that no one expected, and Jesus suffered for it. Can you imagine the chaos in the hearts of His disciples? Jesus was crucified despite His innocence, but in His death and resurrection, we find true peace. It is a lasting peace because it takes us into eternal life. We may never see even a day without some war in our world, but we can rest assured that the peace of Christ which passes all human understanding will last forever. Today, as you face your own chaos, focus your attention on God because He has a plan to bring us through even better than ever.
Scriptures for April 3, 2022, Fifth Sunday in Lent: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-7 8-14; Luke 20:9-20
“Yahweh has done great things for us, and we are glad.” Psalm 126:3, WEB
We live in a temperate semi-arid region, so it is no surprise when we are dry. However, there are times when we are dryer than normal. In the eighteen hears since we moved to Texas, I’ve written repeatedly about drought conditions. We are in that place again. We’ve had little measurable rain for a long time. A good shower would help green up the lawns, but we need a lot more to restore the earth. Unfortunately, the dry winter means that the wildflowers are struggling to bloom. In a normal year, the ground would be covered by the lovely bluebonnets that blanket the fields in March. At this point, I have only seen a few patches along a highway. Even the neighborhood flowers do not seem to be blooming, though a few of the trees are starting to bud.
There are certain things we expect to see with the coming of the warmer temperatures. I purchased a pot of daffodils, a flower we don’t see in Texas, when I was in Indiana. Many people are anxious to see the crocus shoots as they peak through the last of the snow. We yearn to see the cherry blossoms in Washington. I remember longing for the first lilacs to bloom on our bushes in Pennsylvania. When we see the color on the bushes and in the fields, we know something new is about to happen.
Lent is nearing an end. April 10th will be Passion Sunday and then we will be in Holy Week. The long winter is coming to an end and something new is about to happen. Isaiah proclaims the promise of what is going to be. Do you not perceive it? It is like waiting for those first flowers of spring to burst forth. We wait longingly for it to happen and then when it does we can expect warmer days and green grass.
When I read the Gospel passage, I can’t help but ask myself, “How does someone get there?” Luke wrote, “But when the farmers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.’” How does anyone think that killing the son will make the landowner turn his property over to the tenants? It doesn’t make sense to me, and yet seems to make sense to these tenants. They think they have a right to the vineyard; they think that all they need to do is remove the obstacle that is keeping them from what they think they deserve.
I wonder the same thing when I hear stories about people doing extraordinarily horrific crimes. How does a mother get to the point that she truly believes that God is telling her to drown her children in a bathtub? How does a young man decide that the best way to solve his problems is to take guns into a crowded building and shoot anyone in his way? How do residents in a city destroyed by a natural disaster think that it is right to break the windows of stores and take anything they want?
I can understand hungry people breaking into a grocery store to find food to eat, but why do they steal televisions and high-priced sneakers? It is wrong to steal whether the item is worth a quarter or a million dollars, but we can have compassion for those who are suffering extreme circumstances. One of the great questions is whether sometimes the end does justify the means.
Looting often begins with one person who goes for a loaf of bread or a jar of peanut butter to feed their kids, but human nature quickly overcomes conscience and soon others are looting for a whole different purpose. They aren’t trying to meet a need; they use the circumstances to satisfy their desires. They justify the looting by pointing fingers at the rich store owners. An understandable desire to meet human need is easily turned into something ugly and false.
In today’s Gospel lesson, the tenants owed the landowner their rent. It might not seem fair in the way many think today for a landowner to get something from the toil of the land, so it might seem more fair for the tenants to keep the fruit they produced. They did all the work. They tended the vines. They harvested the grapes. They even produced the wine. They worked hard, don’t they deserve to keep the result of their hard work? Besides, the landowner is wealthy. Why does he need a few bottles of wine when he already has so much?
They didn’t begin with the assumption that they deserved the land. When the landowner sent a servant to collect the rent, they simply said no and sent the servant back with a few bruises. The second servant received the same greeting. They made an agreement and refused to fulfill their part of the bargain. Perhaps they thought they deserved to keep the entire harvest because they did all the work.
Or did they? That landowner bought the land and planted the vines; he had a financial stake from the beginning. Is it fair for the tenants to keep all the fruit just because he had more than they? Is it fair for the tenants to live on his land and benefit from his work, without giving him his due? Is it right for them to go against the agreement? The landowner was disappointed by the response of his tenants, but he gave them several chances. He sent servant after servant; each one was beaten and sent back empty handed. How would you respond? Would you send your son?
While I might understand thinking that they deserved to keep the wine, I can’t understand how they thought that they deserve the whole vineyard. How does one go from tenant to owner at someone else’s cost? How does anyone justify killing the son? How can they possibly think that the landowner will respond to the murder of his son by giving the land to his murderers? They think the end justifies the means, and the only end that matters is the one that will benefit them.
We might think that this story speaks to some very real, current issues in our world today, but we need to be careful that we keep this in context. We need to be careful we don’t see ourselves as something better than those tenants. We make mistakes. We focus on our own self-interest. We think the end justifies the means. We don’t know what circumstances might cause us to do whatever is necessary to meet an understandable need and then justify our actions as we walk out with more. We think that we should own the vineyard.
This is a story about God’s Kingdom. The scribes and the chief priests understood what Jesus was saying, and it upset them. They knew that He was talking about destroying those who had assumed they deserved the Kingdom of God, but who were not honoring the Master. They perceived that Jesus was speaking against them, saying that they were not serving God as He intended.
They were right. The servants sent by the landowner were the prophets who had been sent by God over and over again to call the people to faithful living in the covenant. They claimed to follow the letter of the law, but they did not live in a relationship with God. They pursued a righteousness based on their own good works and they rejected the Son who would make them right with God. And they did exactly what Jesus said they would do: they planned to kill the Son.
Now, before we act holier than thou, let us consider our own human nature. We can easily ask the question, “How do you get there?” when faced with a story like this, or when faced with very real stories that don’t make sense. I don’t expect to do anything extraordinarily horrific in my lifetime. But can I honestly say that I’ve never done anything wrong? Can I honestly claim to be righteous before God? Haven’t I rationalized some sin because I faced extraordinary circumstances? Do I ever think that the end justifies the means? Have I told a lie for the right reasons? Have I taken something that wasn’t mine to help someone, even though it is wrong to steal?
Did I kill the Son of God?
It is very easy to see sinfulness in others and think that we would never go there. I can’t imagine ever killing the son of an owner who has entrusted me with his property, but what if after all my work the harvest was poor due to a drought? What if my house was destroyed in a natural disaster? Would I resort to theft so my family could eat? I hope not, but can I say for sure? I’m human and I can be tempted to meet my needs, and even my desires, at the expense of someone else. I’m not as different from those tenants as I want to be.
Just as the landowner bought the land and planted the vineyard, God set the foundation and planted the seeds for His Kingdom. The Israelites were given the responsibility to take care of the Kingdom, but Kingdom belongs to God. He didn’t ask much in return, just faithful stewardship and respect. They refused to give God the respect He is due; they beat the prophets and they would kill the Son. So, God promised to give the Kingdom to others.
The scribes and chief priests saw the “others” as being far from God; the gentiles, pagans, tax collectors were sinners. The Kingdom was theirs because they were the ones that God brought out of Egypt. They were inheritors of the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their forefathers were the ones that experienced the exodus. They deserved the Kingdom; they earned it. They were relying on the past, but God had something greater planned. They were relying on their heritage, but God was about to do something new.
In the passage from Isaiah, God tells the people to forget the things that have gone before. “See, I am doing a new thing.” The God of Isaiah, the God of the Israelites, can do amazing things. He made a path through the Red Sea so that they could escape slavery and oppression. We were not slaves to Egyptians, but we are slaves to our flesh. We are oppressed by the expectations of this world and by the burdens of the Law. We rely on our past and our own good works. We are controlled by our own need for power, by our own self-interest.
Politicians have to put out their best face when they are running for office. After all, the election process is, in essence, a job interview. They want their resume to read well, to focus on the things that they believe will help them do a good job for the people who will be electing them. They tell crowds about their accomplishments, their background, and their experience. They also lay out their plan and hope that the voters will see that the voters will see that they have what it takes to get it done.
Candidates have often included their Christian faith as a part of their resume. This does not bother me, although it does bother some. I would prefer a humble, faithful Christian who will act with mercy and grace, be obedient to God’s law, and follow God’s word. Unfortunately, “I am a Christian” is often just a box to tick on the resume; they wear their faith on their sleeve, but not in their hearts. Their faith is not always evident in the way that they live their lives. Quite frankly, I'd rather have an honest atheist than a pretend Christian. I don’t understand those who vote for someone who claims to be a Christian just because they claim to be a Christian even though their life does not appear to be Christ-like at all.
What does a Christian life look like? Well, first of all we aren’t looking for a perfect person who is without sin, since all men are sinners in need of a Savior. The Christian is humble, recognizes their sin and seeks God’s forgiveness. The Christian will fail on a daily basis, but knows they’ve failed and tries to be changed by God’s Word. The Christian seeks God through prayer and His Word. It isn’t enough to have a writer include a scripture quote in a speech if their lives do not reflect that scripture in the way they speak and walk and work in this world.
Paul knows that it isn’t enough to have the good resume, after all, he had a good one. He had every qualification to be a leader for the Jews. He had confidence in his Jewish heritage, privilege and attainments. He was circumcised, came from a good family, and he lived according to the ways of his people. He was a Pharisee, had the authority to persecute the Christians, and he claimed that he was faultlessly righteous according to the law.
Then he met Jesus. He met Jesus on the road to Damascus and learned that it didn’t matter how good his resume looked if he did not believe in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Paul had every reason to believe that he deserved to inherit the Kingdom, but he knew that it was all worthless. The only thing that matters is to know Jesus. The only thing that matters is to receive the Son.
If it were based on his flesh, Paul could have been confident of his salvation. Yet, he sets all that aside for the sake of Christ. He does not believe that he has already obtained it all; as a matter of fact Paul knew he was a sinner greater than all other sinners. Yet, he was striving for that which has already been promised and is assured by God's faithfulness. He encouraged the Philippians, and us today, to set aside all that has gone by and continue moving forward toward the promise. God has done something new. While the acts of God that have been done already are great, we can rest in the promise that the best is yet to come. We need not forget the past, but always look toward the future. We need not ignore the flesh, but always keep God in the proper place: as the center of our life.
This is what we want from a leader who claims to be Christian. We don’t need a person who checks a box, quotes the scripture, and does whatever he or she wants to do anyway. I want to vote for a person who walks the walk, not talks the talk. Sadly, there are always those who want to be part of the Kingdom but who aren’t really willing to live humbly under the rule of God. Now, before we act holier than thou, let us remember our own human nature. We can easily point to those politicians claiming one thing and living another, but are we that much different? Can we honestly say that we’ve never tried to take what we think is ours? Can we honestly claim to be righteous before God? Haven’t we all rationalized some sin?
Can we ask the question, “Did I kill the Son of God?” and not tremble in fear at the truth?
The Pharisees recognized themselves in Jesus’ parable. Do we?
Paul has a great set of credentials. He has a long list of reasons why he should be respected among his people. His credentials gave him authority; his voice was one of power and influence. He was qualified to be a leader, to speak on behalf of God about Jewish Law and practice. The whole point of Lent has been to discover those aspects of our life that do not stand up to the expectations of God. The old is past and the new is coming. It came on the cross when Jesus died for our sake. The final road to the cross begins as Jesus sets His anointed feet toward Jerusalem. Like Paul, we have set aside what is behind and we too strive toward the promise, which is assured in Christ Jesus. We are new creations with a new attitude praising God with songs of joy for that which He has done on the cross and for which He is doing in our lives today.
I was once part of a group that helped volunteer for a huge event in our town. Volunteers were needed everywhere to help with security, safety, and hospitality. It was our job to make sure that all the visitors had a great time at the activities and that they made it home safe and sound, uplifted, and ready to take on their world. Every volunteer was given a specific identification card which gave them access to the places they would need to go. Visitors had a certain color, different sorts of volunteers had other colors, staff had yet another color. Since we were volunteers that needed to get behind the scenes, we were given special credentials.
We were also given t-shirts that marked us as volunteers. This made us identifiable to the visitors so that if they had any questions or needs, they would know who to ask. We stood out from the crowd. Unfortunately, for some this was a source of pride, and it was a privilege which was meant to be used. Sadly, it was also abused. Some of the volunteers tried to use their credentials to their advantage. Instead of accepting the identification with humility as a servant for others, it was used as a way to get ahead of the crowds and to get the better place.
Paul had a great set of credentials, so great that when the question of Christianity came up, people were willing to listen to his persecution with respect. He could easily have held his genealogy and his blamelessness above all others because he was right with God according to the Law of Moses. But, in Christ he realized that his credentials were meaningless. Instead of being someone above all others, he knew that his place in God’s kingdom made him a servant of all. He realized that he was not greater than anyone, and even suggested that of all sinners he was the greatest. He had persecuted Christ’s church, and thus persecuted the Savior. He knew now, in Christ, that all that he had was useless. Only in Christ is there righteousness.
We might have credentials that make us worthy to be respected and heard. People work hard to receive diplomas and certificates giving them the authority to make judgments or accomplish certain tasks. Family names give people clout, as does wealth and position in society. Our heritage might be a reason for others to look up to us, to admire us. It might give us access to places where others are not able to go. However, who we are in the world is meaningless when it comes to the kingdom of God. We do not need credentials to get into heaven, we need Jesus. In Christ we are called to set all things aside, to count our life as loss because of Christ. Instead of using, or abusing, our credentials, we are called to suffer the loss of those things so that we might know more fully Christ, His righteousness, and the power of His resurrection.
I think it is interesting that Paul, who advocated repeatedly that salvation is found in Christ and Christ alone, also says here that the salvation we seek is not fully ours. We continue in the race, striving every forward to the day when it will be ours. Paul, who was the Pharisee of Pharisees, Jew among Jews, never thought of himself as the Christian above all Christians. He knew he was a sinner continually in need of the Savior and called to be a humble servant for Him in this world. We might have great credentials, but they are not meant to make us greater than others. Our credentials make us humble servants because we know that Christ is our all and all.
God set the foundation and planted the seeds for His Kingdom. The Israelites were given the responsibility to take care of the Kingdom, but Kingdom belongs to God. He didn’t ask much in return, just faithful stewardship and honor. He asked that they believe in His Son. They refused to give God what He was due; they beat the prophets and they would kill the Son. God promised to give the Kingdom to others. Those others are the ones who recognize their sinfulness and turn to God for forgiveness, even if they are the ones whom the self-righteous think are undeserving. They are the ones who don’t follow God because it looks good on a resume, but because they know they need Him and trust in His faithfulness.
Oh, we can point our fingers, but we are reminded during our Lenten journey that we can fall away so easily. As a matter of fact, it is important that we remember daily how easy it is to stand on our own righteousness. God’s chosen people did it throughout their history. God provided them with a vineyard to tend, but they constantly turned away from Him to worship other gods. They believed that the Kingdom was theirs because they were God’s special people. They were inheritors of the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their forefathers were the ones that experienced the Exodus. They deserved the Kingdom; they earned it. They were relying on the past, but God had something greater planned. They were relying on their heritage, but God was about to do something new. Paul was among those who did the same, until he met Jesus.
After the long wander in the wilderness of Lent, we are waiting anxiously for this new life that God has promised. The God of Isaiah can do amazing things. He made a path through the Red Sea for those who left Egypt to travel as they escaped slavery and oppression. We are not slaves to Egyptians, but we are slaves to our flesh. We are oppressed by the expectations of this world and by the burdens of the Law. But God is about to do a new thing; He is about to create a path through the sea of oppression so that we will be free. Jesus Christ is the living water that He promises, water in the wilderness that we are given to drink. Soon, very soon, as the blossoms will spring forth in the joyous proclamation of the resurrection, and we will soon rejoice and sing praise to God with all the hosts of heaven.
“I cried to you, Yahweh. I made supplication to the Lord: ‘What profit is there in my destruction, if I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise you? Shall it declare your truth? Hear, Yahweh, and have mercy on me. Yahweh, be my helper.’ You have turned my mourning into dancing for me. You have removed my sackcloth, and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my heart may sing praise to you, and not be silent. Yahweh my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” Psalm 30:8-12, WEB
My mother worked at a mall when I was young. I often went with her to work during summer vacation. I spent the day roaming around the mall, hanging out in the drug store or at the “Five and Dime.” I usually took some books to read or other things to do (this was long before handheld video games.) Sometimes I helped my mom with work in the store, but I’m sure I got do bored that I drove my mother crazy, just as my kids did to me during school holidays when they were young. I do remember having some fun times during those visits.
I was really lucky on those days when my best friend could come with me. We hung out all day. We visited the record store and had lunch at the counter. We usually planned to go see a movie, which used up several hours of our time. On one occasion, the main feature was preceded by some educational documentary about animals. I can’t remember the type of animal because we did not pay much attention to that film. Instead, we got the giggles.
We had bought the big bucket of popcorn to share during the film and we were silly with it. For some reason I decided it would make a good hat, so I lifted it to the top of my head, still full of popcorn. My fingers were slippery with the butter from the popcorn and the bucket slipped. A good portion of the popcorn spilled all over the floor, making us crack up with hysterical laughter. All through the movies this pile of popcorn on the floor was a source of giggles; every time we looked down, we would start laughing again. Our laughter was an annoyance to some of the other movie patrons. One gentleman even gave us a dirty look at one point, after which we tried to behave ourselves and stay calm. It was hard, though. The pile of popcorn reminded us of my silliness and gave us good reason to laugh.
Laughter is not always a good response. There are several places in the scriptures that suggest that in our sin we should not laugh, but rather mourn. The teacher in Ecclesiastes 7:3 says, “Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of the face the heart is made good.” Laughter is seen in a negative light, so many go about taking life too seriously. Perhaps we should have been more restrained.
However, throughout the scriptures, we hear about the joy of God’s deliverance. When the Israelites made it across the Red Sea, Miriam danced. When the Ark of the Covenant arrived in Jerusalem, David danced. It is very difficult to dance in celebration and joy without laughing! Joyful laughter shows the world the condition of our hearts. Joy comes from God, and when we know He loves us, we feel the joy of His salvation. The sorrow over our sin makes us mourn, but God turns our mourning into dancing with the promise of His salvation. When we know the joy of the Lord, it is impossible not to laugh. When we do, the world sees that God has done a great thing for us.