Welcome to the May 2024 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes


Topics

Sacrifice

Growth

Storytelling

Ascension

World

Show

Decisions

Spirit

Dinner

Unity

Order

Mystical


A WORD FOR TODAY


Scripture on this page taken from the World English Bible which belong to the public domain.





A WORD FOR TODAY, May 2024





May 1, 2024

Lectionary Scriptures for May 5, 2024, Sixth Sunday of Easter: Acts 10:34-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-8; John 15:9-17

“You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatever you will ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” John 15:16, WEB

You really have to be involved in an organization to care about the things that happen. People who are not involved with band events do not understand how or why band people get so caught up in it all. But for those involved, band is a great way to make friends, to learn, to share talents, and to succeed in school and life. Theater geeks (the work ‘geeks’ is used very affectionately) make no sense to those outside the theater. Clubs that revolve around interests and hobbies are very closed to those outside, not because others aren’t welcome, but because they are very narrow in their focus. Everyone can join the law enforcement club, but it isn’t necessarily a club everyone wants to join. Some clubs have certain requirements, but for most the only requirement is an interest in the focus of the group.

We generally do not think of Church as a club, and most modern churches don’t have certain requirements to join, but in the days of the early church, there were those who thought that the Gospel message was for only certain people. They insisted everyone live according to the rules of their faith as they continued to do. They were not comfortable fellowshipping with foreigners in church that they couldn’t eat with in their homes according to their laws. The book of Acts takes us through the growing realization that God’s grace was given not only for certain people, but for all.

In today’s story, Peter preached the Gospel to a group of people who on hearing the grace of God received the Holy Spirit. It was obvious that they had been anointed by God because they began to speak in tongues, and they glorified God with their worship. This didn’t make sense to those who thought that their fellowship would remain closed to outsiders, but Peter tried to show them what he learned in a vision when God reminded him that everything He made was good.

So, Peter said, “God has offered forgiveness and mercy and grace to these Gentiles, who are we to suggest they can’t be part of our group?” So, he called the gathering to join in the celebration of baptism, to welcome all those who had been touched by God in such a powerful and transforming way into the fellowship of believers. Baptism is the means of God’s forgiveness, but in this particular story we see that the Gentiles received that forgiveness from God’s own hand first. Baptism is also a way for the Church to say, “Welcome to our club” and for us to promise to be a part of their new life with Christ. Some who hear and believe the Gospel might be people who don’t seem to fit in our group, but God does not have the same requirements for becoming part of His Church. We are called to care about everyone, to share our faith, and do whatever we can do to make them a part of our fellowship. Since God loves them, there is no reason why we shouldn’t.

It is amazing to watch how animals understand the idea of acceptance of others. I have had cats for most of my life. A few years ago, we welcomed two kittens into our home. Samson and Delilah were born in the same litter and the family did not want to separate them. We already had Tigger, but had recently lost another cat named Felix, so Tigger knew how to live with other cats, but he would now be the elder cat. We quickly learned that having two kittens doesn’t mean two times as much kitten trouble; it multiplies exponentially with every added kitten. These two got into everything. They were small enough to fit into places where they should not fit. They climbed on furniture where they are not welcome. They got their noses into cups of drink, usually managing to spill everything in it.

Tigger was not entirely sure what to think of the two kittens at first. Sometimes it was obvious that he wanted to be their friend. He sat and watched their play, perhaps amazed at their energy. He tried to get them to play his games, but they didn’t quite understand what he wanted them to do. Felix and Tigger used to play a game of chase tag where one of the cats would start the run up the steps and the other would follow. Somewhere upstairs they would change direction and the first cat would chase the other down the steps. Tigger will do the things he used to do to get Felix to chase, but the kittens just look at him with question marks in their eyes.

Unfortunately, sometimes Tigger greeted the kittens with a hiss or growl. They were always in the middle of everything Tigger wanted to do. If we began playing with Tigger’s favorite toy, they jumped right into the game. If we wanted to give Tigger a treat, they followed their noses to the food and tried to steal whatever we had given to him. On those rare occasions when the kittens tried to get close enough to Tigger to have a sniff, Tigger batted at them with his paw.

He was trying to establish his dominance, to show them who was the boss. His worst moments of hissing and growling usually came soon after the kittens have been caught doing something bad, like climbing on the dining room table or knocking the TV plug out of the wall. He acted like the Daddy disciplining his little ones. Unfortunately, it took Tigger awhile to figure out how to love the kittens in a way that made them comfortable in his presence. So, when he wanted to play, they were still too afraid to get close enough. They soon got used to each other and were soon great friends.

In the beginning I worried that Tigger would be a bully; I wanted them to learn how to love the kittens, to share in their playtime and to even be comfortable sleeping near them. He wouldn’t be happy if he lived his life as a bully, always fighting and hissing and growling with the other cats. There was hope; I could see it every time Tigger got playful. They all eventually figured out how to play. It wasn’t easy, but Tigger figured out how to overcome his own fear and faced living with the kittens with a positive attitude. Though animals often display human traits, they don’t have the human ability to reason. It took the kittens continually trying to love him for him to finally become comfortable and happy.

I have noticed that human bullies can be similar to animals. They do not find comfort or peace in their bullying, and often do not know how to form relationships. They are, more often than they would admit, afraid of something. Bullies don’t pick on people larger or stronger; they pick on those smaller and weaker. The best way to deal with a bully is to find a way to build a relationship with them.

We are often bullied by the world because of our Christian faith. Non-believers do not understand our perspective or attitude; they are, perhaps, afraid of what they see in our lives. Faith means change. It means transformation. It means living differently than the world. We are commanded to love our God and our neighbor. Jesus taught that we should love our enemy and do nothing to bring him or her harm. Jesus taught that it is better to suffer persecution for the Gospel than to turn to the ways and methods of the world.

It is easy to respond to bullying with similar actions. Though Tigger was bigger than the kittens, they could gang up on him. They never responded that way; they wanted to love Tigger and Tigger was not really a bully, he was just trying to learn to live in the new situation. He missed Felix and had a different roll in that relationship. We all know that it can be hard to get used to active and outrageous personalities. As Christians, we are to obey God, live by His commandments, and show the world our gifts. We’ll face many people who do not understand our faith and they will respond with anger and bullying. God loves them and when we love as God has commanded us to love, they might just see that life is better when lived in hope and peace.

There was a time when Delilah was sick with an infection and had to take medicine. If you have tried to give medicine to a kitten, you know it is not a fun experience. The medicine was effective, and she felt better quickly, but diligence was necessary even when everything seemed better. It is not enough to take some medicine for a few days until the symptoms seem to disappear. It is important for the patient to continue taking the full course for the disease to completely disappear. I found some tips online and learned the best way to give her the medicine and she learned to accept it. She accepted it because she knew that she would get treats afterward. She also became a model of kindness to Tigger and Samson.

I was in the kitchen one day when Delilah sat at my feet. I thought she was being a mooch, begging for a bite of breakfast, but she did not run when I got her medicine out of the refrigerator. She waited patiently as I readied the dropper. She allowed me to pick her up and calmly accepted the medicine. When it was over, she went to the place where I kept the treats and waited patiently as I put the medicine away. She excitedly received her treats and returned my love as I praised her for being so cooperative.

Now, Tigger and Samson don’t need medicine, but they know the sound of the treat bag and they know that Delilah gets a treat when she’s had her medicine. They both ran quickly to the kitchen and began sniffing the air near where I was with Delilah. Cats fall into habits very quickly, so it is no surprise that they were anxious for treats, too. Delilah welcomed the other kitties into her treat time. Sometimes she even shared some of her treats. One time they were gathered around me, enjoying their treats. Delilah and Tigger were standing very close to one another. When Tigger finished his, he looked at Delilah and she looked at him. Then she pushed one of her treats his way. I’m not so sure she did it on purpose, although it happened twice, and she did not get upset when Tigger ate them. We don’t often see the same attitude from children or even adult humans. We don’t like to share when we have something special, especially if we know that it is a reward for something we’ve had to suffer through. We might even wonder why the others got the treat when they didn’t have to take the medicine.

I don’t know if Delilah willingly sacrificed for the sake of Tigger and Samson. Cats are creatures of habit, and as long as she had enough, I don’t think she minded one way or another. And yet it made me very happy to see her “sharing” with others. It was like she was trying to love him and be his friend. It seemed like she was working to build their relationship.

Christ’s commandment is that we love one another and lay down our lives for our friends. We are commanded to bear fruit, lasting fruit, fruit built on love. His command is that we live as He lived, in selfless, sacrificial love, not only to those who treat us well, but to everyone. Sacrifice means giving up something, perhaps something we love or something we have earned through our own suffering. It means changing our ways.

When we practice sacrificial love, we do not experience a sense of loss or emptiness because we find real joy in the relationship we have with Jesus Christ through our obedience to His commands. The grace of God does not come to us because we are obedient. Instead, we receive God’s grace which fills us with His love until we can do nothing other than be obedient. We thank God for His grace by joyfully abiding in His love, sacrificing for others as Jesus Christ sacrificed for us.

Thanksgiving is an important part of our relationships with others, not only thanks to God, but thanks to those who serve us. As we near the end of the school year, many parents are thinking about ways to thank their children’s teachers. We usually bought a small gift for each classroom teacher, and sometimes even gave gifts to their specialty teachers. It was harder when they reached Junior and Senior High because they had so many teachers. It can be very expensive to buy so many gifts. They were not as attached to so many teachers, which they only saw for an hour or so a day, and they didn’t always like all those teachers. It wasn’t easy to find appropriate and affordable gifts for every teacher, after all, how many “#1 Teacher” mugs can one person own? Some parents pool their resources to purchase something nicer for the teacher; even then it can be difficult to find a gift that really makes the teacher feel appreciated.

We struggle with gift giving, although most teachers are just happy being thanked and recognized for the work they do. Teaching is a thankless job, perhaps even more so for those teachers that are not well liked. It doesn’t get easier at the end of the year when most students are just anxious to get out of school. Some children and their parents do not even realize how much the teachers care for them. A kind word, a simple gift of homemade treats, or a handwritten note from the child is far more meaningful than another chotchke to dust. It is the simple pleasures of life that make us know how much we are loved.

Today’s psalm is a song of praise and thanksgiving for the good things God has done; how God won the victory over Israel’s oppressors and how He saved them from exile. The psalmist sang about God’s faithfulness and His lasting love for His people. The creation gets involved with the heavens and earth joining in the noise of praise. The sea roars, the floods clap their hands, the hills sing.

We can sing God’s praise in so many ways. We can join the psalmist by telling others about the great things God has done. We can sing a new song. We can sing praises with a harp. We can play trumpets. We gather in worship together, hear the Word and study the Bible together. We gather in fellowship and at meals. We celebrate the sacraments. Our worship and praise do not stop at the front door of our churches, however. We praise God when we share a word of hope with someone in distress and when we give a cup of water to the thirsty. We praise God when we pray for the healing of the nations and our neighbors. We praise God when we tell His story and introduce others to the saving grace found through Jesus Christ our Lord. We praise God when we try to build relationships with others, even the bullies who would do us harm.

There are plenty of bullies in our world.

There is a museum in Xi’an, a city in central China. This museum is located underground and is the excavation of an army of terra-cotta warriors created to guard the tomb of China’s first Emperor. These more than eight thousand life-size clay statues were carefully exhumed and restored for modern archeologists to study and people to see.

The ruler was Qin Shi Huangdi. He began his life as a ruler in China when he was just thirteen. He was a warlord who fought against other warlords for twenty-five years, taking control of more and more men until he had an army of over a million. He was a bully, dominating the people, using violence to gain power over his enemies until he was the most powerful man in the land. He then took on the name Qin Shi Huangdi, which means “First Divine Emperor in China.” He was in some ways a good ruler. He unified China, built the great wall, and developed a capital city with excellent infrastructure. He was so confident about his power and position that he claimed that his dynasty would last ten thousand years.

But, Qin Shi Huangdi was afraid of death. He built hundreds of palaces that were connected by underground tunnels. He could sleep in a different palace each night to avoid assassination. He even refused to die a normal physical death, so he sent his wise men to locate the fountain of youth, which they never found.

Though the Emperor accomplished great things, he did it with excessive cruelty, slaughtering people and destroying the treasures of the culture. Finally, the prime minister conspired with others and the emperor was assassinated when he was just forty-one years old. The conspirators sent a forged letter to his only son and convinced him to commit suicide, leaving the legacy that this dynasty was the shortest in China’s history. Qin Shi Huangdi lived in fear, for though he was a very powerful man, he did not know grace, mercy, or love. He knew only his desires to live forever and treated his people as if they were only the means by which he would get what he wanted.

He was the exact opposite of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, which we see revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus came not to gain power, but to bring forgiveness. He came not to build a kingdom through violence, but to build relationships and unify people by His Word. He came to give us the love of God so that we can live in that love and share it with others. He did not fear death but laid His life down for our sake.

The terra-cotta warriors stand as a testament to the first man to unify China who brought good things to the people of that great land. Yet, it is also a testament to how human ways pass quickly. The dynasty of Qin Shi Huangdi lasted less than a lifetime because he did not know the power of love, only the power of the sword. He came to an end as he brought the end to many.

But the kingdom of God is eternal; He reigns here and now and will reign in the future, because His kingdom is built on love and mercy. Our Lord Jesus grants salvation freely to those who believe in His name. Through Him we are heirs to a kingdom that is built to last, to endure even longer than ten thousand years. It is in that kingdom we are called to live.

The passages from John’s Gospel and Epistle use the words “obey” and “command” several times. It is so easy from our human perspective to miss the true message of these lessons. We like to know that we have done something good, that we’ve had an impact on the people of this world by our power and ability. We are quick to list our good deeds before men as proof of our love for God. We even point to these passages and say, “See, this is how God told us to live!”

That’s the way it was for the Jews in Jesus’ day. They thought that if they lived according to the Law, if they were good enough, gave enough, did enough, then they would be children of God. The trouble is no one is able to carry this heavy burden. Those who thought they could be God’s by their own works were blind to their own sin, hiding behind a facade of self-righteousness and justification by excuse. They pointed their fingers at others while denying their own inability to live rightly before God. They saw themselves as greater than the others and had no mercy on those they deemed as sinners. But God turned things around. He sent Jesus to reveal to the world the truth of His love which is found only in His grace.

John tells us in his first epistle how we can know that we are children of God. When we are born of God, we become His child. What happens for those who are born of God? We overcome the world. What does this mean? Last week we heard that the only way to bear fruit is to be connected to Jesus, who is the vine. We are part of Him by faith and as such He bears His fruit through us: salvation, forgiveness of sin, and reconciliation to God achieved by His blood. That fruit is the relationships between people that are created by God’s grace. In Him we are made perfect, justified by His grace, and called to remain in His love.

We are commanded to love, but there are many times when this is very difficult. We struggle with bullies and wonder how we could ever obey. It is only by faith that we can abide in the love of Christ, obeying His command to love others with a sacrificial love while bearing fruit that will last. Faith and community are connected. Christ loved us, chose us, and calls us friends so that we will obey His command to love each other. In love He has made us part of a body, calling us to love that body. We love because He first loved us. As we love one another, we will see the fruit God calls us to bear, the fruit that is the witness to our love for God.

In faith, we love as God first loved us with a sacrificial love, a willingness to give everything we are for the sake of another. Peter did this by visiting the home of Cornelius, a Gentile which was against the Law of the Jews. He spoke to them about Jesus, which must have seemed like a waste of time to the circumcised believers because they did not believe the Gospel was for those who had not been obedient to God’s Law?

Yet, God gave them those Gentiles same gift of faith in Jesus Christ. He gave them salvation and the Holy Spirit. He made them part of the vine, part of the Kingdom, part of the body of Christ. They were embraced by His love and became part of the circle of friends of Jesus. By His power they loved others into the Kingdom, until today. God also embraces those who do not fit our understanding and expectations of faith, but He calls us to be like Peter, to take the risk to be obedient to His command and share the Gospel with the very people we do not believe deserve it. In doing so, we will join with Peter in the joy of knowing that God’s kingdom has grown because we were willing to make the sacrifice for someone else’s sake.

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May 2, 2024

“He said, ‘God’s Kingdom is as if a man should cast seed on the earth, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring up and grow, though he doesn’t know how. For the earth bears fruit by itself: first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the fruit is ripe, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.’” Mark 4:26-29, WEB

It is springtime and Mother’s Day soon, so many schools for young children have done lessons about plant growth. Teachers take the opportunity to teach several lessons at once. They plant a flower seed in a small pot, which grows into a flower just in time to be a gift for mothers. The plan includes lessons on science, generosity, patience, and the calendar. The children learn how to take care of the plant, when to water and how much. Some schools do art projects to wrap the pot and make a card. The children love to look at their pots each day to check for any growth. It is exciting when they see the plant poking out of the dirt. They talk about each stage, keeping track of the changes to their plant each day. By the time it is ready to go home with the children, the plants usually are large enough to have their first buds.

It is an amazing process to the children. They know what they put into the ground, but within days that tiny seed is a green stem with leaves. With nothing but a container, some dirt and that seed, the children grow a flower. They don’t know how it happens; it just does. They learn what happens during the lessons. They learn the stages of growth, see diagrams of what is happening in the dirt. They learn how the sun and water affect the seed. Many teachers will even do an experiment with a bean seed. They put it in a clear plastic bag with a damp cotton ball. The seed sprouts and grows inside the bag, with the cotton acting as soil, and the children can see what is actually happening. It is an amazing process.

I don’t know if anyone really understood the science of growth in Jesus’ day. That’s not the point of His parable. Farmers had a rudimentary understanding of what was happening under the ground when they planted the seed, but Jesus is making a very important point: even if we know the stages of flower growth, we don’t make it happen. We plant the seed, give it water, and make sure that it gets some sunshine, but we can’t cause a seed to grow. Unfortunately, in every classroom some seeds fail. Some child is usually disappointed when they never see the tiny sprout poking out of the dirt. The child did nothing wrong; the seed simply did not grow.

We understand what happens under the ground, but we still have no control over whether or not the seed will grow. The same is true of the seeds of faith that we plant. We are sometimes disappointed when faith doesn’t grow in someone we love. We can’t make people believe. We can’t force growth in a relationship between a person and Jesus. We aren’t in control of what will happen. We can only plant the seeds and pray that God will make it grow. The best we can do is take care of the seed: feed it with God’s word and nourish it with Christian love. It might seem like we’ve failed when the person does not believe, but we can trust that God is able to make life spring out in His time and way.

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May 3, 2024

“God, don’t be far from me. My God, hurry to help me. Let my accusers be disappointed and consumed. Let them be covered with disgrace and scorn who want to harm me. But I will always hope, and will add to all of your praise. My mouth will tell about your righteousness, and of your salvation all day, though I don’t know its full measure. I will come with the mighty acts of the Lord Yahweh. I will make mention of your righteousness, even of yours alone. God, you have taught me from my youth. Until now, I have declared your wondrous works. Yes, even when I am old and gray-haired, God, don’t forsake me, until I have declared your strength to the next generation, your might to everyone who is to come. Psalm 71:13-18, WEB

A storyteller named Susan Klein visited the children’s school when we lived in England. She told stories from all over the world. She has the ability to make the stories come to life by using voices and body language coupled with the right words. She sparked the children’s imaginations to take them to places they’ve never been. One story she told was about the Milky Way, taken from a desert tribe in Africa. It told of an inexperienced hunter who went to find a skin for his girl. He got lost and was nearly eaten by a hyena. During the night his girl, in a desperate attempt to bring him home, flung hot embers in the sky. Those glowing bits flew to where the hunter stood, surprising the hyena and giving him a path to follow home.

Human beings have told stories since the beginning of time. We have a need to understand the things around us, and many things in God’s creation are unexplainable. We tell stories to ease our fears. Many stories bring the monsters from our imaginations to life. Those stories end in the transformation or death of those monsters, giving us a feeling of relief and safety, even from the real monsters that make us afraid.

Storytelling is nothing new, we don’t even have to be professionals. People have been telling stories since the creation of the world. Gather with family and friends over a holiday or a special occasion and what happens? We tell stories. We laugh at our foibles, rejoice over our successes, and remember the people who have impacted our lives. One story inevitably leads to another as we discover shared experiences and crossed paths. We all have our favorite stories, stories we've developed and love to tell. My kids sigh when I start telling one of my favorites because they've heard it over and over again. Sometimes the stories become so familiar to others that they jump in to tell our story.

Modern technology and social media have made it easier for people to tell their stories. There are programs and products that help us put our stories for everyone to read. Anyone can self-publish a book, in print or digitally, and send it immediately around the world. Who hasn’t posted about their vacation or something that happened during their day on Facebook or Twitter? While many of these stories are not read by millions of people, they can reach the people who matter: our children or grandchildren, friends and neighbors. By sharing our stories, we live on in their memories; written stories last even longer.

“I love to tell the story” is one of my favorite hymns. The chorus says, “I love to tell the story, I’ll sing this theme in glory, and tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.” It is easy to get caught up in storytelling at family gatherings or on the internet, but we are more willing to tell the stories about our lives than we are to tell the most important story of them all. Many people are afraid because they do not feel they have the knowledge to convince anyone to believe. We don’t think our story is interesting enough to make a difference. We are afraid that we will say something wrong, or that we might even cause someone to reject Jesus or persecute us. We are too insecure to answer the big questions, so we never bother to tell the story that has the power to make any questions insignificant. It is easier to let the professionals tell the stories of Jesus.

We don’t have to be great storytellers, although prayer and Bible study can make us ready to witness for the God who has redeemed and saved us. Just like our stories that come tumbling out of our mouths because we want to share, the story of Christ is as much a part of our lives that it can, and will, come naturally as we open ourselves to the opportunities to share. We aren’t necessarily called to be teachers or preachers, but we are called to be storytellers. We are called to praise God and to share what we know about Him. The psalmist had hope God’s salvation and could not help but sing His praise. How much more, then, should we be singing and sharing the story of Jesus Christ, who saved us from sin and death for eternal life in His Kingdom?

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May 6, 2024

No Word Posted

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May 7, 2024

No Word Posted

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May 8, 2024

No Word Posted

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May 9, 2024

“The first book I wrote, Theophilus, concerned all that Jesus began both to do and to teach, until the day in which he was received up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To these he also showed himself alive after he suffered, by many proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking about God’s Kingdom. Being assembled together with them, he commanded them, ‘Don’t depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which you heard from me. For John indeed baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ Therefore when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It isn’t for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set within his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.’ When he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. While they were looking steadfastly into the sky as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white clothing, who also said, ‘You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky.’” Acts 1:11, WEB

Today is the fortieth day after Easter and is thus the Day of Ascension. Throughout His ministry Jesus revealed to the disciples the will and purpose of God, that He came to die, and that they would be witnesses of His grace for the world. Jesus stayed with the disciples for forty days after His resurrection and then He was raised into heaven to be seated at the right hand of God. This was necessary for the sake of the disciples and the church: if Jesus had stayed, the Holy Spirit could not come, and the disciples would never have the gifts necessary to be witnesses to the work of Christ. Jesus did not just disappear. Luke tells us that in those forty days He opened their minds so that they would understand the scriptures.

Luke gives us two different versions of what happened when Jesus ascended into heaven. In the Gospel, Luke tells us that they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. In Acts, Luke tells us that when Jesus rose into heaven, they stood there staring into the sky. While they were looking up, “two men stood by them in white clothing, who also said, ‘You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky.’” In one story, the disciples worshipped Jesus and went joyfully to wait for His promise. In the second story, they stood gaping at what they had seen, unmoving perhaps because they are unsure of what they should do next. Some might call this a contradiction, but it is the reality of our faith in Christ. We joyfully worship and wait, but we also wonder and worry. We know Christ and His promises, but we aren’t sure of what it means.

You would think by this time the disciples would fully understand what Jesus taught and what God intended for them. Yet, as Jesus was about to leave they still asked, “Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus reminded them that it is not for them to know the times or dates. This is why the disciples always looked at the mission of the church as urgent. The coming of Christ was, to them, an imminent event. There was no time to wait.

Jesus told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received the power of the Holy Spirit. In the scriptures it seems as though Jesus had taught them everything they would need to know, but they needed the Holy Spirit to be able to accomplish the work. The Spirit would give them the gifts, the authority, and the power to continue Jesus’ work in the world. So, they stayed in Jerusalem and waited. That’s what it is like in the Kingdom of God; Christian faith means urgently waiting. It is worth waiting for heaven, but that’s the hard part. How do we live in this paradox between urgency and patience? How do we continue to watch for the coming of Christ while also living in His presence in this world?

We long for the day for God’s promises to be ultimately fulfilled; we are anxious for the day when all the faithful will join in the heavenly worship for eternity. There is no time to spare, but we’ve waited for two thousand years. We are reminded by the lives of the disciples that we are not to be passive as we wait. God has given us gifts to share His love, grace, and forgiveness with the world so that all will believe. Though we’ve waited for two thousand years, our mission is as immediate as it was in the days of those first disciples. Now is the time. Today is the day. Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

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May 10, 2024

I did not write Midweek Oasis on Wednesday, but today’s reading comes from this week’s lectionary. Scriptures for May 12, 2024, Seventh Sunday of Easter: Acts 1:12-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-15; John 17:11b-19

“Holy Father, keep them through your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name. I have kept those whom you have given me. None of them is lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to you, and I say these things in the world, that they may have my joy made full in themselves. I have given them your word. The world hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that you would take them from the world, but that you would keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth." John 17:11b-19, WEB

I have had some really wonderful experiences at hotels, although I’m sure we all have memories of some not so pleasant stays. I’ve been in hotels undergoing renovations that had such strong smells of paint or grout that I got physically ill. I’ve been in noisy hotels, and hotels with inconsiderate staff. I’ve been in hotels that were filthy and inconvenient for food or activities.

The problems are not always the fault of the hotel. I once stayed in a very nice hotel. The room was great, the hotel staff took care of my needs and there was a wonderful breakfast available. However, a group of Christian women were attending a conference in the hotel. In general, the women were not a problem. I saw many wandering around the hotel and town, rushing off to meetings and sitting together in the public areas, chatting and laughing. It was probably a great organization that did good work for Jesus. Unfortunately, I was given a room next to some of these women who were not good neighbors.

I was exhausted from travel and sightseeing when I settled into bed early because I had a busy schedule the next day. The ladies next door returned to their room very late and didn’t consider other guests. Our rooms were connected by a locked door, so it was not soundproof. They began a lengthy conversation about one of their fellow members, an officer in their organization that did something they did not like. The discussion was so loud that it was like they were right in my room. I heard every juicy detail of our faults and haughty attitudes. I have always had issues with sleep when I travel, and their inconsiderate conversation kept me from rest.

At about 1:30, I got up and pounded on the door between our rooms. They acknowledged the knock, although not apologetically, and quieted down briefly. By 1:45 they were loudly complaining again about the woman. I called the front desk and asked them to take care of it and they promised to send someone to the room. It got quiet again briefly after I heard their door open and close. I was ready to dial the front desk for a second time when they got loud within minutes, but I was finally able to fall asleep when they settled down around 2:00 a.m. I was there for several days, and I always knew when they were in the room because they were constantly loud and inconsiderate.

It is very odd to be an outsider but also privy to such an intimate conversation. I felt bad for the woman about whom they complained, and I wondered if she was really as terrible as they thought. I found myself looking at the faces of the women from the conference when I was in the public areas of the hotel, wondering which might be the woman or her detractors. I wanted to find the woman and tell her about her “friends.” I would not have done so, I was a stranger in their world; though I overheard their conversation, I was not part of their world.

We live in the world but as Christians we are from another world. We are expected to live differently, although we will often experience the disadvantages of being in close contact with people who do not live in the grace of Jesus Christ. Some Christians over time have chosen to live in closed communities, avoiding the world as much as possible, but God doesn’t call us to be so separate, He calls us to be unified with Him, with each other, and ministering to those whom He sends us to share the Gospel message.

John 17 is called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. It can be divided into three distinct prayers: Jesus prayed for Himself, for His disciples, and for all those who came out of their ministry. Jesus did not pray for the cross to be removed, but rather that He be glorified. The prayer is a remembrance of the things that Jesus did, sharing the life and light of God with the disciples. It is, in essence, a eulogy, proclaiming the message and purpose of His life for us to hear. Then Jesus described how the disciples would reflect the glory of Christ. As we read this passage, we see first the life of Jesus and then the life of those touched by His ministry and message.

Can you imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to pray this prayer? When Jesus said those words, He wasn’t just talking about the disciples; the prayer is for every generation. The prayer is for you and for me. We are called to relate the good news of what Jesus has done and proclaim that He has been glorified with God the Father to the people of our own days. Those good words become part of our lives and we become like those first disciples even though we have not lived with Jesus in the flesh. We are among those to whom Christ has been given and He prays also for us today as we shine His light in this world even though we are no longer part of the world.

People are people, and we don’t always get along with everyone. I have spent time thinking, and complaining, about someone who has done something I didn’t like. The woman might have done something wrong. The ladies might have done something wrong. The truth is that there is probably fault on every side of that broken relationship. After all, we are all sinners in need of a Savior. We want to lay blame on the other, forgetting that we are also imperfect and ignoring the role we might play in the brokenness.

We are called to be His witnesses, and that happens not only when we share the Gospel message but also in the way we live in this world. I was a Christian listening to their complaints, willing to listen with ears of grace, forgiving even their lack of consideration. However, they had no idea I was a Christian. I could have been someone who needed to hear the Gospel, to see (or hear) Christ in their lives. The conversation I overheard would have made it harder for a non-Christian to accept the Christian way. We need to dwell in Jesus’ prayer, even when we are seemingly in the privacy of our own little world because someone might just overhear.

We live in the world, and we are affected by the world. God takes care of us, but there is no guarantee that we will never be sick or hurt or in need. God promises to be with us through the hard times. In faith we can experience the suffering with grace as our foundation and hope as our strength, being a witness of the Gospel so others might see (or hear) and believe. We are called to live as Christ lived, in the world but not of the world, acting in love and mercy always, sanctified by the Holy Spirit to do the work He began until He comes again.

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May 13, 2024

“When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. In praying, don’t use vain repetitions as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking. Therefore don’t be like them, for your Father knows what things you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:5-8, WEB

We do not realize how much happens behind the scenes when something like a television show or movie is being produced. We would be amazed if we could stand behind the curtain at a play or behind the cameras to see all that goes into the show. We see only what the producers, directors, and performers want us to see. Everything else is hidden from view. Anyone who has been involved with such a production will tell you that sometimes what goes on behind the scenes is not very pretty. There are set disasters, ripped costumes, forgotten lines, and missing props. Everyone is trained to quickly cover up those issues so that the viewer will enjoy a good show.

Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” It is a running joke for many women that they shouldn’t been seen first thing in the morning before they put on their make-up because the sight is frightening. There are those who put on a façade for work, acting much differently in front of the boss than they do with their friends or family. There are others who have a personality specifically designed for church, but when they walk out the doors of the sanctuary, they live a much different life. For all too many Sunday morning Christians, a trip to worship is a chance to network and show their face. It isn’t about heart but what can they get out of it for themselves.

There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes activity that goes on in our lives, such as our hidden sins, our false fronts and our preparation to meet the demands of life. We cover up the things we do not want the world to see with a little make-up, the right words, or a big show. I love to see a live theatre performance or enjoy a funny television show and I am glad we don’t see behind the curtains or cameras all the time. It would be a distraction and take away from the show. Yet, it is also good when we can see that things do not always run perfectly, to see how they make it happen and know that sometimes things go wrong. The show is make believe, the back stage stuff is truth.

When it comes to our Christian living, however, we have to remember that even when we cover up our true selves and make a show of holiness like the hypocrites, God is always watching, and He sees behind our closed doors. It is not a bad thing to go to church, to enjoy the fellowship of others and worship God in a corporate setting. As a matter of fact, it is vital to our Christian lives to be in the presence of other believers regularly and share in prayer, the sacraments and God’s Word. It is also good for us to establish relationships, even professional, with other Christians during our time together. Yet, it can’t be just a show. God sees our hearts and knows our motives. So, when we pray, may we always do it to the glory of God, in humble submission to Him, not caring whether or whether we have made a good impression on those who might see. Let’s always keep our worship about our hearts, not about what we can get out of it. For God blesses the humble servant who desires only His glory in their lives.

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May 14, 2024

“In these days, Peter stood up in the middle of the disciples (and the number of names was about one hundred twenty), and said, ‘Brothers, it was necessary that this Scripture should be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who was guide to those who took Jesus. For he was counted with us, and received his portion in this ministry. Now this man obtained a field with the reward for his wickedness, and falling headlong, his body burst open, and all his intestines gushed out. It became known to everyone who lived in Jerusalem that in their language that field was called “Akeldama,” that is, “The field of blood.” For it is written in the book of Psalms, “Let his habitation be made desolate. Let no one dwell in it;” and, “Let another take his office.” Of the men therefore who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, to the day that he was received up from us, of these one must become a witness with us of his resurrection.’ They put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. They prayed and said, ‘You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two you have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away, that he might go to his own place.’ They drew lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles.” Acts 1:15-26, WEB

Imagine what it must have been like for the first Christians. Not only were they trying to understand everything that had happened, but they were also trying to establish something very new.

The first followers of Jesus probably numbered a few hundred. We focus our attention on the Twelve during the ministry of Jesus, but it is likely that there were far more that regularly attended Him. Luke tells us of a time when Jesus sent seventy out to share the kingdom of God with the nations. The crowd in the Upper Room for the Last Supper as well as in the days following Jesus’ crucifixion was likely even larger than that, including women and children. Matthias replaced Judas and was chosen out of a group of seventy had been with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry.

The group of Twelve was important. While there were many others who had been with Jesus from the beginning, Jesus had given the Twelve an important role as leaders among the disciples. They spent more time with Jesus, had been taught more thoroughly. While I don’t think Jesus ever meant for there to be a hierarchy of disciples, the Twelve certainly stood separate from the rest. Among those disciples were the inner circle, Peter, James, and John, who had been witness to some of the more private moments of Jesus’ time on earth.

We know very little about Matthias, and the information we have is unreliable. The early church fathers quoted Matthias, but there is some confusion about whether or not the quotes really belong to him or to the apostle Matthew. Deuterocanonical writings have been attributed to Matthias, but some experts believe that they were written much later by others espousing a different idea of Christianity. The stories of his life are numerous and conflicting. He may have preached, been imprisoned, and crucified in Ethiopia. But there are also stories of his martyrdom in Rome. The scriptures do not mention him beyond today’s passage.

The lack of information has made it difficult to give him a date on the calendar of the saints. He is sometimes commemorated on February 24th, which may have been thought to be the date of his death. Others have moved his festival to May 14th, to place it nearer the time when he would have become an Apostle. May 14th often falls between Ascension and Pentecost, which is when he was chosen to serve.

This is not a favorite Bible passage for me for many reasons. Luke’s description of Judas’ demise is unpleasant, but as a doctor he gave a medical point of view. It is confusing because other reports tell us Judas hung himself. It is not contradictory, though. The description of Judas falling and exploding might describe what happened after his body had decomposed on the tree.

Another thing that bothers me is the use of scriptures to justify the selection of another apostle. It seems like Peter is proof-texting by quoting Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8. We know that proof-texting is a dangerous practice because it is so easy to take a verse out of the middle of a passage and make it mean whatever we want it to mean. And Psalm 69:25 could refer to a “they” rather than a “he.” I am also bothered by the fact that they cast lots to decide which of the two would become the replacement for Judas. The scriptures discourage relying on luck and divination. Some theologians have suggested that Matthias should not have been given a place among the twelve because Paul was meant to have that place. The apostles did not wait to make a major decision pertaining to the Church until Pentecost when they had the Holy Spirit to guide them on God’s path.

Yet, despite these questions, we know that God was in control. The apostles did not make the decision lightly. They prayed earnestly over what to do. They chose men who had been in their company from the beginning. Those men knew Jesus. They’d seen His work. They’d heard His preaching. Matthias is remembered among the saints. Paul was never meant to be part of the Twelve because God chose him for a much different purpose. He was sent to the Gentiles. Matthias is an integral part of the beginning of the Church, or his story would not have been written in the scriptures. Regardless of the questions, Matthias was with Jesus and the disciples, helping to establish the Church.

Matthias’ story causes us to consider our own decision making. Are we really listening to God, or are we doing our own thing? Are we praying over the questions of faith, or are we rushing into action for the sake of change? And while we are considering these questions, we are reminded that even when we do fail, God is with those who walk in faith, making good things come out of our bad decisions. Matthias had a purpose according to God’s good will. We may not completely understand because we have so little information, but when we make decisions, good or bad, God will ultimately use our lives as He intends, to build and grow the church. If we make the wrong ones, He’ll limit the impact and turn it around to His glory.

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May 15, 2024

Lectionary Scriptures for May 19, 2024, The Day of Pentecost: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 139:1-12 (13-16); Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

“‘I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live. Then I will place you in your own land; and you will know that I, Yahweh, have spoken it and performed it,’ says Yahweh.” Ezekiel 37:14, WEB

The festival of Pentecost for the Jews had several purposes. First of all it was the Feast of Weeks, a celebration of the first fruits. The people went to the temple to offer the first grain from their fields. The timing of the festival mattered because it was also connected to the Law given at Sinai. They believed that it took Moses and the Hebrews fifty days to get to Mount Sinai from Egypt, so the festival occurred fifty days following the Passover. Pentecost was an agricultural festival, but it was also a festival about God’s Word. The Hebrew legend of the giving of the Law was probably repeated by storytellers at the Pentecost celebration as the Hebrew people remembered that they were the only ones who honor God with their righteous obedience to His Law. Jews from all over the world were in Jerusalem to worship at the temple, to thank God for the abundance of His creation, and to give Him a portion of the first fruits of their harvest.

Pentecost for modern Christians is not an agricultural celebration or a remembrance of the giving of the Divine Law at Sinai, but it is about first fruits and words. It is about God giving His Holy Spirit to His chosen people and laying His Word upon their hearts. It is about renewing a people who were dying in their own sin, giving them new life, and calling them to take that life into the world so that others might see God glorified and believe. Sharing the Gospel is not easy, especially when it seems no one is willing to listen.

I come from a tradition that isn’t known for vocal responses to the sermons. We listen, we learn, we are transformed by the words, but we do not respond. In one sense that is not a bad thing. It becomes difficult to hear what the pastor is saying when everyone around is yelling “Amen” and “Alleluia. However, it is impossible for the pastor to know if they’ve had an impact. The people often seem asleep, or dead, by the end of the sermon. I once heard a pastor make a significant point in a sermon and said, “Can I get an Amen!” The congregation was not comfortable and looked at one another with confusion, but someone finally quietly muttered, “Amen.” A few others joined but the response was pretty pathetic. The preacher was unwilling to let it pass, so said again, “Can I get an Amen!” This time we were not caught unaware, and we responded with a resounding “AMEN!” The pastor thanked the congregation, understanding that it was really hard for us to do it. It was a humorous moment that had us laughing well into the Hymn of the Day.

I know how hard it is to speak in public, even in smaller groups. You can be confident of your words, but there are times you never quite know if anyone is listening or whether there will be an impact. I worked as a mobile disc jockey and worked one particularly bad wedding. It was an impossible party because the bride and the bride’s mother had different opinions about music. They wanted me to cater to the musical taste of their generation. “It is my party,” said the bride. “I’m paying for this party,” said the mother. I would get a complaint from the bride every time I played an older song and from the mother when I played something more current. I moved back and forth, trying to make them both happy, but I was constantly attacked for my choices. The guests became frustrated and were unwilling to get up and dance. I wasn’t able to do my job because my clients tried to control my work.

An impossible party was not always the client’s fault, however. There were times when no one was interested in what I was doing. I became frustrated, and desperate, because I couldn’t get anyone involved despite playing good dance music, leading party games, and begging. None of my training or talent made a difference. At one party the people requested songs but never got up to dance. When I said I’d be glad to play the song, but would they please get up and dance. The guest answered, “Oh, we just like to listen to music. You are doing a terrific job, but we just aren’t dancers. We are enjoying the time spent visiting with people we rarely get to see.”

I learned that I couldn’t always tell my success by the number of people on the dance floor. A preacher can’t always judge the success of a sermon by the responses of the congregation. The real test is whether or not the music or the sermon makes a difference in the life of the person listening. If the crowd is happy and having a good time, then the disc jockey is doing a good job. If the congregation is glorifying God with their lives, then the preacher is speaking God’s Word in a transforming and life-giving manner.

I’ve heard it said that there are dead churches, places that seem to have no life. I suppose that might seem to be true in one of those churches that don’t shout responses to the pastor’s preaching. That impression is not necessarily true, but sadly there are many Christians who look like the walking dead. They don’t have joy, and even in worship do not seem happy to be there. Do they believe the Gospel? Do they realize that the forgiveness won by Jesus is worth celebrating? Yet, if God can bring life to the valley of dry bones, then He can bring life to the deadest of Christians and congregations. We are called to speak the Gospel into the lives of those we meet, whether we are a preacher or teacher or a neighbor, and we can be like Ezekiel, speaking God’s word of promise into their lives. We might even see the bones rise up and dance.

Busy businessmen often have their hands in many different interests. They might have a focus, but they also have other ways to use their finances and talents. They might be a real estate mogul, but also have interests in philanthropic, financial, educational, and other business opportunities like magazines, restaurants, clothing, sports, and utilities. These businessmen have a stake in everything, but it is impossible for them to be directly involved in every aspect of their business. They hire others that act in their stead on a day-to-day basis, advocates that support and promote the businessman’s interests.

When I hear the word advocate, I think that it refers to someone who speaks for the underdog. There are those who have no voice in this world, or have voices that cannot be heard, who need someone to speak for them: the young, the unborn, the persecuted, the dying. It is good to stand for justice and to help people who cannot help themselves. Sometimes that means giving them what they need, but sometimes it does mean being a voice that can be heard for their sake. I never thought about it in terms of advocating for someone strong and powerful.

However, in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus described the Holy Spirit as an advocate bearing witness for Him. Why does Jesus need an advocate? Who is more powerful than Jesus? Who is more able to defeat the wicked and stand against injustice? Who is able to restore and heal and transform the world? There are none more able than Jesus. Yet, He said that He would send an advocate to be His witness. Even more amazing is that He said that we would also bear witness, be advocates, for Him! What can we possibly do? We can be like a businessman’s associates. We can stand up for Jesus, to speak on His behalf. We can tell the world what He has, can, and will do. Jesus can’t be everywhere at once. He can’t take care of every minute detail of life of every person in the world. He has, however, sent an advocate, the Holy Spirit, who teaches us how to be advocates for Jesus. With His help, we can stand up not only for Jesus, but as Jesus in this world. We are His voice. We are His hands. We are His witnesses.

Our task as an advocate is two-fold. We speak about Jesus, witnessing to the world about the grace and mercy of God. We also act in Jesus’ stead, sharing our resources, time, and talents with others. This means being good stewards of what we have been given. Everything we have is Gods, and He has called us act with Him in the business of the Kingdom. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are the voice and hands of God, sent into the world to glorify Jesus by giving the world God’s grace that brings life to the dead.

Jesus said the advocate would come to bring conviction and condemnation. Those who experience the power of God are convicted of their sin and transformed into a new creation. Life is given to those dead bones. Those who reject the Gospel are condemned, not as a punishment for rejecting God but because they already stand condemned by their own sin.

We are like Ezekiel, speaking words of life to the dead. The Old Testament lesson is about God’s promise of restoration. In this strange but powerful story, God told the prophet to speak to the dry bones, to speak life into the bones, to speak God’s Spirit into the bones. The people thought they had nothing left. Even the Temple where the God of their fathers dwelled for generations was in shambles. They were looking for hope in Babylon, turning to the ways of the other gods. God sent Ezekiel to prophesy to the people, to give them hope. They would be restored to Jerusalem; the Temple would be rebuilt, and they would live once again as His people. There would be life in the nation of Israel.

This lesson is a miraculous witness of the work God can do. He gave the prophet Ezekiel the words to speak so that the dead were raised to new life. This is what God does every day, perhaps not literally, but definitely in spirit. He brings to life those who are dead in their sin through the power of His Word. He puts His Spirit into their hearts so that they will have faith and hope in God’s promises. This would come to fruition because of Jesus, but He had to leave so that he could send the Advocate.

I can’t imagine what it was like to be one of the disciples. They lived with Jesus for three years, saw Him die and rise again. They lived with Him for forty days as He reminded them of everything He had taught them. No matter how many times He warned them that He had to leave, I am sure they hoped that He would stay with them forever. Yet, the day came when He ascended to heaven. The disciples were told to wait.

The disciples were left alone. Did they lose hope? After all, Jesus was gone and the promise had not yet come! His words were becoming distant, His voice harder to remember. They saw the feast of Pentecost celebrations that filled the city around them. Did they wonder if they could ever enjoy the feasts again? They may have even thought about abandoning the cause, joining in the feast around them, returning to their old ways.

Just as they were wondering these things, God fulfilled His promise.

God said, “I have spoken, and I will act.” This is what Pentecost is all about; it is a realization of the promise given in the story from Ezekiel. When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, they took the Hebrews into exile. God’s people were far from home for a long time, living amongst people who seemed to have much more powerful gods. They felt abandoned. After all, if God were almighty, would He have allowed strangers to devastate His people? They did not see the destruction and exile as a way by which God was turning them back to Him. They lost hope and they assimilated into the culture around them. In essence they died, and they were left like dry bones in the desert. For the children that were born in exile, Jerusalem was not even a distant memory. They only knew the world in which they lived. During the exile, God’s people forgot who they were. But God would not let them go. God always has a plan, even if we don’t understand it as we wait.

The ten days between the Ascension and Pentecost were like a time of exile. The disciples did not yet have what they needed to continue the work Jesus began, but they could no longer return to world they knew before Him. They had to be patient. They had to believe the promise that Jesus made when He was praying the night before His crucifixion. Their patience was rewarded when God sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, calling them to new life and sending them into the world to speak to the dry bones, convicting those dead to sin so that they would be saved and given new life. Not everyone would listen or believe.

There is One who knows each person better than anyone, and that is God. He knows our hearts, our thoughts. He knows our wickedness. He knows our hidden sins better than we know them. We would rather not see ourselves as we are because if we did, then we would know that we are not worthy of His grace. We prefer to think that we are good, that our good deeds are enough to get us to heaven. This is why many people refuse to believe that they need Jesus. They think their blessings come from their own hands. They don’t accept the reality that God wants them to see. If they really knew how unworthy they were for God’s grace, they’d see how gracious God really is. God blesses those who believe despite our failure to be what He would have us be.

Psalm 139 is a calm reflection on God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. The psalmist finds comfort and is full of wonder. The psalmist may be ambivalent, but he is certain God has been with him from before he was born. God is intimately involved with his people. The lectionary does not include the rest of the psalm, but there is power in the words. Our text is a positive and inspiring message, but then the psalmist turns to words that seem hateful. “Kill the wicked,” he says. “I hate those who hate you.” We live in a broken world filled with sin, and it is easy for us to turn to imprecatory words in response to the rejection we experience when we try to share the Gospel.

But we are reminded that while we believe, we still live in this world and need God’s grace as much as we did the day we were saved. The psalmist says, “Search me, God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:23-24, WEB) If only we would pray those words daily, asking God to show us our own wickedness and to transform us so that we will be more like He has created and redeemed us to be. See, we often see in others the very wickedness that we do not see in ourselves. We point fingers without realizing the fingers that are pointing back at us. We see what we want to see, but ignore the real image that Jesus came to reveal. When we admit our own wickedness, we realize we need Him even more than the neighbors we thought we wanted God to destroy. Then we will pray that God’s grace will renew us all in a way that truly glorifies Him.

Martin Luther said that Psalm 139 is a psalm of thanksgiving that God has provided for His people, and He reigns over all. In all our works, words, and thoughts, whether we stand, walk, sleep, wake, even in the womb, God has always been with us. He has made us advocates so that we will share the truth with our neighbors that they might be convicted of their sin and not stand condemned by their unbelief.

Conviction and condemnation are so powerfully manifest in our lessons for this week. At Pentecost the disciples became the first to receive the gift of God’s Spirit. They were not the last, because God’s promise was forever. He has continued to send forth His Spirit to those who hear the Word and believe, convicted by the Word, and transformed to become the people they are meant to be. The scoffers who saw the miracle of Pentecost but rejected that it was from God stood condemned, as do those today who refuse to believe when we share the Gospel.

The disciples received the Holy Spirit on that first Pentecost, and they were the first fruits of Christ’s message and work. Jesus told them that He did not tell them everything because He was with them, but He promised that when the time was right, the Advocate would tell them everything. They could not have the whole message of Jesus when He was in their presence. Some of the things they learned from the Spirit were too hard for them to receive on their own. However, Jesus’ ascension to heaven made it possible for the Spirit to come and dwell in their hearts. If Jesus stayed, the Advocate could not come. The faith could not spread beyond the small group of people who could follow Jesus Christ in flesh. With the Spirit, the message could, and would, be taken to the four corners of the world.

Paul told the Christians in Rome that they had the first fruits of the Spirit. He wrote also to us. Even two thousand years later, we are still receiving the fruit because God isn’t done yet. We have received just a glimmer of the promise, a down payment so to speak. There is so much more waiting for us, in God’s time and in God’s way. Until that day, we haven’t been given this gift to sit around waiting. Pentecost is just the beginning. It was the first day of God’s Kingdom in action, a call to all those who believe to continue the work of Jesus. We stand between the “already” and the “not yet.” We know by experience, however, that there are still scoffers.

They might not wonder whether we have been drinking at 9:00 a.m., but they wonder about the fairy tales we tell. They stand condemned because they have rejected the Word of God, but they do not have to remain condemned. Conviction is only a heartbeat away for all people, for God desires all to be saved. It is not our task to condemn those who refuse to believe, but we are called to share God’s grace and forgiveness with them. There is always hope. We join in the groaning of creation as we wait patiently for God’s plan to be fulfilled. And as we wait, we act as advocates, watching as God’s Spirit brings new life to the old and dusty bones of those who are lost and dead in their sin.

This Sunday we recall that first Pentecost and celebrate the birth of the Church, which is the body of Christ manifest in this world. Ever since that day in Jerusalem, Jesus has continued to give the Holy Spirit to those who believe, so that we too might speak His Word so that others might be saved. In the beginning, there was some confusion. Some even thought they were drunk. Things are not much different, for there are many who consider Christians nothing more than silly storytellers. And yet, every day people hear the message and miraculously some believe. The miracle is not in our ability or in our words, but in the Holy Spirit who gives faith to those who hear with a humble heart.

The Church would not exist without Pentecost. Though Christmas and Easter are vital to the story of Jesus, Pentecost might just be the most important holy day because this is when God truly made us one with Him, filling us with Himself and giving us everything we need to continue His work in the world. The gifts we have come to us from God through the power of that same Holy Spirit that gave the disciples the words to speak on that first Pentecost. He continues to give us the power, boldness, courage, strength, talents and words to speak the Gospel to those who are nothing but dry bones. God uses us to rattle those bones so that the dead will be raised into new life.

As God’s advocates we are given everything we need to share God’s grace. We are given the words and language we need to be His voice. We are given the resources we need to be His hands. does not expect us to do it alone. He has given us all of His creation to continue the work of reconciliation that Jesus began. And all of creation longs for the day when God’s promises will be fulfilled because when we failed, we took the whole world down with us.

The story from Ezekiel is the promise of a new beginning to the exiled people of God. He promised to fill His people with His Spirit. Jesus promised a new beginning to the disciples, a new life of speaking God’s word into those who are lost and dead in their sin. Those who hear and believe are given a new beginning, a new life in Christ Jesus. These promises were fulfilled on Pentecost, when Jesus sent His Spirit to fill us with everything we need to bring life to the dead.

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May 16, 2024

“They said therefore to him, ‘What then do you do for a sign, that we may see and believe you? What work do you do? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness. As it is written, “He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.”’ Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Most certainly, I tell you, it wasn’t Moses who gave you the bread out of heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.’ They said therefore to him, ‘Lord, always give us this bread.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will not be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” John 6:30-35, WEB It is much cheaper to make dinner at home than to take a family of four to a fast-food place. A home-cooked meal is not only cheaper, but also healthier. The reality though, is that we eat fast food because it is more convenient. Most families do not leave the house to go for a fast food for dinner; they grab dinner in between activities. It is so much easier to go through the drive thru and eat in the car than to go home, fix dinner and then head back out to whatever activity awaits.

The irony is that most of the activities are meant to encourage healthy living. The kids play sports for exercise and self-esteem. Youth groups encourage spiritual health. Tutoring and academic clubs help with learning. We know, however, that the best thing we can do for our kids is to gather around the table to eat together as a family.

Families that eat together are happier and stronger. Studies have shown that the family meal is a stress reliever and a unifying endeavor. The children feel more loved because parents are actually paying attention to them, rather than just driving them here, there, and everywhere. The family dinner table is a place where good manners and behavior can be modeled and learned. Also, parents who cook with their children teach good habits, independence, and decision making.

The food we cook at home is naturally more nutritious than anything we can buy at a fast-food place, even the salads, which have more calories and fat than you might expect. Home cooked meals include more fruits and vegetables, more dairy and less salt. Fried foods and soda, staples of the fast-food industry, are not as prevalent at home. It is much easier to control the portions. The family dinner table is also the perfect place to help children try new foods which may one day become a favorite.

Studies have shown that the family dinner helps a child grow into maturity with less destructive behavior and better grades. According to one study, teens who have fewer than three family dinners a week are 3.5 times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Children that eat at home fewer than three times a week are more likely to have poor report cards.

We think we are doing wonderful things for our children when we provide them with so many opportunities and activities, but we are taking away the most important things like the experience of family togetherness. Sports, youth group and academic clubs are very positive activities for our children, but not if the foundation of home is lost.

Some of Jesus’ most important lessons took place around the dinner table. He ate with sinners and tax collectors. He went to Zacchaeus’ house. He fed thousands. He revealed Himself to the two disciples in Emmaus with the breaking of bread and forgave Peter on the beach around a meal of fish. He instituted the New Covenant around a family meal with His friends. He did these things because He is the Bread of Life. He invites us to eat a meal better than anything we can buy. He is the food that will keep us well in this life and take us into the next.

We tend to fill our lives with fast-food like burgers, but also spiritual food. It is easy and convenient. Fast-food might seem easy, but we know that it is really more costly than we can realize, especially to our physical, intellectual, and emotional health. So, too, is the fast-food we feed ourselves spiritually as we chase after the most convenient ways to pray, serve, and worship, but in the long run it is better to live the life God has called us to live and eat the real food that He has given.

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May 17, 2024

“If therefore there is any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassion, make my joy full by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through rivalry or through conceit, but in humility, each counting others better than himself; each of you not just looking to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others. Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, yes, the death of the cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:1-11, WEB

One of the most popular advertising campaigns in the history of television was a song written for the Coca Cola Company. Many will remember humming along to the New Seekers as they sang about loving the world. “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I’d like to buy the world a coke and keep it company.” This might seem like an impossible ideal, especially as we watch the hate and violence that occurs around the world daily.

There is an interesting story behind the song. When Coke decided to do a new campaign, they gathered several people together to write the music. Bill Backer, the creative director for the advertising agency, was on his way to London to meet with the song writers Billy Davis and Robert Cook. His plane was diverted because of fog and landed in Ireland. Conditions were uncomfortable, many of the passengers were angry with the disruption to their plans. The next morning, Bill joined the other passengers in a coffee shop to wait for clearance. He noticed that many of the travelers that had been irate were laughing and telling stories over bottles of coke. He saw that there was more to the product than just a liquid to drink. Coke could draw people together, bring them through difficult times, and give them something common even if they have many differences.

I grew up in the haven of a local church, a flock of believers who agreed about many things. Our basic doctrine was the same, we enjoyed the same type of worship, and we practiced our faith in much the same way. It was not that we were brainwashed or unable to think for ourselves. We had our disagreements, sometimes about the silliest things. However, in general we were of one mind, and we lived together in harmony.

Imagine my shock when I became involved with the military chapel system, which is a more ecumenical experience. The community of believers was made up of people from every point on the spectrum of Christianity. The disagreements about doctrine and practice were so immense that it was often as if we were from completely different religions. I noticed the same thing when I was involved in internet chat rooms and email discussions. Many conversations in these groups became heated and angry. It was difficult to believe that we had anything in common. There certainly was little harmony in those relationships.

The people on that airplane found something in common: coke brought them together and they found peace and joy in each other’s company. As I have grown older, I have realized the idea of a perfect church, a church where no one argues about anything, is an impossible ideal. We are unique individuals that have unique perspectives about issues that face our churches. Sometimes our arguments are ridiculously small, although sometimes our disagreements are about important issues. I love my current church, which is mostly of one mind, but even then, we’ve had some tough conversations and people have walked away because they didn’t like the answer. Thankfully, most have returned after realizing what we truly have in common, the love of Christ.

No matter what it is we are discussing, we are called to love one another. This was manifested at the church of my youth and in my current church, the members love one another despite the disagreements we have had about the issues that faced our congregation. We run into difficulty when we hold ourselves higher than our brothers and sisters, when we consider ourselves wiser than anyone else.

Living in love, the love of Christ that binds us together, Paul encourages us to be of one mind. Does that mean we have to agree about every question? No, it means that we are to find harmony by living in the foundation of our faith that we have in common. Life together means loving even those who are so different because we have all confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord. He came to dwell among us, giving up the glory of heaven to be like us, calling us to be unified with Him glorifying God as His body in this world. It is His love and grace that holds us together and gives us what we need to serve God in every way.

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May 20, 2024

Since next Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday, our devotions this week will be focused on the Trinity.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.” 2 Corinthians 13:14, WEB

When my mom wanted one of her children, she often called the names of the others before she got to the right one. Those of us with siblings have probably had a similar experience with our mothers. I know I have done that too, and I even did it with our cats. I did not forget the name of the child I wanted, but researchers have discovered that this phenomenon has something to do with how speech processing information retrieval works in our brains. Similar sounding words are stored in similar ways, so they are available quickly but not always as we want. This is particularly true when our minds are actively engaged in something else. Sometimes we respond to the task with a particular order, such as the age of our children, but it could be anything that causes our brain to order the list differently.

I was once researching the Trinity when I discovered an article about an interview with an author who had done research on the topic. The author was reading through the scriptures when he noticed that the Trinity was not always listed in the expected Trinitarian formula. We usually list Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but as you can see in today's passage, the Trinity is listed in a different order: Son, Father, and Spirit.

The author, Rodrick Durst, decided to see if there was a pattern in this discovery. He found that in the New Testament there are seventy-five instances in which the Godhead is listed. The three names are ordered at least eight times in each of the six possible ways. As he studied these texts, he noticed that there was indeed a pattern and that each different order had a purpose. When the order is Father, Son, Holy Spirit, the writer is giving us a missional focus, as in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20.) The Father, Holy Spirit and Son order is formational in emphasis. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:2 about God directing the Holy Spirit to sanctify believers so that they will be obedient to the Word of Christ. Son, Father, and Holy Spirit, as in today’s passage, has a Christological emphasis, focusing on Jesus Christ. By ordering the Trinity as Son, Holy Spirit, and Father, as in Acts 2:38-39, Luke had an evangelistic focus. By placing the Holy Spirit, then Son and Father, the focus is on unity. In Ephesians 4:4-6, Paul talked about ecclesial matters. In the book of Jude (verses 20-21) the application is in liturgical matters with the order as Holy Spirit, Father, and Son.

The point I got out of his research is that we tend to focus our ordering of the Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but since the Godhead is equal, then order does not matter. In the Athanasian Creed we confess, “And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons.”

When asked why this matters, Rodrick told the story of a girl whose father was abusive. She said that she always had a problem calling God Father. However, as she prayed to the Trinity in a different order, the comfort that came from the Son and Holy Spirit opened the way for her to call on the Father. We see from his research, also, that the order helps us to understand the work of each so we can seek Him in a way that helps our own work in His name.

Rodrick’s research also gives us the courage to stand up for this Trinity in which we believe that so many deny. If the Godhead is listed so many times in the New Testament (seventy-five times!) then this is obviously a concept, while not named, which is real and true. Father, Son, and Spirit are one God in three persons, equal and unified in a way we will never truly understand. However, this mystery is the foundation of our faith; believing in the Trinity is a matter of trust, confident that God really is who He says He is.

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May 21, 2024

“Wisdom has built her house. She has carved out her seven pillars. She has prepared her meat. She has mixed her wine. She has also set her table. She has sent out her maidens. She cries from the highest places of the city: ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ As for him who is void of understanding, she says to him, ‘Come, eat some of my bread, Drink some of the wine which I have mixed! Leave your simple ways, and live. Walk in the way of understanding.’” Proverbs 9:1-6, WEB

Many Christians shy away from the words mystic or mystical. These words tend to give us an impression of some sort of new age practice or are identified with actions that many consider pagan. There are certainly many mystics that present faith from a perspective that is non-Christian at best, and some are anti-Christian. However, this does not mean we should throw away the word or practice as Christians. Faith in Christ does have a mystical facet.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the word “mystical” means, “having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence” or “involving or having the nature of an individual’s direct subjective communion with God or ultimate reality.” Interestingly, the example they give is “the mystical food of the sacrament.” The sacrament for Christians is, of course, the Eucharist: the Lord’s Supper, our thanksgiving meal. Another definition given for “mystical” is “mysterious” or “unintelligible.” While we can offer intelligible definitions of Communion, there will always be a mysterious or mystical aspect to the sacrament.

St. Bernard was a Cistercian monk around 1200 A.D. He was sent by the abbot of the monastery of Citeaux to found a new monastery in Clairvaux and he served as abbot there. He was known for his deeply spiritual life and for his devotional writings that are still read to this day. He was a Christian mystic, and he knew the value of believing the things of Christ that are both mysterious and unintelligible.

Bernard was a man of power and authority; he even settled a dispute in the church by choosing between rival popes. He convinced the secular governments to support his choice. He fought against heresy, most particularly known for his refutation against the heretics of Languedoc that were drawing many away from orthodox faith. In another case, Bernard was critical of Peter Abelard who preached modalism, which is an incomplete understanding of the trinity as understood by orthodox faith. Bernard's criticism of Peter was that his approach to faith was too rational and did not provide enough room for mystery.

I think there are times in our modern age when we are much too rational about our faith, ignoring or rejecting the mystical or mysterious aspects of God. This makes the scriptures that point toward the concept of the Trinity particularly difficult for us to accept. The cannibalistic image of eating Christ’s body and blood does not fit into our image of God. The idea of wisdom being something which the simple and foolish possess rather than the intellectual and powerful is beyond our comprehension.

The scriptures do not discount our brains; we are to seek God with our whole beings. Yet, this week we are reminded that there is a mystical, mysterious aspect of faith. This is not something we should ignore or reject because there are simply some aspects of our Christianity that are beyond our human understanding. That’s ok because God is far greater than we will ever be. Yet, in and through faith we see that understanding God is not only rational or logical; we need to believe in Christ even if we don’t always know what that means. Faith means embracing both the natural and supernatural truths found in the scriptures. As we believe both the mystical and earthly aspects of Christianity, we will experience the life that Trinity has worked for us now and for eternity.

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