Welcome to the November 2009 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 quotes taken from the American Standard Version
A WORD FOR TODAY, November 2009
“It is a good thing to give thanks unto Jehovah, And to sing praises unto thy name, O Most High; To show forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, And thy faithfulness every night, With an instrument of ten strings, and with the psaltery; With a solemn sound upon the harp. For thou, Jehovah, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands. How great are thy works, O Jehovah! Thy thoughts are very deep.” Psalm 92:1-5, ASV
Most people in the United States changed our clocks back an hour this past weekend. Other places around the world do the same thing, but often on different days. Daylight Savings time, which is from spring until fall, makes the summer days extra long because the time is set forward an hour. We are given more daylight to enjoy the warm weather and the vacation time we usually take during the summer.
Unfortunately, the change of time (forward in the spring and backward in the fall) often causes difficulties for sleep schedules, at least for a few days. Animals do not understand time on a clock, they sense the movement of time by light and dark, and they know when their tummies start grumbling. It is bad enough on weekends when Bruce gets to sleep in and they are looking for their breakfast at the normal hour. But they really don’t know what to think when we change the clock. Today, instead of looking for Bruce at 5:45, they were already trying to get our attention an hour earlier.
The changes also affect human rest. Though we have come to rely on the time we find on our clocks, our bodies sense the movement of time by the natural processes. It is much harder when we force our bodies awake at early hours by waking to an alarm. It is, unfortunately, a fact of life in our world today that we have to make our bodies conform to the schedules of our jobs and so we wake up while it is still dark and we go to bed late in the night. This is one of the many reasons why we are so tired all the time.
I saw an ad for a new product today, a product designed to help people wake up more naturally, even if they have to do it at an early hour. See, the body wakes up naturally as the sun rises in the sky. Slowly, but surely, the world around our sleeping bodies becomes lighter and brighter. Though our eyes are closed, we sense the light and our bodies move slowly from sleep to awake. When we are able to wake this way, we wake more rested and with more energy. The product in the advertisement is an alarm with a special light that gradually brightens during the half hour before the alarm is set. The wake-up light also comes with noises that gradually get louder, slowly waking other senses to the dawn of the new day. It creates an experience of sunrise in your room so that your body can wake naturally, and you’ll feel better in the morning.
We are lucky to live in this time. We have so many opportunities that generations that passed would never have even imagined. Who would have thought the day would come when we could instantly talk to people all over the world? Who would have expected there to be wondrous entertainment like movies and television? Not even the science fiction writers of fifty years ago could have imagined the food preparation equipment available to us today, let alone those of a thousand years ago. Everyone has a phone they can carry anywhere they go. Music is available to all on tiny machines that fit into a pocket. Vacuum cleaners can be started and left to do the work on its own; robotic engineering is being developed into many machines to make our life easier.
But our lives aren’t easier. We are still tired. We still don’t have enough time in each day. We have to work long hours to earn the money to buy the things that are supposed to make our lives easier. But we are slaves to a clock, bound by the rush hour traffic, burdened by the very things that are supposed to set us free. I say this knowing that I’m not about to change our lifestyle. I do think we are lucky to have so many opportunities. But it isn’t hard to wonder if things are really that much better now than it was in simpler times, when a body could wake up in the morning to the rising sun and the sound of roosters crowing the world to life.
“Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice. Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you. But I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now at length ye have revived your thought for me; wherein ye did indeed take thought, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content.” Philippians 4:4-11, ASV
I’m not sure how the bat managed to be in the arena on Halloween, but a bat was seen flying around during the San Antonio Spurs game Saturday night. The bat might have found a hole in the roof of the arena, or perhaps someone brought it as a Halloween joke, but however it happened, the bat was there causing chaos in the middle of the game. The video we’ve seen of this event was of Spurs player Manu Ginoboli who took a swing at the bat, knocked it on the ground and carried it to the sidelines where it was handed to someone to remove it from the arena. The bat was stunned, but Manu was certain it was still alive. Though there are contradictory reports, most state that the bat was taken outdoors and let go, where it took off to fly into the night.
Unfortunately, since the bat was no longer available for testing, Manu has to have rabies shots. He didn’t realize how dangerous it was for him to hit and then carry that bat. He was simply taking care of a problem so that the game could resume. I have to admit that I was impressed with his ability and his lack of fear. This event has become a top story on the news, especially as everyone has had an opinion about whether it was good or bad, right or wrong. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if that bat continued to fly around the arena. Would someone have become seriously injured? It seems to me that too much is being made of the moment even though it would have been better to let someone else take care of the problem. It is always good to learn from our mistakes.
During one interview, Manu said that he’s tired of talking about the bat but that he has learned a lesson from the experience. This is found posted on his website, “Just wanted to give you guys an update on the bat situation. As many of you already know, it wasn't a great idea. Not only for the fact that bats are great part of the ecosystem, but also, because some carry rabies, which is an incurable disease. That's why I had to get vaccinated today (and it wasn't just one shot!). Only 0.5% to 3% of the bat populations carry the disease, but if you can't find the animal, it's not recommended to take any risks, it can kill you! Since after the incident, the usher took it outside and the bat flew away (not lying!), there was no way of knowing if he was infected or not, so I had to do the safe thing. Finally, please, don't do it at home or anywhere, avoid contact with bats, skunks, raccoons, rats and animals like that. Thanks for taking the time to read this.”
This has been a learning moment for Manu, and he’s shared what he has learned with others so that they won’t make the same mistake. We learn and we share what we learned hoping that others will take advantage of our mistakes and of the knowledge we’ve gained. We also learn from the experiences of others. I’m sure many people might have been tempted to catch a bat just like they saw Manu Ginoboli do at the Spurs game Saturday night, but the lessons shared should cause us to think twice before we reach out and grab an animal that might cause us to die. Manu’s words might just be lifesaving.
The lessons of faith that we have learned from those who have come before are also lifesaving. We all have to come to understand what it means to be in Christ, how we are meant to live out our faith in the world. However, we have been given the greatest gift, those who have come before us. Paul was among the first to know life in Christ and he shared his knowledge with those first churches. They passed the message on to others who passed the message on to us. Now it is up to us to pass the message on to others, by living the life of joy and peace and hope.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 8, 2009: 1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
Jehovah raiseth up them that are bowed down. Psalm 146:8b
I don’t keep a detailed budget, although there are times I’ve had to be very careful about every penny. I do keep track of our spending and we have to make difficult choices sometimes. You can only do as much as you have money to pay for it, so we can’t just go out and spend money like it grows on trees. Like every family, we’ve had tough times, times when we weren’t sure whether we’d have enough to make it from day to day. We have had to put off bills, and I remember a time when I was borrowing money out of my children’s savings accounts. Thankfully things are different today and I was able to restore my children’s futures. I’m sure that there are many people in this current time that have to watch every penny.
I know that there are businesses and organizations that are dealing with the same thing. Even churches have had to carefully consider their budgets, planning ahead for the possibility that tomorrow might be even worse. This isn’t the time to get involved in a grand new building project, flippantly spending money on unnecessary things until there is nothing left for the work that needs to be done. What good is a pretty façade if people are going hungry?
For many, the budget questions are well beyond whether or not to buy something pretty. Too many are to the point of wondering whether or not they will be able to pay the rent or buy dinner for the kids. It is easy to cut out the lattes and fast food lunches when money is tight. It is easy to wait another month to buy that new television or to wear last year’s blue jeans for another season. It gets much harder when the choices are more basic. Do you pay the electric bill or the water bill? Do you put gas in the car of food on the table? For those of us who have enough, these questions seem impossible. But for many people, these are choices they have to make every day. They are hungry because they need gas for the car to get to work. They are cold because the electric was turned off.
When things are fine, even when things are tight, most people of faith are good about giving to God first. We might not give a full tithe, but we know it is important to give faithfully for the work of the charity in the world. There comes a time, however, when there just isn’t enough to do what needs to do be done. It is very easy to consider giving to charity as an extra when there is barely enough to keep a family sheltered and fed. This is true not only of people, but also organizations. I’ve been in too many budget meetings where people are quick to cut stewardship money so that they can pay the bills. I’ve even experienced the attitude of the woman in today’s Old Testament lesson: we’ll do this last thing and then we will die.
We tend to see the widow as a woman without means who is suffering because society does not care for the widow and her son. She is described as desperate because there is no one to help her. What we don’t hear in this lectionary is verse seven which says, “And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.” There was drought and famine in the land. The widow and her son were not the only ones doing without. They were not the only ones suffering. It did not matter if the widow had been wealthy. You can’t buy food if there is none available. You can’t buy water if the well is dry. If there is no water, there is no grain so there is no bread. The people were starving. Whether she was rich or poor, she had given up because there was no hope.
How would you feel if you were in a position of having nothing left and someone asked you to give you something to eat? How have you felt in that position? Your answer may have been the same as the widow. “Look, I have nothing left.” You can’t think in terms of trust when you are at the bottom of the barrel. Even if it rained at that very moment, it would be a long time before anyone would have grain for a loaf of bread. Elijah found her at the town gate, gathering twigs to build a fire to bake her final meal. He asked her for a drink of water, and then as she went to get the water called out to ask her for bread. She explained her situation, but Elijah did not accept “no” for an answer.
She said to Elijah, “As Jehovah thy God liveth, I have not a cake.” Did she know the God of Elijah, or did she just accept Elijah’s faith? She had respect for Elijah’s God, but that doesn’t help when there’s nothing to eat. She might have found a sip of water for a thirsty man, but how could she feed this stranger with a son on the verge of death? But as we see in this story, she heard the word of God and believed. She recognized the God of Elijah as a living God and trusted Him. When Elijah answered her fear with a promise, she believed. He told her to not be afraid, “For thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, The jar of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that Jehovah sendeth rain upon the earth.” Of all the people suffering in the land, God used this outsider, this woman who had given up all hope as an example of deep trust and faith.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus was sitting in the women’s court of the Temple, watching the throngs of pilgrims giving their first fruit offerings during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, part of the Passover celebration. There were thirteen trumpet shaped receptacles where the worshippers could drop their coins. The court was likely full of people – rich and poor, locals and foreigners who had come to worship. They were there to do their duty, some with a hard heart and others with a heart of faith.
Jesus pointed out the hard-hearted scribes to the disciples. They were walking around in flowing robes seeking honor and respect from the people gathered there. Yet, they were not living as God intended for His people to live. Jesus says they devoured widows’ houses, taking advantage of the most vulnerable. They prayed for show rather than to seek God. He also pointed out the widow who gave two tiny coins. She gave everything despite her lack. She did not worry about tomorrow. I don’t think she necessarily gave her last two coins in the hope that God will give her a hundredfold. She gave with a heart of faith, knowing that her God would make sure she had enough.
Jesus watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury and His comment about crowds is neither negative nor positive. It is simply the truth. They are giving out of their wealth. But isn’t that the way we usually do it? Are we not like those ‘rich folk’ who give the offerings that pay the bills and support the ministries? It is so easy for us to read these scriptures and compare the poor widow with the rich folk, uplifting her while demeaning those casting their coins into the offering. We want to assume that she is the one with the heart of faith while they have hard hearts. We want to paint them as unjust, unwilling to share their resources with the poor while showing off with their gifts to the temple. But they are no different than us. Do we give to show off? Or do we give out of faith? Most likely we give out of faith and duty, both saint and sinner in our response to God’s grace.
The people were in the Temple not only giving their financial offerings. They were taking young lambs for slaughter and other sacrifices. They were remembering the past while looking forward to a future without fear. Day after day and year after year the temple priests offered those sacrifices to God but they did no good. Not even the coins would be lasting. The bills had to be paid; the priests had to be fed. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the work of Christ on the cross was lasting. Christ appeared at the end of the age and sacrificed Himself to remove sin. There is no longer a need for such sacrifice. It is finished. He completed the work. We who hear His voice are called into faith to eagerly wait for him.
In the widows we see the image of faith: astonishing trust in the grace and mercy of God. Both these women also present to us a foreshadowing of sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ the final days of His life. He had nothing to give, yet gave to us the bread and wine of the Eucharist that we might know the forgiveness of God. He had no coins, but gave His life as the first fruits offering that would set the world free from sin and death forever. They gave first to God and received a hundredfold in return.
We can certainly focus on the injustice of their poverty, but we do not know that they were victimized or oppressed. The widow of Zarephath was an example for the widow in the Temple. She first answered Elijah that she had nothing, but she believed when she heard the promise. The widow knew the promise of God and gave her offering trusting that tomorrow there would be enough flour and oil in the jars. She was just one among many doing their duty, but Jesus saw something more. He saw her heart of faith. He calls the attention of the disciples to the poor widow and tells them, “This poor widow cast in more than all they that are casting into the treasury: for they all did cast in of their superfluity; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.”
I doubt that many of us are like the scribes or the widows. We are more like the crowds giving out of our abundance. The test comes when we are facing difficulty like the widow of Zarephath. When there is drought, when there is no hope, how do we respond? Is our charitable giving the first thing we drop out of our budget? Is our offering to God the last thing we pay when the money is tight?
We learn three things from these lessons. First, we need to remember that our gifts are not worthy of praise. We are giving out of our wealth and God does not need anything we have to give. It is all His and He gave it to us to be good stewards of His gifts for the sake of others. Secondly, we are reminded that God deserves our first fruits, not our leftovers. Like the widow of Zarephath and the widow in the temple, faith means trusting that God will provide according to His grace. Even if those first fruits mean that we are giving ‘unto death’ we need not fear, for God will bring great blessings out of our faith.
Finally, we are reminded that all good things come from God. The psalmist writes, “Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in Jehovah his God: Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that in them is; Who keepeth truth for ever; Who executeth justice for the oppressed; Who giveth food to the hungry. Jehovah looseth the prisoners; Jehovah openeth the eyes of the blind; Jehovah raiseth up them that are bowed down; Jehovah loveth the righteous; Jehovah preserveth the sojourners; He upholdeth the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.”
The psalmist says, “God raises those that are bowed down.” He raises those who are victims, who are oppressed, who are outcast. Jesus certainly did throughout the scriptures. But we can see this in another way because there is a promise for even those who live in fortunate times. God raises up those who are bowed down, those who humble themselves before God, those who trust in God at all times. He raises up those who give with the heart of faith, whatever our circumstances. We also see this in the work of Jesus. He fed the crowds whether they were poor or wealthy. He healed the sick no matter their circumstances. He raised up the ruler’s daughter. He raised up Lazarus. He was raised on the cross so that all who believe might receive the greatest gift of all, eternal life.
All good things come from God and He calls us to live in faith by sharing His goodness with the world. We might not know what tomorrow will bring and we might be wondering how we will pay all the bills this month, but God has shown us that we need not fear. It might seem hopeless, no bread to buy even if we have the money to buy it. We might not have the money to buy it. It is much easier to be generous out of our abundance. But God invites us to be generous with everything. He doesn’t invite us to be generous so that we will be blessed a hundredfold. He calls us to be people who trust in the Lord, knowing that He gives enough so that we can share our great riches, whether it is an abundance or two pennies, with others.
“Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, ASV
People seem to be really fascinated with things out of the ordinary. Of course, we’ve always sought to understand the misunderstood. Science fiction is popular during every age because people want to believe in something. Paul says that we should not fix our eyes on what is seen, but what is unseen because what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is lasting. Of course, Paul was referring to things of the Spirit, but it is a natural human desire to seek after mysteries and for some reason the mysteries we are chasing these days are less spiritual and more paranormal.
Paranormal activity is out of the norm, unverifiable by scientific means. Paranormal activity of all sorts is found in our culture—in books, movies and television. But it is not just modern people who have been interested in the extraordinary. Folk tales tell stories about beings or events that are impossible according to our understanding of nature. Science has long sought to understand or explain the stories and folk tales, standing firmly in the knowledge that if it can’t be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, it must not exist.
While it has been part of every culture throughout history, I have often wondered why we seem to be more interested in it today than we have ever been. If you take a look at the television schedule, you will find a half dozen or more reality television shows revolving around the search for explanations of the extraordinary. Several channels repeatedly play documentaries with expert opinions about the phenomenon that fascinates us. The number of paranormal drama television shows is growing daily. While there have always been movies about the unexplainable, it seems like today there are even more, and they are looking at the topic from a more documentary (albeit still fictional) point of view.
One show on television is called “Destination Truth.” Joshua Gates stars in this show that takes us around the world seeking evidence for local folk tales and myths about extraordinary beings or places. They are usually chasing after some ancient creature that has terrified the local villages in out of the way places for generations. One creature in which his team has taken special interest are the large bipedal man/apelike creatures: Big foot. In the American northwest, this creature is called Sasquatch. It is called other names in various places around the world, including Yeti in the region of the Himalayas. It is also known as the abominable snowman. It was after one of these creatures that the Destination Truth team trekked on a recent episode.
They went into Bhutan, to the Sakten Wildlife Sanctuary, a area of undisturbed wilderness that has been set aside as a sanctuary for the Yeti. Now, some of the folk lore that surrounds the creature includes an ability to become invisible to avoid encounters with humans. They also claim that the yeti has feet that are backwards to confuse the stalkers. People who are searching for the yeti rarely find anything, but many people have had encounters while they were doing something else. It is usually trekkers, mountain climbers or local townspeople who have the encounters. They never have the scientific equipment necessary to get proof of yeti existence.
One famous witness to a yeti is Reinhold Messner, an Italian adventurist who has climbed every mountain that reaches 8,000 meters. He made it to the top of Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen. And when he was climbing the Himilayas, he had an encounter with a yeti. He was a non-believer until that night when he saw a creature in the shadows. He didn’t get a good look because it was getting dark, but when he went to the place where he saw the creature he saw footprints that looked exactly like those he’d seen in the reports of the yeti years before. He became obsessed with the creature, and searched for twelve years for more proof of its existence. In those twelve years, however, he found only proof that the normal bears are probably mistaken for the yeti. As a matter of fact, every characterization he heard from witnesses can be attributed to the Tibetan bear. And when the locals took him to the places where they had encounters with the yeti, he discovered Tibetan bears nearby.
The people of Bhutan, nearly every single person, believe in the yeti. They have no doubt that the creature is real. One family with whom the Destination Truth people visited even showed the team a backbone that had been found by an ancestor. This bone has become an heirloom and will remain with the family forever. Joshua took photographic evidence to an expert who confirmed that the bone was indeed… you guessed it, the backbone of a Tibetan bear. However, the people will always believe and they claim that western skepticism is nothing more than arrogance.
We might be tempted to think the people of those local villages that believe so deeply in their local legends are foolish and superstitious. But how is their belief any different than our faith in God? We try to prove the existence of God, and explain the unexplainable things in the bible, to the point that there is no longer a sense of mystery in the things of faith. The miracles of Jesus have been explained away, including the birth and the resurrection. The church has in many ways conformed to the ways of the world, looking more like a business or social organization than a worshipping, worshipful gathering of believers. Our western arrogance and skepticism is even showing up in our religious practices as the mystery of God’s grace is defined in very temporal and ordinary ways.
But we still long for mystery, we seek the unknown, we are fascinated by the things that are not proven, so we’ve turned our attention to the unknown of our world. Whether these legends are based on reality or not, we will never truly find rest in our search for these truths. Perhaps it is time for us to turn our search to the things above, the things that are not seen but are truly real, the things of God who has saved us to be worshipping, worshipful beings in this world.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, And on their heart also will I write them: And I will be to them a God, And they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his fellow-citizen, And every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: For all shall know me, From the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And their sins will I remember no more. Hebrews 8: 10-12, ASV
I don’t know about you, but I have a terrible time remembering things. I make lists for the grocery store and then forget the list, so I forget some of the items I need. Luckily, I usually remember before I leave the store, but I would hate to admit how many times I’ve waited in line until the last minute and then realized that I never picked up the most important thing that I went to the store to buy. I think the cats steal my car keys because I can never remember where I put them. I even put a hook near the door so that I have one specific place, and I forget to put them on the hook. Then, when someone else does so, I never think about looking there!
I’m good at remembering when I need to be somewhere, but I have a hard time remembering when I have something on the calendar. So, if someone asks if we are busy on a specific day, I have to get back to them after I’ve checked my schedule or else I’ll say “yes” when there is something else happening. Let’s not even mention my cell phone: I can’t count the number of times I’ve forgotten it when I have gone out for the day. I often can’t even remember where I have put it.
I got an email with the subject “Never forget anything again.” The email came from a technology guru that was sharing a new website that helps you remember things. I was certainly grabbed by the subject, but laughed because I could not imagine that there would be some sort of technology that can help me with my forgetfulness. Oh, I suppose a digital calendar could make scheduling easier and one of the clap-it gadgets might help me find my things, but could there be a gadget to help me remember everything?
The product is a website that will email you reminders of the things you tend to forget. As one example, the ad talks about those websites you bookmark to go back and read that you forget to go back and read later. You can have this website send you a reminder with the link so that you can read it at another time. Though the program is simple, just a few clicks of the mouse, it seems to me that it can’t be very helpful if you don’t remember to schedule the reminder. It seems to me that if you have time to click into a website and set up the reminder, you might as well just read the article you are saving for later. What good is a to-do list that is on the computer? Will you remember to do those things if you forget about the email? I don’t doubt that it could be a helpful tool, and I’m sure there are ways I could benefit by using it, but the claim that I will never forget anything again is exaggerated. I don’t think an email reminder will help me get my cell phone when I’m in my car on my way to an appointment, especially if the email reminders come infrequently.
Besides, aren’t there some things that we should forget? Sadly, those are the things I’m great at remembering: the hurt, the pain, the heartache of brokenness. We are quick to remember when someone has done something wrong, even if we claim to have forgiven the transgression. We are quick to bring up past offenses in the heat of the moment, focusing on the negative when we are in the middle of an argument. Can you imagine a website that will send out email reminders about all our battles? Thankfully, God does not remember our past offences. When we are forgiven, we are forgiven. God doesn’t hold on to the things we do wrong. He forgives us our sins and transforms us by His grace so that we can go forth in His forgiveness, forgetting the things we should not remember.
Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Matthew 6:25-34, ASV
The retailers are certainly getting an early start on the Christmas shopping season this year. Now, they usually begin putting the Christmas items out on the shelves just after Halloween. It makes sense to remove one season and put up another season. Even though it seems early, it is a good use of that seasonal space in the retail shops. Besides, people are beginning to think about their decorations and the things they will need to ship to family far away. I’m nearly ready to get out the Advent decorations since the beginning of Advent is only a few weeks away. I’m also ready to work on Christmas cards, so they can be mailed soon after the Thanksgiving holiday. I’m close to finishing my year long task of making Christmas ornaments for friends and family. I’m glad that some Christmas things are on the shelves because I have needed to package those gifts.
The disturbing part of this early marketing campaign is that the television is filled with commercials for Christmas sales. I’m already tired of some of the Christmas music. The retail marketers recognize that if they get people shopping now, they will probably also shop later. So even though everything they buy is on sale, they’ll end up spending more money over the season. In tough economic times, people need to spread their gift shopping over a longer period of time, perhaps taking advantage of layaway services. It is tempting to take advantage of a half off sale today, not knowing what might be even cheaper in a month or so.
For many, the countdown has already begun: just 46 days until the big day. Unfortunately, I saw another countdown that is taking this a bit too far. One television station is having a countdown to the countdown! They are playing shows from now until December 1st, counting down to the Twenty-five days of Christmas. The specials and movies are Christmas related. The titles are extraordinary, old favorites and new classics. And as they’ve said in their press information, “Wow, and this is just the countdown! Stay tuned for the actual 25 days to Christmas schedule!”
Of course, with all this talk of Christmas, those who will have difficulty getting through the upcoming holiday season will have to suffer even longer. It isn’t just those who won’t have the means to buy presents. Some people will be missing family members who were lost since the last holiday season. Others will be dealing with stress and brokenness. Christmas is not happy for everyone. Many are too worried about what will happen in the next year that they can’t enjoy what could happen in the next month or two.
We’re going to have to put up with it, unless we turn off the television and stop going to the stores. Whether we like it or not, the holidays are here. How we deal with these days depends on our attitude. We can grumble every time we hear “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” Or we can joyously receive what each new day holds, taking advantage of every opportunity to live Christ-like in a world that has chosen to focus on the things that do not matter, missing out on the things that always will. The early reminders of the upcoming season might cause worry and heartache in some. But we can share the hope of Christ, reminding our neighbors that we have Today and we have each other to help one another through it all.
“And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:11-16, ASV
Forty years is a long time. For some of us, myself included, it is nearly a lifetime. On this day forty years ago, the first episode of the popular children’s television series “Sesame Street” first aired. For forty years, the characters that live, work and play on Sesame Street have entertained and taught our children about the things they need to know. It is hard to believe that I was among the first children to watch the show. I have to admit I don’t remember if I saw that first episode, but I’m sure I watched the show as a child. I was six at the time and that might seem old in today’s world, but forty years ago we still went to Kindergarten to learn the alphabet, numbers, colors and shapes. Today children need to know those things to do well in preschool.
Several generations of children have learned from characters like Big Bird, Ernie and Bert, Cookie Monster and Elmo about more than the basics. They’ve learned how to get along with others, how to deal with the loss of someone they love, how to take care of the earth and how to be helpful. Each character has a unique and purposeful personality, interacting with the other cast and the audience in a way that teaches lessons of childhood. There are things I will never forget.
For one, I’ve been singing the “Three of these things belong together” song ever since I first heard that the show would be celebrating the anniversary today. The skits and clips may seem simplistic, especially to our children who are growing up so quickly these days, but they are lessons that are important for each child to learn. Telling the difference between three children playing with bats and one child playing with a ball is the first stage of learning how to tell the difference between the choices that our children will face when they are older. A teenager may not realize that they are comparing friends and distinguishing between their differences, but those early childhood games develop the skills that are vital to making decisions in later years.
Big Bird is one of the main characters on Sesame Street. He is an amazing 8’2” tall, a large yellow feathered canary or golden condor or lark (over the years, Big Bird has claimed several different species.) You might think that the character has been played by multiple actors; after all, the human inside the costume is completely invisible. However, Caroll Spinney has played the part since that first show on November 10, 1969. Recently, others have been trained for the part because he is growing older. Can you imagine having the same job for forty years? Especially since that particular job requires hours in a giant yellow bird costume. He is much smaller than the costume, so he holds his right hand above his head, controlling Big Bird’s head, neck and beak with that hand. His left arm is fitted into Big Bird’s left arm, and the right arm hangs loosely at his side, moved occasionally by a string that runs through the costume to the left hand.
He must love his job, along with the cast and crew of “Sesame Street.” It is hard to keep anything going for forty years, but Caroll Spinney has performed as Big Bird, hidden away inside a big, hot, uncomfortable costume for the sake of the kids. He also plays Oscar the Grouch and other characters. In a 2008 Washington Times article, Mr. Spinney is quoted as saying, “I can’t imagine walking away from Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.” He’s 75 and still going. I suppose loving what you do makes a difference: it is easier to keep working of you are doing just what you should be doing.
Imagine what it would be like to have the same job for forty years. Most of us move through several careers over our lifetime. We change because we become bored with the work we are doing. Or we find it too difficult. Or we become burned out. These things happen because we are not doing the work we love to do. We haven’t found our place. We haven’t discovered what God is calling us to do. But knowing that God has created us each for a purpose makes it easier to go on day by day, searching for the thing that we can do to make a difference in the world. We’ll never be Big Bird, but there is something out there for each of us that God has designed for our gifts. May God bless each of us with the knowledge of our place in His kingdom and the work that we will truly love to do.
Scriptures for November 15, 2009: Daniel 12:103; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25; Mark 13:1-8
“Thou wilt show me the path of life: In thy presence is fulness of joy; In thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” Psalm 16:11
I lived in New Jersey for a few years and drove many miles on the roads and highways there. It may have been an unfounded stereotype, but I noticed that most of the cars on the roads were covered with dings and bangs. It seemed to me that more cars in New Jersey were damaged from collisions than anywhere in the road. I’m not sure my opinion has changed much, although I do have to admit that Paris is the most frightening place to drive that I have visited. I often pondered the state of vehicles in New Jersey while I lived there and I think I understand why they are that way.
I did a lot of driving. I worked as a quality control manager of a mobile disc jockey company, and so I often traveled to four or five shows and parties in an evening. It was not unusual for me to put a hundred miles or more in a few hours. I didn’t have GPS or even mapquest, so I was constantly lost as I looked for each new destination. It didn’t help that most people didn’t seem to know how to get anywhere. I stopped at a gas station once, hoping to get instructions to a building I knew must be right around the corner. The station attendant had never heard of it. I went around the block and found the place, so close that the attendant could have heard the party from his back door.
The worst part was the signage. As I drove down the highways, I would see signs for my exit every few feet. “Exit in three miles.” “Exit in two miles.” “Exit in one mile.” Then there were no more signs until, it seemed, it was too late to exit. “You just missed your exit,” the signs seemed to say. I saw more people suddenly veer to the right across lanes of traffic to get to the exit ramp. I couldn’t count the number of times I missed a turn because my road was the one that was missing its sign. I don’t know if it had been stolen, or if the city just never bothered to put one up, but there was nothing indicating I had reached the place I was seeking.
So, I decided that so many cars in New Jersey were covered with dings because everyone is always lost and desperate to find their way. Those last minute turns and illegal U-turns might be the cause of more accidents, thus leaving the cars crunched and crumbled. My theory is probably wrong, especially since New Jersey doesn’t even appear on the list of top ten states with car accidents. I don’t think that matters; I think they just don’t bother reporting most of the accidents.
Signs are important. Signs give us information that helps us know where we are and where we should be. It is very helpful to have a sign that announces the coming of the street and signs announcing the way. It is also extremely helpful to have well-lit and well-placed signs that confirm is what we think it is. I can’t tell you how often I’ve arrived at a place but wondered if it was really where I needed to be because it did not look like I thought it might. Signs also announce events and share information
We have a fascination with a different type of signs these days. In movies, in print and on television, the Mayan predictions for 2012 are very popular. According to some experts, those predictions are validated by other prophesies, especially those from Nostradamus, who has been interpreted to have foretold similar events in the year 2012. Some have even drawn parallels with biblical prophecy. There seems to be signs all around us that the times prophesied have come. Many think we have reached the last days: that now is the time to be watchful and ready.
We might want to approach the texts for this week as prophetic—pointing toward a specific moment in time and a specific event that will be accomplished. After all, every generation has found some need to look into the future, to determine the ways of things long before they happen, to predict how things will come to be. Yet, these texts are more accurately seen as apocalyptic. This form of literature is not meant to foretell of a specific historical event. Rather, the words are spoken to give courage, strength and hope to a suffering people. There were already false messiahs in Jesus’ day. There were already wars and rumors of wars. There were already earthquakes and famines. It would have been very easy for the disciples—left alone after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension—to follow another voice. It would have been very easy for the community of faith established by Jesus to wander down a wrong path. It happened to the Thessalonians, many of whom thought that the return of Jesus was so imminent that they could stop living. It has happened to many Christians of every generation since, even in today’s world.
We meet up with Jesus and the disciples moments after they left the Temple. The day had been filled with questions from the Temple leaders. They were testing His authority from the point of view of the Temple, the secular world and the religious traditions of His people. He established a greater authority and turned the world upside down. The last shall be first. The poor widow gives more. Give to God everything that is God’s. As they left the Temple, one of the disciples was amazed by the large stones and the massive buildings. It was surely an impressive sight: as were, probably, the priests and others who were leaders in the temple. Jesus said, “There shall not be left here one stone upon another, which shall not be thrown down.”
The disciples heard this statement as a prophecy about the future and they wanted to know what signs would point to the time it would happen. Now, we know that the Temple fell in 70 A.D. so it is easy to set this passage aside as past history, something that has happened rather than something that will happen. But apocalyptic literature does not point to a specific event. It helps us through the events of our own time, events that might seem frightening. When we face persecution for our faith, as we try to find our place in this world that seems out of control, we can look at the comforting words of Jesus: that God is among us.
Jesus warns us, however, that at those times we are susceptible to those who claim to know how to interpret the times, those who want to take advantage of our fear and uncertainty. False prophets and false messiahs will always be with us. We are cautioned not to be led astray. The false prophets and false messiahs will make claims to be sent by God, but they will lead people on the wrong path. Think about all those end times books. Some say one thing. Some say the exact opposite. Which is true? Which is right? Beware not to believe in their words. Rest in God’s Word only.
If today were the last day, what would matter? Is there something that we need to do? False prophets and false messiahs will call people to action. “Follow me and you’ll be saved.” “Go to this place.” “Do this thing.” In every time and place there have been actions required for salvation: except in Christian faith. In the days of Jesus, the priests worked day and night providing for the forgiveness of God’s people. Offerings of every kind were accepted, to cover the sins of the people. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the priests offered day after day the same sacrifices that did no good. It was Jesus who offered once and for all the blood of the sacrifice that would bring salvation to the world.
The life Christ was calling the disciples to live would not be one of power or authority. It would be one of service and distress. They would know about the wars and rumors of wars, would face the earthquakes and famines. Yet, many would claim to be the Christ, the savior, the deliverer from suffering and pain. They would claim to come in the name of Christ, providing a Gospel of prosperity and a promise of comfort. Instead of offering the disciples the answers to their questions, Jesus simply answers with a warning. “Beware and be aware.” Be careful who you believe and who you follow. Not all who claim to be speaking in the name of Jesus Christ are true. Some will be led astray.
Through the work of Christ, God’s people found real peace. By the blood of Christ, God’s people are invited to dwell in the presence of God. Jesus was no ordinary priest. He was no ordinary messiah. He was the Son of God, sent to save the world. His promise was not that the world would be different: there are still wars and rumors of wars. We still need to be comforted as we are persecuted for our faith. We still suffer at the hands of those who do not know the forgiveness of God. But we can live in hope for what is to come, dwell in God’s grace now and look forward to the day when we will dwell with God eternally.
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to live a different life. We are called to hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering because God is faithful. Jesus warned the disciples not to make them afraid, but to remind them that God can and will overcome it all. God is near. He is not lost when the walls tumble down. Rather, He is set free from those human constraints to be the God who is Creator, Redeemer and Comforter.
Instead of wasting our time trying to define or manage something that is completely outside our control, we are called to live faithfully in the midst of the pain and suffering sharing Christ with the world. The temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., but the need for the temple was destroyed the day Christ died. That day the curtain was rent from top to bottom, loosing the Spirit and set the one true and living God free from an oppressive and abusive religious system that had little to do with the Creator’s intention and purpose for His people. The sacrificial system gave no real assurance of the forgiveness of sin, and left room for abuse by the leaders to ignore justice, devour widows and coerce payment to the temple treasuries out of guilt and a false sense of duty.
The passage from Daniel tells of another time when God’s people will suffer. The passage does not leave us in fear, however. It leaves us with a promise that God will deliver His people. Instead of spending time trying to decipher the signs, to figure out when these things will happen, Daniel tells us the wise will teach people the ways of the Lord by word and by example. Living in faith, acting on the hope of true peace, bringing others into the dwelling place of God: this is what we are called to do. Don’t be led astray by those who claim to know what will happen tomorrow. Find comfort in the reality that God is always near. His promises are true. His Word is real. His forgiveness is eternal.
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ASV
Someone started this thing on Facebook where everyone is encouraged to use their status to post the things for which they are thankful throughout the month of November. It is nice to see so many people posting the things for which they are thankful. I’ve seen people thankful for nice weather, good friends, and loving families. The first few days of an activity like this are relatively easy. We are thankful for our family and friends, our jobs and homes, our good health and happy lives. It gets harder after a few days if you can’t repost those things.
Where do you go when the most obvious blessings have been mentioned? Many people took advantage of Veterans Day by being thankful for those who have served. One friend was thankful that she did not hit a deer the other night. I was thankful for my cats today. I’m expecting that people will eventually be thankful for doctors, teachers and perhaps even grocery store clerks. We are reminded of the importance of their presence when we have to deal with them. Someone’s bound to be thankful for music and specific musicians, television and specific television shows, movies and specific actors. We’ll be thankful for fall rains, the harvest, winter pansies and snowflakes. In the coming weeks, someone will be thankful for firewood and fireplaces, hot cocoa and chicken noodle soup.
These are beautiful things. It is easy to be thankful for the good things in life. Can we be thankful when the things are not so good? Oh, the trees look beautiful as they are changing colors in the fall, but are we thankful for the leaves that we have to clean up that are blowing into the carport from our neighbor’s yard? Are we thankful for the snow when we have to shovel the driveway to get out to our job? Can we be thankful for the rain when the streets are flooded?
We are certainly thankful for our jobs, but are we thankful for the co-worker that has stabbed us in the back? We are thankful for our homes, but are we thankful for the noisy neighbors that keep us up at night? We are thankful for God’s good creation, but are we thankful for the deer that have eaten the flowers in the garden down to their roots? Will anyone post that they are thankful for an illness? Or an enemy? Are we thankful for dirty dishes and laundry? Could we be thankful if we were hungry, persecuted or oppressed?
It is easy to be thankful for the good and beautiful things of this world. It is harder to be thankful in times of difficulty and stress. It is very hard to see the good that might come out of bad times: the strength we get when we stand in faith, the lessons learned as we work through pain, the wisdom received as we face the hard things in life. No matter what our circumstances, no matter what it is for which we are thankful, we can live in thankfulness every day, knowing that God is with us, helping us through. Can you be thankful for something new every day? Try it. And think beyond the good things. Be thankful today for even the things that don’t seem good, for in those circumstances we really find grace.
“But this I say, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart: not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work: as it is written, He hath scattered abroad, he hath given to the poor; His righteousness abideth for ever. And he that supplieth seed to the sower and bread for food, shall supply and multiply your seed for sowing, and increase the fruits of your righteousness: ye being enriched in everything unto all liberality, which worketh through us thanksgiving to God.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-11, ASV
Rachel Ray is doing a tour with Nick Nachey for her television show. During the trip, Rachel revealed a special project that will help the people of a town that has suffered tremendously from our economic times. Wilmington, Ohio has an extremely high unemployment rate due to the recent loss of major business in the town. The soup kitchen is serving twice as many people as it was just a few months ago. They have been overwhelmed by the need and have worried about how they would continue to give to the people of the town. Rachel Ray brought in Carter Oosterhouse who completely made-over the kitchen and she arranged a program with the Sara Lee Company, who is going to provide food staples to the kitchen for a year. The kitchen and serving area were made bigger to serve more people and the food pantry was fully stocked with the things the people would need. Rachel is quoted as saying, “The town has been devastated. We want to do something for them that will last much longer than one meal, one day.”
Now, there are those who are skeptical about this project. After all, Rachel did the good deed in the midst of a tour for her television show. It is no wonder people might ask, “What will she get out of it?” There will be those who see this as nothing more than a publicity stunt. There is no doubt that Rachel Ray will benefit from the publicity, but that does not make this any less generous. Thousands of people will benefit from the work she did in Wilmington.
A friend came to visit when we lived in England. We noticed a news crew on the street outside a pub when we visited one small village. The reporter noticed our American accents and approached us for an interview. He was in the village because an American author had eaten in the pub the night before and upon hearing that the waiters and waitresses were holding a charity drive gave an extraordinarily generous tip. The reporter wanted to know if all Americans were that generous and what we thought about the tip. He was approaching the story from a cynic’s point of view, wondering what she would get out of it. After all, he said, “She’s getting good publicity for her new book.” He was also shocked by the American arrogance. “Should she be throwing money around like that?”
As it turns out, this particular author is very generous with the wealth she has earned from her writing. It was not out of character for her to lay down a fortune for a charity. She didn’t care if anyone knew about the tip, she didn’t try to outdo anyone else in the pub. She simply wanted to share her good fortune with those in need. She probably didn’t even think about it. Like Rachel Ray, she saw a need and filled it.
Any benefits that come to those who give are not rewards for good works, but they might just be God’s way of providing the means to those who will give generously to others. Generosity does not come out of the heart that schemes for something more. Oh, God can use that type of good works to the benefit of those who are in need. But true generosity comes out of the heart that simply desires to share what has been given, joyously accepting the opportunities God has provided for us to praise Him through service. They will be those who see their seeds increase into fruit that will continue bless the world.
“And a certain young man followed with him, having a linen cloth cast about him, over his naked body: and they lay hold on him; but he left the linen cloth, and fled naked.” Mark 14:51-52 (ASV)
We all have a story to tell. As a matter of fact, I’m sure we all have dozens, even hundreds of stories to tell. This will be especially evident in the coming months, with so many gatherings of family and friends during the holidays. When two or more people get together, they talk. When they talk, they tell stories. Some of those stories have been told and retold a hundred times, yet they are as wonderful to hear today as they were the first time. I love to talk about our time in England, the stories of our adventures when we were there. But we don’t tell stories just about exciting things. A family gathered around the dinner table tells stories, as children share about their day and parents remember their own youth.
We tell stories because it is more interesting than giving information. I can say to someone I’ve just met, “I am forty-six years old.” But it is so much more fun to remember that when I was young I got my first 45rpm record in my Easter basket. It was “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree,” by Tony Orlando and Dawn. Now, most people can’t say off the top of their head that the song was recorded in 1973, but many can make the connection that the song is more than thirty years old, making a pretty close guess to my age. Grandparents will begin their stories with something like, “Before there was television,” and they will tell the children of today the types of games they used to do. Bruce and I had fun one evening around the dinner table telling the children about our favorite childhood toys.
These may not be stories like those we read in books, but they are still stories. Stories reveal something about the person telling the story and the subject of the story. The fun part of storytelling is that the listeners often hear something in the story that causes them to remember their own story. At those gatherings of friends and families over the holidays, someone will say, “Remember the day…” and that will set off hours of remembrances, not only of that day but of other things that have happened to the people in the room. We share our lives through stories and we connect with others through them.
The Gospel of Mark began as an orally shared story. As a matter of fact, if we agree that Mark is the Mark that is found in the Bible, the stories were probably told to him by the disciples in those days following the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Mark may have even been around for some of Jesus’ storytelling. He learned about the faith through stories and weaved those stories into the larger story we have been given. I can imagine those disciples, and the new ones who came to believe in Jesus because of them, sitting around in someone’s parlor, telling the stories of Jesus. “Do you remember when He walked on water?” “What about the time he healed that blind man?”
I can even see Peter remembering that night in the garden, when the chief priests and armed crowd came to arrest Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel we are told about a young man who was in the garden, wrapped in only a linen cloth. When the disciples ran away, leaving Jesus alone, the young man also ran. Someone caught the linen cloth and pulled it off the boy, and he ran away naked. Now, moment that must have been a frightening and humiliating experience at the time, but aren’t some of our favorite stories those remembrances of our failures and foibles? I know Zack loves to tell a story about my not being able to find my cell phone ringing in my pocket.
Some have suggested that the young man is Mark, himself, putting himself into the story. Can you see the disciples remembering that moment as they gathered together trying to understand this new life that has been thrust upon them? After all, that moment in the story is very hard. They all abandoned Jesus. They all watched Him die. They knew afterwards that it had to be, but that doesn’t make that moment any easier to understand. But in the midst of their silent grief and shame, they remember Mark and his naked butt running away from the scene. It is a moment of comic relief as they share once again in that horrific moment.
I hope that as we gather together for the holidays this year we remember that it is through stories that we can share everything about ourselves, including our faith. We don’t have to confront people with the hellfire and brimstone preaching often associated with evangelism. We don’t even have to quote scriptures or talk about doctrine. We can tell stories, stories about how God has been working in our life. We don’t even have to begin by telling everyone about God; we don’t have to wear Jesus on our sleeve. We can tell those embarrassing stories that bring a giggle from the crowd, because in them others will see the reality of God’s grace. We boldly share our stories so that others will share in them. And perhaps they will ask what it is that gives us our strength, courage, hope and peace. Our stories of faith can lead to talk about Jesus as relationships are built between people who have been getting to know one another. Then the stories will transform more than atmosphere in a room.
You have a story to tell. Will you?
“From that time began Jesus to show unto his disciples, that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall never be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art a stumbling-block unto me: for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16:21-23, ASV
We used to say, “You make a better door than a window” when someone was standing in our line of sight. This was generally used when someone stopped in front of the television, but might have been stated at the movie theater if someone stood up during the film. I’m sure I heard it used in school when someone was standing in front of the blackboard. I’m sure we can all find dozens of ways people block our view, making a better door than a window.
Delilah was my door today, and is often found in that role. She likes to sit on the desk, right in front of computer monitor. Now, she loves to play with the curser, there’s something about chasing that little arrow around the screen that makes her happy. But sometimes she just likes to sit there in front of me, insisting on my attention. She makes it impossible to see what I’m doing on the computer. Now, we can look at this story as an example of how we should stop and pay attention to the ones we love. Sometimes we get so caught up in our work, in our play and in our own selves that we forget to love the people (and pets) around us. They have to literally get in our way so that we’ll stop for a moment to notice them.
But three’s something else we can see in this story. How often are we the ones who stand in the way and what is our motivation for doing so? My kids purposefully stood in the way of the television sometimes, not because they were being ignored, but because they wanted to annoy. A favorite childhood game, often played by bullies, is to stand in the way of someone when they want to go somewhere. I’ve been known to stand in the way so that someone won’t see something I don’t want them to see, like when I did Christmas shopping with my kids in the shopping carts. We don’t always purposely get in other people’s way, but how many times have we been in the grocery store and someone has been in our way, blocking our path or making it impossible to reach the things we need.
When it comes to things of faith, we should ask ourselves if and how we are standing in people’s way. Can people see Jesus? Are we blocking their way because we want the attention? Do we block their view because we insist that they see things our way? Perhaps we don’t even realize that we are standing in the way. Our own words and actions can distract from the reality that is Jesus Christ.
Jesus wasn’t saying that Peter is Satan, but something was blocking the reality of Jesus’ purpose from the disciples. Jesus wanted Peter to get out of the way, so that Jesus could do what He needed to do and so that Peter could see clearly what God intended. Sometimes we are like doors, blocking the view, but God wants us to be like windows, allowing His light and His will to be known. So, let us step out of the way so that the world can see Jesus as He is, so that they will know Him and love Him and experience His grace and forgiveness as we have.
Scriptures for November 22, 2009, Christ the King Sunday: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8, ASV
I’m reading a book by Philippa Gregory called, “The White Queen.” This book describes the unbelievable intrigue and confusion that occurred in England during the War of the Roses. This way took place in the late fifteenth century between the houses of York and Lancaster, of the Plantagenet line. Henry VI took the throne when he was a mere babe, so his kingdom was ruled by regents. He was tutored by Richard de Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick. Richard’s daughter Anne married Richard Neville, who through a freak set of circumstances became the Earl of Warwick in his own right. This Richard became known as the king-maker, because whichever man he backed won the throne.
Now, Richard first backed Henry VI, the king whom his father-in-law tutored and supported when he was but a child king. Henry suffered from bouts of insanity, giving the real power to the lords of the land, among then Richard of Warwick. When Henry regained his senses, Richard sought ways to regain his power. When the House of York, Edward, made claim to the throne, Richard and some of the other lords backed him with money, weapons and men. Henry was thrown off his throne and Edward, who was only nineteen at the time, was ascended to the throne, Richard was right there to help the young king rule. As Edward grew in power, he became independent, making his own choices, including the marriage to Elizabeth, the White Queen. Richard, having lost his power and the trust of Edward, turned again to Henry, who was insane again. Richard won, and Henry was placed back on the throne.
After a period in exile, Edward returned to win back his throne. He killed Richard of Warwick on the battlefield, destroyed Henry’s wife’s army and took her captive, killed Henry’s only heir and had Henry locked up in the Tower of London. Henry didn’t know the difference: he was out of his mind again. Eventually Henry died in the Tower and though no one really knows what happened, he was probably murdered. The only way to end the War of the Roses was to destroy one of the houses. York survived, Lancaster died. After a period of peace, Edward died unexpectedly and his marriage to Elizabeth was ruled null by Parliament. Edward’s sons, the Princes in the Tower, were probably murdered and eventually the rule of England was won by the Tudors, a third house in the Plantagenet line. Henry VII ended the war by combining the red rose of Lancaster with the white rose of York, creating the red and white Tudor Rose.
The War of the Roses was a war of cousins. Everyone was related in some way, usually by marriage. Families fought against family members. The most incredible part of this whole story is how quickly people were able to turn their loyalty from one house to another. Richard of Warwick backed the king he felt would benefit him most. He fought against the one with power, because he wanted to be the one with the power. He even forced his daughter into marriage to Edward’s brother George, hoping to put him on the throne and take power through that relationship. He was not the only one, however, who had limited loyalty. The lords turned with every wind of change. They supported those whom they thought would give more abundantly. If a king did not give enough quickly, they turned to another. In the end no one knew who to trust.
This is the way of war, the way of kings, the way of the world. It is certainly an extreme example, after all many countries go many years without such intrigue and violence as enemies seek the throne. But even in times of peace there are those who scheme behind the scenes to take control and wield power where it might not be right for them to do so.
There was certainly scheming in Jesus’ day. The story of the Herod family is not much different than the Plantagenet family. The same can be said about the Roman Emperors. Those in power had to constantly fear a take-over. Someone was always in the shadows waiting for the opportunity to grasp the throne. It is no wonder, then, that the people looked at Jesus as a possible to solution to their problem. They knew that Jesus would be a fair and kindly king, serving the needs of the ordinary people rather than the desires of the lords and leaders. He talked about ordinary things, promised that the least would be first and chose for His ‘court’ men who would serve rather than take advantage of servants. He was a different kind of man and they expected He would be a different kind of king.
They were right, but not completely. In today’s Gospel lesson, Pilate asks the question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Rather than answer the question directly, Jesus asks another question. “Do you want to know or are you just repeating what you have heard from others?’ Jesus didn’t want Pilate to base his decision on hearsay. What did it matter, anyway? Pilate is not a Jew. The Herodians were nothing but puppet kings under the rule of the Emperor. Pilate answers, “It is your own people who wish to see you dead.”
Those same people honored Jesus as a king just days before this encounter. But they were looking for a political king, an earthly ruler who would defeat the Romans and make Israel the golden nation it was in the days of David. Pilate asks Jesus, “What did you do?” What did He do? He didn’t do anything to make His followers disloyal. They turned on their own. He wasn’t what they expected. He wasn’t willing to give them what they wanted. He threatened their world without the promise of a happy ending. He did nothing except be what He was meant to be.
He answered Pilate’s question, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” Pilate assumes that Jesus is answering “Yes, I am a king” but he still does not understand that Jesus’ mission, at least from John’s point of view, has nothing to do with politics. He came to save the world. He came to turn the old ways upside down, to bring in a new era and a new vision of life.
The Church year calendar follows the same pattern every year. We begin at Advent, a time of rising light in the darkness. The birth of Christ ushers in a new age. During Epiphany the light reaches out to the entire world. In Lent we look within ourselves to realize that we are sinners in need of a Savior. During Holy Week we journey with Jesus to the cross on which He died for our sake. At Easter we are resurrected with Him, experiencing the joy of God’s gracious mercy and love. During the Easter season we are reminded of why God sent His Son as He completes the teaching He began during His life. The Church is born at Pentecost, ten days after Jesus returns to the right hand of the Father. During the season of Pentecost we learn what it means to be the Church. In the last weeks of the Church year we look forward to the second coming of Christ, to His glorification and rule. We look forward to the time when the promise is made complete, when Jesus is Christ is truly Lord of all forever. Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the Church year. On Christ the King we look forward to the Day of Judgment, when Christ will rule over all things and when all things will be under His rule. On this day we get a glimpse of the eternal.
But how do you describe the eternal? Human beings from every time and every place have tried to find words to express their expectations of what it will be when God truly reigns above all. Daniel shares a vision of heaven in today’s Old Testament lesson, a vision of an Ancient One that could bring terror to the witnesses. Imagine the scene, a room of thrones for a court of judgment with the throne of the Ancient of Days standing out from the rest. He was beyond compare: whiter than white, purer than pure. His throne was like a fiery chariot, and flames flowed out from His presence. He was surrounded by thousands and tens of thousands of servants. This is not a judge we would want to meet.
While this image is terrifying, there is also a message of hope, because one like a human being came with the clouds of heaven. We understand this Son of Man to be our Lord Jesus Christ, presented to the Ancient of Days as a mediator between the heavens and earth. Jesus will be the steward who will rule God’s Kingdom, given the dominion and the power and the glory above all else. All earthly kings fall short, even if they are humble and wise. Only Jesus can rule the kingdom that will never end.
He will not rule over a kingdom like Edward or Henry, a kingdom dependent on the good graces of men. He rules over all of creation, Lord over the nations and the people who live in them. He rules over the great mountains, the giant redwoods and the stars in the sky. He rules over the roses in the garden and the affairs of men. He even rules over the oceans, and seas, and rivers and floods. For those of us who have lived in places where the water has real power—at the seashore where the waves crash day in and day out, on the coastline where hurricanes wreak havoc, on the plains where tornadoes are hidden by the sheets of rain and in the flatlands where floods carry away our lives—the idea that God rules over the water is terrifying and comforting. Water can move the world, but the psalmist writes that God is established in the world with such power that the world can not be moved. He is more majestic than the sea or the storm
When seeing the redwoods and the stars, and when worshipping God in the places where He is so visible, everything else seems to go away. The worries of the world seem unimportant when standing in the shadow of the Creator. Earthly troubles seem to disappear for just a moment when I am awed by the magnificence of God’s work. In those moments we get a glimpse of heaven itself and our hearts cry out to God in praise and thanksgiving.
Yet, no matter how awesome those experiences might be, no matter how awestruck I am at seeing the stars, mountains or trees. No matter how blessed I am by powerful worship, no matter how often I see God’s hand in my every day living in this world, nothing will compare to that which I will see in that day when I come before the throne of God. The most beautiful things in the world will pale in comparison. The most furious storms will seem calm. The largest trees or stars or mountaintops will seem small compared to the majesty of our God. In that day we will be truly awestruck, beyond anything we can even imagine.
In the second lesson for today from Revelation, John gives us another peek at the coming of the Christ in glory. We are His kingdom, not as earthbound subjects seeking places of power, but as those who will praise Him forever. John gives us something to look forward to, to the coming of our King. “Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him. Even so, Amen.”
How do you describe the eternal? Our God is the Eternal One, the Ancient of Days. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the One who is and who was and who is to come. He is the Almighty. We know Him through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who reigns over all the earth as the Steward of God’s Kingdom. He is the firstborn, the ruler of all the kings of the earth. He is the faithful witness, the One who tells the truth that sets His people free from oppression—not the oppression of kings, but that of sin and death. Through Him we receive the grace of God that invites us into the throne room to worship Him forever. In Him we know true peace, the peace that gives us the courage to enter into that throne room for eternity.
“Ye know that when ye were Gentiles ye were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might led. Wherefore I make known unto you, that no man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema; and no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who worketh all things in all. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit: to another faith, in the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, in the one Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discernings of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; and to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as he will.” 1 Corinthians 12:2-11, ASV
Food shows are big these days. There have always been television chefs offering cooking advice to viewers, from the days of Julia Child and “The French Chef” to today’s Food Network. We love to watch people who know what they are doing do what they love. And we learn from them. One of my favorite shows is “Iron Chef America” because it is fascinating to watch professional chefs produce creative foods out of sometimes bizarre ingredients. How they come up with savory and sweet offerings from some of secret ingredients is amazing.
There were several shows that I watched when I was a new wife. One was a show starring the singing chef Pasquale. During the show I watched, his cooking tended to be directed to the single guy that has no kitchen skills or patience, a description that easily fit me except for the single guy part. He taught me not to be afraid of putting together ingredients that aren’t always used together. He used a lot of canned goods and he never cared about the delicacies of cooking. Instead of wasting time peeling a potato, he showed how cut off the skin more quickly. It wasted a little bit of potato, but potatoes were ten cents a pound and a person’s time is much more valuable. Some of the recipes I created during my Pasquale years were delicious but unrepeatable because I never remembered which cans I pulled out of the pantry when I made that savory concoction.
Another show was called “The Home Show.” I liked this because they taught me how to do so many things around the house. There was a guy who taught us how to pick good produce, a woman who taught us simple crafts, other regulars who offered advice about decorating, shopping and holiday entertaining. I liked the show because it was directed at average women, mostly stay at home moms because we were the ones home to watch the show when it played, although everyone running a house could find valuable information. “The Home Show” taught me so many things that I still use today.
It takes many different types of teachers to help us learn. There wouldn’t be dozens of different food shows if everyone learned the same way or if everyone had the same abilities. Some people are able to put together a meal for fifteen with all the bells and whistles. They can arrange flowers, create place tags, organize entertainment and choose a different table setting for every occasion. Other people just want to get a can of soup opened and on the table for dinner on a busy evening. Some people want to learn new ways of doing things and are willing to spend time in the kitchen creating the perfect meal. Others want practical suggestions that will give them more time to do the things they love to do.
I recently read an article that reported a comment Martha Stewart made about Rachel Ray. Now, Martha Stewart is the home diva, able to do anything and everything. Her ideas are sometimes expensive, complicated and time consuming, but they make things beautiful. Her advice is often impractical. After all, how many of us really have 42 sets of china from which to choose? Rachel Ray, on the other hand, teaches how to make the most of time (30 minute meals), money (several travel shows help tour on a budget) and talents.
Martha Stewart said that Rachel Ray “doesn’t hold a candle to me.” In an interview, she said that Rachel Ray’s abilities are “not good enough for me” and that she’s an entertainer, not a teacher. They are certainly different, but I think they are both teachers. Some people will learn and model the example of Martha Stewart. Others will model Rachel Ray’s techniques. For what it is worth, Rachel Ray agrees that Martha Stewart’s skills are better. She’s even said she would rather eat Martha’s food. But there is a place for Rachel’s lessons, people who are appreciative of the advice she can give and the recipes she shares. There’s room for both.
There are so many different cooking shows because each one fills a niche. There are different ways of following Jesus because each one fills a need. Within our Church, there are different types of people, each with his or her own gifts, each able to share a point of view about Jesus that builds up the body of Christ. We might not agree that another has any ability to share the Gospel, but they might just be exactly what another Christian needs. So instead of seeing them as less or without gifts, let us remember that God can, and does, use the weakest among us to transform the world. I’m not Martha Stewart. I’m not even Rachel Ray. But I do what I can in the kitchen to feed my family. I’m not a great evangelist or teacher or preacher, but I use my gifts to the best of my ability to share the Gospel with others. You can, too. You have something to offer to the Church and the world.
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; it is not therefore not of the body. And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; it is not therefore not of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members each one of them in the body, even as it pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now they are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee: or again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary: and those parts of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness; whereas our comely parts have no need: but God tempered the body together, giving more abundant honor to that part which lacked; that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, ASV
The human body is an amazing thing. It is imperfect and each body will fail one day, but it adjusts remarkably to various circumstances. Take, for instance, a person paralyzed from the waste down. Their upper bodies grow much stronger, adapting to the loss of legs by giving them the strength to move their bodies with their arms. Blind people find their hearing becomes more sensitive. I’ve seen people who have lost the use of their arms able to use their feet as if they were hands. Those with the will find a way to get around their disability.
The same can be said of a congregation of faithful people. Paul writes that each part of the body is necessary for the body to be whole. This is true. It is certainly much easier if we can use our arms and our legs, our eyes and our ears. We adapt to the circumstances as possible. Medical science has made it possible to do incredible things to make their difficult things easier. But, it will always be better for the body to be whole.
We might think we can live without the person in our congregation who is focused on only the administrative things. Church is about worship and prayer, right? Why worry about how much paper we use for the bulletins? What about that woman who does nothing but pray? Shouldn’t she come out for the clean-up days to help scrub the bathrooms and rake the leaves? After all, we all pray. Shouldn’t we all share in all the work?
There are times when we have to adapt. Perhaps the person who is terrific at organizing pot luck dinners has to move out of town, we have to find a way to continue doing those dinners even though that part of our body is missing. What usually happens is that the same people who do everything step into the role, not even bothering to find those who are gifted to do the tasks for the sake of the Church. In other words, we look at the parts of the body not as individual with unique purpose, but bodies that can be put wherever they are needed. However, God has created the Church as a perfect machine, with every part specially created for a purpose. We may think we don’t need an eye, but God has appointed someone to be the eye. We have to help each believer discover their gifts and find their purpose to fill all the parts of the Church as God intends it to be.
We certainly can make do. There are plenty of things anyone can do in the Church to keep it running. It doesn’t take anyone special to print the bulletin, to light the candles, to clean up the sanctuary after worship. Or does it? Yes, printing the bulletin takes little more than a bit of copy and paste and pushing the right buttons on the copier, but it takes someone with patience and a sharp eye to ensure that the bulletins are accurate and easy to follow. It is important to light the candles with an air of solemnity and worship. Cleaning the sanctuary after worship takes a sharp eye, so that the old bulletins are removed and the books are returned to the right place, available for the next service. These might seem like unimportant tasks, tasks that anyone can accomplish. We can probably live without them and perhaps even thrive. But God has ordained someone to do these tasks, and every task. Can we help them find their place in our fellowship? They are important for the body to be whole.
“Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God which hath been given in the churches of Macedonia; how that in much proof of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For according to their power, I bear witness, yea and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord, beseeching us with much entreaty in regard of this grace and the fellowship in the ministering to the saints: and this, not as we had hoped, but first they gave their own selves to the Lord, and to us through the will of God. Insomuch that we exhorted Titus, that as he made a beginning before, so he would also complete in you this grace also. But as ye abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all earnestness, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.” 2 Corinthians 8:1-7, ASV
We are doing an angel tree at our church, coordinated through a charitable organization in town. We receive a certain amount of angels from them and then take the gifts to them to sort out. The angels list the name of a child, age, size of clothing or a Christmas wish. Each child in the program will receive at least two gifts—a toy and some clothes. Last year we had a hundred angels, and unfortunately we were unable to find people to purchase that many gifts, so we had to send some back to the organization. This year we got half as many, and they were gone in less than an hour. Quite a few members came too late to get an angel, so they said they would try to get more this week.
The woman who has taken charge of this program at our church was very surprised that the angels went out so quickly. She worked so hard to get rid of the angels last year, and couldn’t believe they would go so fast. She expected it to be even worse this year, since so many people are dealing with difficult times. She wondered at the generosity. Now, it is possible that our congregation is filled with people who are not suffering during these economic times, but I doubt that is true. Any church is generally a microcosm of the world that surrounds it, and our congregation is located in one of the harder hit areas of the city. I know people are worried, so what could this mean?
We assume that when people have less they will give less. After all, if there is barely enough to pay the bills and buy food, there isn’t enough to share with others. And yet, it seems as though it works exactly the opposite. A person who has little is more willing to give to someone who has less because they appreciate more everything they have. Those who have less realize that all the extras are unimportant. They feel more thankful for the blessings they have: family, friends, a hot meal on the table. When we have more than we need, we look for more. If we have excess, we use our excess in ways that might seem wasteful for someone who has just enough. Instead of planning to lay gifts worth hundreds or thousands of dollars under the tree, those who are strapped for cash will seek creative ways to give to those they love. And they will feel more blessed by the experience than those who get that big screen TV from Santa.
We heard the story of the widow in the Temple a few weeks ago. Jesus was watching those who were giving to the Temple treasury. Pilgrims were putting great sums of money out of their abundance into the coffers. But Jesus noticed a poor widow who put in just two coins worth a penny, and He told His disciples that she gave more than all the others. She gave more because she gave everything out of her poverty. The rich people have given just a portion of their worth.
When we have a hundred dollars, we think about the ways we can use it. A hundred dollars is enough to buy gifts for our family and we can eek out a few dollars to share with someone in need. So, we think that when we have fifty dollars we’ll only have enough to buy gifts for our family. We know that times are tough, but we also know that times are harder for others. We identify with the need, but know that we can get through it without having all those extra things. So, we’ll still share with those in need, keeping less for ourselves. The widow trusted in God, and we do the same when we are suffering in lean times. When we are rich, we get comfortable and we forget that some are suffering. We are less likely to find the extra to share.
So, I hope I’m right about this, and that everyone is feeling extremely generous despite the difficult times. But even if we are worried about tomorrow, I hope we’ll all trust God and share more of our things with those who are in greater need. We don’t need to give big screen TVs for Christmas. We don’t need a hundred presents under the tree. We have so much for which we can be thankful, even if we have less. As long as we have enough, then we have enough to share with others who do not have enough. God will get us through these times and He will get them through it with our help.
“So when they had broken their fast, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again a second time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Tend my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. Now this he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.” John 21:15-19, ASV
We are just days away from Advent, the season leading to Christmas. The holidays are beginning with the gathering of families over turkey and stuffing; Thanksgiving is the jumping off point for the craziness that is to come. It is appropriate to begin the chase with a moment of prayer and gratitude. We have so much; sometimes I think we have too much. We can’t appreciate the reality of our wealth because we are drowning in our stuff.
I’m not saying that we aren’t thankful, because I have seen so many of my friends sharing their thankfulness on Facebook. We know how blessed we are to have friends and families, to have jobs and everything we need. We are even thankful enough to be generous with what we have: the food drive was overwhelming and the angel tree emptied quickly. But I’m not sure we are truly thankful for the things that really matter. Yes, family and friends matter. But there is something even more important for which we should be thankful: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter knew what it was like to betray Jesus. He didn’t think he could do it. When Jesus said that everyone would run away, Peter stood up and said that he’d never abandon Jesus. Yet, in those final hours of Jesus’ life, Peter did run away. Not only did he run away, but he denied knowing Jesus. Three times he renounced Jesus. He did exactly what Jesus said he would do. He had warning, but still failed to be the loyal follower he thought he could be.
Now, we like to think that we aren’t like Peter, but I imagine we all have had moments when we have denied knowing Jesus. Perhaps we haven’t been so direct about it, but we can deny our Lord with our silence as loudly as with words. How often have we ignored an opportunity to tell someone about Jesus because we are afraid? How often have we forgotten God’s amazing grace and forgiveness when dealing with those who have harmed us? How many times have we rejected someone and refused to forgive them because you don’t think he or she deserves it?
Of all the things the disciples did wrong, Peter’s was the most horrible. Judas betrayed Jesus, yes, but that was a necessary evil. Jesus had to die, it was the reason He was sent. The rest of the disciples abandoned Jesus, which was also necessary. In the end, Jesus was alone, even God abandoned Him on the cross. But Peter’s denial was worse than the kiss of betrayal. And Peter knew it. He fled from the scene in tears, thinking that he’d lost everything.
But even denial is forgivable in God’s grace. Jesus invited Peter to join him for something to eat, but even more so, Jesus brought Peter back from his despair. Though it sounds like Jesus is haranguing Peter, but Jesus knew that one word of forgiveness would not be enough. For each of Peter’s denials, Jesus gave Peter a task: not to earn forgiveness but to ordain Peter’s purpose. Jesus is, in essence, telling Peter, “Lots of people will need your example. They will need to know that their own denial is forgiveness. So, go, tell them that they are loved. Feed them with my Word. Take care of their needs. Love them because you, of all the disciples, know the heartache of turning away. Bring them back, just as I have brought you back.”
We hear the same call through Peter’s story. Whatever we have done wrong, whatever we’ve left unsaid, we know that Jesus has called us to feed and take care of His people. So, as we get through this Thanksgiving, let’s take our thankfulness well into Advent, remembering what Jesus came to do.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 29, 2009, First Sunday in Advent: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
"O my God, in thee have I trusted." Psalm 25:2b, ASV
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go.” Unfortunately, that song has been ringing through my head since Halloween, when the television commercials for retail stores began advertising holiday sales. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen the shelves fill up with decorations, wrapping and handy presents, some of which are prewrapped for your convenience and divided by price. Do you need something for a man worth $10? There’s a number if interesting items like backscratchers and remote control caddies. Need something for a girl costing $5? There are shelves filled with lip gloss and hair ties. The gift boxes of food are diverse and delicious: kits for hot cocoa, sundaes, coffee or soup, meat and cheese packages and candy galore.
I have to admit that I have already been shopping for Christmas presents. Like those who live far from home, we have packages that need to be readied for shipping well before Christmas. We also did the shopping for our angel tree gifts this week. I’ve been working on homemade gifts all year and have been rushing to get those finished this week so that they are ready to be given to friends and family as we gather during the upcoming weeks. I’m thinking about getting the Christmas decorations out to begin the long process of transforming our house for the holidays.
I know. These things don’t really matter. This season is about something much more important than presents under a brightly lit tree. We spend much of Advent grumbling about the secularization of Christmas, and yet we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season, anyway. Most of us, at least those who read this devotion, balance the secular aspects with spiritual disciplines. Many will follow advent devotions. Others will find time and resources to take care of those for whom the holidays are difficult. We still get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays that we lose touch with our God. Our lavish and greedy lives speak little about the love of Christ and even our generosity is often founded on questionable motives.
But there’s good news in all this for us. God is not looking for the good and upright. He’s looking for the humble. He’s not looking for those who think themselves righteous, because they are self-righteous, pious based on their own works rather than on God’s grace. God is looking for the people who are teachable, who will learn and grow and be changed by His Word. He is looking for those who by faith are willing to wait and watch and hope for the fulfillment of His promises.
We are entering into the Advent season, a time for looking forward to the coming of the Christ child. We wait for Christmas, preparing our hearts for the coming of our Lord in the manger. But we are also looking forward to the coming of the Christ who will reign for eternity. Christ has come. Christ will come again. Advent is a time of the now and the later. It is a time to look back even while we are looking forward. It is a time to remember the coming of Jesus and the promises He fulfilled even while we hope for the promises to be fulfilled forever.
Jeremiah writes, “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” In this verse we see the reality of the now and later, the ‘is’ and ‘will be.’ I don’t think there is anyone who can say that Jerusalem lives in safety. As a matter of fact, the dangers in that part of the world are horrifying and devastating. People die on a daily basis due to violence and hatred. Others are suffering because they are unable to satisfy the most basic needs. Their homes and other buildings have been destroyed, their roads are impassable. They are unable to get from one place to another. This is a problem that affects everyone in the region; it is a place where the victims fall on both sides. Everyone has power and yet no one has power. We, who live so far away, take sides in the fight, each thinking we have chosen the right way of thinking. What we do not realize is that there is nothing right about what is happening in that place. There are no winners. There are victims everywhere. For every victim on one side, there is a victim on the other. Peace is now, as it has always been, beyond reach.
It is hard to imagine that God’s promises are being fulfilled even now in places where children are recruited to wear bombs on their chests that blow up marketplaces and kill innocent people. As we wait for the coming of our Savior and celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promises, we see that the world hasn’t changed at all, even after two thousand years. Jeremiah spoke of those days when everything will be made right, and we connect that promise to the birth of Christ. Yet, we know that even as He has fulfilled the promise, the work isn’t complete. The work isn’t complete, so we try to fulfill the promises in our own ways, by our own strength and for our own purpose.
The people in Jeremiah’s day thought that they were seeing the fulfillment of this promise. The word that is used in verse 16 for “The LORD is our righteousness” is similar to the name of Zedekiah. The people hoped that he was the answer to their prayers. They hoped that restoration would come at his hand. Judah was, at the time, under the rule of Babylon, a colony under Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah was placed on the throne by Nebuchadnezzar, but Zedekiah turned to Egypt for help with a revolt. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and took Zedekiah into captivity. Though his name meant “The LORD is my righteousness,” Zedekiah was not the Lord’s righteousness.
The people had hoped that Zedekiah would be the one to make things like they’d been during David’s reign. They were wrong. They sought fulfillment of God’s promises through the strength of men, and learned that the strength of men and princes is not trustworthy. This is why God has always called His people to trust in Him. The psalmist recognized this and sings, “O my God, in thee have I trusted.”
The New International Version uses the word “hope” three times in our psalm for today (twice in today’s reading) but other versions such as the New Revised Standard and American Standard use the phrase “wait for.” Hope is waiting for the promises to be fulfilled. But waiting is especially difficult. I think the hardest part of the early appearance of Christmas in our world is the fact that our children do not understand the idea of time. If Santa is in the mall, then Christmas must be soon. They begin even earlier longing for the day when the tree will be lost under the pile of presents. They either drive parents crazy with their anxiousness or they lose interest. How long do you have to wait? Our wait gets longer every year.
We can see the same thing in the faith of many Christians. There are those who live anxiously for the coming of our Lord Jesus in the clouds, as we see promised in today’s Gospel lesson. They see the signs and they believe that the time has come. Throughout history there have always been those who have given up the world in the expectation that the time is urgent. They have cried out to the world, “The time is NOW!” certain that they have understood the signs. Yet the times pass, and nothing happens. They either grow impatient or they lose interest.
But our message for today is to remember that God has fulfilled His promises and He will fulfill them. While we wait, while we hope, we are called to live in trust, knowing that God has done and continues to do His Work in this world. We call for Him to teach us, to make us know His word, to lead us in the right ways. We seek His righteousness, knowing that our own righteousness will not bring into fulfillment anything. We ask Him to teach us His path and to forget our sins. He is the one who is good and upright and his path is steadfast love and faithfulness. He is not looking for the good and upright, He is looking for the humble. He is looking for those who can be taught, who are willing to learn to live in His love and faithfulness, those who are willing to wait for everything to be complete.
When we hear the phrase “In those days…” they are often followed by horrific things like plagues, destruction, famine and death. Jesus says, “Men will faint from fear…” We know in our hearts and minds that we will have nothing to fear, and yet the promise of God does not mean we will never suffer in this world. I know that I have experienced fear and worry when faced with inclement weather like hurricanes and tornadoes. I have been worried about family members who have been waiting for test results that could bring bad news. I have been concerned about financial difficulties and other troubles that we have faced as individuals or as a family. Though I can rest secure in the knowledge that God’s promises are true, I still experience fear, worry and even doubt.
It can be particularly hard when the hard times cause our neighbors to question our faith. What good is believing in a good and upright God if we are suffering? What good is a God who can’t protect His own and fulfill His promises when they are most needed? The world sees our suffering and they see us put to shame. Our enemies exult over us because they think our God can’t overcome the world.
But like the psalmist, we look to God for the strength to escape our difficulties and the strength to be blameless. There is no shame for the righteous. The righteous are not those who are without sin, who are right according to the ways of the world. The righteous are those who have a right relationship with God, a relationship started by God when He came to dwell among men as the child born in Bethlehem. We wait for the triumph of the relationship that began in the manger, moved to the cross and dwells today with us as the Spirit. One day it will be complete. Until then, we will live in an imperfect world, waiting and hoping for God.
Jesus cautions us to not become weighed down by the worries of our world. It is easy to worry when it seems like the promises are far off. It is easy to turn onto the wrong paths when we do not see real solutions to our troubles. At this time of year, especially in times like these, we wonder how we will get through this season. Whether we face financial difficulties or broken relationships, impossible expectations or health issues, many of us carry heavy burdens on our shoulders. How can we possibly trust that God is faithful when nothing seems different today than it was two thousand years ago?
It is true that our world is not at peace. We, like those in every generation, can see the signs that Jesus said would point to that great day. What do we expect that day? Do we expect the world to be changed in a twinkling? That day will be real and it is a future hope. It could be today or it could be in a thousand years. We might think that surely we will be the generation that will see the coming of Christ. Perhaps we will be. But we might be just another generation that waits, living hopeful in whatever circumstances we face. This does not mean we have not received the promise. We live in the fulfillment as every generation before us, because the kingdom of God is near. God is near. He came as a babe in a manger and broke through the walls that kept Him locked in the Temple in Jerusalem, so that all might see His light and know His grace. He now lives among us by the Holy Spirit, and in the gathering of the faithful who share the love and grace of Christ.
We may already be annoyed by the songs of Christmas in the commercials on our television. We may already be tired of searching for the perfect gift or doing the work necessary to make the holidays a wonderful time for those we love. We might be impatient about the day coming, so that we can get it over with. We may worry about whether or not we can get through this season. But we are called to face it with joy, remembering that God is near through it all and that He is looking for the humble to whom He can teach His ways.
“And there shall be signs in sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the billows; men fainting for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world: for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads; because your redemption draweth nigh.” Luke 21:25-28, ASV
I went shopping this weekend. I didn’t get out on Black Friday at 4 a.m., but Victoria and I did manage to get out fairly early in the morning. I also went shopping on Saturday. Over the weekend, I spent many hours and plenty of dollars getting ready for Christmas. I have to do an inventory, to see where I stand, but I honestly think I’m nearly done shopping for presents. Bruce started the decorating this weekend. I helped a little, although I still have some details to finish on the outside and I haven’t started the inside at all. We even went to look at Christmas trees yesterday, although we decided to wait a little before buying one. It is still very early.
It seems strange to have so much done already, but it is a really good thing. Normally Bruce works late into the night after a long day of work, trying to get everything on display by the beginning of the holiday season. This year he can rest easy because his work is done. I am usually working until the very last minute choosing and preparing gifts for family and friends. It gets too hectic at this time of year as we try to do everything. Perhaps I’m fooling myself, but I feel like I am well ahead of the game. I’m hoping this will be a calm and pleasant holiday season.
Yesterday was the first day of Advent, the season of the Church year when we prepare for the coming of Christ. Early in the season we are reminded of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ at the end of time, when He comes in glory. Then we turn our attention to the remembrance of His first advent, the story of the Nativity. We’ll remember John the Baptist, His father Joseph and His mother Mary. At our church we are studying the story from the lectionary, and have a daily list of scriptures to read, so that we’ll prepare our spirits for the coming of Christ.
It might seem strange, particularly at this time that is supposed to be about joy and love, but one of the things that is clearly present in the scriptures for Advent is fear. The people experiencing God’s amazing grace did not understand what was happening. Mary was faithful, but there was a sense of fear in her response. Joseph was afraid for Mary and for his reputation. John the Baptist cried out a message that brought fear to the people who heard him preach. The shepherds were afraid of the glorious company of angels in the sky. There was a lot to fear: the uncertainty, the oppression, the normal conditions of life in that age. Would Mary survive the birth? Would Jesus survive beyond infancy? Would God’s will be done in the lives of those whom He has called?
We have our own fears. When hear the apocalyptic texts, some of us worry about what will happen. When will Christ come again? How will it happen? Will we know that it has happened or will we be left behind? I think all of us think about these things, but most of us do not let it rule our lives. But that does not mean that we are without fear at this time of year. We worry about more secular and earthly things. Which of us hasn’t wondered how we will find that perfect gift for our friend? How many of us have been worry free about finances at Christmastime? Worst of all is our fear that we’ll run out of time. How will we get everything done with so little time left?
We worry about these things and then we lose sight of the reality of Christmas. If we are so caught up in the decorating and the baking and the shopping and the wrapping, we do not have time to think about Christ.
Jesus tells us not to worry. The images in the apocalyptic literature are frightening, but there is nothing to fear. But we also need to take care not to worry about the daily aspects of our lives and the special problems of holiday time. Fear is a major theme in the texts of Advent because we have to be aware that it is a problem so that we can seek God’s grace to keep from being afraid. Do not fear.
Do not be worried about those details. Do what you can. Buy what you can afford. Share with others as you are able. Through it all, remember the purpose of this season. Keep your eyes on Christ. Seek God during the season. Find time to read the scriptures, devote time to prayer. Know that God is near in time, in space and in spirit. There will be a day when the world will be turned upside down with the coming of Christ in glory, but it is not a day to fear. There will be a million things to get done before December 25th, but worry won’t get it done. Rest in God’s grace and prepare your heart as well as the world in which you live. As your heart is ready, the world around you won’t seem so hectic and out of control.