Welcome to the November 2021 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
Scripture quotes taken from the World English Bible
A WORD FOR TODAY, November 2021
“I will give you thanks with my whole heart. Before the gods, I will sing praises to you. I will bow down toward your holy temple, and give thanks to your Name for your loving kindness and for your truth; for you have exalted your Name and your Word above all. In the day that I called, you answered me. You encouraged me with strength in my soul. All the kings of the earth will give you thanks, Yahweh, for they have heard the words of your mouth. Yes, they will sing of the ways of Yahweh, for Yahweh’s glory is great! For though Yahweh is high, yet he looks after the lowly; but he knows the proud from afar. Though I walk in the middle of trouble, you will revive me. You will stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies. Your right hand will save me. Yahweh will fulfill that which concerns me. Your loving kindness, Yahweh, endures forever. Don’t forsake the works of your own hands.” Psalm 138, WEB
Today’s question comes from the story of the ten lepers who were healed. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem when He came to a colony of lepers. They cried out to Him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus answered, “Go and show yourselves to the priests” and as they left they were healed. One of the ten, a Samaritan, turned back to Jesus and fell down before Him in thanksgiving. Jesus knew that ten were cleansed but only one returned. He asked, “Where are the nine?”
This question makes us consider whether or not we are thankful to God for our blessings. We often look down at the nine because they didn’t go back to Jesus to say thanks, and yet they were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do. I wonder what they were thinking as they left Jesus. It was proper to show yourself to the priest when you were cured of a disease, but they had not yet been cured; it was only as they were leaving that they were cured. Nine of the lepers continued to the priests, doing exactly as expected according to their religion and society, then they disappear from the story. Did they go straight to the temple and offer their sacrifices? Did they stop at home to hug their wives and kiss their children before taking their thanksgiving and praise to God? They were thankful, I am sure. The miracle saved their lives. They could return home, work and live as a normal person again. It probably saved the lives of their families who suffered along with their loved one who had been outcast. Their world was returned to them, and their thankfulness was displayed in a return to the normal course of life. This is not a bad thing.
We are all thankful. Most countries even set aside a day to be thankful. It is November 25th in the United States this year. Many people on social media will spend the month posting things for which they are thankful. Last year I made memes with my photos and quotes about being thankful. We know how to show our gratefulness; politeness demands words of thanks when someone does something kind for us. Some people even still send thank you notes!
As much as we know we are to be thankful to God, I wonder how much of our thankfulness is like those nine lepers. They did what they were supposed to do. They went to the priests as Jesus commanded. They followed the religious ritual after they were cleansed. We do the same thing, don’t we? We celebrate Thanksgiving, but do we really spend the day in worship of the God who has given us our many blessings? We attend worship and sing the hymns and liturgy, but do we thank God for everything? Do we thank God when clean water runs out of our faucet? Do we give God the praise for the job, house, car, family, neighbors, and stuff we have? We are thankful, but do we turn around and fall on our knees to praise God for all our many blessings?
The nine were thankful. They did what they should do. They went to the Temple and offered their sacrifices for what God did, but the one praised Jesus who made him well. By looking to Jesus, the one received far more than just physical healing. He was made whole. His faith made him right with God. It is good to be thankful, but as we consider our many blessings during this month of November, let’s always remember that while it is good to speak thanks to those who do good things for us, it is God who has given us it all.
“When Yahweh brought back those who returned to Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, ‘Yahweh has done great things for them.’ Yahweh has done great things for us, and we are glad. Restore our fortunes again, Yahweh, like the streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap in joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed for sowing, will certainly come again with joy, carrying his sheaves.” Psalm 126:5, WEB
Death is a fact of life. Since the day that Adam and Eve chose to believe the word of the serpent and eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we have been cast out into the world where there is suffering and death. Everyone will die, even those who do everything humanly possible to ward off illness and the end of life. That it is a fact of life does not make death any easier. We suffer the ravages of old age, the sting of dis-ease and the danger of this imperfect world. Death comes in too many ways to list; it comes quickly in the night or lingers for years. Death is often the consequence of our own behavior, but too often it comes from others who by accident or choice have taken life into their own hands.
We do not celebrate when death comes knocking on our door; we experience grief and an incredible sense of loss when someone we love dies. We are exhausted by it, especially if death took a long time coming. We are shocked when it comes by an accident or by violence. We are often afraid of what will happen in our lives, especially if the dearly departed is someone who provided support for us. We do not celebrate these deaths, although we do find the strength and courage to celebrate their lives. When we die, we tell our loved ones not to cry for us, but to go on with their lives. No matter how much we insist on the joy, death will always bring sorrow.
That’s ok because God never intended for death to be a fact of life. Adam and Eve made a choice, and that choice separated all humankind from the intimate relationship that they had with God in the Garden of Eden. But even while death became the problem, God was already working on the solution. He knew, even from the day of Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden that He would make it possible for mankind to have the eternal life He intended. He knew that the Christ would pay the price that would free God’s people from death, guaranteeing those who believe will have eternal life. As Christians we know there is a reason to celebrate the death of one of God’s people: they aren’t really dead. They live on in the Kingdom where they no longer have to rely on hope or faith because they now walk in the Garden again with their Father the Creator.
As Christians, each year we celebrate the lives of those saints who have moved from this world to the next on All Saints Day, November 1st. We don’t really think of this as a multiple day celebration, but it actually begins on October 31st and ends on November 2nd, a triduum honoring the dead which goes back to pre-Christian eras. October 31st we know as Halloween, a vigil service which can include a prayer for light and readings from the scriptures. Halloween has become something much different, as houses are covered with graveyards and fake body parts covered in blood, children young and old dress as zombies or fictional murderers as they go door to door begging for sweets. That’s why the Halloween festivities are sometimes disturbing.
Christianity is a religion of light. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. The All Hallows Eve vigil liturgy and scripture is meant to point us to the light that is Christ who overcame death and darkness. All Saints Day then commemorates the Saints known and unknown. In older times, the Saints honored were local martyrs with ties to specific places. As the Saints became known from parish to parish, the day began to focus on the body of Saints, all those who have been beatified. They are the ones, known and unknown, who have achieved that life that God intended, who have been restored to Him through grace and who lived as God intended. They give us an example of the Christian life, the willingness to follow Christ anywhere and the courage to face even the most difficult times for His sake.
Today is the third day which completes the triduum: All Souls Day was a day of prayer for the dead. Prayer for the dead has been practiced in the Jewish as well as Christian faiths for at least a millennium. Most Christians reject the idea of purgatory and question the practice of praying for the dead, and so the triduum of the dearly departed has been condensed into All Saints Day, a day to remember all the saints, but in doing so we lose a part of what the triduum meant to teach. All Soul’s Day reminds us of the dead who did not die in faith and that there are many in this world who still need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that they can believe and become one of the saints that will spend eternity in the heavenly Zion.
We have melded all the ideas of this triduum, but in the celebration of All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day we are reminded of the promise of the light overcoming darkness, death being destroyed for the sake of God’s people, and the remembering of those loved ones who have passed from this world into the next. We are reminded during these three days that we are children of God; someday we will join those who have come before us to dwell in God’s presence forever. We have seen the light; we still live on earth and still rely on the hope and faith that our beloved family and friends have set aside for the reality of life in God’s presence.
There are too many who do not have the assurance of God’s promises or the expectation of eternal life. They are frightened by death and do whatever they can to avoid it. While we should take care of our bodies, we do so not because we are afraid of death but because we know God has work for us to do. The greatest work, of course, is to introduce our loved ones to Jesus Christ. We will mourn because death is a part of this fallen and broken world, but we are comforted by the Word of God that tells us this life is only a momentary journey on our way to an eternity in the heavenly Zion. We believe and we are blessed. We find comfort in the promise that our mourning will one day come to an end forever as God Himself wipes away our tears.
Scriptures for November 7, 2021, Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Pentecost: 1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
“Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in Yahweh, his God.” Psalm 146:5, WEB
All Saints Day is November 1st but is celebrated on the next Sunday in many churches. Since I’ve already addressed All Saints and the Triduum of Allhallowtide, I am going to use the scriptures for the ordinary day of the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Pentecost.
We live in a neighborhood where many children come to “Trick or Treat.” It is hard to judge how much candy I will need. This year we decided to make a certain amount of treat bags and when they were gone, we would just go inside and turn out the lights. I knew from past years that I didn’t make enough for a whole night, but somehow the bin of treat bags didn’t go down as we expected. I began to wonder if Jesus was doing a “loaves and fishes” miracle for us. We had just enough for the night, no leftovers, and the children loved the things that were in the bags.
“How much?” is the question we ask every year. It is hard to judge, especially when you are new to a neighborhood. One year in England, I purchased a huge bag of mini tootsie rolls, expecting to give every child a few pieces. It didn’t take long before I realized I would never have enough for everyone and I started giving just one mini per child. At one point we had twenty children standing in line; I felt very bad that I could not be more generous, but if I gave too much for the first children, I would never have enough for the rest. Somehow this year I had just enough
We want to be generous and hospitable; it is the way God created us to be. However, there is an even more powerful instinct, one learned by experience, to be careful with our resources. We want to share, but we are afraid that if we give too much to too many we might run out and not have enough for ourselves. In some part this is a selfish point of view because we want to ensure that we get our part. Yet, for some generous hospitality might even mean death.
That is how it was for the widow of Zarephath. She was literally cooking on her final meal, a small cake to be shared with her son. Once that cake was eaten they would have no more flour or oil. She exaggerates a little; they would not literally die at that moment. Sadly, it was likely to be a slow and painful death as they starved without food for days or even weeks. Yet, that one cake would give them a few more moments together and perhaps some hope for another day.
Elijah asked the woman to give everything she had, even to sacrifice the little time she had left with her son. Elijah was a stranger and there was no reason why she should give up her food for him. Her maternal instinct was probably very strong, the temptation to reject the stranger must have been intense. Elijah encouraged her to trust, to step out of the box of fear and selfishness so that she might witness the gracious hospitality of God. To see the blessing would take courage. To receive life would take sacrifice. In the end, the widow and her son did not die, but they experienced the power of God because she believed that God could do, and would do, all that Elijah said.
There was a movie several years ago about the biblical story of Queen Esther called “One Night with the King.” The story diverted from the biblical text and it wasn’t the best film ever made, but I enjoyed it. One of the images that stuck with me when I saw the thrill was the portrayal of Esther as a woman of humility. In the biblical story, Esther was befriended by the eunuch that was assigned to care for the virgins. He gave her special treatment and opportunity. In the movie this friendship played out in a scene where Esther was taken to the king to read to him, long before the girls were actually ready for their time with him.
In one scene the girls were given free rein in the treasury room where they could choose any adornments to wear for their night with the king. Most of the girls went wild, choosing so much gold and so many jewels that it was difficult for them to even stand straight under the weight. One of the girls was given the opportunity to ride with the king and she was so heavy with jewelry that she could not even stay on the horse.
Esther, on the other hand, chose nothing from the treasury except a necklace that had been hers but was lost during the struggle when she was taken to the palace. When it came time for her night, she was simply dressed in a lovely dress and her necklace. She would have been invisible next to the other girls, lost in the crowd, but it was her humble appearance and hear that won the king.
The scribes in today’s Gospel story liked to walk around in long robes, beautifully adorned for all to see. They made a big deal about being noticed, about standing out in the crowd. The Temple was crowded with people paying their offerings. Jesus watched as they cast in their money, sometimes great amounts of coin. I wonder how many did it in a way so that they would be noticed?
Yet, in that very crowd was someone who was invisible. The poor widow was a non-person, of no worth because she had nothing to give. She was unimportant and unnoticed by most that were present that day. Only Jesus saw her; her humble appearance and heart won over His heart. He pointed her out to the disciples saying, “...she, out of her poverty, gave all that she had to live on.” Though she was invisible to the world, the King saw her faith.
As we talk about this story, we are very quick to dismiss the grand gifts of the others, thinking that they were all giving simply out of a sense of importance or to be noticed, but, there are people who are wealthy and generous with their resources that do not wish to be visible. There are those who would rather be anonymous with their gifts. So, this is a story about an invisible woman and her incredible gift of faith, we can’t forget that this is also a story about stewardship that might remain invisible. He lifts up the humble and brings down the haughty. There is a stewardship message here: our great gifts however big or small that are given in humble faith are welcome in the treasury; we are never to present our gifts with a sense of haughtiness and pride.
My son played basketball with a youth league when he was a boy. It was a really fun experience for him as he learned the rules of the game and played with his friends. He was even excited when someone he knew was on the opposing team. His coach worked with the children to help them understand sportsmanship, respect for the other players and proper techniques. Unfortunately, the luck of the draw left them with the smallest players in the league, giving them a disadvantage against the other teams. There were also some coaches that were only interested in winning, willing to do whatever was necessary to go home with a victory. Fortunately, Zack’s coach was more concerned with raising these children with a joy for the game and a heart to do their best.
There are times in every person’s life when they are the underdog. Social media has made this even more obvious in our day. People of faith are often ridiculed or persecuted for their belief because so much of the world thinks that Christianity is a fairy tale and that believers are foolish. This is particularly true for those of us who live by faith, since so many think that Christianity is nothing more than a fairy tale that we are foolish for believing. Underdogs are not thought to be blessed, even in some churches. If you aren’t healthy, rich, or successful, then ‘the gods’ have not treated you with favor. You must have done something wrong, or you must not have enough faith. Achieving great things is seen as blessedness, yet the reality is quite different. My son’s team did not get the first place trophy when the season was over, but they learned so much during that experience and they came out of it better young people. There is blessedness in the life of the underdog. In faith this is especially true because God regards those of humble circumstances with great love.
There are those in our society who pursue success to the detriment of all else. The coach who is willing to cheat for the sake of a victory is harming the children on his team because they are not learning sportsmanship and respect. The person who is willing to destroy a family for the sake of a career misses out on the incredible blessings of being part of loving relationships. Yet, it is possible to take ourselves to the other extreme, to pursue underdog status, which can be just as dangerous. I know people who seek martyrdom, who think everything and everyone is against them. They are bound by a desire to be the underdog and they purposely set themselves up for failure just so they can wallow in their humility, but it is a false humility.
God loves those who trust in Him. He is our help in our successes and our failures. He upholds us, gives us food, sets us free, gives us sight, and lifts us up. He guides and guards us when we are far from home or when we have lost those we love. He protects us from our enemies. He is the Lord God Almighty, and our hope is found in Him, through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. When God is our helper we will be blessed whether we succeed or are the underdog, whether we are on the winning team or the team that just does their best.
The ultimate success might be said of those who are raised to the position of President of the United States. I saw a picture today of the Oval Office in between presidents, and it was absolutely empty. Every president is given a blank slate to fill with items that have meaning to them and to their intent of their presidency. There is a certain amount of adornment meant to build an image, sometimes their choices show haughtiness and pride.
Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt, the retiring president has built a place to memorialize their service. They choose a place special to their heart, a town where they lived or a university where they studied. These are libraries where the important papers and items from their presidency are kept for safekeeping and study. They often include a museum filled with items from their life history and important events in their government. It takes a lot of money to create a place where the presidency is remembered, but it is funded privately even though the materials are under the care of the National Archives. Most of the former presidents include a replica of their Oval Office in their library.
The Oval Office is the room where the business of the presidency is conducted, where decisions are made, and where internationally vital relationships are formed. Each president, once taking office, is given the freedom to decorate the Oval Office to suit his taste. Rugs are changed, walls are painted, curtains hung. Though there may be some aspects of the room that have stayed constant over the years, each president has been given the freedom to make the office his, at least for his years. Then his choices are memorialized in his library in a replica of the Oval Office.
The replicas might seem real; they might even seem official. The replica at the Lyndon B. Johnson Museum in Austin is oval, though slightly smaller than the real thing. Though these replicas seem real, they are not. No one could conduct the business of state there. Bills will never be signed into laws there. Foreign dignitaries will not be received there. We can go and see what it was like; several presidents (Nixon, Clinton, and both Bushes) allow visitors to sit behind the Resolute desk, but we cannot conduct the business of a nation in the imitation. Nothing lasting comes out of those rooms.
The Temple was a beautiful and very meaningful place for the Jews. It was there that they offered sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins. However, nothing that happened in the Temple was lasting because it was a place built with human hands. It was patterned after the real thing, the true holy place of God: heaven itself. The priests offered sacrifices, and these were important acts of obedience to God’s Law, but the forgiveness they earned was only temporary. Since the blood offered and the priest who offered it were perishable and imperfect, the sacrifice had to be made over and over again.
Until Jesus. He was not only the perfect Priest, but He also offered His own perfect blood. He offered it in the true Holy Place and the effects of His sacrifice were eternal. It only needed to happen once. From that moment on, sin was forgiven.
We often see the image of Christ’s return as one of a strong warrior riding in on horseback with a sword in hand destroying sin, death and the devil. Yet, Christ has already accomplished this work. It is finished. In the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, we hear of Christ coming as Judge, but not a judge of condemnation. He comes as the Judge of salvation. In this vision, Christ comes to those who are waiting for Him, those who have been saved by the grace of God. When Christ comes again, He will receive those for whom He died and welcome them into the realm of God. Others miss Him because they are focused on all the wrong things.
The king didn’t see the women in the story of Esther because their hearts were buried under gold chains. Jesus didn’t see any humility in the scribes in the Temple because it was buried under their fancy robes. The condemnation they face will not be by the hands of the King but by their own haughty pride.
Jesus was on his way toward the condemnation of the cross in the passage from Mark. He had entered Jerusalem triumphantly, but He had done so many things that upset the powers of the world, especially during the final week of His life. In today’s passage, Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of the leaders, how they walked around looking for compliments, acting high and mighty, using their power to harm the weak. They took advantage of widows by seeking payment for prayers. Jesus then noticed the crowds throwing their offerings in the coffers. I can imagine those teachers of the Law clapping people on the back, pulling them aside for private conversations, making deals in the corners as they looked for patrons to support their work.
I’m a people watcher. I like to go places and watch the people around me. It is fun to think about their lives, even though I know nothing about them. Why are they buying that watch? Are they in love? What will that child grow up to be when they are an adult? People do the craziest things, and if we are attentive to the world around us, we often have a front row seat to the joke, or the joy, or even the pain. And by being attentive, we can be a part of their lives, perhaps share a smile or a tear. We don’t even have to speak to them to have a connection; sometimes it just takes a little eye contact to make a difference.
There were people watching people in the courtyard of the Temple that day. The leaders were definitely paying attention to the pilgrims. Who did they approach? Who interested them? Did they give any attention to the average pilgrim, or did they just focus on those who were well dressed and who threw great sums into the coffers? Did they even notice the widow who offered two pennies? She was probably invisible unless they eyed her suspiciously.
There was another group of watchers in the courtyard: Jesus and His disciples. Jesus was watching the people as they gave their offerings. He knew their hearts. Jesus knew the ones who were haughty and proud, but He also saw the multitudes that were doing their duty with reverence and faith. He said nothing negative about the rich because they were generous; Mark tells us that “many who were rich cast in much.” They were generous, giving to God out of their wealth.
But Jesus paid attention to the invisible one, the widow who was lost in the crowd. We don’t know what she looked like or what she was wearing. We don’t know if she was a foreign pilgrim or a local. We don’t know if she was alone in that courtyard or if she’d traveled with a crowd of family and friends. We only know that she gave two pennies as an offering to God and that it was all she had. And we know that Jesus saw her. In this courtyard full of people, she caught His eye. He lifted her up as a woman with extraordinary faith. The lesson we learn is that we can be like her, giving everything to Him, even when it seems insignificant, trusting that He’ll take care of us. Despite the small amount, the widow’s gift was greater than all the others because she gave God everything.
Jesus saw her. Through all those crowds, He picked out the one person whom everyone else ignored. He saw the one who had no earthly worth. That’s what God does. He sees through the exterior and past the mundane; He points out value where the world might see none. She didn’t have much, but she had far more than the rest because she had great faith. That’s worth noting. Money won’t do us any good in the end. No matter how important our life is on this earth, we will never accomplish anything lasting. This life is perishable and imperfect; it is not lasting. Faith is the only thing that will get us through the last days; faith will take us to the other side.
Do you ever feel invisible? Even as people of faith we can find it difficult to believe that God sees us or hears our prayers. I am nobody. I am just one person out of the billions who are currently living on earth, and just one out of the more than a hundred billion people who have ever lived. Who am I that God would notice me? Who am I that God would point me out to His disciples and teach them a lesson using my life as an example? I’m probably even more invisible than those widows because I am one of the multitudes who give to God out of my wealth like the crowds in the Temple.
Our gifts, no matter how big they might be, are not worthy of praise. God does not need anything we have to give. It is all His and He gave it to us to be good stewards for the sake of others. 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.
The psalmist reminds us that all good things come from God. God raises those that are bowed down. This is not just about God taking care of those who are victimized, who are oppressed and outcast. God raises up those who are humble before Him, who trust that God will provide. He raises up those who give with the heart of faith, whatever our circumstances. Jesus fed the crowds whether they were poor or wealthy. He healed the sick no matter their circumstances. He raised the ruler’s daughter. He raised Lazarus. He was raised on the cross so that all who believe might be raised to the greatest gift of all, eternal life.
The stories of the widows foreshadow the work of Jesus Christ. The widows gave even their lives for the sake of others in obedience to the Word of God. The widow of Zarephath was blessed with life through the drought as the flour and oil seemed in endless supply. We do not know what happened to the widow in the temple, but when Jesus was only days away from being the final, permanent sacrifice, He showed us what it is like to sacrifice everything through her self-less giving.
“Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in Yahweh, his God.” This is not a giddy kind of happiness, but rather the blessedness of knowing that everything we are and everything we have comes from God. The widows knew that God takes care of those who look to Him for help. They knew that He would lift those who are bowed, sustain the fatherless and widows and frustrate the way of the wicked as promised in today’s psalm. They did not put their trust in men; they submitted willingly to the Word of God and were greatly blessed. Jesus sacrificed Himself for the sake of the world, and in Christ we can join in the chorus of praise. “Praise Yah! Praise Yahweh, my soul.”
“Therefore prepare your minds for action. Be sober, and set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ - as children of obedience, not conforming yourselves according to your former lusts as in your ignorance, but just as he who called you is holy, you yourselves also be holy in all of your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy; for I am holy.’” 1 Peter 1:13-16, WEB
The headline of an article I once read asked whether the readers ever left for a trip without something essential. There are things that can easily be replaced. The hotel probably has shampoo. The front desk often has a good selection of phone chargers that were forgotten by previous guests. You are never very far from a drug store or supermarket where you can buy a toothbrush or other necessities. I usually travel with my own pillows, but when I forget those I can make do with what is available in my room. There are some things are irreplaceable however, at least on short notice, like a passport. What do you do if you are at the check-in desk at the airport and realize you have forgotten that vital document?
The writer suggested that frequent travelers keep a box with all their travel necessities. When my father was sick in a Houston hospital, I made the more than three-hour trip regularly for over a month. I was constantly packing and unpacking since I spent a few days there and then a few days at home. I often left for Houston on short notice, and I didn’t have time to go through the process of finding everything I needed. That’s when I began keeping a travel bag filled and ready just in case. I have a toothbrush that I only use when I travel along with travel sizes of shampoo, toothpaste and mouthwash. I am always ready to leave quickly if need be. I regularly attend retreats at a camp and I keep a kit with the linens and other things I need when I go so I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything I might need.
The writer suggested that this box should hold other things as well. Can you ever find a luggage tag when you need one? Do you remember where you put that travel adapter you’ll need for that trip abroad? For those who travel often, the box is a great place to store traveler’s checks and foreign currency. It is good to have copies of your passport, insurance documents and a list of medications in case of an emergency. The writer recommended placing all these papers in the box as soon as you return from a trip, then they will be ready the next time you travel.
I suppose most of us do not travel that often or even travel to places we might need foreign currency or travel adapters, but there is no harm in keeping these things in one place. Then we will be prepared if we have the opportunity or need to travel whether it is short notice or not. Every little thing we can do to be prepared makes our life a little easier and less stressful.
When it comes to living our life for Christ, we are traveling a different sort of journey. We don’t need any paperwork or even a travel bag full of toothpaste. We don’t need a passport or luggage tags. But we do need to be prepared for every opportunity to share Jesus Christ. Our box will not hold travel adapters or foreign currency. It will hold the intangible things of God, like hope, grace and wisdom. Preparing our minds for the journey through God’s kingdom means trusting in God and hearing His Word, obeying what we know to be true and living as we are called to live.
“When he came down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. Behold, a leper came to him and worshiped him, saying, ‘Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean.’ Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I want to. Be made clean.’ Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Jesus said to him, ‘See that you tell nobody; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” Matthew 8:1-4, WEB
Ole Bull was a noted Norwegian violinist who was widely known as a composer and artist of incredible skill. He lived in the nineteenth century, taught himself how to play and appeared throughout Europe and America. While traveling through a forest in England, Ole lost his way and ended up in the home of a hermit who fed and lodged him for a night. While they sat together that evening before a warm fire, the hermit began to play a broken and worn violin. The instrument squeaked as he stroked some simple songs on the strings. Ole asked the hermit if he could have a try. The hermit did not know Ole’s fame as a violinist and warned that it had taken him years to learn how to play and did not think Ole could do it. Ole said, “Let me try,” and the hermit wept as he heard the beautiful music produced by a master violinist even on such a battered and worn violin.
The screeching of a poorly played violin can make our skin crawl, and I can imagine how horrible it must have been with loose strings and a stiff bow. There are many musicians who would never even consider playing on an old, used instrument. They want a violin with tight strings and a supple bow. Yet, the master violinist longed to touch the violin and make it sing despite its imperfections.
Isn’t that how it is with people? We are all battered and worn by the world, and yet there are those who are in worse shape than others. There are outcasts of society, they are rejected and ridiculed. In Jesus’ day it was the lepers. They suffered from a skin disease that set them apart from the community. No one could even touch these victims and they were separated from everything they knew and loved. The disease ate away at their flesh, but the human reaction did far more damage, destroying their heart and spirit. I imagine that for many, death was the only escape. Jesus offered hope to those who suffered such a terrible disease. When they heard about the miracles and authority of Jesus, they knew that He could make a difference in their lives.
The man didn’t ask Jesus to be disobedient to the laws of the Jews, but Jesus knew that the man needed more than just a healing of his flesh. He needed to be touched personally by the Master, even though he was broken and worn. Jesus could very well have healed this man with just a word, taken away the leprosy without ever being near the disease. He could have even healed the man and then touched him, saving himself the problem of being made unclean. But Jesus gave more than what was needed or expected. He reached out and touched the man in His dis-ease, repairing the damage that was done not only to His skin but also to His heart and mind.
The master violinist knew there was beautiful music in that old instrument despite the squeaky sounds produced by the hermit. He took the violin and it was transformed in the hands of the master.
Who are the lepers of today? Who are the ones we cast out of society because they are battered and worn by the consequences of living in this sin filled world? Who are the ones we are unwilling to touch for fear they will make us unclean? Jesus reaches out and touches all in their need, no matter what their appearance or malady. He reaches beyond the visible need and touches the heart and spirit, bringing healing and peace. He brings out the beautiful music of our lives even if it seems like we are nothing more than broken old instruments to the world.
“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, WEB
Our question for today comes from the book of Luke, after Jesus’ resurrection. In the days that followed, Jesus appeared to the disciples several times. He met Mary in the garden, and she knew it was her Lord when He spoke her name. The news of the resurrection was receive in many different ways. Some were afraid. Others were skeptical. Yet others were confused. He walked with two of His disciples on the road Emmaus. These men were discussing the events of the week when Jesus joined them. They told Him the story and invited Him to dinner. They did not know who He was, because their eyes were closed. When Jesus revealed Himself to them, they asked, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us, while he spoke to us along the way, and while he opened the Scriptures to us?”
I have often read this story and wondered how the disciples did not realize it was Jesus who was with them. After all, they spent three years with Jesus. They ate together, traveled together, and talked about God together. It seems impossible that they could have such an intimate relationship with Jesus and still not recognize Him. The scriptures tell us that they were kept from recognizing Him, and in the end their eyes were opened. I know God can do the miraculous, but it still seems odd that He was right in front of them and they did not know it.
I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves in a similar position, though. It happened to me a number of years ago when I was volunteering at a park. I was a greeter at the door and had a number of questions I needed to ask. I began my speech when a visitor stopped me. “You know me!” she said. She was a member of the park staff, but I didn’t recognize her. I didn’t even remember who she was at first, thinking I knew her from another place. It took a few minutes and I was so embarrassed to think that I hugged that woman every time I saw her at work, but she was different. She was wearing a hat and was not in her usual uniform. She was visiting as a guest rather than arriving to work. We loved our work, but you have a different attitude when you arrive at a place to work or play. She was very gracious when I admitted my failure and said that she understood. She joked about how the hat was her disguise so no one would recognize her.
The disciples didn’t recognize Jesus and that was in part because God intended on revealing Him in a unique and special way. They saw Jesus in the breaking of bread, to give us the confidence that we will see Him in that way, also. Mary didn’t recognize Him when she saw Him in the garden, and from her story we are reminded that we see Jesus when He calls us by name. Thomas knew Jesus from the wounds, and we can find comfort in knowing that He shares in our suffering. In all these stories, they didn’t recognize Him because He came to them differently, but He opened their eyes in all those old familiar ways.
I wonder how often we miss Him. Do we miss Him in the neighbor who desperately needs a friend, but we don’t have time to share a cup of tea? Do we miss Him when we meet a stranger having a bad day and allow them to ruin our own mood instead of giving them a word of grace? Do we miss the opportunities to shine God’s light in the lives of people lost in the darkness? Jesus tells us that we will see Him in others, in the opportunities to share His grace, but do we recognize Him when He doesn’t appear as we might expect Him to appear? Does not our heart burn within us when He reveals Himself in our world?
What causes us to miss Jesus? When Paul writes of the god of this age, he could be referring to the devil, the world or our own sinful natures. All three block our hearts and minds from seeing the truth; they blind us from seeing Jesus who is standing right in front of us. Like the disciples, we miss Him because we He appears differently than we expect. He is not in the right place, wearing the right clothes, bearing the right attitude, so we miss His presence. But He does reveal Himself to us and we will see Him when our hearts have been opened by His grace through His Word. The more we grow in faith, the easier we will see Him in the opportunities to share His light in the darkness so that others will see Him, too.
“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” 1 Corinthians 14:26-33a, WEB
I was a preschool teacher for a year, and I confess that I struggled with certain aspects of the job, particularly keeping the classroom under control. Children have a way of quickly becoming chaotic. Transition from one subject to another, even in preschool, means moving to a new place and collecting the right materials. Every moment that is not structured is a moment when chatter can begin. Once the noise begins, it tends to get louder rather than quieter. I was not very patient, and I tended to raise my voice to be heard over the noise. Unfortunately, yelling only makes things get louder.
Adults are no different than children in this regard. Notice what happens at work, home or other places, even in church. What happens when the pastor announces the next hymn to be sung? The people begin grabbing for the books, without actually hearing the hymn number. The noise makes it difficult to hear, so the pastor has to repeat the number. Even then the people often turn to their neighbors to ask what song is to be sung. It would be much better if we would wait that moment in silence to listen before jumping to follow the instruction.
It happens when we pass the peace in worship. That moment has a purpose, and it comes from the biblical concept of reconciliation. We are encouraged to attend to the eucharistic meal without anger or division among us. If we have something against our neighbor, we should deal with it first so that we can enjoy communion unified rather than divided. It meant to be about growing Christ’s peace among His body, but it has often become more about greeting one another. I am guilty of this. When I teach about this purpose, I often say that if you see my cross the sanctuary to shake someone’s hand, then I’m going to apologize for something I’ve done wrong that week, but that’s not true. I do go out of my way to say “hello” to my friends. The time of peace becomes a time of chaos that is hard to get under control because of the movement and conversations.
There are ways to get control of a noisy classroom or workplace. In Lutheran circles we tend to use the phrase “The Lord be with you,” which is answered, “And also with you.” Sometimes it has to be said several times before everyone realizes that it is time to settle down for the next thing. Once everyone answers, the leader knows that he or she can go on.
Today is National Chaos Never Dies Day. There is some sort of national day every day of the year, some rather unusual, but I think this might be one of the strangest. The origins of this particular day are unknown, but it makes sense because we live in a world that seems to be getting crazier by the minute. We all pine for “normal” but we all know that “normal” doesn’t really exist. I suppose that’s why some suggest that we should embrace a “new normal” whatever that might be. Whatever we do, it is probably true that chaos never dies.
As we look at the world we wonder how God is going to manage to fulfill His promises. The chaos and confusion is overwhelming, even in the Church where Christians are trying to grow into a unified body of Christ. Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Things do not happen according to our time and expectation. We have plenty to fear and to worry about as we go through our daily living.
We are reminded in today’s text from Paul that God is not a God of chaos and confusion, but of peace. It is because of our foolishness that the world is chaotic, but God is able to use us though we are imperfect vessels. Jesus influences the world through us, building faith and community even when we are out of control. Paul focuses on our keeping order within our worship, but we can take his encouragements into our world. God can make incredible things happen even in our times of chaos in worship and in life. We are called to live in honor and praise of God, not boasting in our wisdom or strength, but reveling in our foolishness so that He might be glorified in all we do. God is faithful and His promises are true. We don’t need to live in fear or worry because He has promised us something greater than this world beyond this day. His Kingdom is never chaotic. We can trust that He is in control and that by His grace we will always have peace in Him.
Scriptures for November 14, 2021, Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-13
“...but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God, from that time waiting until his enemies are made the footstool of his feet. For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:12-14, WEB
I recently saw a meme on Facebook that asked, “If you were given an envelope with the exact day and time of your death, would you open it?” Most people say “No” about this question, but we all have a sense of curiosity about the future. I wonder how the answer would change if the envelope held the exact day and time of Jesus’ return. People have constantly tried to determine when this would happen. They look at the book of Revelation and believe that we can see a timeline of what God will do in the last days. They then look at modern events and interpret the text to fit perfectly into what they see. This has happened in every generation, but some recent predictions have been more well-known than others.
Take, for instance, the prediction of F. Kenton Beshore. I have never heard of him, but apparently he is an American pastor who believes that Jesus will come sometimes between 2018 and 2028, with the rapture occurring in 2021 at the latest. He bases his prediction on the suggestion that Jesus would return within one biblical generation of the founding of Israel in 1948. A biblical generation is sometimes defined as forty years, but he claims it should be 70-80 years. In less than two months he’ll have to rethink his theory. A spiritual organization called the Messiah Foundation International has predicted that the world will end in 2026, and Ken Hovind puts the rapture between 2015 and 2028. I admit that I would rejoice to see the coming of Jesus in the very near future, but they are not the first in the past two thousand years to be disappointed when their predictions did not come true.
When our Sunday school class did a study of the Book of Revelation, we looked at the parallels between Daniel and John’s vision of the end time. These texts are difficult because we want them to fit into our understanding. We want them to fulfill our predictions. We want them to mean what we want them to mean. Generations of Christians have read the words and interpreted them according to their desires, defining the times and places to fit how they see the world. Of course, there are always those who reject the prophetic nature of these texts.
According to the experts, the writing of Daniel has the language and flavor of a text that might have been written in the 6th century B.C., long before the events found within the book happened. It is written like a prophetic, apocalyptic text, with visual images both frightening and strange. Some think it should be dated much later, in the 2nd century B.C., after most of the events things happened. There are experts on both sides of the issue, so we do not know for sure if the book was prophetic or whether it was an historical accounting of the supernatural happenings with God’s people, but even if it had been written in the 2nd century B.C. some of the prophecies had not yet come into being. In the end Daniel was told to go on his way because the words were shut up and sealed until the time of the end. “Don’t worry about it Daniel, it will happen when it happens. If only we could have such patience.
The dating of the text does not matter to us today. It is good to understand the historical significance of what was happening to Daniel and the nation of Israel, these words are given to us today. What do they mean in our time and place? People have been discussing and interpreting the possibilities for generations. I wonder if our task is not to look into the future to answer the when, how, and what questions, but rather to embrace the grace of God that is found in these words.
Daniel was writing to a people suffering great persecution and his language hides the meaning from those outside the faith. In this case, the words summarize the writer’s vision of what is to come in the end of time, at the revelation of God and the coming of His kingdom. It is a message of comfort for those persecuted, that they will be raised up out of the dust and into everlasting life. This is the promise we receive in Christ, the promise that came at the end of the ages and the promise that was fulfilled, is fulfilled and will be fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The passage from Mark also has a prophetic voice, and we hear it speaking to us specifically. The words almost sound like they could be taken right out of the headlines from our newspapers. There are constantly wars or rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and false messiahs. But the same can be said for every generation that has lived since the words were written. Jesus spoke those words to people understood that it was imminent. Jesus was crying out in the wilderness, but false messiahs were rampant. Some were even killed by the Romans and the Jewish authorities. There were Zealots determined to fight until Israel was freed from Roman oppression. There was a communication network; there were traveling caravans and religious pilgrims that brought news from the four corners of the known world which would have included stories of earthquake, famine and wars.
There was a note of prophecy: the temple was destroyed just a few years later. But when Jesus spoke privately with His disciples, they wanted more details. They were curious. They wanted to open the envelope. When would it happen? How would it happen? What will be the signs? Instead of answering directly the questions they asked, He warned them to beware.
This is apocalyptic literature and 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. There were already wars and rumors of wars. There were already earthquakes and famines. It would have been very easy for the disciples who were 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 even in every generation who have followed false messiahs to a disappointing end.
Jesus warns the disciples not to follow the wrong path. Wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines will always be a part of our life. We will suffer and we will be persecuted because of the way we respond to the worldly happenings, but we are called to be faithful with our eyes focused on Christ, doing that which He has called us to do.
In the beginning verses of the epistle lesson, the writer of Hebrews tells us how the priests did the same thing over and over and over again to no avail. They entered the Holy Place with the blood of animals which did nothing to alleviate the sin that brought pain and suffering to our lives and the world. There might be forgiveness for a moment, but there was never any assurance for tomorrow. Jesus Christ changed all that. His death on the cross was permanent. His forgiveness is eternal. While we still might have to repeatedly dust the cobwebs out of our lives, we can live with the assurance that no matter what should happen today, we have mercy of God which leads to eternal life through Christ Jesus.
Despite our imperfection, many people want to find a place of worship that is perfect. They hop from one church to another, hoping that the next congregation will not be filled with hypocrites and sinners. Unfortunately, there is no perfect church because there are no perfect Christians. We are all sinners in need of the Savior, which is why our offerings are never lasting. We fail, our offerings fail, and our relationships fail. For many the search becomes so disappointing that they give up, choosing to live outside the assembly of believers. “I can worship on a mountain” is very true, but we need to be part of the body of Christ.
Our relationship with God is not dependent on our relationships with other people; we can certainly know God through our own private study, prayer, and worship. However, we have to remember that even if we are a church of one, our imperfection makes even that church imperfect. There is a joke about a man who was marooned on a deserted island. When he was finally found, the rescuers noticed three huts. They wondered about the buildings. The man said, “That one is my home and that one is my church.” They asked, “What about the third hut?” and he answered, “Oh, that was my former church.
We think we can do it ourselves, but our sinfulness makes our relationship with God shaky. We have doubts, so our faith wavers. We face disappointment, so our hope fades. is fleeting and lost, so we turn away from the very place we would find true love. Faith, hope and love is the foundation of our relationship with God and these things are hard to grasp without some visible and tangible manifestation for us to see, hear, taste, touch and know. That visible manifestation is the Church. We have confidence in the promises of God in faith, hope and love, these three magnified as we live in fellowship with other Christians. Together we are the Body of Christ.
Our relationship with God is not dependent on other Christians, but we need them to help us stay on the right path. It is so easy to get caught up in the predictions of those who seem to be experts. How many people have followed false prophets whose ministries have gone very wrong? Those who have said that Christ would come on this day or that day have convinced others to give up life, to sell everything, to sit and wait. One many used his funds to buy billboards to proclaim the end, but his timing was wrong. Others have hidden themselves away in colonies that were destroyed by false teachings. Many died at the hands of people who used and abused them for the sake of some religious foolishness. We need other Christians to keep us focused on the truth, on God, and on the grace of Jesus Christ.
Last week Jesus called our attention to one small woman who gave one very small offering to the temple treasury. The treasury was used for the care and upkeep of the temple, to make it even more beautiful with every gift. From the visual representations I have seen, the temple must have been a magnificent and imposing structure. The stones were well cut and smooth, a bright stone which glowed in the sunshine. The building was huge; it could be seen from far away. Pilgrims could catch glimpses of it as they approached the city for the festivals.
The widow’s mites were worth so little that they were useless to those who kept the treasury. How much could a penny buy in today’s dollars? It is so worthless that most of us will not even bother to bend down to pick one up off the ground anymore. We don’t know how she came to be poor. Maybe she was the widow with a hemorrhage who was bled dry by shyster doctors. Maybe the scribes devoured her meager possessions for their own well-being. She was a widow, very vulnerable and unimportant in that day. The temple treasury could have supported the needs of the widows, instead her mites were used to decorate the building and keep it clean.
The story continues with the disciples praising the very impressive Temple. “Teacher, behold, what manner of stones and what manner of buildings!” The tiny widow’s mites are made even smaller when compared to the huge stones and magnificent buildings of the temple. Jesus told them that what they saw would be useless. ““Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone on another, which will not be thrown down.” This prophesy was fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed.
It must have been disheartening for the disciples to hear that prophecy. Though Jesus had been teaching them about the difference between the kingdom on earth and the kingdom of heaven, the Temple was to them still the dwelling place of God. Where would He go if there were no temple? Would He leave them? If the temple were destroyed, where would they go? In the past, the Temple was destroyed by enemies that invaded and exiled God’s people. What would happen if this came to be?
They were curious. They were afraid. Yet Jesus did not tell them about the destruction of the temple to make them afraid. No matter how small or large our offerings are, whether they are widow’s mights or magnificent temples, God does not need them to dwell among His people. God’s presence will not make our life easier. Dwelling in God’s presence will bring persecution, hardship, and sometimes even death. The apocalyptic nature of our texts reminds us to stop worrying about the when, how, what will happen in the future, but rather to keep our eyes on the God who will be with us through it all.
When the disciples asked to know the hour, Jesus told them to beware and be aware. “Do not be alarmed but believe.” He warned them that some will claim to be “I AM” but they should not follow the false prophets but trust God. The things they see will just be the beginning. Jesus warns that there will be persecution. The hope of this apocalyptic text is that the one who endures to the end, who believes, will be saved. Jesus warns us that it will be bad but the Son of Man will come again. We’ll know the time is right when the signs are right.
Have you ever known anyone that came to you for advice, but never did what you suggested? This is an image of a person that might be found on a sitcom. The character needs help making decisions but can’t find someone they trust to give them the right answer, so instead they go to a character that always has the wrong answer. Since everthing the person suggests is wrong, the right choice should automatically be the opposite.
Anyone who has children know that our kids do not really listen to our advice, especially once they are teenagers. I went shopping with my daughter for a prom gown once and showed her one I thought would be perfect. She shook her head and tried every other gown on the rack. Then she finally gave in and discovered I was right all along. It was the perfect gown. She still doesn’t believe everything I say, but I know from my own experience that growth and maturity helps us to see that we should listen to those we think must be wrong because they might just be right.
Unfortunately, when the answer is not what we want it to be, we do not believe that it is in our best interest. We do the opposite, showing a lack of trust. Of course, every human being is wrong sometimes, so I would hope that even my children would consider that my words are what I think would be best for them and not jump immediately do the opposite. I have had my own experiences and successes. I’ve also had failure. We all need to learn the lessons, perhaps even from those who failed before us. Though we hope they will learn from our mistakes, they sometimes have to learn from their own. I have to admit, though, it can be very disheartening when they do not seem to trust me enough to listen to my advice.
Sadly, it becomes very difficult to give advice when it is not trusted or if it is abandoned for the opposite point of view every time. We wonder why they even bother to come to us for advice is it is meaningless. So, we become quiet and unwilling to share our thoughts.
I wonder if that is how God feels sometimes. After all, we are so good at asking God for the things we need, but what we really want is for God to answer with the things we want. When God’s answer is not what we want it to be, we go our own way. The psalmist writes, “Preserve me, God, for I take refuge in you.” Is this really true? Is this what we really mean? Do we really take refuge in God?
When we do, those times when we truly trust in God and reject the “gods” on which we have set our hearts, we find real joy and peace. Unfortunately, most of the time our own wants become more important than what we know God can and will do for us, so we turn to the “gods” we think will fulfill our desires. We say we want to hear the voice of God, but when He begins speaking we realize that the ways of the world fit much better into our plan.
Going our own way will not bring us joy. There might be a superficial happiness that lasts but a moment, but it quickly fades away. We might feel safe relying on the advice that goes opposite what God would have for us, but in the end our security rests not in the strength or power of the earth but in the humble submission to God’s strength and power. There we will see the fullness of joy. As we hear God’s voice and follow His advice, we will find true peace in the refuge of his love.
We don’t know when the end will happen, but Jesus calls us to a life of faith and watchfulness. We are to live according to God’s Word in faith and live according to the commandments of love of God and our neighbors. “Beware and be aware,” Jesus tells us. He warns us to be careful who we believe and who we follow. Not all who claim to speak in the name of Jesus Christ are true. Some will be led astray. Some will willingly follow the false prophets because the promises seem so real. But we can trust that God will set things right in the end.
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.” Works righteousness requires action for salvation, but Christian faith is different. 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. Jesus offered once and for all the blood of the sacrifice that brought salvation to the world.
From a Christian point of view, sacrifice is no longer necessary. When the priests of old took blood to the altar day after day and year after year it was worthless, “...but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God, from that time waiting until his enemies are made the footstool of his feet. For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” The forgiveness from Christ is lasting. It is eternal. There need be no more sacrifice for sins today or ever. We need not win the victory again, and neither must Christ because He has already won.
We find peace through Christ. By His blood, God’s people are invited to dwell in the presence of God. Jesus was no ordinary priest. He was no ordinary messiah. He is the Son of God, sent to save the world. His promise was not that the world would be different. There will still be 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 God. But we can live in hope for what is to come, dwell in God’s grace 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, has and will overcome it all. God is nearby. He is not lost when the walls tumble down. Rather, He is set free from human constraints to be the God who is Creator, Redeemer and Comforter.
The Psalmist understood the lesson Jesus was teaching His disciples. He knew that apart from God he had no good thing, that God alone was his refuge. He knew the joy and peace that comes from trusting in God rather than the things of this world. “You will show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy. In your right hand there are pleasures forever more.” This is the lesson that will keep us through the hard times. Faith that God is faithful to all His promises will help us endure to the end.
“You therefore, my child, be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit the same things to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on duty entangles himself in the affairs of life, that he may please him who enrolled him as a soldier. Also, if anyone competes in athletics, he isn’t crowned unless he has competed by the rules. The farmer who labors must be the first to get a share of the crops. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.” 2 Timothy 2:1-7, WEB
We have often looked at the lives of the Saints, ordinary men and women who are remembered for doing extraordinary things for the Lord. They lived faithfully above and beyond the call of duty, often dying for the kingdom of God. We usually remember these incredible men and women on the day of their deaths, days that have been set aside to celebrate their lives in this world.
On November 10th we remember two saints; both were military men who were persecuted because of their faith. Mennas was a Roman Christian soldier during the days of Diocletian’s persecution. He deserted his post and hid in a cave, but he realized that he could not live while so many other Christians were dying. He professed his faith in the arena at the annual games. He was beaten and tortured but would not recant and he eventually lost his head. The other saint is Martin of Tours, an army officer. One cold day he cut his cloak in half and gave part to a beggar. He later realized that he had seen the presence of Christ in that beggar, and he became a Christian. He asked to be relieved of his duty but was thrown in prison instead. When he was finally released, he began preaching and eventually was elected the Bishop of Tours. He is known for intervening on behalf of prisoners and heretics who had been sentenced to death.
November 10th is also Veteran’s Day in the United States. The date was chosen because it marked the end of World War I, but it is a day to thank those who have served faithfully throughout the history of our country. In 2003, Peter Collier and Nick Del Calzo released a book called “Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty” that told the stories of Metal of Honor recipients from several wars. Over the years, only a few thousand have ever received the honor, and there are currently less than a hundred living. The Metal of Honor is given only to those who have shown extraordinary courage. The stories tell of men who ran into the firefights to save lives and flew airplanes until there was no fuel to land. Their stories are an inspiration to us even today.
Just as most military members never receive the Metal of Honor, most Christians will never be honored as a special Saint by the church. There are some men and women who have been set apart for extraordinary service for our country and for the Lord, every Christian is called to live their faith in this world according to the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we remember two men who served above and beyond the call of duty and look to them as living examples of how to live our lives for the Lord. They were military members, but they gave God their best. We are reminded by Paul’s letter to Timothy and by their lives that God does not make us go it on our own, He is with us through every battle, giving us all we need to stand firm in our faith even when it leads us down a path we’d rather not walk.
“Jesus answered her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.’” John 4:13-14, WEB
My husband and I are taking a couple days at a cabin in the country that we like to visit a couple times a year. It is not far from home, but it is far enough to give us a break. We don’t disconnect from the world, but we do things we just don’t do at home. We bring a television and catch up on movies we haven’t had the chance to watch. We hike the grounds of the camp where we are staying. We do puzzles. My husband brought a pile of magazines he hasn’t read. I brought a sketch pad to work on a painting I’m planning. We have lunch in a delightful tree house. We watch the sunset. We spend two days together and go home relaxed and ready to face whatever has become our normal.
Our hike yesterday led us to a bluff that overlooks the main camp site. It is autumn and we were hoping that we would see some color in the trees. Now, we live in Texas where most of the trees are live oaks and cedar elms whose leaves do not change colors and drop in the fall. There are some around the state where you can see fall colors, such as Lost Maple State Park. There are not a lot of deciduous trees at camp, but there are some. It was interesting to note that most of the trees that were changing color were those located right along the banks of the creek.
It makes sense, though. The live oaks and cedar are trees that can survive the semi-arid conditions in Texas. We often go years in drought, though some creeks like the one that runs through camp always has some water. This is the perfect place for trees that need water to grow well, and those that are planted farther away just can’t thrive. The creeks are fed by underground springs, so the water is constantly new and nourishing.
We may not need to live next to a creek, but we need a source that will meet our deepest needs. Christians have discovered the source of life, the Living Water of Jesus Christ. We need Him to thrive. We need the spiritual sustenance that can only come from the God who created and redeemed us. He knows what we need and He provides it abundantly.
The woman in this story from John relied on the well like all the people in that time and place. They didn’t have faucets in their kitchens to get the water they need for daily living, so they had to go to the well, fill pots and then carry them home. This woman was outcast, so she went alone at noon. It was a difficult task, particularly in the heat of day. Even well water can become tepid during the day, no longer cool and soothing to the one who drinks of it. She knew that there had to be something better for her, so when Jesus offered her running water, like the water of a creek that is constantly fed from springs.
It is the Living Water of Jesus Christ that gives life and renews a person: His Word of mercy, forgiveness and grace. The woman at the well would always need to go get water to keep her body alive, but she was renewed by the words of Jesus that is like a constantly running creek and that Word began to flow through her so that she could share the Gospel message with others.
Oh, how wonderful it is to get deep in God’s word, to find the depths of His love in the scriptures and His Spirit. But true wisdom is not found in great theological knowledge or spiritual understanding. It is found in the Living Water of faith that flows through Jesus into our hearts and into the world. He makes us thrive even in a world that is dry and dead as a drought ravaged land.
“Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen. For by this, the elders obtained testimony. By faith, we understand that the universe has been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which are visible.” Hebrews 11:1-3, WEB
Our question for this week comes out of the story from John’s Gospel about Nicodemus. When Jesus told him that he needed to be born again, Nicodemus answered, “How can a man be born when he is old?”
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. He was a religious leader responsible for the spiritual health of God’s people. His work was to protect and teacher of Hebrew law and heritage. He was a well-respected member of the community with a position of authority who was regarded as one of the most upright, righteous, and moral men in the city. The religious leaders did not see Jesus as someone worthy of the time. He was just another false messiah, a radical who needed to be stopped. Instead of listening to Jesus, they schemed to destroy Him.
Despite his prestige, position, power, and popularity, Nicodemus was drawn to Jesus. He knew there was something to what Jesus was preaching, but he didn’t understand it. He knew Jesus came from God, confessed that He could not do the miracles without the blessing of God. He was curious, but he was also afraid. Would his interest affect his life? Would he become a target of the scheming of his fellow leaders? This is the explanation we often give about why Nicodemus visited Jesus at night. We suspect that he wanted to sneak a meeting under the radar of others.
I wonder how many people struggle with believing in Jesus because they are afraid of what others around them would think. Do they hide their interest so they won’t be a target of those who reject God?
Yet, there are other reasons Nicodemus might have gone to Jesus at night. Jesus was constantly surrounded by crowds of people. It would have been difficult to have a conversation with Him, so perhaps he wanted to find Jesus in a quiet moment alone. Jesus was busy, but Nicodemus would have been, too. As a member of the city leadership, he may not have had time to follow Jesus as one of the crowds. Did he stop by to see Jesus on his way home from work?
What is the reason why so many people do not acknowledge Jesus as Lord? Are they afraid? Do they wait until a better time? Are they too busy to pay attention?
If anyone knew God’s word it would be a man like Nicodemus. Yet, he understood God only from the perspective of law and tradition, not from grace. He knew only the things of flesh, not spirit. So, Jesus pointed back to a story Nicodemus would have known very well to show how God would give a sign to His people. Moses’ snake was just a type. The Savior would be lifted, too. Jesus was referring to Himself; He would be lifted on the cross and those who look to Him will have eternal life.
Today’s question is similar to others asked by people in the Bible: “How can this be?” Zacharias asked when the angel told him that his elderly wife would bear a son. Mary asked when the angel told her she would bear God’s Son. John asked it of Jesus at His baptism. The disciples on the road to Emmaus asked it of themselves when they realized that hadn’t recognized Jesus. The Psalms ask it over and over again. These questions are asked with different attitudes. Zacharias was doubtful. Mary wanted information. John knew he was unworthy to do what Jesus asked. The disciples were ashamed that they missed Him. The psalmist asks for many reasons: in praise, lament, thanksgiving, frustration, and so much more.
So do we. “How can this be?” we ask about the things of faith. There is so much that is mysterious, so much that is unexplainable about Christianity. There are so many questions we ask that can’t really be answered. How can a virgin give birth? How can God die on a cross? How can the bread and wine be the body and blood of Jesus? How can the Holy Spirit transform us? How can we have faith in something we do not see? How can God be real when there is so much that seems to prove He is not? How can we believe something that is so unbelievable? How can a man be born again? Just like the characters is God’s story, we are doubtful, curious, unworthy, ashamed. We cry out in praise, lament, thanksgiving, frustration, and so much more.
How can this be? Whatever our attitude, Jesus calls us to look at the world through the eyes of faith. We may be afraid. We may want to wait for a better time. We may think we are just too busy. It is good that we ask the questions, to try to understand, but Jesus reminds us that some things are meant to be believed not by reason but by faith. He transforms us. He fills us with His Word. He gives us the very faith we need to believe. He is worthy of our interest and our time because He is the Lord our Savior, and He grants us abundant life now and forever by His grace.
“One of the multitude said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Man, who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you?’ He said to them, ‘Beware! Keep yourselves from covetousness, for a man’s life doesn’t consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses.’ He spoke a parable to them, saying, ‘The ground of a certain rich man produced abundantly. He reasoned within himself, saying, “What will I do, because I don’t have room to store my crops?” He said, “This is what I will do. I will pull down my barns, build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. I will tell my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years. Take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.’” But God said to him, “You foolish one, tonight your soul is required of you. The things which you have prepared - whose will they be?” So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.’” Luke 12:13-21, WEB
The holidays are approaching quickly, and families are making plans to get together. This is especially important since so many families have not seen one another for a long time. Next week there will be a mass movement of people in cars, buses, and airplanes as they go home for Thanksgiving. In the weeks to follow, there will be reunions and parties, intimate gatherings where brothers and sisters, parents and children, aunts, uncles and third cousins will eat, drink and talk about their lives. Though most of those gatherings will be happy celebrations, too many will include people who are there out of a sense of sense of duty rather than love. Underlying problems are amplified. The holidays bring out anger and depression for many people.
Jesus taught the people about living in relationships during His ministry. It begins with the Love of God and love for God, but He showed them what life was like for those who put God first, above all else. Faithfulness to God means that we will live in loving relationships with our families, friends and even our enemies. Unfortunately, many families face conflict, not only during the holidays. There are battles about past hurts, arguments over money, and clashes of personalities. Families are destroyed over inheritance.
It was common practice for rabbis of the day to settle disputes such as this one, so a brother came to Him to judge his situation. According to the laws of Moses, the oldest son got twice as much as any of his brothers. But this man did not think it was fair and wanted more inheritance. He had not been listening to the things Jesus was teaching about love, trust and faith. We don’t need more things; we need a stronger relationship with God. We could pass at any moment, either from disease or a car accident. We could fall prey to a criminal or simply die in our sleep. At that point, nothing matters at all, not our money, our homes or our stuff. However, at that moment, our relationship with God in Christ Jesus is of utmost importance.
In the weeks to come, how will your family gatherings play out? Will there be battles over who got the most toys under the Christmas tree or who did more for Mom and Dad this year? Do you dread going home for Thanksgiving dinner knowing that the inevitable fight will just bring more anger and hostility? Go with peace in your own heart, with a deep and committed relationship with God. Do not seek to gain something from the relationship but rather share your faith with those around. The only thing that matters is God. When you live in His light, everything else will fall into place. Bring the light to your family parties this holiday season, share His peace and love with your world. You may not change the situation, but you will have a more joyful celebration of the birth of your Lord.
Scriptures for November 21, 2021, Christ the King: Isaiah 51:4-6, Psalm 93, Revelation 1:4b-8, Mark 13:24-37
“Yahweh reigns! He is clothed with majesty! Yahweh is armed with strength.” Psalm 93:1a, WEB
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 returned 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. On Christ the King Sunday we look forward to the Day of Judgment when Christ will rule over all things and when all things will be under His rule; we look at the majesty of the God who is our King.
The Psalms can be divided into different categories. There are at least two types that deal with authority: the royal psalms and the kingship psalms. The royal psalms deal with the spiritual role of kings in the worship of Yahweh. In ancient Israel the king was thought to have a special relationship to Yahweh and thus played an important role in Israelite worship. The royal psalms are all Messianic, and though they talk about the human kings, the ultimate King is Jesus. The kingship hymns focus on God as Sovereign, rather than on the human kings.
The psalm for today is one of the kingship hymns. It was possibly used as a hymn for an enthronement festival that reasserted annually God’s kingship. It could also be a foreshadowing of the Messiah. It might also refer to God’s victory over the chaos at the beginning of time. The psalmist praises God’s majesty and His power over the seas. The psalmists often made references to the foreign gods, comparing them to the true God, and in this psalm he points toward the ancient water gods. The point is that God is greater than all the others. God is stronger than anything He made. He controls the waters. He is King, the Sovereign over everything. He is holy. He is worthy of our awe.
There are moments in my life when I have been truly awestruck like watching the sun rise over a deserted beach, viewing a star filled sky from the top of a mountain, staring at the magnificence of the Giant Sequoias, trembling in the midst of a storm with pounding rain and thunder that rattled the walls, holding my babies for the first time, and experiencing the coincidences that were obviously “God-incidences” or miracles from the very hand of God.
We once attended an Evensong service at York Minster in York, England. It had been a cold and dreary day, drizzle falling during most of our visit. Though we’d enjoyed our sightseeing, we were cold and tired by the time we reached the church. We planned our day around the service as we often did when we spent a day as tourists. We were pretty tired by the time we sat down in the pew, but that soon passed. Though it was cold and dark outside, inside the cathedral there was an unearthly light that cast a warmth over us all. The choir sang with voices that sounded like heavenly angels singing praise to God, an image that was enhanced by the carvings of angels that seemed almost alive. That worship service was, to me, as close to heaven as I will ever get in this world. We were drawn into the presence of God, and we caught a glimpse of His glory that day.
Yet, no matter how awesome those experiences might have been, no matter how awestruck I was at seeing those stars or trees, or worshipping in a beautiful place, no matter how often I see God’s hand in my everyday 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 be calmed. 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.
Queen Elizabeth has been the monarch of the British empire for nearly seventy years, one of the longest reigning monarchs of all time. She is ninety-five years old and has lived an incredible life. There have been concerns recently about her health and gossip about what will happen next. Who will rule after her? Will the monarchy even survive? There have even been stories about secret plans for her funeral.
Whatever happens to Queen Elizabeth, the next king will probably not be coronated immediately. The coronation of a monarch is filled with pomp and circumstance. The next monarch will begin the work of the office immediately, but in the past the coronation did not take place for a year or more. In England, the people are given a year of mourning and then the ceremony is planned for spring or summer when the weather is most suitable for the occasion. The year is not necessary just for the mourning, but also to prepare. Invitations must be sent to the world rulers or authorities, and lucky subjects who will be present. The festivities will include parties, gatherings, and other hospitality for the guests. Special clothes will be prepared and jewels created. This all takes time to plan.
Some of the preparations do not seem so grand. The “Stone of Scone” or the “Stone of Destiny” is a rock that is believed to have been the rock on which the earliest kings of Scotland were crowned. Legend takes it back even further, claiming it to be the very stone that Jacob used as a pillow when he dreamed of the heavenly ladder. Others claim it was the altar of St. Columba on his missionary travels. This stone was used at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and is expected to be part of any future ceremony. A specially prepared throne has been created to hold the stone. It is not what you would expect; it is not beautiful but has such legendary meaning that the coronation would not be considered real if the stone and that throne was not present.
Advent is coming and the stores are filled with Christmas merchandise, but we are not quite ready for the countdown to Christmas. Sunday is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church year. It is on this day that we look forward to the Day of God’s Judgment and His full reign over all creation. On this day we look to the end, but an end that is actually the beginning of forever.
At Advent and at Lent we look forward to the coming of the King. We see the King-making in two very different ways during those times. At Christmas the King comes humbly, born in a manger in Bethlehem. At Lent, we wait for the fulfillment of all God’s promises, and yet it happens in an even humbler manner. On Good Friday, Jesus is crowned King in the most offensive way possible: at His death on the cross. He was raised on Easter Sunday, and He will rule forever at the right hand of God.
We celebrate Christ the King now in hope of the day when He will rule over all forever. That day is the end, but it is really only the beginning. The pages of our calendars continue to turn, and after Christ the King Sunday we will begin a new year and a new Advent. Yet, in the reality of God’s reign, we do not know if there will ever be another tomorrow. We do not know when the Day will come. Perhaps it will be tomorrow, and we will never experience another Advent or Christmas.
This might seem like a frightening or disappointing proposition, but it is the hope of our faith. The hope of our life in Christ is that the Day will come soon so that we can live fully in the grace of God in eternity. The Day will probably not be tomorrow, so until then we will live fully in the grace of God in this world. Living in grace we are called to praise God with our mouths, with our hearts and with our lives. We are called to live with Christ as our King in our daily and everyday experiences, sharing His love and mercy at every opportunity. In this way Christ will be King in the here and now even while we wait for Him to be King over all.
Come, Lord Jesus.
This is my battle cry, especially when I see something in the world that reminds me how upside down and topsy-turvy it has become. I want Jesus to return when I look around at the world in which we live today. Up is down and down is up; good is bad and bad is good. We fool ourselves if we think that our day is worse than any other time in history, but we have our own struggles and hope for a better day. We hope for the day when God is truly King.
As I look around this topsy-turvy world today, I see so many who do not believe. Human beings have rejected God as He is revealed in the scriptures, choosing instead to believe in false gods and self-centered ideology. There seems to be nothing that can convince them that salvation is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ, for He is the God they seek to worship. Instead, they look for other ways to fulfill their needs and desires, they stuff their bellies with good things and their hearts with warm fuzzies. They do not want to commit to the life that is expected of those who believe in the One true and living God. They want what they think is best, to have control over their own destiny, to grasp on to their own faith.
They have fallen for the lies of the enemy. They think that they will be able to stand on the works of their own hands on the Day of Judgment. They do not know their own sinfulness and inability to stand before the Creator’s wrath. They do not know they need Jesus to stand for them on that day, to be the advocate before the righteous judge. In that day, “one like a Son of man” will approach the Holy One on our behalf, and His righteousness will cover our unrighteousness. That one is our Lord Jesus Christ. Only through Him will we see the glory of God. He is worthy to be worshipped.
The Gospel text reminds us that we are waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Though Christ has already come, died, and been raised, we still live in a topsy-turvy world. The work of salvation is complete, but it still needs to be completed. We are already there, but we still wait. We live in the already and the not yet. Our text today makes that clear.
We might be tempted by this text from Mark to look for the signs that are described. Many people have done so throughout time, pointing to stars, blood red moons, comets and other signs in the heavens. They point to natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes as signs that the time is near. They use the newspaper headlines to suggest that every event points to the time when Christ will come again. Throughout history there have been times when it seemed like the warnings were about to be fulfilled.
Jesus is quoting the Old Testament scriptures throughout this text. The people listening would have been very familiar with these words, particularly those from Isaiah. They knew what God promised and they knew how to respond. This isn’t a time for us to stop and watch for signs; it is a time to turn our focus on the One who would be King. “Stay awake,” Jesus says, not to be constantly interpreting the signs, but to be actively living the life God has called us to live.
The world is in chaos. People are worried and afraid of what tomorrow might hold. Many are crying out to God to shine His face so that they might be saved. We are His face. We have the message they need. We have the gifts that will bring peace and hope to those who are lost. Each year there seems to be more reason to cry out to God. We can see suffering all around us. People are jobless, homeless and hungry. Our prisons and hospitals are filled to the brink. Last week Jesus called us to meet the simple and ordinary needs of our neighbors. This holiday season will not be wonderful for everyone, but we can make the world a little brighter by sharing Christ in word and in deed with those who are in need.
In Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” we see how to respond to the darkness and chaos of our world. We wait, not only for the baby, but also for the King. Here in darkness we begin our journey to the manger. But while this is a time to wait and watch, it is also a time for us to live and shine the light of God. It isn’t a time to hide behind our safe walls, but to get out into the world to tell the truth: we are all sinners in need of a Savior. The baby we await and the King who will come is the One who will truly save us from ourselves.
So, who are we in the midst of all of this? One of my children came home from school one day a few years ago and asked me the question, “If you were a cereal, what would you be?” The question was part of an exercise they did which was meant to help them learn how to describe themselves.
They were supposed to figure out the characteristics they shared with different kinds of cereal. One student may have chosen something healthy because they are very fit and active. Another might have chosen Cocoa Puffs because they are loveable and deliciously fun. Yet another might have chosen Fruit Loops because they are a little fruity or loopy. My child chose Rice Crispies because he snaps, crackles and pops.
They played this game with other questions like “If you were an office supply what would you be?” “If you were a game, what would you be?” “If you were a great American city, which would you be?” “If you were an ice cream flavor, what would you be?” These questions and many more helped the children think about different aspects of their personalities, their interests, and their lives. No one question could possibly describe everything there is to know about the children; it takes too many words to describe even just one person. That is why it is so hard to answer when someone asks you to describe yourself in just one word.
If it is hard to describe us, imagine how hard it is to describe God. Even if we use the statement, “God is love,” we do not come close to fully describing the God whom we worship. In the beginning of today’s text from Revelation, John wrote, “Grace to you and peace, from him who is and who was and who is to come.” This might seem like a long-winded way of saying that God is eternal, and yet is eternal even the right word? We have eternal life in Christ, but we have not always been. God is, was and is to come. He is the past, the present, and the future but is not at all definable by time or space.
There are many words that are used to describe the LORD. The scriptures compare God to a shepherd, a vineyard owner, a father. The parables of Jesus compare the kingdom of God to real human experiences. We try to put forth analogies for concepts like the Trinity, all which are less than adequate to describe the indescribable. There are dozens of different names which are attributed to God such as Adonai-Jehovah which means The Lord or Sovereign. There is one Hebrew word that is meant to encompass the fullness of God, and even that is not truly a word. It is the Tetragrammaton, which is the ineffable name of God. Though some would add vowels to the four letters “Y,” “H,” “W,” and “H,” (Yahweh) we do not know what vowels really belong. The Tetragrammaton is unspeakable not only because it is not to be spoken, but because it is difficult for us to even know how it would be pronounced.
Yet, YHWH is about the only thing we could write that would come close to the indescribable and it may be what John was thinking when he wrote the book of Revelation. “Who was, is and is to come” may be John’s way of speaking the unspeakable. God is not limited as we are limited, but we try to limit Him by our words. He cannot fit into our idea of time and space, or even into our personalities, interests and lives. We look to the characteristics that most fit our needs. Perhaps that is why God has revealed Himself to us in so many ways. He knows that there will be something which draws us to Himself. No matter what it is we like about God, we should never forget that He is indescribable, He is more than we can ever imagine. It is in this that we truly have hope, because if God could be held within the limits we define, then He would not be God.
We know God best through the way He has revealed Himself to us, particularly through the stories in the scriptures. We learn about Him through His Word.
In today’s Old Testament passage from Isaiah, God was speaking to His people through the prophet. He said, ““Listen to me, my people; and hear me, my nation, for a law will go out from me, and I will establish my justice for a light to the peoples.” Although none of those to whom Isaiah was speaking would have known the people of the Old Testament personally, they would know the stories of that were passed down orally in the religious traditions. They didn’t know about their everyday life. Yet, the stories are irrevocably woven into their lives. The promise on which they live was given first to Abraham, a man alone with no hope for a future to whom God fulfilled His promise of becoming the father of many nations. The people listening were the fulfillment of that promise. They were the children of Abraham.
We now, listening to these stories, are also the fulfillment of that promise. We are of those many nations that came from the bosom of Abraham. The promise was fulfilled, so we can rest in all God’s promises, including those found in this passage. We will be comforted. God will look upon His children with compassion. He will restore His people and they will rejoice. We will become the light that shines to the world, manifesting God’s justice and peace. God will grant us His righteousness and His salvation. It is ours to live in hope waiting patiently for that which will last forever.
The Church year is ending, and we expect Advent to begin again next week. We follow a calendar, but God does not; when the Day of Judgment comes, there will be no tomorrow. Tomorrow may never come; Advent may never begin again. Are we ready to face the King? This question is not meant to bring fear into our hearts, but to cause us look today to the One who is our advocate. We can’t wait until tomorrow to get to know the Lord Jesus. We should not wait until He comes in glory because now is the day of salvation. Now is the time to praise the God who saves through faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is not the kind of king we expect. His coronation throne was the cross. There was no pomp and circumstance. There was a crown, but it was roughly made of thorns ripped from a bush. Royal robes were given to Jesus not to do him honor, but to make fun of Him in front of the crowds. He was covered in blood from the scourging He faced at the hands of the Roman soldiers. There were no willing attendants to carry His things; He was forced to carry His own cross up the long hill until He could not carry it no more. There were no royal or political visitors to witness the coronation except those who came to jeer at Him. There were no parties or fancy balls. Yet that coronation changed the world.
Jesus did not rule to set the Jewish people free from the oppression of the Romans, but rather to free them from the oppression of the sin that has kept humankind bound and separated from God since the beginning of time. Sin and death, oppression and injustice have been around for a long, long time. But God is, was and will be. He is greater than our sin and He had a plan from the very beginning of time. The King for whom we are waiting
We do not know if we will ever have a tomorrow. John wrote in Revelation, “To him who loves us, and washed us from our sins by his blood - and he made us to be a Kingdom, priests to his God and Father - to him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever.” Christ is King. This is a future promise, but it is also a present reality. We are called live in His reign now as we wait for that Day when He will reign forever. We are part of His kingdom, priests of His temple, made and freed to give Him glory from now until the end of days and then forever and ever.
Come, Lord Jesus our King forever and ever. Amen.
“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed; also of the prominent Greek women, and not a few men.” Acts 17:16-21, WEB
Children are very curious and they manifest that curiosity with questions. Some of the questions are simple like “What are you doing?” or “Are we there yet?” But the person who answers those questions quickly learn that the simple answers are not enough. They are often followed with the inevitable, “Why?” They want to know why we are doing something, or why it takes so long, or why something is the way it is. One question often leads to dozens more increasingly difficult questions. When faced with something like the death of a pet, the child doesn’t simply want to know what happened to them, they want to know why. These are tough questions to answer, especially when we are having our own difficulty facing the death of that loved one.
But questions are vital to the growth of a child. This is the way they learn. It is the way they share their feelings. This is the way they socialize. In the earliest years, children only know what they need, and they quickly find ways to indicate their needs to those who care for them. But they see others communicating so much more, so they begin to seek information about the world around them. The color of the sky might not seem very important to an adult, and the true scientific answer might not even be necessary. The question itself reveals that the child is observant of the world and that he or she is learning. They have to know that the sky is blue before they can ask why!
While questions might be vital in those early years, we should not stop asking questions as we get older. Perhaps we think we should know it all, or we think we do know it all, but we never stop learning. Questions help us to grow, they help us to see the world through other people’s points of view, they help us to experience the world in a whole new way. A question like “Why is she making a left turn?” might help us to learn a new way to an old place.
It is good for us to ask questions of faith. What’s the point of Bible study if we don’t question the things we read and the thoughts of others? We learn more about God by asking one another about the way they see and understand Him. Our point of view, or that of our friends, might need to be better developed. Sometimes our thoughts are completely upside down, but through sharing our questions and our answers, we come to a better understanding of both each other and the God that we love.
The problem is when we let the questions we ask create a sense of doubt and uncertainty about God. When we disagree about certain aspects of the Bible, we begin to wonder, “If I’m wrong, then what will happen to me?” When we start asking questions like, “Have I done enough?” or “Can I be forgiven for this sin?” then we not only doubt ourselves but we doubt God.
The questions we ask are good, but there is only one that truly matters, and it is this: “Do I believe that Jesus Christ is my Savior?” If we can answer “Yes” to that question, then nothing else truly matters. The rest just helps us grow in faith and knowledge and relationships in this world. God has promised that the breach between us has been repaired though the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. We will have questions for our entire lives, but as we trust in God’s faithfulness, we will see that those questions are never a matter of salvation. Then we can ask without fear.
Paul was sent to Berea because the Jews of Thessalonica rejected the Gospel. They refused to even check out the scriptures to see if the message Paul was sharing was one worth considering. They refused to ask any questions. They were so against the good news of Jesus Christ that they threatened Paul. The Bereans were different. They heard the Gospel, but they went further. They searched the scriptures to see that what Paul said was true, and God’s word cut deep into their hearts. Many people in Berea were converted to Christianity and God made a real difference in their lives. We are called as people of God to be like the Bereans. We should never accept something someone has said at face value, whether we think it is good or bad, but we should instead search God’s word to know what He has to say about it. Whatever our questions, God provides the foundation of our faith and the answers we need to know the truth.
“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw the city full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who met him. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also were conversing with him. Some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be advocating foreign deities,’ because he preached Jesus and the resurrection. They took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is, which you are speaking about? For you bring certain strange things to our ears. We want to know therefore what these things mean.’ Now all the Athenians and the strangers living there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” Acts 17:16-21, WEB
What lead Paul to Berea and then to Athens? Earlier in chapter 17, Paul was staying with a man named Jason in Thessalonica. When some Jews became jealous of the impact they were having, they went to Jason’s house to arrest Paul, but when they were not found, Jason and some others were arrested and thrown in jail. Luke writes, “When they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.” This means they posted bond and were set free, but the people were agitated. Jason and some others eventually went to another place to preach and impact the world with the Gospel.
But first they sent Paul and Silas away; the disciples of Jesus were constantly harassed and threatened, sending them from town to town. They ended up in Berea, but the Jews in Thessalonica heard they were still preaching. They traveled about 45 miles to where Paul was preaching to continue agitating the crowds. Paul and Silas were sent away again, and they ended up in Athens. There were people in Athens who spent all their time debating the religious and philosophical issues of the day. When you follow social media, you find too many people who are still living that type of life. I confess that I spend too much time reading the comments under Facebook posts.
Most of us have much more to deal with in this world to be so concerned about debate twenty-four hours a day, but as we watch the media it seems that there are some people who thrive in this type of environment and constantly voice their opinions with passion. As in the days of Paul, it seems like some people like to talk just to hear their own voice. This is not always a bad thing, because we learn from one another as we converse about the issues that affect our lives. If we were unwilling to discuss our perspective with others they would never know there is a difference, and neither would we. However, we have to be willing to both speak and to listen, and too many people are not willing to listen.
The men in Athens thought Paul was teaching about some strange new God. They took him to the place where they spent all their time debating and asked him to explain. He shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them, showing them the true identity of the “unknown god” they had in their temples. Some may have listened and been changed by faith in Jesus Christ. Others may have simply heard it as another new thing to ponder, never coming to faith.
We are getting ready to gather with family and friends to celebrate the holidays, and some of those gatherings are likely to end up in heated discussions about the issues of our day. In our own conversations, we learn quickly that some people will hear and be changed, while others will never be willing to acknowledge that there is another possible perspective. It might be better to avoid those discussions, but we need to continue to talk and listen so that we can find some common ground to work together for the sake of everyone. The common ground for Christians is much narrower and broader at the same time. Our common ground is Jesus Christ, the foundation of all things related to our faith. All our conversations need to begin with Him, through prayer and His Word, so that it will be founded in grace, and truth, and love.
“Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may receive a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these among so many?’ Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in that place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus took the loaves; and having given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to those who were sitting down; likewise also of the fish as much as they desired. When they were filled, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather up the broken pieces which are left over, that nothing be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten.” John 6:1-13, WEB
Andrew asked the question for this week in today’s lesson. “What are these among so many?”
I have organized a women’s retreat for the past few years. The retreat was held at a camp that I visit regularly for other retreats. Our camp is not unusual when it comes to the meals. The food is always excellent and there is always a lot. Along with three full meals, there is always an afternoon snack which you can’t miss because it is always so delicious. We often end any of the retreats complaining about our full bellies asking ourselves the question, “Why did I eat so much!”
Despite this knowledge, we always plan to bring our own snacks. First of all, you can’t have a women’s retreat without having some sort of chocolate on the tables. Also, we have plenty of time in fellowship, which is always better with homemade treats or cheese and crackers. We invite the guests to bring something, but we also buy food just in case. We don’t want anyone to be hungry even though noone ever is. At the last retreat, we had so many snacks that there was no room to put anything on the serving table.
Anyone who has planned a potluck understands the dilemma. We always worry that someone will have to go hungry. Yet, as time goes on, more and more guests bring in delightful dishes. On one occasion, we were so concerned about the amount of food that we sent someone to the grocery store to buy rolls and lunchmeat for sandwiches. By the time she returned, there was no room to put it on the serving table. We have all had experiences like this in our lives, whether at gatherings or in our own personal life, times when we wonder if our resources would be enough to meet our needs. My own family had had periods when we lived on a prayer that God would see us through. When we look at an empty tables or pantries, we wonder just like Andrew, “What are these among so many?”
Jesus often taught His disciples to trust in God’s provision by presenting them with impossible situations. They were sent to share the Gospel with nothing; they were to take no extra clothing, no food, no money. Jesus told them to rely on the hospitality of the people to whom they were teaching. I can’t imagine leaving on a journey with nothing. I tend to over pack to ensure that I will be able to meet every possible need along the way. One of the most incredible stories was when Jesus wanted to feed five thousand people who were following Him.
In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s versions of this story, the disciples told Jesus to send the people away so that they could find something to eat. In this story from John, Philip saw an impossible situation. Eight month’s wages would not even begin to feed the crowd. Andrew noticed a young boy with a few loaves of bread and some fish. He pointed it out to Jesus.
Jesus threw a potluck for five thousand, and only one small boy brought a dish. Yet Jesus was able to feed the entire crowd until they were stuffed full. In this story, Jesus filled the bellies of the people, supplied their physical needs. In the process, He taught the disciples a lesson in trust. God will fulfill their physical needs. Five barley loaves and two fish would not have even fed the disciples and Jesus. Yet, Jesus met their needs, the needs of the crowd, and even had leftovers to share.
When we are faced with the challenges of life, will we try to solve the situation by our own means or trust in God’s provision? At that one potluck, we went to purchase unnecessary food because we feared not having enough. In the life of our family, we considered making decisions to solve our problems. In the story of the feeding of the five thousand, the disciples wanted to send the people away. In every case, God already had a plan, and He was faithful even when we weren’t.
“When therefore the people saw the sign which Jesus did, they said, ‘This is truly the prophet who comes into the world.’ Jesus therefore, perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” John 6:14-15, WEB
“She was working in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens, ‘til her boyfriend kicked her out in one of those crushing scenes. What was she to do? Where was she to go? She was out on her fanny... So, over the bridge from Flushing to the Sheffield’s door. She was there to sell make-up, but the father saw more. She had style! She had flair! She was there. That’s how she became the Nanny!”
These lyrics are the theme song from a show called, “The Nanny” which ran on CBS from 1993-1999. The storyline was about a woman from Queens who becomes the nanny for the three children of a British theater producer named Max. Over the years, her role changed and she became far more than just their nanny. Eventually Fran and Max were married and had a child of their own. I’m sure the creators of the show always intended for the two to be married, but they held our attention for many years as we watched their relationship grow. What began as a simple working relationship became something deeper and much more important.
In yesterday’s devotional, we saw Jesus provide a large crowd of people with food to eat. It was an incredible situation, one even the disciples questioned. Yet, in the end Jesus came through for them. Not only did they have enough to eat, but there were leftovers. This incident made the people think about Jesus and His purpose.
The people were aware of the prophecies about the Messiah to come, but their understanding was very shallow. They expected the Prophet to be a redeemer like Moses or an earthly king like David, who would fulfill their physical needs. They expected him to be like the nanny, there to serve as their ruler, protector and provider. He knew His purpose was much deeper. He held an eternal love for the people, one that would meet their spiritual needs and feed their inner hunger. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, the people were always confused about the purpose of His actions. To them, the miracles were the end result. To Jesus, the miracles were just a means to the end, a part of the journey to the cross and His ultimate purpose.
Jesus joined the disciples and went to the other side of the lake after He left the crowds that evening. The next morning, the people realized He was gone and they went searching. When they found Him, He said, “Most certainly I tell you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled.” They were working for the wrong things. When they asked Jesus what work they should do, He answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Our prayer life is often filled only with requests for Him to fill our physical needs. We also spend too much time wondering what we can do to serve Him. We look at Jesus as little more than the nanny or a worldly king who will fill our bellies, but He is much more. He came to give us eternal life, to forgive our sins, and to make us children of God. When we seek Him in prayer and study of the scriptures, let us look beyond His provision for our physical needs and embrace the incredible thing He has done for us. He is the bread of life, the source of all we need both physically and spiritually. He came not just to work for and with us; He came to have an intimate, loving, and eternal relationship with Him.
Scriptures for November 28, 2021, First Sunday of Advent: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
“May the Lord make you to increase and abound in love toward one another, and toward all men, even as we also do toward you, to the end he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” 1 Thessalonians 3: 12-13, WEB
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars; and on the earth anxiety of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the waves; men fainting for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world: for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” As we look at this passage with post resurrection eyes, we wonder how it might be that we would fall faint. After all, we have nothing to fear since we have Christ our Lord.
Yet, I have known fear, we all have. We live in a time of fear. The pandemic has many worried about their health and it seems that so many other diseases are affecting people we love. Our streets have erupted in violence, not only as gangs fight gangs, but as neighbors fight neighbors. There is still terrorism and war in the world, some which strike too close to home. Natural disasters affect our neighbors domestic and foreign. We fear economic collapse and what might happen to our jobs, our homes, and our children’s future. How easy it is to let our hearts become “loaded down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life.” We turn to the ways of the world to get us through the days. We will set aside, or even hide, our faith in Christ out of concern for offending our neighbor or causing us to face persecution. We are even discouraged to say “Merry Christmas” so that we won’t appear intolerant of other people’s faiths.
It might seem odd for us to begin Advent with scriptures that bring to mind the end of the world. After all, the world is just beginning to look bright and festive with all the Christmas decorations popping up all over the neighborhood. The long, dark winter nights are brightly shining with twinkling lights and fun displays. Things are hustling and bustling at the malls and stores. The retailers do not even wait for Thanksgiving to begin their Black Friday sales, and the trucks are everywhere in our neighborhood delivering packages. On top of everything, we have projects to complete, parties to plan, cookies to bake. It is a busy, festive season.
Perhaps that’s why it seems so odd for us to hear Jesus speaking these words that He gave to His disciples on His way into Jerusalem to be arrested. He was talking about the end of time. Isn’t Advent a time for looking toward the birth of a Savior? It is, but it is also about preparing our hearts for the time when He will come again. We know Jesus has been born. We know He ministered in our world for a time. We know He died and rose again. Though we do spend Advent preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ in the manger, we are reminded that Christmas is a past event, it is a commemoration of what has already happened. Though we enjoy the festiveness of Christmas and the joy that comes with the Nativity, we do not live in the past. Advent is also a time for looking toward the future, to that day when Christ will come again. We can enjoy remembering, but never to the detriment of what is to come. The promise has been fulfilled, but it will still be fulfilled. It is also being fulfilled as we go through our days. We live in the already but not yet.
I suppose it is hard for us to take some of the things Jesus says with the seriousness needed, particularly when we hear it at a time such as this. After all, Jesus was taking about “this generation.” What does this mean? We think in terms of our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers that have passed when we think of generations. Yet, Luke is taking about a different idea. He is referring to a type of people, rather than a specific group belonging to a specific time or place. The type of people that will not pass are those who do not heed the words of Christ: unbelievers. We can take seriously what Jesus says when we realize that every generation of man - those who belong to a specific time or place - have dealt with the generation of unbelievers. There are unbelievers today, and they seek to make us doubt our faith. They seek to make us feel like fools so we will abandon Christ. They seek to keep our eyes off Christ.
Why does Jesus warn us about men fainting with terror when our hearts are filled with the sounds of jingle bells? How are these words relevant to us? After all, they were spoken to the disciples before they knew the complete work of Christ. We live after the cross and resurrection, we know the entire story. How could we be faint with fear? However, it is at this very time when we are most easily deceived. It is in this state when we can fall to the temptations of the world the hardest. It is when we are most comfortable that disaster can make us tremble with fear. That fear can take us down dangerous roads, where we try to lose ourselves, as Luke tells us to be careful because, “your hearts will be loaded down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day will come on you suddenly. Those of us remembering the birth of Christ this Advent need to heed the warning as much as those disciples who still had to survive the Passion of Christ.
I have always been a cat lover. When I was young, my father brought home junk yard cats to be my pets. Those cats always had the freedom to come and go as they pleased, though they tended to stay around the house for the easy meal. Too many of them were pregnant females, but they provide many funny stories, most of which you’ve probably read in this devotional over the years. The unfortunate part of giving the cats the freedom to roam is that they didn’t live very long. The outside world is dangerous. They could be hit by a car, get lost or become infested with fleas or ticks. Any of these could lead to death. As I became an independent adult, my cats lived indoor exclusively for their protection and my state of mind.
Most of our cats have been ok with this state of existence. Oh, they are usually curious. One cat got out one day and was lost for three days. When he returned home, battered and bruised, he was happy to stay indoors forever. Our current kitty Samson never tries to escape, but the other day we had the door open and he wandered much farther outside than was comfortable for us. Tigger would have loved to chase the birds, but he was just as happy watching them from the window. Felix was another story.
Over the years Felix discovered ways to escape. He pushed out the screens in windows, figured out how to open the door handles, and even managed to push a second story window open enough to jump to the ground. He tried to slip unseen beneath our feet as we entered or left through the door. We had a screen door in the front so whenever the weather was pleasant, we kept the front door open. At first Felix was good about not trying to get out, but then he figured out that he could push the screen door open and slip through without much notice. We had to put a hook on the door to keep him from escaping.
At times I wonder if we shouldn’t just let him escape so that he can see how harsh it is out there in the world. I don’t because I know it could lead to something horrible. He has no claws, so a fight with another cat could have been deadly. What if he got lost? Hit by a car? We would be devastated to lose our friend. He could end up with ticks and fleas and bring them into the house. We play his games with him, but ultimately we will always win because we know it is in his best interest to stay indoors where it is safe.
We are much like Felix when it comes to our relationship with our Father in heaven. We want to be safe in His arms, but we also want to know what is happening out in the world. We do whatever we can to escape, thinking that those small acts of disobedience don’t seem too bad. After all, there are people who do things that are far worse. We are certainly more righteous than the murderer or thief, right. We think we are probably more righteous than our neighbor.
Yet, we have to ask, “What is righteousness?” Is it doing what is right versus wrong in this world? No, righteousness is not a moral attitude, but rather it is a right relationship with God. It means having faith that God is true and faithful to His promises. It is trusting that God knows what is best for us and believing that He will keep us well. All the promises of God have been fulfilled in Christ Jesus, our Lord. He has done all that is necessary to restore our relationship with God. All too many ask, what did we do to need salvation? The question is not what we did, but rather what we are. We are sinners in need of a Savior.
This Savior was promised from the very beginning, and we now begin the journey through Advent to the birth of the Christ. He would come out of Israel, just as we hear in this passage from Jeremiah. Israel would be called “Jehovah our righteousness,” and God’s people would be identified with their Savior, they would be part of His Kingdom and reign with Him. As the relationship between God and his people was restored, they would become one with Him in heart, soul, and spirit.
Why did we need to be restored?
In the beginning, Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden with God. They walked together and talked. They had a personal, intimate relationship with one another and with their Creator. They were naked and it did not matter. When the serpent deceived them and they ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good an evil, things changed dramatically. The Bible tells us that their eyes were opened, and they knew they were naked so they covered themselves with fig leaves and hid in the garden. They were afraid to be seen by God.
They were physically naked since God had not given them clothing to wear and their response showed that they were ashamed of their physical nakedness. Yet, that was just a symptom of the greater problem that they faced. When their eyes were opened, they could see that their disobedient actions were disrespectful to their Creator and that they were not worthy to be in His presence. Their shame was not only about their naked bodies, but also about their fear to be in the presence of God. What would He do in response to their disobedience? He had warned them that eating the tree would mean death and they ignored His warning. No wonder they were afraid and hid from His presence.
That’s what shame does to us. We know that the deep secrets of our souls are exposed, and we fear the recompense that will come. So, we hide. We hide behind emotion, arrogance, or pride. We hide behind blame by passing the fault to others. We hide physically by breaking relationships or separating from society. We cover ourselves with clothes like the fig leaves - self-righteousness and excuses - clothes that don’t last or cover the reason for our shame.
The truth that is hidden in our hearts and our souls is often revealed and exposed to the world. It is easy for our enemies to use our imperfection against us. They take our sin and put it on display in order to attack our credibility. I did a web search on the word “shame”, and I came up with a number of “Hall of Shame” listings. These are sites where people have taken the stupidity, arrogance, or sin of others and put them on display. This is done in the hope that it will cause the recipient of such an “award” to slink away in shame and never be seen again. Fortunately, in Christ there is a better way to deal with our shame. We face it, repent of our sin, ask forgiveness, and trust that God will be faithful to His promises.
Life in Christ does not mean that the hidden things of our hearts and souls will never be revealed. As a matter of fact, in Christ is it especially important that they are exposed and dealt with through mercy and grace. Though our sins are exposed, we will not be put to shame because we know that through Jesus Christ our imperfection is forgiven, and our infirmity is healed. We do not have to go into hiding as they did in the Garden of Eden, we need only speak the truth of our hearts before God and ask Him to be gracious to pardon our sin. In this way our enemies will never be able to use our faults to bring us down, for in them we see the mercy of God and turn to Him for forgiveness. We are called to share the Gospel with them so that in us they will see His mercy and seek His salvation, too.
The Advent season is not just about watching for Christ to come in the manger and as Christ the King. Our life as we wait is meant to be one of action. There is a bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” Jesus is coming. What are we busy doing? We tend to give generously at this time of year, sharing our worldly goods with those in need. Angel trees, food banks, and other charities give us an opportunity to share what we have with the poor and the sick. Sadly, we often forget that we have an even greater gift we can give to the world, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The fears we face keep us quiet as we encounter the world during this time. We are willing to give our stuff, but are we willing to give them Jesus?
We are often so concerned about the feelings of those we encounter that we ignore the very thing that could bring them peace. Though it is good and right for us to serve those in need we need to be careful that we do not take our eyes off Christ. Jesus said, “Therefore be watchful all the time, praying that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will happen, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
We are like my cat Felix, although we aren’t just trying to get out of a house by slipping through a screen door. The glitz and glitter of the holidays is so much more fun than the end times. Our charitable work makes us feel good, but sharing the Gospel makes us uncomfortable. So, we try to “escape” by celebrating this time focused on the cute stories and the baby in the manger, ignoring the reality that we are waiting for the coming of the One who will judge the whole world. We think we will find something better beyond our faith. Unlike Felix, we know there are dangers, but we continue to chase the things of this world because the risk seems so worthwhile.
God knows what is best for us, He does not keep us trapped inside. He lets us escape His grasp for a moment as we seek out our way in life. But He is never far from us, He seeks us out, and finds us to bring us home. He knows what is best for us; He has a plan for our lives. Through Jeremiah, He promised that He would send a Savior. Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise, and He came exactly as God intended: through the line of David and Levi even though they failed to live as God expected. In the past two thousand years, the number of those saved by His mercy and grace is beyond our ability to measure. He is truly faithful to keep His promises for those who trust in Him despite our foolish disobedience.
Have you ever noticed that a lamp appears brighter at night than it does during the day? It isn’t that the lamp is brighter, but that the light from that lamp is diminished by the light that surrounds it. The lamp overcomes darkness much better than other light.
I suppose that's why faith and the Gospel stand out so much more clearly when the world is in chaos than it does when everything is peaceful. See, we don’t really think about God so much when things are going well around us. We might pray and worship and offer thanks, but we don’t fall on our knees in hopeful expectation of God’s grace because we are comfortable. We don’t need God and so He is set aside as we live our happy life. When we face a crisis, however, we see our need for Him ever more strongly and turn to Him in desperate prayer and expectation. It is not that Christ is a softer light in those good times of our life, but His light does not seem quite as bright for us as it does in those times when we need Him most.
Last week we celebrated Christ the King Sunday, and we looked forward to the time when there will be no need for the sun or for the moon or for the stars because Jesus Christ will be the eternal lamp that will provide all the light we need. There will also be no darkness because the victory over death and darkness will be complete. This week we begin a new church year, and we return to the reality: our world is filled with darkness.
The darkness has certainly existed through the history of the world; the world is constantly in flux and goes from bright moments of hope and peace to times filled with hatred and war. There was even a period of time specifically called the Dark Ages. That was an age when the great civilizations were in the decline and were replaced by cultures that were less refined. In England the Roman culture was replaced by the Saxons. Stone houses and advanced technology were replaced by grass huts and barbaric practices. It is called the dark ages also because the history is dark. The great civilizations had forms of writing, education, art which depicted life in that day. You can still visit the Roman baths and see the great mosaics they laid, but the Saxon huts are little more than an outline in the dust and a theory of a historian. There are those who fear we are headed toward a similar age today.
The Dark Ages was also a time of darkness in faith. The Romans had begun the spread of Christianity throughout Europe, but much was lost during those dark ages. The powerful worshipped other gods, believed in magic and superstition. And yet it was through the darkness of those days that the Light of Christ began to burn more brightly. Some of the greatest saints, like Boniface in the Frankish empire shaped Christianity which grew into greatness for a time. It peaks and it wanes because we become apathetic at the peaks and are humbled into desperate need when it wanes. That's when the Light shines brightest. Those who fear what tomorrow holds are reminded by Advent that Christ is coming just as He came, and that He is here now. The Light will shine so brightly in our darkness that the world won’t be able to miss Him.
So, we begin Advent in darkness as a reminder of our life without Christ. We have a tradition in my church and in my family of an Advent wreath. This is a wreath made with five candles, one for each Sunday of Advent and then for Christmas. We light a candle each Sunday and as we move through the season of preparation the light becomes brighter and brighter. That's how it is in our texts, too. We begin with a promise, watch as God prepares the world for the coming of our Lord and then end with the fulfillment of the promise: Jesus Christ is born. The true Light comes into the world.
God knew how to take care of the problem of our sin and planned for our salvation long before we were born. In the beginning He was already voicing the promise that one day He would restore our relationship with Him. The patriarchs, judges, kings and prophets all pointed toward the day when that would be fulfilled. When God’s people lost sight of Him because they were too comfortable or apathetic, He reminded them that He would send a Messiah. He shined the light to prepare them for the Light that would save them forever.
The passage from Jeremiah is repeated from earlier in Jeremiah. In chapter 23, Jeremiah talks specifically of the One who will come. He will be the King; He will be called “Jehovah our righteousness.” In this passage, however, Jeremiah refers to the people of God. Israel will be called “Jehovah our righteousness.” His people will be identified with the One who will be their Savior, they will become part of His Kingdom, and they will reign with Him. As the relationship between God and His people is restored, they will become one with Him in heart, soul, and spirit. They, and we, will no longer want to escape from the frightening signs that seem to indicate the end. We will look forward with joy and thanksgiving for the coming of Christ our King and Savior, who is, was, and will be yesterday, today, and forever.
As we enter into this season of waiting and wonder, let us keep our hearts and minds on the One for whom we wait, looking to His faithfulness, mercy and grace for all we need. We do not have to ignore the joys of the season, the parties, presents, decorations, food, and fellowship. Let us not lose sight in our busyness of the reason why we do all these things. Jesus is coming! as the child in the manger and the King in the clouds. Take time for prayer and do not worry about all there has to be done. Do not fear the darkness that would have you hide your faith. Keep close to God in the coming days and darkness will disappear. Then you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when the Lord Jesus comes in glory.
“Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good… Give thanks to the God of gods… thanks to the Lord of lords… to him who alone does great wonders… to him who by understanding made the heavens… to him who spread out the earth above the waters… to him who made the great lights… the sun to rule by day… the moon and stars to rule by night… to him who struck down the Egyptian firstborn… and brought out Israel from among them… with a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm… to him who divided the Red Sea apart… and made Israel to pass through the middle of it… but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea… to him who led his people through the wilderness… to him who struck great kings… and killed mighty kings… Sihon king of the Amorites… Og king of Bashan… and gave their land as an inheritance… even a heritage to Israel his servant… who remembered us in our low estate… and has delivered us from our adversaries… who gives food to every creature… Oh give thanks to the God of heaven; for his loving kindness endures forever.” Psalm 136, WEB
On this day in America, families will stuff their faces with turkey, spend all day in front of the TV watching parades and football, and enjoy the company of those they love. I pray that in the midst of the fun and fellowship we will enjoy, that each of us will take time to give thanks to God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ for the great and many blessings of this life.
“THANK GOD” begins our thinking at the right place, with thankfulness for what God has done. The text today from Psalm 136 recounts the wonderful things God did with and for the Israelites as they wandered in their wilderness. The list of good things in our lives might be similar, but different. No matter what, we can praise God because He has done good things for us. You might note that I’ve included ellipses in between the lines of the psalm. Those ellipses replace a refrain that is repeated throughout the psalm that says, “for his loving kindness endures forever.”
“For His loving kindness endures forever.” This is the most important thing, and even if we can’t come up with a million ways God has been good and gracious to us, we can begin all our moments with thanksgiving that His living kindness endures forever.
Psalm 136 is called “The Great Hallel”. Hallel is related to the word hallelujah, so this is a psalm of thanksgiving and eternal (forever) praise. It is a psalm that tells the redemptive history of Israel. Martin Luther said that we should sing and preach of God and His wonderful works. He is gracious and merciful. This psalm is nothing but grace, not human works or doctrines, they are not deserving of this worship.
There is a word in this passage that is very hard to translate into English, so there is a long list of similar though different words that are used. The Hebrew word is “chesed” or “hesed” which is often translated “steadfast love” or “lovingkindness” or “mercy”. The word can also mean love, kindness, unfailing love, great love, loving, kindnesses, unfailing kindness, acts of devotion, devotion, favor, approval, devout, faithful, faithfully, glory, good favor, grace, kind, kindly, loyal, merciful, well. These all give us a sense of the word, but it leaves out something important. It is a word that would probably be best kept in its Hebrew form, like we do with the word “Amen.” It actually refers to a loving loyalty based on a covenantal relationship. God’s hesed comes to us because He established a bond between Himself and His people.
God’s hesed endures forever. This is a message we need to know. It needs to be written on our hearts. We hear it over and over again as we read today’s psalm. The passage talks about God’s goodness, His good works, the goodness of the world He has created. He did all this because His hesed endures forever. He is God of gods and Lord of lords because His hesed endures forever. He gives us rest when we need it because His hesed endures forever. Hesed is a word that is filled with promise. God promised to be faithful to the covenants He made with His people forever, even while it is impossible for us to be faithful to Him.
Another word that needs understanding is the one translated “endures.” There is no word in the Hebrew for this; the word is added so that we will understand that this is about the ongoingness of God’s lovingkindness. The Hebrew would be better translated “never fails.” A bible scholar has retranslated the refrain, “Because forever is His loyalty.” God will do what He has said He will do because He has established us as His people in a covenantal relationship. This is about God’s faithfulness to His promises. He is the God of gods, the Lord of lords. He has done good things for His people. He created the heavens and the earth, the sun and the moon. He kept His promise to Abraham by saving His people from Egypt. He delivered them into the Promised Land, just as He promised. He remembers His people, saves us from our adversaries, and provides for us. He is good and He deserves our thanks and praise. This is a matter of trust; we can trust God because forever is His loyalty. God’s hesed endures forever.
This psalm reminds us (repeatedly!) of God’s covenant loyalty. God is committed to honoring His covenant with His people. All we have and all we do is centered on the endless love of God. God was and is forever reliable, kind, trustworthy, faithful and loving to His people. The psalm moves from creation in our verses in this week’s lectionary to the redemption of God’s people. The psalm recounts the creation and acts in history through which God demonstrated His enduring love and covenant loyalty. There is an order to world God created. It is not random.
Take time today to reread the psalm and replace each ellipsis with the refrain, “for his loving kindness endures forever.” Then add your own verses of thanksgiving. How many ways can you recount the goodness of God in your life?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and without defect before him in love, having predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his desire, to the praise of the glory of his grace, by which he freely gave us favor in the Beloved, in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him to an administration of the fullness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth, in him. We were also assigned an inheritance in him, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who does all things after the counsel of his will, to the end that we should be to the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ. In him you also, having heard the word of the truth, the Good News of your salvation - in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is a pledge of our inheritance, to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:3-14, WEB
I used to do the whole Black Friday shopping thing. I actually liked the excitement of it all. I never went with the intention of buying specific sale items like big screen TVs and the hot toy of the year, but there were always fun specials to fill our shopping lists. When my daughter was old enough, we would get up early, do a little shopping, take time for hot chocolate, and then go back for more shopping. We would get home late morning exhausted from the adventure.
I haven’t gone out early in the morning for years. It stopped being fun when the store started opening earlier and earlier, and especially when they started opening on Thanksgiving. It is also not as much fun as it was with my daughter. I usually manage to get out to the stores at some point on Black Friday, but well after the mad rush has ended. I thought about going out this morning, but did not get around to it. I looked at the clock this morning at 8:00 a.m. and thought, “I’m really late.” Of course, I’m not really late; the stores have had Black Friday sales happening for weeks already. I’ve done most of my shopping already. The things I need or want to buy are not typically items that disappear from the shelves early in the morning. And really, if I don’t find it, did I really need to buy it?
I have seen several memes on the Internet that say something like, “Only in America do we wait in lines to trample others for sale items one day after giving thanks for what we have.” Black Friday is considered an official beginning to the shopping season. I remember in the days of my youth when the malls did not open until normal time on Black Friday. The night before was spent decorating for the Christmas season. The mall where my mother worked had an event the hour before opening at which time Santa Claus arrived with much fanfare. One year, my sister and some other girls wore reindeer antlers and danced in front of the sleigh. It was adorable. Then the doors opened and the people went into the mall to take advantage of the sales. In recent years, they have opened the doors to stampede and chaos, although this year was apparently much calmer.
Black Friday is not the biggest shopping day of the year, however. The Saturday before Christmas is a higher grossing day because so many people wait until the last minute because they have not had the time to shop or because they are hoping to find a late sale with drastically reduced prices. Many of the people that do that late season shopping are also the ones who were out there early. I have often thought myself finished with my shopping, but as the day drew nearer I found more gifts that would be just perfect. My budget is shattered and my pile of gifts under the tree is bigger than I want it to be, again.
Giving gifts for Christmas has a long history, after all, the wise men brought Jesus gifts when He was a young child. However, gift giving has often become the sole focus of our Christmas celebration, and the gifts have been little more than packages bought out of a sense of duty or as a response to the expectation. I’ve seen too many web posts of people who are disappointed because they did not receive exactly what they wanted for Christmas. I do think two years of pandemic and recent supply chain problems have made many people rethink what they want to give to those they love, and even the recipients of those gifts. Do we really need to buy something for every aunt or cousin?
When my children were little, we got presents from everyone: grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors. One year we counted the presents and each child had more than two dozen. It was too much. One year we were moving from Washington state to Europe during the Christmas season. We asked our loved ones not to buy gifts because we would have to carry everything we received on the airplane. No one understood; they wanted to show how much they loved our kids through toys. One aunt in Kansas gave our son a huge police car with lots of bells and whistles. We still had a thousand miles to drive home. He was able to play with the toy the first day, and then it ended up hidden in the back of the car. Another aunt gave a huge book. We had to buy trunks to take all the new toys overseas.
I realized this year that I’ve been as guilty as all those relatives thirty years ago. I want to be the aunt that is remembered after Christmas because I’ve found the perfect gifts. The nieces and nephews are older now, but now their children get presents. I hate to give gift cards or money, but I think the cost of shipping and the reality of too many presents may lead me in that direction from now on. Then parents can supplement the gifts under the tree if there is something they can’t buy or save it for another time when the child really wants something special.
It might be tempting to simplify the holiday, to stop giving gifts altogether in an attempt to make Christmas more holy. Yet, gift giving is a part of Christmas, not only because of the gifts the wise men gave to Jesus, but because Jesus is the greatest gift we can receive. We just have to find a way to be generous while also honoring the reason for the season. When shopping this year, let’s ask ourselves an important question: “How is this glorifying God?” By keeping Christ in Christmas, by keeping our eyes on Him in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we will not purchase things for the wrong reasons but will do that which will share the gospel of Jesus Christ and the love of God. Christmas is a time to look beyond ourselves, not only at others but most especially at the Lord, to share the gift that changed our lives by changing us into the people of God. We act as witnesses to His presence in this time and place. We do this as we walk in His grace and pass His gift on to all those who cross our path.
“For Christ is the fulfillment of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness of the law, ‘The one who does them will live by them.’ But the righteousness which is of faith says this, ‘Don’t say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down); or, “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.)’ But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart;’ that is, the word of faith which we preach: that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes resulting in righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in him will not be disappointed.’” Romans 10:4-11, WEB
Today’s question comes from the book of John. Lazarus, Mary and Martha were close friends of Jesus, but Lazarus died. His sisters sent a message to Jesus in the hope that He would come heal their brother, but Jesus waited until after he died to go. He had a purpose, and that was to prove that He was who He said He was. The sisters were grieving when Jesus arrived, but they knew that even when it seemed too late, Jesus could make everything right. Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will still live, even if he dies. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” And then He asked perhaps the most important question in the Bible: “Do you believe this?”
We don’t have the advantage of hearing Jesus speak this question to us, so we do not know the emphasis He put on each of the words. Do YOU believe this? Is this question a personal one? Do you BELIEVE this? Is belief simply intellectual accent, or is it a deep trust in God? Finally, do you believe THIS? What is this? What is it that we are meant to believe?
I don’t know Jesus’ tone of voice, but the question asks all three. It is personal, it is pointed, and it is precise. Martha’s answer touches on each point. She said, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, he who comes into the world.” Martha answered in the first person, “I”. She told Jesus that she believed. She confessed a faith that goes beyond the mind and even the heart. She called Jesus the Christ, putting her absolute trust in Him as Lord and Savior. Jesus was not just a kind man, or a good friend, or a wonderful teacher. He was, is, the Son of God, the Lord.
In the coming days we’ll see more and more evidence of the celebration of Christmas, but Jesus puts before us the greatest question of our lives? Do you believe this? The Christmas story is at times quite unbelievable. A virgin birth? A heavenly choir inviting shepherds to a king in a manger? Wise men following a star a great distance? Do you believe these crazy things? And yet, the ultimate faith rests in something even crazier, that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, the Incarnation of the Living God. How we answer today’s question defines the God we worship.
We hesitate in answering that question or answer only in part because we struggle against a world that rejects the idea that Jesus is God. The world wants to mold God and His believers to fit into their expectations. But Paul reminds us that the person who believes God’s Word and lives accordingly will not be put to shame. When we say, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, he who comes into the world,” we will be saved. Jesus asks and wants to hear a personal answer of faith that goes beyond our mind or heart, putting our absolute trust in Him as Lord and Savior.
Jesus was a kind man, a good friend, and a wonderful teacher. He is our friend and He is there for us in our times of need. However, He is also the Divine, the Son of God. In the story from John, the sisters complained to Jesus that He wasn’t there when they needed Him, but He knew the end of the story. We might think we need Him to be here at this moment, to heal at this time, to finish His work right now, but He sees beyond our immediacy. He knows the right time; He will be where we need Him to be. He is worthy of our trust, our faith, our hope. He is faithful and we will not be disappointed. Do you believe this? Then confess your faith in Him, and experience the incredible grace of God through a personal relationship with the Lord of the resurrection and the life, Jesus Christ.
“He who doesn’t take his cross and follow after me isn’t worthy of me. He who seeks his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. He who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. Whoever gives one of these little ones just a cup of cold water to drink in the name of a disciple, most certainly I tell you, he will in no way lose his reward.” Matthew 10:38-42, WEB
The early days of Advent call us to look forward to the day Christ will come again. It is good for us to look forward to that day, not out of fear for what will happen, but in hope for the fulfillment of God’s saving work. We long for the day when we will dwell in the presence of God forever. And we become particularly desperate when we see what’s happening in the world around us. Surely now is the time for Christ to come and save us from the evils of this day?
Every generation has dealt with the dangers and evil of the world. Ask someone who survived a concentration camp if it is more difficult to live today than in 1944. We can’t ask those who lived through the plagues of Europe about that time, but I imagine they would tell us that they, too, were crying out for God’s mercy. War might be different today, and in some ways harder, but we can’t say it is worse for us than for all the other generations. As a matter of fact, thanks to modern medicine and technology, many people who would have died in plagues or war a hundred years ago survive to live and serve God today.
Do we really think that today is more dangerous than it was for the first disciples? They believed that Jesus was coming soon, they were certain that Jesus would return before those who knew Him died. Yet, as they began to die, those left behind must have suffered doubt and uncertainty. “Where is Jesus?” they might have cried. Two thousand years later we are asking the same question. Why doesn’t He just come today and finish this so that we can enjoy our eternal inheritance? Why? The answer is that the full measure of those whom God intends to be saved have not yet heard the Word and been saved. The very last person may not even have been born yet. The last person may not be saved for a thousand years. Are we so selfish and self-centered that we would demand Jesus come before all God’s chosen received the promise?
Meanwhile, we live in this world. We live in between the first Advent, when Christ was born in Bethlehem and the Final Advent when Christ comes again as King. However, our Lord Jesus Christ has not abandoned us as we wait; He is here and comes to us in “little advents” all the time. These little advents, or small comings, are moments when He reveals Himself to us in words of forgiveness and acts of grace. They come to us when we need to be reminded of His promises, but also when there is someone in our path who needs to see the grace of God. We are reminded by the scriptures to see Jesus in the faces of those we serve, for when we do so for the least of Jesus’ brethren, we do so for Him.
We wait and watch for the coming of Christ, but let’s not spend our days looking to the sky. Christ comes to us every day in some way, and we will see Him in our neighbor when we pay attention to the opportunities that cross our path. It doesn’t have to be a grand accomplishment; we don’t have to build a church or save a village. We don’t have to do something that makes a worldwide impact. Perhaps that is our calling; if it is, then let us do as God commands. However, Jesus tells us in today’s scripture passage that it merely takes a simple glass of water to serve Christ in this world. As we go through this Advent season, let’s look for the little advents of Jesus Christ, those opportunities to serve Him and meet the needs of our neighbors.