Welcome to the October 2007 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes





World View





















A WORD FOR TODAY, October 2007

October 1, 2007

Scriptures for October 7, 2007: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

2 Timothy 1:1-14 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, according to the promise of the life which is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers in a pure conscience, how unceasing is my remembrance of thee in my supplications, night and day longing to see thee, remembering thy tears, that I may be filled with joy; having been reminded of the unfeigned faith that is in thee; which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and, I am persuaded, in thee also. For which cause I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee through the laying on of my hands. For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline. Be not ashamed therefore of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but suffer hardship with the gospel according to the power of God; who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal, but hath now been manifested by the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, whereunto I was appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher. For which cause I suffer also these things: yet I am not ashamed; for I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day. Hold the pattern of sound words which thou hast heard from me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee guard through the Holy Spirit which dwelleth in us. (ASV)

Chicken Little was walking in the woods once day when an acorn fell on her head. She thought the sky was falling and decided to hurry to the palace to tell the king. Along the way, Chicken Little met her friend Henny Penny who was on her way to the woods. “Oh don’t go there,” she said. “The sky is falling. Come with me to tell the king.” Chicken Little and Henny Penny told Cocky Locky, Goosey Poosey and Turkey Lurkey not to go into the woods because the sky is falling. They all headed toward the palace together to tell the king.

We know that the sky was not really falling on Chicken Little and her friends, but she was so certain she was right that she convinced them to believe her story. Unfortunately, along the way to the palace, Chicken Little and her friends ran into Foxy Loxy who knew that the sky was not falling. He convinced the group of friends that he knew a shortcut to the king’s palace. The shortcut was actually Foxy Loxy’s den and he was planning to gobble them all up. Suddenly, the king appeared with a hunting party and they tracked down Foxy Loxy. He saved the group of friends. He listened to Chicken Little’s story and then showed her how the acorns fall from the tree in the woods. Then he gave her an umbrella which she carries everywhere with her. Now when the acorns fall, they don’t bother her at all.

The second letter of Paul to his friend Timothy was written during a time when there was great persecution in the Church, most likely under the emperor Nero. Paul had been arrested again, but this time was not like before. Instead of living in a borrowed place under house arrest, Paul was being kept in a damp, dark dungeon. He was near the end of his life and he knew it. He was concerned for his friend and for the Church. Heresy grows more quickly under persecution as people find justification and excuse for new ideas to spare believers of risk. Heresy often tries to meld together ideas from other religions to make them more acceptable to the non-believers.

In this letter, we learn that Timothy learned about faith from his mother and grandmother. They brought him up in a Christian home, but the lessons learned as a child are often difficult to uphold as we get older. This is especially true in a time of persecution. The life of faith can dwindle under a burden of fear and when we are vulnerable we can fall for the heresies that sound good to our ears but that do not stand up to God’s word. This is why Paul encouraged Timothy and reminded him of the faith which he was given, a faith built on Christ. Following other teachings might sound good; they might even seem to be less risky and better than the sound teaching given to us by our forefathers. But like Chicken Little and her friends, the shortcut might just bring us to destruction. So, too, heresy leads us away from God’s grace, away from the treasure which we have been given. There is no need to fear the persecution that might come because God’s grace gives us a spirit of power and love and self-discipline.


October 2, 2007

Scriptures for October 7, 2007: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

Luke 17:5-10 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye would say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou rooted up, and be thou planted in the sea; and it would obey you. But who is there of you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say unto him, when he is come in from the field, Come straightway and sit down to meat; and will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded? Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do.

On October 4, 1957, the Russians shot a reconfigured missile into space to set into orbit the first human produced “moon” around the earth. Sputnik set off a race for space that has brought about some amazing technology in the past fifty years. Most of our favorite modern conveniences are in some way credited to the space program. The scientists were developing technology necessary for space travel but it was then adapted for common use – the computer, the cell phone and the microwave are just a few examples. However, it is not just electronics that have benefited. Fabric, food and even leisure products like toys and sports equipment have seen amazing development because of science that has come out of our race for space.

The story today was about the men who made Sputnik happen, and it revealed that the satellite that was sent up on October 4, 1957 was really not what we thought it was. We thought it was a highly developed satellite, or at least more highly developed than what we had been developing at the same time. In reality, the scientist in charge of the program has admitted that it was little more than a toy. The satellite had only few bells and whistles. The point of sending it to space was not to establish a working satellite in orbit. Instead, the point was to be the first to make it happen. Sputnik was developed in less than three months and was sent into space two days early to ensure that the Russians won the race.

Sputnik spurred scientific discovery and development that has led to the creation of the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle and the new rockets slated to return to the moon and then eventually they want to take it to Mars. Out of that development came so many wonderful things that many of us can’t imagine living without. It all came out of a 184 pound ball of metal that was shot into space in a refurbished missile fifty years ago. It had no real value and many people today are shocked to discover how little value it really had. Yet, that humble satellite helped bring about incredible change.

In today’s story, the disciples ask for greater faith. They were shocked and disheartened by Jesus’ comments that precede the request. He told them that they should forgive seventy times seven times. Forgiveness requires trust – we have to trust that the person repenting will not harm us again. It is hard enough to forgive someone once or twice, but Jesus expects His disciples to keep on forgiving. How can we do that if we do not trust them? So, the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith. The problem is that they wanted Jesus to increase the faith they had in people – but people will never be trustworthy. All it really takes to move mountains is to have a little bit of faith in the only one who is trustworthy – God.

So, Jesus reminds the disciples of their position in this relationship. He tells us that we are no better than slaves; we have done only as much as is expected of us. We aren’t of more value because we do good things. We aren’t better because we can forgive someone four hundred and ninety times. We aren’t more righteous. We aren’t better Christians. We are only doing that which is expected of us. It is expected of us because God has established in Jesus the example. He has also established in Jesus the forgiveness we are expected to give. Jesus gave the Kingdom to the disciples who gave the kingdom to the early Christians who gave the kingdom to the subsequent generations. He is the source of forgiveness. He is the foundation of forgiveness. Everything we give comes from Him and He lived like a servant, doing that which He was sent to do. We can only follow the Master. As we share the Kingdom, and the forgiveness that comes from it, does not make us more valuable. Like Sputnik, we have no real value. However, the forgiveness we share, like the forgiveness that has been shared with us, will bring great things to future generations – all thanks to the humble servanthood of Jesus Christ, who came first to bring God’s grace to the world.


October 3, 2007

Scriptures for October 7, 2007: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg was born in Germany in 1711 and he was a Lutheran pastor by the time he reached thirty years old. It was then that he was called to become the pastor of three struggling German Lutheran congregations in the New World. German immigrants were arriving in America and they wanted to enjoy the ministry of their own church in their new home, but there were no ordained ministers. They tried to establish congregations around the colonies, but they had difficulty competing against some of the other congregations that had solid leadership. Without trained leadership, the people were following ideologies and even heresies.

Henry came to America in 1742 to lead three congregations and immediately set to work. Though the work was difficult because he found the congregations were unorganized and confused. The same was true of other German Lutheran congregations in the colonies. Henry worked with his congregations, established a solid constitutional model and reached out to other Lutherans. His impact reached as far south as Georgia and as far north as the Hudson. He asked for more pastors to be sent and he organized the first Lutheran Synod in America. He reached beyond his own denomination, communicating with other Lutherans and even with other religious bodies. He spoke several languages, so was often invited to preach and speak to fellow Christians.

He impacted the world in which he lived and the church which he loved but his legacy went beyond his own lifetime. Most of his eleven children made names for themselves in the Church, politics, the military and education. He died on October 7, 1787 and he is still remembered by the Lutheran church on that day. His life was not easy. He traveled extensively to preach and to assist his colleagues with disputes. He had to fight heresy and stubbornness, ignorance and persecution. He stayed neutral during the American Revolution, which did not sit well with either side of the battle.

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg is known as the father of American Lutheranism because it was he who established the organization that brought together the German Lutherans who were struggling to survive in the New World. Though Lutherans are necessarily known today for missionary work or church planting, Henry Muhlenberg was exactly that – a missionary and church planter. By the time he died he had helped establish dozens of congregations and helped bring many trained pastors to lead the congregations. He also helped train colonists to be strong and informed leaders in their congregations.

Throughout his time in America, he never lost touch with his home and the people who had trained him in Germany. They supported his career and helped him with funds and with people. He fought the good fight and God made great things happen through him in the New World. Our passages this week have faithful men crying out to God, “How long, O Lord?” and “Increase our faith!” I wonder how many times Henry Melchior doubted his ability to accomplish the work God had sent him to the New World to accomplish. We are reminded in this week’s lessons that we do not know the whole story. We can not see what God has in store for us or for the world. We can only go forth in trust and hope knowing that God is faithful. When we cry out “How long?” or “Increase our faith” we do so from the humble position of being a servant.

We may face persecution, heresy and other problems that will take perseverance and trust. Our strength is not in our ability to make anything happen, but in God’s grace. As we take on the world in which we live, sharing God’s love and mercy with all – especially His forgiveness – we won’t necessarily know where it is leading. However, God is faithful and He knows the purpose for which we have been sent. It is to continue doing the world of Christ in this world, bringing restoration and peace to the people with the Gospel, sharing faith and planting God’s love in the world.


October 4, 2007

Scriptures for October 14, 2007: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honorable, because by him Jehovah had given victory unto Syria: he was also a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. And the Syrians had gone out in bands, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maiden; and she waited on Naaman's wife. And she said unto her mistress, Would that my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! then would he recover him of his leprosy… And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? but consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me. And it was so, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel. So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariots, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of Jehovah his God, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him; and he said, Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel…

Goldie Hawn starred in a film called “Protocol.” In this film, she accidentally saved the life of a visiting foreign dignitary because she just happened to be in the right place at the right time. The foreign dignitary – from a fictional Arabic country – saw her and wanted her to be one of his wives. His relationship with the U.S. government was very important, so they schemed to get Goldie into a situation where she could not refuse the ‘assignment’. They hired her to be part of the Protocol department and then sent her to the country. She was set up but she did not stand for the manipulation. She won her fight against those who would take away her freedom. Her experiences gave her insight into other cultures and in many ways her world view changed. ,p>When she first took the job in the Protocol department, she was handed a huge book filled with rules and regulations specifying actions when relating to foreign dignitaries. It was important that she memorize every word in the book because a wrong action could cause an international incident. Our habits and practices are defined by our world view and in some cases we do things much differently. In one country a handshake is a sign of friendship. In other it is a sign of contempt. The word “Hello” might be a greeting in one place, but might have a completely different meaning in another. Some dignitaries expect gifts, others are offended or think that gifts are some sort of payment or bribe.

There are some interesting characters in today’s story. They are from different worlds; they see life from much different points of view. Naaman, the commander of a vast and victorious army comes from a place where the king has complete control and the work of the gods happens through his power and authority. In that world, gifts are expected, payment required. The prophets are under the authority of the king and they are paid for their work. Those prophets speak to the benefit and satisfaction of the king. Naaman is from Aram, an enemy of Israel, but at this time they were under a peace treaty. Though there were still border skirmishes, one of which brought the young Hebrew into his household, the nations were not at war. In Aram, leprosy was an inconvenient disease, but it did not separate him from society.

Israel sees the world much differently, particularly the work of the prophets. Prophets were appointed by God and they were not on the payroll of the king. Prophets were independent – often in opposition to the king’s plans and practices. When Naaman heard that there was a prophet in Israel who might heal his leprosy, he responded according to his world view. He went through the king, thinking that the prophet could not work without the king’s authority. He offered payment for the work, thinking that it was expected. In exchange, Naaman expected the prophet to act like the prophets of Aram. When Elisha did not meet his expectation, he was shocked and upset.

The king of Israel was also upset. He thought the letter was a trap. He thought that if Naaman did not receive the healing that Aram would attack his people. He knew that he had no control over the prophet, that he could not guarantee healing for the commander. He tore his clothing in grief, thinking that his people were in danger because the foreigners were expecting from him something he could not offer. Elisha told the king not to worry.

Elisha told Naaman to go wash. This did not seem like a proper cure. I am sure that Naaman kept clean, that his disease was not from filthy living. He was a powerful and high ranking leader. He would have had access to the best care, the finest clothes, and the most expensive perfumes. He never thought that he would be sent to a dirty river to wash. He expected that the prophet would touch him or say prayers over him. He expected that the prophet would provide medicinal herbs or offer sacrifices to the gods for his sake. Elisha did not even meet him. He sent word that he should go wash in the Jordan and he would be healed.

Naaman’s world view demanded a different response and he wanted to reject the cure. However, his servants made him think about it again. “My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” When Naaman went to the river to wash, his leprosy disappeared and he was made clean. Naaman went back to Elisha and presented himself to the prophet. “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel.” He appeared to have faith in the One true God, but the story did not end there. His world view remained unchanged. He still did not understand that his healing had a different purpose – it was not meant to bring Elisha blessing, but it was meant to glorify God among the nations.


October 5, 2007

Scriptures for October 14, 2007: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

Psalm 111 Praise ye Jehovah. I will give thanks unto Jehovah with my whole heart, In the council of the upright, and in the congregation. The works of Jehovah are great, Sought out of all them that have pleasure therein. His work is honor and majesty; And his righteousness endureth for ever. He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: Jehovah is gracious and merciful. He hath given food unto them that fear him: He will ever be mindful of his covenant. He hath showed his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. The works of his hands are truth and justice; All his precepts are sure. They are established for ever and ever; They are done in truth and uprightness. He hath sent redemption unto his people; He hath commanded his covenant for ever: Holy and reverend is his name. The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all they that do his commandments: His praise endureth for ever.

Reba McIntyre played a divorced mom of three whose life was anything but ordinary. Her oldest daughter, Cheyenne, became pregnant as a teenager, married her beau and they all lived in Reba’s house. Her husband married his pregnant girlfriend and they moved in to a house literally seconds away. The girlfriend, Barbra Jean, was a ditzy blonde who thought of herself as Reba’s best friend. Everyone in Reba’s life made decisions that led to horrible consequences and in the end they survived because Reba managed to find some amicable solution to their problems.

The middle child was a daughter named Kyra who was a very intelligent young lady, though a little bit rebellious. She was smarter than her older sister and often took advantage of her. Since Kyra was a highly independent and mature young lady, she often found herself outside the conflict and troubles of the day. She rarely got into trouble herself, so she was the last one to get any attention. Most of the time she liked being the stealth force in the family because it meant she got away with so many things. Unfortunately, it also meant that she was last to see the fulfillment of promises. In one episode Reba promised Kyra that they would go roller blading, but problems with Cheyenne took all Reba’s energy.

In another episode, Kyra had the chance to go on a trip to England. Reba knew that it was important to her, that it was the least she deserved for being such a great kid. Unfortunately, the trip was going to cost a lot of money. Reba insisted that Brock, her ex-husband, had to help her to ensure that Kyra could go. Reba worked out the budget and promised that she could go. Brock managed to find some excuse to get out of his half, but Reba still did all she could to fulfill her promise. Then Cheyenne had another crisis so the money set aside for Kyra had to go to the young married couple to fix their problem. In the end, Kyra lost again. It broke Reba’s heart to tell her that she could not go.

During my children’s lives there have been plenty of times when I have had to go back on a promise. We never know what will happen tomorrow. We don’t know if we will have the money or time to do what we promise. We do not know what circumstances might make our promise impossible at that time. When we make a promise in the heat of the moment we often discover that fulfilling them might actually bring horrible consequences. We can’t see beyond this moment, so we are often unfaithful. We disappoint those who trust us to be true to our word. But we are human and we make mistakes.

That is why there is only One who can truly be trusted with our hope. The psalmist writes, “He will ever be mindful of his covenant.” God is faithful. He remembers His covenant promises and He has shown His people over and over again that He is trustworthy. He made his wonderful works remembered. He has shown His people the power of His works. His Word is right and true and His Law is eternal. We who believe are reminded of God’s power and justice and it is in awe that we find real wisdom. Our life of praise begins with our response to God’s mercy, as we live in hope according to His promises and His Word.


October 8, 2007

Scriptures for October 14, 2007: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

2 Timothy 2:8-15 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel: wherein I suffer hardship unto bonds, as a malefactor; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sake, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. Faithful is the saying: For if we died with him, we shall also live with him: if we endure, we shall also reign with him: if we shall deny him, he also will deny us: if we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself. Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them in the sight of the Lord, that they strive not about words, to no profit, to the subverting of them that hear. Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth.

The theater department at the kids’ high school had a variety show last weekend. The variety shows are a chance for students to display their talents by performing. Some of the students play guitar or sing, others present dance or light shows. Most of the students put on sketches or mini-plays. Last week we had several monologues, a comedic rendition of “American Idol,” and a slightly longer dramatic presentation. There were also a few humorous skits, including a sketch out of the archives of Monty Python. Some of the acts seemed to be improvisation, made up on the spot.

I saw the variety show both times that it was presented. I was a little disappointed when I discovered some of the ad-lib sketches were actually well rehearsed. The things that seemed to be coming out of the imaginations of the actors on the spot were actually carefully written and memorized. I suppose that is why the kids are so good – they make everything look so easy. One of the most amazing things happened on the second night. An actress in the longer dramatic presentation got sick and could not come to the show. The assistant director took over her role. The director put the lines on cards, but the understudy was familiar enough with the entire play that the replacement was seamless. You never would have known that she was a substitute if it had not been announced when the play was produced.

The reason the kids know these sketches and roles is because they practice. They go over their lines daily, the work with the other actors and actresses over and over again. They make sure that everyone has the right timing and that they all understand the cues and staging. Each actor needs to know more than their own lines. They need to know the whole play. They need to know the lines that lead into their lines and the actions of the other actors. Otherwise it is just a confusing mess.

Paul’s letters are filled with repetition. Though each letter has a certain purpose and is written to a certain situation, there are some things that remain consistent. In every letter Paul share’s God’s grace with the reader. In many of the letters Paul restates the story of Christ, reminding the readers of God’s saving work through Jesus. Though it may seem redundant to tell people over and over again to “Remember Jesus Christ,” He is the center of our faith, so it never hurts to be reminded of the work accomplished through His death and resurrection.

We love to hear the story, over and over again, but sometimes we would prefer to hear only parts of it. We love Christmas because the story of His birth in the manager is beautiful and peaceful. We love the story of the Resurrection because it is in that story that we see the victory of God and the life we have by faith. It is uplifting and inspirational to know that God did that for us. We know how Jesus got to that point. We know the cross. We even accept that the cross was the way to true life. Yet, we do not want to talk about death. Paul reminds us that the story of Christ includes death – not only His death but our death in Him. We die with Him and we live with Him.

This is not something that comes easily to us. Though we live by faith and trust that God has done this great thing, we don’t fully understand the purpose of death to bring life. So, sometimes we try to explain away the things we do not understand. We take the story of God and make it sound better to our ears and to the expectations of the world around us. Yet, in doing so – in taking away from the grace found in the death of Christ – we deny what God has done through Him for us. This causes confusion, even bickering about the words that define the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This makes it more difficult for the world to know Jesus, to come to faith and to receive the gift of true life.

It takes practice. It takes study. It takes daily immersion into the grace of God to stand firmly in that which we trust to be true. Living by faith is not something that we can ad-lib. It is not something we can do by improvisation. Paul reminds us to be ready to rightly handling the word of truth so that we might share it with others.


October 9, 2007

Scriptures for October 14, 2007: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

Luke 17:11-19 And it came to pass, as they were on their way to Jerusalem, that he was passing along the borders of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, who stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, saying, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go and show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, with a loud voice glorifying God; and he fell upon his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were not the ten cleansed? but where are the nine? Were there none found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger? And he said unto him, Arise, and go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

This is one of my favorite healing stories from the Gospels. In this story we find Jesus passing along the borders of Samaria and Galilee. Border areas always mean more diversity as human movement doesn’t always recognize the political and religious boundaries that are established. The Galileans were from Judah; the Samaritans were from the Northern tribes that had been Israel. The differences between the people were largely political, based on the division between the Northern and Southern kingdoms; in personal relations they seemed somewhat tolerant. There were religious differences – the Samaritans recognized only the Torah and were strict adherents of the Law. The Jews had the writings of the prophets which shaped their understanding of the Torah. Samaritans believed that they were the true adherents to the Jewish religion.

The Jews could not marry Samaritans and Pharisaical Jews would not have eaten with them because they were unclean. However, the lepers saw no differences. They were all outcast, all unclean. They all stood at a distance from Jesus, respecting his position not wanting to make him unclean. They sought mercy. We don’t know what they expected. Certainly they had heard of Jesus’ power to heal. However, as outcasts they needed many things that Jesus offered to people. They needed food, clothing and shelter. These are needs that Jesus addressed in many ways in His ministry. The lepers also needed comfort, healing and peace.

This healing story is unusual because Jesus says only, “Go and show yourselves unto the priests.” He does not touch them. He does not say “You are well.” He does not tell them that their sins have been forgiven. He sends them to the priests to do what is right according to Law. The lepers do exactly what they have been commanded. They left to go to the priests and as they did so they were healed. However, one leper – the Samaritan – turned back to Jesus when he was healed. He fell at his feet and praised God. The other lepers did what was right and they were healed. They received the grace of God and in doing so they were admitted back into society where their needs would once again be met. They could return to their home, to their jobs, to their community.

The ten lepers were all healed physically, but only one sought out the true healing – that which comes from Jesus Christ. When He praised God, Jesus gave him far more. He was made whole – physically and spiritually. Jesus is concerned for our physical well being, but He is more concerned about the spiritual. With nearly every healing in the book, Jesus reaches beyond the body into the person’s soul, granting them forgiveness and filling them with the love of God. He changes people from the inside out, bringing them back into a relationship with their Creator. It is that relationship that makes them whole.


October 10, 2007

Scriptures for October 14, 2007: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

Praise ye Jehovah. I will give thanks unto Jehovah with my whole heart, In the council of the upright, and in the congregation.

October 14th is the feast day to a lesser known saint, and when I first read his story I wondered how he might fit into the message for the day. Callistus was a slave who lived in the second to third centuries A.D. He must have been a respected slave because his master gave him a large quantity of money to invest. He started a bank with the money. Some of his master’s friends also invested. Unfortunately, the bank failed and all was lost. Instead of accepting responsibility for the failure, Callistus decided to run away. He got on a boat, was followed and jumped overboard to escape. He was rescued but then ended up back in the hands of his master who wanted to punish him by making him work a treadmill.

The other investors thought he still had the money, so they sought his release. He tried to borrow money from the Jews to pay back the investors, but they refused because they called him a Christian. He managed to insult them, so they took him to the pagan authorities who sentenced him to work in a mine. When a group of Christians were released from the prison, Callistus fell at the feet of the priest who came to take them away and begged him to take him also. He was very sick; the priest had compassion and reluctantly agreed. That is when his life changed. He recuperated and became ordained. He was put in charge of the first Christian cemetery. He became an aide and confidant to Pope Zephyrinus. Callistus was elected pope when Zephyrinus died.

As is true of so many of the saints, the life story of Callistus in not absolutely certain. Some reports show him at his worst: a failure, a coward, a manipulator. Others give him the benefit of the doubt, considering the possibility that the bank’s failure was not his fault and that he actually jumped off the ship to go back to his master who was following in another boat. They do not think that Callistus would be so foolish to do battle with the Jewish synagogue and they describe the master as a poor Christian for sentencing his slave (a brother in Christ) to such a horrible punishment. The truth of the story of this saint, like many of the others, is probably found in the center.

His early life does not show evidence of a Christian life, but at some point he obviously found his place in the kingdom of God. His time of recuperation led to a new life, a life in active service. Though Callistus was not a leper, there are parallels between his story and the Gospel story for today. Callistus was an outcast - separated from his master, his home and society. He was a failure, became sick and was probably ready to die. But he found grace. In that grace he found his calling and his life from that moment followed a completely different path.

The tenth leper had nothing going for him. He was a Samaritan. He was a leper. He was living on the edge of society. But then he found grace. It was in the power of Jesus Christ. The other lepers also received God’s healing, but they did not find the grace. They did not recognize that the power came from Jesus Christ. They praised God by doing their duty in the Temple, missing the presence of God that was in their midst.

Naaman almost missed the grace also. He wanted to ignore the command of the prophet because it did not fit into his expectation. To receive the power of God takes death: the death of self and the old life that is being lived. Callistus hit rock bottom and begged for a chance. All he wanted was freedom, but he received healing, peace and a new life in Christ. Naaman only wanted healing, but he caught a glimpse of the one true and living God. The tenth leper wanted mercy, but Jesus gave him much, much more. He was reconciled to his community but also with God. God always gives more than we want and even more than we need, if only our expectations are left to die and we trust in Him. Those who received His grace, like Callistus, Naaman and the tenth leper, were invited to a new world and they followed. They experienced the grace of God fully and received the peace that comes from a hope that does not disappoint.


October 11, 2007

Scriptures for October 21, 2007: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

Genesis 32:22-31 And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two handmaids, and his eleven children, and passed over the ford of the Jabbok. And he took them, and sent them over the stream, and sent over that which he had. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was strained, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for, said he, I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. And the sun rose upon him as he passed over Penuel, and he limped upon his thigh.

Jacob is an interesting, though not very likeable, biblical character. From the beginning of his life he wrestled with his brother and with the promises of God. He had struggled with his brother Esaw over the blessing of Isaac and his inheritance. He had struggled with Laban over the woman he loved. He had struggled with his wives, their maids and the children they gave him. Jacob wrestled with his fears, his doubts and his place in the story of God’s people. The promises for Jacob were clear from the beginning, but he did not trust God. The voices that guided him did not trust that God is faithful. He lied and cheated and inflicted revenge on those who lied to and cheated him. He manipulated things to his benefit and ran away when the going got tough. He played favorites and served himself. ,p>Jacob is not totally to blame. Though he took the birthright from Esau, Esau gave it away for a bowl of soup. He worked seven long years for the right to marry Rachel and Laban tricked him into taking Leah. Laban tried to take advantage of Jacob, cheating him out his rightful pay. He took matters into his own hands. Rebecca helped him take control of the blessing from his father. It seemed to her that it was necessary to do so that God’s promises could be fulfilled. In every situation, the actions are justified by the idea that they helped bring about God’s purpose for Jacob. However, every time we take matters into our own hands, we show our lack of trust in God. We think that God needs our help to be faithful.

During the years that he was gone, Jacob had built a dynasty for himself. He had wives, servants, children and great wealth. He heard the voice of God who told him to go home. He was afraid, but he obeyed. He sent a message to Esau announcing his return and Esau answered by coming to meet him with an army of hundreds. Still afraid and doubting God’s promises, Jacob divided his people and possessions into two groups, hoping that if Esau destroys one group the other group will survive.

Then he prayed. He prayed a prayer in which he recognized his unworthiness, confessed his doubt and reminded God of His promises. On the night before he faced his brother, he had to wrestle with his own doubts. To be reconciled to his brother, Jacob first needed to overcome all that had kept him from living as God had intended. He was a sinful man who had to face his greatest sin – his lack of trust in God. Everything he did against men, he did against God, because it was his way of ensuring that God’s promises would be fulfilled. Before he faced his past and began his future, he had to face his God.

This is an odd story because in many ways it does not fit in with our understanding of God. We have to ask too many questions. Who is this “man” wrestling with Jacob? If it is God, why can’t he prevail against a mere man? Why does He have to hurt Jacob to win? Why doesn’t He know Jacob’s name? Why does He have to leave by dawn?

Do we need the answers to all these questions? God is mysterious. He is mysterious because He is God. We are merely human, sinners unable to know and fully understand His purpose and His plan for our lives. We hold on to our own sovereignty and justify our lack of trust by claiming that we are aiding God’s plan. The mystery gives us room to be independent, to trust or not trust God’s faithfulness.

Jacob was about to meet with Esau, his brother with whom he had been fighting for his entire life. God’s promises were wrapped up in that relationship and instead of trusting God to be faithful, Jacob had taken control. It was necessary for Jacob to wrestle with God, to understand that God is in control of his life and his destiny. He had to give himself to God, to be humbled in His presence, to recognize his own mortality before he met with his brother. He had to trust God.


October 12, 2007

Scriptures for October 21, 2007: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

Psalm 121 I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: From whence shall my help come? My help cometh from Jehovah, who made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: He that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. Jehovah is thy keeper: Jehovah is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. Jehovah will keep thee from all evil; He will keep thy soul. Jehovah will keep thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth and for evermore.

Geoffrey Chaucer is known for writing “The Canterbury Tales.” The book, as we know it, is incomplete. In the prologue, the character Harry Bailey joins a group of pilgrims as they take a journey from London to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket. Harry suggests that the pilgrims pass the time by telling stories. He proposes that each pilgrim share four stories and the best storyteller will win dinner at the Tabard Inn when they return to London. Chaucer never finished the tales, writing only twenty-four of the one hundred and twenty tales he possibly intended when he wrote the prelude.

“The Canterbury Tales” is a story about pilgrimage, but oddly we do not hear much about the journey itself. We learn about the pilgrims and we hear their tales. It is not a typical pilgrimage; the characters seem to be traveling to Canterbury as tourists rather than pilgrims. They all rode horses, they did not take time for worship and they did follow the pious practices characteristic of a religious pilgrimage. Some of the travelers were not likely to have taken such a journey: some because they would not have been allowed to travel and others because they would have be interested in that type of trip.

People have been making pilgrimages since the beginning of time. We are drawn to the sacred. We do not always understand what makes a place sacred, but spiritual people have always gone to those places that make us feel as though we are near the divine. The tops of mountains and bodies of water often serve as these places. Mysterious formations either man-made or natural call out to us. We travel on journeys to those places in response to our needs or to our beliefs. The journeys are not easy. The temporal dangers are obvious: weather, criminals and health issues cause difficulty along the path. Some pilgrims choose to make the journey even more difficult by adding spiritual practices. Some people fast; others take the journey on their knees. For them, the journey serves as a way of humbling themselves and becoming worthy to stand in the presence of the divine. For some, the pilgrimage is a duty, a part of their religion.

The Jews made pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem. They went to the temple to make sacrifices, to worship and honor God at the special feasts and festivals during the year. It was a difficult journey. The roads were harsh and dangerous. No one knew if they would make it home alive, particularly through the hills that surrounded the city. Robbers and murderers hid in the rocky crevices of those hills waiting for travelers. The conditions of the hills and deserts were unwelcoming to the pilgrims. They took these journeys with the assurance of God’s presence. They were not making a pilgrimage to a sacred place to meet God, they knew that they only way they could arrive at that sacred place was if God walked with them.

The psalm for today was apparently used at the end of worship during those feasts and festivals that brought pilgrims into the Temple. The community of faith sought the blessing of God as they were beginning their trip back to their homes. “Who will save us? Jehovah will save us.” The song finishes with a benediction, a invocation of God’s blessings over the community of faith as they went their separate ways. “Jehovah will keep thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth and for evermore.” God does not sleep. He takes care of His people.

We don’t always recognize the journey as we travel. Our daily work and our every day activities are part of a greater journey. We aren’t necessarily headed to a special place; we aren’t seeking a sacred place. However, through it all we can go with peace knowing that God is with us wherever we go. He does not sleep. He helps us through our struggles and keeps us in our coming and going. We don’t need to choose to take this journey in a manner that proves our worthiness to be in His presence. He loves His people and has chosen to be a part of our lives. This is why we sing such songs of praise, because He deserves our worship.


October 15, 2007

Scriptures for October 21, 2007: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 But abide thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them. And that from a babe thou hast known the sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work. I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables. But be thou sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry.

Have you ever noticed that the grocers put the milk at the very back of the store? There is good reason for this placement. Though many people plan a major shopping trip to fill their refrigerators and pantries, there are a few items that necessitate those quick trips into the store. Milk is one of those items. I always complained that the milk should be closer to the entrance so that those of us who are just running in for a gallon of milk do not have to walk through the entire store to get it. That’s the point of the placement. The grocer wants you to see the thousands of other items that they have for sale so that you will not get out of the store without spending more money than you intend.

The next time you run into the store for the gallon of milk, take notice to how many end cap specials you pass. See how there is a refrigerator unit with easy bake cookie dough and a rack with donuts close by. These displays are purposely placed in the hopes that you will be thinking about that milk you plan to purchase and how good it would taste with some hot cookies or fresh donuts. On the way back to the checkout stand you’ll pass other items that you just can’t pass up. You will see items that appear to be on sale or brand new offerings from your favorite companies. These displays are meant to manipulate you into buying more than you want or need.

The evangelism techniques of many churches are often the same as the techniques used by the stores. They plan programs with the hope of getting people through the doors, offering activities and experiences that will draw them in. Many evangelism programs are even founded on the principle that you can’t give them the Gospel if you don’t get them through the door. Unfortunately, most evangelism programs are more likely to steal a sheep than to introduce a new person to Jesus. Churches encourage members to invite friends, particularly to special events, but which neighbor are you more likely to invite – the atheist or the Christian? We get Christians from other denominations in the doors and convince them to change to our church.

While it is not really appropriate to invite someone who has never heard the Gospel to come to worship a God they do not know and have rejected, our evangelism programs must be about something bigger than just getting people in our pews. It is about more than putting up signs around the city or advertising in the newspaper. Evangelism is about taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the world.

Many Christians are not prepared to take the Gospel to the world. They believe, but they do not think they understand enough about their faith to share it with others. They are afraid of doing something wrong, of saying something wrong. This is definitely the danger of having ordinary people doing the work of an evangelist. However, the Gospel was not meant to be proclaimed only by trained ministers. It is a simple message – God loves you so much that Jesus died to ensure you forgiveness and peace. It becomes more difficult when we start trying to define sin, forgiveness and peace. However, God has given us all we need to know in the scriptures. He has given us a library of books to help us deal with the harder questions that will come from those who wish to know more.

We don’t have to be manipulative. We don’t have to try to sell people something they do not need or want. We are called to simply share the love of God with those whom God has placed in our path. Living faith is not something that requires a special degree or a ministerial vocation. Living faith is taking God with us into our daily lives, continuing to worship and praise God in our homes, jobs and schools. We tend to put our faith into a box when we walk into the world, but in doing so we also hide God from a world that desperately needs His grace. God has entrusted us with a very special gift and He daily gives us the opportunity to share it. All too often we ignore the opportunities to evangelize because we are afraid, but we have nothing to fear. God is with us in our daily lives.

It is my prayer that as God calls us to live faithfully in the world that we will respond with courage and peace. We know that God is faithful and that He will be with us on our journey of faith, giving opportunities to be His witnesses by sharing His Word with those who are lost and hungering for His presence in their lives. I also pray that we will heed the words of Paul to Timothy: that we will discharge our duties in a way that will glorify God and draw many into a relationship with Jesus. Our evangelism is not about manipulating people to become part of our community of faith. It is about taking God into the world with the strength, encouragement, prayer and grace that God has provided through the body of Christ.


October 16, 2007

Scriptures for October 21, 2007: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

Luke 18:1-8 And he spake a parable unto them to the end that they ought always to pray, and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a judge, who feared not God, and regarded not man: and there was a widow in that city; and she came oft unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest she wear me out by her continual coming. And the Lord said, Hear what the unrighteous judge saith. And shall not God avenge his elect, that cry to him day and night, and yet he is longsuffering over them? I say unto you, that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

I have often considered the widow in this story similar in character to the pesky five year old. Those of us with children remember that age, especially those trips to the store. Just as the grocery store puts cookies in the path of the milk, they also strategically place the things that interest children so that they will pester their mom until she gives up and gives in. The cash registered are filled with candy and toys so that Mom has to endure being trapped in that spot while the child cries out for something.

Children can be very persistent. They can ask, plead, haggle, deal, cry and beg in a matter of minutes. It takes the most unfaltering mother to keep saying “No” over and over again. Sometimes our response is just like that of the judge. We decide to give in because we know that the child will simply wear us out if we don’t. Sometimes we do so out of frustration or embarrassment. Sometimes we do so because we want to bribe the child. Sometimes we give in because we realize that they deserve a special treat. There have been times when I have weighed and measured the choices. Would it be better at this moment to teach the lesson that we can not have everything we want or is this an opportunity to grace?

The judge had no fear of God or concern for men. He had ruled against the woman time and time again. Her opponent was probably a more powerful person, probably a man. The woman could do nothing for his career or for his personal fortune. It would not pay him to rule in her favor. Perhaps he had received, or expected, a nice bribe from the widow’s adversary. We do not know the story behind the appeals. She was a widow, perhaps a woman who had lost everything when her husband died. She was probably left with no means of support and as a widow, a woman, she had no authority. She may have had no one to stand up for her. She was alone and she really had no choice. She had to fight.

Her fight was to appeal to the judge’s sense of justice. Though he was a man who had no fear of God and no regard for humans, he did have a sense of his position. Her constant appeals were not only annoying, but they would have called the attention of the community to her plight. We read verse five in the sense of a mother giving in to her pesty five-year old, “yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest she wear me out by her continual coming.” The translation does fully convey the intent of these words.

The Greek word used here means “to strike in the eye” or “to give a black eye to someone.” In other words, this judge who was a man of power and authority recognized that the weak widow could do damage to his reputation and his future. He saw that even though the widow had no wealth to pay him or power to secure him a better position, she could destroy his reputation in the community and make his job more difficult. He gave in to her cries and ruled in her favor. Sometimes human justice comes through the unrighteous motives of men.

In this story, however, we learn that God is different. It seems as though Jesus is using the unjust judge as an representation for God, but we are bothered by the idea that he is not concerned with man. Jesus does not say that God is like that judge, He shows an exaggeration of a typical human response to a situation and compares that to the reality of God’s ways. God does not have to be threatened with a loss of his power and authority to respond to human need. God is just and when he hears the cries of His people, He responds with mercy and grace.

We should not read this story as teaching simply persistence in prayer, as it is so often interpreted. For some people, the lesson here is to keep praying for the same things over and over again and eventually God will give in and give us what we want. This is a story about justice. Is getting a candy bar at the check out a matter of justice? Is a judge who rules in favor of a widow in need a matter of justice? The lesson we learn here is to be persistent in matters of justice, to cry out to God for things to be made right in the world and with the world. God hears and He will rule in favor of justice – always. We simply live in faith, knowing that God knows what is happening and that He is working for justice. When Christ comes, will He find His people busy crying out for candy bars or will He find people faithfully seeking to do what is right and good in the world?


October 17, 2007

Scriptures for October 21, 2007: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

We went to Disney World earlier this year for a big family vacation. We prepared for that vacation for months, reading everything we could find so that we could create a most wonderful experience. We booked reservations for restaurants, tours and shows. We set our priorities. Disney World is so big that it is impossible to see everything, even in a week. We wanted to get the most out of our time while also having a relaxing and pleasant experience.

We put a great deal of time and energy into planning, but when we arrived at the park we agreed as a family that we would not become stressed out in our quest to ‘see it all.’ Some people prefer the hectic pace of riding on every ride. They like to follow the recommended tour plans offered in the Guide books that direct the visitor to the right rides at the right times to avoid the long lines. These tours often have visitors running from one end of the park to another to get Fast Passes then back to the other end to ride a ride. It seems chaotic and exhausting, but it is the way many people enjoy Disney. For them, the destination is to see it all.

We decided that the journey was more important than the destination. Though we had made specific plans, we decided not to schedule every minute of our vacation, to take things as they came. We went to Disney to enjoy one another, be a family and have fun. We missed some of the things we wanted to do. At the end of the week there were a few disappointments because we ran out of time to return to do a few of the things we passed by earlier in the week. However, we had a wonderful time. We enjoyed the journey and were a much closer family by the end of it. If we had focused only on the goal of doing everything, we might have ended the week on each other’s nerves, angry and exhausted instead of relaxed and happy. I saw too many people who were absolutely miserable by the end of their vacation that I knew we made a good choice for our family.

We take all sorts of journeys in our life. Some are short, like trips to the mall or the grocery store. Some of more important like our journey through our school years or a trip to the altar. Our journeys can be physical like a trip to Grandmother’s house or they can be emotional as we make decisions that will transform our lives. We also take spiritual journeys.

The psalmist knew what it was like to take a hard journey. He writes as a pilgrim who has gone to the Temple in Jerusalem to do his duty as a man of faith. The song of praise looks toward the journey home, as the faithful people of God leave the house of the Lord to face the dangers of the world enriched, inspired and prepared. We don’t know what we will face during our journeys. The Jewish pilgrims faced murderers and thieves in the mountains outside the city. They faced the heat of the desert and the loneliness of the road. They faced the reality of returning to the world after having experienced the divine.

Jacob struggled with his family, his future and his fears. He struggled with God. In the end he discovered that he was not in control and that he made his journey through life and faith more difficult when he tried to be in control. Paul wrote to Timothy about continuing in faith in Jesus Christ, by standing firm on the instruction he had received and believed. The widow in Jesus’ parable reminds us to be persistent in prayer but also in moving forward in faith.

Our scriptures this week are about the relationship with have with God. In each of the lessons we see some aspect of our communication with the God of our salvation. We wrestle with God. We seek God’s blessing as we go out into the world to face the dangers that threaten our physical, emotional and spiritual lives. We stand firm in the scriptures, reading God’s Word regularly to keep it fresh on our minds and in our hearts. We come before God over and over again seeking His mercy and grace. All these ways of communicating are journeys in of themselves as we learn to dwell in the presence of God. He is the destination of our life of faith, but He is also there with us.

We had the goal of doing many things during our visit to Disney, but we realized that enjoying Disney World was the destination even while we continued to journey. We dwelt in journey even while we continued to travel it. We decided not to control every aspect of the vacation so that Disney could create that magic that makes a trip to Disney so special. The same is true of our journey of faith. Our destination is always God. All that we do in faith is leading us to Him. But we often think that we control the journey, so we work hard to make things happen (like Jacob) and we lose touch with the God who has set us on our path. Jesus asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Will He find faith in our lives, as we journey toward God with God at our side, trusting in His mercy and grace every step of the way?


October 18, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, October 28, 2007: Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 or Sirach 35:12-17; Psalm 84: 1-6; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14 or Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 Though our iniquities testify against us, work thou for thy name's sake, O Jehovah; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against thee. O thou hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in the time of trouble, why shouldest thou be as a sojourner in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night? Why shouldest thou be as a man affrighted, as a mighty man that cannot save? yet thou, O Jehovah, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name; leave us not. Thus saith Jehovah unto this people, Even so have they loved to wander; they have not refrained their feet: therefore Jehovah doth not accept them; now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins… Hast thou utterly rejected Judah? hath thy soul loathed Zion? why hast thou smitten us, and there is no healing for us? We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of healing, and, behold, dismay! We acknowledge, O Jehovah, our wickedness, and the iniquity of our fathers; for we have sinned against thee. Do not abhor us, for thy name's sake; do not disgrace the throne of thy glory: remember, break not thy covenant with us. Are there any among the vanities of the nations that can cause rain? or can the heavens give showers? art not thou he, O Jehovah our God? therefore we will wait for thee; for thou hast made all these things. (ASV)

In the movie “A Cinderella Story” starring Hilary Duff, Sam is the persecuted step child whose father died apparently leaving her with nothing, forcing her to accept cruel treatment from her stepmother and stepsisters. It is a typical Cinderella story in a modern setting. They live in Southern California and there is a drought. In a scene at the beginning of the film, Sam is seen turning off the sprinklers that are watering a lovely green lawn. Her stepmother Fiona says, “No honey, leave those on! The lawn looks a little brown.” Sam replies, “You know we're supposed to be conserving water! We're in the middle of a drought!” Fiona answers, “Droughts are for poor people, you think J-Lo has a brown lawn? People who use extra water have extra class.” The camera pulls back and you can see that in the entire neighborhood, Fiona’s lawn is the only one that is green. The rest are brown.

Fiona was not concerned about the needs of others or the environment in which she lived. She thought the rules did not pertain to her because she had the resources to overcome the problem. She did not recognize that her use of the water made it even more difficult for others. If she did, she did not care. She thinks she has more class because she has a green lawn.

Jeremiah lived at a difficult time for the people of Judah. They felt secure. The message of Jeremiah was unpopular because he preached doom and gloom for the people. He constantly warned that Judah and Jerusalem would fall. This was hard for the people to believe because they knew the promises of God that had been given to their forefathers and passed down through the generations. However, they had allowed the foreign gods to become a part of their lives. He preached that God would not protect them because they had come to rely on the false gods. He left them in the care of gods that could not do anything to save them.

It was a time of political and military unrest. Babylon was right around the corner. The prophecies of Jeremiah could very well have happened at any moment. However, the people of Judah thought they had no need to worry. But they were apostate. They no longer relied on God. Jeremiah warned them that their apostasy would be their undoing. God would allow Babylon to destroy Judah. Though Jeremiah’s message included a promise for restoration, he preached about the need for repentance and humility before their God. God would be faithful, but the hope would only come after the destruction. This message made life very difficult for Jeremiah. He was hated and threatened. He was ignored and rejected. The people listened to the words of the false prophets and they believed that the prophecies could not possibly be against them.

In today’s passage we hear Jeremiah crying out to God for the sake of the people. He was begging for mercy for Judah, reminding God of His grace. Jeremiah is sincere in his prayer, acknowledging the unfaithfulness of the people of Judah. Yet, God’s people have always been unfaithful. I can understand Jeremiah’s case before God. What good will it do to have Judah destroyed? He reminds God that the destruction of Judah will dishonor Himself, because the destruction of Judah would mean breaking a covenant. In the verses we do not read for this day, God tells Jeremiah not to weep for Judah, that they will receive the just reward for believing the false prophets and worshipping the false gods.

The scene with Fiona and Sam sets up the relationship between them and the conflict that would be the storyline of the movie. Sam is concerned about others, Fiona concerned only about herself. Sam understands that even though they can afford to have the sprinklers run on the lawn, that the need for water for cooking, drinking and bathing is a priority. They should all conserve where they could so that there would be enough water when they need it. Sam shows this concern throughout the movie. On the other hand, Fiona does everything for her own benefit, truly believing that the world revolves around her. In the end she discovers that you can’t keep cheating because it will eventually catch up. Sam wins and Fiona is humbled.

So it is with those who think their wealth gives them leave to do whatever they wish. In this case, wealth is not necessarily financial wealth. The Jews thought they had a special wealth as the chosen people of God. They thought they were guaranteed protection and prosperity based on their ancestry, but they had turned their backs on God. Though they still claimed to believe, they had turned to the false gods, believing the false prophets. They would soon learn that the Lord God Almighty is the only God and that it is only in Him that they will have peace.


October 19, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, October 28, 2007: Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 or Sirach 35:12-17; Psalm 84: 1-6; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14 or Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

Psalm 84: 1-6 How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Jehovah of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of Jehovah; my heart and my flesh cry out unto the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found her a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Jehovah of hosts, my King, and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the highways to Zion. Passing through the valley of Weeping they make it a place of springs; yea, the early rain covereth it with blessings. They go from strength to strength; every one of them appeareth before God in Zion.

“National Lampoon’s Vacation” is a movie starring Chevy Chase who plays a father taking his family across country for a family vacation at “Wally World” a Disney-like theme park in California. The family runs into all sorts of problems along the way. In the end, they lost all their money, Aunt Edna and the dog were dead, the car was beyond repair and they were driving each other insane. The only thing that seemingly went right during the whole trip was that they pulled into an empty parking lot and could choose any space they wanted. That should have been their first clue to the fact that Wally World was closed.

Our car trips have not been as extreme as those the Griswold family experienced in that movie, but I have a bunch of stories to tell about our own cross country trips. There was the time I was with my mom and the car broke down late at night on the highway. And then there was the time we thought we lost the cat in a rest area somewhere in the middle of the Midwest. Turned out we drove sixty miles out of our way to find her curled up inside the car seat. Things were not easier when I started traveling with Bruce and the kids. We’ve had tires blow out. Kids and cats got sick. Once, an aunt who lived in the middle of the country decided to give Zack a really cool car for Christmas that had lots of buttons setting off bells, sirens and whistles. It disappeared to the back of the car at the first available rest area.

These experiences may have seemed disastrous at the time, but we can laugh about them all today. They made the trips interesting, to say the least. We always got home safely and had something interesting to tell our friends when we described out trip. We learned lessons about traveling. We learned to plan for the possibilities, both good and bad. The bad times have not stopped us from enjoying a road trip now and then. There is something really fun about getting in the car with the family and traveling to far way places. We take the opportunity to see different parts of the country, planning our itinerary around the possibilities, stopping occasionally to see something interesting along the way. I have plenty of stories about those good times, also.

It is important to consider safety when traveling long distances in the car. It is easy to get tired on the open road. There have been studies about the dangers of sitting for extended periods of time. Most experts suggest that you should take a break every two hours to stretch, use the facilities and get something to drink. It is amazing how fifteen minutes at a rest stop can rejuvenate a body for the next leg of the trip. Rest stop to rest stop helps to make the trip go more smoothly. It helps keep everyone in a good mood. A few minutes and a snack gives everyone the strength to get in the car again.

Today’s psalm is written as a song of praise for the pilgrim traveling to Jerusalem. The journeys were difficult as the people had to traverse mountains and dry valleys. The Valley of Baca has not been identified and may be figurative, describing the barren places all the pilgrims had to cross to get to Jerusalem. I can imagine what it was like when the Temple first came into view for the pilgrims. It was an awesome sight, sparkling white on the hillside. Knowing that they were close to their destination would give them hope and the last burst of energy they would need to walk the final leg of their trip. They would have rejoiced with songs and hymns, encouraging one another with words of hope.

The psalmist writes, “They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.” This psalm was most likely written in reference to the Feast of Tabernacles, the feast that came in the fall when the first rains began to fall to water the winter crops, transforming the dry landscape into a sea of new growth. Those gentle rains left pools of refreshing water along the path. The rest stops during our trips across country were like those pools, giving us strength to go on toward our destination. That is what it is like living in the presence of God. We go from strength to strength to strength as we journey toward the day when we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Until that day, we walk with songs of praise on our tongues knowing that God is with us, walks with us and provides us with all we need to go on.


October 22, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, October 28, 2007: Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 or Sirach 35:12-17; Psalm 84: 1-6; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14 or Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 For I am already being offered, and the time of my departure is come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day; and not to me only, but also to all them that have loved his appearing… At my first defence no one took my part, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their account. But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me; that through me the message might me fully proclaimed, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

George Matheson was a gifted young man. He was a preacher and theologian who lived in Scotland during the latter half of the nineteenth century. He went to the University of Glasgow and graduated first in his class. He decided to become a minister and in 1879 he earned his Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Edinburgh. He did all this with a disability. He was born with poor eyesight and was almost totally blind by the time he turned twenty years old. His sisters learned Greek, Latin and Hebrew to help him with his theological studies and despite his blindness became an amazing preacher. He was able to memorize scripture and his sermons so well that many people did not even realize that he was blind.

George was engaged to be married to a young lady until she discovered that he was going blind. She did not know how to deal with the life of a blind man, so she broke off the engagement. He tried to be a theologian, but his lack of eyesight made it difficult for him to do the necessary research. His colleagues found grave errors in one of his publications, so he gave up that work to return to parish ministry.

On the eve of his sister’s wedding, George was feeling abandoned. Though he was happy for his sister and wanted her to be happy, he recalled the pain he felt when his fiancé left him. He did not attend the wedding and felt utterly alone in the world. He was a blind man who did not know who would care for him now that his sister had a life of her own. He did not know who would help him with his studies, with his sermons, with his ministry. On that night as he sat alone, he wrote the hymn “O Love That Will Not Let Me God.” The words of this famous hymn tell the story of a man trusting in God and recognizing His presence in difficult circumstances. It is a hymn of humility and commitment.

“O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, That in thine ocean depths its flow May richer, fuller be. O light that foll’west all my way, I yield my flick’ring torch to thee; My heart restores its borrowed ray, That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day May brighter, fairer be. O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, And feel the promise is not vain, That morn shall tearless be. O Cross that liftest up my head, I dare not ask to fly from thee; I lay in dust life’s glory dead, And from the ground there blossoms red Life that shall endless be.” George Matheson, 1882, public domain

I wonder how Paul felt at this point in his life. He was utterly alone. He was imprisoned and no one who had been his friend and coworker in Christ could be found to aid him in this time of trouble. He was forsaken just when he needed them most. But in this difficulty, Paul knew the presence of God. He knew that he was not alone, that God was with him in his troubles. He also knew that everything that happened was for the glory of God. His life, and even his death, would serve to bring the Gospel of Christ to the world. By God’s grace, his life, and even his death, would not be in vain. God is true to His promises. He does not abandon those whom He loves and has called to serve.


October 23, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, October 28, 2007: Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 or Sirach 35:12-17; Psalm 84: 1-6; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14 or Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

Luke 18:9-14 And he spake also this parable unto certain who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and set all others at nought: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get. But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God, be thou merciful to me a sinner. I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Our Gospel lesson last week ended with Luke 18:8, “Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” Then Jesus moved into our parable for today. It is a natural human response to that question to think about the marks of Christianity, going through a checklist of our religious actions like worship, Bible study and active service. Will Christ find us doing what He has called us to do? Will He find us living the life of discipleship? Will He find us glorifying God? When we are asked this question, we measure our righteousness in the only way we know how, but counting all our good works. When we can put a check next to all the marks, we can breathe a sigh of relief and rest assured that He will find faith, at least in our life.

Jesus followed the question with a story for those who considered themselves righteous. It is so easy for us to assume that we are better than another because we can point to our good works. How many of us have said, “Well, I will be going to heaven because I have been a pretty good person. At the very least I am better than…” and we fill in the blank with the name of a murderer, cheater or even our neighbor whose life does not appear as righteous as ours. We are no different than that Pharisee. We might think so, because we are unlikely to walk into church and proclaim that we are better than the person sitting in the pew, but haven’t we all thought it silently?

The Pharisee’s words are incredible. He thanks God that he is not like the sinners, even points out the tax collector praying nearby. He proclaims before God his list of good works. We are offended by this prayer, wondering how anyone could be so self-serving with his words. However, this was a typical prayer for the day. There is a prayer of thanksgiving in the Talmud which was used by the rabbis as they entered and exited bible study. They thanked God that they were not like the people who did not study the scriptures. It was not considered self-righteous to recite this prayer; it was expected of those set apart for studying the Torah. In other words, this prayer of the Pharisee was probably an acceptable rote prayer that was regularly said by the Pharisee and his peers. This was the way things were done.

However, Jesus calls their attention to the other person at prayer in the room. The listening crowds were probably sympathetic to the Pharisee, perhaps even proud that the leaders were so righteous. They would have shaken their heads at the comparison to the tax collector who was a man reviled not only for his vocation but also for his religious impurity. He was a sinner and as a sinner he had no right to stand in the presence of God or the Pharisee who was so good. Jesus tells them, “This man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” It was the sinner that humbled himself before God that was found to have faith. It was he that was granted forgiveness and was justified before God.

When the Son of man comes, shall He find faith on earth? He will find it in those who have humbled themselves, who have recognized their sinfulness and who have sought God’s mercy and grace. They will be justified. They will be the ones who can rest assured that they will spend eternity in heaven. It is not by our good works it is not because we can claim a list of right actions, that we can count on God’s promises. We can’t be sure we will be going to heaven because we have prayed right or worshipped right or done all the right things. Christ finds faith in the hearts of those who know that they are not worthy to receive the gifts but trust in God’s faithfulness. Those are the ones who will be justified, they are the humble ones who will be exalted.


October 24, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, October 28, 2007: Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 or Sirach 35:12-17; Psalm 84: 1-6; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14 or Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

Sirach 35:12-17 Do not think to corrupt with gifts; for such he will not receive: and trust not to unrighteous sacrifices; for the Lord is judge, and with him is no respect of persons. He will not accept any person against a poor man, but will hear the prayer of the oppressed. He will not despise the supplication of the fatherless; nor the widow, when she poureth out her complaint. Do not the tears run down the widow's cheeks? and is not her cry against him that causeth them to fall? He that serveth the Lord shall be accepted with favour, and his prayer shall reach unto the clouds. The prayer of the humble pierceth the clouds: and till it come nigh, he will not be comforted; and will not depart, till the most High shall behold to judge righteously, and execute judgment. (KJV)

I have chosen to include in this week’s texts the alternate passage from the Book of Sirach. Also known as Ecclesiasticus (not to be confused with Ecclesiastes), Ben Sira and the Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Sirach, this deuterocanonical work is a book of proverbs and wisdom that was penned during the intertestimental period. The book was not considered part of the Hebrew canon, which is why it was accepted widely as part of the Christian canon. Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches still include the deuterocanonical texts in their bibles and some Protestant churches include Sirach as alternate texts in the Lectionary. Most preachers and teachers do not use this text because it is confusing since it is not found in the Bibles that most people use, but there is value in the words and worthwhile to read.

Ecclesiasticus was used by the earliest churches. There are references to the book in the writings of the early church fathers and it is believed that the book was used as a catechism for new Christians. It is filled with wise sayings as well as words of guidance for living the Christian life, it includes chapters containing moral instruction. The author was Jesus, son of Sirach, a man who lived in the third to second century B.C. The text was translated into Greek by the author’s grandson. The grandson added a foreword that gives some details about the book, the author and the translator himself. Fragments of this text were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

He translated it to Greek because it was the common language in the world so that many would benefit from the wisdom contained within. He was not the first to do a translation, but he found that some of the translations were less than satisfactory. He wanted to do it better. He wrote in the foreword in 132 B.C.: “Many important truths have been handed down to us through the law, the prophets, and the later authors; and for these the instruction and wisdom of Israel merit praise. Now, those who are familiar with these truths must not only understand them themselves but, as lovers of wisdom, be able, in speech and in writing, to help others less familiar. Such a one was my grandfather, Jesus, who, having devoted himself for a long time to the diligent study of the law, the prophets, and the rest of the books of our ancestors, and having developed a thorough familiarity with them, was moved to write something himself in the nature of instruction and wisdom, in order that those who love wisdom might, by acquainting themselves with what he too had written, make even greater progress in living in conformity with the divine law. You therefore are now invited to read it in a spirit of attentive good will, with indulgence for any apparent failure on our part, despite earnest efforts, in the interpretation of particular passages. For words spoken originally in Hebrew are not as effective when they are translated into another language. That is true not only of this book but of the law itself, the prophets and the rest of the books, which differ no little when they are read in the original.” He went on to say that he spent many sleepless nights trying to translate the book rightly, “for the benefit of those living abroad who wish to acquire wisdom and are disposed to live their lives according to the standards of the law.”

Despite the disadvantages of translating the text from Hebrew to Greek, the grandson of Jesus, son of Sirach understood the necessity of providing the scriptures in a language the common man could understand and he wanted to offer a better translation. There have been others throughout history to do the same thing. Martin Luther, the great sixteenth century reformer also decided to translate the scriptures. This was not a popular thing within the church because common German was considered too vulgar for the Word of God. It was one of the many things he accomplished during his ministry. For many Christians from Protestant background, Reformation Sunday will be celebrated this week. On that day we remember the man Martin Luther – both saint and sinner – and what he did for the Christian faith nearly five hundred years ago.

Though the Book of Sirach is not used in many bibles, we can see by the words of today’s texts that there is indeed wisdom in the words. We can see the connections that can be made between this text and the others for this Sunday. We are reminded that God not need, nor does He seek, our gifts or sacrifices. He does not show favoritism according to our good works. He is a just God, giving forgiveness and mercy to those who humble themselves before Him. He has a special heart for those who are in humble circumstances, those who cry out to Him. The writer reminds us of God’s grace to those who are left alone and who are oppressed, like the widow in our Gospel lesson.

It is possible that Jesus was even referencing this text when he was telling the parable to the people. In these verses we see the widow crying out with tears to the righteous judge. She will not leave be comforted or leave until justice is executed. The persistence of the widow gives us an example of how to live the Christ-like life: the life of seeking God’s mercy and justice through prayer and supplication. Those who love the Lord will be heard, but God’s way is always to do things in His time. We live Christ-like when we trust in the promises knowing that God is faithful. The wait is long and hard, but we have been invited to lift our voices in prayer over and over again until God does what He has promised.


October 25, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, November 4, 2007: Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 32:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10 or Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

Isaiah 1:10-18 Hear the word of Jehovah, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. What unto me is the multitude of your sacrifices? saith Jehovah: I have had enough of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to trample my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; new moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies,- I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary of bearing them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Eddie Haskell was the kind of guy that you loved to hate. He was the best friend of Beaver’s brother Wally on the television show “Leave it to Beaver.” Eddie was the troublemaker. He was the guy that always let you down. He was the guy who always managed to manipulate his friends into doing the things they should not do so that he would not be the guy to get caught. Of course, Wally was the guy who always got caught.

In front of the adults Eddie appeared to be the most polite, mature young man. He was kind and helpful. He said all the right things and offered to do anything that needed to be done. He appeared sincere, but it was just a façade. He really hated to do those things and managed to find ways to get out of doing them. He thought this false front was believable, that the adults really considered him a most polite young man. He was wrong. They saw through the act and knew not to trust Eddie Haskell. Wally’s parents often wondered why he would keep a friend like Eddie.

Friends like Eddie are both friends and thorns in our side. They are lovable and unlovable at the same time. We keep friends like Eddie because we like them and we are sure there must be some innate goodness. We enjoy their company and hope that we might have an impact on their life. No one knows why they act the way they do, there must be some reason and we hope that some kindness and friendship will help make them a better person. Wally saw Eddie’s vulnerability and in the end their friendship did have an impact. The trouble with those who put up a façade is that their works do show. The impact of their negative behaviors eventually destroys whatever good will they have built with their false fronts. The people around them realize they are not credible and that they have no integrity. We can not believe the Eddie Haskells of this world when they offer to help because we know that they will manage to get out of it somehow. Their offering is unacceptable because it does not come from the heart.

To God, the Israelites were much like Eddie Haskell. They went to the Temple with sacrifices regularly, seeking forgiveness and blessings. As soon as the Temple was out of sight they went back to their old ways. They worshipped other gods and disobeyed the Lord. They did not do as He had commanded, but they thought that their sacrifices would be enough to cover their sin. They did not love the Lord with their whole hearts and they did not live according to His will and purpose. They wore two faces – one at the temple when they were facing God and another when they thought He was not looking. In today’s passage we see that God was tired of these meaningless offerings. They were a waste of blood because there was no sacrifice in the hearts of His people.

We are no different than Eddie Haskell and the Israelites. We are just as two-faced before God. We take offerings and sacrifices before the Lord thinking they will be enough to cover all that we have done to dishonor Him in this world. Our offerings are not animals at the Temple. We consider all our good works, our regular attendance at church and the checks we through in the offering plate as sacrifices. We do these things out of duty or with a sense that God will see these good works and forget our sin. However, our sacrifices are never good enough. He desires a humble heart and honesty before Him. Our sin is not hidden, it is seen by God. He knows our deepest, darkest secrets. When we face Him with a façade, pretending to be righteous and good, He sees behind the mask. Our offerings are offensive if they are only a façade to make it appear as though we are polite and kind. God calls us to a different life. In Christ we are washed clean, made new. Through faith in Christ we no longer need a false front because He gives us garments that are white as snow.


October 26, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, November 4, 2007: Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 32:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10 or Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

Psalm 32:1-7 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom Jehovah imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. When I kept silence, my bones wasted away through my groaning all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture was changed as with the drought of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin unto thee, And mine iniquity did I not hide: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto Jehovah; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah. For this let every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely when the great waters overflow they shall not reach unto him. Thou art my hiding-place; thou wilt preserve me from trouble; thou wilt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah

There has been an ongoing story in our city about someone hurting cats. It is a story that is often heard at during this season, but it is particularly bad this year. A number of cats are found nearly every day that has been killed. The problem has become so bad that specialists have been called in to study the bodies to determine types of weapons used and a psychological profile of the person or persons who are doing this horrible thing.

We have always kept the cats indoors. I’ve had many cats over my lifetime and when I was young the cats were free to roam. We learned that this is a dangerous thing to do. Some of our cats were hit by cars, others just disappeared. We even had one cat that was ‘adopted’ by a neighbor. She had been feeding him on her patio for awhile until one day she coaxed him into the house. She never let him leave. She denied taking him, but we saw him sitting in the window. We did not pursue the matter because it happened just as I was getting ready to go to college. I suppose she was able to offer him a better life anyway. After that experience, I decided to keep my cats indoors. My next cat managed to get out of the house once, disappeared for about three days and was a little beaten up when she came home. She never left the house again.

It is not so easy with our current cats. Tigger doesn’t seem to want to go outside very much, but Felix has always tried to escape. We know that it is especially important to keep him inside right now because we do not know who might catch him and hurt him. We have to be careful when we go in and out of our doors because he is quick. He’ll sneak right through your legs if he thinks he can get away with it. He doesn’t go too far, just a few feet from the door to nibble on some grass, but he can be difficult when we try to get him back inside. He is just so excited that he’s managed to get out that he does not want to go back inside. Sometimes, however, he realizes quickly that he has done something wrong and it takes only a word for him to go back toward the door.

Cats are cats and they aren’t human. Though they have some seemingly human characteristics, most of what they do is little more than instinct or a Pavlovian response to the situation. When he comes back to the door it probably isn’t because he knows right from wrong. Yet, there have been times when he seems to be truly repentant when he’s done something wrong.

When he was just a kitten I had purchased a bag of feathers for a project. He took a keen interest in the bag of feathers when I brought it home, so I knew I had to put them out of his reach. I found a hiding place high on a shelf and then I left. We were all out of the house for the evening, but when Bruce got home he found feathers all over the house. I arrived home late that night and did not find out about Felix’s adventure until the morning. As I woke up the next morning I heard a strange noise near the bed. It was Felix carrying the bag of feathers. He had brought the bag all the way up the stairs to lay his prize at my feet. He was so proud for a moment, until he looked at my face. Then he knew he’d done something wrong. I was angry, but I forgave him. He is a cat and he has only a limited understanding and ability to be obedient to our human expectations.

That’s how it is with God. He knows that we are merely human and that we will fail over and over again. He knows that we are not perfect and that sometimes we will do the things that are not good for our well-being and that go against His Word. He wants us to be obedient, but He is ready with forgiveness when we fail. What He wants most is our acknowledgement that we are sinners. This is as much for our own good as it is for Him. When we confess our sin we also recognize our need for God’s grace, a grace that is always available for us. When we admit that we are sinners we look for the forgiveness that is freely given through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God does not need us to speak the words to provide the grace, but in acknowledging our failure we see His mercy and find hope and comfort in it.


October 29, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, November 4, 2007: Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 32:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10 or Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We are bound to give thanks to God always to you, brethren, even as it is meet, for that your faith growth exceedingly, and the love of each one of you all toward one another aboundeth; so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which ye endure… To which end we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfil every desire of goodness and every work of faith, with power; that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

On Saturday, October 27, a college football team made history. I’m sure you have probably seen the video. Trinity University from San Antonio, Texas was playing Millsaps College. The game was being held in at the Millsaps field in Mississippi. They were losing by just a couple of points and there was only two seconds left on the board. There was no way they could kick a field goal, they were simply too far away. They had one last chance to make a touchdown, one last chance to win the game.

With two seconds on the clock the teams took the field. The Trinity players did not have a specific play in mind when they began – it was a matter of throwing and catching the ball, hoping that the receiver could get it to the end zone. On the way to the line-up, one player told the expected receiver to catch the ball and if necessary pass it off to another player. That’s what happened and then the ball was passed laterally another fourteen times. Finally, Bill Curry was able to break free of the opposing team to run to the end zone. They won the game.

Bill Curry is credited with the touchdown and the amazing win, but I doubt that he takes the credit for himself. Seven Trinity players had a hold of the ball in that forty-six second play. Bill held it four times himself, passing it on to other players in the hope that someone will make it to the end zone. Since Trinity is located in San Antonio, some of the football players were interviewed on our local news. These young men were really very humble about the win. Everyone is calling this a miracle. There were times when the ball fell into the hands of another player. It almost looked out of control, yet time after time the football was firmly caught by a Trinity player.

One of the young men interviewed on the news program was the play-by-play commentator from the Trinity University radio station. This young man is being credited with calling one of the best plays in the history of football, and he is still just a student at the university. Johnny Weiner’s play-by-play has been replayed on the internet over and over again since Saturday; his voice has been heard by millions of people. This is a rare accomplishment for a student athletic announcer. When congratulated for his great announcing, Johnny said, “I could not have called the play-by-play with out the play.” He gave the credit to the team. The team gave the credit to one another. They took the win as a group, rather than as individuals. They knew that the glory was not for one individual, but for the whole.

All too often we consider glory something that makes us better or more important than others. Some athletes like to take the glory for themselves, forgetting that they are part of a team. Some business people like to take the glory, forgetting that without co-workers and employees they could not have completed the job. Some actors like to take the glory, forgetting that he or she is not starring in a one-man show.

Paul writes, “…that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in him…” God’s idea of glory is much different than human ideas of glory. For God, the glory is in the divine presence, it is about living and dwelling in Him. Christ was glorified because He lived the life God had sent Him to earth to live. It was a life of humility and service. In all that He did, God’s presence was seen and felt. His lived the life of mercy and grace, sharing God’s love with the world. It was not an easy life He lived, for there were many who were enemies to the work of God in the world. Some of those enemies did not even know they were working against God. They thought they were living according to God’s Law, but they gloried in the things they could do for themselves. They gloried in their own righteousness.

Paul wrote a word of encouragement to those who were suffering from persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ. He boasted of their steadfastness, not as a way of setting the Thessalonians above others, but as a way of showing his pride in their commitment despite the hardship. He does not make this about their ability to stand up to the enemies of God, but instead prays that God will continue to transform and make them into the kind of people that He has called them to be. Paul prays that God will continue to draw them into His glory so that they will dwell there and shine His love to the world. God is glorified when His grace is given to others so that they too might dwell in His presence. We are called to be part of a team. No one Christian will be glorified alone. We are glorified together because we are drawn together by God to make Him known to the world.


October 30, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, November 4, 2007: Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 32:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10 or Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

Luke 19:1-10 And he entered and was passing through Jericho. And behold, a man called by name Zacchaeus; and he was a chief publican, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the crowd, because he was little of stature. And he ran on before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, He is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, To-day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.

I can’t read this story without thinking of the old child’s song about Zacchaeus. You know the one that goes, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see. And as the Savior passed that way He looked up in that tree and He said, ‘Zacchaeus, you come down! For I’m going to your house today. For I’m going to your house to stay.’” This is such a fun song, on the kids generally like to sing. It usually accompanies lessons that talk about repentance, since Zacchaeus in the end changed his ways and did the right thing.

The simple answer is fine for children, but there is much more to this story that we should consider. First of all, we note that Zacchaeus is a tax collector and very wealthy. Of course, he got wealthy by taking advantage of his neighbors and fellow Jews. He overcharged them for their taxes, which is how the tax collectors made their money. He had to ensure that the Romans got their share, but he collected way beyond their requirements. He lied, he cheated and he stole from his own people.

Jesus was passing through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem. According to Luke, Zacchaeus’ house was the last place Jesus stopped before the Triumphal entry. We can already see the excitement about Jesus’ ministry in Jericho, as crowds were gathering along the way to see Him. Luke tells us that Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. He had never met Jesus, perhaps had never even heard Him speak. Zacchaeus merely knew the reputation that was preceding Him.

Zacchaeus was not well liked; there were certainly no neighbors who would give him room to get to the front of the crowds to see Jesus. Many may have even thought that he was not worthy to even catch a glimpse of Jesus. He was a healer, perhaps even the Messiah. He was a preacher and a teacher. He cared about the poor. Zacchaeus was a sinner. It is likely that some in the crowds even questioned his faith. After all, what real Jew would lie, cheat and steal from his own people?

When Jesus reached the place where Zacchaeus was hanging in the tree, He cried up to the man, “Zacchaeus, come down. I must stay at your house today.” His last stop before the triumphal entry was to the home of a sinner. It was to the home of a tax collector. He stopped to be in the company of someone whose very faith was questionable. Zacchaeus was amazed and excited. The people were angry and began to mutter, “He is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner.” This very act may have put some doubt in their minds. Is this Jesus really who we think He is? Is He really the One who has come to save us?

Zacchaeus answers their mumbling with real action. He shows Jesus his wealth and then tells Him, “If I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold.” Jesus answers their mumbling also. “To-day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham.” He is the Savior not because Zacchaeus has done something spectacular with his wealth. Jesus is the Savior because in His presence people are transformed. Zacchaeus did not know Jesus. He was there because he was curious about this person whose reputation had reached Jericho. Zacchaeus did not invite Jesus into his life. Jesus invited Himself into Zacchaeus’ life.

We can learn from Zacchaeus that repentance means not only saying we are sorry, but that we should actively work for justice even if it means sacrifice on our part. However, in this story we learn something even more important. We learn that we do not seek out Christ, He seeks us out. We do not invite Christ into our lives, He invites Himself into our lives. We are not transformed because of the things that we do, but rather in the presence of God we can’t help but be transformed. Salvation has entered into our house, not because of anything we have done, but because God came looking for us.

Zacchaeus was a sinner. He was a liar and a cheat. He stole from his people. But God knew that he was a child of Abraham and He came to bring salvation to his life. Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus and he saw the world in a whole new light. He saw the world from God’s perspective and he was transformed into someone who would work toward justice and restoration. Zacchaeus saw the forgiveness that would be won for us all at the cross in just a matter of days. He experienced the grace of God first hand and his life was forever changed.


October 31, 2007

Scriptures for Sunday, November 4, 2007: Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 32:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10 or Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

Luke 6:20-31 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy: for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same manner did their fathers unto the prophets. But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you, ye that are full now! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you, ye that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for in the same manner did their fathers to the false prophets. But I say unto you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and from him that taketh away thy cloak withhold not thy coat also. Give to every one that asketh thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

Today is All Hallows Eve, otherwise known as Halloween. It is a day when the kids wander the streets at night dressed up as all sorts of characters begging for candy from the neighbors. Over the years I’ve had numerous positions about Halloween from loving the Trick-or-Treating to hiding from the Trick-or-Treaters to vocally denouncing the holiday because of its focus on darkness and greed. This year I have decided to give out candy to the children. My family will be going door to door collecting canned goods for the International Thespian Society “Trick or Treat So Kids Can Eat.” They have been doing this project for several years now and the local troop is hoping to collect a ton of food tonight.

The holiday has roots that go back into the days of the Celtic Druids. It was called Samhain. It marked the end of summer and the beginning of the dark days of winter. They believed that on that day the dead returned to the earth. Not only were the spirits given credit for mischief that happened, it was believed that the priests were best able to predict the future when they were nearby. They had bonfires and wore costumes. When the Romans populated Celtic lands they joined their own fall holidays with Samhain. Feralia commemorated the dead and there was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. By the ninth century, Christianity was the dominant religion in the areas where the Celtic people lived. Pope Boniface IV decided to name November 1 All Saint’s Day to transform the pagan traditions into a church-sanctioned holiday. The evening before All Saint’s Day was called All Hallow’s Eve, and the people continued to celebrate with bonfires, parades and costumes. Eventually, November 2nd was called All Soul’s Day, and the three day celebration was called Hallowmas. Today Halloween and All Saints Day are completely unrelated celebrations.

Oddly, Halloween seems so much more like a night of the living – everyone has a fun time at parties, parades and Trick-or-Treating. Though many of the costumes are dark and wicked, death is not the focus of the evening for most people. I am sure tonight I will see hundreds of fairy princesses and popular cartoon characters. According to a report today, the fastest selling costumes are political with Hillary Clinton and the Bush family flying off the shelves. Some of my neighbors have decorated their houses as brightly as they might decorate for Christmas. The streets are glowing with orange and purple lights. All Saint’s Day is focused on remembering those who have passed during the previous year. Though it too is a celebration of life – the lives of the saints who have passed – the mood tends to be sad and teary as we join together to mourn the loss of our loved ones.

We tend to think of the saints as men and women who are recognized for outstanding service to the Lord. Some of the saints were martyred for their faith. Others made a powerful impact on the world in which they lived. The men and women who are specifically named saints seem to be extraordinary people. Their life stories come with accounts of divine intervention, miracles and unusual experiences. However, saints are not only those who have died, but those who live in Christ today. We are saints. The saints were not extraordinary. They were ordinary people through whom God made extraordinary things happen. He does the same for us.

I have focused on the ordinary texts for Pentecost this week, but Sunday is also All Saints Sunday. Most churches will do something special for the day. The Gospel lesson for this festival Sunday is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. A few years ago I attended an All Saints Sunday at the cathedral in Bury St. Edmunds, England. Bishop Clive gave a sermon about Matthew’s version of this text. Throughout the sermon Bishop Clive kept saying, “Consider yourself blessed.” It is hard to think in those terms when the blessedness is given to people who are being persecuted and are suffering. Bishop Clive explained, “In the beatitudes, Jesus was making saints out of ordinary people.” All those in Christ are saints – called, gifted and sent to be His witnesses in the world.

So tonight we will celebrate the fun of Halloween but then tomorrow let us remember the joy of being in Christ. As we recall the lives of those who have passed this year or before, we are reminded that they were just like us: ordinary people gifted with faith and called to serve the Lord in our daily lives. We are still sinners, in need of God’s grace every day. But we are also saints because God is faithful to His promises.