Welcome to the October 2017 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.
A WORD FOR TODAY, October 2017
“God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds. His Son is the radiance of his glory, the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purified us of our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become so much better than the angels, as he has inherited a more excellent name than they have.” Hebrews 1:1-4, WEB
Our topic in Sunday school yesterday was that no one has ever seen God. It is taken from the prologue from the Gospel of John. “No one has seen God at any time,” says John, and then says that He is revealed by His Son.
We began by looking at the Old Testament texts that talk about what happens to those who look upon the face of God. Exodus 33:6 tells us that Moses was afraid to look at God and Exodus 33:20 tells us the man who sees God’s face will die. Yet, we also looked at examples of times in the Old Testament when God’s people were given a glimpse of God. In the same chapter from Exodus (vs. 11) we hear that God spoke to Moses “face to face.” In the beginning, before we fell from grace, Adam and Eve dwelled in the Garden of Eden, walking side by side with the Father. Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32:20), Hagar said “I have seen Him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13), and Job said, “Now my eyes see you.” The prophets saw the Lord sitting on a throne and David sings “I have looked upon you in the sanctuary” (Psalm 63.)
There are those who claim that this is yet another inconsistency with God’s word. After all, how can you say that no one can see God and yet have more than a dozen examples of people seeing Him? Exodus 24:11, “He didn’t lay his hand on the nobles of the children of Israel. They saw God, and ate and drank.” They saw God and didn’t die.
So, what does this mean? How do we look at this seeming inconsistency of scripture and still believe? We understand that all these instances of people who saw the Lord, saw Him as He revealed Himself to them. They were visited by angels. They experienced God’s presence in visions and dreams. He came to them in what is understood to be pre-incarnation appearances of Jesus. He revealed Himself in burning bushes and pillars of clouds. There is also the understanding that “seeing” is not always with the eyes. As with Job, the seeing was a spiritual understanding of what God was revealing to His people.
Beyond this, we are given the promise that we will see God. Psalm 11:7, “The upright shall see His face.” Matthew says that the pure in heart and blessed and will see God. Paul talks about us seeing dimly now, but one day we’ll see Him face to face. The writer of Hebrews says that we will never see the Lord without God’s sanctification. Revelation promises that one day every eye will see Him.
The most fascinating part of the study was found in the Gospel of John. He began by saying that no one has ever seen God, but moves through the story until in the end we realize that we have the opportunity to see God through Jesus Christ. The disciples excitedly invite us to “Come and see” in the first chapter. Jesus claims the Jewish leadership has never seen God or heard His voice (5:37). In chapter six, Jesus tells them that no one has seen the Father except the One who is from God (6:46). Then He tells them that those who see Him see the One who sent Him (12:45). When Philip asked to see the Father, Jesus answered, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (14:9) Finally, Mary runs back to the disciples after seeing Jesus in the Garden, and cries, “I have seen the Lord!” (20:18)
We learn through John’s Gospel and throughout the scriptures that God can’t be seen by sinful human beings, but that God reveals Himself to His people. We know now that we can see God in His creation, in the faces of our brothers and sisters in Christ, but most of all through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We can see Him only because Jesus has covered us with His righteousness. The promise in the Psalm is fulfilled when Jesus makes us upright. The promise is Matthew is fulfilled because Jesus had mercy on us. The promise of Hebrews is fulfilled because Jesus continues to sanctify us.
Paul says that God revealed Himself in many ways, but finally, in these days, He revealed Himself by His Son. Thanks to Jesus, who has transformed us by His grace, we will one day look on the face of God and dwell with Him for eternity. We’ll return to the Garden, walking side by side with our Father, restored in relationship with our Creator because Jesus has overcome the sin that separated us from Him.
“But let him who is taught in the word share all good things with him who teaches. Don’t be deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not be weary in doing good, for we will reap in due season, if we don’t give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let’s do what is good toward all men, and especially toward those who are of the household of the faith.” Galatians 6:6-10, WEB
You may have noted that there are restaurants springing up that focus on locally sourced food. Their menus are dependent on what foods are available at the time, in the region. You may love something they serve on one visit, but not be able to get it the next time you go. Of course, this is not something new; I remember only being able to purchase strawberry pie during strawberry season. In the days before mass transportation it was impossible for restaurants to serve fresh food out of season, although we tended to eat at home more and more in those days.
Before mass transportation, a society’s food supply was dependent on the local agricultural calendar. They had fruit when it was in season and most vegetables only during its season of harvest. With today’s modern technology, there are many crops that can be grown in other regions and shipped great distances to our grocery stores. We get much of our food from Mexico and Central America, which has a much longer growing season. It is possible to have fresh cauliflower, asparagus and Brussels sprouts year round though their local season is very short. Lettuce, which is very perishable, can be picked in the southern hemisphere and delivered to our markets still fresh for salad.
Local farmers still understand the limitations of the agricultural calendar. It does little good to try to plant a strawberry field in Minnesota in December. Tomato plants should not be put in the ground in October, because they will die before they can bring forth fruit. If crops are left on the plant too long, they become rotten or are eaten by insect and animal. A farmer must carefully consider the best crops for his fields, the climate, altitude, and length of growing season. He must consider how many seeds he should plant. Can the local people eat or preserve his harvest before it perishes, or can he transport it somewhere else to use? The farmer takes all this into consideration before he plants a crop. Then, when the time is right, and the fruit is ripe, he comes for the harvest.
The seeds of the Kingdom of God are much like those seeds planted by a farmer. We have to plant the right seeds for them to grow into real fruit. We are called to share the Gospel message as given to us by Jesus and in the scriptures so that it will blossom into the fruit of the Spirit. Too often, we sow seeds of hatred, discord, jealousy and other such acts of a sinful nature. These seeds produce nothing to sustain our lives or glorify God.
Though the scriptures often use agricultural examples to give spiritual messages, there are many differences between the farmer’s fields and the field known as the Kingdom of God. The seeds planted are not literal seeds, but rather the Word of God. The fields are not made of dirt, but human hearts and minds. The fruit is not something that will perish tomorrow if not eaten today. It is the Holy Spirit of God, which is eternal and living in us. Planting and harvest are not dependent on time, weather or region. We must sow the seeds of the Kingdom year round, and harvest whenever the fruit is ripe. As Christians, we must always continue to plant, water, fertilize and harvest His living Word by sharing the Gospel with our neighbors in word and deed, so that the Kingdom will grow and He will be glorified.
Scriptures for Sunday, October 8, 2017, Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:7-18; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46
“Let me sing for my well beloved a song of my beloved about his vineyard. My beloved had a vineyard on a very fruitful hill.” Isaiah 5:1, WEB
I don’t have a green thumb. I have been known to get very passionate about planting pretty flowers in my garden, but the enthusiasm doesn’t last very long. I forget to water when it gets too dry. I hate to weed. I don’t pay attention when the plants need to be pruned, so they stop producing or fruit. I can keep plants alive, generally, but do much better with plants that do not need much attention. We have settled for a few potted plants, but I really don’t have anything colorful planted in my yard.
I’ve had several success stories over the years. When I was in Junior High I grew a sunflower plant that was over seven feet tall. The blossom was nearly two feet across. I had a snake plant that became so out of control we divided it and gave pieces to a bunch of friends. I once had a philodendron that was full and beautiful. We had a white lilac bush in California that began as an unrecognizable stick in the ground and after eight years was so beautiful that we gave cuttings to all our friends when we moved. I had a rose bush here in Texas that constantly produced beautiful flowers.
The bush was located just under the place where two roofs met and the rainwater naturally fell nearby. While the rest of the yard quickly dried out after a shower, that spot did well because it was saturated, giving the rose bush plenty of moisture deep into the ground. I tended to that rose bush, cutting the dead flowers and pruning when necessary. It gave us some beautiful flowers over the years.
I couldn’t tell you what type of rose it was, or where it came from. We bought it at a large retail store one day. As with many of those large scale nursery products, the rose bush was probably grafted to a heartier root, possibly for a rose vine. We noticed after a few years that the shoots coming from the roots of that rose bush were different than the original plant. They grew fast and were somewhat wild; the flowers were much smaller. It was pretty and I often thought that I should install a trellis to let it grow. I knew, though, that the wild vines were taking nutrients and moisture from the main plant, so I kept it pruned as best I could.
I managed to keep my rose bush going for all those years and it was as beautiful when we left as it was when it was first blooming roses. However, my lack of gardening skills makes it a fruitless pursuit. The plants die from lack of water or are choked from the weeds. Oh, I might get into it in the beginning, lovingly planting the plants, but it gets old very quickly. I love fresh grown tomatoes, and complain constantly about the quality of those in the stores, but I don’t have the motivation to do all that work myself. It gets harder to keep up with it as time goes on. Something distracts me from the task, or the temperatures just get too hot to be in the garden. I get frustrated when the plant withers or the fruit doesn’t grow. I don’t know how to deal with the critters that manage to get to my fruit before I can harvest. I don’t think I could ever be a farmer.
The vineyard keeper in today’s Gospel lesson put his heart into the vineyard. He cleared the land, dug the holes, and planted the choice vines. He prepared the rest of the vineyard, building a watch tower and a wine vat. Everything was ready. But grapes take a few years to grow; the first fruit is usually produced in the third season. Instead of yielding good fruit, the grapes were bitter or wild. The Hebrew language here suggests the grapes were not just bitter, but diseased. Bitter grapes might still be used for wine, and might even create a fine tasting wine if properly prepared. Diseased grapes are worthless, unusable. They must be tossed away.
The vineyard represents God’s people. Isaiah speaks of the wonderful works of God in creating the nation of Israel. He isn’t like me: a gardener who puts the plants in the ground and then lets them go. He took care of the vineyard. He took care of His people, providing them with everything they needed. He guarded them, protected them, and provided for their every need. No matter how much God did for His people, however, they turned wild. They became dis-eased. They turned from Him and did their own thing. They were no longer constructive for God’s purpose.
Isaiah says, “He looked for justice, but, behold, oppression; for righteousness, but, behold, a cry of distress.” God’s people were not living according to God’s ways. They had written into the law their own ideas, interpreted God’s law in a way that made it a burden. They did not pursue justice, but were oppressive. They did not live righteously, but were self-righteous. It was not what God expected from His vineyard. So, He let it go. He took down the hedge, tore down the watchtower and let the field be trampled over.
God is the vineyard owner. The story is about Israel, but we aren’t much different. We are like those wild grapes, growing up in the midst of the vineyard that the Lord has planted. We fail. We sin. We go our own way. Despite all that God has done for us, we want to be in control of the world in which we live. In doing so, we often make the wrong choices. This passage does not leave us much hope, as God swore to repay His wayward people with justice. Yet, this is not the end of the story. There is hope because the promises of God reach far beyond our failing. For every curse there is a promise and God is faithful.
God did not stop loving His people. Over and over again they turned from Him and suffered the consequences, but over and over again God loved them back into His heart. He gave them second, third and seventy times seven chances: when they cried out, He was never far. He saved them, over and over again because He is faithful despite their unfaithfulness. In the prophecy from Isaiah today, God warned that they would see the consequences of their unrighteousness and the prophecy was likely fulfilled in the Assyrian invasion of Judah. We know, however, that even though the watchtower has collapsed and the fields have gone fallow, God heard their cries and restored them. They simply had to live for a moment with the penalty of their own turning.
The Psalm for today is the cry of God’s people for salvation. “Turn us again, God of Armies. Cause your face to shine, and we will be saved.” They knew God’s good works; they didn’t know why they had been abandoned. They didn’t see their own failure, but despite this reality, God did come to their aid. He restored His people and called them to the life He intended for them. Despite His grace, they continued to fail. Despite their failure, He continued to be faithful. He replanted the vineyard and began again.
Unfortunately, by the time of Jesus, the faithlessness of God’s people came in the form of self-righteousness. They believed that they were guarded and protected by God, that He would provide all they needed. But they expected this to be true not because God was good but because they thought they were. The watchtower was their own interpretation of the Law, the wall was their heritage. They thought they were good because they relied on their own abilities. They did not see how they had turned from God or how they had rejected Him. The leaders had allowed even the Temple to become corrupt.
The story in the Gospel lesson is of another vineyard. This time the vineyard owner prepared the vineyard and leased the land to tenants. Then he went away. When it came time for the fruit to be harvested, three years or perhaps more, the master sent some servants to collect his share. It is possible that the landowner gave the tenants a few harvests before he sent his servants, giving the tenants a chance to produce a hearty crop. The time came, however, that the tenants had to pay their due. It was the landowner’s right to recoup his investment.
The tenants lost touch with their master. After a few years, they forgot that the land was not theirs, that they did not plant the vines, that they did not build the tower or dig the winepress. They decided that it belonged to them. So they beat, killed and stoned the servants. The master sent more servants, but they did the same to them. Finally, the master sent his own son to collect what was due.
We don’t know what percentage of the crop the master demands from the tenants, but if we put it in the context of Biblical religious faith, it was probably only ten percent. That left the tenants with ninety percent, and they probably had a couple of free years. Those tenants, like the ones on the court show, forgot that the master did put a great deal of time, resources and work into that vineyard. They would not have a job or a place to live without him. They forgot that it all came from him and that he, too, deserves a piece of the harvest. It is right that he should expect his share.
I shake my head in complete astonishment that the tenants came to the conclusion that they would inherit the vineyard if they kill the son. These are people who have twisted justice and righteousness to the point of being upside down. They expected God’s blessings not because God was good but because they thought they were. The watchtower was their own interpretation of the Law, the wall was their heritage. They did not see how they had turned from God or how they had rejected Him. The leaders had allowed even the Temple to become corrupt. The passage from Matthew occurs shortly after Jesus cleansed the Temple, during those last days of His life. They had made God’s house of prayer a den of thieves and Jesus called them on it. But they were not prepared to accept His word.
In both the Old Testament and Gospel lesson, God is the vineyard owner. In the first, the vineyard is Israel and it is rejected because the grapes are wild. In the Gospel, the tenants are the leaders of Israel who have rejected God but think they deserve to keep God’s kingdom. In the first, God allows the vineyard to suffer the consequences of disappointing Him. He takes down the hedge of protection and allows the beasts and the weeds to take over. It is trampled and devoured. The rain of blessing stops falling and it withers and dies. In the second, God puts out the unfaithful tenants and gives the vineyard to those who will care for it and give Him His due.
This is the story of Israel. God gave them the world, but they lost sight of Him. They turned to other gods, they did what they wanted to do. They rejected him by ignoring His servants. The prophets were beaten, killed and stoned, because they did not like the messages they shared. We don’t want to hear that times will be tough, that we have to be obedient. There were plenty of false prophets willing to tell the kings that God was on their side and that they would win every battle. There were plenty of prophets willing to tickle their ears with happy promises even if they had nothing to do with God. God’s real prophets spoke the truth, called people to repentance, reminded them of their sin and warned them of what would happen if they did not turn back to God.
The warning was fulfilled when Jesus and the apostles took the story of God into the whole world. Jesus might have come first for the Jews, but God meant for Him to be the shining light for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. The early church may not have understood that completely, as they fought amongst themselves about how to deal with those who were not Jews but who believed in Jesus. At first they expected the Gentiles to convert to Judaism and then be accepted in the Church.
But Paul recognized the foolishness of this practice. He knew that God’s grace was meant for Jew and Gentile alike. He knew that those things which they were requiring of new believers were self built watchtowers and walls. God had promised to guard and protect them, to keep them and to produce good fruit through them, but like those to whom Isaiah was speaking, the people in Jesus’ day had turned from the Master. They didn’t trust Him; they trusted themselves and their own righteousness. And they were requiring others to rely on that righteousness instead of God.
Paul was everything a good Jew should be. He had the pedigree. He was born to the right people, did all the right things. He followed the right rules and was zealous for God. Yet, he realized that none of that mattered. His encounter with Christ broke down the watchtower and the walls and his field was left follow. But Paul learned that everything on which he relied was worthless, and God planted a new vine in that field.
We are like the Israelites in Isaiah and the chief priests in Matthew. We are wild or dis-eased grapes growing in God’s vineyard. We fail. We sin. We go our own way. Despite all that God has done for us, we want to be in control of the world in which we live. In doing so, we often make the wrong choices. This passage does not leave us much hope, as God swore to repay His wayward people with justice. Yet, this is not the end of the story. There is hope because God’s promises are greater than our failures, and He is faithful.
Jesus is the answer to our unfaithfulness.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Did you never read in the Scriptures, “The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner. This was from the Lord. It is marvelous in our eyes?”’” “Head of the corner” can be translated in a number of different ways. It is the literal translation of the Hebrew word, but it is outside our modern understanding. What does “head of the corner” mean? Translators have used the words capstone, keystone and cornerstone. Though these words have similar meanings, they are representative of stones that have slightly different purposes.
A capstone, or coping, is a stone that is used to finish the top of the wall. It is not just decorative; it is also protection for the wall. It helps hold the wall together. Coping stones are larger, or longer, than the bricks and stones used to build the wall, and therefore give strength to the top. Capstones are also used as lintels, on the top of a doorway. The capstone supports everything above the door and also the posts that create the opening. The entrances to ancient tombs were often created by standing two stones side by side and placing a capstone on top of the two standing stones. I saw one of these doorways in England. The only parts of the structure to survive were the standing stones and the capstone, still standing because it was all held up by the capstone.
Another type of stone used in building is a keystone. A keystone is part of an arch. It is the central, uppermost stone in an arch, often shaped slightly differently than the other stones to give the arch a decorative touch. I like this translation of the word because of the statement that the builders rejected the stone. The keystone need not be the strongest, largest or prettiest stone. It offers no support to the arch, but instead locks it together. To build an arch, the builder creates a form that will later be removed. The stones are carefully placed along the form. Finally, the keystone is put into place. The arch would fall if the form was removed before that keystone is in place, but once it is there, the arch stands strong. The builders rejected the stone because it was not big or perfect enough to use in a strong and longstanding building. But it can be a keystone.
Finally, there are two types of cornerstones. When the builders began laying the foundation of a building, they placed one square stone in the corner of the building site, making sure that the sides were perfectly aligned with where the sides of the building were designed to be. All the other stones were then placed in relation to the cornerstone. These stones were often marked and in ancient societies were given spiritual and superstitious power. We no longer normally lay a stone in the foundation of our buildings, so the cornerstone has become a purely informational and decorative feature of buildings. Inscribed with dates and the names of those responsible for the building, the cornerstone stands as a testament to the work of those people.
Isn’t it interesting that no matter how you define the phrase “head of the corner” you can still see Christ in its imagery? Jesus is the capstone, not only a physical and tangible manifestation of the highpoint of our faith but also that which holds together His Church. Without the capstone or coping, the buildings would fall. Without the capstone, the doorways would fail.
Jesus is the keystone. He was not the most powerful man or one with the greatest earthly authority. He was in no position to rule. He was easily cast away by the leaders of the faith. The scriptures tell us He was abused, beaten and killed. Yet, the Church cannot stand without Him. He locks us together.
Jesus is also the cornerstone. He is both the stone laid in the foundation and the stone that testifies to the work of God. Without Him the church would be misaligned, the walls would be uneven and the building out of whack. Without Him we would still not recognize the God of grace from whom we have faith and hope and peace. Jesus is the “head of the corner” in every way, and this is truly marvelous in our eyes.
Psalm 80 tells the story of Israel, the vine. God brought His people out of Egypt and planted them in the garden of His choosing. They did not do well. He expected the grapes He planted to grow and prosper, but instead they went wild. Israel’s actions brought bad times upon the land; they suffered the consequences of being disobedient to the Father, but He never left. He heard their cry and restored His relationship with them. They sought His face and He shined it upon them.
An infant can only see things about 8 to 14 inches from their eyes. While they might be able to distinguish light and dark farther away, they cannot yet focus on items. They would not recognize a person who is standing across the room, unless they could ‘see’ that person with other senses like smell and hearing which are more highly developed at birth. Even at close distances they do not see detail; they look for contrasts and shapes. Infants particularly like staring into the eyes of the one who is holding them. They begin to recognize their mothers first, probably because so much time is spent together. That early interaction is important for the development of both the child and the relationship.
For a child, that line of vision is their whole world. To have his or her mother gazing down with love and joy and peace gives the child a sense of love and joy and peace. It is like a light shining down upon them. The same is true about God our Father, as our world is more comforting when we know that He is looking down upon us. When things go wrong, it is easy to believe that God has turned His back, that He has abandoned us. As our world crumbles around us we cry out to God, seeking His light and His life because we know that when He is near all will be well. Even if all is not well, at least we know that He is in control and will take care of us.
The Jews relied on their own righteousness, finding peace in their own strength and ability, but they missed the grace which is found in Jesus Christ. It is true that we should seek refuge in our God, but the center of our faith is not found in our ability to do so. We are constantly reminded that Jesus is the capstone, the keystone, the cornerstone, the “head of the corner.” In the beginning Paul went his own way, too. Well, he went the way of men until he had an encounter with the living Lord Jesus. That encounter led him on a journey that took him to places he never expected. He learned what it meant to have faith, to believe God and to live as He called men to live. He learned what it meant to take refuge in God. His world had been turned upside down, but in that new world, he found peace.
We aren’t perfect, and we won’t be perfect in this world. We go our own way, and think that we deserve the blessings of God based on our work rather than God’s grace. Paul knew that he had not yet reached the goal, but knew that he belonged to Jesus and that every day took him closer to the prize, so he pressed on toward that goal. We are called to do the same, to look toward God, to live in faith, and to trust that God will provide all we need. He will bless us in His vineyard and give us all we need to continue glorifying Him with praise and by giving Him the fruit He is due.
“For you formed my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. My soul knows that very well. My frame wasn’t hidden from you, when I was made in secret, woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my body. In your book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there were none of them.” Psalm 139:13-16, WEB
I read an article about a boy who has autism. The spectrum of autism is so large that it is impossible to fit anyone into a specific box, although autistic people often struggle with certain skills and development that is for most people commonplace. They don’t do well with interpersonal communication and relationships. One of the major problems is that they have difficulty predicting the future. This is not about making world shattering predictions; they get upset because they miss the cues about normal daily living and are constantly afraid of what might happen. They know there is a future, but they can’t deal with the surprise. This is why they find comfort in habits that don’t make sense to the rest of us. If they know that they will always have cereal for breakfast, then they don’t have to worry whether they will be hungry.
There is a new show called “The Good Doctor.” Dr. Shaun Murphy is a young man who is hired as a surgical resident at a hospital. He is autistic. He is an excellent doctor because he can “see” the human body in ways that other doctors can’t and he reviews circumstances in his mind until he finds a solution. Unfortunately, most of the other doctors don’t think there is even a problem, and they doubt his decisions.
On the most recent episode, the head of the department sent Shaun to do the tasks no one else wants to do. He does not think Shaun should have been hired and is trying to make Shaun want to leave. Shaun doesn’t understand, he simply wants to be a surgeon so he can save lives. So, he goes about doing whatever he is told. The tasks included dealing with patients who had minor health issues, but he didn’t do so well. His autism makes good bedside manner impossible. He can’t lie, so he doesn’t know how to say the words that ease fear and worry. Since he is able to look below the surface, he ordered every possible test to find the hidden disease, tests that the others thought were a waste of time and money. His supervisor ordered a nurse to play babysitter for the rest of the day and he was not allowed to do what he thought best for the patient.
As it turned out, his continuing review of the circumstances about one patient made him realize that the stomach ache was more than stress or a simply childhood malady. He had been forced to send her home without the tests that he wanted to give, which would have revealed the disease much earlier in the evening. He went to the family’s house and when though they wanted to shut the door on him, they checked on their daughter and could not wake her. They took her to the hospital, while he gave her CPR in the back seat, and he performed emergency surgery without permission. He saved her life. His autism saved her life.
People with disabilities often wonder about their value in the world, mostly because people doubt their value. The boy in the article had found comfort and a sense of self-worth in a “job” as doorman in his apartment building. He didn’t have a job, but he was able to help people with the door and their packages. He even walked one woman and her dog to her door each day. He was annoying to many of the residents who saw his questions as intrusive and his manner offensive, so the owners had to “fire” him. He didn’t just lose a “job,” he lost the one thing that made him feel wanted and valued. The same will happen to Dr. Shaun Murphy if those who doubt an autistic man can be a good doctor get their way.
October is National Disability Awareness Month. It is a time to learn about the different disabilities that affect our neighbors. Some are obvious, others less so. We are reminded that every person has value, and every person needs to feel valued, even if they don’t fit into what is deemed “normal.” We all have a purpose in this world, and it is up to us to help our neighbors, whether they have some sort of disability or not, to find the thing that God has gifted them to do. We all struggle with something, some of us are better at hiding it than others. That doesn’t mean that they can’t succeed. It just means we need to understand their struggles and learn to work around them. God knows and God values those whom He has made and He knows what He has ordained them to do. Let us be encourages and helpers so that they will never doubt their value and succeed at doing God’s work in this world.
“If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassion, make my joy full, by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through rivalry or through conceit, but in humility, each counting others better than himself; each of you not just looking to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.” Philippians 2:1-4, WEB
There is a lot of talk these days of football players taking a knee. Whether you agree with the protests or not, there is a story of a kneeling football team that is worth hearing. It was at a High school football game in Texas, where football is king and winning is expected. The score was close and the losing team was just seconds and inches away from taking the win. During the next to last play of the game, a defender met with an offensive player with the power of a freight train. Both fell to the ground, and while the offender was stunned, the defender was left seriously injured on the ground.
The player was removed from the field and airflighted to the hospital; the doctors feared that he would be permanently paralyzed. Meanwhile, back at the football game, the team on offense just needed one more play to take the lead and win the game. The coach of the injured player talked to the other coach and said that his boys could not play; they were too upset to continue. Some things matter, even in Texas, more than winning a football game. The team would forfeit; the win (which seemed inevitable anyway) was theirs. That coach said “No, we’ll finish the game.” The teams lined up and the play began. The quarterback took the football and the entire offensive line dropped to their knees.
They stayed there until the clock ran out, giving the win to their opponents. They chose to honor the one who had been taken away, sacrificing the win to the team whose player made a terrible sacrifice so that they would not have to forfeit.
Football is all about winning, although that attitude is found everywhere in our society these days. We can’t even have a conversation without fighting to have the last word or to prove that our thoughts are better than others. These conversations often lead to animosity and ad hominem attacks. Read through any comment section on a controversial Facebook post like those about the professional players taking a knee and you’ll discover many of them include personal criticisms. These are conversations between anonymous strangers, yet the words can be hurtful. No one is willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. We have to win the argument. It is even worse when we are having these conversations with our family and friends.
Those football teams will meet as rivals again another year, and the team that made took the knee to honor the injured player will come back with a vengeance. They will want to win even more this time, especially since the football player has made an amazing recovery. Yet, when it mattered they realized that there was something more important than the win; they willingly humbled themselves for the sake of others.
Next time you are in a heated conversation over some controversial subject, consider whether there is something more important than the win. Relationships between people matter. Instead of fighting to prove with ad hominem attacks that you are better, take time to listen and try to understand the point of view of your neighbor. Like the coach who refused to let the other take a forfeit, we can love and respect our neighbors with actions that speak louder than words. Truth will win in the end, but it will never win if we count ourselves better than others and look to our own things without considering what really matters.
“Come, and hear, all you who fear God. I will declare what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth. He was extolled with my tongue. If I cherished sin in my heart, the Lord wouldn’t have listened. But most certainly, God has listened. He has heard the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor his loving kindness from me.” Psalm 66:16-20, WEB
We all fall short. We are sinners in need of a Savior. There is no reason why God should ever listen to what we have to say or even consider what we ask of Him. Yet, He does.
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He included the line, “Thy will be done.” This can be very troublesome for us because we don’t always know or understand what God’s will is in our lives. Sometimes we think we know, and we go out into the world with a passion to do that work, but when we don’t succeed, we have doubts and second guess our understanding. “If this is what God wants from me, why isn’t it happening?”
When I began writing this devotional, I had high hopes that it would go viral and that after a time, perhaps months or possibly a few years, I’d have thousands of readers. I even thought I might have more opportunities to teach and speak before groups. More than eighteen years later, a still have only a few hundred and I am rarely asked to make presentations. I must confess that I’ve wondered more than once over the years if this is really what God intends for me to do. I wonder what I am doing wrong. I wonder if this was really God’s will for me. Sadly, I’ve even wondered at times if God is listening to my prayers.
On his Facebook page today, Timothy Keller wrote, “If God is sovereign, you can be called to a vocation, but not called to be successful in that vocation.” Commenters wondered what he meant by this. We are so certain that God intends only for us to be successful, that some assume he means that we should question what we are doing wrong. Others say that we should question what it means to be successful.
The world says we succeed when we make huge things happen. We are successful when we are better than others. We are successful when we draw many people to us. We are successful when we are rich and famous or have had a noticeable impact on our world. The world makes me doubt my vocation as the writer of this devotional because I haven’t reach thousands of people or made a noticeable impact on the world. The world even makes me doubt whether God is listening to my prayers.
The psalmist says, “If I cherished sin in my heart, the Lord wouldn’t have listened.” Perhaps it doesn’t seem like sin to want to be read by thousands and impact the world. However, those thoughts are worldly thoughts and that is not my vocation, and that’s what makes it sinful. By cherishing the possibility of success in my heart, I am ignoring God’s will in my life. It is possible that I do not even know what God intends to accomplish with this devotional, and that He is doing something spectacular outside my knowledge and understanding.
My vocation is to share God’s Word, to be a vehicle for God’s grace that will have an impact in the hearts of those who do read. I’ve learned, although I don’t always heed the lesson, that God has the reach and makes the impact. Whether or not I am successful according to the expectations of the world, God has promised to do His work through my vocation. That may never be what I expect. It may even seem like I am failing, but God never fails. Jesus calls us to pray “Thy will be done,” and then sends us into the world to be the vehicles for His will. We will fail; we may never truly understand what He intends. As long as we do not cherish our own thoughts in our hearts, we can know that God is listening to our prayers. We doubt because we are cherishing the wrong things; we are truly successful when we cherish God’s Word no matter what seems to be happening in our lives.
“Brothers, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. Again, I write a new commandment to you, which is true in him and in you; because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shines. He who says he is in the light and hates his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no occasion for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in the darkness, and walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” 1 John 2:7-11, WEB
Modern technology has made it possible to see and do things in the black of night that were never possible before. Shows like “Cops” or the ghost hunting shows make use of the technology to see things in the dark. I always wondered how they work. They couldn’t provide their own source of light because it would make the person visible when they want to stay hidden. So the question remains, “How do night vision goggles work?”
I once had the opportunity to experience these modern marvels for myself, to see how they work. The command gave the spouses of military members tours of the base, including the building where they learn to use the night vision goggles. They took us into a room with green lights. We were handed a set when everyone was inside the room, but we were warned not to turn them on until the lights were out. The room was so dark we could not see our hands in front of our faces. Then we were instructed to turn on the goggles. There was a greenish light that made it possible to see the scene in front of us.
The room was set up with a miniature landscape that had different terrain such as desert, mountain and forest. Pilots are brought into this room and shown the different effects of light can have on the glasses. The lighting can be changed to represent the stars and moon at different places in the sky. They can recreate a night with full moon in the south with light cloud cover or any other sort of weather conditions. This helps the pilot learn how to plan their flights, according to the best use of the light available with their night vision goggles.
Night vision goggles take advantage of the existing heat in the air. Heat equals energy which equals light. There is heat or energy in the air even when it is cold outside. We stood in total darkness and thought there was no light, yet there is always some light. The goggles magnify the tiny specks of invisible light so that the user can see what lies ahead. The picture in the viewer appears somewhat snowy; the light appears like speckles in the air. The interesting thing is that the more light is available, the more distorted the picture is.
As the guide was showing us these different lighting affects, I took off the glasses, certain that the lights they were using must give enough light on the landscape to see something. However, the darkness was overwhelming, even when the light in the goggles was overwhelming. It amazed me how much light was in that darkness. It was necessary to keep the goggles on to see that light.
As Christians, we live in a world filled with darkness, but we can walk in this world because we see the light that exists in the midst of it. We see through the grace our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ because He is the light. When we walk in love, we walk in that light. Love does not mean that we should tolerate the darkness. When we love we share the truth of God’s Word with our brother to help them see the light.
Scriptures for Sunday, October 15, 2017, Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:4-13; Matthew 22:1-14
“Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, ‘Rejoice!’” Philippians 4:4, WEB
We have all probably attended a banquet or two in our time. We like to hold banquets to celebrate all sorts of milestones and accomplishments. When Bruce was in the military we attended banquets for promotions, to thank volunteers, and for days of prayer. We’ve been to school and sports banquets with the kids. There are often banquets at church to celebrate anniversaries or transitions. Who hasn’t attended a wedding banquet?
I went on a tour with an organization when I was a teenager; we visited many cities around our state so that we could introduce our group to places that might benefit from having a chapter in their town. We were fed well during our trip, hosted at banquet feasts every day by the local groups who invited us to visit. We mostly ate ham; ham is easy to fix and at that time it was relatively inexpensive. The side dishes that go with ham are easy to prepare for large groups. The food preparers did well, the food filled our bellies and we appreciated the effort. As with much banquet food, however, it was never fantastic and we were all a little tired of dry ham and lukewarm side dishes by the end of our tour.
There was a scene in a movie I watched recently of two people trying to decide what to serve at a wedding. It was a destination wedding; the maid of honor and the best man were making decisions for the bride and groom who had not yet arrived to the place where the wedding was to be held. The maid of honor was insistent that it was a most important decision, but the man wasn’t very interested. He asked her about the last wedding she attended. “What did you eat?” When she couldn’t answer, he asked her if she would forget if the food was so important.
What are your memories of the banquets you’ve attended over the years? We were thankful and filled at those banquets so long ago, but they were typical of what I think about a banquet. I’ve experienced long lines at buffets with empty trays at the end or plates of food that were obviously slapped together in an assembly line. It is hard to serve hundreds of people at the same time. That’s why groups choose ham and au gratin potatoes.
Today’s texts have images of banquets, and in them we are reminded of the eternal feast that God is preparing for us in heaven. As we think about how hard it is to feed a few hundred people, we can’t imagine the feast that God is preparing. It will be a feast for all who have waited for God’s salvation. How can He possibly serve so many a feast so great?
He can because He is God. He will be celebrating the marriage of His Son. This will not be like any wedding we have attended. This is the consummation of all His promises, the fulfillment of Christ’s work in the world as His bride the Church is made fully and completely one with Him. Death will be swallowed up, tears will be dried. We will have reason to celebrate and this feast is not a party that will end; it will last for eternity as we dwell in heaven with our Father and our Lord Christ forever.
Isaiah writes, “Behold, this is our God! We have waited for him, and he will save us! This is Yahweh! We have waited for him. We will be glad and rejoice in his salvation!” Those who believe in Jesus will receive blessing from the Lord, salvation from our Savior. We will see the day when mourning is turned to joy. We will feast at the victory table. Jesus overcomes even time and space by drawing all believers - past, present and future - into His body, the Church. Jesus is the resurrection; He is our hope and life. He has overcome death and the grave and in Him alone is our hope for salvation.
The wedding feast is for Christ and His Church. We know that ultimately God’s salvation is meant for all people, just as we see in the passage from Isaiah, but the invitation was first given to Israel. The scriptures foretold of the time when the Messiah would come. They were given the signs and promises; they knew what they should be looking for. The prophets came and spoke the warnings and the promises, but the people ignored and even rejected them. Matthew’s texts over the past few weeks have shown how God’s people have gone their own way, following their own wants and desires rather than God’s Word. They killed the prophets, and in last week’s lesson Jesus predicted that they would even kill the Son.
At that word, the chief priests wanted to arrest Jesus but they were afraid of the crowd. Jesus extended the conversation with a parable about heaven, taking the message of Isaiah to the next level. Heaven will be a banquet with fine wine and rich foods, served for those set free from the oppression of their enemy. The ultimate enemy is death; Jesus would overcome that enemy in a matter of days after He spoke this parable through His death and resurrection. He was about to fulfill God’s promises by setting the world free to be welcome into the heavenly banquet.
Isn’t it amazing how patient and purposeful He is with His people? Even as they were trying to find ways to arrest Jesus, He was still trying to help them see the truth.
The invitations went out, and like those who said “Yes” in the parable a few weeks ago but did not do what they promised, the guests accepted the invitation but refused to come. More servants were sent and ignored. Like the tenants in the vineyard, some of the invited guests even killed the king’s servants. In both the previous stories, the recipients of God’s promises were those who were deemed unworthy of God’s grace because they proved faithful in the end. The same is true in today’s passage, where the king rejected those who rejected him and invited anyone willing to come. “Go therefore to the intersections of the highways, and as many as you may find, invite to the marriage feast.” The servants went out and invited all those they found, good and bad. The wedding hall was full.
The people in our stories from Matthew over the past few weeks - the son who said yes but did not do the work of his father, the tenants who thought that they deserved the vineyard so they killed the son, and today’s guests who ignored or rejected the wedding invitation - did not trust in God. They trusted in themselves, in their own rightness. They are like those today who still ignore and reject the God who has offered salvation to all who believe. Unfortunately, in today’s passage we learn that there are some who accept the invitation but not the gift. They are the ones who are part of the Church but who have not truly accepted the free gift of God’s grace. They think that they are there according to their own works and righteousness. This is why it is so important to remember that we do not earn God’s grace but in His grace we are called to live accordingly.
In ancient days, the host of a banquet gave clean robes to the guests. The people had traveled far on dusty roads; the robes were given so that the guests would feel fresh and clean for the feast. Rejection of the gift was disrespectful to the host, just as a rejection of Jesus Christ is a rejection of God’s grace.
The wedding garment here has nothing to do with the clothing we wear. It is the righteousness we wear. The robes of the priests and the leaders were a sign of their position and authority. It was also a sign of their piety. But the robe given at this wedding banquet is not self attained by good works or human effort: it is the righteousness that comes from Christ. The warning in this text is for those who think they can attend church but hold on to their own ways. It is a warning to the hypocrites who claim to be faithful but live faithless lives.
See, the wedding robe represents the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the righteousness we receive by faith in Him. We can’t be right with God without Jesus, but God Himself has given us the robe to cover the filth of our sinful natures.
We might think that the guest was cast out because he had not changed his ways or repented of his “grime,” but the robes did not remove the dust and dirt from the road. It was simply covered by the wedding garment. The guest without the robe was still a sinner, but so were all the other guests. It isn’t the act of wearing the robe that made the guests clean. Every person given the robe is still covered in the grime of sin and death, but the wedding garment given by the host makes them clean. We are simultaneously sinners and saints. The guest was not cast out because he was grimy and dirty from the road, but because he rejected the gift that had been given.
Matthew writes, “For many are called, but few chosen.” Who are the chosen? We automatically put ourselves into that category, but we would do well to remember that we aren’t invited to the banquet because of our works. We don’t deserve the invitation; we are invited out of God’s grace. We are welcome into the banquet is fully and wholly based on God’s gift. If we expect to enjoy the banquet based on our own good works, our own righteousness, we will be sadly mistaken. It is only by the gift of the wedding robe, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that we will be received at the great and glorious banquet which God is planning for us.
What does it mean to be chosen? Certainly the synonyms for the word “chosen” in Greek include words like selected and elect, but the word ‘eklektoi’ can mean exalted, precious, or especially beloved. Many will be invited, but few will be set apart. The ones who are humble enough to live as the king demands will find themselves at the center of a marvelous feast. There will be those, like the ones first invited and the man who refused the robe, who will find that they are left out in the cold.
God knew at the beginning that His people would need Him. He knew we would fall. He knew we would be overcome. He knew we would face terrible enemies. And He promised to be faithful. He promised to protect us against the storm and the heat of the sun. Knowing that God has promised these things and that He is faithful, God’s people can go forth in faith.
Even now we can sing the hymn of thanksgiving because God is still faithful. We can look forward to a day when things are better, knowing that it might not be comfortable or perfect for the moment because we will face times of trouble, but God is in control. He is with us and He can see beyond the moment. He has great things planned for His people and He will not allow us to be destroyed. There is a feast waiting for us, a feast we will enjoy in the day of the Lord. Our salvation is waiting for us on the other side of our fear and pain. Knowing this, we walk through the times of trouble with faith, praising God for all that will be because He has planned it and He is faithful. It might seem like the world has been destroyed around us, but it has simply been cleansed so that it will be healthier and better in the end.
It won’t always be easy. The guests at this great banquet won’t always get along in this life. Take, for example, Euodia and Syntyche, two fellow workers with Paul in the Gospel. They were at odds about something. Perhaps they disagreed about the color of the carpeting. Perhaps they disagreed about politics. Perhaps they had different visions of the mission of their congregation. We are a divided people, unable to agree about much. When we begin to discuss real issues, we become separated from one another, breaking the bonds of brotherhood and peace. Each side is passionate about their opinion and we are willing to fight for what we believe to be right and true. Perhaps Euodia and Syntyche had differing opinions about certain doctrines of faith or the direction of the new and growing Church. Things haven’t changed. It would be impossible to find full agreement in the pews of our churches today, let alone between church bodies.
But Paul says, “Be of the same mind.” Does this mean that we have to agree about every detail of our life and faith? Some think so, but Paul goes on to talk about rejoicing in the Lord. Was there something special about the people who were welcomed into the banquet? Were they all from the same neighborhood? Did they all come bearing the same gifts? Despite our differences, we can be of the same mind because we are given the same robe and join in the same song of praise.
Together we praise God in all circumstances, even when things are not going so well. We share the peace of God as we dwell in the love of God in Christ Jesus, instead of dwelling in our differences. As Paul writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things.” Jesus Christ is all this, and in Him we can rejoice together, singing praise and thanksgiving to God.
David knew the great and marvelous things God had done when he penned the words of the beloved Psalm 23. David knew what it was like to walk in the shadow of death. He knew what it was like to experience darkness. He knew what it was like to suffer the consequences of his failures. But he believed in his heart that God was merciful and right. He trusted that God would make his mistakes into something good. He looked forward to the banquet table that God would set for His people.
David glorified God at all times, even when it seemed like nothing was going right. I can hear his voice from the caves where he hid from Saul. I can see David singing this prayer when he was mourning over his dying son. I can imagine that David found these words even when God told him that he could not build the Temple. He didn’t try to blame others or get around God’s Word. He simply accepted God’s Word and did what He could, glorifying God in his life.
Paul calls us to join in the songs of praise, rejoicing in God’s graciousness. We are welcomed into the banquet to share in God’s goodness forever, even though none of deserve to be His guests. Let us remember, then, that Christ has called us to be one in Him, of the same mind. We won’t agree about everything, but there is something about which all of us can agree: that He has given us the gift of His own righteousness, a robe to wear over our dirty, grimy selves.
We are drawn together into a banquet of unlimited grace, a feast that is greater than any banquet we have enjoyed in this life. It has been promised into eternity but we are invited to the table as we celebrate communion together with our brothers and sisters in Christ in every time or place. As we wait, we join our forefathers living humbly in God’s presence, rejoicing in the Lord always.
“Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God. Yahweh is one. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. These words, which I command you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the door posts of your house, and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9, WEB
I am planning a retreat for the women of my church. The theme is going to be Psalm 23, so I have been researching ideas for presentations and activities that enhance the message of trusting God. Of course, some of the activities are meant to build relationships between the women or simply be relaxing and uplifting. I have found a couple of crafts we will do as well as a few prayer stations for quiet time. I’m hoping to get other women involved in presentations so that they can share their own faith with the group.
A recent trend involves painted rocks. People paint inspirational pictures or words onto rocks and then place them along pathways in parks so that others can find them. I thought this might be a fun activity, although I didn’t want to do it if it was not acceptable on the grounds of the camp where we are staying. Some places do not like anything that that disturbs the natural habitat. When I asked, they were emphatic that we cannot leave the rocks around camp. We may still do a similar project, but we will not leave any of the painted rocks hidden around camp. Others have done so, and it annoys the camp staff because it is an eyesore. They are equally annoyed by the cairns or rock stacks that people build along the paths and the creek.
Hikers have an understanding that they should only take photos and leave footsteps. Everything else can not only make the scene look unnatural, but it can also disturb the environment. Those who build the cairns do not realize that lifting that rock out of the river will harm microscopic organisms, insects and fish that made that rock their home. If the small creatures are harmed, then the animals that rely on those small creatures for food are also harmed. That harm can extend up the food chain. It might not seem like a big deal to move a few rocks, but it can have a huge impact.
What sort of impact have you had on the world? Has it been negative, like the painted or stacked rocks that disturb the natural habitat? Or have you had the kind of impact that will change the world for the better, as in teaching children to love the Lord? We can, unfortunately, do little things that harm others in the world: bad word, a small lie, an insignificant sin. It might not seem like a big deal, but in the end it can have a huge impact. How much better would it be for us to impact our world with God’s Word, loving God with our whole beings and living life as He intends us to live? The little children will follow see God’s grace and follow our lead, impacting the world with the peace, hope and joy that comes from dwelling in His kingdom.
“Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished.” Matthew 5:17-18, WEB
My mom was a soda jerk when she was young. This doesn’t mean that she was an unlikeable, annoyingly stupid person as might be expected by our definition of the word “jerk.” A soda jerk was a person who worked at an ice cream shop, called a “jerk” because they operated the soda fountain by jerking the handle to pour the soda. I imagine that could have been a fun job, although very tempting. My mom told me that when she started working at the fountain, her boss told her she could eat as much ice cream as she wanted. In the end, the soda jerks ate their fill to the point of being sick of it and they didn’t feel tempted. The boss understood that it was better to let the workers get sick of the ice cream rather than withhold it and tempt them to sneak or steal tastes behind his back.
I once read an article about ice cream sundaes. Ice cream sundaes were invented in the late 1800’s as a way to circumvent a law. Drug store counters were a favorite family destination on Sundays, where a family could share an ice cream soda. Unfortunately, someone decided that seltzer or soda water was impious, and so it became illegal to sell the sodas on Sunday. The owners of those corner fountains didn’t want to lose the business, so they decided to start selling the ice cream sodas without the soda.
What they had was ice cream with syrup, whipped cream, and a cherry on top; it was a delicious compromise. The sundae was named after the day of the week it was sold. Families that wanted to hang out together on a Sunday afternoon could go to the fountain and still have a treat. The store owner and the employees were still able to earn a living. Everyone was happy, even though they used a loophole to get around the law. I’m not sure there are even any places that sell old fashioned ice cream sodas anymore, but I’m sure we all know a place close to our home where we can get a delicious ice cream sundae.
It is not good to circumvent the law, because laws are given for our protection and well-being. I’m not sure that a fountain owner would give workers a free reign in this day and age because we know how unhealthy it is to eat too much sugar. Some laws may not make sense, like waiting at a traffic light at 3 am when there are no other cars on the road, but it is safer to wait until the light turns green anyway. Laws don’t always make sense; someone thought there was some reason to outlaw soda water on Sunday even though it seems like a silly law today. It seems silly especially since we know that they got around the law and continued to sell ice cream, syrup, whipped cream, and cherries without the soda.
Jesus did not destroy the Law; He fulfilled the Law. This might be hard for many to understand because as you read the stories about Jesus, you see that He often circumvented the rules. He did things that had been established as unlawful based on the interpretation of the Law. Yet, Jesus could not be found to be a lawbreaker; He honored and glorified God with everything He did. He made everything new and better. He created an ice cream sundae when the world thought that seltzer was ungodly. He provided forgiveness for those who could not be perfect but who trusted in God. He restored His people to a right relationship with God and the Law so that they could live a life that honors and glorifies God.
“Show me your ways, Yahweh. Teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation, I wait for you all day long. Yahweh, remember your tender mercies and your loving kindness, for they are from old times. Don’t remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions. Remember me according to your loving kindness, for your goodness’ sake, Yahweh. Good and upright is Yahweh, therefore he will instruct sinners in the way. He will guide the humble in justice. He will teach the humble his way. All the paths of Yahweh are loving kindness and truth to such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. For your name’s sake, Yahweh, pardon my iniquity, for it is great. What man is he who fears Yahweh? He shall instruct him in the way that he shall choose. His soul shall dwell at ease. His offspring shall inherit the land. The friendship of Yahweh is with those who fear him. He will show them his covenant.” Psalm 25:4-14, WEB
I was listening to a talk radio show the other day when a caller insisted that something was true and argued with the host who could easily argue that it wasn’t. When asked to give proof for his claim, the caller insisted, “Just Google it. You’ll see.” Now, I have to admit that I do a lot of googling. I can’t even remember what it was like to search through a dozen library references to get information for papers I wrote in high school and college. It is so easy to type a word in the search engine and come up with hundreds or thousands of different pages with all sorts of points of view.
The trouble is that much of the information is false. I heard a report this morning warning users to be careful that they use the right phone number for support for their digital content. I’m sure the same could be said about all of our online resources. Apparently there are those who are creating fake websites with false numbers. When you call that number, the customer service representative requests remote access to your system into which they download a virus that gives them access to more than just the digital content. They then steal passwords and other information needed to use your identity.
Not only do some sites give false information, there are those that are satirical and meant to expose or ridicule foolishness. Sometimes the articles on those sites are so close to true that it is difficult to understand that it is meant to be humorous. I once reposted an article from one of those sites, not because I thought it was funny, but because I believed it to be true. It wasn’t until later that I realized it was satire. I don’t blame those who make the same mistake, because it is easy to be fooled.
I use Google a lot when I’m preparing Bible studies and writing this devotional. I have probably been fooled more than once, but I try to carefully research the resource to ensure that I am getting good information. A lot of people have a lot of things to say about the Bible, but we need to be certain that they are not some person’s opinion of what God means. False teachers have existed as long as God has been talking to His people, and that is as true today as it has ever been. We might google it, but we need to remember that there are those who seek to lead us astray. It is important that seek God’s truth, to make sure that we are standing true to His Word and following His path, rather than falling for the foolishness of those who would lead us astray.
“But the end of all things is near. Therefore be of sound mind, self-controlled, and sober in prayer. And above all things be earnest in your love among yourselves, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, employ it in serving one another, as good managers of the grace of God in its various forms. If anyone speaks, let it be as it were the very words of God. If anyone serves, let it be as of the strength which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:7-11, WEB
I went to the zoo yesterday. I had to deliver something to the office, but I didn’t miss the opportunity to walk around and watch my favorite animals. It is interesting to watch all the animals, but I tend to spend the most time at the big cats. The lions, tigers, jaguars, cheetahs and clouded leopard remind me so much of my own cats. Cats are cats no matter the size. I got pictures of several lying on their backs, as if they wanted me to rub their tummies. I would have loved to cuddle with the jaguar cubs!
I spent the whole afternoon wandering around. I ate lunch in the restaurant and read a book. I did some people watching, too. It was a great way to spend time outdoors on a lovely day. There is a snack bar just before the exit that sells soft serve ice cream and I often stop for a cone before I leave. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it yesterday because it was late in the day and I really needed to head toward home. My favorite is vanilla and chocolate swirl in a waffle cone, but they always add so much ice cream that it is difficult to eat it all.
I decided to get one anyway, but I wanted to moderate my treat. I told the girl that I would pay full price, but that I only wanted half as much ice cream as normal. She looked at me as if I was odd; no one wants less than their money’s worth! Yet, the amount she gave me was just about right. I still struggled eating it all, and I didn’t manage to eat the whole cone, but I didn’t feel like I was stuffed or that I wasted food. I usually throw half of it away and rarely get to enjoy much of the cone.
It is about self-control, but we want to get as much out of the world as we can. We want our fair share. I watched a girl at the food counter struggle with the fact that the family’s three sodas were not perfectly equal; one had less than the other two. They were not getting their money’s worth in that one cup. I’ve heard people complain that a foot-long sub is only 11” long. The bag of chips seems half empty by the time it makes it to the dinner table because the chips have settled in transportation. None of us need the extra bite of sandwich or another handful of chips, but we believe we should get every cent’s worth.
And we should. We are called to be good stewards of our resources, especially our money. And yet that stewardship can manifest as self-indulgence. I don’t mind paying full price at the zoo because I know the profit will go into the care of the animals, but I don’t throw money away. There are other resources we have besides money that we need to consider. Are we being good stewards with their time? Gifts? Love? Joy?
It might seem odd to talk about self-control in things like love and joy, but don’t we use these as commodities sometimes? Don’t we expect something out of the love we give? We certainly expect our time to be worthwhile and are frustrated with people who seem to waste our time. But it happens with love and joy, too. We worry that people will take advantage of us, so we withhold love and joy unless we are sure we are going to get something out of it. Peter reminds us that we should be self-controlled, but also that we should glorify God in all we do. Sometimes that means accepting less than we expect knowing that God is more gracious than we can every imagine.
Scriptures for Sunday, October 22, 2017, Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 45:1-7; Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22
“Sing to Yahweh a new song! Sing to Yahweh, all the earth. Sing to Yahweh! Bless his name! Proclaim his salvation from day to day!” Psalm 96:1-2, WEB
A well-known English deist, Anthony Collins of the seventeenth century, was walking one day when he crossed paths with a commoner. “Where are you going?” asked Collins. The man answered that he was going to church to worship God. Collins wondered whether the man’s God was a great or a little God. The man answered, “Both.” Collins did not understand how that could be. The man answered, “He is so great, sir, that the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him; and so little that He can dwell in my heart.” Collins later declared that this simple answer had more effect on his mind than all the volumes he had ever read about God, and all the lectures he had ever heard.
Our God is both big and small: bigger than creation, but small enough to live in our hearts. He is so big that everything must submit to His authority, but He sent His son Our Lord Jesus Christ into the humility of flesh so that we can know Him intimately. Darkness still reigns in this world, but we have the promise that the Light has won the victory and that one day we will see, know and experience God fully and completely. God is big enough to do so, but also small enough for us to know intimately. That’s good to know.
I was able to purchase many interesting things when I lived in England. I bought china right from the manufacturer. I was able to get some of my chotchkies signed by the designer. I bought a few pieces of antique furniture. And I bought coins. Along with coins and bills from many nations, we have piles of English coins, a few of older monarchs, but mostly those of the current Queen Elizabeth. I even keep a British pound in my wallet to this day. Nothing I have has any significant value, but each piece is a nice reminder of the time we spent overseas.
One of my best pieces is a Roman denarius. It is from the second century A.D., when Hadrian was emperor, so could not have been in use in the days of Jesus. It was found in England, so it was likely minted there. I like to show it during Bible studies when we talk about a denarius. Coins are coins, but it is fun to have something so closely identified with the text we are studying. Hadrian was emperor at the time of printing, so his picture is on the coin.
United States currency includes statements about foundational beliefs or symbols of our nation. The pictures generally honor the founding fathers, although recent discussions have considered changing the faces. It would be impossible for Jesus to say “Give to George Washington what is George Washington’s” because they never use men and women who are still living, and George Washington has long been dead. The money does not belong to our leaders; it belongs to the people. We choose the pictures and words for our currency because those things are important to our identity as Americans. They are, almost, the things we idealize or even idolize about the place we live.
It is impossible to live in our world without money. It is part of our society, a part of our existence. We no longer barter for the things we need. We need money to survive, but the coinage would have been offensive to the Jews because it had a graven image. It had an image of the Caesar. We understand the commandment less literally than those in Jesus’ day, so it is natural to have a few coins in our pocket. But the Jews should not have had a Roman coin. There was a special coin to use for the Temple tax, which is why the moneychangers were in the Temple court.
The Jews thought they were going to catch Jesus one way or another with their question, that Jesus would upset the Romans by telling the people not to pay taxes or the people by telling them they should pay taxes. He did neither. He told them to give the idol back to the idolized. Then Jesus said, “Give to God the things that are God’s.” This was a brilliant answer because it turned the tables and it says more than it appears on the surface. Everything belongs to God, and while the taxes could be paid, even the government to which it is given belongs to Him. All rulers are divinely appointed servants for a particular time and place given to accomplish God’s will, even if they do not believe in God. Good and bad, God is in control of our world and we can live in trust knowing that in the end everything will be as He intends.
We sometimes forget that God can speak through people who do not agree with us. If He can speak His word to someone through a donkey (Numbers 20) then He can speak through anyone. We have to deal with people with whom we disagree and situations outside our comfort zone. Whatever happens today or tomorrow, we can trust that God is in control. We live in hope, not in individuals or the government, but in God’s promises. Good or bad, our life of faith will keep us focused on what is good: only God is good. God is with us wherever we are and whatever we do. Our faith does not keep us separated from the world. We have to follow secular laws, deal with non-Christian people, respect leaders who might not follow the same ideology. We might just discover that the things we think they are doing wrong might just be what God intends for that moment. We don’t see the whole picture, but God does, and sometimes He does the unexpected to accomplish His will.
Cyrus did not believe in the God of the Jews, but he was a pluralistic ruler, willing to tolerate all types of faith even though he claimed no religion of his own. He adopted the local gods of each nation as was necessary to get the support of those people for his rule. He would rather spend the cost of building a new temple for some god to keep his subjects happy. This sounds like the type of ruler that God would rather eliminate because he has no foundation on which to stand, and yet we discover that this is exactly the man God used for His purpose. Cyrus was chosen to be God’s hands in a world that was thrown upside down, to be a savior for the people God loves but whose exile was a lesson to be learned. They turned from Him, followed false gods; they did their own thing. They rejected Him, and God gave the Babylonians the strength to destroy Jerusalem and take the people into captivity. When the time was right, God gave the strength to Cyrus to destroy the Babylonians and restore His people to their homeland.
These nations think they do everything with their own strength; rulers are powerful with mighty armies. They often have their own gods, they have their own resources, and they have everything they need to win the victories that are recorded throughout history. It seems to us that conquest and captivity, destruction and exile are unnecessary in a world where God is in control. Yet, in today’s scripture, Isaiah writes, “I form the light, and create darkness. I make peace, and create calamity. I am Yahweh, who does all these things.” Cyrus was reminded from the beginning that God was in charge. God is God, and there is none like Him. God is able to give Cyrus the power, and God is able to take it away.
A ruler always had a seal of some sort that was used to verify his word. The seal was placed at the end of any formal document, usually with wax that was marked by a ring that had the seal engraved. The seal made it official, but it also made it impossible for the document to be edited after leaving the ruler’s hand. The text ran from edge to edge and the seal was placed at the end. No one could add or take away from what the ruler had said. We still use seals, often embossed on stamped onto official documents to verify its accuracy and trustworthiness.
I always wanted to seal my kids when they walked out the door. Perhaps that sounds strange, but what I mean is that I wanted to ensure that they remembered everything I taught them. As they walked out the door, I wished them a good day and added a message that I hoped would help them make good choices during the day. I told them to be careful, to have fun, to do what is right. When they were headed to a special activity, I added an appropriate word of encouragement. I reminded them of things we had talked about, lessons we had learned. They thought I was a nag, but I really just wanted to put a seal on the things I wanted them to remember when they were on their own. It was my hope that the seal would help them carefully consider the things others wanted to add to what I had taught them. Though my children are grown, I still do this. I make sure they know they are loved and tell them to be careful. they listen? I hope that the lessons they’ve learned are written on their hearts and in their heads and that they will do what is right and good.
Paul was an apostle of God, sharing the Gospel of Christ with the world. His work took him many places, and he planted church after church. The people of Thessalonica received that message and gathered together as a community of faith. They were growing in grace and hope and faith. Paul could not stay with all the communities he began, but he kept in touch with them through letters and through helpers who visited the congregations. Through one of these helpers, Paul heard that the Thessalonians were doing well. Timothy had sent a good report to Paul and Paul was pleased to hear the good news. This wasn’t true everywhere. Other preachers were sharing their own understanding of God and Jesus Christ. They were claiming to be apostles, but they were sharing a false god.
Though the people in Thessalonica were doing well, they were under a similar threat. They were holding strong, but Paul did not know how long they could last. Would they remember the lessons he taught them? Would they keep the Gospel of grace or turn to another gospel message? Would they believe the lies being told about Paul by those opposed to his message? Paul did not know what might happen next, so he wrote a message of thanksgiving and encouragement to the congregation. He put a seal on the people so that they would not fall from grace and turn to a faith built on works and self-righteousness.
We are encouraged by Paul’s words as he lifts all those who have heard the Gospel and received God’s grace to a place where we will stand firm in what is right no matter the circumstances we face. Our hope is in Jesus Christ and we are called to live the life of faith that rests in His promise and His forgiveness. Paul calls the people of Thessalonica ‘imitators’ of the apostle and of the Lord. We saw that continued through generations of Christians, into those who were our mentors. We are now the next generation, sharing the Gospel with our children and our neighbors, imitating what Paul first lived so that the world might see God’s grace. We, too, are sealed to keep all that we do and say firmly grounded in Jesus Christ.
The psalmist writes, “For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but Yahweh made the heavens.” We make so many people in our world idols - sports stars, singers, models - but the definition of the word “idol” is less than flattering. Merriam-Webster says an idol is “a representation or symbol of an object of worship, a false god, a likeness of something, a form or appearance visible but without substance, an object of extreme devotion, a false conception.” Not only are the gods of the nations less than our God Jehovah, they are nothing. We make our idols; we even idolize ourselves. God’s words to Cyrus remind us that we are far less than our God, especially when we look at all He has done.
Faith in Jesus means leaving the idols of this world behind. Unfortunately, many still live like Cyrus, welcoming and tolerant of all faiths, no matter what god is worshipped. God calls us to share His glory with all people so that they will turn away from their false gods and know the Lord who is God over everything. We may be struggling with circumstances that are confusing and painful, but we can trust that God is in control.
We may experience a Babylonian exile of sorts as God sets us apart for a season, but God’s promises are real and He is faithful. We can trust that He will then send someone like Cyrus who will help to restore us to Him or like Paul who will remind us whose we are. The lessons we learn along the way will turn us back to the God to whom we belong and who has never left our side. He is always faithfully working to do what is right and good. Let us give everything over to the God is so great that the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him and so little that He can dwell our hearts. That’s why we are called to sing His praise. He has done great things. He made the heavens. He has brought salvation to His people. That’s something, and Someone, to sing about. He is worthy to be praised!
“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will be done away with. Where there are various languages, they will cease. Where there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is complete has come, then that which is partial will be done away with. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, WEB
I read an interview with the author of a book about aging. I haven’t read the book, but the main point seems to be that we spend more time worrying about our physical health, which is perishable, than we spend with our souls, which is imperishable. While it is important to keep ourselves healthy in body and mind, do we even consider whether we are keeping our souls healthy, too?
Notker Wolf says, “The soul is the ongoing identity in our life and is expressed in our body. The body may age, but the whole personality has to grow; become more mature. Our soul has to be flexible and adapt to the different situations during our lifetime. The qualities of our body may be strength, beauty, but we may also fall sick and our soul has to cope with it. The changes of our body may be a challenge, but our personality can look at them in a different perspective of values such as love or sincerity. You have to live in your body and in the same time to remain in a constant distance or reflection. The unity of both is a mystery.”
Are you becoming more mature as you grow older? This isn’t about having the ability to do adult things, or being smarter, or being more responsible. It isn’t about climbing the corporate ladder, buying the bigger house or faster car. Spiritual maturity is about trusting in God and having a deeper, fuller relationship with Him. We all face doubts and uncertainty as we journey through life, but we see those struggles with a different point of view as we become more mature. We love with a deeper love, respond more naturally to the needs of the world, and have God’s Word readily available on the tip of our tongues.
How do we get there? With prayer, Bible study, fellowship with other Christians, and worship. We get there as we hear God’s Word preached and taste His grace in the Lord’s Supper. Our bodies might be failing as we get older, but our souls will never get sick and die as long as we continue to pay attention to our spiritual health.
We have work to do in this world, so it is important that we stay healthy for as long as we can. However, let us never forget that when the body ultimately dies, the soul that has faith in Jesus Christ will live forever. Spiritual maturity won’t make that any more true, but we will face our physical death with hope and peace if we continue to grow into a deep and abiding love of God and our neighbors. One day we’ll be face to face with our Father in heaven, but even now we can see Him with eyes of faith and praise Him with our whole lives.
“My son, if you will receive my words, and store up my commandments within you; so as to turn your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures: then you will understand the fear of Yahweh, and find the knowledge of God. For Yahweh gives wisdom. Out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding. He lays up sound wisdom for the upright. He is a shield to those who walk in integrity; that he may guard the paths of justice, and preserve the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, equity and every good path. For wisdom will enter into your heart. Knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.” Proverbs 2:1-10, WEB
Martin Luther was a prolific writer. Over the decades of his ministry, Luther wrote so many expositions and commentaries on Scripture, sermons, theological writings, and other materials that a collection of his works is at least fifty-five volumes. One book in his name is called “Table Talk”; it is filled with the wisdom of Luther as remembered by the students who sat at his table and listened to his teaching. He also wrote countless letters to friends and his beloved wife Katie. Luther didn’t instantaneously tweet an answer to the criticisms of his adversaries, but instead published his answers in books and pamphlets that were read by far more than the one to whom it was written.
One of his most famous letters was written to his friend and barber Peter Beskendorf. One day as Luther was receiving a shave and a haircut, Master Peter asked him how to pray. Peter did not have a very good prayer life and Luther was known for his incredible prayer life, a deep and abiding conversation with his Father in heaven. Luther was impressed with the question. “Most of my students ask questions about deep theological ideas, but rarely ask how to grow as a Christian.” He promised to write down a few thoughts to help Peter with his prayer life.
The letter was published as the small book “A Simple Way to Pray.” (You can find it in PDF at A Simple Way to Pray.) Luther began by telling Peter to memorize the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostles Creed. Then he encouraged Peter to pray through these important confessions of faith. Peter wondered if he was supposed to just repeat the words, but Luther told him that prayer is more than reciting memorized passages. “Pray through the text.” Luther explained that he should begin by praying just one line and then pray about those words.
“In other words,” he said, “As you say the words, let your heart and mind consider what God is teaching you in those words.” He described a four step process to guide these prayers. The first step is instruction: what is God teaching in these words? Next, thank God for His grace in those thoughts. Third, confess your failure to live up to God’s expectations. Finally, pray that God will help you to learn and live the words of that text. Continue through to the next line as you have time and inclination. He insists that with each prayer to listen carefully as the Holy Spirit instructs the heart in this matter, never rushing through the prayers, but letting God guide the heart and mind into a deep abiding relationship with Him. Luther told Peter that he could pray the same line a thousand times and the prayer will be different each time.
Peter thought that his prayers never rose above the ceiling of his home, but Martin Luther told him to trust that God always hears the prayers of those who believe in Jesus Christ. The thing to remember as we grow in our prayer life is that prayer is not just about asking God for the things that we need; it is about growing closer to the God who has promised to listen and is faithful. We can spend hours studying the scriptures and discussing deep theological ideas, but the simple way to pray will help us grow as a Christian and live more faithfully in this world. That will lead us to the confidence that God indeed hears our prayers and to trust that His answers will be good, right and true.
“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Yahweh, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’ For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers. Under his wings you will take refuge. His faithfulness is your shield and rampart.” Psalm 91:1-4, WEB
A teacher once shared this story with me: “A dad who has never helped in the classroom came and spent the day with us. I was not certain what he could do to help, but I always enjoy having a parent volunteer in the class. I gave him the digital camera and had him take some pictures of our activities. He took four disks of pictures and was having a fun time with the children. As the day wore on, I could tell he was getting a bit frazzled and tired. Toward the end of the day, he came to me and said, ‘I don’t know how you do this every day. They are like a gaggle of geese milling together. They are there with you, but you never know the moment they will decide to just take off!’”
Watching a teacher as she gathers the children to do something is much like watching someone who cares for geese. She calls them to her and they come. They arrange themselves in a line to go to another place or on the carpet for stories. As this is happening, one or two always seem to take off in another direction. They’ve forgotten one thing or another. Once one goes, they all seem to take off. Then she has to call them back again. It is exhausting to watch.
Christians are like a gaggle of geese. God gathers us together to lead us on the right path, but someone always takes off in another direction. Others follow, so God must once again call us back into His presence. At times we think we know the better way. We don’t realize how much safer it is to stay close to Him.
There are times when a classroom seems to be chaotic. However, a good teacher is able to control the children even when they seem to be out of control. At times, she gives them a little space to make mistakes so that they realize that it is better to be obedient to the rules and follow the order that has been established in the classroom. The children learn and grow in her care, and they seem to always be where they are meant to be.
God Himself is the Good Teacher. He is able to keep us grounded and to draw us near to Him so that we will learn and grow in His Kingdom. At times He gives us space, allowing us to take off in the wrong direction for a moment, so that we will realize it is much better under in His presence. It is there that we will find protection. He is our refuge, our hope, our peace, and our joy.
“By awesome deeds of righteousness, you answer us, God of our salvation. You who are the hope of all the ends of the earth, of those who are far away on the sea; who by his power forms the mountains, having armed yourself with strength; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. They also who dwell in faraway places are afraid at your wonders. You call the morning’s dawn and the evening with songs of joy.” Psalm 65:5-8, WEB
There’s something about moving water, isn’t there? I love to listen to a trickling creek and to watch a waterfall as it rushes over the rocks. I even enjoy watching the waves crashing into the beach, although I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of the sand. The constancy of the running water is comforting and inspiring.
Yet, running water can also be frightening. Those who live at the beach will, especially along the Gulf Coast and Florida this year, will tell you how much damage those crashing waves can cause during a hurricane. Floods can wipe out entire neighborhoods and change the course of a river. The constant descent of water whittles away at the rock cliffs over which it falls. Water can be pleasant, but it can be frightening, too.
There is a story about King Canute who ruled over the North Sea Empire early in the eleventh century which shows his humility. It is said that his courtiers treated him almost as a god, but he knew better. According to Henry of Huntingdon’s account written in the twelfth century, Canute set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the incoming tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. Yet “continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.’” He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again “to the honour of God the almighty King.”
As with all myths and legends, there may have been some truth to the story. Canute was a Christian before he became king and he supported the Church during his reign. He built and rebuilt church, and even went to Rome. He was as much a sinner as a saint, as are we all, but he had a trust in God that manifested in an act of humility. Most of us will never go to the lengths of Canute to show our faith, but don’t we all face moments when it seems like the world is rushing at us in a way that we can’t stop? Canute’s faith was not that God would stop the waves, but that He would be there in the midst of them.
Human beings have long tried to stop the running water. We build breaks off the coast to stop the tides from damaging the shore. We build dams to stop the trickling creeks. Yet, no matter what we try to do to stop the water, it still comes. We are reminded that only God can control these things, but He is with us in the midst of them. He is our hope and He is faithful. In Him we can trust.
Scriptures for Sunday, October 29, 2017, Reformation Sunday: Revelation 14:1-7; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
“We maintain therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Romans 3:28, WEB
It is always a struggle to decide what to do when I get to this Sunday’s lectionary. I know that a majority of my readers are not Lutheran. As a matter of fact, I’m sure many of you disapprove of Martin Luther and the Reformation. Many of you may not know much about him or the impact he had on the world. Some will even suggest that focusing on a man and his movement is taking our attention from Christ and His grace.
Yet it seems almost necessary to talk about Martin Luther this year since we are celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the day when he nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the church door. The end result, unfortunately, divided Christians, but Luther’s impact goes well beyond the Church. He is often listed as one of the top ten most influential people in history, and is considered by many the most influential of the last millennium. The world was beginning to change when Luther appeared on the scene, but he was a driving force that brought many of them to fulfillment.
There were other reformers. There were other translators. There were other musicians and composers. There were other writers. The printing press had already been invented. Some have suggested that the world would be completely different without the impact of Martin Luther. One writer said that the United States would not even exist without him. I don’t think I agree. We may credit Luther with changing the world, but he would say that it was God who did it through Him. And God could have used anyone. He just chose to use Martin Luther.
Martin Luther was a monk, priest and professor. He loved God’s word and studied it passionately. He was heavily burdened by his calling, fearful of the sin he knew he had committed throughout his life and fearful that his own sinfulness could impact those whom he shepherded. He was afraid that his sin was greater than God’s grace and did not see how he could be forgiven. He spent hours in confession repeating every little thing he had ever done. Luther was at the point of despair when he sought solace from God’s word and his confessor, Johann von Staupitz, tired of his lengthy confessions. “Martin, during all the hours I’ve listened to you, I haven’t heard one thing remotely interesting.” He told Luther to come back when he’d actually done something worthwhile to confess.
All joking aside, it was Staupitz that reminded Luther of the Gospel of grace, that Christ died for his sin. Luther grasped this grace when he read the epistle lesson we always use for Reformation Sunday. “But now apart from the law, a righteousness of God has been revealed, being testified by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all those who believe.” It is by faith we are saved, not by works. Jesus completed the work of justification on the cross. Martin Luther realized that his works would never save him and that an eternity in heaven is dependent entirely on the grace of God.
Luther’s confessor was the man behind the man. No man, not even Martin Luther, can do it all by himself. Luther’s story is filled with people who worked with him to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. That was his purpose all along. He wanted people to know that they are freed by the Gospel so that they would not be burdened by the expectations and obligations of manmade institutions. He posted the Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church to begin a discussion about the abuses of the church. He didn’t want to divide the Church; he wanted to restore the Church that Christ built.
It might have gotten nowhere if the Ninety-five Theses had stayed in Wittenberg. However, the printing press had been invented fifty years earlier, so the document was published and read widely around the Holy Roman Empire, by religious and secular leaders. It even made it into the hands of commoners. A copy was sent to Pope Leo X, who did not know at that moment what an impact that meddlesome monk would have on the Church.
One of the defining moments of Luther’s life was a trip he made to Rome. He discovered that the center of his faith was a place of decadence and lack of concern for God’s people. He began to criticize the Church’s excesses and errors.
The reformers were fighting against a body that had lost touch with God’s grace. Religion was much like it was in the day of Jesus Christ, with leaders determined to keep or enhance their positions and power. It was a religion that burdened God’s people with Law, losing touch with the center of God’s salvation: the cross. They sold indulgences to raise funds to build a massive new church building in Rome and they did this by feeding the fears of hell that were held by the people. They made the people believe that the only way they would make it to heaven was to pay for it. They even offered salvation for those who had already died: family members could free their loved ones who were wallowing in purgatory by paying the right price.
Luther seemed to have found the very meaning of today's Gospel message: that when we are saved we are made free to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the world. Freedom in Luther’s perspective was not about doing whatever we wanted to do, but about being what God created us to be. He never sought division, he sought change. Unfortunately, just like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, the religious leaders in Luther’s day had no room for God’s word in their lives. And so began the building of walls between Christians that has lasted five hundred years. Yet, even as Luther was willing to risk division by speaking forth God’s grace, he longed that the Church would remain whole. We continue to live in the freedom given by God through Jesus Christ so that we can reach out to our brothers and sisters in Christ, so that someday the Church will be healed and made whole once again. If not in this life, at least God’s promises will bring us together to share the feast of victory for eternity.
Martin Luther had a reputation for being temperamental, coarse and argumentative. Some have suggested he was a chauvinist. He was a grumpy old man at the end of his rather long life; he suffered from multiple health issues which made it difficult for him to do everything he wanted to do. He was opinionated and did not understand how anyone could reject the grace of God. Though no excuse, that’s why he struggled with the Jews, one of black marks on his life. Luther, like the Apostle Paul before him, knew he was the greatest of sinners. He also learned that God’s grace is greater than his sin. That’s why one of the great mottos of the Reformation is “simul justus et peccator,” which means “simultaneously saint and sinner.”
Martin Luther was also thought to be a chauvinist, although his life indicates something much different. He was a confirmed bachelor until the Katherine bon Vora entered his life. She was his rock and in many ways his salvation. Luther was not very good at money. He should have been incredibly wealthy with the number of books he published, but he didn’t make a cent on his printed work. She managed his household, taking care of a farm, borders and his children. There was always food on the table and wood in the fireplace. He knew that he needed her, and even called her Master Kate. He loved his family and spent as much time as he could with his children. He was devastated at the death of his first daughter Elizabeth when she was just a few months old.
Luther believed in education, and insisted that every child should have the opportunity to learn. He proposed that the monasteries be turned into schools and he took the reformation into the school house walls, offering classes for boys and for girls. The schools were available for children all members of society, from the wealthy to the peasants. He encouraged the peasant parents to send their children to school so that they could learn and rise out of their poverty. As a professor, he changed the structure of the lessons, focusing more on the ancient writings and languages, focusing more on the scriptures than on the traditions and doctrines of the church. Instead of teaching the students how to acquire worldly goods as was prevalent at the time, he wanted to provide training in everything necessary for living a faithful Christian life. Children were treated as more than cattle; they were treated as the future of the Church and the society.
Martin Luther’s goal was not just a reformation in the Church. He wanted the people to be reformed as individuals. There are those who see individualism in Christianity as problematic, but Luther’s understanding is that each person is made new by the Gospel to live and serve God as God has gifted and called them to live. We don’t all have to be ordained to pray and praise God, to read the scriptures, to study and grow in faith. We simply have to love God and seek to draw nearer to Him. Oh, there’s always the problem with people misunderstanding the scriptures or making them mean what they want it to mean, but that is why Luther also encouraged Christian fellowship and community worship. We are individual sons and daughters of our Father with the same access to His grace, but we are also part of a larger body and joined together by the Holy Spirit to glorify God.
In Luther’s quest to help Christians grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ, he invited them into the conversations of theology and church. Instead of answering his critics with a typical Latin answer, Luther wrote in German, then had the works published and sold to anyone. Though the printing press existed for fifty years, Luther worked to make it a viable form of communication. He encouraged and supported printers. He helped design a format that was appealing to the masses. His pamphlets and books, often written to respond to one man’s questions, were published by dozens of printers in many cities. His work changed the publishing industry in ways that we still use today. Even our morning newspaper today was influenced by the way Luther published his works.
Martin Luther wanted God’s people to be able to read the scriptures for themselves, though most people could not read the Latin versions that were available. So, he worked at translating the Greek and Hebrew into German and published the Bible for the masses. He did not take this task on his own; he had help from others that he recognized were more knowledgeable than him. Together they put God’s word in the hands of the people. He wasn’t the first. John Wycliffe published the New Testament in English. He also argued against the hierarchy of the Church. Though he died of natural causes in 1384, he was declared a heretic in 1415 and posthumously excommunicated. His body was exhumed, his bones burned to ashes and thrown into the River Swift.
Earlier reformers, including John Hus, were martyred for saying many of the same things. Wycliffe influenced Hus, a reformer who influenced Luther. We might consider Martin Luther one of the most influential men in history, we have to remember those who went before him, encouraged him, supported him, and worked with him. He served God in many ways as an individual, but he always knew that he was part of something much bigger.
As with so many aspects of Luther’s life, timing was everything. The pope and Emperor Charles V had other concerns. The Turks were on their doorstep and the plague was a constant fear. The world was changing, and the people were restless. Sadly, another of the black marks on Luther’s life is that the Reformation led to the Peasant’s War; Luther’s teaching of freedom spurred the peasants to revolt against the nobility. It ultimately failed and hundreds of thousands of peasants and farmers were killed.
Martin Luther had such a huge impact because the timing was just right: the printing press provided widespread distribution of his message. It was a time of political, social and scientific upheaval. He had the support of powerful men, so his reforms reached far past the religious realm. He recognized that we live in two kingdoms - temporal and spiritual, an ideology that encourages justice - so that all people might work for the glory of God even when following earthbound vocations. When we do not have to buy our way to heaven, we are given the freedom to live in God’s grace today, looking forward to the promises of God that will be fulfilled in His time and way.
Despite his opposition, somehow Luther survived. Despite his health issues, Martin Luther was sixty-three years old when he died. Despite his prolific writing and success with the people, he was far from wealthy. Despite his faults, he knew the greatest gift was found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The world might still be as it is without Martin Luther’s influence, but God chose him for a purpose. God used Luther to reform the Church, to remind His people of His grace.
When Martin Luther read the passage from Romans 3, he rediscovered the foundation of the Gospel message: it is not by our works that we are saved, but by the amazing grace of God. It is so much easier for us to do good works than to accept the humbling reality that we can never make ourselves good enough to enter into the presence of God. We don’t want God to see our imperfections and we fear what will happen when He does. It is much, much harder for us to cry out to God in our imperfections because we are truly afraid of what He might say. Yet, the true path, the better path, is to cry out in faith knowing that God is gracious and merciful, full of forgiveness. There is nothing we can do to earn His grace, but in faith we can boldly approach Him with our needs. He will stop and listen. He will heal. In Him and in Him alone, we have joy and hope and peace.
In the texts for today we see a strong and powerful image of God. He is “our refuge and our strength.” We need not fear, like Martin Luther feared for himself and for his congregation, because God is a very present help in trouble. It was Psalm 46 that Martin Luther used as the basis for one of his most important works: the hymn “A Mighty Fortress.” God is always there. He is a fortress in times of difficulty and a refuge in times of need. When things are looking bad in the world in which we live, as they must have looked to Luther in 1517, we can rest assured that God is present, active and faithful.
The Old Covenant included list of laws that were required for righteousness. Leaders demanded obedience, and they made threats or bribes to keep the people in line. The leaders laid heavy burdens on the people, and the people failed. That’s why God made the New Covenant that gives the believer the faith and freedom to live according to God’s Word.
Jesus told those listening that the truth would set them free, but the Jewish leaders didn’t understand what he was talking about. “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How do you say, ‘You will be made free’?” They relied on their heritage; they relied on Abraham and Moses for their salvation. But since they could not keep the Law perfectly, they would always fail to live up to the expectations of that Law. Jesus said that whenever you sin, no matter how small or insignificant, you are a slave to sin. This is what Martin Luther discovered when he was trying to confess himself into salvation.
The New Covenant gives us a new attitude; it changes how we look at God’s Law and God’s Word. In faith we respond to the call of God. The Old Covenant, which comes from outside, is replaced with a covenant that comes from inside. The Law still has a purpose, in that it helps us to see that we are in need of a Savior. When we hear the Gospel, God’s Word is placed in the heart; faith is given so that the believer can act out of love rather than fear or greed. We are no longer burdened by that Law, but we are set free by faith to live out God’s Word in the world.
This life of grace is what Martin Luther discovered as he searched the scriptures for relief from his burdens. He longed to be freed from the fear, guilt and pain he experienced when he recognized himself as the sinner that he was. He knew there was no way he could be good or enough for the gifts of God. His fears threatened to affect his ministry, because he thought his lifetime of sin would invalidate the work he was called to do in the church.
Then he found the grace of God, that unbelievable truth that the work of salvation is not dependent on man but rather on the mercy of God. When we realize that we are sinners, in need of a Savior, our whole world is turned upside down. We are set free from the burdens of the law so that we might live to the glory of God in His grace no matter who we are. This is what happened to Martin Luther when he read Paul’s words to the Romans, “We maintain therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”
“For this cause, I remind you that you should stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control. Therefore don’t be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner; but endure hardship for the Good News 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 to us in Christ Jesus before times eternal, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Good News. For this, I was appointed as a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this cause I also suffer 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 to him against that day. Hold the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.” 2 Timothy 1:6-14, WEB
Paul was Timothy’s mentor. They began their relationship when Timothy was a young man. He had been raised a Christian by his mother and grandmother, though his father was Greek. Paul was, for this young man, a spiritual father. He welcomed Timothy as a member of his traveling group, encouraging him in his faith and showing him the model of Christian life and ministry. I can imagine that the boy had many questions and needed a knowledgeable male role model to guide him in the right path. Paul was there for him.
As Timothy grew in maturity and understanding, Paul challenged Timothy to a more active role in the ministry. Timothy was no longer an observer, but was given responsibilities and opportunities to use his gifts for the sake of the Church and the world. We never know everything, but there comes a time when our mentors have to let go and let us do what we can do. Sometimes we make mistakes, but we learn and grow and we do better the next time around.
Eventually Paul made Timothy more than a mentee; he became a partner in ministry. I suspect this is the most difficult thing a mentor can do for their student; we prefer to remain on top. However, it is important that as we mentor new Christians into faith and ministry that we remember we are training a new generation to continue what Jesus and the Apostles began two thousand years ago. Paul made Timothy a partner so that he could take over when Paul could no longer provide ministry to the Christian community.
How difficult must it have been for Timothy to see his mentor behind the bars of a prison! No matter how educated Timothy was in ministry, the time came for him to go off on his own. Paul’s letter encourages him to remember everything he was taught, to have faith and to go do what he was called to do. That didn’t make the reality any easier. Paul told Timothy earlier in the chapter that he remembered his tears. Those tears were probably shed for multiple reasons. Timothy must have been afraid; his mentor was now in prison. What would happen to him? Prison is never pleasant, so Timothy was probably sad for his spiritual father, friend and co-worker. Timothy might have been experiencing some uncertainty. Could he do what Paul did? Could he really continue the work of the Gospel without his mentor?
Paul knew this and sent Timothy this letter to encourage him. There was surely still a tendency to think that suffering was a punishment from God; he couldn’t understand how this man who had done great things could be undergoing such an experience. Where was God? Paul told him not to be afraid, and reminded him that God can use hardship for the sake of the Gospel. “For this cause I also suffer these things,” he said.
They say that the Christian Church is always one generation away from extinction. I suppose there is truth in that statement, expect that the process of mentoring others in faith has gone on since Jesus, the Apostles and Paul. Paul taught Timothy. Timothy taught others until those who shared the Gospel with us began to pass it onto this generation. The key to this process is to keep it going. We are called now to mentor others into faith and ministry. We are to take them on as spiritual children, challenge them to do the work and then let them go out on their own to begin the process all over again. We will face difficulties, but that’s why we pass it on. Most of all we must remember that whatever failings we have, God can, and will, continue to work in this world. So, let us hold the pattern of sound words which we have heard from those who came before, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. We can do so with the assurance that God is able to guard His Church into the next generation.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they watch on behalf of your souls, as those who will give account, that they may do this with joy, and not with groaning, for that would be unprofitable for you.” Hebrews 13:7, WEB
October has been Clergy Appreciation Month. I have seen some delightful posts from some of my pastor friends of the kind things their parishioners have done for them. There have been gifts and luncheons, words of encouragement and even a plaque or two. It has been a time to thank our pastors as they work in a vocation that often seems thankless.
Some might think that a pastor’s job is easy. After all, they only work an hour or so a week, right? That’s not even remotely true. Being a pastor is a 24/7 job. They put hours into planning that hour a week when we come together to worship our God. They study the scriptures so that their messages are not only relevant to our lives, but so that they are biblically founded and true to God’s Word. They are available for us at our moments of deepest need, answering the phone at insane hours in case a parishioner is sick. They bury our dead and comfort those who grieve. They advocate for those who are dealing with difficult situations. They counsel people with troubles in their relationships. They take upon their shoulders the burdens of our sin and struggle with the emotions of those to whom they are ministering.
On top of the spiritual work they do, they are often responsible for mundane tasks around the Church. Most pastors can tell you about days they’ve been on their hands and knees cleaning up overflowing toilets and sitting late at night at their desk pouring over budgets. They order materials, lead preschool children in worship, attend committee meetings, outreach to the community and pray for every one of their sheep.
A pastor once told me that a council member once had an issue with his record of work. The pastor had recorded all his home and hospital visits, the hours spend preparing a sermon, the community gatherings at which he represented the Church and other work that he did. He included the number of hours in prayer. The council member was shocked. “Shouldn’t you pray on your time?” he asked. No, the truth is that praying for the flock is one of the most important jobs of a pastor. Not only does it take their needs to the One who will hear and answer, it also tightens the bond between pastor and parishioner. Our pastors share everything with us, our grief and joy, our hopes and doubts, our assurance and our fears.
They need us as much as we need them. October is a good month to celebrate our pastors because it gives them the strength to help them through the upcoming season. We don’t realize how busy they are through Advent and Christmas, not only with extra services and social engagements, but also with the struggles of life. More people die at this time of year. More people struggle with emotional issues, suffering from depression and loneliness. It is a time when God’s people need guidance so that they will make the right decisions about resources and relationships. They carry our burdens throughout the year, but the burdens of the next few months tend to be especially heavy.
While it is good for us to appreciate our clergy during this month, let us never forget that they are there for us all year long. Don’t wait until October to pray for them, to thank them, to surprise them with something that will brighten their day. Also, remember that they have a hard job, perhaps one of the hardest of all. They are responsible for so much more than a twelve minute sermon on Sunday morning. Be compassionate, merciful and full of grace; they are carrying the burdens of the world on their shoulders. Be careful about how to deal with them so that they can glorify God and do their work with joy.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30, WEB
Religion is often referred to as a journey, as a quest for God. Yet, even the most inexhaustible travelers must take time to rest. You can’t go on a trip for weeks at a time without planning time to rest and do nothing. When traveling to Europe, most Americans will fill every minute of every day. Yet, in the end they never really enjoy their time because they have not really taken the time to see or hear anything along the way.
This is how it is with many people who are on the journey of faith. They are constantly on the go, trying to fill every moment with God, and yet they never really take the time to know the God they are chasing. Their devotional time is limited to a brief reading with a scripture quote they rarely look up in the Bible. Their prayers are constant, more like popcorn popping than conversation. They think about God, but don’t spend much time listening for Him to speak to them. They have a list of Bible quotations to get them through every moment, but never really know what God is saying in those texts.
You have seen the lists; you may even have one tucked inside your Bible. Are you worried? Read Matthew 6:19-24. Are you lonely? Read Psalm 23. Are you traveling? Read Psalm 121. Are you bitter? Read 1 Corinthians 13. Your lists may have similar or different quotations, but they are all designed to help us trust that God will get us through. Yet, I wonder if they aren’t just a temporary solution, a popcorn prayer that doesn’t really give us the kind of rest that God promises.
Martin Luther was certainly a man on the go. He was the first ever best selling author in history, having written many books and pamphlets, some of which have been translated into dozens of languages and are still selling well five hundred years later. He traveled extensively, and not like we do today. He walked from Erfurt to Rome, an 800 mile trek over the Alps in the cold of winters. He exhausted himself with work in his parish and at the university. He micromanaged every step of the publication of his books, concerning himself with every detail including font and illustrations. On top of this, he had a family and a congregation who needed him.
It sounds like Martin Luther couldn’t possibly have time to see or hear anything along his journey of life and faith, but somehow he managed to find time to seek God’s Word in the scriptures and in prayer. Everything he wrote was founded in God’s Word, and it is there he looked for consolation during his times of trouble. Martin Luther didn’t rely on a single text for when he was worried, lonely or afraid. He didn’t look for a temporary solution to his troubles. Martin Luther was always on a quest to grow into a deeper and fuller relationship with his God.
He had a list, but it wasn’t a list of random quotes to get him through this moment or that. He read the entirety of this list, which goes through a progression beginning with a reminder that those who do God’s work will be persecuted and ending with the assurance that God does more abundantly for us than we can imagine to His glory. In between are reminders of the work we are to do in our faith journey, reminders that God is our refuge and that He takes our burdens. Wait! Be glad! The Lord is near! These are all promises we would do well to be reminded of daily. The list also shows that God will forgive through Jesus Christ. A few texts that don’t make sense at first because they seem cruel and out of God’s character remind us that His enemies will be defeated by their own foolishness. God will guard those who are not ashamed of the Gospel.
Each of those texts (listed below) might fit certain moments of need, but Luther read through the entire list because it tells the whole story of God’s love for His people and the work He does for their sake. We are consoled not by a quick verse here and there, but by the entirety of God’s promises. That’s the way to find rest in God’s Word, to give up our burdens and trust in God through our journey of life and faith.
Passages with which Martin Luther consoled himself: 2 Timothy 3:12; Philippians 2:12, 13; John 10:17,18; Matthew 16:18; Psalm 46:1,2; 1 John 4:4; Psalm 55:22; Psalm 27:14; John 16:33; Luke 17:5; Psalm 32:11; Psalm 145:18–19; Psalm 91:14–16; Sirach 2:11; 1 Maccabees 2:61; Matthew 6:31; I Peter 5:6,7; Matthew 10:28; Romans 4, 6; Hebrews 5, 9; 1 Samuel 4:18; 1 Samuel 31:4-8; 1 Samuel 2:30; 2 Timothy 2:17-19; 2 Timothy 1:12; Ephesians 3:20, 21
“Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom.” Galations 5:19-21, WEB
I have to admit that I’m a bit of a humbug when it comes to Halloween. It was once one of my favorite holidays. I had fun decorating, creating costumes, trick or treating. When I was younger, I pulled some pranks on my neighbors, such as tic tacking (throwing field corn at the windows). I used to love visiting haunted houses, and I even helped design a few over the years. It is still a very popular holiday. More and more people are decorating their lawns as they do at Christmas. There are orange twinkle lights and props of every sort available to create your own autumn wonderland.
My attitude has changed significantly over the years, as I grew closer to our Lord Jesus Christ. I came to realize that Halloween was about death and evil. Witches and demons are not cute even if you make them cartoons and put a smile on their faces. Death is never something to celebrate, particularly the wicked and violent death portrayed in the costumes and decorations that are for sale in the stores. Halloween has become the second most popular holiday and this is evident as you visit the retail stores and drive through the neighborhoods. People are creating graveyards in their gardens and have ghosts hanging from their trees.
How do we, as Christians, deal with this holiday? It is nearly impossible to avoid. Most schools have some sort of party with costume contests. In our last school, the children were required to create a costume based on a storybook character and they had to write a report about the book. It was good that they made the fun into a learning experience, yet there was no way to avoid it for those who preferred not to be involved in the holiday. The children enjoy dressing up, visiting their friends’ houses and getting treats. Is it necessary for us to avoid these things to be Christian?
I never struggled, as some, with the pagan roots of the holiday. I always enjoyed seeing the children in their cute little costumes, like the little girl princesses and the boy firemen. As an artist, I loved the more creative costumes, like the girl dressed up as a box of raisons or the baby whose stroller was decorated to be a race car. I love to see those who work around disabilities and the adults who get into the fun with their own costumes. I like the recent trend of ensuring there are treats available for those who might be allergic to the nuts or dies in candy. The lessons of generosity and creativity can be very good for children to experience.
However, these days I tend to turn off my lights and hide in the back of my house because we live in a neighborhood where car loads of kids are dropped off to fill their bags with more and more candy. I loved to share with a few dozen kids, but I don’t enjoy long lines that end up on my doorstep. How do you plan for hundreds of kids? I once ended up giving each child just one Tootsie mini so that I’d have enough candy for all the children. Most of the kids don’t even seem to be having fun. They are in such a rush to get to the next house that they barely have time to say “Thank you.” They have no problem showing their disappointment when they don’t like the candy they are given. And too many try to take more than their share.
The text for today gives us something to think about on this day of Trick or Treating. Besides the obvious vice of witchcraft that is listed in these verses, there are several that are particularly appropriate to discuss on Halloween. Perhaps our children have nothing to do with sexual immorality and drunkenness, but not just a few are guilty of others.
The word that is translated “lustfulness,” is aselgeia, which means, “lack of self restraint.” How many times have we watched children push each other out of the way to get to the door of the next house first? Hatred is from the Greek word, “echthra,” which means “hostility, in opposition, or hateful.” Many of the costumes and activities revolve around evil, bringing people to a state of fear. Even in good humor, this is a hateful thing to do. Paul finishes with “things like these.” This covers just about every other example of acts by a sinful nature. How about gluttony? The children stuff their faces with candy. Greed? “Just one more house, Mom!” And pride? “My costume is better than yours.”
I like to have fun and to pretend. I may still go out and buy treats to hand out to children tonight. But, as we celebrate this day, let’s teach our children that fear and excessiveness is not the appropriate way to have fun. Remind them to be considerate, to be thankful, and to enjoy themselves. Remind them in this night of darkness to remain faithful to the Kingdom to which they belong.