Welcome to the October 2019 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 2019
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time, casting all your worries on him, because he cares for you. Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Withstand him steadfast in your faith, knowing that your brothers who are in the world are undergoing the same sufferings. But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:6-11, WEB
I was reading an article today that began with the story of an airplane that experienced unexpected difficulty early in the flight. The pilots responded as we all respond to sudden stress, with words that aren’t fit to print here. It is a natural reaction, but the actions the pilots took next were not usual. Most people, when facing a crisis, get confused or fearful; we become freaked out and we don’t know what to do. We can’t think straight because our brains want to over-react to the situation. We don’t want to respond in this way, but our physiology leads us to see the crisis through our fear and confusion. Our heart rate goes up, our breathing becomes erratic and our blood pressure rises, making it difficult for us to accurately understand what is happening. We are likely to see the crisis as chaos and respond accordingly.
Those who deal with crisis situations are trained in how to reverse the normal human reaction so that they can become calm and see the situation through a composed mind. By controlling heart rate, breathing and blood pressure, those first responders can diagnose the situation and respond with order. The pilots on that airplane might have at first said those unprintable words, but they quickly recovered and did what was necessary to save the lives of the people on that airplane.
We aren’t as good at calming ourselves in times of crisis, even though we rarely find ourselves in life and death situations. How do you respond when something goes wrong? How do you handle those moments when things just aren’t going according to plan. What happens after that initial “Oh ****”? Do you become composed or do you over-react? There are many reasons why we might respond as we do. We might have other stresses that are magnified by the crisis. To others our response seems ridiculous, but our health, our financial situation, our relations will affect how we respond, even if the crisis is really not a crisis after all.
There are so many things for us to worry about these days. In western society, we face the struggles of drugs and violence, worrying about our children every time they walk out the door. We worry about disease, pollution, and poverty. We are anxious about the decisions we make and how they will affect our lives and the world around us. In our personal lives, we are concerned about our health, finances, family and friends. We experience suffering of all sorts, emotional and physical. What crisis are you facing today? A sick friend? A busy schedule? A lost relationship? The wrong job?
We each have anxieties which are part of our day to day living. Overreaction is not healthy for us, and cause greater strain on our physical and emotional health. Even more, our worries place great strain on our spiritual health. When we allow our flesh to rule the moment, we risk giving a place to the devil to lead us down the wrong path. We need to face the fact that each of us will experience moments of crisis and we need to prepare ourselves by learning how to remain calm in the midst of chaos. When we are ready to face the stumbling blocks, we will be able to make the right choices and use our heads rather than our emotions to solve the problems.
God knows we are human and that our flesh will become freaked out when we face situations that are out of our ordinary. Stress of living in a fallen world will stretch the limits of our sense of calm. He does not expect us to go around laughing gaily at every moment in the midst of pain and suffering. However, it is important that we do not let these moments make us so anxious that we give a foothold to the enemy. We are to keep our eyes focused on God and His amazing grace, remembering that we are not the only ones who are suffering. Our calm might just help us find a good solution to the problem rather than creating more chaos. Keep in mind the great men of the Bible, such as Joseph and Job: they faced incredible hardship, stayed faithful, and were restored to a greater glory. Our greater glory is life in Christ Jesus, now and for eternity. Keeping our eyes on Jesus will help us to stand firm in our faith and tell the devil to take a hike.
Lectionary Scriptures for Sunday, October 6, 2019, Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 62; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:1-10
“My soul rests in God alone. My salvation is from him.” Psalm 62:1
I make prayer beads. One type of beads is called the “Wreath of Christ” that was developed in 1995 by Swedish Evangelical Lutheran bishop emeritus Martin Lönnebo. These beads have eighteen beads, each set identical and each bead with a specific meaning. The beads follow our relationship with God our Father, from Creation and baptism, through temptation and hope, the love we receive and the love we share, confession and the promise of forgiveness. There are six beads that are called the beads of silence, which are meant to be moments when we stop to listen to what God has to say.
After all, prayer is a conversation with God, although most of our neighbors would probably call us crazy if we started talking as if we’d heard the audible voice of God. We think about these conversations being one way, or strictly spiritual. We “hear” God in the scriptures. We “hear” God through His creation. We “hear” God in our worship and fellowship with other Christians. We don’t usually “hear” God with our voices. I have had an experience or two that I believe I heard God’s voice, and perhaps you have too, but we rarely “hear” Him speak during our daily prayers. We must remember, however, we don’t hear Him if we don’t take the time to listen.
It seems that the people in the Old Testament were much more likely to hear His voice. Adam and Eve had a personal relationship with God, who walked and talked with them in the Garden. God spoke to Abraham and invited him to move out of UR toward the Promised Land. He spoke to Noah and his sons, Job and his friends. Moses heard Gods voice on Mount Sinai. Jacob, David, and Solomon as well as so many of the prophets had personal encounters with God.
As a matter of fact, the book of Habakkuk is a conversation between God and the prophet which serves as an oracle for the people of Israel. The oracle was a burden for any one person. Habakkuk’s response is whiny, he cries out to God about His slow response to the injustice in Israel. “How long?” he begged. Habakkuk was speaking for all the righteous in Israel who had waited so long to hear God’s answer to the wickedness in His people. Habakkuk simply could not understand why God was allowing evil to rule in the world. He did not understand why God was not disciplining His people so that they would turn back to Him.
Sound familiar? How many of us have cried out with the same sense of wonder at the delay of God’s justice? We are frustrated by the suffering we see in the world, uncertain how God could seem to have no concern for His people. Habakkuk knew that the people had sinned against God, but he also knew that God could cause them to repent. He asked, “How long?” because he wanted to know how long it would be until God brought His people to repentance. We wonder the same thing sometimes. We are impatient for God to make things right.
Habakkuk may have had good reason to go to God in desperation over the people of Judah. They were truly unfaithful, declining in morals and spirituality rapidly. They were violent and disobedient. He was probably a contemporary of King Josiah, so he saw the same degradation of God’s people. Josiah’s story is not well known, but can be found in 2 Kings 22. “He [Josiah] did that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes, and walked in all the way of David his father, and didn’t turn away to the right hand or to the left.” Josiah rebuilt the Temple and restored the right worship of God. During the restoration, the High Priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law and they realized just how far God’s people had fallen. During the reading of the book, Josiah tore his clothes and sent men to ask God about the words in the book. He knew that the wickedness of Judah would bring the wrath of God. For his faithfulness, Josiah died before Judah fell so that he would not suffer the consequences of their sin.
Habakkuk is not mentioned in this story, but he was likely one of those who went to pray to God. The book records that private conversation between God and the prophet. Habakkuk lamented over the wickedness of God’s people. “Why don’t you do something?” God answered, “I’m already working on this problem.”
The solution, however, was not a very pleasant one; as a matter of fact, it was shocking. God was preparing the Babylonians to discipline the people of Israel. Habakkuk was upset by this answer because he could not understand how God could use an even more ungodly nation to do such important work. Here is the burden that Habakkuk suffered: to see the future of His people, a future that would include pain, exile and more injustice. This is not pleasant for anyone to hear, but prophets are often burdened with visions of things they would rather not see. God’s answer was not what Habakkuk wanted to hear, but God assured Habakkuk that this was just the beginning of the story.
God works in His own time. We look around us and see a world that is full of injustice and suffering and we wonder when God will bring change. God answers our cry with a promise, “Though it takes time, wait for it; because it will surely come.” God had not forgotten His people, and though Babylon would bring Israel to her knees, that nation would also see God’s justice. Israel would be restored. God knows what He is doing and He knows the time. We only know a see a small part of God’s plan and we are called to trust that God does know what He is doing. We do not want to wait, but that is why we live by faith. Our faithful and faith-filled response to God’s grace is trusting that He will do what is right when it is right.
Things weren’t much better in the early days of the Church. Today’s Epistle lesson was written during a time of great persecution of the Church, not only from the Romans, but also the Jews. It was written from prison; Paul was arrested a second time. This imprisonment was far more difficult. Instead of being confined to house arrest, he was kept in a damp, dark dungeon. He was near the end of his life and he knew it. He was concerned for his friend and for the Church. Heresy grows more quickly under persecution, because it tries to meld together ideas from other religions to make them more acceptable to the non-believers. Those who claim to be believers will conform to the ways of the world around them as a way to avoid suffering; they justify and excuse these ideas to keep believers from risk.
Timothy learned about faith from his mother and grandmother. They brought him up in a Christian home, but the lessons learned as a child are often difficult to uphold as we get older. This is especially true in a time of persecution. The life of faith can dwindle under a burden of fear and when we are vulnerable we can fall for the heresies that sound good to our ears even though they do not stand up to God’s word. This is why Paul encouraged Timothy and reminded him of the faith which he was given, a faith built on Christ. Following other teachings might sound good; they might be less risky and seem better than the sound teaching given to us by our forefathers. But this can bring us to destruction; heresy leads us away from God’s grace, away from the treasure which we have been given. There is no need to fear the persecution that might come because God’s grace gives us a spirit of power and love and self-discipline.
The Gospel lesson begins with one of the most difficult commands of Jesus. Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, tell him and if he repents, forgive him. Do this over and over and over again, as necessary.” I can imagine how they must have responded to this statement. “No way, Jesus, how can I do this?” We can find a way to forgive once, but how can we forgive seven times? Or seventy times seven times? The perpetrator has obviously not learned their lesson. Then they asked, “Increase our faith.” Jesus answered their request with the impossible idea that a tiny bit of faith could do the miraculous. He answered their appeal with the command to do what they are called to do, to be His servants.
In a sermon on today’s Gospel lesson, St. Augustine said, “We must believe, then, in order to pray; and we must ask God that the faith enabling us to pray may not fail. Faith gives rise to prayer, and this prayer obtains an increase of faith. Faith, I say, gives rise to prayer, and is in turn strengthened by prayer... Mark the apostles: they would never have left everything they possessed and spurned worldly ambition to follow the Lord unless their faith had been great; and yet that faith of theirs could not have been perfect, otherwise they would not have asked the Lord to increase it.”
Jesus said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you would tell this sycamore tree, ‘Be uprooted, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” What is the object of faith in this verse? Is it the sycamore tree? Is it the person having faith? No, the object of our faith is God. If we have faith in God the size of a mustard seed, we will see amazing things happen. With faith in God we will trust that He knows what is happening and then we can continue to forgive. Faith means giving God control. It means even giving God control over those things that have harmed us.
Talk about moving mountains! The point of this passage is not that you only need a little faith to do the miraculous: it is that faith can’t be measured. All too many are quick to assume that if we can’t make a mulberry tree leap into the ocean that we do not have enough faith. However, faith is not something that can be measured. Nothing we do is enough.
The Bible tells us that we can’t serve God and mammon at the same time. We also can’t trust in ourselves and God at the same time. Either we live in faith or we don’t. Either we trust in God or we trust in ourselves. God used the Babylonians to get His people’s attention. They should have been blessed for their obedience to God’s will, but they didn’t trust in God. They trusted in their own strength and in the end their power was taken away.
Note that in this Gospel lesson, Jesus begins by addressing the disciples, but that it is the apostles who ask for greater faith. It is not hard to imagine that the apostles thought of themselves as men of power and authority. They had been with Jesus for some time; they had experienced His power and seen His forgiveness in action. They had even done the work themselves. Yet, they lacked the confidence they needed to continue His work. They were putting much, too much, trust in their faith and they were looking for some sort of glory. In this passage, Jesus teaches us that we are neither to measure our faith or our good works. We are simply to do as the Master has called us to do and trust that God will take care of the rest.
What is it that God has called us to do? We are called to forgive. Forgiveness is not dependent on whether or not we trust that our brother will not hurt us again. Jesus says, “If he comes to you and repents over and over again, forgive him every time.” We can’t put our faith in people, they will always fail. Only God is worthy to be the object of our faith. We can trust that He will make it right no matter how wrong it seems. Lord, increase our faith!
Henry Melchior Muhlenberg died on October 7, 1787. He had been born in Germany in 1711, became a pastor by the time he was thirty and was sent to the New World to help several struggling German Lutheran congregations in Pennsylvania. Henry came to America in 1742 and he immediately set to work. The work was difficult because the congregations were unorganized and confused. Henry worked with his congregations, established a solid constitutional model and reached out to other Lutherans. His impact reached as far south as Georgia and as far north as the Hudson. He asked for more pastors to be sent and he organized the first Lutheran Synod in America. He reached beyond his own little corner of the world, communicating with other Lutherans and other religious bodies. He spoke several languages, so was often invited to preach and speak to fellow Christians.
He impacted the world in which he lived and the church which he loved but his legacy went beyond his own lifetime. Most of his eleven children made names for themselves in the Church, politics, the military and education. He is remembered in the Lutheran church on October 7th. His life was not easy. He traveled extensively to preach and to assist his colleagues with disputes. He had to fight heresy and stubbornness, ignorance and persecution. He stayed neutral during the American Revolution, which did not sit well with either side of the battle.
Henry Melchior Muhlenberg is known as the father of American Lutheranism because it was he who established the organization that brought together the German Lutherans who were struggling to survive in the New World. Though Lutherans aren’t necessarily known for missionary work or church planting, Henry Muhlenberg did exactly that; he was a missionary and church planter. By the time he died he had helped establish dozens of congregations and helped bring many trained pastors to lead the congregations. He also helped train colonists to be strong and informed leaders in their congregations.
Throughout his time in America, he never lost touch with his home and the people who had trained him in Germany. They supported his career and helped him with funds and with people. He fought the good fight and God made great things happen through him. Our passages this week have faithful men crying out to God, “How long, O Lord?” and “Increase our faith!” I wonder how many times Henry Melchior doubted his ability to accomplish the work God had sent him to the New World to accomplish. We are reminded in this week’s lessons that we do not know the whole story. We can not see what God has in store for us or for the world. We can only go forth in trust and hope knowing that God is faithful. When we cry out “How long?” or “Increase our faith” we do so from the humble position of being a servant.
The psalm begins with a confession of faith: “My soul rests in God alone. My salvation is from him.” It may seem as if God is not answering our prayers, and we lament in what we see around us. “How long, O Lord?” we ask. Yet faith means trusting that God is already at work, answering our prayers even before we cry out to Him.
The Psalm ends, “Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.” This sounds like great news until we begin to think about what we have done. Have we earned our place at the Master’s table? Have we done more than the work He has called us to do? Have we shared His Gospel message of forgiveness with the world? If we are honest with ourselves, the answer is “No.” We don’t deserve that place at the table. The Good News is this: we don’t have to earn it, Jesus has. He has not only made us a guest in His house, but He has made us brothers and sisters. We are no longer strangers or foreigners, but children of God.
Habakkuk needed encouragement. It didn’t come as he expected or hoped, but by the end of the conversation with God, he knew that God was at work among his people. In the end everything would be made right. The psalmist sought encouragement for God’s people suffering under the hands of their oppressors. Paul wrote Timothy to remind him to stay on course and do what he’d been taught to do. The disciples needed Jesus to increase their faith. God provides us all we need, if only we are willing to listen to what He has to say.
We may face persecution, heresy and other problems that will take perseverance and trust. We may have to forgive over and over and over again. Our strength is in God’s grace, not in our abilities. As we take on the work of Jesus, sharing God’s love and mercy with all, we won’t always understand what God is doing. But He is faithful and He knows the purpose for which we have been sent.
We are called to holy service, sharing the love and forgiveness of Christ with the world. The news we have may not sell, but it is Good News. Most people don’t want to hear that they should forgive others. We would rather know that our enemies will suffer for their sin. We forget that we are sinners, too, in need of the love and mercy of God. But we are given God’s grace through Jesus Christ so that we will experience that grace and then boldly proclaim that God will make everything right, even when it seems impossible.
“Now I beg you, brothers, look out for those who are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and turn away from them. For those who are such don’t serve our Lord, Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and flattering speech, they deceive the hearts of the innocent.” Romans 16:17-18, WEB
We sometimes when roller skating when the children were small. In the beginning, our son wore toy skates, which were specially designed with safety features for the little ones. One day he wanted to wear real skates, so we allowed it. He needed to get used to the weight of the skates and the fact that the wheels moved freely. He was not afraid as he carefully moved on to the wooden floor of the skating rink. He did, however, stay very close to the wall to which he clung with every ounce of his strength so that he might stay on his feet.
With a huge smile on his face, Zack skated back and forth along that wall. He slipped often and fell to the floor occasionally. He always stayed near the wall, using it for support, guidance, and security. At first he clung to the wall as if his life depended on it, but as he grew more confident on the skates he loosened his grip even though he stayed close. He kept trying because he had the confidence that the wall would be there to hold him up. I stayed near him, just on the other side of the wall. I was there to give him a hand when necessary, and my presence was an encouragement to him.
The time came for him to set off on his own. One trip down the wall, without warning, he turned the corner and headed around the rink. I stopped him a moment and said, “Zack if you keep going, you will have to rely upon yourself and the wall, are you ready?” He was ready. So, off he went. As he rounded to the other side of the rink, I was waiting at the spot where there was no wall, to offer a hand in that moment of weakness, and to give more words of encouragement. I was there for him, but it was important that I let him go. The more he focused on my presence, the more he wavered and fell.
Vicki did not understand this concept. When I asked her to keep an eye on him in those areas where that were beyond my reach, she became like a mother hen hovering over her charge. She was not yet a good skater, so her constant attention and help were more of a hindrance to both of them. She caused him to fall many times, and he was unable to get up when she tried to lift him.
Jesus Christ is our wall. In the beginning, we go out into the world clinging as if our lives depend on Him. They do, but as we grow in faith and mature in our knowledge, our hold becomes more controlled and confident. We come to the point when the presence of the wall is enough to give us the security we need to keep moving forward. Unfortunately, mature Christians often try to become the “savior” in their role as teacher. They have been charged to help new Christians become mature in their faith. Yet, as they hover over their charges, they are teaching reliance on the wrong things, and cause everyone to fall.
As you go out into the world today, rest secure in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is your wall, and that He is always faithful. He will hold you up at those times when you slip. And beware of those teachers that cause you to stumble, for their focus is not on the Lord, but on themselves. Jesus Christ is the only one who can truly keep us on our feet.
“Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens! From the lips of babes and infants you have established strength, because of your adversaries, that you might silence the enemy and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man, that you think of him? What is the son of man, that you care for him? For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor. You make him ruler over the works of your hands. You have put all things under his feet: All sheep and cattle, yes, and the animals of the field, the birds of the sky, the fish of the sea, and whatever passes through the paths of the seas. Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8, WEB
St. Francis of Assisi was a kind and gentle being, known for his charm that could sooth even the most savage beast. Most people are familiar with this saint; many even have statues of him in their gardens. Today is his feast day and many churches will hold special services for the blessing of the animals.
St. Francis is remembered for his simple life of poverty, but he was not always poor. He was born the son of a very wealthy merchant and his mother may have been from a noble family. He was spoiled as a child, given everything his heart desired. As a young man, he lived a life of pleasure. He wore fine clothes and fully immersed himself in the lifestyle of the rich and famous. He was a soldier who sought victory and honor. He enjoyed the wealth of his father and the opportunities his position provided. One day, however, he began to dream and have visions, hearing a voice that guided his life. Eventually he devoted his life to service to God, giving up everything for the sake of his new love. His was described as having “wedded Lady Poverty.” He devoted his life to serving the poor and sick; he founded an order of monks devoted to a rule of obedience, poverty and chastity.
Francis’ life seems more like that of Adam before the creation of Eve, unmarried and lonely except for the animals, but Francis gives us an image of the most important relationship in our life, that which is between God and man. With God as the husband and St. Francis as His helper, he is the embodiment of what God intends for the Church, a loving entity that is concerned about the care of God’s creation and God’s kingdom.
Some of the historians that have told the story of St. Francis have included stories meant to reflect the life of Christ in the life of Francis. This is true of many of the saints; the stories are exaggerated to give the saints a fuller and more Christ-centered life. Francis was known to have experienced stigmata which are visible wounds on the body similar to those of Jesus received during a period of intense prayer. He hid the wounds until his death, not wishing the fame that might come from those who would pilgrimage to see this miracle. His radical poverty, itinerant nature and selfless servant-hood are certainly reflections on the life and love of Christ. In that life of obedience, poverty and chastity, St. Francis was able to experience the deep and loving relationship between Father and son, between husband and helpmate, between God and man that shines God’s grace throughout the world.
The psalmist asks, “What is man, that you think of him?” Who are we that God is willing to establish not only a relationship between Himself and the world, but also between people so that no one will be alone. In the Garden of Eden, God made us the crown of His creation and gave us the authority to rule over it. This does not mean simply the farmer’s fields and the domesticated animals, but the entirety of God’s creation. Despite this calling, we have to remember that we are limited by our humanity and we may never really understand many things that will continue to lie beyond our reach.
Despite our inadequacies, God has given us the most incredible gifts. We have the ability to reach beyond what we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch so that we might understand the bigger and the smaller world around us. The fact that we can see an atom or visit the moon is a gift from God. The fact that we can make friends with the animals, and sooth the savage beast, is a blessing. God has given us dominion over these things, to care for it and to use everything in His creation for His glory.
“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. He prayed to Yahweh, and said, ‘Please, Yahweh, wasn’t this what I said when I was still in my own country? Therefore I hurried to flee to Tarshish, for I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness, and you relent of doing harm. Therefore now, Yahweh, take, I beg you, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.’” Jonah 4:1-3, WEB
Jonah was in a sticky situation. He had a unique relationship with the LORD because he was a prophet. A The prophets were called by God to speak His Word to the people. This is a tough job because no one really wants to hear God’s opinion about things, especially since the prophets often had to speak warnings and condemnations. Living in obedience is a tough task; God’s expectations are much different than the world. Jonah didn’t mind preaching to his fellow Hebrews, but he wasn’t interested in preaching to the pagans, especially since those pagans were his enemies.
God knows His plans and does not really care about our opinion about His work. Sometimes He sends us to do the very thing we do not want to do. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. The people of Nineveh were evil and violent. The prophet Nahum addressed their actions, which included plotting evil against the Lord, cruelty and plundering in war, prostitution and witchcraft and commercial exploitation. God commanded Jonah to go tell these pagans to turn from their wicked ways and to warn that if they don’t repent then Nineveh would be destroyed. Imagine Jonah’s feelings at this moment. He knew his enemy should be destroyed, but God wanted to give them one last chance.
Jonah had no interest in helping his enemy, so he tried to run away. He took a ship to Tarshish, but you can’t hide from the LORD. He knew where Jonah was hiding. The LORD sent a great storm that nearly killed the crew; they discovered that Jonah was to blame they did as he said and threw him into the sea. A great fish swallowed Jonah and for three days he prayed. He vowed to be obedient to God and promised to preach to the Ninevites. When he arrived in Nineveh, Jonah proclaimed the word of God and the Ninevites believed. They fasted, mourned and repented. The king took off his royal robes, put on sackcloth and sat in the dust. When God saw that they turned from their evil ways, He had mercy on them and spared their city.
Can you imagine Jonah after they repented? Talking to the Lord, Jonah whined, “I knew it, I knew you’d never go through with giving them what they deserve. You have too much love and hope and mercy. So, I figured I’d help by keeping the truth to myself and not telling them how good and wonderful you are. That way you could still pass judgment on my enemies.” But God knew their hearts and He wants none to die. When they heard the word, they were immediately transformed and God withheld His anger.
Has God commanded you to speak the truth to an enemy? Who is your Nineveh? It could be a neighbor or a co-worker. It could be a family member who has hurt you in some way. Perhaps you are called to preach to a civil or religious leader, or even a whole community. Will you answer the call or will you try to run away? It is easy to preach the Gospel to those who already believe and extremely difficult to give your enemy a way out of their fate. It isn’t our place to decide who will be saved. When God speaks, go and do. The consequences of disobedience could mean three days in the belly of a great fish. But the blessings of obedience are life for all who hear.
“He also spoke this parable to certain people who were convinced of their own righteousness, and who despised all others. ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this: “God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men, extortionists, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” Luke 18:9-14, WEB
In his sermon about this passage, Martin Luther described the Pharisee as a great and holy man, at least according to the understanding of the world. He did everything right. He followed all the rules. He honored God as he was supposed to. His neighbors could see his righteousness by his words and actions. He wore all the right clothes and appeared in all the right places. The tax collector, however, was the worst of the worst according to his culture, not even worthy to be part of the community.
In His parable, Jesus turned their worlds upside down. The perfect holy man was brought down and the imperfect sinner was lifted up. What did Jesus see in these men? In the Pharisee, Jesus saw someone that relied on his own righteousness. He stood before God boasting about his greatness. The tax collector, however, saw the reality of his sinfulness and humbled himself before God. He sought God’s mercy and because he did so, he received it. The Pharisee didn’t think he needed God’s grace, he thought he was worthy of God’s praise because he didn’t recognize his own sinfulness. The tax collector confessed his sinfulness and praised God for His grace.
Martin Luther said, “The pair - sin and grace - are against each other, like fire and water. Grace does not belong where there is sin, but wrath and punishment belong there... This is the preaching of the dear Gospel of God - grace and mercy in Christ, which is proclaimed and offered to condemned sinners without merit of their own.”
I thought Luther’s comparison is interesting. Fire and water are against one another for sure. Water is used to put out flames, especially those that are destructive. Isn’t that what grace does? Doesn’t grace come and put out the flames of sinfulness, covering the penitent sinner with Jesus’ righteousness, baptizing them with His Word and transforming them into people of God. Those who stand on their own righteousness, boasting before God, do not know the relief and the comfort of God’s forgiveness that raises us up without any help from our own works. It is only by grace we are saved, and those who recognize this truth will become the children of God.
Scriptures for Sunday, October 13, 2019, Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Ruth 1:1-19a; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:1-13; Luke 17:11-19
“Praise Yah! I will give thanks to Yahweh with my whole heart...” Psalm 111:1a, WEB
I like to watch the baking competitions on television. I am always amazed how those contestants can think of their project and complete it in the limited amount of time they have on the show. The final task is usually very complex, a job that would take a baker many more hours, even days, to finish. They often require some very specific equipment which is always readily available. I’m sure the kitchens are filled with all sorts of interesting kitchen gadgets, but the supply seems endless. I was thinking last night that they must have some warning about the tasks they will be asked to do because they are always prepared no matter what they decide.
The reality is that reality TV is not quite as improvised as they make it seem. On one Halloween show, the pumpkin carver always knows which pumpkin he wants even before they supposedly give the theme. How would he or she know that would create the perfect centerpiece if they didn’t have some idea what they needed to create? This lack of improvisation is true of all reality TV. The contestants are more like characters and they are expected to act according to this personality. It might be true to their real, but it is exaggerated to make good television. We also have to remember that while we get just forty-four minutes in an hour of a contest that has taken at least a day to film. The shows are so well edited that you see only what the producers want you to see.
It is still amazing to think that these contestants can create remarkable displays in such a short period of time. There is usually a disaster or two, but the bakers can usually overcome their problems and make something that looks and tastes wonderful. They can do this not only because they are prepared, but because they have practiced. They have learned their craft through hours of work and research. They could not have even been chosen to appear on the show if they had no experience.
I recall a variety show I saw a few years ago with the theater department at the high school the kids attended. There was so much talent: singers, dancers, and comedians. The group also did short skits and monologues. They even had a section where they did improvisation. I was impressed with their quick wit. The second night of the show, however, I realized that the improv was not really ad-lib, but was well rehearsed. The things that seemed to be coming out of the imaginations of the actors on the spot were actually carefully written and memorized. I suppose that is why the kids were so good; they made everything look so easy.
The reason the kids knew their roles were because they practiced. They went over their lines daily, they worked with the other actors and actresses over and over again. They made sure that everyone had the right timing and that they all understood the cues and staging. Each actor needed to know more than their own lines, they needed to know the whole skit. They needed to know the lines that led into their lines and the actions of the other actors. Otherwise it would just be a confusing mess.
Paul’s letters are filled with repetition. Though each letter has a certain purpose and is written to a certain situation, there are some things that remain consistent. In every letter Paul shares God’s grace with the reader. In many of the letters Paul restates the story of Christ, reminding the readers of God’s salvation through Jesus. Though it may seem redundant to tell people over and over again to “Remember Jesus Christ,” He is the center of our faith, so it never hurts to be reminded of the work accomplished through His death and resurrection.
We love to hear the story, over and over again, but sometimes we would prefer to hear only parts of it. We love Christmas because the story of His birth in the manager is beautiful and peaceful. We love the story of the Resurrection because it is in that story that we see the victory of God and the life we have by faith. It is uplifting and inspirational to know that God did that for us. We know how Jesus got to that point. We know the cross. We even accept that the cross was the way to true life. Yet, we do not want to talk about death. Paul reminds us that the story of Christ includes death, not only His death but our death in Him. We die with Him and we live with Him.
This is not something that comes easily to us. Though we live by faith and trust that God has done this great thing, we don’t fully understand how death brings life. Sometimes we try to explain away the things we do not understand. We take the story of God and make it sound better to our ears and to the expectations of the world around us. Yet, by taking away the grace found in the death of Christ, we deny what God has done through Him for us. This causes confusion, even bickering about the Gospel. This makes it more difficult for the world to know Jesus, to come to faith and to receive the gift of true life.
It takes practice. It takes study. It takes daily immersion into the grace of God to stand firmly in that which we trust to be true. Living by faith is not something that we can ad-lib. It is not something we can do by improvisation. Paul reminds us to be ready to rightly handle the word of truth so that we might share it with others.
Living the life God calls us to live is not easy. Sometimes we have to make choices that seem counter to what we should be doing. It takes commitment to keep our hearts and minds on Jesus, to follow Him as He would have us go, to do what is right in His Kingdom. It takes work to know God so well that we will do what is right even if it seems like we should be doing something different. The psalmist writes, “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. All those who do his work have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” That’s the difference we see in two of the characters in today’s readings.
Orpah is one of those obscure figures from scriptures. We are very familiar with her story, but she gets lost in the telling of Ruth’s story. We talk about Naomi, her troubles and her bitterness. We talk about Ruth, her generosity and courage. We barely mention Orpah, the one who went home. I suppose we see her as the opposite of Ruth, perhaps a little greedy despite her love for her mother-in-law.
And yet, what Orpah did was not wrong. As a matter of fact, she was obedient to her mother-in-law’s wishes. Naomi was a widow with no sons. She had no means of support. She wanted to return to her homeland where she might find generous relatives who would take her into their home. It wouldn’t be right for her to demand they also take in her daughters-in-law. Besides, the women were Moabites, and though her sons married them while in Moab, the girls would have difficulty finding husbands in Judah where marriage to foreign women was more firmly denounced. Naomi was being kind and generous by telling them to go home to find a new life. Orpah wept in grief about leaving, but she did so out of respect for the woman she’d grown to love.
We have a similar situation in the story from the Gospel. We again have what seems to be opposites: nine lepers leave Jesus to go to the Temple while one stays with Him. The nine did what was right according to Jesus’ word and the Law. We are quick to dismiss the nine because they didn’t go back and say “Thank you” to Jesus, but they did what they thought they were supposed to do.
Jesus commanded them to go to the priests and they all went in faith. I wonder what they were thinking as they left Jesus. It was proper to show yourself to the priest when you were cured of a disease, but they had not yet been cured; it was only as they were leaving that they were cured. Nine of the lepers continued to the priests, doing exactly as expected according to their religion and society, then they disappear from the story. Did they go straight to the temple and offer their sacrifices? Did they stop at home to hug their wives and kiss their children before taking their thanksgiving and praise to God? They were thankful, I am sure. The miracle saved their lives. They could return home, work and live as a normal person again. It probably saved the lives of their families who suffered along with their loved one who had been outcast. Their world was returned to them and their thankfulness was displayed in a return to the normal course of life. This is not a bad thing.
Orpah and the lepers did what was right, even obedient, but we see in Ruth and the tenth leper something more.
Ruth followed Naomi, who was probably not very good company. Her bitterness made caring for her difficult, but Ruth willingly went into the fields to glean so that they would survive. Ruth’s love and generosity made a difference to Naomi, and in the end Ruth also found love, a future, and offspring, including her great grandson David and ultimately Jesus Christ. It might have been frightening to go with Naomi, but God had plans for her life. Orpah may have had a wonderful life, but Ruth was greatly blessed by her choice to follow. She experienced the blessing of relationships, not only with Naomi and her family, but with a husband, children and God.
Jesus told the lepers to go to the priests. Like the nine, the tenth leper, a Samaritan, headed that way, in hopeful expectation for healing. Along the way they all were healed. The nine continued in joy, but the Samaritan returned to the One who made him clean. The ten lepers were all healed physically, but only one sought out the true healing. When He praised God, Jesus gave him far more. He was made whole: physically and spiritually. Jesus is concerned for both our physical and our spiritual well being. Jesus changes people from the inside out, granting them forgiveness and filling them with the love of God, bringing them back into a relationship with their Creator. It is that relationship that makes them whole.
Do we respond to God’s grace with a word of thanksgiving before going on to our normal lives or are we changed forever by what God has done? That was the difference between Ruth and Orpah, the nine lepers and the Samaritan. Those who trusted in God were changed; they were made new. When they turned to God, they began a life of faith. What is faith? I often define faith as trust in God, and yet is that definition deep enough? What does it mean to trust God?
Faith is not blind. The psalmist confesses his faith in the presence of an assembly, and he does so by recounting the wonderful things God has done. He praises God by referencing the works of His hands. “Yahweh’s works are great, pondered by all those who delight in them. His work is honor and majesty. His righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wonderful works to be remembered. Yahweh is gracious and merciful.” The psalmist knows that we need to hear the story over and over again so that we can see God’s hand even when it is not obvious. Unfortunately, God’s people often forgot the great and marvelous things He had done and they did not recognize Him when Jesus came in the final and most incredible act of mercy. The tenth leper saw the truth; they others did not recognize the presence of God and they went to do what was expected. They had faith in their actions rather than in the One who could really make them whole.
Paul wrote, “Remember Jesus Christ.” It is not enough to confess faith in God. Our entire faith rests on Christ and His work on the cross. We cannot be saved in any other way but through Him. “For if we died with him, we will also live with him. If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we deny him, he also will deny us. If we are faithless, he remains faithful; for he can’t deny himself.”
Timothy was a believer for as long as anyone could remember, having been raised by Eunice his mother and Lois his grandmother. They taught him, planted the seeds of faith and prepared him to follow the vocation to which God had called him. Paul continued to teach him everything he would need to know, mentoring him into a pastor that would serve God and the people of Ephesus. Timothy heard the story of Jesus over and over again so that he would remember and stay true to the truth.
Unfortunately, the people of Ephesus were deceived by the Gnostic heresy, and they had no respect for Timothy. There were those in the congregation who even held Paul in contempt. Since Timothy was so young, they thought it would be easy to turn him into the kind of preacher they wanted him to be, teaching the heresy that tickled their ears. Paul wrote to encourage him to stand firm in the Gospel, to teach the Word as he’d heard it from Paul, even if it was hard to make the stand. He had a very specific job to do: God called him to teach the truth, not to conform to the desires of the world.
Paul encouraged Timothy to believe the word he spoke and to continue to follow it. Paul had to justify himself over and over again, first as a converted Pharisee, then as a man who was constantly persecuted for his work for the Gospel of Christ. He was in prison when he wrote this letter, and it would have been natural for his adversaries to use his suffering as proof that he was not a reliable apostle of Christ. Paul continues his encouragement by reminding Timothy that suffering does not mean God’s Word is untrue. Though Paul suffers, God’s salvation is real. So, Paul charges Timothy to take that message to the people, the message that Christ is faithful even when we are faithless.
We usually focus on the idea of thankfulness when talking about the Gospel lesson for today. However, we can look at it from a different point of view in the context of the rest of the lectionary. Ruth took the hard road and she was blessed. Timothy took the hard road and he was blessed. Who do we think took the hard road in today’s Gospel lesson? Was it the nine who went to the Temple to show themselves to the priests, even before they were healed, or was it the one who turned around and fell at Jesus’ feet in worship?
It might seem like the one took the easy road. He didn’t walk all the way to the temple or face those who would question them about the healing. He didn’t provide thankofferings. We consider the nine as unthankful because they didn’t worship Jesus, and yet they did exactly what He told them to do. When He said “Go” they went even before they were healed. They trusted that Jesus’ word was true and that they would be healed. They did what was required of them according to their law. We should be heralding their faithfulness.
We don’t, however, because we know that they did not need to seek forgiveness or absolution from the temple priests; they could find everything they needed in Jesus Christ. The one who turned back took the hard path, because it was the path that went against the expectations of the world in which he lived. He died to self and turned to God. And in doing so, he was blessed beyond measure. The other nine were healed, but he was made well.
Here’s the rest of the story: like Ruth, the one leper who turned to Jesus was a foreigner. Jesus was passing along the borders of Samaria and Galilee. There is always more diversity in The Galileans were from Judah; the Samaritans were from the Northern tribes that had been Israel. The differences between the people were largely political; there were some religious differences, but in many ways the ordinary people related to one another on a human level. Yet, among those who were strictly observant of the Law, the Samaritans were unclean because they had a history of syncretism (accepting and trying to meld together opposing and conflicting belief systems), allowing the worship of other gods in their communities. These differences did not matter much to the lepers. They were all outcast, all unclean. They all stood at a distance from Jesus, respecting his position not wanting to make him unclean. They all sought mercy.
The easiest relationship in our lives should be with God, but it is the hardest because we have to turn away from everything we know to follow Him into the unknown. Ruth did it. Timothy did, too. The leper from Samaria saw the work of God in Jesus’ words and he humbled himself before the One who does great things. He revered the One who can heal, who changes lives. He found life and forgiveness and wisdom at the feet of Jesus.
Christians are thankful to God, even for the little things; we are thankful for their daily bread and for life today. We are all eternally thankful for our salvation. We voice our thanksgiving in worship and when we are sharing our blessings with others. I don’t know any Christian who would not feel joy and peace in singing the words of today’s Psalm.
Even those in our stories who did not follow God must have had some sense of thankfulness. Orpah must have been thankful for the time she had Naomi’s family; the nine lepers were thankful that they had been healed. Even the Gnostics of Timothy’s day must have had a sense of thankfulness for their life of faith. Yet they all were distracted in one way or another from seeking the one true God. We will endure and experience the salvation of Jesus Christ when we trust in God and live in awestruck faith in the God who has done great works.
We are truly thankful. We do sing God’s praises along with the psalmist. We even turn to Him, fall down at His feet and glorify Him in worship. The question we ask today is how are we responding to God’s grace? Are we like Orpah who did what was expected but missed the opportunity to find blessing in Naomi’s God? Are we like the nine lepers who did their duty but missed the real blessing of being in the presence of God? Or are we like Ruth and the Samaritan who by turned to God by faith and received the greatest gift of wholeness and peace.
Do we just receive God’s grace or do we make it our own? Do we respond to God’s grace with a word of thanksgiving before going on to our normal lives or are we changed forever by what God has done? Jesus cares about our physical healing, but He is more concerned about our relationship with God. This is something that comes to us by grace, but then it takes a lifetime of continuing to hear the story and remember the great works God has done. It takes practice for us to hear God’s voice and to follow Him where will experience the greatest blessing.
The world only expects so much from us, and we are even patted on the back when we give up on lost causes. Our Lord Jesus Christ expects much more. He wants us to be like Ruth, Timothy, and the leper, willingly following Him everywhere He goes. Jesus wants your whole life. Are you willing to follow Him through everything?
“Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be given to you. For with the same measure you measure it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38, WEB
I know that human beings have been sinful since Adam and Eve rebelled in the Garden, and that we have the tendency to do what will benefit our own lives before we will do what can help our neighbor. How many of us have thought we should donate to a food bank but have looked in our pantries and bank accounts with the fear that we might not have enough for tomorrow? Sometimes we really have no reason to fear; too many of us look at pantries full of food and think that there is nothing to eat. We are human. We are sinful. We are greedy. We are selfish and self-centered.
While the above is true, we also have the ability to be kind, gracious, and loving. After all, when God finished His creation with the crowning achievement of mankind, He called His work “very good.” He surely knew, even from the beginning, that we would fail to live up to His expectations, but He has never abandoned us. He even provided a way for us to be saved. Yet, that innate goodness He gave to us in the beginning is within every person, Christian and non-Christian alike. We all manage to do good works, and though those works are never the source of salvation, they are ways by which God can make things better for others in the world.
We see it happen, don’t we, especially at times when there are very obvious needs, like after a natural disaster. Our neighbors will quickly text a ten dollar donation to help with hurricane relief. They’ll drop food or toys in the collection boxes at the store for the holidays. They’ll take a casserole to a friend who is dealing with loss or illness. There might be truly greedy people who think only of themselves, but most people will do acts of kindness when there is a visible need in the world. Unfortunately, we don’t always see the need.
I read a story about a classroom of kids who proved how acts of kindness can come about organically. It began one day when a young man found a dollar bill on the floor of the classroom. He thought about keeping it, but knew the right thing to do would be to turn it in to the teacher. The teacher told the boy to tape it to the white board and hopefully the owner would find it. My first thought as I was reading this was, “Some kid will claim it for themselves, even if it isn’t theirs.” I was wrong!
Another student saw the dollar and asked why it was there. They were still waiting for the owner to claim it, so the teacher answered, “I don’t know.” The second student taped another bill on the board. Over the next few days, students wondered about the money, heard that the teacher didn’t know, and decided to get in on the action. Dollar bills were taped on the board, and then one day someone decided to tape a larger bill. A few others showed up. Eventually there was nearly $200 there. None of those kids thought to steal the money, they just kept giving. The teacher realized that she needed to find a good purpose for those funds, and told the students that she would be donating it to a charity. The amount nearly doubled in the next few days.
Those kids are surely not saints. Some of them might even be troublemakers. I doubt that they are all Christian. We can’t possibly know what motivated them to join in the collection. I suspect that for some of them it was merely a game. And yet, when they finally were given a purpose for the good work, they came through all the more.
The thing that we, as Christians, need to remember is that the salvation through faith by grace is meant to lead us to a life where our acts of kindness are not so random. We are to be more purposeful with the gifts God has given us. Instead of only responding when there is an obvious need like a natural disaster or a friend’s suffering, we should be constantly listening to God’s voice and sharing His grace with those who need Him. We can be like the boy who did what was right in the beginning by turning in that dollar bill. Our actions might just lead to an outpouring of love and charity that was never expected, glorifying God by revealing the heart that God intends for the people He created. We might just find that our life will be even more blessed by those acts of kindness we do for others.
“Now I desire to have you know, brothers, that the things which happened to me have turned out rather to the progress of the Good News, so that it became evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my bonds are in Christ, and that most of the brothers in the Lord, being confident through my bonds, are more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even out of envy and strife, and some also out of good will. The former insincerely preach Christ from selfish ambition, thinking that they add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the Good News. What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed. I rejoice in this, yes, and will rejoice.” Philippians 1:12-18 (ASV)
Frances Ridley Havergal was a hymnist who lived in England in the nineteenth century. She wrote such songs as “On our Way Rejoicing” and “Take My Life and Let it Be,” as well as dozens of others. One, “Another Year is Dawning” was written as a New Year’s poem for her family and friends. The words of the song came to have much deeper meaning for her that year.
As it turned out, Frances was waiting for word from America that a book she had written was doing well. It was the first book she had published for the American audience and she was excited about the future possibilities. When a letter arrived in the mail, she thought it contained her first of many royalty checks. Instead it had bad news. The publisher had suffered bankruptcy and would not be printing her book. This was not only the end of this opportunity, but the publisher held a promise that she would go to no other publishers with the book. She would not know fame, wealth or influence by being an author in the United States.
Erwin Lutzer once asked, “Have you ever thought that our disappointments are God’s way of reminding us that there are idols in our lives that must be dealt with?” Frances was looking forward to the possibilities that might come from America. Yet, she wrote to a friend, “I have just had such a blessing in the shape of what would have been only two months ago a really bitter blow to me...” She found grace in the disappointment and hope in the words of her poem. “Another year is dawning, Dear Father, let it be, In working or in waiting, Another year with Thee; Another year of progress, Another year of praise, Another year of proving Thy presence in all the days.”
Paul did not have an easy life ministering for the Lord in this world. He spent many years imprisoned for his faith, unjustly bound in chains because of those who were afraid of the Gospel. Yet, no matter what he did or where he went, God was glorified in his circumstances. It must have been a disappointment for Paul to be imprisoned, for in chains he could not go out and do the work that God had called him to do. Yet, Paul did not let the disappointment stop him from sharing the Gospel. Even in prison, Paul continued to minister, sharing Christ with his captors. He rejoiced in his suffering because he knew that God’s grace was visible even through the lives of those who persecuted him.
Frances quickly overcame her disappointment and looked for God’s grace in the situation. Perhaps her desire for fame, wealth and influence in America had become an idol to her. Though she may not have been a success as she had hoped, her hymns glorify God in our assemblies as we worship God through the words she penned to praise His name. No matter what we do or where we go, there will be situations that cause disappointment because they aren’t as we hoped. For Frances, the publisher’s failure blocked her plans. Paul’s troubles came from the jailers and those troublesome preachers whose motives were false, yet he rejoiced that God was glorified even through his suffering. It is my prayer that God will bless each of us with similar strength, that our hope and peace will grow stronger even when things do go as we hope.
“Listen, islands, to me. Listen, you peoples, from afar: Yahweh has called me from the womb; from the inside of my mother, he has mentioned my name. He has made my mouth like a sharp sword. He has hidden me in the shadow of his hand. He has made me a polished shaft. He has kept me close in his quiver. He said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’ But I said, ‘I have labored in vain. I have spent my strength in vain for nothing; yet surely the justice due to me is with Yahweh, and my reward with my God.’ Now Yahweh, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, says to bring Jacob again to him, and to gather Israel to him, for I am honorable in Yahweh’s eyes, and my God has become my strength. Indeed, he says, ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel. I will also give you as a light to the nations, that you may be my salvation to the end of the earth.’” Isaiah 49:1-6, WEB
I have a friend who is traveling the Camino de Santiago in Spain this month. She was having a difficult day yesterday and found herself sitting in the pew of a Spanish church. Though she struggled with understanding the language, she was able to hear enough to be comforted and encouraged. The priest pointed out the pilgrims, my friend was not the only one, and suggested that his parishioners should look to them as an example to step out in faith. We aren’t all call to do a pilgrimage like the Camino, or to travel to a foreign land as a missionary, but we all have opportunities to take the love of God into the world.
Today is Columbus Day, the day we remember this great man, and yet our understanding of him is flawed. I read an article this morning that gave an entirely different perspective on the work of Christopher Columbus that I’d never heard. The article was originally written in 1992, but was reposted recently. It talked about Columbus’ motivation for his incredible adventure. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. We learn in school that he was searching for spice, wealth, and proof that the world was not flat. He believed that he could reach Indies by going east instead of west around the southern tip of Africa.
What he found was a new world and gold. He is credited with discovering America even though he never stepped foot on the Continental United States. We think of him as successful, yet he died a broken and bitter man. There are many today who would rather forget Christopher Columbus and have even suggested changing the name of the holiday to honor those whose lives were destroyed by his discovery. Of course, Columbus was not the only one who came to the New World; we can’t blame him for everything.
Columbus made several more trips to the New World. He set up trading posts, established a colony and was governor of that land. Unfortunately, conditions were very harsh and he was incapable of leading the people. After his first trip, a group of thirty-nine men volunteered to stay on La Navidad as Columbus returned to Spain to report what they had found and to prepare a larger group to establish a colony there. By the time he returned, the thirty-nine men were dead. They did not live according to the expectations of Columbus, abusing the natives and stealing from them. They did not live according to the expectations of the God for whom they were on a mission.
See, what we don’t learn about the adventures of Christopher Columbus is that he was on a missionary trip. He had a heart for God; he was determined to take Christ to the world. He also had a mistaken understanding of the end times and he was trying to find enough gold to pave the way to a new Crusade. He believed that Jerusalem belonged to Christ and he wanted to finance the restoration of the city, to take it away from the Muslims who dwelt there.
He failed in every way. He could not lead the people in a way that honored the Christ he loved. The people became discontent and eventually shipped Christopher home to Spain in chains. Though he found great wealth and success along the way, Christopher Columbus died penniless and forgotten. He knew all along something we never hear, that he was a sinner. He wrote in his journals, “I am a most unworthy sinner, but I have cried out to the Lord for grace and mercy, and they have covered me completely. I have found the sweetest consolation since I made it my whole purpose to enjoy His marvelous presence. For the execution of the journey to the Indies, I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps. It is simply the fulfillment of what Isaiah had prophesied...”
He believed he was called and sent to share the love and mercy of Christ. Unfortunately, he chose men who did not have the same heart. They took advantage of the people on La Navidad and their lives were ended for their sinfulness. As for Columbus, the quest to do what he believed to be right led him down a path that was truly filled with sinfulness. He became greedy, perhaps not as we understand, but in his quest to accomplish his mission in the world. Rather than serving God, he followed a path that did not glorify Him.
The article I read came from a site that supports church planting movements all over the world. The concern with Columbus’ adventure was not what we remember today, but what went wrong with his missionary work. His missionaries were not prepared. They weren’t trained. Most of them were probably not even intent on taking the Word of Christ to the people in the New World. Despite his misunderstanding of his calling in life, seeking gold to fight the Muslims, Christopher Columbus always remained true to his passion, which was to establish the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in the world. He didn’t ensure that his mission was God-centered, but allowed human sinfulness to ruin the work he was trying to accomplish.
He was a man of great vision and of equally great failures. Unfortunately, we remember today the failures and we do not see him from the point of view of his faith. The truth is, every great person in the Bible had similar failures alongside their accomplishments. God is able to use fallible, sinful humans to do great things. Christopher Columbus may have never set foot on land that became the United States of America, but his work led to the colonization of the Western Hemisphere as a bastion of vibrant Christianity. The Latin American places where he first visited more than five hundred years ago are now centers from which modern missionaries are spreading out to the rest of the world to take the light of Jesus Christ to those who are lost in the darkness. Someone has suggested that, “In spite of all the tragedy that resulted, the discovery of the new world, was above all the triumph of Christianity.”
Christopher Columbus, the saint and sinner, stepped out in faith. We may not have the opportunity to do a pilgrimage or to travel to a foreign land, but we all have opportunities to take the love of God into the world. God will give us what we need, but let us be prepared to do it right. We, too, are saints and sinners, called to step out in faith, to be a light to the nations, to share God’s salvation with the world.
“Yahweh looks from heaven. He sees all the sons of men. From the place of his habitation he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions all of their hearts; and he considers all of their works. There is no king saved by the multitude of an army. A mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain thing for safety, neither does he deliver any by his great power. Behold, Yahweh’s eye is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his loving kindness, to deliver their soul from death, to keep them alive in famine. Our soul has waited for Yahweh. He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in him, because we have trusted in his holy name. Let your loving kindness be on us, Yahweh, since we have hoped in you.” Psalm 33:13-22, WEB
The Gospel lesson in the lectionary last week was the story of Jesus and the ten lepers. I always seem to focus on the idea of thanksgiving in that text, which is not an unusual focus as the text is also sometimes used for Thanksgiving Day.
I have been reading a book called “A Year in the Gospels with Martin Luther,” which is a book filled with his sermons based on the lectionary scriptures throughout the church year. The one I am currently reading is on that story from Luke. One particular statement really struck me as I read last night. “So faith stands at a distance from God, and yet runs and calls to Him, for it confesses the basic truth that it is unworthy of His kindness and has nothing on which to depend, except His highly renowned and praised kindness.”
We often think of that moment when Jesus came across those ten lepers as a chance encounter, but there is no such thing in the Kingdom of God. Every meeting Jesus had was a divine appointment, a time for God to touch the lives of those He meets and everyone who they meet thereafter. The woman at the well was not a chance encounter. Why did Jesus sit there while the rest went into town? Did they need so many to pick up lunch? No, but Jesus wanted to be alone so that He could touch that women’s heart and the city in which she lived.
Jesus went out of His way to meet the ten lepers. He was on His way to Jerusalem, but instead of taking the direct route, He took a long circuitous journey from Capernaum to Samaria to Galilee to Jerusalem. He was always moving toward the cross, but He kept divine appointments along the way. He was in that marketplace on that day so that those lepers could voice their prayer for His help. They didn’t know He was coming, but He knew they were there. They recognized their unworthiness but had the faith to seek His grace.
The psalmist reminds us, “Our soul has waited for Yahweh. He is our help and our shield.” This is what it means to have faith. Patience may be one of the most difficult traits in our age of instant gratification, but we are called to live in faith trusting that God will be faithful. Jesus is waiting to meet us at our well or He is headed toward the marketplace where we can cry out to Him in faith. We might not understand His timing or His way, but faith means knowing we are unworthy while trusting that we can depend on His kindness.
Scriptures for Sunday, October 20, 2019, Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Genesis 32:22-30; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from Yahweh, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2, WEB
We aren’t very good at waiting for God to make things right, even when He has promised to do so. We see opportunities to get things done, so we do them, forgetting that God has a plan. Then we find that we are caught up in a situation that is not what God intends and we struggle. The best example of this is Abraham and Sarah, who did not wait for God to fulfill His promise of children, and we are still struggling with the animosity between Isaac and Ishmael today in the Middle East and around the world.
I see this happen on a much smaller scale in the small court cases that are shown on the television court shows. Renters will often withhold rent because they are unhappy with the conditions in their apartments. While there are times when this is a valid way of dealing with the situation, most times it just causes bigger problems in the end. Instead of giving the landlords the opportunity to make things right, the renters take matters into their own hands and end up paying even more when they are taken to court. They could have tried to work things out, but instead create animosity and more trouble for everyone.
The story of Jacob is another one of those stories. He was born under a promise, but human impatience and uncertainty got in the way of God’s fulfillment of that promise. Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebecca, a twin whose brother was named Esau. They wrestled with each other even in the womb. Esau was born first; Jacob followed closely, grasping the heel of his brother’s foot. The boys were completely different. Jacob was a handsome and quiet young man, the opposite of his rugged brother who hunted the wild game their father loved. Esau was favored by Isaac, Jacob by Rebecca. God had promised Rebecca that Jacob would inherit the promises, and they took matters into their own hands to ensure that the promise would be fulfilled.
One day Esau was so hungry when he returned from a hunt, he willingly sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. When Isaac became old and he knew it was time to grant his blessing on his firstborn, he called Esau to his side. He desired one last taste of the wild game he loved. While Esau was hunting, Rebecca and Jacob ensured Jacob would receive the blessing. Jacob dressed in fur so that he would smell and feel like his rugged brother, then served Isaac a meal. Isaac gave Jacob the blessing thinking it was Esau. Esau came home and served his father the game he had prepared. When he asked for the blessing, they realized the blessing had already been given to Jacob. Out of fear for what Esau might do, Rebecca begged Jacob ran away.
Jacob fled from his family and the threats, separated from all he knew and loved. Even though he had been given the blessing of his father, he must have felt very alone. He had nothing of his own and was running for his life. He even left behind the God of his fathers. Yet, he was not alone; the Lord God Almighty was with him every step of the way. Jacob was the heir to a promise, the same promise God gave to Abraham and Isaac, and God is always faithful.
Jacob is an interesting, though not very likeable, biblical character. He struggled with his brother Esau over the blessing of Isaac and his inheritance. He had struggled with Laban over the woman he loved. He had struggled with his wives, their maids and the children they gave him. Jacob wrestled with his fears, his doubts and his place in the story of God’s people. The promises for Jacob were clear from the beginning, but he did not trust God. The voices that guided him did not trust that God is faithful. He lied and cheated and inflicted revenge on those who lied to and cheated him. He manipulated things to his benefit and ran away when the going got tough. He played favorites and served himself.
Jacob is not totally to blame. Though he took the birthright from Esau, Esau gave it away for a bowl of soup. Rebecca helped him steal the blessing. It seemed to her that it was necessary to do so that God’s promises could be fulfilled. He worked seven long years for the right to marry Rachel and Laban tricked him into taking Leah. Laban tried to take advantage of Jacob, cheating him out his rightful pay. He took matters into his own hands. In every situation, the actions seemed justified by the idea that they helped bring about God’s purpose for Jacob. However, every time we take matters into our own hands, we show our lack of trust in God. We think that God needs our help for Him to be faithful.
During the years that he was gone, Jacob had built a dynasty for himself. He had wives, servants, children and great wealth. One day he heard the voice of God; He told Jacob to go home. He was afraid, but he obeyed. He sent a message to Esau announcing his return and Esau answered by coming to meet him with an army of hundreds. Still afraid and doubting God’s promises, Jacob divided his people and possessions into two groups, hoping that if Esau destroyed one group the other group would survive. When Jacob stopped to rest, he felt the presence of God and realized that God would be with him wherever he went.
He prayed. He prayed a prayer in which he recognized his unworthiness, confessed his uncertainty and reminded God of His promises. On the night before he faced his brother, he had to wrestle with his own doubts. To be reconciled to his brother, Jacob first needed to overcome all that had kept him from living as God had intended. He was a sinful man who had to face his greatest sin which was his lack of trust in God. Everything he did against men he did against God, because it was his way of ensuring that God’s promises would be fulfilled. Before he faced his past and began his future, he had to face his God.
Jacob was about to meet with his brother Esau with whom he had been fighting for his entire life. God’s promises were wrapped up in that relationship and instead of trusting God to be faithful, Jacob had taken control. It was necessary for Jacob to wrestle with God, to understand that God is in control of his life and his destiny. He had to give himself to God, to be humbled in His presence, to recognize his own mortality before he met with his brother. He had to trust God.
Being patient and trusting in God does not always mean passive waiting. It means coming face to face on a regular basis with the God who is preparing us for what He has promised for our lives. Sometimes we have to wrestle with Him, to struggle with our unworthiness, our uncertainty, and our understanding of God’s promises.
That’s what the widow in today’s Gospel lesson shows us. I have often considered her similar in character to a pesky five year old. Those of us with children remember that age. Do you recall the floor plan of the Toys ‘R Us stores? They always put the diapers and formula in the back of the store, ensuring that mothers dragging young children through the aisles would be assailed by displays of the hottest new toys. Grocery stores do the same thing. They put the milk in the back and strategically place the things that interest children so that they will pester their mom until she gives up and gives in. The cash registers are filled with candy and toys so that Mom has to endure being trapped in that space while the child cries out for something.
Children can be very persistent. They can ask, plead, haggle, deal, cry and beg. It takes the most unfaltering mother to keep saying “No” over and over again. Sometimes our response is just like that of the judge. We decide to give in because we know that the child will simply wear us out if we don’t. Sometimes we do so out of frustration or embarrassment. Sometimes we do so because we want to bribe the child. Sometimes we give in because we realize that they deserve a special treat. There have been times when I have weighed and measured the choices. Would it be better at this moment to teach the lesson that we cannot have everything we want or is this an opportunity for grace?
The judge had no fear of God or concern for men. He had ruled against the woman time and time again. Her opponent was probably a more powerful person, probably a man. The woman could do nothing for the judge’s career or for his personal fortune. It would not pay him to rule in her favor. Perhaps he had received, or expected to receive, a nice bribe from the widow’s adversary. We do not know the story behind the appeals. She was a widow, perhaps a woman who had lost everything when her husband died. She was probably left with no means of support and as a widow, a woman, she had no authority. She may have had no one to stand up for her. She was alone and she really had no choice. She had to fight.
Her fight was to appeal to the judge’s sense of justice. Though he was a man who had no fear of God and no regard for humans, he did have a sense of his position. Her constant appeals were not only annoying, but they would have called her plight to the attention of the community. We read verse five in the sense of a mother giving in to her pesky five-year old, “yet because this widow bothers me, I will defend her, or else she will wear me out by her continual coming.” The translation does fully convey the intent of these words.
The Greek word used here means “to strike in the eye” or “to give a black eye to someone.” In other words, this judge who was a man of power and authority recognized that the weak widow could do damage to his reputation and his future. He saw that even though the widow had no wealth to pay him or power to secure him a better position, she could destroy his reputation in the community and make his job more difficult. He gave in to her cries and ruled in her favor. Sometimes human justice comes through the unrighteous motives of men.
In this story, however, we learn that God is different. It seems as though Jesus is using the unjust judge as a representation for God, but we are bothered by the idea that he is not concerned with man. Jesus does not say that God is like that judge, He shows an exaggeration of a typical human response to a situation and compares that to the reality of God’s ways. God does not have to be threatened with a loss of his power and authority to respond to human need. God is just and when he hears the cries of His people, He responds with mercy and grace.
We should not read this story as teaching simply persistence in prayer, as it is so often interpreted. For some people, the lesson here is to keep praying for the same things over and over again and eventually God will give in and give us what we want. This is a story about justice. Is getting a candy bar at the checkout a matter of justice? Is a judge who rules in favor of a widow in need a matter of justice? We learn from the pesky widow to be persistent in matters of justice, to cry out to God for things to be made right in the world and with the world.
Jacob finally realized, as he wrestled with God, the need to trust in Him. He had taken matters into his own hands too often, trusting in his own ability to make God’s promises be fulfilled, and he sinned against man and God in the process. He finally realized, as he prayed to the God who had made so many promises, that God was with him all along. God hears and He will always rule in favor of justice. We simply live in faith, knowing that God knows what is happening and that He is working for justice.
We take all sorts of journeys in our life. Some are short, like trips to the grocery store. Some of more important like the journey through our school years or a trip to the altar. Our journeys can be physical like a trip to Grandmother’s house or they can be emotional as we make decisions that will transform our lives. We also take spiritual journeys.
People have been making pilgrimages since the beginning of time. We are drawn to the sacred. We do not always understand what makes a place sacred, but spiritual people have always gone to those places that make us feel as though we are near the divine. The tops of mountains and bodies of water often serve as these places. Mysterious formations either man-made or natural call out to us. We travel on journeys to those places in response to our needs or to our beliefs. The journeys are not easy. The temporal dangers are obvious: weather, criminals and health issues cause difficulty along the path. Some pilgrims choose to make the journey even more difficult by adding spiritual practices. Some people fast; others take the journey on their knees. For them, the journey serves as a way of humbling themselves and becoming worthy to stand in the presence of the divine. For some, the pilgrimage is a duty, a part of their religion.
The Jews made pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem. They went to the temple to make sacrifices, to worship and honor God at the special feasts and festivals during the year. It was a difficult journey. The roads were harsh and dangerous. No one knew if they would make it home alive, particularly through the hills that surrounded the city. Robbers and murderers hid in the rocky crevices of those hills waiting for travelers. The conditions of the hills and deserts were unwelcoming. They took these journeys with the assurance of God’s presence. They were not making a pilgrimage to a sacred place to meet God, they knew that they only way they could arrive at that sacred place was if God walked with them.
The psalm for today was apparently used at the end of worship during those feasts and festivals that brought pilgrims into the Temple. The community of faith sought the blessing of God as they were beginning their trip back to their homes. “I will lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from Yahweh, who made heaven and earth.” The song finishes with a benediction, an invocation of God’s blessings over the community of faith as they went their separate ways. “Yahweh will keep your going out and your coming in, from this time forward, and forever more.” God does not sleep. He takes care of His people.
We don’t always recognize the journey as we travel. Our daily work and our everyday activities are part of a greater journey. We aren’t necessarily headed to a special place; we aren’t seeking a sacred place. However, through it all we can go with peace knowing that God is with us wherever we go. He does not sleep. He helps us through our struggles and keeps us in our coming and going. He is faithful to His promises and will always ensure that justice is done. We don’t have to prove our worthiness or take matters into our own hands. He loves us and has chosen to be a part of our lives. This is why we sing songs of praise, because He deserves our worship.
The song of praise looks toward the journey home, as the faithful people of God leave the house of the Lord to face the dangers of the world enriched, inspired and prepared. We don’t know what we will face during our journeys. The Jewish pilgrims faced murderers and thieves in the mountains outside the city. They faced the heat of the desert and the loneliness of the road. They faced the reality of returning to the world after having experienced the divine.
We climb mountains. We go on pilgrimages. The greatest journey we travel, however, is our live of faith. It is hard. We don’t always know where we are going or what is waiting for us. We don’t know what troubles we’ll faith. We have to remember that this journey is not necessarily something unusual or spectacular like a national park vacation or a long awaited reunion. Our daily work and our everyday activities are part of our journey of faith. Through it all we can go in peace knowing that God is with us wherever we go. He does not sleep. He helps us through our struggles and keeps us in our coming and going. We don’t need to choose to take this journey in a manner that proves our worthiness to be in His presence. He loves His people and has chosen to be a part of our lives. This is why we sing songs of praise; He deserves our worship.
Timothy was struggling. Paul’s letter was written to encourage the young pastor to be bold with his faith and the preaching of God’s Word. He had all he needed to do God’s work. “But you remain in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them. From infancy, you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus.”
Paul was among those who taught Timothy about faith in Jesus Christ, along with his mother and grandmother. I can imagine time around the fire as the family sang psalms and repeated the stories about everything that God did for the nation of Israel. I can imagine the prayers they said together as they prepared to sleep at night. I can imagine them going to the synagogue to worship God together. Timothy was brought up in the faith. His journey wasn’t a very hard one at first, but as a young pastor in the early days of the Church, Timothy faced all sorts of obstacles. The elders questioned his age. The Jews questioned his faith. The world questioned his life. Paul knew Timothy needed encouragement as he looked up into the hills. Who would be his help?
Paul told him to look to the scriptures. “Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that each person who belongs to God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Paul urged Timothy to preach boldly despite the struggles he would face in this world; he could trust that God was with him as he went to do the work he was called to do. We are encouraged to have the same kind of trust as we go on our own journeys of faith.
Paul writes not only for Timothy but for all of us, “But you be sober in all things, suffer hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill your ministry.” Despite the struggles we will face, the people and issues we will wrestle, let us always remember the source of our strength and the foundation of our faith is God.
Jacob struggled with his family, his future and his fears. He struggled with God. In the end he discovered that he was not in control and that he made his journey through life and faith more difficult when he took matters into his own hands. Paul wrote to Timothy about continuing in faith in Jesus Christ, by standing firm on the instruction he had received and believed. The widow in Jesus’ parable reminds us to be persistent in prayer but also in moving forward in faith.
Our scriptures this week are about the relationship with have with God. In each of the lessons we see some aspect of our communication with the God of our salvation. We wrestle with God. We seek God’s blessing as we face the dangers that threaten our physical, emotional and spiritual lives. We stand firm in the scriptures, reading God’s Word regularly to keep it fresh on our minds and in our hearts. We come before God over and over again seeking His mercy and grace. All these ways of communicating are journeys in of themselves as we learn to dwell in the presence of God.
Our destination is always God. All that we do in faith is leading us to Him. We try to control the journey, so we work hard to make things happen, like Jacob, and we lose touch with the God who has set us on our path. Jesus asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Will He find faith in our lives, as we journey toward God with God at our side, trusting in His mercy and grace every step of the way?
“Only let your way of life be worthy of the Good News of Christ, that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your state, that you stand firm in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the Good News; and in nothing frightened by the adversaries, which is for them a proof of destruction, but to you of salvation, and that from God. Because it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer on his behalf, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” Philippians 1:27-30, WEB
Have you ever watched a spider build its web? It can be a fascinating experience, to see a creature work so diligently to build the beautiful and complex structure used to capture its prey. Though the tiny threads appear delicate, they are actually very strong. The more the trapped creatures struggle against the web, the tighter the web holds. Yet, those webs can easily be blown away by the wind. Spiders are used as an example of perseverance because even when the web is destroyed, they immediately begin to rebuild. Sometimes they need to replace their web daily.
There is a story from thirteenth century Scotland about a dispute over which man should be king. King Edward of England took advantage of the situation, stepped in and took over the crown. He stole the royal jewels and even the Stone of Scone, the ancient symbol of Scottish rule. The Scottish rebels crowned Robert Bruce and began a war against England. Robert Bruce was wounded and nearly captured, but escaped to spend a winter in hiding. After a time in a cold, dark dump eating only potatoes, he was nearly without hope. He noticed a spider building a web that was constantly blown away by the wind, yet time after time the spider kept trying. Robert Bruce realized he was like that spider; though he failed there was always another chance. He gathered whatever troops he could find and they fought back the English.
As Christians we often stumble through difficult situations during our journey in this world. It is like we are fighting a battle or building a web but something stands in the way of our reaching our goals. It would be easy to lose hope, to become depressed or give up. We might even turn in another direction, giving in to the enemy. For a spider, that would mean death, for his web is his source of food. For a man like Robert Bruce giving in to the English meant giving up his ancient heritage. For many Scots, such a loss was as bad as death.
For the Christian, it is in those times when things seem hopeless that we can best see our greatest hope. We persevere through persecution and disease in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, overcoming that which seeks to defeat us. Robert Bruce could have given up, lost the battle and lost Scotland to England forever. However, he saw the perseverance of the tiny spider and led his people into an amazing victory. When we overcome our difficulties the world sees God glorified in our lives. He has defeated our enemies at the cross, gave us His Spirit that we might walk in faith and stand firm in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our struggles can be great blessings, for they make us stronger and our enemies will see that we have been saved by the power and mercy of Christ, and that they have no hope to bring destruction to our lives.
“Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you. Yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the nations. But when they deliver you up, don’t be anxious how or what you will say, for it will be given you in that hour what you will say. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” Matthew 10:16-19, WEB
Some stories in the Bible are especially challenging. Take, for instance, the story of Jonah. God called him to preach repentance for the salvation of his enemies. When Jonah refused, God sent a storm that nearly killed a boatful of people. He allowed Jonah to be thrown overboard, sacrificed for the sake of a ship of pagans. Then he was swallowed by a fish, and lived there for three days. Now, this might seem miraculous, but can you imagine what it must have been like living inside a fish for three days? Even if Jonah didn't get swallowed into the stomach, but just hung out around the mouth of the fish, it is still a pretty gross thought. After three days the fish spit him out, and he had to go do what God called him to do, even though it was the last thing he wanted to do. Is this the way God treats those He loves and calls to His service?
The end of Jonah’s story is hard to understand. We have sympathy for Jonah and his disappointment that his enemies have been saved from God’s wrath. We know that feeling. I think we can identify with the picture of Jonah lamenting over their salvation; after all, these were people who had warred against Israel, killed some of Jonah’s relatives and taken his people into slavery. Could we approach our enemies with grace? I don’t think I have ever prayed for the destruction of my enemies, but I don’t spend much time praying for God to bless them.
Poor Paul suffered at the hands of many for the work he was doing. The book of Acts is filled with stories of Paul’s beatings and imprisonment. He was eventually martyred for his faith. In his letters Paul writes of his suffering, and he begs God to free him from some “thorn in the flesh” that we haven’t been able to identify. Paul was a man of great faith who willingly went into the unknown and did incredible work for God and Christ’s church. If anyone deserved a blessed life, it was Paul, and yet his story is far from comfortable. He may have been captive in a house prison at one point, but he also was locked away in a dungeon. He was well fed at times, but starved at others. He knew pain and rejection.
We can’t read any of the prophets and not see how God put them in a bad place. Jesus even cries over Jerusalem, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not!” (Matthew 23:37, WEB) They were chased and threatened and killed over the words God put in their mouths. It is a wonder anyone chooses to follow God’s call, instead of running away like Jonah.
I have to admit that I'm afraid to write this devotional on some days, unsure of how the readers will receive the message. I wonder if what I’ve written is offensive to someone, especially if someone removes their name from my mailing list that day. I pray constantly that what I write is what God would have me say, rather than following some preconceived human agenda. Sometimes I sit down at the computer with an issue or a pet peeve on the tip of my tongue (or my fingers) with the intent of using this writing as a soapbox or a way to vent. I find it very difficult to write on those days, unable to put the words together as I want them to go.
Oh, I’m sure I win on some days, just as God allowed Jonah to get on that ship to Tarshish. I’m sure my agenda gets through once in awhile. But when I try to take control, to avoid saying the things that God would want me to say, I end up in my own big fish, soon to be spit out to go do or say the very thing I have been trying to avoid. It isn't always pleasant to obey God’s call. Sometimes we have to say and do the hard things. Sometimes we have to make the people who are listening uncomfortable. Sometimes we have to be held captive because of that word.
But we know from the stories of Paul that the blessedness that comes with obedience is not necessarily roses and ice cream. We are confronted by a world that does not want to hear what we have to say. We have to tackle the fears that come when we know we are about to offend someone with a message that challenges their way of thinking. Paul may have suffered, but he was also greatly blessed. He lived with a sense of complete trust in God, a faith that had him constantly looking forward to the day when he wouldn't have to preach the hard things anymore. It was that faith that gave him the courage and the strength to say what needed to be said. May God grant me that kind of faith, especially on those days when I don't want to go to the Ninevites to share a word of God’s grace.
“Early in the morning, while it was still dark, he rose up and went out, and departed into a deserted place, and prayed there. Simon and those who were with him searched for him. They found him and told him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ He said to them, ‘Let’s go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because I came out for this reason.’ He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons.” Mark 1:35-39, WEB
In 1978, Mrs. Flossie Cassel wrote an article about ministry in a nursing home. She was ninety-one at the time and was active in teaching classes and doing other speaking engagements. She began her ministry when she started receiving prayer requests from missionaries, which she took before the Lord three times a day. She had heard a speaker talk about tithing time as well as money, so she asked the Lord how she could serve Him. She heard Him say that she should pray three hours a day. So, that day she began praying an hour in the morning, an hour in the afternoon and an hour in the evening.
Eventually her other ministries took up too much time. She wrote, “I began to slip up on my prayer time in the afternoon. Soon I was too ill to teach or speak.” She waited patiently in prayer for God to tell her why she was unable to teach or speak. She realized that God would not let her return to those ministries until she got back on track to the three times a day she had committed to prayer. She asked forgiveness and promised, by the help of the Holy Spirit, to never forget and at ninety-one she was still ministering through prayer from her nursing home room.
When he was asked by his barber Peter Beskendorf, Martin answered, “It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business in the morning and the last in the evening. Guard yourself against such false and deceitful thoughts that keep whispering; Wait a while. In an hour or so I will pray. I must first finish this or that. Thinking such thoughts we get away from prayer into other things that will hold us and involve us till the prayer of the day comes to naught.”
Our time alone with God in prayer is the most important part of our day. Jesus often took time to pray. It was where He got His strength to go on with His ministry to the people. That time alone was necessary to build Him up to face the challenges; it is where He grew in wisdom and understanding of His purpose. He knew that nothing should stand in the way of that time alone with His Father. He knew to find a place where He could pray without distractions, to be in God’s presence and to hear His voice.
By waking to a conversation with God, remembering who we are in Christ and asking His blessings for the day, we are built up with the strength, courage and wisdom to walk in faith each day. As we end the day in prayer, we recall our failures, ask for forgiveness and receive the blessings of rest into a new day in Christ. Mrs. Flossie Cassel put the other ministries ahead of her times of prayer, and she became sick. Martin Luther knew that waiting would only lead to our completely forgetting that time that should be set aside alone with our Father, hearing His voice. We all allow the distractions of the world to get in our way.
I have heard it said that many “walk in prayer” all day long, that their method of prayer is to talk to God in the midst of their other activities. While this is a lifestyle we should all live, we also need that time away, alone in a solitary place. We can’t hear God as we are always talking to Him on the run. Take time each day to be alone with God in prayer, for He is always willing to listen but He also has something to say.
“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus. He was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside, and explained to him the way of God more accurately. When he had determined to pass over into Achaia, the brothers encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him. When he had come, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he powerfully refuted the Jews, publicly showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” Acts 18:24-28, WEB
A couple decades ago I was actively involved in conversations in Christian chat rooms online. I made some friends, learned many things, and was able to share my own faith with others. There were struggles, of course, because there are always (we think this is only a problem today) people who simply want to disagree and will do anything to provoke an argument. Despite those moments, I am thankful for the time I was able to minister in those chat rooms because they helped me to be the person I am today.
One day I was in the room and I “met” a woman who claimed to be a prophet. She was very impressed by what I was saying and thought I was a prophet, too. I never considered or called myself a prophet, but she wanted to establish a relationship with me. I’m always willing to help others, so we took our conversation to email. She sent me a study and wanted my advice. I hesitated because I knew what she wanted was my approval, but I went through the study and made some notes. She was young and thought she could be trained to be a prophet in the classes she was taking. Honestly, it was awful. She was so far from the truth that I feared she might lead some Christians astray.
I shared some positive comments, but I also pointed out some of her errors and showed her biblically where she had gone wrong. She did not take my critique well. She immediately told me that I didn’t know what I was talking about. She went to my website and pulled one of my own studies so that she could critique it, too. She told me, without any biblical evidence, where I had gone wrong and then cut off all communication. I went back and reviewed everything she called an error, prayed over it, and considered whether I had made a mistake. I was willing to fix my errors.
I thought about this person as I read today’s scripture passage during my morning quiet time. Apollos was a man who highly gifted in tongue and knowledge. He was a great preacher and he was sharing Jesus with the people to whom he was sent. However, he didn’t have it all quite right. He didn’t completely understand the Christian way because his knowledge was based on John’s baptism, not the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ. Priscilla and Aquila, who were friends of Paul and were traveling with him, took him aside to correct him. Apollos listened and he received the criticism with thankfulness because he wanted to serve God well. He took their lessons with him and continued to take Jesus to the world in a fuller and better way.
None of us have everything right. We all make mistakes. We often understand the scriptures through our troubles or our imperfect minds. We need one another. We need to help each other see what God means and to stay on the right path. We need to be like Apollos, willing to listen when a brother or sister in Christ helps us to see our errors, to be humble enough to listen and to accept when we need to change. We don’t need to accept that every critique is right, but we must be humble enough to spend time in prayer and study to discover if there is truth in their words. It isn’t easy to acknowledge that we are wrong, but we will find in the end that we will be able to serve God with greater power and grace when we have clearer and more scripturally based knowledge.
Scriptures for Sunday, October 27, 2019, Reformation Sunday: Revelation 14:6-7; Psalm 46; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36
“If therefore the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36, WEB
Last night I attended a show, a rock opera, about the life of Martin Luther. It was written and performed by the group Lost and Found, and was based on a graphic novel that was published by Dr. Rich Melheim. The songs told the story of the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation and ended with a song that made us all consider how the Reformation continues today. The refrain went like this, “If I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree today. There is hope amid the sorrow and there’s joy along the way. There’s a world in every moment and a moment when we find that the tree of life is growing all the time.”
I’ve been visiting a Christian bookstore that is closing its brick and mortar stores, buying books (too many!) as the clearance prices continue to go down. Several of the books have asked the question whether the Reformation is still relevant today. I have not yet read those I’ve bought, but I think it is a valid question. What do the thoughts of a 16th century German monk have to do with us today? Why do we continue to celebrate the day Martin Luther posted 95 theological arguments on a church door?
We point to Martin Luther as the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation, but the work began long before his time. In the early 15th century, a man named John Hus was burned at the stake for speaking the same ideas that Luther put forth a hundred years later. Before him, John Wycliffe published the New Testament in English. Wycliffe 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. We might consider Martin Luther one of the most influential men in history, we have to remember those who went before him, as well as those who encouraged, supported, and worked with him as He fought the good fight. He served God in many ways as an individual, but he always knew that he was part of something much bigger.
The name Hus meant goose in German, and John Hus wrote from his prison cell, “Today you all roast a goose, but more than a hundred years from now a purer swan will come, who will finally sing you a different little song.” There aren’t many people who would call Martin Luther a swan; as a matter of fact, there are many who have nothing good to say about the man. Martin Luther was in no way perfect. He was arrogant in many ways, also brash and bold and loud. He was a sinner in need of a savior.
What made Luther the swan was that he never wavered in his faith and held firm to the truth no matter what others did to him. He stood firmly on the Word of God and lived in the grace that God has so freely given to each of us. Too many of the reformers were martyred at that hands of those who feared that these reforms would destroy their power, but thanks to God and those around him, Luther survived to accomplish incredible things. He risked his life, his home, his family and even his vocation to stand for the truth that he saw in the scriptures. He was excommunicated, threatened and forced into hiding. He lived through war and famine, disease and other disasters. He suffered from physical ailments, too. Through it all he believed. If there is anything that truly makes the Reformation still relevant for us today, it is Luther’s understanding of faith.
Martin Luther 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 became very 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.
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 from Romans 3 that 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.
That’s what it means to reform. Reformation is not about making things new, but re-forming the world to be as it was meant to be. We all stray. You can see that throughout the story of God in the Bible. God created everything and it was good. As a matter of fact, after He created mankind He called it all very good. Yet, it didn’t take very long for Adam and Eve to turn from God. The patriarchs had many good attributes, particularly faith, but they all failed in some way to live as God expected. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon all wandered from the right path, but they cried out to God, turned to Him in repentance and were transformed by His grace.
The nation of Israel was just like those individuals. They had good moments when they were faithful, but it never took very long for them to turn away from God. The kings would turn to idols or seek help from the pagan nations and the people followed. They forgot the God who was their salvation. After a few generations, God raised a new king who would restore their relationship with God who would renew the promises He had made to their forefathers. Though they sinned, God never abandoned them. Sometimes God had to let them suffer the consequences of their unfaithfulness, but He never let them go. After a season, they cried out to Him, He restored them to Himself and they were re-formed into the nation He intended them to be. Sadly, it never lasted more than a generation or so.
Isn’t that what happens with us? We turn from God, suffer the consequences of our sin, cry out to Him, are forgiven and transformed, but eventually we turn from Him again. This is not how it is meant to be, but we are sinners even as we are saints. We have faith, but we are not always faithful. The same is true of the Church. She might be right with God in one generation, but it doesn’t take long for her to turn from Him. Again and again, human beings go from faithfulness to faithlessness to repentance and God is always there for us, to make us new again. He re-forms us into the people we are meant to be. One day, when time ends and we have entered into eternity, we will finally be restored to Him fully and completely forever. Then we will no longer need the Reformation. For now, however,we are, as Luther so eloquently put it, “simul justus et peccator” which means “simultaneously saints and sinners.” We need to be constantly re-formed.
When Martin Luther studied 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 imperfection because we are truly afraid of what He will do. 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 listen. He will heal. He will re-form. 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 a 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 to live according to God’s Word. Unfortunately, even under the New Covenant the Church lays heavy burdens, make threats and use bribes to keep people in line.
This is why Luther nailed his 95 Thesis on the church door on October 31, 1517. Though it was the catalyst for the Reformation, we know in hindsight we know it is the least of his accomplishments. The Theses argued that the church had become law-centered focus of the Church in his day, and that it was wrong for the church to burden the people with the task of earning their place in the Kingdom of God. They demanded obedience that was impossible to keep which benefitted no one but the Church. His biggest pet peeve was that indulgences were sold to raise money to build yet another monstrous cathedral. Luther taught that we can’t buy our way into heaven; we are saved by grace through faith.
In today’s Gospel lesson, 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 work his way into salvation.
The New Covenant gives us a new attitude; it reforms our thinking about 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. We are no longer burdened by that Law, but we are set free to live out God’s Word by faith.
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. 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.”
This is as relevant today as it was in the days of Paul and of Luther. God’s Word will continue to re-form His people and to restore us to Himself when we wander off the path. This is true of us as individuals and of the Church. The Reformation is certainly still relevant today because we constantly need to be re-formed into the people and the Church God has created and redeemed us to be. We need to be reminded of God’s grace, of His forgiveness, of the hope that only comes by trusting in Him.
One of the stanzas from that song from the rock opera I quoted above goes like this: “Stumbling through the dark, when this all began, seeing what was wrong, yet without a plan. Now, we’ve come so far, it seems as though we’re done, but God’s reforming word has only just begun.” Every day is a day for reformation. Every day is a day to trust in God. Every day, even the final day, is a day to plant a tree, always hopeful and joyful that God will keep the tree of life growing for eternity because God has set us free to truly live as we were meant to live.
“Therefore Jesus answered them, ‘Don’t murmur among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up in the last day. It is written in the prophets, “They will all be taught by God.” Therefore everyone who hears from the Father and has learned, comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except he who is from God. He has seen the Father. Most certainly, I tell you, he who believes in me has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down out of heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. Yes, the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’” John 6:41-51, WEB
I am trying to eat less carbs. I haven’t made the extreme decision to cut them out completely, although I have seen the positive effect that type of diet has had on others. It is not an easy diet choice because bread is good. I have never been one to insist on having bread with every meal, but there are some types of bread that are quite tempting. There are times when I could settle for just the bread when we are at a restaurant because their bread is so good. Some of my favorite meals, like cheese steaks and pizza, require a form of bread.
A trip to the bakery at the grocery store is a difficult affair these days because there are so many different types of bread available for purchase. You can get white, wheat, whole grain, light, dark, hard, soft, long, sourdough, rye, unleavened or fruit breads. You can get rolls and loaves in every shape and size. The bread aisle at my grocery store is twenty-five feet long, plus the fresh made loaves. There are also breads available in the frozen food section and in the dry goods that you can bake at home. A quick Internet search will reveal thousands of recipes of all sorts of bread to make. With modern conveniences such as the bread machine, it is possible to have home-baked bread with little effort.
Bread has long been a staple of living. When there is nothing else to eat, somehow there always seems to be enough grain and oil to make a loaf of some sort of bread. The Bible is filled of stories about desperate people eating bread when there is nothing left. In 1 Kings 17, God kept the flour and oil jars full for Elijah and the widow of Zarepath. The bread they made from those jars kept them alive through the famine. When three visitors came to Abraham’s tent, Sarah made bread for them to eat. In Acts 27, the boat on which Paul was being taken to Rome for trial was beaten by a powerful storm. Paul blessed some bread and made the men eat it so that they would survive the trial they faced. When Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, Satan tempted him by telling him to make bread out of the rocks. Jesus fed thousands of people with just a few loaves of bread.
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, He answered Satan’s taunts with the words, “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” When the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, God provided them with bread from heaven, manna. Though that was not like the bread we eat today, it was enough to sustain them and to teach them to trust the Lord God Almighty for all their needs. Jesus called Himself the bread of life. The Jews were offended by His claim. “The Jews therefore murmured concerning him, because he said, ‘I am the bread which came down out of heaven.’ They said, ‘Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How then does he say, “I have come down out of heaven?”’”
Jesus’ character is defined through the book of John as He speaks about Himself through analogies the people would understand. The most shocking, perhaps, is Jesus’ claim that He is the bread of life. He was comparing Himself to the provision of God, as if He were more important that the bread God gave them in the wilderness. Bread is certainly needed to sustain life which is why it plays such an important role in the stories from the scriptures and cultures all over the world. Jesus knew that bread was not enough for life; the Word of God is what gives strength in our hearts, minds and spirits. Those who believe in Jesus will be fed with the manna that will give them eternal life. He is the bread of life, the staple of our lives by which we are given eternal life in Christ and nourished for our journey of faith.
“This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense to the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11, WEB
It seems like we are celebrating something new every day. One day it is National Pickle Day, the next is National Go Hug a Tree Day. There are several online calendars available so that you can figure out what you should be eating or doing every day. One has a link where you can register your “National Day of...” and according to that calendar, today is: Chucky, the Notorious Killer Doll Day; National Greasy Foods Day; Sourest Day; National Breadstick Day; National Frankenstein Friday; and National Pharmacy Buyer Day. Some of these daily holidays, I’m sure, have been started by some business that is determined to boost their sales for at least one day a year.
There are also lists of things to celebrate each month. October’s list includes: Breast Cancer Awareness Month; Miscarriage Awareness Month; National Arts & Humanities Month; National Bullying Prevention Month; National Pizza Month; and National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Some of these daily or monthly are worth celebrating. I have a friend who has a son with Down Syndrome. She has been posting facts about Down Syndrome each day this month because it is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Her posts have helped us to understand her son and others like him that we meet along our path in life.
October is also Clergy Appreciation Month. Pastors do so many things; some do much more than they should have to do. I’ve heard it said that a pastor has to know how to do everything, because if the toilet paper needs to be changed, someone has to change it. We have these expectations for our pastors because we think they don’t have anything else they must do. After all, they only work an hour a week, right? We don’t count the work they do preparing for that hour, or for the time they spend with people who are sick or need counsel. We don’t think about the hours of study they have to do to write a ten minute sermon. And we forget how important it is for them to spend time in prayer.
Sometimes they aren’t appreciated for the work they do. I recall hearing a story about a pastor who turned in his monthly record to the council president. The pastor listed prayer time as part of his work. The council president questioned him about this. “Shouldn’t you pray on your own time?” he asked. Many parishioners think the pastor only works for an hour a week. They don’t consider the hours of preparation for worship as part of their job. They think that the pastor should have the time to fix the toilet and sweep the floor. He’s there doing nothing anyway, right?
Our pastors need us. Yes, they have certain duties and responsibilities that are given to them at the time they come to our church to become our pastor, but that doesn’t mean we can’t step in to help. We can show our appreciation (all year long, not just in October) by giving our time, talents, and resources for the ministry of the Church. We can visit the sick and imprisoned. We can teach Bible studies. We can invite our neighbors to church events. We can even fix the toilet and sweep the floors so our pastors do not have to do it.
The text from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one of my favorites, and it is a prayer we can all pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is certainly what our pastors do for us, and we need to remember that our pastors are our brothers and sisters, too. They need prayer; they need us to pray that they know God’s love for them and for all that Paul hopes for all Christians. They need us to pray in hopeful expectation of God’s blessing on their lives of faith. They need our prayers more because as ministers they face attacks and difficulties we’ll never understand. October is Pastor Appreciation month. We can do lots of things to show our pastors we are thankful for their ministry among us, but let us give them what they need the most: our prayers.
“As the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God. As many as were appointed to eternal life believed. The Lord’s word was spread abroad throughout all the region. But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, and stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and threw them out of their borders. But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came to Iconium. The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 13:48-52, WEB
I don’t drink coffee. When I was in college, working toward a teaching degree, everyone told me that I’d learn to drink coffee. I didn’t become a teacher, but I spent enough time to get into the habit of drinking coffee. I didn’t. I moved into retail instead of education. During the management training program, everyone told me I’d learn to drink coffee. I spent several years in retail, but never learned to like it. When I was pregnant with my daughter, the smell of coffee was so offending to my olfactory system that I could not even wash the coffee pot after Bruce had his coffee. I’m still not thrilled with the smell and I definitely do not like the taste. I can count my visits to a Starbucks on one hand.
This is why I’m very quick to turn over the coffee cup on the table before anyone can fill it. You see that at some diners and at banquets where the tables are preset for quicker service. It doesn’t happen as much anymore, but in past generations the coffee cups were waiting and as soon as you sat the waitress came with a pot of hot coffee and just started pouring for everyone at the table. The sign that you did not want coffee was to turn it over so that it could not be filled.
Our pastor used the image of a coffee cup in his sermon yesterday. The coffee cup, of course, is you and me. The waitress is God and the coffee is every good and perfect thing like faith that He wants to give us, including the Holy Spirit. The thing we have to remember is to be open to God’s graciousness, but too many people turn that cup over so that it can’t be filled; they don’t want what God has to give. Or, they only want what they want from God.
See, God doesn’t just fill our cups; He fills our cups to overflowing so that we’ll share what He has given us with the world. But we are afraid to let that good stuff spill everywhere. We withhold God’s grace for too many foolish reasons. Look at what happened as the Gospel began to spread around the region of the Gentiles. Some began to persecute the disciples because they did not like the incredible things that were happening. They chased Paul and Barnabas away. We fear spreading the Gospel for much the same reason; God is being rejected in so many ways in our world today. Will we be chased from the place God has called us to minister? Will we be persecuted? Will we suffer for sharing the Good News?
The fear makes us turn our coffee cup upside down so that we can’t be filled to overflowing. Sadly, this also means the cup won’t be filled at all. We lose touch with our God; we become accustomed to the expectations of the world. We might have a tiny drop of faith that has spilled on the saucer, but we ignore the blessing and refuse to be a blessing. We don’t realize that if we open up to the blessings of God, then we will experience the same kind of joy the disciples experienced despite the persecution as the Holy Spirit filled them to overflowing.
“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants after you, God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually ask me, ‘Where is your God?’ These things I remember, and pour out my soul within me, how I used to go with the crowd, and led them to God’s house, with the voice of joy and praise, a multitude keeping a holy day. Why are you in despair, my soul? Why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God! For I shall still praise him for the saving help of his presence. My God, my soul is in despair within me. Therefore I remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon, from the hill Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the noise of your waterfalls. All your waves and your billows have swept over me. Yahweh will command his loving kindness in the daytime. In the night his song shall be with me: a prayer to the God of my life. I will ask God, my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’ As with a sword in my bones, my adversaries reproach me, while they continually ask me, ‘Where is your God?’ Why are you in despair, my soul? Why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God! For I shall still praise him, the saving help of my countenance, and my God.” Psalm 42:1-11, WEB
Now that the temperatures are going down, I’ve become hungry for soup. Now, I’m not one of those people who avoid soup just because it is a hundred degrees outside, but I don’t often make it in the summer. We had some leftover turkey the other day, so I decided to use it for turkey noodle soup. It is difficult to make just a little bit of soup and I had a lot of turkey, so the pot was likely to be a big one. I asked Bruce if he wanted to take soup to work to share with his co-workers. He agreed. I was glad to make the food I wanted without having to deal with a pot full of leftovers.
There have been times I’ve gotten a craving for something good, but for one reason or another I was unable to get it. As a military family we moved often and we missed some of our favorite foods. It is difficult to find a good cheesesteak with pieorgies in Texas. I have been trying to keep sweets out of the house because I eat too much when it is too available, but then it is never handy when I have a craving. Sometimes the item is unavailable due to season, like watermelon in January or strawberry pie in November. These cravings can drive you crazy.
Cravings are really a minor problem when we consider the poverty of many people around the world. I can’t imagine what it is like to be near dehydration because of lack of water, to have such a thirst as to be near death. I have never really been hungry, not the kind of hunger that many people suffer around the world. I doubt that I could identify with such a need. We are fortunate so that when we are hungry or thirsty we can quickly meet our needs, even if it isn’t the exact food we want to eat.
There is a thirst that goes well beyond physical need, however. It is a thirst for God. There are many people in our world today who are seeking relief to this thirst by running after every spiritual wind, desperately trying to fill a hole in their heart and quench the thirst they feel. Very often this search comes because the person is suffering some difficult time: they are dealing with illness or the death of a loved one, have suffered financial difficulty or emotional pain. These people cry out in the wilderness “why me?” There is a desperate need to know that God exists and that He is near.
Some people never really find what they are looking for because they are looking in all the wrong places. They think the current religious trend will help them to know God, but it only leads them further from the source of the living water which is Jesus Christ. They seek the divine connection by chasing after rainbows or crystals or some other new age spiritualism. When things go wrong, they cry out in pain and wonder where God is in it all. They can’t understand how we can remain so calm in the midst of difficulty and even think that our troubles cannot possibly be as bad as theirs.
They do not realize that Christians too cry out to God in our thirst for Him, but we know that even when the going gets tough we live in a hope that reaches far beyond our most difficult problems. When we are faced with those wilderness times of hunger and thirst, of pain and sorrow, we know that God is with us, even when we cannot see Him. We simply live in the hope of His promises and praise God because He is always near.
Scriptures for Sunday, November 3, 2019, All Saints Sunday: Revelation 7:(2-8) 9-17; Psalm 149; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
“For Yahweh takes pleasure in his people. He crowns the humble with salvation.” Psalm 149:4, WEB
What is a saint?
From the Concise Encyclopedia: “[A saint is a] Holy person. In the New Testament, St. Paul used the term to mean a member of the Christian community, but the term more commonly refers to those noted for their holiness and venerated during their lifetimes or after death. In Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, saints are publicly recognized by the church and are considered intercessors with God for the living. They are honored on special feast days, and their remains and personal effects are venerated as relics. Often Christian saints perform miracles in their lifetime, or miracles occur in their names after their death. In Islam, wali (“friend of God”) is often translated as saint; in Buddhism, arhats and bodhisattvas are roughly equivalent to saints. Hindu sadhus are somewhat similar.”
Ask any person on the street, and their definition of a saint is likely to include death; sainthood is considered after a person has died. While the definition does include the idea that the saints are those who were extraordinarily faithful or pious during their lives, most Christians understand that this did not make them perfect. We know that a saint is not really someone who has an exceptional degree of holiness or virtue, but even amongst Christians sainthood is generally recognized after a person has died and gone to heaven.
This week we will celebrate the Hallowmas season. This is the Triduum (three days) of All Hallows Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Soul’s Day, October 31 to November 2. The holiday has roots that go back into the days of the Celtic Druids. It was called Samhain. It marked the end of summer and the beginning of the dark days of winter. They believed that on that day the dead returned to the earth. Not only were the spirits given credit for mischief that happened, it was believed that the priests were best able to predict the future when they were nearby. They had bonfires and wore costumes.
When the Romans populated Celtic lands they joined their own fall holidays with Samhain. Feralia commemorated the dead and there was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. By the ninth century, Christianity was the dominant religion in the areas where the Celtic people lived. Pope Boniface IV decided to name November 1 All Saints’ Day to transform the pagan traditions into a church-sanctioned holiday. The evening before All Saints’ Day was called All Hallows Eve, and the people continued to celebrate with bonfires, parades and costumes. Eventually, November 2nd was called All Soul’s Day, and the three day celebration was called Hallowmas.
The Christian Church traditionally observed All Hallows Eve with a vigil for worshippers to prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the feast of All Saints Day. Halloween is now a day when the kids wander the streets at night dressed up as all sorts of characters begging for candy from the neighbors. Over the years I’ve had numerous positions about Halloween from loving the Trick-or-treating to hiding to vocally denouncing the holiday because of its focus on darkness and greed. Samhain may have been a day of darkness and death, but it has become a night of living. Everyone has a fun time parties, parades and Trick-or-Treating. Though many of the costumes are dark and wicked, death is not really the focus. Though some have graveyards and skeletons, they are most often fun and humorous. Some of my neighbors have decorated their houses as brightly as they might decorate for Christmas. The streets are glowing with orange and purple lights. Halloween and the rest of Hallowmas seem to be completely unrelated these days.
All Saints’ Day honors the Church Triumphant especially the blessed who have not been canonized that have no special feast day. All Souls’ Day focuses on honoring all faithful Christians who are unknown in the wider fellowship of the church, especially family members and friends. We usually celebrate Hallowmas on All Saints Sunday, which is a time for us to remember the great cloud of witnesses that have lived and gone before us, those who have had an impact on our lives, who have shared God’s word with us in so many ways. Most churches will hold a special remembrance to celebrate those who have died in the previous year. The mood tends to be sad and teary as we join together to mourn the loss of our loved ones.
Though we mourn, we are also called to rejoice. There is pain in the death of those we love because they will no longer be with us. But there is also joy because we know that they are now among the multitude praising God forever. On this day we join with the psalmist signing songs of praise and thanksgiving, knowing that we too will join them one day. “Praise Yahweh! Sing to Yahweh a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints.”
The Gospel lesson for this festival Sunday is the Beatitudes. A few years ago I attended an All Saints Sunday at the cathedral in Bury St. Edmunds, England. Bishop Clive preached on this text. Throughout the sermon the Bishop kept saying, “Consider yourself blessed.” It is hard to think in those terms when the blessedness is given to people who are being persecuted and are suffering. Bishop Clive explained, “In the beatitudes, Jesus was making saints out of ordinary people.” All those in Christ are saints, called, gifted and sent to be His witnesses in the world. The saints are those who trust in God no matter their circumstances.
It is interesting to look at the stories of the Saints, those whose lives serve as an example of how to boldly live the Christian life in this world, beginning with the disciples. Many of those who have been canonized by the Church died for their faith, they were martyred for being a Christian, and they deserve to be remembered. The stories of the Saints are filled with horrific tales of beatings, torture, and murder. Many were burned to death or beheaded. They were thrown in prison and forgotten. They were ripped from the people they loved and forced to serve as slaves. Through it all they never wavered in their faith. They accepted the pain and suffering, and even sang God’s praises while their world fell apart. They were witnesses, even unto death, of the Gospel and God’s grace.
Those whom we remember this Sunday as having passed from life into death have dealt with their own suffering and sacrifices. They have learned to live as children of God from those experiences, and they have passed those lessons on to us. They should be remembered for the impact they had on the world.
We are called to have an impact, too. The Beatitudes are given to us to help us to become the disciples that God intends us to be. Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on the Beatitudes, “These eight beatitudes are nothing else than a teaching about the fruits and good works of a Christian, which must be preceded by faith, as the tree and main body or sum of his righteousness and blessedness, without any work or merit, out of which these beatitudes must all grow and follow.”
John Stott wrote, “These characteristics do not describe eight separate and distinct groups of disciples. There are not some who are meek, while others are merciful, yet others called upon to endure persecution. These are eight qualities of the same group who at one and the same time are meek and merciful, poor in spirit and pure in heart, mourning and hungry, peacemakers and persecuted. They are the characteristics of the common, everyday Christians.” The Beatitudes emphasize who we are rather than what we do. They are not a statement of social or sociological judgment about the poor and hungry, and though we are to take care of those in need, the Beatitudes are the beautiful attitudes of the people who are obedient to God’s Word, humble before God and merciful to neighbor.
“Blessed” is sometimes translated “happy.” Happiness is subjective feeling, but in this text Jesus is making an objective judgment about those who follow Him. The word “to bless” means “to speak well of.” These blessings are what God thinks of Jesus’ disciples and what they are: blessed (fortunate, “it will be well with them.”) The saints include all those in Christ in every time and every place, including us. The saints are those who have been blessed by God’s grace and who lived, do live or will live in the faith that is a gift from God. That blessedness is not accompanied by some sort of giddy happiness or a life of prosperity. Jesus calls those whose lives are ravaged by the world as “blessed.”
The book of Revelation has been widely interpreted, and misinterpreted, since John wrote it nearly two thousand years ago. Read a dozen commentaries and you’ll find a dozen different explanations for the symbolism of the images and the numbers. Today’s passage includes one of the most puzzling accounts of all. The number 144,000 has been described by some as a literal number, yet if we take that as true, even those who believe it can’t account for the many others who have been sealed by God’s grace.
Chapter Six ended with the question, “Who can stand?” Many people want Revelation to be a timeline so that each verse follows the next in time as we know it. Yet if you read the text, you’ll find that it spirals, restating similar thoughts, ideas and events in different ways. The seven seals represent seven images rather than seven time periods. In verse 3 an angel says, “do not harm anything until God’s servants have been sealed.” Yet, in the opening of the sixth seal we saw plenty of destruction. We expect the next scene to be a dramatic moment as the seventh seal is opened, but the story is interrupted. This gives us a moment to stop and consider more deeply what it happening.
The destruction is paused so that God has a chance to seal His property.An angel enters with the seal of the living God. He places this seal on his followers, identifying them as his own and guaranteeing his protection over their souls. This is how valuable we are to him. Our physical bodies may be beaten, maimed, or even destroyed, but NOTHING can harm our souls when we have been sealed by God. Those sealed are moving toward God’s future. They are sealed by the lamb.
John heard that 144,000 were sealed. This number is interpreted many ways, but should not be considered a literal number. The number 12 is a symbol of faith, the church and divine rule. It is a number of completion. One thousand is the largest number known to those in John’s day. The 12 tribes recall the Old Testament promise that God will preserve Israel. If 144,000 is interpreted as the Church it includes Israel because they, too, will be saved. Then John saw a great multitude. This is a different perspective of the previous scene; the 144,000 and the multitude are the same. This multitude is from every nation and tribe and people and language. It is a number no one can count. These saints of the Old Testament and the New Covenant are clothed in white carrying palm branches which are symbols of baptism and victory. The Lamb is honored as God.
The number 144,000 represents the full measure of those whom God has saved and who stand ready for eternity to praise God. Instead of limiting eternal life to a few, God receives all who believe. He makes children out of all those who wash their robes in the blood of Christ. That is an awkward image for us. Anyone who has had to wash a garment that has been stained by blood knows that it is impossible to make it clean. How can blood make a robe white as snow? And yet, in faith our robes are made white by Christ’s blood.
These are the saints, but the text does not just refer to those who have died and gone to heaven. The apocalyptic text gives us a picture of what life will be when everything has been fulfilled. That multitude represents all those who have believed in Jesus throughout time and space. We stand somewhere in that multitude. We are part of those who have washed our robes in Christ’s blood and who will spend eternity worshipping God. We are the children of God. We are the saints. This scene gives us the comfort of knowing that when persecution comes, God’s faithful will already be sealed. Thanks to God’s grace we are blessed with this future, but that doesn’t mean that our present will be without pain. We will suffer. We will get sick. And yes, we will die.
In the scene from Revelation we are assured that God is faithful. He is worthy of our praise and we are called join with all the heavenly host in worship even today while we still wait to join the multitude.
“Amen! Blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might, be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” This sevenfold blessing is a doxology, praising God in every way. It begins with the word “Amen,” which we usually use to end a prayer, but here it calls us to listen. John uses the word “amen” often throughout his writings, particularly in his Gospel to indicate that Jesus is about to say something very important. “Amen, amen lego humin” is Greek for “Truly, truly, I say to you.” When John writes that Jesus said “Amen, amen” we should listen. So, too, both the “amens” in this passage call us to hear the words of the angels that define God’s character and establish the reason for our praise. We praise God because His is the blessing, His is the glory, His is the wisdom, and He deserves the thanksgiving because His is the honor, His is the power and His is the might.
The Christian message is viewed as foolishness in today’s world. We are called to submit to God, and yet the world claims there is no God. We are called to love our neighbor, and yet the world says that we should love our selves. The Gospel tells us that God in flesh died so that we might have life. What foolishness! Yet, God is wiser and more powerful than anything we can imagine, and we know that He loved His children so much that He did everything necessary to reconcile us to Him. He shed the blood of His own Son so we could wear gleaming white robes of righteousness.
The world reads today’s Gospel lesson and laughs at the foolishness. The beatitudes are eight beautiful attitudes that are lived by those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel is organized to establish Jesus as the foundation, as the One who accomplished the will and purpose of God in this world. His life was parallel to the people of Israel, but where Israel failed to keep the faith, Jesus did so and in doing so, Jesus made it possible for the rest of us to do so, too.
John writes, “See how great a love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God! For this cause the world doesn’t know us, because it didn’t know him.” We are the saints, the children of God. It is the love of God that gives us this grand and glorious title; by His mercy we are adopted into His family and we will inherit His kingdom one day, just as those faithful ones we have loved and lost have already received their inheritance. We live in the hope of faith that one day we will join them to dwell forever in the presence of God. For now we have to deal with the reality that we are blessed though we are ravaged by the world. Sometimes the blessing is in the suffering, as with those martyrs of old whose robes were washed with their own real blood; they were blessed because they passed through death into the bosom of God for eternity by the blood of Jesus Christ.
People die. Injustice exists. All too many people have no problem stepping on others to get ahead. We will suffer. We would like to think that the promises found in the beatitudes will be fulfilled in this life; they sometimes are. I have found great comfort in the love of my family and friends. I have experienced mercy. I’ve known the presence of God and seen His face in the faces of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I've shared in the waters of life and God has indeed wiped away my tears. Yet, I know that I will still feel hunger and thirst. I will cry again before I pass into life eternal.
The closest we will come to experiencing the future kingdom of heaven in this life is at the at the communion table when we share the Lord’s Supper. I grew up in a church that received communion at railings that surrounded the Table. Later we joined a church that only had railings around the front and sides of the Table. It made me sad because I loved the image of us as a congregation kneeling in a circle together, joined together in the feast. One day, however, I realized that the circle was closed, but those who filled the missing side were all the saints in heaven. I imagined my mother and other forefathers, my friend who died when we were teenagers, and so many others kneeling there with us, taking the body and blood of Jesus as one body in Him.
In some forms of the liturgy we hear words like these: “Join our prayers with those of your servants of every time and every place and unite them with the ceaseless petitions of our great high priest until he comes as victorious Lord of all.” Our worship is timeless and the fellowship numbers in the multitudes. During Hallowmas, we are reminded that the veil between life in this world and the next is very thin. While there aren’t ghosts kneeling with us as we receive the body and blood of Christ, they are there amongst us, sharing in the same feast and worshipping the same Lord.
What is a saint? A saint is one in whom God takes pleasure, the ones who are humble before Him, believing His Word, and receiving His salvation like a crown. Let us thank God for all those who have loved and served Him throughout time so that we would know His mercy and grace today.
“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. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. If we live by the Spirit, let’s also walk by the Spirit.” Galatians 5:19-25, WEB
There was a time when I loved Halloween. As a kid I loved to dress up and go trick or treating. My best friend and I would always have a sleepover on that night and we’d enjoy comparing our bags of candy and trading for our favorites. I really enjoyed tic tacking, a juvenile activity in which we stole corn from a farmer’s field and threw it at houses and cars to annoy the occupants. It almost got us into deep trouble when one driver became angry about it. I doubt I’d even consider about doing it these days. I never liked the idea of soaping cars or toilet papering houses, but I had friends who did.
I enjoyed visiting Haunted Houses and recall a time when I went to one with a group of friends. It was a professional house at the shore, so the characters were paid actors, not high school kids working for a charity, like the ones I used to visit around home at Halloween. I was a bit cocky that day and I boasted as I walked in the door that nothing can scare me. That gave the actors the incentive to target me during the visit. Immediately one actor came at me, and I backed up against a wall, slide down in a corner and screamed a bit. We ran through the rest of the house; I couldn’t even tell you about the displays. One friend lost a flip flop somewhere in the middle, but we didn’t stop to find it. We just bought her a new pair at the next souvenir shop.
I still have a box filled with decorations, including a skeleton I made with PVC pipe. I’ve made life size spider webs with yarn and an extra large spider. I used to have a mannequin that I made in college that we display in the yard; she held a light bulb in her hand and I always used spooky colors. I loved to go to the pumpkin farm to pick out the biggest pumpkins. I enjoyed the fun when the kids were little, and I sometimes still sit out with candy or goodies now that they are older. I even have a metal jack-o-lantern that I have in my doorway. There really isn’t anything wrong with one day of fun and mischief, as long as it does not harm others.
We’ve decided to be scrooges this year. The weather has turned very cold and damp, and I don’t want to sit out and get sick. We also live in a neighborhood where children are dropped off at the corner from other places around town. There is a traffic jam at our corner for hours on trick or treat night. Last year we had well over three hundred children. Instead of giving candy to so many strangers, I bought some Halloween surprises for the children who are our closest neighbors. I am sure we would be more likely to celebrate Halloween if we still had little ones.
I struggle with the whole idea of Halloween, not as many Christians who emphasize the pagan roots and other worldly aspects of the holiday, but because we see Paul’s list of vices in full array on Halloween. Besides the obvious vice of sorcery that is listed in today’s passage from Galatians, there are several that are particularly appropriate to discuss on Halloween. I can’t imagine our children behaving sexually or with drunkenness, although too many costumes these days are “sexy” this or that, even costumes for little ones. Unfortunately, we can see many of the other vices on display during these holiday celebrations. I suppose I was guilty of a few when I was young.
The word that is translated “lustfulness” is best understood as a 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? This even happens at the Harvest Parties, which are meant to be a Halloween alternative particularly in Christian communities. Trick or treating and costume contests give children license to overindulge and fight to be the best. We see too much darkness and hatred in the Halloween celebrations. Many children, especially the older ones, dress up like zombies, vampires or witches. These evil characters might be chosen with a sense of good humor, but they can also be frightful. There also seems to be a lot of delinquent behavior on Halloween, acts that really do harm our neighbors.
Paul leaves this list of vices open to other vices with the phrase, “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, please?” Pride? “My costume is better than yours.” I like to have fun and to pretend, but as Christians we are expected to uphold a certain standard every day of the year, including Halloween. Paul gives us a much better list of ways to live. I see that, too, with the children who are taught to say “please” and “thank you” and to be considerate to the others who are there to have fun.
I will miss the adorable costumes and the little voices say “Trick or Treat,” thankful for the treats. As we celebrate this day, whether during Halloween trick or treating or at a Harvest Festival, let’s teach our children that fear and excessiveness is not an appropriate way to have fun, but that a good and truly blessed life includes the fruit of God’s Spirit.