Welcome to the October 2021 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
A WORD FOR TODAY, October 2021
“No more will there be an infant who only lives a few days, nor an old man who has not filled his days; for the child will die one hundred years old, and the sinner being one hundred years old will be accursed. They will build houses and inhabit them. They will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They will not build and another inhabit. They will not plant and another eat: for the days of my people will be like the days of a tree, and my chosen will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain nor give birth for calamity; for they are the offspring of Yahweh’s blessed and their descendants with them. It will happen that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together. The lion will eat straw like the ox. Dust will be the serpent’s food. They will not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain,” says Yahweh..” Isaiah 65:20-25, WEB
Sequoia National Park is one of several national parks that protect the giant ancient trees that still amaze us today, Sequoia is the home of the world’s largest tree (in volume), the General Sherman, and four more of the world’s ten largest trees. It is also where you can find the highest point in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney. There are plenty of other features to see, including Moro Rock (a granite dome), Tokopah Falls, and Crystal Cave. Sequoia was the second area set aside as a National Park, the first was Yellowstone.
The Giant Sequoias, Coastal Redwoods and other Old-growth forests are amazing places, with trees that are bigger than we can imagine and older than we can remember. The General Sherman sequoia is estimated at being 2300-2700 years old. The oldest non-clonal tree on earth is Methuselah, a tree in the Great Basin, and is estimated to have germinated in 2832 B.C. Several sequoias in the Sierra Nevada are more than three thousand years old. There are old growth trees all over the world, including a four-thousand-year-old Yew tree in the United Kingdom and a Mediterranean Cyprus in Iran. A clonal colony of quaking aspens in Utah is estimated to be 80,000-1,000,000 years old. In the clonal colonies, the individual trees may be only a few hundred years old, but the roots are much older. One Norway spruce in Sweden is the oldest known individual tree in a clonal colony at 9,500 years old.
Isaiah wrote “for the days of my people will be like the days of a tree.” Could we become as old as those trees? The human with the longest lifespan recorded in the Bible is the one for whom the tree in the Great Basin was named; Methuselah was 969 years old. It is unlikely that any of us will live for hundreds of years let alone thousands. We certainly won’t grow old with the Redwoods or Sequoias. Perhaps, however, God was referring not to individual trees, but those old-growth clonal colonies. Instead of being like a redwood or sequoia, we are like those quaking aspens that have roots that are older than we can remember. While He wants each of us to live our lives to the fullest, He promises that His people as a whole will live as long as the life of a tree.
We are reminded that as individuals we will not last forever. Even those giant sequoias and redwoods die. Though they are now protected from human harvest, they still suffer loss from natural causes. The Giant Sequoias were threatened by an intense wildfire this year, and though the oldest and most famous wee protected, as many as ten percent were destroyed in the last two years. A 3500-year-old pond cypress in Florida was destroyed by fire in January 2012. A sacred Formosan cypress in Taiwan collapsed following heavy rainstorms in 1997. The Washington Tree in Giant Forest Grove in Sequoia National Park was once the second largest tree. In 2003 it was struck by lightning and lost a portion of its crown. Since it was structurally weakened by the lightning and fire, the remaining crown collapsed under the weight of heavy snow. It was once 255 feet high and now stands a mere 115 feet. Despite the damage, the tree is not quite dead, and may still live for many years and even centuries into the future. Even still, it will die one day.
So will we, but God has promised that His people will live on. We are individuals who will pass on some day, but we are part of something greater, something older that will last. We are part of His Kingdom and in that sense we will last forever. So, let us live together in the promise that what we do for His Kingdom will go on. When we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, others will join us. They will become part of the Kingdom He has established and they, too, will live forever. The world in which we live may seem to be going up in flames, but we need not fear the future because God has promised that there will be a time when everything will be made right. We will grow old with those ancient forests and live in peace.
“Praise Yahweh from the earth, you great sea creatures, and all depths; lightning and hail, snow and clouds; stormy wind, fulfilling his word; mountains and all hills; fruit trees and all cedars; wild animals and all livestock; small creatures and flying birds; kings of the earth and all peoples; princes and all judges of the earth; both young men and maidens; old men and children: let them praise Yahweh’s name, for his name alone is exalted. His glory is above the earth and the heavens. He has lifted up the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints, even of the children of Israel, a people near to him. Praise Yah!” Psalm 148:7-14, WEB
We put out birdseed for the birds, but the squirrels enjoy our offerings, too. One feeder is filled with food that squirrels and larger birds particularly like, including peanuts in the shell. The squirrels love the peanuts. I have watched the creatures (perhaps one who keeps returning) digging through the food to find those peanuts. With peanut in its mouth, the squirrel finds a spot in our yard and buries it. He’s saving it for later, of course. One day the squirrel ran across the street to our neighbor’s yard. The last I saw it, it was headed straight for the statue of St. Francis that watches over their garden. It is almost like the squirrel knew St. Francis would protect its peanut until it was needed.
Today is the Feast Day for St. Francis of Assisi. Most people are familiar with this saint, statues bearing his likeness grace the gardens of many animal lovers. St. Francis was known for being a very gentle being, his charm able to sooth even the most savage beast. Many churches hold special services to commemorate his life, offering a chance for the people to present their animals for blessing.
St. Francis is remembered for his simple life of poverty. Yet he did not begin life poor. As a matter of fact, he was the son of a very wealthy merchant, and it is thought that his mother was even born into nobility. As a child he was spoiled with everything his heart desired. As a young man, he lived a life of pleasure, wearing fine clothes and fully immersing himself in the social activities of the nobles. He was a soldier who sought victory and honor. He enjoyed the wealth of his father and the opportunities his position provided.
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, founding an order of monks devoted to the same rule of obedience, poverty and chastity.
St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as teaching this prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
It is said that St. Francis reunited with his brothers after a period of separation. They met in a remote monastery in the Umbrian mountains of central Italy. The brothers shared their travel adventures. The first two brothers shared harrowing life-threatening experiences and were thankful to God for saving them. Then St. Francis is reported as saying, “Let us thank God for his wonderful works. I did experience the greatest miracle of all on my way. I had the smoothest, most pleasant, completely uneventful trip.”
An artistic tradition is attributed to St. Francis. Nativity scenes are often used at Christmas, but I confess that I have a collection that I keep up all year long. Many churches put out lovely scenes. I loved the creches that are found throughout Europe. The scenes include grottos, hills, trees, lakes and rivers. Figures are added daily of the people that visited the Christ child in the stories: the shepherds, wise men, and ordinary folk from the village such as a laundress, baker or blacksmith. Some scenes include local heroes, zampognari (pipers) and other characters. Baby Jesus is added on Christmas Eve. In the midst of celebration that does not always seem Christian, Christ is still the center. It is said that St. Francis asked Giovanni Vellita to create a scene to use in church. St. Francis conducted the mass in front of it, inspiring awe and devotion. Since then, people have worked hard to create the most beautiful scenes.
The stories of the Saints are meant to reflect the life of Christ, including those of St. Francis. These stories may be exaggerated to give those Saints a fuller, more Christ-centered life. Francis was known to have experienced stigmata, which are visual wounds on the body similar to those of Jesus. They appeared 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 it.
St. Francis praised God with the rest of God’s creatures. His radical poverty, itinerant nature, and selfless servanthood are certainly reflections of the life and love of Christ. In his life of obedience, poverty, and chastity, St. Francis was able to experience the deep and loving relationship between Father and son, between God and a man that shines His grace throughout the world.
“Jesus answered them, ‘Be careful that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Christ,’ and will lead many astray. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you aren’t troubled, for all this must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be famines, plagues, and earthquakes in various places. 8 But all these things are the beginning of birth pains.” Matthew 24:4-8, WEB”
Our question for this week is the question that led to Jesus’ answer in today’s passage. The disciples asked, “Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” Many answer this question with a list of signs that they’ve seen. They pull verses from throughout the Bible with suggestions of the things for which we should look. They identify the false prophets. They point to historic and natural events. The name those they believe are the anti-Christ. Jesus does give a list of signs, but you’ll note that these things have happened in every generation since He walked on earth. Instead of looking for signs, Jesus warns us to study His Word so we’ll know when we are listening to a false prophet. He encourages us to stay true to Him so that we won’t be led astray.
I saw Elvis once. He was in a gas station in Arkansas. He was wearing black denim pants with a blue country style shirt, a big belt and boots. He was overweight with a head full of black hair, including bushy sideburns. He looked pretty normal but very different, almost like he did not belong in that place at that time. I’ve heard it said that Elvis is spotted all over the country, usually in places like McDonald’s, Minit Markets or Wal-Mart. After my own sighting this week, I can certainly understand why. Elvis had a very distinctive look, one that stands out of the crowd. And yet his features are not that unusual. Elvis impersonators are a dime a dozen and there are some who really look the part.
Elvis died in 1977. We remember him as he was a long time ago, whether it is the show Elvis with the glitzy costumes, or the older Elvis with the effects of age. If he were still alive, he would be eighty-six years old and it is likely that he would have a completely different appearance. He might be bald or have a head of gray hair. He would probably move more slowly. Even the healthiest people see the signs of aging as they get older. Yet, we still have many Elvis sightings around the United States.
I know I did not see Elvis that day; it was just a man who happened to look like him. I have other experiences when I have seen people who might have been someone famous. I suppose we have all had such experiences, like a glimpse of a politician in a crowd or a movie star at the theater. Even the rich and famous have to take care of their daily needs of food, shelter and transportation. Granted, they often have people to take care of those needs, but sometimes they are spotted out in public. The trick is knowing for sure if you have seen the real thing, or just someone who happens to look like them.
The same can be said about the things of faith. Jesus warned us that the day would come when false prophets would come and do things that seem to be real. He warned that the devil would perform signs and wonders to fool the people. There are those who will even come and claim to be the savior.
It is easy, when looking at the news each day, to wonder if we have reached that time in history that we can call “the last days.” We have reached that time and have been in them for nearly two thousand years. Since the inception of the Church, there are those who have come to claim to be sent by God. False prophets, counterfeit messiahs with bogus signs and wonders will always be with us. Many will try to convince those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ that they have a better answer, a more complete understanding of the Truth of God. Oh, they will say they come in Jesus’ name, even quote His words and show their power to be like His. But they will not be real, just a copy of the true. We have to discern the good from the evil, the right from the wrong, the true from the false. This is a daily task, particularly in our world today where we are immersed in too much information.
Are we close to the end of all time? We are closer today than we ever have been. However, I don’t know if it will come tomorrow or in two thousand years. The date is unimportant. We need only remember to keep our eyes on Jesus, to trust in His promises as we walk in this world. For whether His return is immediate or in the far distant future, we can know that He will be faithful. Watch out that you are not deceived. To whom are you listening? Does their word line up to what Jesus has already told us? Remember, the devil himself can do great and extraordinary things; he can do signs and wonders to fool those who are looking for Christ. We know it is from God when it points the Jesus who is the Messiah, our Savior. There is no other and there never will be, for He is the only one who could possibly bring the blessings of grace to the world.
Scriptures for October 10, 2021, Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 3:12-16; Mark 10:17-22
“Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us. Establish the work of our hands for us. Yes, establish the work of our hands.” Psalm 90:17, WEB
The cross is often used as a visual representation of the relationships in our lives. The pole or column indicates the relationship between God and man, between heaven and earth. The crosspiece indicates the relationships between people, reaching out from the center to the ends of the earth. Both parts of the cross are necessary for it to be complete, and so it is with relationships. We need to be in relationship both with God and with one another to be whole. As we saw in last week’s Old Testament lesson, the Man was alone even though he was with God. God gave him other creatures, and then the Woman, so that he would not be alone.
The relationship with God takes some work on our part. Amos writes, “Seek Yahweh.” While God does come to us, and most dramatically He came to us in Jesus and on the cross, we are called to seek Him. We could not find Him if He hid His face from us, but we can miss His face if we do not seek Him. We seek Him through prayer, through worship, and through His Word. The pole or column of the cross is a two-way street. God reaches down to touch us as we are reaching up to reach Him. Thank God He reaches down because we could never reach high enough to touch Him.
The people to whom Amos was speaking might have appeared to have the “right” relationship with God, but their earthly relationships proved otherwise. They were trampling on the poor, hating those who called for repentance. They were unjust, untrustworthy and uncharitable.
The lectionary often gives us split passages. It makes me wonder why. The missing verses often have nothing to do with the concept of the passage chosen for that particular Sunday. Those verses have something important to say, but it is a completely different idea. That is certainly true in the missing verses in today’s Old Testament lesson. Verses 8-9 (along with verse 5) is a sermon in itself because it contrasts the limitless glory of the Creator, as we see in the text, with the things worshiped at the pagan influenced shrines in Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba. Obedience to the God who made the stars, brings life, and waters the earth will lead to a life of justice, trust, and charity.
Amos calls the people to this kind of life. He wrote, “Seek good.” When we seek goodness by living a life of justice, trust and charity, we will see the God of hosts. In our relationships with others in this world, not only those that we choose to love but also our neighbors who seem unlovable, we will see the face of God. We were not meant to live alone, but to live amongst all the creatures of the earth, even (especially?) those we might not like very much. We tend to treat those we hate with unkindness and injustice. When we do this, we make it impossible to live and experience the relationship we are called to have with God. We can’t reach toward heaven if we aren’t reaching out to one another. God can’t reach out to us if we are too busy hurting others.
I watch “The People’s Court.” The cases often revolve around money that the giver sees as a loan and the receiver sees as a gift. Judge Milian looks for evidence to decide who is telling the truth. Are there emails or texts talk about repayment? Did the recipient sign anything? Did they make any payments? How much was the loan and could the giver afford to make a gift of so much money? In the end she usually has to make a judgment about the money, and she uses as much information as she can glean from the testimony, including the rise and fall of the relationship between the litigants. Sometimes a gift becomes a loan when the relationship changes. Sometimes the truth is that the money was a loan, and the recipient is just trying to make excuses to get out of paying. When the case goes in that direction, Judge Milian will often say to the defendant, “I wish I had friends like yours. No one has ever given me a thousand dollars as a gift.”
People just don’t give large amounts of money without a reason. What would you think if someone came up to you and offered you a million dollars? If you are normal, one of your first reactions will be the question, “What do I have to do?” We know that in this world no one gives something so extravagant without expecting something in return. In many of the cases seen on “The People’s Court”, the giver often had an underlying purpose, a hope that the recipient would meet the giver’s needs or desires. They say there is no such thing as a free lunch in this world, and we believe it. Most of us feel like we have to reciprocate everything: dinners, presents, or good deeds. Unlike those on the court cases, we tend to want to pay for everything, even gifts. We are so cynical that we won’t even accept a simple act of kindness without trying to pay it back.
On the surface, today’s Gospel story seems to be about a man who honors and respects Jesus and His teachings. Mark tells us that he ran up to Jesus, knelt before Him and called Him “Good teacher.” The reality is that this was little more than flattery spoken by someone who was looking for Jesus to justify the life he was living. The young man is described as wealthy. It is possible that he was even part of the ruling class, perhaps even a Pharisee. He wanted Jesus to tell him what he needed to do to earn a place in heaven, but he was expecting that Jesus would tell him that he’d done more than enough.
Jesus’ initial answer was uplifting to the young man. Jesus quoted the Decalogue, listing the laws that involved relationships between human beings. The man could easily respond that he has never killed, cheated, stolen, lied or coveted and he honored his parents. “Teacher, all these things have I observed from my youth.” He was a good man, good according to the expectations of the world around him. I can almost hear Jesus’ sigh; I hear it every time I think of myself as a good person. I can also say that I have lived up to the words of the law. I’m fairly generous with my resources and I try to do kindnesses for my neighbors.
“Jesus looking at him loved him.” We are no different than the rich young ruler. We want to know what we have to do to earn the kingdom of heaven. We respond to Jesus’ answer in the passage with a sigh of relief. It should be easy for us to earn heaven because we are generally good people. Murder, theft, adultery aren’t part of our daily lifestyle. We even try to bring our good life before the Good Teacher with humbleness and respect. “I have done all these things.” Jesus looks upon us with love.
Yet, in love He responds with a greater expectation. “One thing you lack,” He continues. Even though we do everything right and are generous with our resources, we still have something in our life that is more important. We aren’t willing to give it all up for God. We aren’t willing to let go of our old life and follow Christ without burdens and baggage. For this rich young ruler, the burden was wealth. He became sad when Jesus told him that he had to sell everything, give it to the poor and then follow Him. He walked away because Jesus expected too much.
I wonder if the response would have been different if Jesus had said, “Give half your stuff to the poor.” The man would then have still had enough to survive in the world without relying on the charity of others. He would have had a place to hang his hat. He would have had finances to support the ministry he may have been willing to do. Jesus said, “Get rid of it all.” The young man wanted to know what he had to do to earn what God was giving for free, so Jesus made the payment beyond the young man’s ability to pay.
The disciples were shocked and asked, “Then who can be saved?” The truth is that no one can be saved by their own goodness or good works. But Jesus answered, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for all things are possible with God.” This is good news! God is offering us a gift worth far more than a million dollars and He is asking nothing in return. When we ask what we have to do to earn this gift, the cost is always beyond our ability to give. How will we respond? Will we respond with sadness, turning away from God or will we truly be humbled by His amazing grace?
St. Teresa of Avila was born in 1515 A.D, which was a time of upheaval in the world. Christopher Columbus found the new world a few years earlier and adventurers were traveling to distant lands in search of wealth and fame. Martin Luther fought against the mammon-centered focus of the Church which was selling indulgences to build a bigger and more ornate building in Rome a few years after her birth.
Even the Carmelite nunnery where Teresa had committed her life to serving God sought wealth above piety. As a matter of fact, the nuns were known to dress in finery to entertain visitors in the parlor of the convent. Teresa taught lessons on prayer for money to aid the financial position of the house. It was thought that wealth bred respect, so the nuns sought wealth to earn the respect of the community. The nuns were even sent out into the world to live among the people, not to serve, but in search of gain for the order.
Teresa was not a particularly righteous or “saintly” woman. As a matter of fact, she is as known for her ability to create trouble as she is for piety. Even in prayer, Teresa the mystic provided fodder for her detractors. At a very young age, she convinced her brother to leave home with her to go be beheaded by the Moors. She was charming and well liked. She considered the enjoyment of her friends as her greatest vice. She joined the Carmelite order not because she was particularly called to serve God, but because it seemed like the easier path for her to take. Her attitude changed as she matured in faith, and she focused her life more on God. She worked at reforming the Carmelite order, but she also retreated into herself where she found great comfort in the presence of God.
She succeeded in creating a reform movement, establishing houses for nuns that centered on God rather than power, position, or wealth. It was a simple life, living strictly in the monastery. They identified with the poor by going shoeless. Though money was not the goal the sisters worked hard to earn enough to support the community and their mission to serve Christ in the world.
We look at the story of the rich young ruler and we wonder what might have happened to him after he walked away from Jesus. Did he continue to live the life of wealth, seeking after the things of this world? Or did he perhaps continue to listen to Jesus and slowly come to the realization that the life he was living did not really fit God’s will? Teresa is not the best example of a saint who has turned their back on everything worldly for the sake of God and the Gospel. However, we can look at her life and see that change often takes a lifetime.
When Jesus says, “one thing you lack” we are brought face to face with the truth that we too have our failings that separate us from God. Even the most pious or righteous person can’t reach God’s expectations. That’s why we need Him. St. Teresa once said, “God treats his friends terribly, though he does them no wrong in this, since he treated his Son in the same way.” Jesus’ answer to the rich young ruler seems so wrong; to require him to give up everything is beyond extreme. Yet, in this very act the man would have found something even better. Perhaps one day he did. We might never know. We can rest in the hope that as we go through life, all too often focused on all the wrong things, we might truly understand the gift God has given by grace through His Son Jesus Christ.
The Psalmist today asks God a simple question, “How long?” According to the title of the Psalm and tradition, this was a song of Moses. It was probably written during a time of trial brought on by the hard hearts of God’s people. The Hebrews wandered in the desert for forty years; this unfortunate detour of their travels was not because God wanted them to be hungry and thirsty, or that He could not lead them on the right path. They wandered for forty years because they rebelled against God at Mount Sinai. During those years of wandering, the Hebrews complained about everything; they even thought it would be better to go back into slavery in Egypt than to continue wandering in the desert and eating manna.
The Hebrew word translated “how long” can also mean “enough is enough.” This makes sense to us. We identify with the question and the interjection. “How long?” we ask, and “enough is enough” we plead. When we are in the midst of trying times, when we are facing trials and temptations, we wonder how long we will have to suffer. We cry out to God seeking some sense of the time. Will we hurt for a long time or for a brief moment? Our cry is for the time to be short, for God to have mercy. We cry that we’ve had enough. We ask God to relent, to repent of the course He has set before us. We seek His mercy and pray for His compassion. We seek His steadfast love.
When we ask the question “How long?” we are usually looking for a number. We like to define time according to our clocks. Human beings have always tried to make His world fit into our ability to define and measure everything. We have determined that there are 60 seconds to a minute, 60 minutes to an hour, 24 hours to a day, 7 days to a week and 52 weeks to a year. But God has designed the world around us to move perfectly according to His good and perfect will. We can’t make it fit into our own understanding of time and space. We can’t even work to make ourselves perfect, let alone the creation. This is why we seek God. Only He can control the days, weeks and months, and only He knows the course our life is meant to go. He gives life and He takes it. He guides and directs our footsteps.
We might plead with God that enough is enough and ask God to define the time according to our understanding, but God will always give us something better than we expect. He will help us to number our days, to realize that our time is short and that it will be best used according to His perfect will and purpose.
They say that God will only give what you can handle, but I recently heard it put a better way. God will give you only what He can handle. God gives us all we need to live in this world and the next. He has mercy and grants forgiveness that we might truly have more than earthly time, giving us an eternity to spend praising His holy name. He will help us to live through our times of trouble with the hope of what is to come, and He will help us to work according to His grace.
In our Gospel lesson Jesus asked, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except one - God.” He knows we are going to fail, and He identified Himself with us. He took on our very nature as His own, despite the reality that He is truly good. Jesus knew the man’s heart, just as He knows ours. He knew the man would be devastated by His answer, but Jesus looking at him loved him. That’s why God forgives. He knows us better than ourselves. He knows we can’t do it on our own. He knows that we will constantly fail to live up to His expectation of our lives. He wants more from us and knows our life will be better if we follow Him.
God calls us to a life in which we “Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the courts.” We may not be good, but we can do good in God’s name. We can serve Him by using our resources for the sake of others. Jesus made the task impossible for the rich young man, but if he had only listened and followed, he would have discovered the incredible blessing that comes from putting God first in the world.
We are shocked when Jesus says, “Don’t call me good,” because if Jesus isn’t good, then how do we have any chance? But we are reminded by the writer of Hebrews that Jesus shared in our frailties. “For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus knew how hard it was to be a human being; He was tested just like every other man. When we go to Him with our pain and frailties, He can sympathize. Yet, He was without sin and because of His own obedience to the will and word of God; we can trust what He says. There is one thing we all lack - God - because we have something that we hold in higher regard than Him. For the Israelites in Amos’s day, it was their twisted justice that trampled the poor and oppressed the righteous. For the rich young ruler, it was his wealth. What is it that Jesus is asking us to give up to follow Him? In what do we trust more than God?
What Jesus was trying to get across to the young man and those who overheard the conversation is that it is not about what we can do to earn our place in the kingdom, but rather what God can do and what God has done. Amos calls the people to live in a relationship with God. He shows them their faults and their frailties. He points out their injustices. Most of all, he shows them that they are no longer in a relationship with their Creator. He shows them that following God is the better way.
They had turned away from Him to worship the false gods, and they were unjust, untrustworthy, and uncharitable. He was calling them to live a life of justice, trust, and charity, but that life was too hard. They focused on their wealth, and the keeping of their wealth. Amos told them to seek something better: the LORD. It might seem like a burden to turn around and follow, but there is where the true blessing is found. It is there we will find peace and rest.
We can’t do this alone. We are all so easily tempted by the world. The excuses are right on the tips of our tongues. What harm is there in calling a loan a gift? Those who take advantage of others, whether giver with demands or a receiver with excuses, do not live according to God’s grace. The truth is we really do harm our neighbors when we do not live according to God’s Word.
We need to help each other. It took just one voiced doubt in the desert to turn the entire nation of Israel against God. It takes just one moment of disobedience to set us on a wrong path. We need to encourage one another to be obedient so that we will all be blessed with the promise.
Christians have an advantage over the psalmist; we have seen the fulfillment of Moses’ prayer. The Lord had compassion on us; He sent His Son to take His wrath upon Himself. He has proven His unfailing love through the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. He has favored us with His Holy Spirit through whom He establishes the work of our hands for His glory. Let us praise God for His greatness, His mercy and His love.
We can’t do it ourselves, but Jesus made it possible for us to approach the throne of grace with confidence and to receive that which God gives so freely. He does not give us more than He can handle. At His throne, we find mercy and forgiveness. It is there that God takes away our burdens and makes us free. It is there He helps us through all our trials and suffering. We get to the throne through the cross because it is there that we see that God does know our suffering and that He can overcome anything we bring before Him.
It is all about grace. We can’t live up to the expectations of God’s commandments, but God is with us through it all. He looks on us with love; He provides the way for us to go. He calls us to follow Him so that we will experience the blessings He desires for our lives. We can confidently sing with the psalmist, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us. Establish the work of our hands for us. Yes, establish the work of our hands,” because God is faithful to all His promises.
“As he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are crazy! Your great learning is driving you insane!’ But he said, ‘I am not crazy, most excellent Festus, but boldly declare words of truth and reasonableness. For the king knows of these things, to whom also I speak freely. For I am persuaded that none of these things is hidden from him, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.’ Agrippa said to Paul, ‘With a little persuasion are you trying to make me a Christian?’ Paul said, ‘I pray to God, that whether with little or with much, not only you, but also all that hear me today, might become such as I am, except for these bonds.’” Acts 26:24-29, WEB
There is a local landmark called the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum. It is an intriguing place, with walls filled with taxidermy and rooms filled with curiosities. There is a room to honor Texas Rangers, a room designed to look like a small Texas town, a room full of furniture made with horns. Some of the more interesting items are pictures made out of rattlesnake rattles. There are two-headed animals, a topsy-turvy room, and a stuffed gorilla that stood guard in the Saloon for many years. They even had a re-creation of the car in which the infamous Bonnie and Clyde were killed. The taxidermy animals included everything: deer, birds, longhorns, wildcats, giraffes, and even an elephant.
Visitors to this museum wander wide-eyed with mouths open. There are five rooms filled with thousands of incredible items, including the antlers of an Irish Elk. The animal has been extinct for over nine thousand years, but was once found all over Europe, North Africa and Asia. This elks’ antlers are at least ten feet wide and shaped much like that of a modern elk. The rack was so large that the head seemed way too small; the animal must have had an incredibly strong neck. According to the sign, this type of elk was the largest species of deer to ever exist; a mature Irish elk weighed 1000-5000 pounds and stood seven feet tall at the shoulders. The antlers averaged 12 feet and weighed 80-90 pounds.
How long could you go wearing something that heavy on your head? The elk was large, but how long could you last with something that was 5-10% of your weight on your head? I sometimes get a headache just from wearing a heavy barrette. I have a thick head of hair and have to cut it regularly because the weight eventually bothers me. I know it is time to go to the beauty parlor when my neck and back begin to hurt and I get a lingering headache. I would always be in pain if I had to carry 80 or 90 pounds of bone sticking out of my head!
Unlike the elk, our bodies aren’t built to hold such a heavy weight, but the burdens we carry aren’t always on our heads. They aren’t even always a physical burden that needs strength to carry. Look at Paul: he was a missionary, pastor, preacher and teacher. He went out in the world telling others about Jesus, teaching them how to be Christian. His mission got him in trouble on many occasions. There are always people who do not want to hear the Gospel message. They don’t want to believe in Jesus. They prefer to believe in their own gods or religions. Those most vehemently opposed to Christianity even found ways to make it a crime.
The text for today comes late in the story of Paul. He was arrested for preaching and during the trial he appealed to Caesar. He was a Roman Citizen as well as a Jew and a Christian. He had rights that many of the Jews and Christians did not have; but they treated him poorly because he was a Jew and a Christian. Appealing to Caesar meant that they would be forced to properly try him to execute justice. At the end of this passage, King Agrippa even concedes that if Paul had not appealed to Caesar, they would have had to let him go; Paul had done nothing to deserve the punishment of death.
I don’t know how I would have responded to this situation, after all, isn’t freedom better than facing the possibility of death? Wouldn’t being a free Roman Christian have a better impact on the world than being imprisoned and executed? I don’t know if I could have carried such a heavy burden. I don’t know if I could continue to preach the Gospel with such gusto and peace. Despite Paul’s ridiculous choice to be tried, he continued on the unbelievable path because he hoped that his words would turn the faith of his enemies!
Would you carry such a heavy burden? Would you continue to share the Gospel message even if your life hung in the balance? Would you hope for your neighbors to know the Lord and become Christians if doing so was dangerous? What fear or pain or anger or frustration will keep you from being a witness to Christ’s grace? What is your tipping point? How far are you willing to go today to share the truth that Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the answer to the prophecies and the only way of salvation?
“But don’t forget this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some count slowness; but he is patient with us, not wishing that anyone should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be destroyed like this, what kind of people ought you to be in holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, which will cause the burning heavens to be dissolved, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:8-13, WEB
I went to the zoo yesterday. I had an errand to run, and I couldn’t be so close and not spend time visiting my animal friends. It was fairly early in the morning, so many of the animals were still active; the coolness of the day and recent breakfast gave them the energy to run and play. I tend toward my favorites when I visit. I usually spend a long time in front of the flamingo exhibit, as well as the lions and tigers. I spent time with the lemurs yesterday because they were behaving with all sorts of silliness. I got one photo of a lemur that will make me laugh for a very long time.
The best visit was with the tiger. We have two, a male and a female, which will eventually be bred, but until then they are kept separate. Jamaal is the female, and she was the one who was out and about for the day. She was typically sleeping in her favorite spot, one that makes it possible to know where she is but impossible to get a decent picture. I stood for a while, hoping she would wake. I called, “Here kitty, kitty” a few times, which made other zoo visitors laugh. As if a tiger is a kitty like our domestic cats.
I have said all along, though, that cats will be cats, whatever the size. I doubt my “Here kitty, kitty” is what woke Jamaal, but within a few minutes she was up and wandering around her habitat. She went to the doors that go into her den; I suspect a keeper was in there and that she was expecting some lunch. She quickly gave up with that and went to the pond. There is a barrel that the tigers like to play with, and she put her paws on it, but then saw a stick, which she picked up. She got bored with the stick pretty quickly and eventually moved to the deck that gives the tigers a higher view. There was a log on the edge of the platform. She played with it for a while and then I could see where it was going.
Anyone who knows anything about cats knows that they tend to push things off tables. There are many videos out there that prove this point. I was right, Jamaal knocked that board off the platform onto the ground. The funniest part was the photo I took of her face when it happened. She looked like she was thinking, “I can’t believe that the log is gone!” She went to the ground, sniffed the log, then began wandering her habitat again.
There are those who have tried to explain this behavior. Cats use their paws to test and explore objects, and the movement, sound, and touch or feel of the object helps them understand what might be safe or not. It is natural, then, that sometimes the items will accidentally fall off. This might be true, but cat owners know that sometimes they do it on purpose. I’ve looked at one of my cats with sternness and said, “No.” They returned my look with one of innocence, keeping eye contact while they slowly move their paw to the item. I can repeat “No” a hundred times and those cats will continue innocently pushing the item until it is on the floor.
Cats will be cats. I noticed it with others in the zoo. They curl up into little balls to take their nap. The sit with regal indifference when they are resting. They have their favorite spots. I see all these characteristics and actions in my own kitty. Even the “Here kitty, kitty” is met with the same, “Well, perhaps I’ll deign to honor her with a brief moment of my attention. My cat will often enter the room meowing, and I’ll tell him to come to me. He doesn’t. He sits just out of reach meowing. It works, of course. I get up and walk to him, pick him up or rub his belly. We think we have them trained, but the reality is that they have us trained.
We take care of them because we love them. They make our life better in some way. We learn about ourselves by watching them, because while cats will be cats, they all have personalities that we can see in our human family, friends and neighbors. Have you ever watched a toddler in that “I think I’ll test mommy today” stage? They are just like the cat who is acting innocent even while they were planning their next move. I once watched a mother with a toddler in a shopping cart in the grocery store. The child kept dropping something on the floor. Mom had to pick it up and she always gave it. When she did, he dropped it again. This happened over and over again, and it made me smile. Parents have all been there, and while it is silly and annoying I’m sure some educator will tell you that there is a reason for the behavior. Jamaal’s game made me smile; I could even see in her face that look of “Should I?” and then the moment she decided that she should. God is patient, and He is constantly moving us toward repentance and maturity of faith.
I’m sure the keepers have patience with Jamaal’s games, just as that mother had with her child. Imagine how God must feel about our silliness? We look at Him with innocence but act in willful disobedience, but God is like that mother giving us chance after chance to grow in faith and maturity. Thankfully God is patient. The mother may have seemed to some that she was giving in to the child’s whims, but there was learning and bonding happening in that grocery store that day. The same happens between God and His children. We might think we are getting away with something, but God is able to use even our silliness to bring us closer to Him. Let us remember that time is in God’s hands; while He is patient, time will end. God smiles at us, but He hopes that we will mature in faith and walk in holy living and godliness as we wait for His day to come.
“Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus, and said, ‘You men of Athens, I perceive that you are very religious in all things. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription: “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” What therefore you worship in ignorance, I announce to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands. He isn’t served by men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself gives to all life and breath, and all things. He made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the surface of the earth, having determined appointed seasons, and the boundaries of their dwellings, that they should seek the Lord, if perhaps they might reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. “For in him we live, move, and have our being.” As some of your own poets have said, “For we are also his offspring.” Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold, or silver, or stone, engraved by art and design of man. The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked. But now he commands that all people everywhere should repent, because he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he has ordained; of which he has given assurance to all men, in that he has raised him from the dead.’” Acts 17:23-31, WEB
Our question for this week comes from the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus prepared His heart for the trial and crucifixion that was just hours away. Peter, James, and John went with him to a secluded place, and Jesus asked them to watch with Him. He was troubled and told them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with me.” They fell asleep. He returned to where they were sleeping and asked, “What, couldn’t you watch with me for one hour?”
No man is an island. Jesus wasn’t just a man, He was God, and He could have done it all alone. He had the Father with Him. He had armies of angels at His command. He didn’t need a few fallible human beings to get Him through His night of grief. He didn’t even need the Twelve or the dozens of other followers who were committed to His ministry, both male and female. He could have done it alone. He didn’t, though. He chose those Twelve and invited so many others. We think of DaVinci’s “Last Supper” when we think about that night, but there were likely many others in the room besides the Twelve. He didn’t need them, but He loved them and He called them to continue His work. He even knew they’d fail, but He prepared the Way for them to take God’s grace into the world.
Jesus knew what was about to happen, they did not. They should have, because Jesus told them several times that He had to suffer at the hands of unbelievers. They heard Him say these things, but they didn’t really understand. They didn’t really believe this word of His. They didn’t want to believe it. They thought that it was just another night of Passover. They were tired from long journeys and a huge meal. They weren’t waiting for anything to happen. Jesus was different; He told them He was troubled and exceedingly sorrowful. They still didn’t understand that everything they’d done for three years was about to dramatically change. Jesus may have been able to do it by Himself, but He needed them.
He needed them to watch, not for His safety, but for their souls. He warned them when He found them asleep that they could be easily tempted away from Christ. How quickly they forgot! Jesus asked, “What, couldn’t you watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray, that you don’t enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” This time He told them to pray. He needed to seek God’s strength to get Him through the night, but so did they. Instead of praying, they fell asleep again. It happened three times. They would soon abandon Him in more physical ways, as Peter would deny Him and the rest would run and hide. But at that moment, they abandoned Him in spirit. They fell asleep when He needed them the most, and by falling asleep, they succumbed to the temptation to abandon Him altogether.
Jesus the Son of God did not need the disciples. He knew they would fail Him. But Jesus the Son of Man desperately needed to know that those whom He’d chosen would watch and pray with Him as He accomplished the most difficult thing any human being was ever asked to do. He knew they would fail, but He hoped they would stand.
Jesus asks us the same question, “What, couldn’t you watch with me for one hour?” Jesus doesn’t need us, but He hopes we will watch and pray, to stand with Him despite the temptations around us. Don’t we also experience times when we want to deny Jesus like Peter? Don’t we also want to run away like the rest of the disciples? Following Jesus is hard. It can be frightening. Quite frankly, it can lead to death as it did for some many of the Apostles and Christian martyrs throughout history. Peter and James would die at the hands of unbelievers; though John would live to old age, he would spend his last days as a prisoner for Christ. Are we willing to do the same?
He doesn’t need us. He can do it all by Himself. But He died for our sake and calls us to continue His work in the world. He knows we are no different than those disciples, but He has given us something that they did not have: the Holy Spirit. Let us pray that we won’t be tempted to fall asleep just when we can help Him the most. With God’s grace we can watch with Him for opportunities to share the Gospel so that all those who do not yet believe will hear and repent so they too might be raised to new life in Him.
“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
Yesterday I wrote, “No man is an island,” but there are people in the world that we think can do it on their own. They seem strong, wise, independent. They don’t seem to need anyone or anything to accomplish everything they want to do. Unfortunately, I think this happens too often with our pastors. We love and support them, but we don’t think they need us. We count on them to pray for us, to share the Gospel with us, to counsel us when we are struggling. We expect them to visit us when we are sick and to provide for our spiritual well-being. We don’t think they need us. How can we minister to the minister?
If Jesus needed His disciples, how much more do our pastors need us? No man is an island, and while our pastors do have families and friends outside of their congregations, they also need our support.
Some think that a pastor’s job is easy. After all, they only work an hour or so a week, right? That’s not even remotely true. Being a pastor is a 24/7 job. They put hours into planning that hour a week when we come together to worship our God. They study the scriptures so that their messages are not only relevant to our lives, but so that they are biblically founded and true to God’s Word. They are available for us at our moments of deepest need, answering the phone at insane hours in case a parishioner is sick. They bury our dead and comfort those who grieve. They advocate for those who are dealing with difficult situations. They counsel people with troubles in their relationships. They take upon their shoulders the burdens of our sin and struggle with the emotions of those to whom they are ministering.
On top of the spiritual work they do, they are often responsible for mundane tasks around the Church. Most pastors can tell you about days they’ve been on their hands and knees cleaning up overflowing toilets and sitting late at night at their desk pouring over budgets. They order materials, lead preschool children in worship, attend committee meetings, outreach to the community and pray for every one of their sheep.
A pastor once told me that a council member once had an issue with his record of work. The pastor had recorded all his home and hospital visits, the hours spent preparing a sermon, the community gatherings at which he represented the church and other work that he did. He included the number of hours in prayer. The council member was shocked. “Shouldn’t you pray on your time?” he asked. No, the truth is that praying for the flock is one of the most important jobs of a pastor. Not only does it take their needs to the One who will hear and answer, it also tightens the bond between pastor and parishioner. Our pastors share everything with us, our grief and joy, our hopes and doubts, our assurance and our fears.
They need us as much as we need them. October is a good month to celebrate our pastors because it gives them the strength to help them through the upcoming season. We don’t realize how busy they are through Advent and Christmas, not only with extra services and social engagements, but also with the struggles of life. More people die at this time of year. More people struggle with emotional issues, suffering from depression and loneliness. It is a time when God’s people need guidance so that they will make the right decisions about resources and relationships. They carry our burdens throughout the year, but the burdens of the next few months tend to be especially heavy.
Our pastors are there for us year-round, so we should never limit our thanksgiving and our prayers to one month, yet this is a very good time for us to remind them how much they are appreciated. Send a note or a token that will brighten their day. Remember that they have a hard job, perhaps one of the hardest of all. They are responsible for so much more than a twelve-minute sermon on Sunday morning. Be compassionate, merciful and full of grace; they are carrying the burdens of the world on their shoulders. Be careful about how to deal with them so that they can glorify God and do their work with joy.
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 Paul’s 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.
Scriptures for October 17, 2021, Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost: Ecclesiastes 5:10-20; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 4:1-13 (14-16); Mark 10:23-31
“For we don’t have a high priest who can’t be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin. Let’s therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace for help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:15-16, WEB
God created the world in six days, and then He rested. He did not rest because He was tired, but because His work was done. The gift of the Sabbath, given from God to mankind, is a moment in time when we can stop and rest, knowing our work is done. But it seems like our work is never done. We take time on the weekends from whatever job pays our bills, but then we must mow the lawn or do the laundry. We have to go grocery shopping or change the oil in the car. We need to do our work at church, preparing the things for worship, singing in the choir or teaching Sunday School. The rest of Sunday is spent doing the work that didn’t get done on Saturday. By Monday morning, we begin again without ever really finishing.
So many of our commitments are good things; we volunteer at church or in our neighborhoods, giving ourselves sacrificially to other people. At times, however, these responsibilities become burdens. We no longer “want to” do these tasks, we believe we “have to” do them. We grumble and moan when we need to attend yet another meeting. Our work is never done, and we get very tired of it all. Too often, we fear that if we don’t do everything that comes our way, we will disappoint our Father. We think we are righteous by what we do, so we feel we need to do more and more to be right with God. We never enter His rest.
Moms never get any rest. She has her hands full of the usual paraphernalia that moms carry - diaper bag, purse, carrier, and baby. She also carries a phone. Each item has its place on her shoulder or under her arm. She is burdened with so much baggage and yet she somehow manages to take care of everything. Moms just seem to gain a few hands during those early days of childhood; they become Octopus Mom. But there are times when even a mom needs help.
Doors provide a difficult obstacle, particularly when the need to be pulled open. At times it is necessary to put down the burdens we carry to be able to get through the door. It really is a joy when there is someone who will help us by opening the door, although we sometimes think we have to do all it all ourselves, as if we are Supermom defeating the door with our own strength. Unfortunately, that attitude appears in other aspects of life. Even as Christians, we tend to carry our own pain, unwilling to burden our family or friends. We try to be Superchristians, defeating the greatest evil with our own power.
Today’s Gospel lesson is a continuation of the story that began last week of the rich young man’s visit to Jesus. “What must I do to be saved? I have observed all the commandments since my youth.” Jesus looked at him and loved him, “One thing you lack...” Jesus said. The obstacle Jesus placed in front of the young man was his stuff.
The young man was heartbroken because he had a lot of stuff. How do you get rid of everything you own?
I often ask this question when I see stories of those people who have chosen to live in tiny houses. My art supplies would never fit into such a small space, let alone my whole life. As a matter of fact, my husband and I did not downsize when we bought our latest house, as many do when they become empty nesters. We bought a larger house so that I would have room for a studio. This is the first house we’ve had since we were married that doesn’t have furniture pushed against every wall. There is room to move, a place for cats to run, storage space for my junk. I can’t imagine every getting rid of everything to move into a house that is just two hundred square feet.
I make it sound like I am a hoarder, but I know how to purge. We moved regularly as a military family, and while we probably moved too much, we always let go of things we knew we would not need. Well, almost always. Our tour in England required some storage, but when we returned to the United States, I ended up getting rid of almost everything that we did not have for four years. Our latest move nine and a half years ago was an incredible undertaking. We had lived in that house eight years and it is so easy to let things pile up. The kids were on the verge of adulthood, so we donated truckloads of things we didn’t want to move to another house.
When the pandemic hit, I joined millions of others in the quest to simplify life. We did some redecorating, which meant moving furniture, including a desk. The desk drawers will filled with junk from the last house, so I emptied each one, separated the good from the bad. I threw out useless items and filled many boxes to donate. After the desk, I began cleaning the other junk drawers in our house. I cleaned bookshelves and purged hundreds of books from my collection. I gave kitchen items to my children who are both establishing their own homes. I even got rid of some furniture. Even after all this purging, I know I cold get rid of more.
While I still have too much stuff, I have also learned to limit my collecting. I celebrated a birthday this week and my husband repeatedly asked me what I wanted. I know he means well and that he wants to show me his love in tangible ways, but I really didn’t want anything. Do I really need another tchotchke to clutter my shelves? Do I really need the latest kitchen gadget? He’s going to ask the same question in a month or two as we prepare for Christmas, but the answer will be the same. It isn’t that I want to be difficult, I am just content. That said, I still don’t think I could get rid of everything for Jesus’ sake.
Today’s Old Testament reading from Ecclesiastes is a little uncomfortable for us who love our stuff. The writer writes, “He who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase: this also is vanity.” Have you ever noticed that when you satisfy one desire, you soon have another? We start with a little, but we always want more. Who can eat just one potato chip? It is hard to collect just one porcelain figurine. No one has just one pair of sneakers, but I confess that I have shoes of every color so that I can match my shoes to my clothes. I also have socks to match. I rarely leave the kitty store without yet another toy for our baby, even though there are so many in the house he can’t possibly play with them all.
The writer of Ecclesiastes talks about the vanity of collecting stuff, after all, we can’t take it with us. We labor for everything we have. We not only chase after that next piece to our collection, but we labor to earn the money to purchase, labor to keep the dust from it. We even labor at holding on to it against those who want to take it from us. Our focus is on our stuff, and we lose sight of other things. Too many men pay more attention to their car than their girlfriend. Too many women are more concerned about which shoes to wear. Children don’t like to share because they are afraid someone will break it. We lose sight of joy because we are too worried about what will happen to our stuff.
As the writer says, “As he came out of his mother’s womb, naked shall he go again as he came, and shall take nothing for his labor, which he may carry away in his hand.” There is a joke about a man who was near death. He had spent his life working hard for his possessions and he prayed that he might take some of it with him to heaven. An angel heard him, and though the angel told him that he could not take anything, the man implored the angel to ask God. After a time, the angel reappeared and told him he was allowed to take one suitcase. He died and went to heaven. At the pearly gates, St. Peter stopped him and said that he couldn’t bring the suitcase. He retold the story of the angel’s visit and after St. Peter checked it out, he returned and said, “Ok, but I have to see what is in there.” St. Peter opened the suitcase to find bricks of pure gold stacked neatly inside. He said, “Pavement? Why did you bring pavement?” We love our things, but we have to remember the value of anything of this world is miniscule compared to what we will experience in eternity. We don’t need to take gold to heaven because the sidewalks are paved with gold. Everything in heaven will be better than anything we have on earth.
The message of Ecclesiastes isn’t all bad news. The writer goes on to say, “Behold, that which I have seen to be good and proper is for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy good in all his labor, in which he labors under the sun, all the days of his life which God has given him; for this is his portion.” God wants us to enjoy our life on this earth, not to the point that our possessions are our focus, but in thanksgiving for the God who has made all good things possible. “Every man also to whom God has given riches and wealth, and has given him power to eat of it, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor - this is the gift of God.” We are called to a life in which God is our focus. Our stuff is meaningless in terms of eternal destiny, but they are blessings to be enjoyed.
The key here is to remember the priorities of life. The Ecclesiastes passage for today ends, “For he shall not often reflect on the days of his life; because God occupies him with the joy of his heart.” We don’t need to worry about today or about our stuff because our hearts are filled with real joy in knowing that our God is gracious.
When we put down our burdens, we find it much easier to accomplish the work God is calling us to do. In the Gospel story, Jesus referenced a gate called “the eye of the needle,” which was a tiny gate that led into Jerusalem. It was convenient to the trading routes but was so small that a fully loaded camel could not fit through. It was not impossible - but the merchant needed to unload the camel, lead him through, and then reload the things onto his back.
Jesus invites us to unburden ourselves of everything that keeps us from walking through the gate. For the rich young man, it was his wealth. Our burdens are our own, but none are so great for God to carry. We just need to give everything to Him, the good things as well as the pain. We need to give Him our families, our wealth, our bodies, and most of all our hearts. Jesus tells His disciples in the following verses that because they have given up their very lives for Him, they will receive blessings far greater than they left behind. The same is true for us, we will be blessed for our submission. Our treasure will be in heaven.
The rich young man was distraught over the command of Jesus because his focus was on the stuff rather than the One by whom He was blessed. The one thing he lacked was not poverty. It was the joy of knowing that God is the center of blessedness. Joy, true joy, does not come with stuff that sits around getting dusty but is found in our relationship with our Creator and Redeemer God.
The rich young man missed what was important in the encounter with Jesus: that Jesus loved him. Jesus knows that the world tries to distract us with shiny bobbles. “It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into God’s Kingdom.” His words were shocking to the disciples because they did not see who could be saved. Jesus answered, “With men it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God.” Then Jesus promised that those who are willing to set aside the things of this world for the sake of the Gospel will be blessed beyond measure with even more. However, it will come with a price: persecution. We have reason to rejoice because the promise of eternity is greater than the wealth of this world, and even if we suffer now we can do so with joy because the day will come when the promise will be fulfilled.
We chase after stuff, but God offers us something even better: rest. We exhaust ourselves with the work to pay for our stuff, with the searching for the stuff, with the caring for the stuff, and with the protecting of the stuff. All this for stuff we have to leave behind. But God says, “You don’t have to exhaust yourself over all this; put me first and you’ll have enough. You will have even more in the Promised Land. Rest in me, for in Me is the true blessing.”
Some people, even Christians, never really experience the rest that comes with faith in Christ. This is not a rest that means we do nothing with our lives. God calls us to work. He calls us to produce. He calls us to be witnesses and to serve others. He calls us to be good stewards of all we have been given. He doesn’t even mind that we fill our lives with things that we enjoy. But He might call us to rid ourselves of everything to follow Him completely. This is a call to trust that God is faithful to His promises and the blessings of this world are simply a foretaste of that which is to come in Heaven. One thing they lack is complete trust in God and the joy of knowing that God is the center of our blessedness.
We have talked multiple times about Psalm 119. It reads like a redundant law-filled text and is often ignored. However, there is value in the words of the entire psalm because it turns us toward the One from whom all rest and blessing is received. There are eight different law words used in the psalm, each describing a different aspect of God’s Word. If you understand that each word has a unique meaning, then you see what the psalmist was telling us more clearly. The theme of today’s text is ultimately “staying in God’s Word.” We learn that it is there that we find rest and joy.
The psalmist asks how a young man can be pure. The answer is by obeying God’s divine spoken Word. We can look for Him in our religious obligations. We must keep His promise close to our heart so that we won’t turn from Him and do what is wrong. We can seek God’s teaching on how to live properly and according to His rules. We can accept God’s judgment when we do wrong and rejoice through our worship practices. We can, and must, focus on God’s authority over our life and there we will find rest.
See how each word means something different? Each verse of this stanza of the psalm refers to something different: the spoken Word of God, the obligations of faith, the promise, the teachings, the rules, the judgment, the rituals and the authority each have a place in our life and as we are obedient in all ways we will find a life blessed by God’s graciousness. None of that will earn us eternal life in Heaven, but it will help us to live a life that glorifies God in this world as we wait for the promise Jesus won for us on the cross.
Jesus was so much more than we can expect or desire. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is Redeemer. He is the Great Shepherd. He is our brother, our friend, and our master. He is our teacher. He is the Great High Priest as the writer of Hebrews describes in this week’s epistle lesson.
Human beings are very good at making titles something pompous and extraordinary. We take something simple and make it complicated to give ourselves a boost in ego or a seemingly higher position in this world. Some actual job titles are preceded with words like “great,” “grand,” “chief,” “senior,” or “lord.” Other amplifiers that are used are “honorable,” “prestigious,” “right worshipful,” or “magnificent.” I am sure we could come up with dozens of others. These words might be helpful to know a person’s place in this world, but in most cases these titles simply raise an ordinary person to some extraordinary position. In England, for example, the mayor of a town is addressed “the Right Worshipful, the Mayor.” This seems like an extreme title for any man or woman.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that we have a “Great High Priest” adding an amplifier to the role of the most important leader in the temple. Yet, this title was not given to a man is was given to Jesus Christ. Is it necessary and what does it mean? For some, the titles almost make it seem as though they are beyond humanity, something above the average person.
In the case of Jesus as High Priest, it is not simply a title to make Him greater than others. As a matter of fact, the title itself actually identifies Him more with His human brothers and sisters. A priest is not one who rules over a people, but rather one who serves God and man. A priest is a servant and in the case of Jesus, the perfect servant who though He was tempted He never sinned. Though the human response to such greatness would tend to make such a man unreachable, in the case of Christ this is a title that makes Him even more gracious. He knows what we are experiencing, so He offers mercy. The pompous sounding title does not make Him beyond our reach. Instead, He calls us to approach Him with boldness.
I hope that if the time ever came for me to choose between God and the world that I will make the right decision. I know, however, that Jesus loves me even when I fail. I know that He understands the draw of the world and the bobbles that it promises. I know that He sees my heart and that He sees the flicker of faith that is at the center of my being, the faith that He has given by His grace. Day by day, Today even, I find I can let go more and more as He fills me with Himself. One day I will have to give it all up; one day I'll die and stand at those pearly gates. I don’t have any pavement to take with me, but I hope that I won’t feel the need to beg God to let me take a few of my favorite things. I hope that my little faith will be enough to keep my focus on the Lord now so that I won’t worry day by day what will happen to my stuff because the joy in my heart is from God. For now, I pray that God will help me remember that the meaningless dust-catchers I will have to give up in this world will be replaced with so much more: eternal rest and joy and peace.
“I said, ‘I will watch my ways, so that I don’t sin with my tongue. I will keep my mouth with a bridle while the wicked is before me.’ I was mute with silence. I held my peace, even from good. My sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me. While I meditated, the fire burned. I spoke with my tongue: ‘Yahweh, show me my end, what is the measure of my days. Let me know how frail I am. Behold, you have made my days hand widths. My lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely every man stands as a breath.’ Selah. ‘Surely every man walks like a shadow. Surely they busy themselves in vain. He heaps up, and doesn’t know who shall gather. Now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Don’t make me the reproach of the foolish. I was mute. I didn’t open my mouth, because you did it. Remove your scourge away from me. I am overcome by the blow of your hand. When you rebuke and correct man for iniquity, you consume his wealth like a moth. Surely every man is but a breath.’ Selah. ‘Hear my prayer, Yahweh, and give ear to my cry. Don’t be silent at my tears. For I am a stranger with you, a foreigner, as all my fathers were. Oh spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go away and exist no more.’” Psalm 39, WEB
I confess that I’m not always very good at keeping my tongue, and it is usually at the most inappropriate moments when I do so. I can get angry or frustrated, and I take it out on the person in my way. Sometimes the person needs to hear that they are not doing what they should do, but too often I do it in a way that is unsuitable, sometimes even humiliating for the person who is being chastised. We’ve all heard the term “Karen” referring to middle aged women who “want to talk to the manager.” While I’m not really that type of woman, I have to admit that sometimes after I’ve had a confrontation in public that I probably appeared to be one. Who knows, one day I may find a story I recognize on one of those articles.
Unfortunately, we tend to be worse when it comes to our own family. We were at a picnic when my son copped an attitude. It turned out that his sister was sitting on the chair we specifically brought for him. There were other chairs, but for some reason it was his favorite. I didn’t know we had special chairs and it was not a good time for him to complain, so I snapped to threaten him into submission.
It was a bad time to snap. There were many people around, including his friends. Public humiliation is never a good discipline technique, but instead of taking him to private spot to explain when his actions were not appropriate and to ask him to cooperate, I embarrassed him at that place and time. Kids love to use moments like that to rag on their friends. “Man, your mom got you good!” Adults are not much better. Even the briefest instant showing a lack of control can be used against a person and the gossip spreads quickly.
We can also lose our cool in private at inappropriate times, like when we get angry with our spouse. We should always be sure that our children are not listening when we argue. A mother and father may not always agree about things, but it is best not to snap at each other in front of the children. Unfortunately, couples in the midst of an ugly divorce will often try to use the children as weapons in their battles; they tell the children things they should never know. This type of information can ruin the relationships and only exasperate the situation.
We get mad at our kids and our spouses, but we also get mad at God. Things do not always go as we expect. We face the consequences of our disobedience, and we are persecuted for our obedience. Sometimes it seems as though God is a million miles away, having abandoned us for some unknown reason. We respond in pain and cry out “Why me?”; we shake our fists at God in anger. We are not alone in this. Even King David, who was a man after God’s own heart, wondered why he had to suffer. It is normal in the course of human emotion and experience to have times when we blame God for our difficulties. Yet, David understood the consequences of a public proclamation of God’s guilt.
To reprimand a child in front of his friends does little to solve the situation and it tends to make things worse. The child, in response to the kidding he will get, may act out in a worse manner and rebel in ways that are even more difficult to handle. When parents reprimand one another in front of the children, they lose the integrity of their unity as one unit raising children. These experiences will not affect only one side of the equation. The children and the parents will suffer when the relationships are broken, even if it is for a short period of time.
When a Christian rages about God in front of strangers, they not only disrespect their Lord, but they also set themselves up for suffering from their enemies. Who would want to worship a God that is so horrible? Who would respect the will of a God that seems to have so little control of His believers? Yet, when David tried to stay silent, out of respect for his God, the sorrow burned within his heart. He had to speak out against the pain. We can do so, for God is indeed strong enough to handle our anger. We are His people and He loves us even in our inappropriateness. It is important, however, to remember that is a good time to take our pain to God and a good way to do so. We can take it to Him in our prayers, or seek help from other Christians who can remind us of His grace. We need to be careful that we don’t dishonor Him in the eyes of those whom He seeks to welcome into His kingdom but will reject Him because of our disrespect. God will hear our complaints but let us always remember that He has not gone far from us, no matter how things seem. He hears us and answers. His grace is greater than our suffering, and His love will always see us through.
“Consider the lilies, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if this is how God clothes the grass in the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith? Don’t seek what you will eat or what you will drink; neither be anxious. For the nations of the world seek after all of these things, but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek God’s Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you. Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Luke 12:27-34, WEB
Everyone who has ever had a pet has seen trust in action. The depend on us for food and other care, and they form their habits around their expectations of us. We feed them, and they soon rely on that food at a specific time of day. Our current cat is very vocal when that hour draws near, constantly meowing until we respond by getting out of bed. Unfortunately, he is used to very early morning meals because Bruce is out of bed very early during the week. He doesn’t understand that we can sleep in a little on weekends, so he meows until we give him his breakfast.
We had another cat named Felix who demanded his breakfast in a different way. He wanted his breakfast at a certain hour, but he usually waited for the alarm to go off to start doing whatever was necessary to get us out of bed. First he purred in our ear. If that didn’t work, he put his head under our hand to get us to pet him. He climbed all over our bodies and sat on our chests with his nose in our face. He showed us love to get our attention. He was persistent and anxious to get his food, but his actions showed his love and trust. He could be quite annoying, particularly on those days when we were able to sleep a little later. Yet even when we refused to respond, he remained patient, knowing he would be fed.
What does it mean to trust? Trust is defined as having total confidence in the integrity, ability, and good character of another. Though pets are unable to discern and define such character traits, they certainly can recognize those who will feed and care for them. They don’t reason the way people do, but they learn to trust based on action.
Sometimes we human beings reason too much. We think about our needs and worry about where we will get the money to do everything we need and want to do. We look at our budgets, often cutting our charitable giving first. We know we need to eat and pay for shelter to keep safe and dry. We don’t realize how much of our money goes to things that simply are not necessary, like the bigger car, the house in the best neighborhood, or the newest technology. Human beings trust in the wrong things. We turn to our jobs, our credit cards, and our desires for worldly objects for happiness and contentment.
Yet, we should never put our trust in worldly things. God our Father has promised to provide everything we need to live day to day.
If only we could live our lives like our pets. They need nothing but a warm place to sleep, food and water, and the companionship of people who love them. They trust that we will continue to provide them with all those things. Some pets like Felix will respond with patience if left to wait, coming to us with a love that speaks of thankfulness for that which he knows to be true, that we will be faithful to our promise to care for him. This is contentment.
Too often, we human beings trust in the things of this world rather than One who gives us all we need. We worry about bills and where our next meal will come from, but we fill our homes with stuff that is just not necessary. We think contentment comes from our material wealth, yet it will perish. Jesus tells us that we should trust God our Father, because He is faithful to His promises. He has promised that He will provide everything we need, and as we live our life of faith we will gain a treasure that can never be destroyed: eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Do you feel like God is slow in answering your call? Seek His kingdom; enter into His presence with love and thanksgiving. When you trust Him, He will provide for your every need.
“Have mercy on me, Yahweh, for I am in distress. My eye, my soul, and my body waste away with grief. For my life is spent with sorrow, my years with sighing. My strength fails because of my iniquity. My bones are wasted away. Because of all my adversaries I have become utterly contemptible to my neighbors, a horror to my acquaintances. Those who saw me on the street fled from me. I am forgotten from their hearts like a dead man. I am like broken pottery. For I have heard the slander of many, terror on every side, while they conspire together against me, they plot to take away my life. But I trust in you, Yahweh. I said, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand. Deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me. Make your face to shine on your servant. Save me in your loving kindness.” Psalm 31:9-16, WEB
The question for this week comes from the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus cried from the cross, “Eli, Eli, lima sabachthani?” That is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 or Mark 15:34) It is a quote from Psalm 22. Do you ever feel abandoned by God?
This story of Jesus’ Passion doesn’t seem like good news. The horrific events of the first Good Friday make us wonder how it could ever be called good. Jesus, without an understandable reason, was abandoned by God, falsely judged, beaten and humiliated and then hung on the cross. After a few hours of suffering, Jesus died. Even in those final moments, the people ridiculed Him, yelling for Him to save Himself. The criminals that were punished by His side joined in the scorn. His disciples disappeared; only a few of the women stood nearby. That doesn’t seem very good.
The good news wasn’t found on that cross. It was, without a doubt, a horrific way of accomplishing what God intended through Jesus Christ. No death, not even the death Jesus suffered, is good news. The cross was necessary to complete God’s work and we would have no joy on Easter without it. But what made that Friday good were not the events leading up to the death, but everything that followed. Jesus’ final cry unleashed the power of God in incredible ways. At that moment, the curtain in the Temple tore and the earth shook with earthquake.
It is easy to imagine that the curtain tearing in the Temple had something to do with this earthquake, but it was no coincidence. An earthquake that didn’t bring down the walls of the Temple could not cause the ripping of an extremely heavy curtain that was nearly two inches thick. It was the partition that separated God from humans, the entry into the Most Holy Place where very few men were allowed. Only the High Priest on one day a year could enter that place, and only after a long ritual of cleansing and preparation. On that day, the priest entered the most holy place to sprinkle the blood on the Ark of the Covenant to atone for the sins of the people.
Jesus changed all that. With the shedding of His blood, it was no longer necessary to shed the blood of animals that had no eternal affect. Jesus was the final lamb. He was the One who could provide forgiveness forever. The priest would never have to enter into that Most Holy Place once a year again, because Jesus finished the work. For that to happen, Jesus had to be abandoned by His Father.
Jesus died at the ninth hour, 3:00 p.m. Even to that final moment, Jesus was in control. During the final moments on the cross Jesus took care of the last-minute business. He forgave His enemies. He honored His mother and gave her a son to care for her future. He provided hope to a sinner in need. When all was complete, Jesus cried out for the last time and gave up His spirit. The world rocked with the anger of God.
His death came quickly. Mark gives us a few final words from Jesus. He cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which Mark translates to mean, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” The people gathered at the base of the cross misinterpreted His cry, thinking that He was calling for Elijah to save Him. He was remembering Psalm 22 where David cries out as a godly sufferer. By turning to those words Jesus identifies with the pain of David and all the people who suffer. It is a psalm of comfort, which gives hope to the sufferer in the midst of their trial by remembering the promises of God.
As we look back on the events of that horrific day, we might think that the suffering was at its greatest when the physical pain was the worst. But for Jesus the greatest suffering came at that moment when the weight of the world’s sin was on His shoulders; our sin made it impossible for God to look upon His beloved Son. Jesus cried out in His abandonment; in His cry we see His humanness. He may have suffered the pain of all His wounds for hours, but it was that one moment when He was truly alone, if ever so briefly. That is when He suffered the most.
Yet, even when His Father seemed to be acting in an uncharacteristic, unmerciful, and unloving manner, Jesus continued in His will of the Father. He did not save Himself even though the crowd shouted that He should. Instead, He gave a loud cry and died. He suffered the ultimate abandonment in the moment when He needed God the most, and He did it willingly. He was not willing to follow the cries of the crowd; they were fickle, following every wind. They did not know what they were doing. He had to die for God’s promises to be complete. His amazing grace was realized through the most incredible act of sacrifice: the beloved Son, the Priest-King, offered Himself as the Lamb of God for the forgiveness of all sin for all men in all time.
The Psalmist understood this tug of war between desire and submission. “Have mercy on me, Yahweh, for I am in distress. My eye, my soul, and my body waste away with grief.” Though he complained of his anguish and loneliness, he trusted in God. “But I trust in you, Yahweh. I said, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand. Deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me. Make your face to shine on your servant. Save me in your loving kindness.” Everything Jesus went through was nothing compared to the promise of God’s unfailing love for His people. Jesus humbly accepted the Will of God and obediently suffered for our sake.
We benefit from the abandonment of Jesus because we see in the promise of the resurrection that our pain will not last forever. There are times when we feel alone, but God loves His people and He is always with us. We may have trouble seeing His answers to our prayers, but we can trust that God is answering according to His good and perfect will for our lives. We have reason to trust in Him because He is our God. When we ask “Why have you forsaken me?” we can believe that He loves us, that His face is shining on us even in the hard times, and that He will save us because He is faithful to fulfill His covenant promises, because Jesus willingly faced God’s abandonment for our sake.
“On the next day, the multitude that stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except the one in which his disciples had embarked, and that Jesus hadn’t entered with his disciples into the boat, but his disciples had gone away alone. However boats from Tiberias came near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. When the multitude therefore saw that Jesus wasn’t there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats, and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled. Don’t work for the food which perishes, but for the food which remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has sealed him.’” John 6:26, WEB
I have been the lead planner for a women’s retreat for our church for the past few years. There have been lots of women who have helped with the planning, I could never take credit for the whole thing, yet much of the responsibility did fall on my shoulders. I made some decisions and changes over the years based on the evaluations of those who attended those retreats. Those changes have been good, and the retreat has been better and better each year. Still, there is always someone who has something negative to say.
Of course, the evaluation gives a place to make suggestions for improvement, many who fill out the form think they should answer all the questions. They should, we need to know what needs to be improved so we can make the next retreat even better. I must confess, however, that I have taken some of those negative comments very personally. I know they aren’t meant to be, and I am getting better, but I have planned these retreats with the hope that I would make everyone happy. I know it is an impossible hope, but I still hope. I did a search on the internet for biblical answers to the question of making everyone happy. One site used the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. It gave me a perspective I had never considered.
Jesus fed a crowd of people with a few fish and loaves of bread. It was an incredible miracle as God made a little food satisfy a whole group. Yet, in the end there were still some who were not satisfied! They wanted more. After Jesus fed the five thousand, He perceived in His heart that they wanted to take Him by force to make Him king. He would be King, but He didn’t come to dwell among us to become an earthly king. The crowds wanted Him to feed them, to fill their bellies, to take care of their physical needs. It is so much easier when we rely on someone else to take care of these things. Why work for food when someone can give it to us? Jesus came to feed them a better food, the Word of God that leads to eternal life, and He would not be distracted from the Father’s will.
We all know that person who can find fault with everything. Sometimes I worry that I am that person, but I try to find the goodness and grace even when circumstances are not perfect. Good has come from the negative evaluations because we have made changes that benefit the event and the women who attend. It is very easy for us to get caught up in the idea that we can make everyone happy. Ironically, sometimes the changes we make are disliked by those who liked the old way! We can’t make everyone happy.
We aren’t as connected to the Father as Jesus was, so we struggle with knowing God’s will. We can only trust that God will help us do what is best, which is not always what makes everyone happy. It would have made many people happy to have Jesus fight for the throne of Israel, but it wouldn’t have accomplished God’s true will for us. Jesus would not have saved us from sin and death if He had followed the will of the people. This was one of the temptations that Satan presented to Jesus when He fasted in the wilderness. We can learn from Jesus that it isn’t our responsibility to make everyone happy, but to do the best we can do to be obedient to God’s plan. God’s concern is that we encourage one another to seek Him and in Him we will always find joy, peace, hope, and even happiness. We can’t give everyone what they want, but we can share with them what they need the most: Jesus.