Welcome to the September 2008 Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes














St. Matthew











Scripture on this page taken from the American Standard Version of the Holy Bible which belongs to the public domain.

A WORD FOR TODAY, September 2008

September 1, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 7, 2008: Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 119:33-40; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:5-20

Romans 13:8-14 Owe no man anything, save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: love therefore is the fulfilment of the law. And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk becomingly, as in the day; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

Bruce and I are planning to go away for a weekend in September to celebrate our anniversary. We had several ideas, but eventually decided that it would be fun to go to the Gulf coast for a few days. There is a resort area in Galveston that sounds great, so I made a reservation for a room and ticket package. As I was making the reservation, I wondered if it would be smart to go to the coast during hurricane season, but we decided to take a chance. The next day I heard about Hurricane Gustav and realized that we might have made a bad choice. I called the reservation center to ask about the cancelation policy, and breathed a sigh of relief that we could cancel up to 48 hours before we were due to arrive. As it turns out, Hurricane Gustav is not likely to do any significant damage to Galveston, but there are now several more systems that might affect our trip in a few weeks.

Our neighbors have a very special occasion coming up in a few days. The gentleman is retiring from the Air Force. His family has been arriving for a few days in preparation for the party. Most of his family is from the area where Gustav is landing. They did not know when they originally planned their trip that they would have to evacuate from their homes. They were lucky that their plans fit into the circumstances so well that although they may have done a few things differently they did not have to suddenly change their plans because of the storm.

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. When Bruce and I made reservations for our weekend away, we knew that we were choosing a place with the potential of problems, but we hope that nothing will change our plans. When our friend planned his retirement, he had no idea that his family would be dealing with the stress and uncertainty of a hurricane. We can’t put off making plans. We have to go forth in faith with the flexibility to deal with situations as they come up, knowing that somehow everything will work out well. We can cancel our plans. Our friend’s family has a place to be during this potentially hazardous time. Tomorrow may hold disappointment and difficulty for us, but for today we live in faith and hope and love.

The problem is, we don’t always react to adversity with faith and hope and love. We get frustrated when our plans are changed. We get angry when people, and circumstances, get in the way of our desires. We react negatively when things don’t go our way. It is then that we slip from being the people God has called us to be.

We might be able to take into consideration the things that could happen to change our plans, but ultimately we can’t know if we will be able to keep our plans. Things happen. People get sick. Natural disasters strike. Jobs are lost. Finances change. Death happens. So, instead of committing to things, we wait, hoping to have a better idea tomorrow of whether or not we can keep our promises. We half-heartedly agree to have dinner with some friends, but willfully cancel when something better comes along. We wait to tell people how much we love them, or do the things that will make them know our love, until it is too late. Paul reminds us to live in faith, hope and especially love. No matter what the circumstances of tomorrow might be, by loving our neighbor today we will face tomorrow’s joys or disasters with God’s grace, leaving nothing undone or unsaid so that all might see the light of Christ.


September 2, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 7, 2008: Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 119:33-40; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

Matthew 18:15-20 And if thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established. And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: and if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican. Verily I say unto you, what things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

I think one of the biggest problems many parents have, including myself sometimes, is that we demand an apology from our child when he or she has done something wrong, but the child never really knows what it is that he or she has done wrong. “Tell your sister that you are sorry,” we insist, so the child says, “Sorry.” Yet, just minutes later the child is doing the same thing all over again. The child did not even recognize what they did wrong. They simply said the word without really being transformed by the lesson.

One technique for discipline is to set aside a place in the home for “time out.” The “time out chair” is a place the child must stay for one minute for every year of their life (a three year old stays for three minutes.) The purpose is for that child to think about what they have done. When the child is put into time out, the parent gets eye level with the child and says specifically the charge. “Johnny, you hit your sister. That is not right. We should never hit our sister. Now, you have to sit in time out for three minutes.” After the time is complete, the parent goes to the child, gets to eye level and asks the child to apologize. The apology should be more than just “Sorry.” The child should repeat what they have done wrong. “I’m sorry for hitting my sister.” This way he (or she) will learn that hitting his sister is wrong.

There have been times when I’ve asked my children to apologize and when they did so discovered that they did not even know what they did wrong. I was mad about something, but they didn’t even know. I learned to ask, “What are you apologizing for” because I knew that they were often sorry for something completely different than the lesson I wanted them to learn. Take, for example, a hypothetical situation. Suppose a child broke something of value and to avoid being punished hid the item. One day a parent found the item hidden and sought the culprit. Most kids answer, “I don’t know.” Eventually the truth comes out. The child admits breaking the item and is punished. To me, the greater offense in this story is hiding the broken item and lying about it. When the child apologizes, he or she will be sorry about breaking the item, but are they sorry they lied? It is important that they learn that it is better to tell the truth. My children received much sterner punishment when they lied.

It is easy to ask someone to say that they are sorry. Many people are more than willing to apologize without even knowing what they did wrong. They would rather just admit something and get it over with rather than deal with changing in any way. Repentance calls for change, and most people would rather not change. Repentance brings change which leads to reconciliation. Saying “Sorry” is not enough. Repentance requires knowing what was wrong and turning from it. We can not truly be reconciled to one another unless we recognize what we’ve done wrong, turn from it and do something new.

But how will our brothers know what they’ve done wrong if we do not tell them? That’s why Jesus has given us the lesson in today’s passage. If our brother offends us in some way, or to be blunt, sins against us, it is not enough to demand an apology. We should sit down with our brother and explain how they have hurt us. We do it privately at first to keep our brother from the gossips. If he (or she) refuses to hear us, then we take another person who can testify with us about his behavior. Again, this is done privately to avoid embarrassing our brother. If our brother still will not hear what we have to say, then we take it to the church, who together can help our brother see his error and help him to be reconciled to us. If he still refuses to hear, then we sever the relationship.

There are a few things to consider as we follow this process. When we go to our brother about our problem, what is his answer? Do we also need to repent to be reconciled? That’s why it is helpful to go to a friend if our private conversation does not bring reconciliation. An intermediary might provide some insight into both people involved. What does it mean to sever the relationship? Does it mean that we should hate our brother who has refused to repent? Does ‘treat him as a pagan or a tax collector’ mean that we should remove them from our lives (and our rolls) forever?

Think about how Jesus treated the pagans and the tax collectors. Does He abandon us when we continue to sin against Him? He comes to us with His Word, reminding us of His mercy and grace. He fights for us. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus talked about the shepherd who left the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep. It is our task as Christians to constantly be working for reconciliation. We’ll soon hear how often we have to forgive those who sin against us. Over and over again we meet those who have hurt us with grace, remembering that we were like the pagans and tax collectors, too. We needed God’s mercy, too. We needed Jesus’ compassion, too. And so, we fight for reconciliation, even when it seems impossible. Because whatever we bind will be bound and whatever we loose will be loosed and whenever we agree with others, God will be in the midst of it, working His grace.


September 3, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 7, 2008: Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 119:33-40; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

Teach me, O Jehovah, the way of thy statutes…

Raymond and Debra were sitting in their living room watching television when Marie and Frank drove their car through the front door. This was the first scene of one of the funniest episodes of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Frank managed to find a way to blame everyone else for the situation. When he got out of the car, he asked who was going to pay for the scratches on his car. They managed to work things out and they fixed the house. In the meantime, Debra was trying to get Raymond to take a good hard look at his relationship with his parents—how he lets them walk all over him. Raymond holds his anger in until finally he explodes. The catalyst? Mismatched wallpaper.

There were dozens of reasons Raymond should have gotten mad at his parents. They interfered with his family’s life. They popped in to visit whenever they wanted and did not go home until long after they’d outstayed their welcome. They were often cruel and rude, brutally honest about how everyone else’s opinions were wrong and how they were always right. By the end of the show, Raymond had every reason to be angry with his parents. Debra was being a peacemaker, but wanted Ray to be honest with his parents. “Tell them how you feel, Ray.”

When the repairs were finished, Ray looked at the wallpaper and realized that the new wallpaper was slightly different than the old paper. The stripes were similar but not quite the same size. The difference was so small that most people did not even notice it. Even standing right next to the wall, it was difficult to see what had Ray so upset. Debra explained that it would have costs a great deal more money to have exactly the same wallpaper recreated, so she settled for something very close. Ray exploded. He demanded more money from Frank and Marie. He didn’t care how much it would cost; they were going to pay for it to be perfect. The problem, however, had nothing to do with the wallpaper. It was only the catalyst for the anger Raymond had been feeling for far too long. When he exploded, he yelled at them for all the wrong reasons.

Things would have been much better, although much less humorous, if Raymond had only been calmly honest about his feeling and his hurts earlier in the situation. That’s what Debra wanted him to do, to tell his parents how he felt when he could do it with grace and self-control. I think we do the same thing sometimes. We allow our hurts and anger to well up inside, not speaking to those who have sinned against us until it is too late. We then let insignificant problems tempt us into responding with harsh words and violent temper. In the end, nothing is fixed. The wallpaper still does not match and the relationship is never reconciled. Though we might talk about forgiveness and continue in the relationship, we never get around to dealing with the root of the problems, letting them simmer in the back of our mind until something else insignificant causes us to explode.

God spoke to Ezekiel in this week’s Old Testament lesson, saying, “When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die, and thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way; that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thy hand.” God sent Ezekiel to speak His word into the lives of the people. He gave Ezekiel the responsibility to tell them the truth, to tell them about God’s wrath and His promise. If Ezekiel failed to do so, their blood would be on Ezekiel’s hand. Jesus gave the disciples a pattern for telling people about their sins against us. This pattern is considerate and merciful, keeping the speaker humble and calm while giving a course for dealing with the unrepentant. The psalmist asks God to teach him or her how to walk in God’s way, and we can do the same. In our own situations, when there is brokenness in our relationships, God gives us a way to speak the truth while leaving room for forgiveness and reconciliation. Our tendency is to blow up over the little things. God reminds us to deal with the root causes with grace and control.


September 4, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 14, 2008: Genesis 50:15-21; Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13; romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

Genesis 50:15-21 And when Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, It may be that Joseph will hate us, and will fully requite us all the evil which we did unto him. And they sent a message unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the transgression of thy brethren, and their sin, for that they did unto thee evil. And now, we pray thee, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we are thy servants. And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? And as for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.

The story of Joseph is a foreshadow of the things to come. Joseph is a type of Christ, exhibiting two qualities that we will see in Jesus thousands of years later. Joseph trusted God and he forgave those who sought to destroy him.

Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob. I think we are especially bothered by this fact because we live in a world where parents are expected to show no preferences to their kids. We do our best to treat our children with equality, as we are able, but there is a reality that children are different. They have different needs and different gifts, so it is hard to provide perfect equality in those relationships. However, Jacob was blatant in his preference. He gave Joseph special treatment, and not because Joseph was the heir, the oldest son. Joseph was the youngest, until Benjamin, but he was the son of his favorite wife. He was loved because she was loved. He worked hard to make her his wife, and so Joseph was the prize of a well-fought battle. It was a much different time.

Joseph’s brothers saw the favoritism, particularly when he received a lovely ornamented robe. His brothers were envious of the relationship. But Joseph did nothing to help create a working relationship with his brothers. He accepted the favors and even showed them off to his brothers, whether done mischievously, malevolently or unknowingly, and helped build the wall of anger and hatred that separated him from his brothers.

One day Joseph had a dream in which could be interpreted to mean that he would rule over the members of his family. They were upset by this dream and they plotted to kill him. The oldest brother did not want the blood of his brother on his hands and the other brothers were, so when a merchant caravan passed, they sold Joseph to the wandering Ishmaelites, and made it appear as though he were dead. Jacob mourned.

Joseph ended up in Egypt. There he worked and prospered in the house of Potiphar, one of the Pharaoh’s officials. The house was greatly blessed by Joseph’s presence. One day Potiphar’s wife, who found Joseph to be quite attractive, seduced him. Joseph refused. She accused him of rape and he was put into prison. Despite the circumstances, Joseph continued to prosper. Joseph had a special gift which was proven when two prisoners had dreams. Joseph interpreted those dreams: one foretold of impending death, the other prosperity. Both interpretations were true. One prisoner was hanged and the other set free to serve as a servant in Pharaoh’s house. The one who was set free promised to speak to the officials about Joseph. When he was free, however, he forgot his promise.

Two years later, Pharaoh had a dream. None of the priests or wise men in the kingdom were able to interpret this dream. Pharaoh’s servant that had been released remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh about him. Joseph heard the dream and by God’s grace saw that it foretold a period of prosperity and then drought. Joseph recommended storing up food while the crop was good, then they would survive the drought. Pharaoh appointed Joseph as the official to prepare for the time of drought. He was one of the most important officials in the kingdom. The dreams proved to be true and in the midst of the drought, thanks to Joseph’s rule, Egypt prospered. People from all over the world came to Egypt to buy food so that they would not die.

Jacob’s people were also suffering, so he sent his sons to Egypt to buy food. They appeared before Joseph to ask for aid, but did not recognize him. Joseph not only supplied their needs; he gave them back their money. He eventually brought them into Egypt to live and prosper. Israel was warmly welcomed into this foreign land, and Jacob’s house flourished.

The scriptures tell us throughout the story of Joseph that God was with him. Joseph was blessed even when he was a slave, a servant and a prisoner. Joseph recognizes all along that his gifts are not his, but are from God. He is not subtle, and appears arrogant, especially when dealing with his brothers at home, but he had a heart for God. Despite his imperfections, God was with him. Joseph recognized this, even in the midst of his troubles. When his brothers sold him into slavery, they sold him into a life of suffering. However, that life led him into the powerful role that saved many from death. Joseph could not act as a god and punish his brothers for an act that the one true and living God used in an incredible way.

Joseph did indeed suffer, but as he said, “God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” His journey was difficult, but step by step it led Joseph to a place where he could not only help the world, but more importantly, he could help his family. He did not care only for his father, he cared for his entire family. He loved them, despite their evil against him. He accepted the hardship in his life as a way God works for good, not only for the world but for those closest to him. How could Joseph act as God to treat them with any less mercy in the misery of their fear? He may have wanted revenge, but he allowed God to be God. He trusted God’s will and lived in the promise that God is present with His people in the good times and the bad.


September 5, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 14, 2008: Genesis 50:15-21; Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13; romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13 [Bless Jehovah, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless Jehovah, O my soul, And forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; Who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; Who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy desire with good things, So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle. Jehovah executeth righteous acts, And judgments for all that are oppressed. He made known his ways unto Moses, His doings unto the children of Israel.] Jehovah is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness. He will not always chide; Neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins, Nor rewarded us after our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is his lovingkindness toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, So far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, So Jehovah pitieth them that fear him.

As I was doing research yesterday, I came upon a story about a first time college professor who had discovered that many students believe they are entitled to good grades. It was the end of the fall semester and the professor finished posting the grades of her students before heading home for the holiday. She was uncertain about the process, but worked her way through and managed to post her grades in due time. It took less than an hour for one of her students to challenge the grades.

The young man emailed her immediately to complain about a ‘B’ grade. He did understand how he could have gotten a ‘B.’ “Please respond ASAP, as I have never received a B during my career here at AU and it will surely lower my GPA.” She didn’t understand the desperation of the student, but she went back to her grades to see if she had perhaps made a mistake. As she looked over the records, she saw that the young man skipped class, missed quizzes and got ‘B’ grades on some of his assignments. He did not deserve an ‘A’ grade. He got what he deserved. This inexperienced professor would quickly learn that she would experience far more pressure from her students. They demanded the chance to retake tests and to have their papers rescored. They felt entitled to better grades and boldly demanded mercy even when they did not deserve it.

When the new professor told her story to other professors, they shared their own stories. One told of a honors student whose actions earned her a very low grade. It meant that she would be kicked out of the honors program. The student could not understand how the teacher would have so little concern over her future. The student herself had little concern. She skipped classes and slept through the midterm exam. The professor allowed her to retake the exam, but with conditions. The student had to show more responsibility—no skipping classes, assignments turned in on time. The student did not keep her end of the bargain. She continued to skip classes and she even turned up late to the final exam. How can a professor be lenient, caring about the student’s future if the student does not even care?

These students did not deserve to have their grades changed, but there are circumstances that are not so easy to decide. Grade point averages may not get a student a better job in the real world, but they are important while in the academic world. Students on scholarships are required to keep up a certain GPA or they lose their money. For those students at private schools, a bad grade can mean the difference between continuing in college and going home. You might think that it shouldn’t matter, if they can’t keep up the grades, they don’t deserve the scholarship. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. Take, for example, the student who is attending the college on a music scholarship. He has never been able to understand algebra, but he’s required to take the course for his diploma. He tries hard to pass. He gets tutoring. He attends every class and does all the homework, but in the end he still fails the exam. Does he really deserve a failing grade, a grade that might destroy his life?

We worship an incredible God. In the first part of today’s passage, the psalmist sings a song of praise for all that God has done for His people. He forgives, He heals, He redeems. The Almighty God crowns His people with love and mercy and grace. He provides for the needs of His people. He moves for righteousness and justice in the world.

In the second part of today’s lesson, the psalmist describes God’s grace. We are like those students, the ones undeserving of mercy and those who just can’t seem to make the grade. We fail. We sin. We continue to do what we should not do and do not do what we should. Yet, God is merciful, slow to anger. He is patient and longsuffering. He does not give us what we deserve but instead forgives us our sins and forgets them forever. We might suffer the consequences of our failure, but God redeems us despite ourselves.


September 8, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 14, 2008: Genesis 50:15-21; Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

Romans 14:1-12 But him that is weak in faith receive ye, yet not for decision of scruples. One man hath faith to eat all things: but he that is weak eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth set at nought him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? to his own lord he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be made to stand; for the Lord hath power to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord: and he that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, unto the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But thou, why dost thou judge thy brother? or thou again, why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, to me every knee shall bow, And every tongue shall confess to God. So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.

I watched Food Network’s Challenge last night. The episode was called “Tag Team Cakes.” Eight cake decorators were invited to participate in the challenge, but they did not know their teams until moments before the competition would begin. I’m not sure if one of the team was meant to be ‘lead’ and the other ‘helper,’ or if they were to be equal partners. The description on the website suggests the decorators were equal partners, but some of the decorators talked as if they were the lead while their ‘partner’ was only a helper.

The game began with one of the members of the team in the kitchen, beginning the task of building the cake. The theme was based on Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes. Each team choose a rhyme as the focus of their cake. After a period of time, the decorators changed places with no communication with their partners. The second team members had to continue the work that was begun, using their own gifts and vision for the project. As you might expect, this opened the way for confusion, dissention and disaster. One team member spent almost the whole time redoing the work that had been done by her partner. Another team member spent time trying to figure out how to communicate, without communicating, to her partner that her work was not going as she imagined the design of the cake.

The team members each worked a second time period alone, then they had a final time period together. By that time, some of the cakes were so far behind because the team members had not found a way to deal with one another. Even when they got together, they bickered about the work and the vision of the cake, leaving some team members feeling unsupported and even offended by the others’ unwillingness to compromise or encourage their work on the project. Some team members wanted so much control of the cake, that it was almost useless to have the other team members. The trouble is, they needed one another to finish the cake, and each member had such gifts that left to work in their gifts the cakes could have been awesome. Though there was a winner, none of the teams did an exemplary job with their cakes.

It is sometimes amazing how similar we, today’s Church, is to the churches we read about in the scriptures. The problems Paul and the other apostles addressed in their letters are as common for us today. There are, perhaps, some differences, but I could see Paul writing this very passage to some Christians in our world today. I can also see him taking this concept and replacing the problems with our conflicts. Disagreement is a fact of human life. We are different people trying to work in the same world. Like those cake decorators, we have a common goal, but very different visions about how to get there. By the time we get around to working together, our differences are so vast that we can’t find a way to compromise. Compromise, all too often, means giving up something that means too much to us.

Many of the Christians in Rome were former pagans. They knew that the meat that was purchased in the marketplace had most likely been sacrificed as part of the ritualistic worship of the pagan community. They did not feel they could eat that meat because they knew where it had come and why it had been slaughtered. They did not want to support the worship and ministry of the pagan communities, so they chose to avoid eating that meat. Paul knew that though the meat was slaughtered as part of a ceremony that the meat itself was still good and acceptable to God. He also knew that it would weigh on the conscience of those former pagans. So, he treated the issue with grace.

He called the community to join together not based on what they would eat, but on the Christ they worshipped. Eating meat or not eating meat is not a salvific issue. Instead of rejecting or judging one another, the Romans were encouraged to see Christ in their brothers and sisters and to live together in a way in which both could do the work they were called to do as a community of faith. The meat-eaters and the vegetarians all had gifts, gifts that are needed to do the work of God in the world. To reject or judge others means cutting off a part of the Church that Christ has called together. Like those decorators that only wanted to see their own vision in the finished cake, we tend to think the world must conform to our vision. But the reality is that God has a much greater vision in mind, a vision that includes all those who believe using their gifts for His sake.


September 9, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 14, 2008: Genesis 50:15-21; Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

Matthew 18:21-35 Then came Peter and said to him, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, who would make a reckoning with his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, that owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not wherewith to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And the lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, who owed him a hundred shillings: and he laid hold on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay what thou owest. So his fellow-servant fell down and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay that which was due. So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were exceeding sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him unto him, and saith to him, Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou besoughtest me: shouldest not thou also have had mercy on thy fellow-servant, even as I had mercy on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due. So shall also my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.

In last week’s gospel lesson we heard about how to deal with sin in the community of believers. When someone sins against us, we are called to deal with it with grace and mercy, while also helping our brothers and sisters see their sin and be transformed by God’s forgiveness. At the end of the passage, Matthew told us that if our brother or sister continues to ignore our admonishment, then we are to treat them like the sinners and tax collectors. But even then we are reminded how Jesus treated sinners and tax collectors—as people who need God’s grace. They need to know the power of forgiveness.

This week Peter asks a very difficult question: how often should we forgive. We know that even when sin has been dealt with that people still fail. It takes time after time of practicing good discipline with a child before that child will truly learn the lessons we are trying to teach. A child might touch that shiny, breakable bobble on the coffee table a dozen times before they truly understand what we mean by “NO.” Each time takes forgiveness, but our hurt and anger over the actions of others who harm us is magnified with every offense. It becomes harder and harder to forgive.

Take, for example, the story of Raymond and the house repair necessitated by his parents’ poor driving that I referenced last week. Raymond had a thousand reasons to be angry with his parents. They were often cruel and rude, brutally honest about how everyone else’s opinions were wrong and how they were always right. Marie treated Debra with loving contempt, if that’s possible, and Frank was nothing less than a jerk most of the time. I do not doubt that many couples in the ‘real world’ would not continue to face the conflict. They would find a way to separate themselves from the circumstances by moving away and cutting off communication. It seems impossible that anyone would have the kind of patience necessary to live with such irritating and hurtful relatives. Yet, this is the very story of what Jesus is saying in today’s passage. We forgive not once, twice or even seven times. We forgive seven times seventy. Four hundred and ninety is not even enough, as the number itself represents a willingness to continue to forgive an infinite number of times.

Now, many people would say that those willing to continue to forgive without limitation are simply naïve. We need to accept that people don’t change. People don’t learn the lessons we teach one another when admonish and encourage faithful living. We forget. We are led by our flesh. We fail over and over and over again. So, we wonder if it is really smart to forgive someone over and over again. Perhaps we would learn our lesson and allow for the instruction in our passage from Matthew last week, where we separate ourselves from those who bring us harm over and over again.

But, forgiveness is not naïve. Just as a child might learn to say the word “sorry” without understanding what they are apologizing for, we can also say “you are forgiven” with the same ignorance. Repentance and absolution is about restoring relationships and transforming people. We have to deal with sin from both sides: that of the victim and that of the sinner. That takes recognizing our own debts and forgiving the debts of those against us. The servant in today’s story was more than willing to accept the forgiveness of the king, yet he was unwilling to forgive a much smaller debt. The power of forgiveness is opening our eyes to our own failings, giving us the freedom to be transformed and to take the transforming grace of God into the world. It does little good for us to say the words, “I forgive” over and over again if the absolution is not coming from God’s grace. Our word is useless, but God’s Word brings forgiveness and peace.


September 10, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 14, 2008: Genesis 50:15-21; Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

Or Holy Cross Day: Numbers 21:4b-9; Psalm 98 or Psalm 78:1-2, 34-38; 1 Corinthians 1:18-24; John 3:13-17

John 3:13-17 And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him.

We’ve been studying the scriptures for the eighteenth Sunday in Pentecost this week, but Sunday is also Holy Cross Day, a festival to celebrate the triumph of the cross. This festival comes at a very appropriate time in our scriptures, as we have been looking at dealing with sin and forgiveness. The cross stands as a witness to both. As we look at the cross, we are overwhelmed with the conviction that we are sinners in need of a Savior. We are also overwhelmed with the promise that we are saints made free by God’s forgiveness. The cross both convicts and sets free those who believe.

The Old Testament lesson for Holy Cross Day is a story about Moses in the wilderness and the company of Hebrews traveling to the Promised Land. The people were grumbling about the journey and the food. They were tired, hungry, thirst and frustrated and they were beginning to doubt the promise. They cried out, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert?” The answer from the LORD is shocking. He sent venomous snakes among them that bit the people. Many died. The people went back to Moses and asked him to pray for them. He did. God told Moses to make an image of a snake and put it on a pole, displayed for all the community to see. All who were bitten by the snakes needed only to look at the bronze image on the pole and they would be healed.

I always wondered, “Why didn’t God simply remove the snakes?” It would have been easier for everyone if He had taken away the problem rather than offering a source of healing. Yet, this story shows us that the people had taken their eyes off the promise, off God, and focused on their needs and desires. They cared only about themselves and forgot the God who was delivering them from a life of bondage and oppression. In their grumbling they showed God that they would rather be bound and beaten than to trust in Him. The snakes and the snake on the pole helped them to see again God’s power and authority over the world and their nation. They turned to Him for salvation from the snakes, but God provides so much more.

John tells us that the Jesus on the cross is like that serpent in the wilderness. Sin is a sign and a symptom that there is something wrong, that there is brokenness and imperfection in our lives and our flesh. We fail. We do the wrong things and don’t do the right things. We are upside down and backwards against God’s good and perfect purpose and intent for our lives. Something needs to be fixed.

Now, a good many people have deliberated over the millennia since Christ was crucified if God could have done it another way. “How could a loving God be so cruel to His own Son?” It is a hard question for us to answer. How could a loving God continue to allow the Hebrews to be bitten by poisonous snakes in the wilderness? God could, and did, offer forgiveness to His people even without the cross. But the cross served a purpose far more important than just the forgiveness of sins. The cross offers healing and wholeness. The cross convicts, opening our eyes to the reality of our brokenness and imperfection, but on that same cross is lifted to Son that has saved the world. We see God’s love in both the conviction of our sin, as God calls attention to the things that make us imperfect before Him, and in the promise of forgiveness and healing. It is an object of both pain and peace, an object that shows us our failure and draws us into God’s heart. That’s what makes it so holy, because it is through the cross that we are restored to the God who has loved us eternally.


September 11, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 21, 2008: Jonah 3:10-4:11; Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16

Jonah 3:10-4:11 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil which he said he would do unto them; and he did it not. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed unto Jehovah, and said, I pray thee, O Jehovah, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I hasted to flee unto Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, O Jehovah, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live. And Jehovah said, Doest thou well to be angry? Then Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. And Jehovah God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to deliver him from his evil case. So Jonah was exceeding glad because of the gourd. But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd, that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun arose, that God prepared a sultry east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and requested for himself that he might die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live. And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death. And Jehovah said, Thou hast had regard for the gourd, for which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should not I have regard for Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

For the past few weeks, an obvious topic of our scriptures has been forgiveness. We have learned that we need to recognize sin, but also that we need to forgive sinners. We’ve seen how the grace of God has opened the door to reconciliation and transformation by His power and for His glory through the forgiveness found in the cross. We have experienced the forgiveness of God even as we have continued to sin against Him. We live in the hope of God’s promise to remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west.

So, how do we look at the story of Jonah in light of our lessons about forgiveness? We know all about Jonah; I identify with him. He was a guy who heard God’s call but did not want to do what God was calling him to do. After all, the Ninevites were enemies of the Israelites. They’d murdered his people in border skirmishes and wreaked havoc on their lives. Jonah had no room in his heart to allow the Ninevites to enjoy the grace of God, and Jonah knew that if they repented, God would grant them forgiveness.

So, Jonah ran away, hitched a ride on a boat in the hopes of escaping God’s plan. We don’t think through our actions very well when we are afraid and angry, so like Jonah we try to do the impossible. He tried to hide from God. We also try to hide from God when He calls us to do the things we don’t want to do. We even hide from Him when He wants us to forgive people we don’t want to forgive. Yet, we know we can’t run or hide from God. We end up like Jonah, perhaps not in the belly of a big fish but in the midst of a situation where we are forced to our needs in prayer to contemplate the reality of God in our life. That’s what happened to Jonah. He realized God’s authority over his life and prayed for God to give him the opportunity to do what he should have done.

But even when we follow God’s call and do what God has asked of us, we still feel the things we feel. Jonah was angry. Jonah did not want God to forgive the Ninevites. Jonah wanted the Ninevites to suffer the punishment they deserved, but God had another plan. Jonah knew that God would be gracious, so he did not want to give God that opportunity. If the Ninevites never heard the warning, they could not repent and God would not need to forgive them.

Though we know the story of Jonah, I think the story ends there for most of us. We aren’t as familiar with the passage we read today, about Jonah’s response to God’s grace. This is even less attractive than the image of Jonah running away from God. This is Jonah whining like a two-year-old who has not gotten his way. “I knew you’d do it, that’s why I didn’t want to go!” In this story, his anger is revealed over something so insignificant as a bush. That’s the way it tends to be with us frail human beings, though. We don’t get angry over the big stuff; we get angry over insignificant things.

We learn how to forgive and we are usually able to overcome the anger and hurt we harbor against those who have been like enemies. But there are two entities that are more difficult to forgive: ourselves and God. We have trouble forgiving ourselves because we can never really be sure that we have done what is necessary to overcome our sin. We forget that forgiveness is not about becoming perfect, it is about being transformed by grace.

I think it is even harder to forgive God. Part of the problem is that we know that God can not do any wrong, so for what is He in need of forgiveness? Yet, for that same reason, then, we should have nothing about which we are angry at God. But we do get angry at God. We can be exactly like Jonah, whining under our dying little tree and forgetting that God has granted us grace, too. God certainly does not need our forgiveness, but there are times when we have to forgive God. We have to find the grace to look at God’s plan from a different perspective than our own and accept that He is gracious and merciful, not only to those we wish to be forgiven, but to all He chooses.


September 12, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 21, 2008: Jonah 3:10-4:11; Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16

Psalm 145:1-8 I will extol thee, my God, O King; And I will bless thy name for ever and ever. Every day will I bless thee; And I will praise thy name for ever and ever. Great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised; And his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall laud thy works to another, And shall declare thy mighty acts. Of the glorious majesty of thine honor, And of thy wondrous works, will I meditate. And men shall speak of the might of thy terrible acts; And I will declare thy greatness. They shall utter the memory of thy great goodness, And shall sing of thy righteousness. Jehovah is gracious, and merciful; Slow to anger, and of great lovingkindness.

There is nothing pleasurable about the situation in Texas today, because we know that there are many people who will suffer from the impact of Hurricane Ike, due to strike land sometime tonight. As of the current projections, the people in Galveston and Houston will face horrible damage in the wake of the storm.

It seems like we’ve been hearing about Ike forever, and it has truly been around for a long time. The storm was first named on September 1st and it has been moving forward ever since. The projected path has changed often, first to the east coast of Florida, then to the west coast, then to the Alabama gulf coast, then to Louisiana, then to southern Texas, then to middle coast of Texas and now to the North Texas coast. By the time it hits in a few hours it might be different. The situation a few days ago looked very precarious for those of us living in south central Texas, as the meteorologists expected Hurricane Ike to gain strength and take a course that would bring us hurricane strength winds, even two hundred miles inland. Now it seems that we will not suffer so great, with much less rain and less strong wind than we were expecting a few days ago.

When the meteorologists were convinced this storm would be dangerous for us, community leaders began to make plans for the safety and well-being of their citizens. School boards met to decide how to take care of the children. Sporting events were canceled or moved to other dates. Our school district decided to release the children early from school today. Victoria’s college sent the students home for the weekend, canceling a classes until Monday. As I look outside today and at the storm forecasts, all these precautions seem almost pointless. If they had only waited a few hours, they might have made a different decision. Yet, they could not wait. A few hours might have been the difference between a well executed plan and failure to keep the students safe.

There are practical reasons for many of the changes. There is extra traffic on the roads due to evacuees. Though the storm is not expected to be hurricane force when it reaches our area, there are still going to be dangers attached. Our roads and low-lying areas flood quickly. A hurricane can produce dangerous tornadoes when it is on land. The worst danger with a windy storm is not necessarily the wind, the debris that the tornado picks up along the way can cause significant damage and injury.

So, what do we do in the path of a storm? Millions of people are evacuating from the target area and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast of Texas. Many more people are helping at shelters in the evacuee centers. Almost everyone who might be affected by the storm are making preparations—buying food, water and batteries. We are tying down or putting away the things in our yard that could be blown away by the wind. Several people asked me if I had plenty of books to read or things to do as we are hunkered down in our home.

None of us want to face the damage and we would not diminish the danger that will be faced by so many this weekend, but I think many of us are looking forward to a weekend without the usual hustle and bustle of life. We are facing the storm with a sense of adventure, as are many who have needed to evacuate. The other option is to grumble our way through it, angry and upset that our life has been turned upside down. That’s the difference we see between Jonah and the psalmist in today’s passage. Jonah whined and moaned about God treating him with such contempt, not taking revenge on his enemies. The psalmist, on the other hand, sings God’s praise despite all circumstances, and willing to tell the world about God’s mercy and grace.

So, the question we ask is, how will we face the circumstances of our life that could make us angry at God? Do we do so with whining or do we do so with praise, facing difficulty like an adventure knowing that God will be faithful through it?


September 15, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 21, 2008: Jonah 3:10-4:11; Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16

Philippians 1:21-30 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if to live in the flesh, --if this shall bring fruit from my work, then what I shall choose I know not. But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better: yet to abide in the flesh is more needful for your sake. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide, yea, and abide with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith; that your glorying may abound in Christ Jesus in me through my presence with you again. Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ: that, whether I come and see you and be absent, I may hear of your state, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing affrighted by the adversaries: which is for them an evident token of perdition, but of your salvation, and that from God; because to you it hath been granted in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer in his behalf: having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

“Cheer up,” said one man to his terribly seasick friend aboard a ship, “seasickness never killed anybody.” “Don’t tell me that,” was the reply. “It’s only the hope of dying that has kept me alive this long!” This is merely a joke, but I have to admit that I’ve felt that way myself.

A few years ago my family bought me a wonderful present of a trip on one of the gambling excursions in the Gulf of Mexico. The boats leave port in the morning, travel to international waters and lay down anchor. They serve a tremendous meal on the way out and then stay anchored for hours so that the guests can enjoy the slot machines and tables. I was a little concerned about seasickness, but I took some medicine and I was doing very well. I enjoyed lunch and got ready to spend some time in the casino. Everything was fine while the boat was moving forward and I did not think about taking more medicine.

When it came time, I went into the casino and sat down at a machine with my roll of quarters. The boat was not very large and there was no air circulation inside. The smells of cleaning fluid permeated the air. Add this to the fact that the boat was no longer moving forward, just bobbing up and down in the gulf waves. I began to feel nauseated and dizzy, so I quickly found a bathroom and then went out onto the deck where I would be free from the overpowering stench of ammonia. The shady chairs were all taken, but I found a bench where I could sit for a moment, hoping that I would soon feel well enough to get up and get something to drink so I could take some medicine. I couldn’t move, so I sat for hours staring at the horizon. Unfortunately, it was a cloudless day and I also ended up with a horrible case of sunburn. At that moment, death would have been a relief!

Now, we must be careful when we talk about death in such cavalier terms because a wish for death makes us wonder if the person is suicidal, willing to take their own life rather than live with the suffering. Chaplains and nurses in old age homes often hear the residents wish for death. They are lingering in a life that seems pointless and without value. They can’t do anything to help others as they are so helpless themselves. They are often living with extreme pain or discomfort. They have no hope for a better life in this world. They believe that death would be a relief.

Paul was suffering. He’d been imprisoned and he did not know what would happen to him. The people who might have been able to help him were unwilling to give him the help necessary. His Christian congregations had no power or authority to help him, but they were able to give him some aid. The letter to the Philippians was a thank you note to them for gifts they had sent to help him in this time of need. It might have seemed to the readers at first that Paul was suicidal, wishing for death. Yet, his letter is so full of hope. He has hope because his life is centered on Christ; whether he lives or dies, Christ is his life. He knew that if he died, he would gain, but if he lived, he could continue the work Jesus had called him to do.

That’s what Paul hopes for the people of Philippi. They will face suffering in their own lives. There are those who were against the Gospel of Jesus Christ and some, or many, of the new Christians would be arrested, imprisoned and even killed for their faith. Paul’s word of encouragement to the community is that they stay centered on Christ, too, just like he has whether he was preaching, traveling or imprisoned. If they were united around Christ Jesus, they would have the same joy in the good times and the bad. They would be fruitful together, able to face death (which is gain) or life which is for the sake of God’s glory and the increase of His Church.


September 16, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 21, 2008: Jonah 3:10-4:11; Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16

Matthew 20:1-16 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that was a householder, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the laborers for a shilling a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing in the marketplace idle; and to them he said, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing; and he saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard. And when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the laborers, and pay them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a shilling. And when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received every man a shilling. And when they received it, they murmured against the householder, saying, These last have spent but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat. But he answered and said to one of them, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a shilling? Take up that which is thine, and go thy way; it is my will to give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? or is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last.

There is a story about a man who had three sons and some camels. When the man died, his three sons went to the lawyer to hear the reading of his will. In the will, he gave half of his estate to the oldest son, a third of the estate to the middle son and an ninth of his estate to the youngest son. This was as it should be in the place where the man lived. The man had seventeen camels, so the lawyer took out a calculator to do the math. Of course, half of seventeen is eight and a half camels, so the lawyer took a knife and was about to cut a camel in half, but the sons stopped him. A half of a camel would do not one any good. The number of camels for the middle son was five and two thirds. The youngest son should have received one and some of another camel as the inheritance. None of the sons were willing to give up any part of their camels, but they knew it was pointless to cut them in half.

A stranger came into town and heard about the problem. He said he had a solution, though the townspeople doubted it. He took the seventeen camels and added his own to the herd to make it eighteen. Then he divided the herd according to the father’s wishes. The first son received 9 camels, half of eighteen and more than he would have received doing it the lawful way. The second son received six camels, again a larger portion than expected. The youngest son received two camels, for which he was delighted. The lawyer then added up the numbers. Nine plus five plus two equals seventeen. “What do we do with the last camel?” he asked. “I will take my camel back,” said the man. Everything worked out well. Everyone felt this was a fair solution.

If only the sons had decided to take the whole animals—eight and five and one—they would have realized that there were three extras, one for each, giving them more than the exact share, but none were willing to compromise. They each fought for their rights, unwilling to take anything less or give anything more to the others. But the question we ask with today’s lesson is this: Are the rights we claim always what is right?

The landowner in today’s story made a deal with the first workers: they would work for the day and receive a day’s wages. A denarius, a day’s wage, was enough to feed a man’s family. It sounds like a ridiculously small amount to us, but it was enough. The workers agreed, gladly. They were happy to have the work. The landowner returns to the corner and discovers more workers throughout the day, each time hiring them to work his fields. He made no agreements with those later workers, but they were happy to have the work. When the day was over, the landowner paid each worker a day’s wage, one denarius. He gave each worker enough.

We are, of course, incensed by this story because we believe that the person who worked more hours deserves more wages. What is right in this situation? The first workers agreed to the wage and when they agreed they felt it was right. Yet, when they discovered that the last hired also received a day’s wage for their, they grumbled about it to the landowner. “It’s not fair.” “We have rights.” But what is right in this situation? We don’t know why those workers who were hired at the end of the day were not there when the landowner was looking for workers early in the day. They answered the landowner’s question, “Why aren’t you working” blaming the landowner. “You did not hire us.” Were they there? Did the landowner only select a few out of many the first time, a few out of the rest the next time and so on. We assume they were not there, yet the passage says, “You did not hire us.” Even if they weren’t there when the landowner was hiring, we do not know the circumstances that kept them from being present at that time.

The landowner decided that a living wage is what was right and just in this situation. Perhaps it was generous, but it was also right. Can a man live on less than a denarius a day? Can he feed his family? We want to assume that a man who is not hired immediately has not tried to get hired. And, there are certainly those in this life who refuse to do what is necessary to get a job. Yet, there are some who have tried, but who do not have the necessary skills or whose circumstances make it difficult to find a job. The landowner could have been generous and simply gave those last men some charity, but he chose to hire them for work. He was not only generous with his money, but he was also generous with compassion and encouragement. He did what was right, even if it seemed like the rights of the other workers were traipsed upon.


September 17, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 21, 2008: Jonah 3:10-4:11; Psalm 145:1-8; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16

Or St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist: Ezekiel 2:8-3:11; Psalm 119:33-40; Ephesians 2:4-10; Matthew 9:9-13

September 21st is the festival day for St. Matthew. Many churches have moved the festival to September 22nd but some churches will be celebrating on Sunday. Since this is the year we are looking at Matthew’s Gospel, it seems like a good time to talk about the man behind the words. The writer of Matthew is unidentified in the scripture and many modern scholars suggest that the book was not written by Matthew, but was actually written by someone following the teachings that came out of Matthew’s ministry. For today we are going to follow the traditional understanding that Matthew was indeed the writer.

The Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek and therefore most likely addressed to the Greek speaking Jewish Christians. He was a Jew and wrote to show his fellow Jews the fulfillment of God’s promises as found in the person of Jesus Christ. He quotes the Old Testament scriptures more than any other New Testament writer. His genealogy of Jesus Christ shows how Jesus descends from Abraham, an important fact for the Jewish readers. He uses Jewish terminology and does not explain Jewish customs, assuming the readers will know and understand what he’s talking about. Even so, Matthew does not limit the Gospel message to the Jews, showing that Jesus came for the world with the visit of the wise men from the East. He’s determined to prove that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

Matthew is an unusual character in the gathering of disciples. Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen. Though we do not know the vocations of most of the disciples before they met Jesus, three others may have been fishermen, having grown up near Peter and possibly acquaintances. Some were probably craftsmen. Simon was a religious zealot and Judas was probably a revolutionary. These eleven were most likely hardworking men, enemies to the Romans and desirous of national freedom and deliverance from the oppression under which they lived.

Matthew was different. According to the scriptures, Matthew was a tax collector. As a tax collector, Matthew was a local man who was a representative of the government. He paid for the privilege, having bid for the job against other publicans. In bidding, Matthew would have said he could raise a certain amount of taxes and when he won the bid would have paid it out of his own pocket. It was then his job to recoup his investment. He would then pocket any amount he received over the amount he paid to Rome. This made the job of tax collector ripe for abuse. Tax collectors wanted to earn a living and so often cheated the people out of money by making them pay more than their due. We don’t know if Matthew was an crooked tax collector, but he was still taking the hard earned money of his own people to give to the government, so he was seen as a sinner.

As I was doing my research for today’s message, I found an essay that compared Matthew to the other disciples. Peter, Andrew, James and John were called to follow Jesus out of a life of hard work. They were probably very fit, tanned from hours in the sunlight, rough in action and language. Matthew, on the other hand, had a desk job. He was probably fat from lack of exercise and rich foods. Soft and pale from little time outside, Matthew was not the image of what we might have expected from the disciples. And, he was a sinner. He was the enemy or at least in cahoots with the enemy. Despite his Jewish heritage and his willingness to leave everything at Jesus’ word, he would not have been openly welcomed into this new community. Can you imagine Judas, who greedily held the corporate purse, embracing Matthew, who had probably encountered each of the disciples at some point in his career?

It was Matthew who reminded us just a few weeks ago how to deal with a brother or sister who hurts us. Remember how he quoted Jesus as saying that we should deal with the errors of our brothers and then if they are unrepentant we should treat them as sinners or tax collectors? How would Matthew, the tax collector, wish to be treated? Would he want to be treated the way he was probably treated by those disciples when he first joined the community? Or would he prefer being treated the way Jesus treated him, calling him into the ministry and welcoming him into the community. We see a different point of view from Matthew, we learn about forgiveness and acceptance from him.

So, as we look among our own communities of faith, who is it that we think would not belong? Who is the fat, lazy sinner that we think should be cast out and treated like the tax collectors? Who is the person with that unusual job, that job that doesn’t seem compatible with belief in Jesus? Or that point of view? Or that political perspective? Or that lifestyle? Are we called to cast them off, separating them from the fellowship? Or are we called to do as Jesus did—sharing in the Good News of God’s love and mercy and grace, sharing in His forgiveness and the power of His Spirit that transforms lives?


September 18, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 28, 2008:Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-9; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 The word of Jehovah came unto me again, saying, What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die… Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel: Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? When the righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth therein; in his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord Jehovah. Return ye, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, wherein ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord Jehovah: wherefore turn yourselves, and live.

The political season is well underway in the United States. Our televisions are filled with political ads, the news is filled with reports about the candidates and our neighborhoods are filled with political signs. The politicians, those who are running for small town mayors to those running for president, are working hard to put their words into our heads so that when we approach the voting booth we will remember their name and pull the lever for them. They repeat key words and phrases to convince us that they are the right person for the job. After awhile those key words and phrases become so embedded in our minds that they seem to be common wisdom. They are repeated in everyday conversations until they are accepted truths.

These short, memorable statements begin as little more than a slogan or motto, but often take on the life of something greater. They become adages, maxims, aphorisms, epigrams, proverbs and when overused they become clichés. These words have nearly identical definitions and can be generally used interchangeably, and yet there is some difference between them. Maxims are adages that become general rules. Aphorisms are adages that have not been around a long time but are recognized as particularly deep or well-written. Epigrams are known for their wittiness and irony. Proverbs summarize the basic truths of folk wisdom, made acceptable by long use and universal experiences of common folk.

The problem with political slogans and with proverbs is that there is often an equal and opposite slogan or proverb. That’s what makes voting so difficult. Which do you believe? They all make sense. They all seem true. They all point to a measure of wisdom that we need to go into the future. That’s why it is so important to base decisions on more than sound bites. It is important to know more about the candidates, to listen to both sides of the debates, to research the backgrounds and words of all candidates to find the whole truth amongst the adages.

There are, among the common proverbs of our time, a number of ‘dueling maxims’ which are contrary proverbs. Take, for instance, “The bigger the better” and “Good things come in small packages.” Which present is better, the big one or the small one? “Actions speak louder than words.” And “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Is one greater than another? Is it better to write letters to the editor about a problem or face your enemy? I love this pair: “You're never too old to learn.” And “You can't teach an old dog new tricks.” If you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, how is he supposed to learn? We often live our lives according to this proverb: “It's better to be safe than sorry.” But we also know “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” So, should we live safe or should be go forward with courage? And finally, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but “Out of sight, out of mind.” So, will we remember those we love if they stay away or if they are under our noses?

Perhaps proverbs change according to the changing world in which we live, although I think we can all think of times when both sides of those dueling maxims were true. I’ve received big presents that were great as well as small boxes filled with jewelry. The pen is mighty, but there are times when action will do more to relieve the problems. Long held habits are hard to break, but you do learn something new everyday. We have to be courageous and careful. Separation can build a relationship, but temptation is also greater.

The proverb in today’s passage may have seemed true to the people of Israel in the day of Ezekiel. “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?” In so much of God’s relationship with His people, the blessings and the consequences seemed absolutely determined by the actions and words of their forefathers. They are a people dependent on national identity and relationship to the past. Yet, we also see in the lives of those forefathers that God is interested in a personal relationship with individuals. God cares about each of us and we will experience His mercy and justice as individuals because He loves each of us as individuals. There may be some truth to the proverbs of our day, and in the proverb in today’s passage, but when it comes to the things of God, human wisdom will never stand.


September 19, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 28, 2008:Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-9; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

Psalm 25:1-9 Unto thee, O Jehovah, do I lift up my soul. O my God, in thee have I trusted, Let me not be put to shame; Let not mine enemies triumph over me. Yea, none that wait for thee shall be put to shame: They shall be put to shame that deal treacherously without cause. Show me thy ways, O Jehovah; Teach me thy paths. Guide me in thy truth, and teach me; For thou art the God of my salvation; For thee do I wait all the day. Remember, O Jehovah, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindness; For they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: According to thy lovingkindness remember thou me, For thy goodness' sake, O Jehovah. Good and upright is Jehovah: Therefore will he instruct sinners in the way. The meek will he guide in justice; And the meek will he teach his way.

Felix, my cat, has been driving me crazy. I would never describe Felix as a lap cat, although he does sometimes climb on someone’s lap, especially if they are trying to read the newspaper. He has rarely done that with me. He is like most cats, willing to sleep in the most unusual positions and places. Cats like to sleep in a corner or against a wall. They use unusual items as pillows, like a pile of papers or a book. Felix has the habit of lying on my desk, which is usually a little cluttered. In the process, he manages to knock my papers and magazines all over the floor. It is not unusual for me to come home after an afternoon of errands to find a mess on the den floor. It does not matter how much, or how little, is on the desk. He will sleep on it.

Even worse, however, is how he’s gotten into the habit of sleeping on my computer desk. I usually have a number of books and research materials open on my desk, including my bible, which he likes to use as his pillow. It is very hard to do research with a cat lying on the pages! Felix is not a small cat, so when he stretches out he reaches from one end of my desk to the other. If he is lying down, I can see the monitor and use my keyboard, but he usually makes using the mouse impossible. Even if he curls up in a corner of the desk he manages to get in my way. His tail has a life of its own, able to knock papers off the desk and turn pages in a book. This might sound impossible, but his tail can actually highlight text in a word processing document and then cut that text with one swipe. I don’t know how he does it, but he has. Thankfully computer programs have an “undo” button, or I would have lost work thanks to Felix’s desire to sleep near me as I work.

I do not know why, but Felix has been especially needy lately. He insists on sitting with me all day and if I walk away to do something else, he follows on my heels. He sits and stares at me if I am busy with my work and finds ways to get my attention if I’m watching television. He taps me on the shoulder or sits beside me on the couch, like a child who wants a mother to play. I don’t mind this kind of attention occasionally, but it has been constant recently. He’s been driving me nuts.

I remember when my children were small there were times when I was, perhaps, a bit too busy. They would come looking for attention. They would hold up their hands, wanting to be picked up for a little snuggle. They usually wanted this attention when I was busy in the kitchen cooking dinner or on the telephone. It was almost as if those were the moments when the children felt as though I had forgotten them, so they reached out for my love.

It is amazing sometimes to see how much like children we are when it comes to our relationship with God our Father. We have moments when we feel as though He has forgotten us, as if He is too busy to take care our needs. In today’s Psalm the psalmist asks God to forget the sins of his youth, but also to remember him. We not only want to be forgiven, we want to know that God remembers us. We reach out to Him with our beings, lifting our hands and our souls up to Him, as a child might lift his or her hands to a mother. I wonder if God is ever annoyed by our lack of trust in God’s faithfulness like I am annoyed by Felix’s need for attention. I’m sure He’s not, because God knows us to the very depths of our souls, He understands our humanness and our frailty. Despite our desperate need for proof of God’s love, He keeps us in His lovingkindness, steadfastly faithful even when we can not be.


September 22, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 28, 2008:Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-9; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

Philippians 2:1-13 If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others. Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. So then, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.

Tony Shalhoub plays Adrian Monk, an obsessive compulsive detective who is contracted to help the San Francisco police department on the television show “Monk.” Adrian was once a policeman with the department, but after the unsolved murder of his wife, his psychological issues made him incapable of continuing in that condition. Since he brilliantly solves every murder by noticing the most obscure details of a case, the department has hired him as a consultant. His psychological issues cause him to do and say things that are strange and funny, but he is also brilliant because of those issues. It is fascinating to watch as he walks around a crime scene, noticing the things that everyone else misses. Those things seem insignificant to the others, but to Monk they are the proof of guilt or innocence.

His cases often involved public officials and celebrities. In one case, a famous astronaut was involved with a murder and it seemed impossible for him to have been guilty because he was flying an airplane at the moment of death. However, Monk discovered his secret and he was arrested for the murder. On another episode, the astronaut case was being used for a movie and the actor who would play Adrian Monk followed him around for a few days to learn how to be Monk.

Actors often do this—they follow someone who is like the person they are going to play, to learn experience life from that point of view so that they can play the role with more credibility. Actors who are going to be cops often go on ride-alongs with real cops. Actresses that will play teachers sit in on some classes to see how the students react to different aspects of the job. It makes their characters more realistic and believable for those watching the movie or television show. The actor who was following Monk in the episode took it much further. Instead of just learning what it meant to be like Monk, he took on the very characteristics and psychological issues that make Monk a brilliant detective. In his own mind, he was Adrian Monk.

When we think about our Christian life, we often think that we are to become like Jesus, as an actor might become like a cop or a teacher for a movie. Yet, in today’s passage, Paul suggests something even deeper. He says that we should take on the mind of Christ. The difference may seem miniscule, but it is very different. I would not trust an actor to carry a gun or to teach my children. Though they could very well be trained to be great cops and teachers, as actors they are only playing a role. To take on the mind of those jobs means putting the people whom they serve first. An actor playing a role won’t be concerned with the outcome of their work. They are only concerned about getting the role or being believable. A cop or a teacher does what is necessary to ensure that they have done the job well, protecting the public and teaching the children. They believe in the people they serve instead of trying to make others believe in themselves.

So, we are to do more than be like Jesus, making people believe that we are like Him. We are to have the same mind as Christ. Paul talks about that mindset, which is one that does not try to be great, but humbles himself for the sake of others. We are to serve others for their sake, concerning ourselves not with our own interests, but with the interests of others. Jesus had it all, but He gave it up for our sake. Having the same mind means giving up everything we have for the sake of others. It means humbling ourselves so that others might be raised. It means letting go of our own needs and desires so that God can work through us in the world. It means becoming more than “like Him.” It means letting go so that God who dwells within the heart of a believer can shine His light and grace on the world.


September 23, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 28, 2008: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-9; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

Matthew 21:23-32 And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one question, which if ye tell me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven or from men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why then did ye not believe him? But if we shall say, From men; we fear the multitude; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, We know not. He also said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. But what think ye? A man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to-day in the vineyard. And he answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented himself, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Which of the two did the will of his father? They say, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye saw it, did not even repent yourselves afterward, that ye might believe him.

Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “It is easy to think that by making a promise you have at least done part of what you promised to do, as if the promise itself were something of value. Not at all! In fact, when you do not do what you promise, it is a long way back to the truth.” We are cautioned to be careful that we do not say “Yes” too quickly, because it is too easy to break those promises we make. But we are also called to discern the work that needs to be done so that we do not miss out on the opportunities we’ve been given to live as God has called us to live.

When I was a retail manager, I had several different types of employees. I’m sure we could find these types of people in other areas of life, such as among students in a classroom and believers in a community of faith. There were those employees with whom it was a joy to work. They were anxious to get to work. They looked for work to do they completed all their tasks with enthusiasm and enjoyment. The work was well done, as the employee had gone above and beyond the ‘call of duty.’ These types of people aren’t found in our parable today. We hear about the other two, though.

Jesus first talks about a son whose father sent him to the vineyard to work. The son answered, “I will surely go,” but he never got around to it. I had employees who were the same. They accepted assignments with enthusiasm, but they never finished the work. They were easily distracted by other things and though they might have started a task, they got caught up in other things, often using those other tasks as excuses for their inability to get the work done. For example, I had one employee whose job was to take care of the stationary department of the store. Now, this department (pens, notebooks, office supplies) was definitely hard to deal with because there were so many small items on the shelves. This employee was also often called to serve as a cashier during busy times. She was distracted by other work and might have had a good excuse, except that even when she was not on the cash register, she managed to waste time. She found a way to make her brief stints at the register become lengthy time away from her regular duties. She lingered around the check-out station, stopped to chat with other employees and excused herself to the break room. She had been called away and used that as her excuse for not completing her work even though she could have returned to it immediately and accomplished it in plenty of time.

I think the greatest number of employees were the other type. They were the grumblers and complainers. They were the ones who were vocal about those tasks they hated to do. They often found work on the floor quickly so that they would not be assigned to those tasks they hated to do. They never said “Yes” with or without enthusiasm. They said “No, I have other work to do.” Yet, I often found them doing the work later, having realized how important it was to get it done. It was those employees that had to do with work of the enthusiastic employee who never completed her work. I would rather have these employees because at least I knew the work would get done.

And according to the parable, this second group of employees was like the son who was obedient. He grumbled, but he did it. He immediately said “No” but ended up completing the work anyway. They didn’t make the promise but eventually changed their mind and changed their actions. This parable initially talks about those who believe in Jesus and the kingdom. The first son represents the ones who initially said “Yes” were like the chief priests and teachers of the law who were religious but who refused to do the work of the Father (to believe in Jesus). The second son represents those who initially said “No way, I like what I’m doing too much!” but who later realized their mistake and believed. The sinners were the ones who would receive the Kingdom because they were the ones who did the work of believing in Jesus.

It is easy for us to look at this parable and think that we are indeed like the second son, sinners who have believed. Yet, we can look at this parable from another perspective. Is the work only to believe? We live in a work that desperately needs the love, mercy and grace of God. If all we do is believe, how are we any different than those chief priests and teachers of the law whose faith in God was not manifest in obedience to God? We who believe have made a promise to God. We’ve said “Yes” to living in faith, but do we really live in faith? Is it possible that we might be the first son who said “Yes” but never got around to doing the work in vineyard for his Father?


September 24, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, September 28, 2008: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-9; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye saw it, did not even repent yourselves afterward, that ye might believe him.

John the Baptist preached a message of repentance and for John that meant more than words. He warned the Pharisees and the Sadducees who were going to where he was baptizing that they must produce fruit in keeping with repentance. He told them that it was not enough to have Abraham as their father because God is able to adopt children from even ‘the stones.’ In this week’s Gospel lesson it seems that God found children in the most unusual place—among the sinners. These were not just your everyday sinners, either. He found children among the publicans and prostitutes.

I wonder what life was like for those sinners who repented. They believed John and I am sure many of them believed then also in Jesus. But this newfound faith would have wreaked havoc on their lives. Jesus preached and was an example of faithful living that was just and right according to God’s Word. God was the center of His life and His ministry. The kingdom, as God intended it to be, was the focus of His preaching. He was calling people to a life of repentance, but that repentance was more than an “I’m sorry.” Jesus was calling the people to a change of heart, to a life where God was the center and God’s Word was the foundation of all they did.

God calls us to a life of justice, and the work of the publicans, or tax collectors, was not just. They cheated people out of money to get rich. They were willing to take the last dime of a widow in order to have a new robe and they feasted on the labor of the poor. A person could work as a tax collector and do it justly, but they would not be able to continue living a life of luxury. A tax collector got the job by competing for it against other tax collectors. They made bids, like a construction company might bid for a job with the government. If they won the bid, they were required to pay the taxes up front. They then went to their station and recouped their investment. It could have been a just system, but the tax collectors got greedy. They required higher taxes from the people to pay for their prophets. While a farmer might owe ten measures of flour, the tax collector often charged twenty. What would a tax collector do with this new faith? With a change of heart, they could not longer cheat the people, but how would they live?

Faith means putting God first. Unfortunately, in Roman times there were dozens of gods to be worshipped. The prostitutes were part of the religious system of the day. They often lived in the temples and served the believers as part of the ritual of worship. Our God is a jealous God and demands from those who believe to hold no god above Him. This sounds like a very human emotion, but in the case of God, it is very divine. We can not hold the Creator of everything equal to the gods found in the Roman or Greek temples of the day. He is God. When John the Baptist preached to these prostitutes, they saw a different kind of life for themselves, under the care and protection of a God who can truly make a difference. They could not go back to their temples, to hold up those gods and religions that had stolen their virtue for false promises. And though we can certainly make sex the issue, this is more about a change of heart. The prostitutes, like the tax collectors, believed in God and put Him first. That meant a change in lifestyle. How would they live?

They willingly turned their lives upside down because they believed John and then Jesus. Maybe that was why it was so hard for the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They already believed in God and were doing the work they believed God was calling them to do. Believing John’s message and believing in Jesus would have not changed their lives to any great extent. But they could not believe. They refused to do like those tax collectors and prostitutes and by doing so lost touch with the very God in whom they thought they believed.

When we read lessons like our Gospel for this week, and the other lessons, it is easy for us to assume we are the ones who are doing right. We are the sinners who have turned to Jesus. However, we have to honestly consider whether or not we are living as God called us to live. Are we practicing justice? Is God the center of our lives? Who have we cheated today and what gods do we hold in greater esteem than the Lord? Have we repented, changed our hearts and our minds, or are we continuing to do things as we have always done them because we are like the Pharisees and Sadducees who built their hope on Abraham?


September 25, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 5,2008, 2008: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:7-15; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46

Isaiah 5:1-7 Let me sing for my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved had a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: and he digged it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also hewed out a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; I will break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: and I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned nor hoed; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of Jehovah of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for justice, but, behold, oppression; for righteousness, but, behold, a cry.

We have been eating far more fresh fruits and vegetables in our house. My son does not like the taste of vegetables that come in a can, so I don’t often serve them. I will use frozen vegetables when I can’t get out to the store for fresh, but usually we have something from the produce aisle as part of our meals. Unfortunately, many grocery stores do not have a very good selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, so we often settle for the same old stuff.

When we lived in England, I did a great deal of our shopping at the markets in the town squares near where we lived. Each town had their market on a different day of the week, and most of the towns were very close together. So, I could find very fresh produce on a daily basis. The sellers at the markets also offered some strange but wonderful choices. I first learned about broccoflower in England. Broccoflower is a cross between broccoli and cauliflower with its flavor falling somewhere between the two. It is delicious. We also had broccolini, which many people think is ‘baby broccoli’ but it is really a cross between two types of broccoli.

We were back in the United States for several years before we were able to find these vegetables in our grocery stores. They may have been available, but I never saw them. One day I was in one of my favorite grocery stores, just peering over the produce when I discovered a head of broccoflower. I excitedly cooked it for my family who delighted in eating this vegetable that we had come to enjoy. When we moved to Texas, I had to search again, but I’ve noticed that these strange and wonderful vegetables are becoming more available.

I went to a store a few days ago that is known for carrying the unusual items. I was amazed by the variety of fruits and vegetables. I’m used to seeing one type of radish, maybe two. This store had at least seven varieties, including purple! There were five or six types of carrots, one of which was red. The choices of apples, oranges, potatoes, onions and grapes were so diverse that it was hard to choose. They also had fruits and vegetables I’d never seen before, imported perhaps from exotic places. I’m not terribly adventurous, but I did buy a few things I would never have found in a normal grocery store.

It used to be that a grape is a grape is a grape, but now you can choose from a dozen different types. You can even buy champagne grapes, which are tiny grapes so small it is hard to imagine how you could eat them. They are smaller than peas, but grow in bunches just like regular grapes. I have not eaten any, so I don’t know about the flavor, but wine producers have long worked with their vines to develop special grapes to create new and different wines. Each grape gives a unique quality to the wine, and combining grapes can make fantastic flavors.

People have been grafting grape vines for a long time, even in the days of Isaiah. The vineyard keeping carefully planted the vines hoping to get an excellent crop to make fine wine for drinking. But in today’s passage we hear that the vineyard brought forth wild grapes. We are reminded by this lesson that we can try to control the circumstances in which we live, but we never know what might grow in our vineyard. I imagine the botanists who developed broccoflower and broccolini probably had some failures along the way.

But this scripture also shows us that God is the vineyard owner. We are like those wild grapes, growing up in the midst of the vineyard that the Lord has planted. We fail. We sin. We go our own way. Despite all that God has done for us, we want to be in control of the world in which we live. In doing so, we often make the wrong choices. This passage does not leave us much hope, as God swore to repay His wayward people with justice. Yet, this is not the end of the story. There is hope because the promises of God reach far beyond our failing. For every curse there is a promise and God is faithful.


September 26, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 5,2008, 2008: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:7-15; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46

Psalm 80:7-15 Turn us again, O God of hosts; And cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved. Thou broughtest a vine out of Egypt: Thou didst drive out the nations, and plantedst it. Thou preparedst room before it, And it took deep root, and filled the land. The mountains were covered with the shadow of it, And the boughs thereof were like cedars of God. It sent out its branches unto the sea, And its shoots unto the River. Why hast thou broken down its walls, So that all they that pass by the way do pluck it? The boar out of the wood doth ravage it, And the wild beasts of the field feed on it. Turn again, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: Look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine, and the stock

An infant can only see things about 8 to 14 inches from their eyes. While they might be able to distinguish light and dark farther away, they can not yet focus on items. They would not recognize a person who is standing across the room, unless they could ‘see’ that person with other senses like smell and hearing which are more highly developed at birth. Even at close distances they do not see detail; they look for contrasts and shapes. Infants particularly like staring into the eyes of the one who is holding them. They begin to recognize their mothers first, probably because so much time is spent together. That early interaction is important for the development of both the child and the relationship.

A study about twenty years ago tested the importance of the interaction between mother and infant child. The mothers entered the child’s space and played with them as they would normally play for about three minutes. The mothers then left and soon later entered the space again. This time the mothers held a ‘still-face’ with no facial movement to interact with the child. This was not what the infants expected and they reacted similarly. The infants first tried to elicit a facial response from their mothers by smiling, reaching out and making noises. After a few seconds, the child’s face became somber. Then the child looked away and finally withdrew by leaning away from the mother. This happened consistently in the studies and the series of events happened in just three minutes.

For a child, that line of vision is their whole world. To have ‘the mother’ gazing down upon them with love and joy and peace gives the child a sense of love and joy and peace. It is like a light shining down upon them. The same is true about God our Father, as our world is more comforting when we know that He is looking down upon us. When things go wrong, it is easy to believe that God has turned His back, that He has abandoned us, much like those infants whose mothers did not respond to their needs as they expected. As our world crumbles around us we cry out to God, seeking His light and His life in our world because we know that when He is near all will be well. Even if all is not well, at least we know that He is in control and will take care of us in our time of need.

The psalm tells the story of Israel, the vine. God brought her out of Egypt and planted her in the garden of His choosing. She did not do well. As in yesterday’s lesson, He expected the grapes He planted but He got wild grapes. Israel’s actions brought bad times upon the land; she suffered the consequences of being disobedient to her Father, but He never left. He heard their cry and restored His relationship with them.


September 29, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 5,2008, 2008: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:7-15; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46

Philippians 3:4b-14 …if any other man thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless. Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Ananias was an early disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ who lived in Damascus. The Christian Church was just beginning its spread to the four corners of the earth; the followers were probably not yet even called Christians. They were Jews who believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah for whom they had waited. They gathered together in homes, sharing fellowship and food, reading the letters of the apostles and the scriptures they knew so well, trying to understand all that was happening to their world, their faith and their lives.

Not all Jews believed the message of Jesus or that He was the Messiah for whom they were waiting. Some believed that the new Christians, a named originally given as an insult to those believed to have wandered from the true faith, were apostate and traitors. Some Jews were more zealous among the company of religious leaders and they believed that the new Christians deserved to die, that the new faith had to be stopped at all cost. One of those zealous members of the ruling party was Saul of Tarsus.

Ananias was a Jew. In Acts 22, we learn that he was “a devout observer of the law and was highly respected by all the Jews living” in Damascus. (Acts 22:12) He had heard about Saul of Tarsus, the zealot who was present at the stoning of Stephen and who was headed for Damascus on orders from the chief priests to rid the city of those who believe in Jesus. The Lord called to Ananias in a vision. God said, “Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus: for behold, he prayeth; and he hath seen a man named Ananias coming in, and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight.” Imagine how frightened Ananias must have been. Paul certainly had a reputation, one that made the Christians tremble with fear.

But God had something wonderful planned for Saul, who was named Paul after his conversion. He was no longer the zealous religious leader who was willing to kill to hold on to the power and authority of those in Jerusalem who were unwilling to follow this new way of life. He’d had a dramatic moment of clarity as the Lord Jesus Christ came to him on the road to Damascus. He left Jerusalem with the intent of doing more harm to the Christian Church, but arrived in Damascus a changed man. Ananias could not have known that. All he knew was that Saul was a Jew’s Jew, zealous for the faith of his fathers.

Paul soon had an entirely different reputation. As he began preaching the Gospel to all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, the Jew’s Jews began to question his authority. Many men, like Ananias, continued to live devotedly in the faith of their heritage while also believing in the Gospel message brought and won by Jesus Christ. We don’t know where Ananias might have stood on the issue of Gentile believers, but men like him were disturbed by the way Paul was taking the blessings of this new faith to pagans and foreigners. There were those among the Jewish Christians who believed that the Gentile Christians must first become Jews, through conversion and circumcision. They were against Paul’s evangelism techniques and his expectations of the new non-Jew Christians.

Paul had a hard word for them. He called them dogs and mutilators of the flesh. He said they were evil. They were evil because they put their confidence in the flesh, rather than the Spirit. Paul learned on the road to Damascus that the flesh is not faithful, but God is. The conversion on that road was more than a change from Jew to Christian. Paul’s life was turned upside down as he learned that faith is about living in trust of God and His Work in and through Jesus Christ rather than having faith in the things that he could do to be saved. In this letter, Paul knows he is not perfect and that he has not yet reached perfection, but he refuses to turn back to the ways of his old life – which was commendable – to live in a faith of the flesh that fails. Instead, Paul continues forward, despite the assault from those Christians who still rely on the flesh for salvation.


September 30, 2008

Scriptures for Sunday, October 5, 2008: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:7-15; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46

Matthew 21:33-46 Hear another parable: There was a man that was a householder, who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into another country. And when the season of the fruits drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, to receive his fruits. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them in like manner. But afterward he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But the husbandmen, when they saw the son, said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and take his inheritance. And they took him, and cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him. When therefore the lord of the vineyard shall come, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those miserable men, and will let out the vineyard unto other husbandmen, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; This was from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And he that falleth on this stone shall be broken to pieces: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will scatter him as dust. And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. And when they sought to lay hold on him, they feared the multitudes, because they took him for a prophet.

We have all seen the comedic scene of a substitute teacher trying to take over a class in the absence of the regular teacher. Sit-coms and movies tend to make this a scene of chaos where the substitute has no power to control the students. They are seen as babysitters rather than as teachers. Their job is often described as one who keeps the children from killing one another or getting harmed in any way. There is no expectation of teaching or learning when a substitute is in the room.

I don’t think most classrooms react so violently and hilariously to a substitute teacher as we see in the sit-coms and movies. Yet, there are certainly issues when a teacher is absent. The substitute is not expected to teach, but is given on the lesson plan certain things to accomplish. The students are given class time to do homework. There is often a movie or some other quiet activity planned. The substitute teacher is still little more than a babysitter, offering a presence in a room full of kids but no actual teaching or guidance.

It is a shame because many substitute teachers are highly trained and capable teachers. Many of them have chosen to work as a substitute because there is more flexibility in time and experiences. People will choose to substitute if they want to work fewer hours than a normal teacher. They may do this for health reasons, or because they have hobbies or consulting work they want to do, so they work as a substitute so that they can say no on days when they have something else scheduled. Some substitutes are trained but have not yet found a full time job or they are at the end of their career and would rather not work full time hours. Some substitutes are second career teachers who are still being trained for licensing to work in the classroom, substituting to gain experience while earning some money toward their training. These are not incompetent people. They are bright and talented, possibly great teachers whose circumstances have them dealing with diverse and often difficult situations.

The trouble is that substitute teachers have little or no authority. They can’t plan their own lessons because they have to stay in the curriculum as the full time teacher is leading the students. They don’t know what the teacher has already taught or when they are planning to teach new concepts. To jump in with a new idea might confuse the students and even cause poor test scores and failing grades. The substitute also has little authority to control the classroom. Though a substitute can fall back on the administration and the full time teacher to address misbehavior, they don’t have any recourse to deal with it themselves. Misbehavior is certainly taken seriously and dealt with, but without the sense of urgency that might come with a regular teacher. School authorities know that even the best students will find ways to take advantage of the upheaval in the classroom, so misbehavior with a substitute is addressed differently than a recurring problem with a regular teacher.

So, how can a person really accomplish anything if they have no recognized authority? In last week’s Gospel lesson, we heard the leaders of the temple ask Jesus about His own authority. They did not believe He had the authority to do or say the things He was doing and saying. Jesus was shaking up their world, and threatening their position. They needed to find a way to stop Him. He refused to give them the answer they sought and caused them to look at their own obedience to God.

Today’s story goes a little further. Jesus describes a landowner (God) who built a vineyard (Israel) and left the vineyard under the care of tenants (the chief priests and elders). When the landowner came to take possession of the fruit that was rightly his, the tenants killed the servants (the prophets of God). More servants were sent and killed. Then the landowner sent his son (Christ) because He thought the tenants would recognize his authority. They did not give the son the respect due and even killed him, hoping to gain possession of the inheritance.

The chief priests and elders were much like the students in a classroom, refusing to recognize the authority of Jesus. They didn’t recognize the authority of the prophets sent before Jesus and their self-centeredness and greed led to the same end of all God’s servants – death. Did the tenants (the chief priests and elders) really think that the landowner (God) would leave them to their scheming and violence? Though the story has a sad ending, there is hope. With God there is always hope.