Welcome to the September 2023 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.
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 2023
September 1, 2023
“But I tell you who hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer also the other; and from him who takes away your cloak, don’t withhold your coat also. Give to everyone who asks you, and don’t ask him who takes away your goods to give them back again. As you would like people to do to you, do exactly so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive back as much. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. ‘Therefore be merciful, even as your Father is also merciful. Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Dont condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Set free, and you will be set free.’ Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be given to you. For with the same measure you measure it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:27-38, WEB
There was a case on one of those court tv shows on which two Christian women did not love their neighbors. The case involved a plaintiff who ran a non-profit dedicated to her son who had been killed by gang members. The defendant was a woman who called herself a prophetess. They met because they thought they might be able to merge their ministries to get more accomplished together rather than separately.
The meeting did not go well. Afterwards, the defendant posted awful things about the plaintiff and her son on social media. The plaintiff then showed up at the defendant’s church and made a scene. The defendant called child welfare on a friend of the plaintiff. The judge was incensed at the actions of both women. “How could Christian women act this way toward one another? What do you think God is thinking now?” she asked. She passed judgment on the case but reminded them that they would both face an even greater judgment.
The plaintiff won the case. The defendant lost her countersuit because the judge found that her losses were the consequences of her own actions. Despite losing, the defendant left the courtroom with a holier-than-thou attitude and preached some word about God. We never really found out went so wrong at the first meeting, but the events that followed were not the way Christian women should act in the world. Both were wrong, but in a court of law the judge can find in favor of one sinner over another. In God’s court, of course, we are all sinners and those who are set free are only those who trust in God. Both women had reason to confess and seek God’s grace for their actions. The plaintiff seemed humble, the defendant not so much.
The judge turned to the defendant and said something like, “You might be doing 99% good but you have done 1% evil.” That’s all of us, we all sin. The judge was kinder to the plaintiff, but her comments remind all of us that we are sinners in need of a savior. The Gospel is our only way out of our bondage to sin and death. We might look at our neighbor and think that they are somehow worse than we are and that they deserve our wrath, but the reality is that even if we are only 0.0000001% sinner, we are still tainted sinners. We will all face a greater judgment.
Mercy is about compassion, forgiveness, and kindness. Mercy is more difficult to understand and to express when our enemies have the power to destroy our lives. The women did not glorify God in the way they dealt with their disagreement. They might have done great work together, but some unknown wrong in the beginning of the relationship led to a video showing the disruption of worship in God’s house. The evil of their actions became greater with every act against the other, which then affect others in astonishing ways.
Ultimately the women did not need to work together. The truth is that we don’t get along with everyone, including our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. However, we are called to be merciful. Our heavenly Father gives us the strength, courage, and wisdom to do what is right. Our Lord Jesus Christ paid the highest price to give us the forgiveness that only He can give. He died for us even when we were His enemies so that we would be forgiven and set free from our lives of sin and debt to God. It isn’t easy, but we can begin as we are able with our neighbors, friends, and family members who have harmed us. We are not to seek revenge, but rather seek reconciliation by doing good to them. The love of God will manifest in the mercy you give, showing your life to be one as a child of God. God was kind and merciful to each of us, sinners, and His enemies, forgiving our sin for the sake of His Son.
Those women on the judge show knew that they were strangers in a foreign land, Christians living in a fallen world. They knew that they had been saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, but their story played more like a reality show. They did not live as God has called them to live, loving their enemies and treating all their neighbors with mercy. Unfortunately, the judge was correct when she said that they’d face a greater judgment one day. The question that all of us need to ask is whether or not we really trust in God’s salvation. Have we been transformed by His mercy? Are we living forgiven, recognizing our own sinfulness? Are we willing to forgive; are we willing to see our neighbors, including our enemies, through the eyes of Jesus?
“Blessed is everyone who fears Yahweh, who walks in his ways. For you will eat the labor of your hands. You will be happy, and it will be well with you. Your wife will be as a fruitful vine in the innermost parts of your house, your children like olive shoots around your table. Behold, this is how the man who fears Yahweh is blessed. May Yahweh bless you out of Zion, and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life. Yes, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel.” Psalm 128, WEB
Today is Labor Day, an American holiday honoring hard work. We don’t have plans for today. We thought about taking a day trip somewhere, but we are being lazy instead. It is still hot in Texas, and the thought of hiking through a park, or even wandering through some historic site just didn’t sound like much fun. So, on this Labor Day, we are refusing to do any labor. I’m not even excited about cooking any food. Funny that we would have a day about laboring, on which we are doing whatever we can to avoid labor!
We use the word labor for the act of physical work, but it is also an economic term that means to do some sort of service for an economic return. We spend too many hours each week earning a paycheck so that we can live in this world. It takes money to pay the rent, buy food and clothes, and do all the things we want to do. We would not have been able to take that day trip if we didn’t have the money to put gas in the car, pay entrance fees, or buy lunch.
The first U.S. Labor Day celebration was held in New York City on September 5th, 1882, by the Central Labor Union. It was designed to be a day to show the public the “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” The day began with a parade and was followed by a festival of fun and celebration for the workers and their families. The new tradition continued for a second year on September 5th, 1883. It was moved to the first Monday of September by the third year, when the Central Labor Union began encouraging other organizations to join in the celebration. Politicians eventually became involved; they used the day as an opportunity to promote their causes among those who labor in the workforce. The day was made a national holiday in 1894 and according to the Department of Labor is meant to be “An annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers.”
We need laborers; people who work are vital to society and to our daily lives. The best things in life come from those who work hard to create, produce, and provide everything we need, and through them we benefit from the economic and technological progress that we’ve made. We have not always understood the need to respect laborers, however. Those celebrations begun so long ago were part of a movement to make circumstances better for the hard-working men and women who serve us daily in so many ways.
Someone recently asked young adults what Labor Day is about. The answer is disappointing. One young man answered, “I actually don’t know why we celebrate Labor Day.” Another said, “I have no clue. I was wondering this the other day. Honestly, I think it’s just a day off work. I have no more info than that.” A young woman asked, “Something to do with America?” The day has become little more than the unofficial end of summer, the transition from the laid-back days of freedom and vacations to the hustle and bustle of school and work. Labor Day is about having fun and relaxing, resting before getting back into the normal grind, not about honoring the importance of work and workers in our world.
Those original Labor Day celebrations were focused on certain people who were part of the union and were even designed to convince others to join the union. We can argue today about whether those organizations still care about the workers or if they have an agenda, but the day is still meant for workers. Whatever it was, and whatever it is, we are reminded on this Labor Day by the words of the psalmist that God cares for the laborer who loves God and He provides for them. While organizations have provided for the welfare of workers, they are made up of human beings who can lose sight of what really matters. However, we can rest in the trustworthiness of the God who blesses those who fear Him and walk in His ways. He makes our labor worthwhile; He ensures the fruit of our labors will be a blessing. He provides a place for rest, not only one day a year but every day of our lives.
“When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him immediately. Little children, I will be with you a little while longer. You will seek me, and as I said to the Jews, “Where I am going, you can’t come,” so now I tell you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’” John 13:31-35, WEB
We really enjoyed our years in England and tried to see as much as possible. We made multiple trips to London with tours and on our own. We always enjoyed visiting the churches; each one is unique. If possible, we tried to visit at times when they were holding worship, and some of our most incredible experiences were when we joined those congregations to sing praise to God. I’ve told those stories over and over again; if you haven’t heard them yet, you are sure to hear them again soon.
One of my favorite places was St. Paul’s Cathedral. This church is a magnificent building, designed in the 17th century by Sir Christopher Wren. Christians have worshipped on the site for 1300 years. It is one of London’s most beloved landmarks.
There is a dome at the center of the cathedral where the transepts meet. There are three galleries in the dome, which can be reached by climbing many stairs. Running around the interior of the dome, 259 steps above the ground floor, is the Whispering Gallery. This walkway, which runs a complete circle around the dome, is called by its name because a whisper is audible on the opposite side of the dome, due to a building quirk. The Stone Gallery is 378 steps above ground level, runs around the outside of the dome and provides an incredible view of London. From this perch we saw Parliament, The Globe Theatre, the Thames, and many other London landmarks.
Just as we were about to descend back to the main level of the cathedral, we discovered that we could climb to the Golden Gallery which is a total of 530 steps from ground level. The stairways to the top were rickety iron, and our bodies were getting tired of laboring to climb to these great heights. But as we came out into the sun, we could see the reward of our labor. The view of London from the Golden Gallery is remarkable.
One sight is a small parish church called St. Bride’s that is just one block west of St. Paul’s. It was named after the 16th century Irish saint Bridget and was also designed by Christopher Wren. The spire of this church is famous, not only for its beauty, but also for a story about a father’s love. The spire, which reaches a height of 226 feet, is composed of stone-carved open tiers, which are crowned by a tapering obelisk. The father was a baker who lived near St. Bride’s. He wanted to give his daughter a special gift on her wedding day. It is said that when he looked upon the newly completed spire, he was inspired to make a tiered cake for her. He became famous for these cakes, and tiered wedding cakes are now a tradition around the world. His love for his daughter was so great that he was inspired by the church and was willing to try something new and different to make her wedding day special.
We could also see a tower from one of the many buildings owned by the company that makes OXO cubes. These buildings are identifiable because they have windows in the shape of the letters which spell OXO. At the time these buildings were constructed, there was a law stating that no commercial industry could advertise on their buildings. This law was created in an effort to clean up the city, to keep it from having too many signs. The company still wanted to advertise their product, so they found a loophole in the law. There were no specific laws against shaped windows. So, the designer included windows on each side of the tower, spelling the word Oxo for all to see.
After seeing all those beautiful and interesting sights, we climbed down the 530 stairs from the Golden Gallery. We went to a café to recover. Worship with Communion was set to begin at 12:30, and we wanted to take part. We often forget as we traipse around these tourist sites, that these are living, breathing churches. People go there to worship God, to hear His word, to gather in the fellowship of saints and share in His love. Sadly, when the door was open to allow the congregation in for the service, many tourists crowded to get in, but one by one they turned and left. They weren’t interested in worshipping God; they just wanted to see the quire. Throughout the service, I noticed that people were outside the quire in the cathedral going about their business. They continued to look at the tombs of famous people, focusing on death while we celebrated life. The world just does not see our faith the way we do.
It was a wonderful but exhausting day. The views from the dome were incredible and the worship was inspiring. How often do we, as Christians, think that the work we do for God in this world is exhausting and doesn’t lead to anything of value? We share God’s love and are met with hate. We speak God’s forgiveness and experience persecution. We are rejected and ignored by the world. We may not always experience the glory that God shines on the world as we hope, but our work is never in vain. The reality is that God’s glory is not as we might expect, especially while we live in this world. Jesus showed us the truth, that it was on the cross that God was truly glorified. Though we will face hate and persecution in this world, because of Jesus’ willing sacrifice the day will come when we will emerge from this world, as we emerged from that stairway inside the dome at St. Paul’s, into the eternal Kingdom of God and look upon His glory forever.
Lectionary Scriptures for September 10, 2023: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 32:1-7; Romans 13:1-10; Matthew 18:1-20
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8, WEB
A friend approached me the other day and asked if I crochet. She is on the committee planning a retreat for the women of our church and they want someone who can make a cute bookmark. Unfortunately, I don’t crochet. She said, “Could you learn?” I laughed at her persistence. She said, “We thought of you because you are so creative, we were sure you could be able to do it.” I really don’t have time to learn a new skill or take up a new project, so I said “No.” Fortunately, a couple of ladies sitting nearby actually do crochet. My friend talked to them, and I think everything will work out.
The thing is, I have tried to crochet, but it didn’t go very well. I have tried other things, too, but I don’t have the patience to take on another hobby. I once took a class on tatting, which is similar to crochet, and I liked it so I continued to work on it. The stitches are easy, but the patterns are complicated. I learned from my mistakes and was able to figure out how to make a small wreath shape, but I gave up soon after because I did not have the patience to learn more.
We learn from our mistakes, but I am thankful that the mistakes we make while crafting are not a matter of life and death. The same is not true of other types of mistakes. A good parent will not allow a child to make mistakes that will have lasting damage. We know they have to fail once in a while because that is how they grow and learn. We might allow them to touch something that will break, but we will not allow them to touch a hot stove. We learn to walk a fine line between allowing them to make mistakes while responsibly keeping them from harm.
I confess that I was not always good at telling my children 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 hid the item to avoid being punished. One day a parent found the hidden item and sought the culprit. Most kids answer, “I don’t know.” Eventually the truth comes to light and the child finally admits to breaking the item. What is the right consequence? 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 always better to tell the truth. My children received much sterner punishment when they lied. Saying “Sorry” is not enough. Repentance requires knowing what was wrong and turning from it. We cannot truly be reconciled to one another unless we recognize what we’ve done wrong, turn from it, and do what is right. Repentance brings change which leads to reconciliation.
We make mistakes, but as Christians we know we need to be more careful because sin is a matter of life and death. Sin leads to death, not only in this world, but also in the spiritual realm. Just as we ensure the wellbeing of our children, we are also responsible to call our neighbors to repent so that they will harm themselves or others. It is a very fine line we walk when we talk about the sins of our neighbors. Unfortunately, many people are offended when we interfere in their personal lives. Who are we to judge? Yet sometimes God does call us to intercede in the lives of our neighbors for their sake, to shine a light so that they might see their error and repent. It could be a matter of life and death.
God does not want any to perish. Ezekiel was called to a hard task: to tell the people of Israel about their sin against God, to speak His word of judgment for Israel, Judah, and the nations. In chapter 33, however, God begins to speak words of consolation. He offers hope for those who hear the words of judgment and repent. We may suffer the consequences of our sin, experience the cost of our mistakes, but God is ready with a word of consolation for us.
Like Ezekiel, we may be the one called to give that word to another. The call for repentance is the beginning of hope, a revelation of the mercy and grace of God. It isn’t easy to be the voice of God in the lives of those who don’t want to hear, and we are often afraid to call our neighbors to repentance, but God calls us to this ministry so that none will die. He calls us to share in the life-giving promise of His word.
I often made mistakes when I was trying to discipline my children when they were younger. The biggest struggle was demanding apologies from a child who did something wrong. The problem is that children don’t always understand what they have done wrong. “Tell your sister that you are sorry,” we insist, so the child says, “Sorry.” It doesn’t take long before the child is doing the same thing, because they didn’t know why they were saying “I’m sorry.” They said the word without really being transformed by the lesson. They didn’t learn from their mistake.
There used to be shows to help parents learn good techniques for discipline. For instance, the “time out chair” gives a child time to think about what they have done. The process includes telling the child, eye to eye, the reason for their time out. “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 returns to the child and asks the child to apologize not only with the word, but they should repeat what they did wrong. “I’m sorry for hitting my sister.” With this technique, the child is more likely to learn from their mistake.
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. “Sorry” is pretty easy to say, so many people would rather just admit something and get it over with rather than learn any lessons. Most people don’t want to change. True repentance is meant to bring the change that leads to reconciliation. Saying “Sorry” is never enough. Repentance requires knowing what was wrong and turning from it. We cannot 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 Gospel passage. If our brother harms 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 should do it privately at first to keep our brother from the gossips. If he (or she) refuses to hear us, then we should take another person who can testify with us about the behavior. Again, this is done privately to avoid embarrassment. If they still will not hear what we have to say, then we should take it to the church, together we can help our brother see his error and help him to be reconciled to us. If he still refuses to hear, then we should 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 include a friend if our private conversation does not help. An intermediary might provide some insight into both people involved. The people of the church can provide further understanding, not only about the individuals involved, but also discerning the expectations of God. It is our task as Christians to constantly be working for reconciliation.
Jesus is the example of how we are to deal with those who hurt us. Does He abandon us when we continue to sin? Think about how He treated the pagans and the tax collectors. He calls us to repent, but also consoles us with His grace. He fights for us. Jesus came to save what was lost, like the shepherd who left the ninety-nine to find the one. Next week Jesus will shock us when He teaches often we should forgive. Over and over again we are to 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 all, working His grace.
The question of forgiveness was often part of the show “Everyone Loves Raymond.” Raymond’s family constantly intruded on their family, but it was usually Debra, his wife, who had to find the grace to forgive despite no sign of repentance. During one particular episode, Raymond’s father drove his car through their front door. Frank was never apologetic; instead, he wondered who would pay for the scratches on his car. Debra wanted him to tell his parents why he was angry, but Raymond held his tongue.
There were dozens of reasons Raymond should have gotten mad at his parents. Every show was built on their interference. They popped in to visit whenever they wanted and 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. Raymond had every reason to be angry with his parents. Debra acted as a peacemaker but wanted Ray to be honest with his parents. “Tell them how you feel, Ray.” In the end, it was the wallpaper that made him explode. The problem really 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.
If he had listened to Debra, he would have approached the situation with grace and self-control, but that’s not really human nature, is it? We allow our hurt and anger to well up inside, not speaking to those who have sinned against us until something insignificant makes us respond with harsh words and a violent temper. In the end, nothing is fixed. Though we might talk about forgiveness and continue in the relationship, we never get around to dealing with the root of the problem. As with children, if we don’t tell them what they’ve done wrong, they have no idea why they should be sorry.
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 His wrath and His promise. He warned Ezekiel that their blood would be on his hands if he failed to tell them the truth. Jesus gave the disciples a pattern for telling people about their sins. This pattern is considerate and merciful, keeping the speaker humble and calm while giving a course for dealing with the unrepentant. 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, but God reminds us to deal with the root causes with grace and control.
So, what did Jesus really mean when He said that we should treat those who refuse to listen as if they were not a brother or sister in Christ? Does it mean we should 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 church rolls) forever?
Keep in mind that the Gospel of Matthew was written by a tax collector who believed and followed Jesus. Jesus didn’t reject him even though tax collectors were considered traitors to their fellow Jews. They worked with the enemy, and they were rejected even if they did so honestly and according to the authority given to them. How did Jesus treat the pagans and tax collectors? He fought for them. He encouraged them. He healed them. He invited them into His presence. He taught them about the Kingdom of God and called them to repent. He offered His forgiveness. He does the same for us, even though we continue to sin against Him, even the disciples.
The reason began with a question for Jesus. They wanted to know who would be at His right hand when He came into His Kingdom. They wanted to understand the hierarchy, to know the pecking order. They wanted to know which one of them was most important. Jesus reminded them that the future of the Kingdom did not rest on their power or position.
I often wonder if Jesus was ever frustrated with them. They just didn’t get it. Jesus told them that He would die, so it is understandable that they wondered about the future. The natural human response would be to ask who would inherit His ministry. Who would be in charge? Who would lead the people when Jesus was gone? These are obvious questions for a group of men who believed there would be a future for their mission but who needed to understand what would come next. They weren’t much different than we are today; there is always a leader and followers. They wanted to know who the leader would be. They wanted to know who would have the authority. I’m not sure the disciples even saw their sin in their question.
Our biggest problem is that we are stubborn. Just as the child that apologizes without knowing what they did wrong, we seek God’s grace for all the wrong reasons while ignoring the sin in our lives. We’ll say “I’m sorry” for the things we do wrong, but we do not accept that we have sinned against God.
Children didn’t have any clout in Jesus’ day. They were not doted upon as our children are today. They were meant to be seen and not heard. Actually, they were not meant to be seen, either. They were barely even people until they reached the age of maturity. They had no rights. They had no power. They certainly had no authority. It was beyond the disciples’ expectation that Jesus would choose a little child as the example in this lesson.
Jesus said, “Unless you turn, and become as little children...” What is it about children that we should emulate? They are innocent, not in legal terms, but as it relates to life. They are not cynical. They are pure, naive, and open. They have no preconceived ideas. They are creative, inquisitive, bold, and unafraid to ask questions. They are like sponges, taking in everything around them. They are trusting, accepting and vulnerable. They still believe in the unbelievable. They are willing to risk it all to try something new and they trust that all will be well. They are willing to forgive and forget; reconciliation and restoration is natural to them. They don’t want positions of power and authority; they just want to be loved by those who can take care of them.
Jesus pulled a little child into His circle and said, “Whoever receives one such little child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him that a huge millstone should be hung around his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depths of the sea.” The child knew something that the disciples still had to learn: the child loved Jesus without expectation. Jesus was the greatest and He always would be.
God does not want any to perish. We may suffer the consequences of our sin, experience the cost of our mistakes, but God is ready with a word of consolation for us. It is a hard reality, but God may call us to be like Ezekiel, to call them to repentance and to share the promise of grace. The call for repentance is the beginning of hope, a revelation of the mercy and grace of God. We might be afraid to speak those words, but God calls us to this ministry so that none will die.
It takes the faith of a child to live this way. The Gospel lesson begins with a question from the disciples. They thought Jesus would be a worldly king who would save Israel from the Romans. They wanted to know who would be at His right hand when He came into that kingdom. They wanted to understand the hierarchy, to know the pecking order. They wanted to know which one of them was most important. Jesus turned their world upside down. Again. He told them that being the greatest had nothing to do with power or position. They needed to be like little children. Jesus refused to establish a hierarchy, and He told them that if they didn’t humble themselves, they would not even enter the Kingdom. They probably felt pretty confident that they were already in; after all, they were the chosen disciples. How could a little child possibly be greater than them?
The disciples would have to take over the ministry one day, perhaps sooner than they wanted, but the reality is that none of them would take Jesus’ place. He did not need a human right-hand man, but a group of willing disciples who would continue to do His work. There is no hierarchy here; Jesus is the greatest One and the rest of us, we who believe in Him, are His children. Then Jesus warned the disciples to take care of those who are innocent, the “little ones” who trust in Him. He warned them, and us, not to lead the pure, naive, vulnerable, fearless sponges on the wrong path. “Do not cause them to sin.” By this He means, “Do not cause them to stop believing in me.” Sadly, I think we do this much too often.
This talk of repentance and faith is important because those who sin against us become a burden on our hearts and minds. Each sin against another believer can cause them to doubt Jesus. How many people refuse to become involved in a church because it is filled with a bunch of hypocrites? We know that we are sinners in need of a Savior, but our sinful attitudes and actions can push a “little one” away.
The life of the repentant sinner is blessed because those who trust in God will know His forgiveness. He does not want to lose anyone; He is willing to go out of His way to bring us home. The psalmist recognized the joy that comes from the forgiveness of God. That forgiveness comes to those who humble themselves before God, who trust God and His promises. The blessed ones are those who are like little children, living in faith. Blessed are those who live together in the kingdom of heaven without trying to be greater than one another. Blessed are those who are willing to deal with sin and reconcile with one another.
Paul wrote, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” We are called to care for one another by helping each other live according to the Word of God. Love does not allow our brothers and sisters to continue to sin. God loves us as we are, this is very true, but God has called us to something better. Though we fail, He speaks His word into our lives over and over again until we hear and are transformed by it. And thus, we are called to live in community with others, speaking God’s word into their lives, too.
God does not give us a word of instruction and judgment without a word of hope. He does not want any to die. God’s Law condemns, but Christ saves. We make mistakes on a daily basis, but when we hear God say “I do not want to see any perish” we realize there is hope. God is holy and it is hard for us to look at Him, knowing we are unworthy of His love. Yet He calls us to do so. Even as we are to share God’s Word with others, our brothers and sisters in Christ are called to a similar ministry to encourage us to turn around, to repent, to seek His mercy. As we hear the promise found in these words, we can seek His face. We can be like little children. We don’t have to be cynical, but can be pure, naive, and open. We need not follow preconceived ideas. We can be creative, inquisitive, bold, and unafraid to ask questions. We can be like sponges, taking in everything around us. We can trust and accept what we hear from God. We can even be vulnerable. Most of all, we can believe the unbelievable.
That’s what God wants from us. He wants us to be like little children, open to His love and grace. He wants us to be humble, and He promises that He’ll always come looking for us when we wander away. He doesn’t want anyone to be lost; He wants to bring us home. He wants us to deal with our neighbors with love, speaking His word of both Law and Gospel with grace and self-control so that we will be reconciled and so that we will all know true life. There might be a line we have to draw, a place where we have to break fellowship for the sake of others. But we must never forget that God is not limited to our side of that line, He longs for all to experience His salvation. Let’s not wait until it is too late to speak His grace into the lives of those who have turned from God, or we might just find ourselves responsible for those who have been lost. Now is the time. Are you ready to pay that debt of love?
“Wisdom calls aloud in the street. She utters her voice in the public squares. She calls at the head of noisy places. At the entrance of the city gates, she utters her words: ‘How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? How long will mockers delight themselves in mockery, and fools hate knowledge? Turn at my reproof. Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you. I will make known my words to you. Because I have called, and you have refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no one has paid attention; but you have ignored all my counsel, and wanted none of my reproof; I also will laugh at your disaster. I will mock when calamity overtakes you, when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when your disaster comes on like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come on you. Then they will call on me, but I will not answer. They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me, because they hated knowledge, and didn’t choose the fear of Yahweh. They wanted none of my counsel. They despised all my reproof. Therefore they will eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own schemes. For the backsliding of the simple will kill them. The careless ease of fools will destroy them. But whoever listens to me will dwell securely, and will be at ease, without fear of harm.” Proverbs 1:20-33, WEB
There is a playground in Wrexham, England, that goes against everything modern safety standards demand. Since the 1970’s, especially in the United States, playgrounds are expected to meet certain specifications to protect the health and welfare of our children. The ground must be made of something soft. The bars on the high parts of jungle gyms must be close enough so children can’t fit through and fall to the ground. The equipment can’t exceed a certain height. On top of all these limitations in the playgrounds, we often focus on scheduled play and organized activities. We don’t like our kids to get too dirty; we make them protect their toys. In doing so, we often limit their imagination and stifle their adventurousness.
Not to be nostalgic, but I didn’t have those limitations when I was a kid. There’s an internet meme (several actually) about the childhood of my generation. Our parents expected us at the dinner table and home at a decent hour for bedtime, but we were sent outside to play for the rest of the day. We left our toys in the sandbox to get rained upon and grimy. We climbed trees without supervisions. We played hide-and-seek in the woods. We even (don’t be shocked) used the bank of a major highway for sledding in the winter. At the top of that hill, we were less than ten feet away from vehicles speeding on wet and sometimes slippery roads.
Ok, so there is good reason for the limitations. The playground rules came into effect after a boy died from falling headfirst from the top of a large slide onto macadam. I can’t imagine what would have happened if a car had slipped and crashed into the guard rail when we were waiting for our turn to sled down the hill. In so many ways, the world seems to be a more dangerous place. We don’t let our children out of our sight not only for their physical well-being, but because we are afraid they will be kidnapped. Our attitudes have a positive effect, too. Experts suggest that organized play is good for the growth and maturity of our children.
My feet were black in the summer from running around barefoot on the streets; my hair was sun-bleached white with a hint of green from the chlorine from the pool where I lived from dawn to dusk during the summer (that’s how my feet usually got clean.) I was a red, pruney, green haired child with dirty feet. But we had fun. We chased lightning bugs at night and played flashlight tag throughout our neighborhood with the only boundaries being common sense and fairness. We had Monopoly games that lasted weeks, left set up in the basement where it was started until there wasn’t any money left to win. We ice skated on the field behind our house when it had an inch or so of ice. We used whatever we could find to make whatever our imagination could dream.
The people who designed the playground in Wrexham realized that we have stolen our children’s freedom, their adventurousness, and we’ve made them too afraid to imagine anything for themselves. We have strangled their imaginations by telling them they can’t play the games they want to play or create the world that will help them become strong, bold, creative adults that are unafraid to try something new or to go out on their own.
The Land is a playground that looks more like a junkyard and was built in 2011. It is filled with stuff: old tires, cement drainage pipes, broken toys, pallets, ropes, and wheelbarrows. There is even an old couch. A hill leads to a creek. One mother told the story of her son’s first visit to The Land. He met another boy who convinced him to get into a large recycle bin which was lying on its side at the top of the hill. The plan was to push him over the edge so that he’d roll into the creek. The water was cold and the mother had no change of clothes. The strange boy was being kind to her son, comforting and encouraging, so she let it go. He had a blast, got out of the creek, and went running with his friend to try something new.
Nothing is off limits. They even allow the children to start fires, which often end with a large group gathered around laughing at stories and jokes. There is adult supervision, but not much. Most mothers do not even enter The Land; they just drop their children off to play. The workers don’t stop the children from doing anything stupid, although they are there to ensure that no one gets seriously hurt. Despite the minimal adult interference, the children never leave with more than a few scratches. The children just have fun. They build forts with pallets that are piled way too high. They roll tires down the hill into the creek. They use the rope swing to get from one side of the creek to the other, or they just fall in. They play. They create. They imagine. They go on an adventure with the freedom to be themselves.
They don’t come out unscathed. They end up with rope burns on their hands and splinters from the pallets. I’m sure many knees are skinned when the fort collapses under the weight of too many children. They learn from their mistakes and work harder to build a stronger fort the next time. They eat dirt, rip their clothes, and get dirty from head to foot. But they have fun, they learn to overcome their fears and they find ways to get along with strangers.
Have you ever thought about why God lets us sin? After all, He’s God. He created us. He could have made us differently so that we would not be disobedient to Him. He could have set limitations on where we could go or what we could do. He didn’t. He gave us the freedom to be ourselves, to learn from our mistakes. We suffer the consequences, although those are usually more than just a skinned knee. We end up with broken relationships. God hopes that we will grow and mature as we learn from the consequences of our sin.
We want to stop our children from making mistakes so that they won’t get hurt. Yet, we know they have to fail once in a while, or they will never grow and mature. We walk on that fine line between allowing them to do something stupid and protecting them from themselves. God walks the same line. That internet meme talks about all the stupid things we did as children, like riding a bike without a helmet and skating on thin ice, but in the end we survived. We do some pretty stupid things in God’s kingdom, but God loves us so much that He forgives us and by His Spirit transforms us, giving us wisdom and peace so that we’ll not only survive, but the freedom to glorify Him with thanksgiving and praise before the world.
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.” Psalm 104:24-26, WEB
Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe” is the first in a series of crazy stories about a human from earth who gets caught up with a reporter for a guide for a book designed for beings who hitchhike across the universe. Adams created a funny and incredible universe where people can travel from planet to planet and even galaxy to galaxy. I read these books when I was younger, but recent conversations have led me to read them again and I’m surprised with every new experience how creative he was when he wrote these books. I am creative, I make paintings out of my imagination, but I shake my head in wonder that anyone could think this madness into existence.
I read a lot of sci-fi fantasy writers, but none even come close to Adams’ insanity. They create new worlds that are usually based on places that exist in our world. They create situations that parallel historical events. Even their people have characteristics that fit real people. I often read those books with half a mind trying to figure out the basis of the story, and they sometimes tell the real stories in their epilogues. The real stories do not include the sci-fi fantasy aspects those authors use. There was no magic or time slips in medieval England, but there was intrigue and drama in the royal courts, fear and poverty in the common population. Sci-fi writers have come up with incredible creatures and planets, but they usually do so according to the rules of science and reality that we know, but Adams did not think the far corners of the universe had to stick to those rules.
I am an artist at heart, so I often have an off-the-wall idea of what might be fun. When I was in school I took a couple years of French as my language and though I did not speak fluently I had a working knowledge of the language. I decided it would be fun to use French for my answering machine message. This created a number of problems both for those who dialed a wrong number and those who know me intimately. One friend’s response on the machine was, “I’m pretty sure I heard your last name in that message, so if this is Peggy call me back.” The problem was magnified when it came to Bruce. Since he was living in England, he had to dial a country code to make a call to America. When the answering machine spewed a message in French, he thought he had made a mistake and dialed the wrong country code. When he got the message again, after carefully dialing, he realized it must be my phone. After causing him to make two overseas telephone calls I realized it would be better to keep my message simple and informative.
One of my favorite creations in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is the “Babel fish.” At present it is estimated that there are over seven thousand languages in the world. Imagine how many there would be in a universe filled with inhabited planets! Travelers in Adams book put a small fish in their ear that automatically translates any language in the wearers’ brain so that strangers can understand one another. It isn’t quite so simple in the real world, though with the internet it is getting much easier. The first major online translator was called Babel Fish, which lead to many other translation programs.
The wonderful thing about the sci-fi fantasy genre is that many of those creative ideas in older stories have come into existence in today’s world. Would Babel Fish been the name of that translation program if it hadn’t been for Douglas Adams? I imagine we would have cellular technology even if there hadn’t been similar objects used in “Star Trek”? I’ve seen several memes that show the prophetic nature of the cartoon “The Jetsons” who had robot vacuums and big screen televisions long before they were a reality.
No matter how creative and how imaginative we can be, we are reminded that God is even more creative and imaginative. We don’t know what truly exists in the universe. Sometimes I like to think that there are other inhabited planets with people doing things even crazier than we can imagine. I think about the scientific rules of our planet and wonder why those rules would have to fit another place beyond our ability to reach. Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to travel at the speed of light and visit beings a million light years away?
I don’t think Douglas Adams ever meant his writing to be a prophetic word telling us what might be outside our own little corner of the universe, but we can look to our God and imagine so much more than we see and know from our own limited experience. God has done great things and there are still aspects of our own world that we are still discovering today. The craziness of the Hitchhiker’s Galaxy is not the real, but it reminds us that there are aspects of God’s universe both spiritual and physical that we may never really know because God is bigger than our brains can even imagine. This is a good thing, because if we could know and understand God, then He wouldn’t truly be God.
“Therefore let’s not judge one another any more, but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block in his brother’s way, or an occasion for falling. I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself; except that to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if because of food your brother is grieved, you walk no longer in love. Don’t destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Then don’t let your good be slandered, for God’s Kingdom is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then, let us follow after things which make for peace, and things by which we may build one another up. Don’t overthrow God’s work for food’s sake. All things indeed are clean, however it is evil for that man who creates a stumbling block by eating. It is good to not eat meat, drink wine, nor do anything by which your brother stumbles, is offended, or is made weak.” Romans 14:13-21, WEB
I have been involved in multiple conversations about using a crucifix for personal or institutional art. Should a Christian who wants to share Jesus Christ wear the horrific symbol of His death at all, and especially if the cross includes His beaten and dying body? Should a church have a crucifix in prominent display in the worship space? There are those who claim that the gory Christ is a deterrent for seekers. Others insist that the symbolism of the art and architecture is important to the theology of the Church. The crucifix discussion is just one of many that cause Christians to debate, and these debates often become personal and hurtful. I don’t think we are much different than the disciples in Jesus’ day. They were trying to figure out what it meant to be a Christian.
Paul is writing about a different issue, but it really isn’t that different. There were some people who thought one thing about food and others who thought another thing. There were those who thought it was a deterrent for seekers and another who had theological reasons for their point of view. Their opinions caused anger and hurtful comments, breaking fellowship and dividing the Church.
It doesn’t seem very important, but how we deal with these issues matters. What are we saying by our art and architectural choices? What are we saying by the food choices we make? It is possible that we can deter people from entering our churches and fellowship, but it is also possible that we cause people to misunderstand the work and grace of God by our choices. These are difficult issues even though they seem unimportant. Who cares what sort of art is on the wall? Who cares what sort of food we have at our potluck? The problem is, it does matter to some people, and that’s what Paul is addressing in this passage.
Is God glorified by which type of cross (or no cross at all) we have in our sanctuaries? Is He glorified by the type of food we eat? He is certainly not glorified when we allow our conversations to become personal and hurtful. The most important thing, as Paul writes, is righteousness, joy, and peace. No food or decor will ever make us righteous; it will never give us the joy or peace that comes with faith in Jesus.
Sometimes it is important to listen and understand the reasons why our brother or sister feels the way they do. Sometimes it is better to walk beside them in their choice; to eat what they feel is right or use the decor they prefer. If this matter will cause our brother or sister to stumble, then grace demands that we do what we can to build up their faith. There is a time and a place and a way to educate, and perhaps we can eventually convince others to our point of view, but what matters most is love. God is not glorified by our opinions, but by our fellowship with one another and the unity of His Church.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we won’t be afraid, though the earth changes, though the mountains are shaken into the heart of the seas; though its waters roar and are troubled, though the mountains tremble with their swelling. Selah. There is a river, the streams of which make the city of God glad, the holy place of the tents of the Most High. God is within her. She shall not be moved. God will help her at dawn. The nations raged. The kingdoms were moved. He lifted his voice and the earth melted. Yahweh of Armies is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, see Yahweh’s works, what desolations he has made in the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth. He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear. He burns the chariots in the fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.’ Yahweh of Armies is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.” Psalm 46, WEB
The big question we heard all day yesterday was “Where were you?” The attacks on September 11, 2001 was my generation’s Pearl Harbor, JFK shooting, or Moon Landing. With every anniversary, we remember where we were, how we heard, what we did in response. We were living in Arkansas in 2001, my children were already off to school and the television was droning in the background. I was sitting at my computer just finishing up my daily writing for the day; my Word for that day was already posted. The topic of that day was so ordinary that it seems impossible that such a life changing event was happening on U.S. soil. I complained about road construction, the traffic, and the struggle for local businesses and all the commuters. The crews were trying to make things work as conveniently as possible by working at night, avoiding the worst situation for us all.
When I told my kids they were doing the work at night, they wondered how they could see. The crews were using very bright lights to illuminate the work area, and that it is actually much safer for the workers to be there at night. There are fewer cars on the road, and the bright light brings attention to the work area. In the daytime, it is easy for road workers to disappear in the normal hustle bustle of life. I compared this to the false prophets that claimed to be the Messiah before and after Jesus. Even today we have people who claim to be the “one.” There was so much evil in the hearts of men that is was easy to fool those who were desperate for God. They were not Christ, and their falsehood proved itself through the scriptures. Even today we look back into the Old Testament to see what was spoken about Jesus long before He came in flesh, to see how the prophecy was fulfilled in Him. We look to Jesus who is the Light to offer us hope in the darkness.
So, after writing about this mundane aspect of our life in the modern world, I sat staring at the television. The World Trade Center was on fire. The reporters were in shock and didn’t know what to say, though they talked constantly despite having no information. There were many rumors, and everyone had an opinion. They were estimating the death toll would be in the tens of thousands. Then there was more news, more airplanes, more death. It was frightening. My husband was still active-duty military, so I worried about what this might mean for him. My children were thirty miles away. Like the rest of the nation, I didn’t know what to do, so I prayed.
It wasn’t until the next day that I shared my thoughts. “This is probably the hardest writing I’ve ever had to do. As I sit here today, still in shock with the rest of America and much of the world, I simply do not know what to say. There are a million things that need to be said, but there is no pretty way to put them on paper. It is senseless to rehash the events that have left us dazed, confused, afraid, angry, grieving, and in pain. As much as we long to respond to the horrifying things we saw happen in New York and Washington, D.C. yesterday, it is useless to lay blame at this juncture. In the aftermath, I heard much talk about vengeance, salvation, and the coming of our Lord. Many are ready to jump into action - calling for death to the perpetrators, forcing faith on the lost, and giving up on this life and the world our God created.”
Then I encouraged us to pray. We know that vengeance is God’s, and though we have been given the authority and responsibility to bring justice in the world, we need to pray for wisdom. Salvation also belongs to God, but we have been given the command to make disciples of all nations, but it is not up to us to force faith on anyone, so we need to pray for God’s Word to be on our tongues in love and mercy, so that those who are lost will hear the Gospel and turn to God. Our automatic response had some truth in it, but in our pain, grief, anger, confusion, and shock, we needed to remember that our God is the One True and Living God whose hand moves mountains and whose love melts hearts. I encouraged my readers to praise Him, seek Him, pray in Jesus’ name for every need, and walk in faith that He will provide. Turn to the Lord, your God in this time and He will be with you. I quoted today’s psalm in the hope that God’s Word would help calm hearts and turn people to God at a moment when He was needed the most.
As we look back to the days, weeks, and months that followed, we can remember that there were some very real changes in our hearts, at least for a time. There was an incredible sense of unity among the people of the United States. Church attendance went up. People began to show more respect for the military, first responders and others who were not only helping at Ground Zero, but also all over the country. We were inconvenienced for a time as the authorities did what was necessary to bring justice and care for those who were dealing with extreme loss. The reporters did their best to give us the facts, but they continued to talk constantly without really knowing what to say. Some things never change, but there was so much hope in those days that followed the attacks because people were praying.
Sadly, the faith and allegiance that was inflamed in those days was extinguished as we slowly returned to normal. We cry every anniversary and post memes to remind each other to never forget, and yet, we no longer have the unity of those early days. People stopped going to church. There is little or no respect for the military, first responders, or others who do good work in our nation. We still respond when there is an emergency, but we don’t seem to have the same heart. We can no longer find the hope we had when we were joined together in faith, crying out to God in prayer.
Twenty-two years have passed, but we are still struggling in many ways. We don’t have a national tragedy to pull us together or knock us to our knees again, but we should not need it to be the people God has created, redeemed, and called us to be. We need to give today’s pain, grief, anger, confusion, and shock to the Lord to use in a way that will continue to bring peace, hope, and love to the world. My prayer for this day is that we return to the attitude of those days, that we’ll turn back to God so that we’ll see the incredible things He can and will do in our world this day as He’s done throughout time for His people. Jesus is still the Light, and we’ll still live in a very ordinary world, but God is with us, blessing us in the midst of our pain, providing all we need to get through this day.
Lectionary Scriptures for September 17, 2023: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Genesis 50:15-21; Psalm 103:1-12; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35
“Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?” Matthew 18:33, WEB
The passage from Genesis is one of my favorites. I love Joseph’s attitude: God-centered and faithful. He is the image of what Christ is calling us to be. As a matter of fact, he is a foreshadowing of Jesus. Joseph is a type of Christ, exhibiting two qualities that we will see in Jesus nearly two thousand years later. Joseph trusted God and he forgave those who tried to destroy him.
We know the story of Joseph. He was the favored son of Jacob, the firstborn of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel. He was loved because she was loved, and his siblings saw the favoritism. Joseph wasn’t perfect; the hatred of his brothers was not completely unfounded. He accepted the favors from his father and even showed them off to his brothers. Whether done mischievously, malevolently, or unknowingly, his attitude helped build the wall of anger and hatred that separated him from his brothers. Besides his attitude, he had an incredible gift; the brothers thought he was using his gift and their father’s love for him over them, as if he was better than they. He might have felt that way; Joseph was certainly human and very young. He may not have even realized how much he was hurting his brothers; we can’t really tell from the scriptures. The brothers, however, saw him as arrogant and that it was unfair how he was treated. They were jealous and first thought to kill him, but Judah convinced them to sell him to the Ishmaelite caravan because Joseph was more valuable alive than dead.
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 and the other of prosperity. Both interpretations were true. One prisoner was hanged and the other set free to serve as a servant in Pharaoh’s house as cupbearer. The one who was set free promised to speak to the officials about Joseph. 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. The cupbearer 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 have enough to survive the drought. Pharaoh appointed Joseph as the official to prepare. 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 while the other nations struggled. People from all over the world came to Egypt to buy food so that they would not die.
It was during that drought that Joseph was reunited with his brothers. Jacob’s people were 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. They were afraid when they discovered Joseph was alive and in such a high position. Joseph loved them and he made sure that they were well fed. He was gracious, despite the trouble he had experienced at their hands. He eventually brought them into Egypt to live and prosper. Israel was warmly welcomed into this foreign land, and Jacob’s house flourished. At the end of his life, Jacob blessed his sons, but they were even more afraid when Jacob died because they thought Joseph was only being kind because of their father. Instead of being humble, they lied so that Joseph would have mercy for their father’s sake. Joseph still loved them and assured them that they had nothing to fear.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances of his life, Joseph’s gift became the salvation of the people of Egypt and the world. God blessed Joseph; we can see this even when he was a slave, a servant, and a prisoner. Joseph recognized all along that his gifts were not his but were from God. He is not subtle, and often 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 God’s presence 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 was the salvation of many. Joseph knew he could not act as a god and punish his brothers for an act that the one true and living God used to save the world.
Joseph did suffer, but he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to save many people alive, as is happening today.” 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 them all. 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.
Do you see how Joseph was a foreshadowing of Jesus? Joseph trusted God and he forgave those who tried to destroy him. These are both difficult aspects of the life we are meant to live as Christians. We know we are to trust God, but we’d rather be in control of our lives. Imagine this story if Joseph had chosen to get revenge on his brothers? Imagine what would have happened to Israel if they had not moved to Egypt? Even worse than trusting in God, however, is the question of forgiveness.
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 mercy, while also helping our brothers and sisters see their sin and be transformed by God’s grace. 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 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.
Most of us would rather not face the conflict. We want to find a way to separate ourselves by moving away and cutting off communication. It seems impossible for anyone to have the kind of patience to forgive every infraction. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus tells us to do. We are to forgive not once, twice, or even seven times. We are to forgive seven times seventy. Even four hundred and ninety is not even enough, as the number itself represents a willingness to continue to forgive over and over again without end.
Many people say that those willing to continue to forgive without limitation are naïve. People don’t change, we don’t learn the lessons we should learn. We forget. We are led by our flesh. We fail over and over again. So, we wonder if it is really smart to keep forgiving. Perhaps it is better to separate ourselves from those who cause harm over and over again. But forgiveness is not naïve. Repentance and absolution are about restoring relationships and transforming people. We have to deal with sin from both sides: that of the victim and that of the sinner, which means recognizing our own debts and forgiving the debts of those against us.
I’d like to think that I could be as gracious as Joseph, but I have to admit that I’m not always so merciful. I can hold onto hurt and anger for a very long time. Would I feast with my brothers who sold me into slavery? Would I share the food I’d worked hard to save with those who despised me? Even if I did have mercy, I can imagine myself throwing an “I told you so” or two at them along the way. I may find a place in my head to forgive them, but I’m not so sure I could find it in my heart. Remembering Joseph’s attitude about God helps us to accept Jesus’ command for forgiveness. If we give it to God, then we don’t have to hurt from the hurts, even the repeated hurts, of our brothers and sisters.
To make his point about forgiveness, Jesus told them a parable. A king was having a court of judgment with his servants. One man owed him an outrageous sum, unpayable and yet the king forgave the debt. This would be an easy story to preach if it ended there, because we could limit our message to the mercy of God. Jesus takes it a step further, teaching us that we are not only to live in God’s forgiveness, but also to share forgiveness with others. When the servant left the king’s presence, he found another servant who owed him a debt. Though the debt was small compared to the debt he owed, the forgiven servant did not have the same mercy on his debtor, throwing him in jail until he could pay.
God forgives the sins in our lives that are so much greater than the sins committed against us. When we refuse to forgive, we assume a role greater than the King, we put ourselves in the place of God. Joseph knew better. He knew that God is just and faithful, and that He will make everything right in the end. That’s why Joseph saw his life of suffering in such a positive way. He knew that God was able to do something extraordinary with his life. God can, and will, do something incredible with our lives, too. God does not hold our sins against us, and though we will never deserve it, He will bless our faith and trust.
There is a story about an inexperienced college professor who discovered that many students believed they were entitled to good grades, no matter what they did. At the end of the fall semester, the professor finished posting her students’ grades before heading home for the holiday. It took less than an hour for one of her students to challenge his grade.
The young man emailed her immediately to complain about a “B.” He did not understand how he could have gotten a “B.” “Please respond ASAP, as I have never received a B during my school career, and it will lower my GPA.” She didn’t understand the desperation of the student but went back to check his grade to see if she had 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.” He got what he deserved. This inexperienced professor learned quickly that she would be pressured by her students, they would boldly demand the chance to retake tests and have papers rescored because they felt entitled to better grades.
When the new professor told her story to other professors, they shared their own stories. One told of an honors student whose actions earned her a very low grade on a mid-term exam, but she could not understand. How could the teacher have such little concern over her future? She would be kicked out of the honors program! The professor allowed her to retake the exam, but with conditions: she had to show more responsibility, not skip classes, and turn assignments 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. There are times when mercy is the best choice. Students on scholarships are required to keep up a certain GPA or they lose their money. You might think that it shouldn’t matter, if they can’t keep up the grades, they don’t deserve the scholarship. But bad grades are not always from poor workmanship. A student on a music scholarship might be required to take classes with a final exam they can’t pass despite working hard, doing the homework, getting tutoring, attending every class. Does that student really deserve a failing grade, a grade that might destroy his life? The inexperienced college professor was right to keep the “B” grade for the student that didn’t do the work, but the math professor should have mercy on the hard-working music student.
God is not like human college professors. He doesn’t make decisions of mercy based on our actions. He doesn’t give us a “B” because we haven’t done the work. He doesn’t give us a better grade because our future depends on it. He has mercy because He is merciful. He forgives us because of Jesus.
In the psalm for today, 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.
The psalmist wrote, “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his loving kindness toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” He has removed our transgressions, set us free to live in His mercy and grace because He knew that there was no way for us to pay the debts we have accrued because of our sin. It is for this reason we are to be thankful.
The life lived in thankfulness will not bind the sins of another but will set him or her free to also live in God’s grace. It is not easy. We know God is just and sin deserves punishment. Yet, it is not our place as individuals in this world to mandate punishment. God will seek vengeance on those who have sinned against Him, but He desires all to be set free. He desires all to be saved. He desires all to be reconciled to Him and to each other for eternity, as He originally created us to live.
I like to watch some cooking and baking shows on television. Some shows have teams, while others are individual contestants competing for the prize. Even on the individual shows, however, they sometimes do team challenges. There was an episode on one show called “Tag Team Cakes.” Eight cake decorators were invited to participate in the challenge. They did not know their partners until moments before the competition began. The contestants were meant to be 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 each team in the kitchen, beginning the task of making the cake. The theme was based on Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes. Each team chose a rhyme as the focus of their cake. After a period of time, the decorators changed places with their partners without communication. The second team members had to continue the work that was started, using their own abilities 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 so that they would continue on a similar path.
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 cooperate. Even when they got together, they bickered about everything, including the vision of the cake, leaving some team members feeling disappointed because the other was unwilling to compromise or encourage their work on the project. Some team members wanted so much control 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 if they had been able to do what they could do, the cakes would have been awesome. There was a winner, but none of the teams did an exemplary job with their cakes.
The problems Paul and the other apostles addressed in their letters are as common for us today. As we’ve studied Paul’s letters in our adult class on Sunday mornings, I can see how those letters are meant for us today as much as they were for them two thousand years ago even though they don’t directly address our modern problems. 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, which leads to hurt. The thing we have to remember is that our hurt gives us the opportunity to forgive, to be like Joseph. To be like Jesus.
Paul called the community to join together in the Christ they worshipped. Too many things that divide us are not salvific issues, but we reject and judge one another. We forget about the forgiveness which began with Christ and leads to reconciliation between brothers and sisters. Paul encourages us to see Christ in one another, to live together in a way that glorifies God. We all have gifts and purpose and if we do not reconcile with those who have sinned, then we cut off a part of Christ’s body that He has called together. We tend to think that others must conform to our vision, but God has a much greater vision in mind.
In the days of Jesus, the rabbis taught that you had to forgive a person three times. A similar idea can be seen in modern baseball and law. “Three strikes and you are out,” is the motto of the day and we hold to it even in our personal lives. We might be able to forgive someone once. We might even be able to forgive them twice. But we have a really hard time forgiving them the third time. Do they deserve our mercy if they keep doing the same thing over and over again?
I am sure that Peter thought that he was being very generous when he asked Jesus the question, after all, the rabbis said three times and he upped it to seven. We are all curious, like Peter, about how far that should go. We can do this once, perhaps twice. We might even be gracious enough to do it the third time as the rabbis encouraged, after all love means going the extra mile, right? Peter decided to go even further, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?” That seems not only difficult but foolish. At what point do we become a doormat for someone who continues to do the same thing over and over again.
So, the next time our brother or sister sins against us, let’s remember that we are not God. Whether it is the first time or the four hundred and ninetieth time doesn’t matter. The Church is built on forgiveness, not just the words, but the intentional process from our hearts to find a way to reconcile with others so that we can worship God and do His work together. We are to be like Joseph, trusting God enough to know that He can use even the sins of others to do incredible things through our lives.
We are called to live a life of forgiveness. God sends us into the world forgiven so that we can forgive the others, even when sin seems to go on and on and on. We have been set free to set the world free. God loves us with compassion far greater than we deserve and He calls us to do the same for others. Even when we fail one another, we are not to keep a record of every sin, but instead forgive over and over again, wiping the slate clean each time and beginning anew, just as God has done for us.
The servant in today’s Gospel 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 opens 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.
“No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended out of heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him.” John 3:13-17, WEB
Today is Holy Cross Day, a festival that celebrates the triumph of the cross. This festival comes at a very appropriate time in the church years, as we have been looking at dealing with sin and forgiveness in the lectionary the past few weeks. 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 and the company of Hebrews in the wilderness traveling to the Promised Land. The people were grumbling about the journey and the food. They were tired, hungry, thirsty, 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 to us. He sent venomous snakes 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.
My first question is whether snakes were an appropriate punishment for a little bit of grumbling. The reality, though, is that those snakes made the people see their sin and turn to God. The second question I have always asked, “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, to focus on their flesh 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. It might seem unfaithful to ask whether God could have dealt differently with the Israelites in the desert, but many Christians also wonder whether God could have saved us by any other method than the cross. People struggle with the idea that God could be so cruel to His own Son. It is a hard question for us to answer.
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 the Son that 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 so much that He will not let us go even when we turn away from Him.
“You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do you light a lamp and put it under a measuring basket, but on a stand; and it shines to all who are in the house. Even so, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16, WEB
Ok, so I have to admit that I have a lot of days when I feel extremely pessimistic. The world around us is falling apart. People are offended by the silliest things. Anger, hatred, and violence rule the streets. The news is filled with negative stories and instead of balancing with some positive things, the anchors act foolish by giggling at jokes that just aren't funny. Black is white, bad is good, and everything is about sex. The politicians make all the same promises that they don't intend to keep, and they spend most of their time knocking each other off pedestals rather than accomplishing anything of value. Even in the Church you see too much greed, idolatry, hatred, and hedonism. We live in a world where it seems darkness reigns and I cry out daily, “Come, Lord Jesus,” because Jesus is the only One who can make all things right.
Jesus is the Light.
Have you ever noticed that a light seems to give off more light in darkness than in light? This is a phenomenon I noticed in the pantry of our last house. The light bulb didn’t change, but for some reason the pantry was always brighter at night than it was during the day. Light gets lost in the light, but light always overcomes the darkness, and the darker it is, the brighter the light seems. Jesus came the first time into a very dark world. Though the circumstances were different, people and practices were parallel to what we are experiencing today. Black was white and bad was good. Even the religious community was filled with ideas and actions that were ungodly.
Jesus shined His light into a world that needed to be lit by love and mercy. He was so much more visible in that world because He was Light in the darkness. If we look through the history of the Church, we will discover that the greatest faith revivals happened at the darkest times in the world. God’s grace shines all the more clearly when it is needed the most. I cry, “Come, Lord Jesus,” but I am certain that people have been voicing that cry for two thousand years, and while it may seem as though He is too long in coming, we can trust that while we long for the great Day of the Lord, He is still here among us shining His light.
Jesus is the Light. He shines in us. He shines through us.
See, we long for Jesus to come, and too many of us wait quietly, hidden from view because we are afraid of the threats of the world. Or we are discouraged. We don’t believe we can make a difference. We are disappointed because we just want Jesus to come take care of it all for us. We hide His light under bushels, waiting for a better time to shine. But Jesus calls us to be light in this world, to be the lamps that He uses to overcome the darkness. Instead of hiding, He sends us out into the world to be Christ to our neighbors, to take forgiveness, to share our gifts, to feed those who hunger in their bellies and in their souls. He sends us out to glorify God with our lives, to spark a revival in our time that will bring light and hope to a world filled with darkness.
“As therefore you received Christ Jesus, the Lord, walk in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, even as you were taught, abounding in it in thanksgiving. Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. For in him all the fullness of the Deity dwells bodily, and in him you are made full, who is the head of all principality and power. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. You were dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh. He made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, wiping out the handwriting in ordinances which was against us. He has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross. Having stripped the principalities and the powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” Colossians 2:6-15, WEB
Penn and Teller are my favorite illusionists. They have a television show called “Fool Us” where magicians and other illusionists are invited to perform their best tricks before them and an audience. The guest wins when they are able to fool Penn and Teller, they receive a trophy and a chance to perform in Las Vegas with the stars. The illusions are amazing; the show’s host and audience are easily fooled.
It is never quite so easy to fool Penn and Teller. They have performed many of the same illusions during their career, they not only know how it is done, but they also usually know where they should watch to catch the trick. See, magic is not something paranormal or supernatural, but is a manipulation of the natural. The illusionist knows how to misdirect your attention so that you will miss the moment that they switch the card or replace the watch. They make you watch one hand while the other is making the illusion happen.
One of the things that make Penn and Teller unique is that they explain their tricks as they perform, giving the audience a peak into the reality of “magic.” Some other illusionists don’t like the way they work because they think it takes the mystery out of the performance. The thing is, at the end of the act I’m usually more confused than I would have been if they had just done the trick. They use code language when talking to the performer during the show and Teller often draws a diagram to show how they believe the trick was accomplished and then he destroys the piece of paper. They don’t want to ruin the illusion for the audience or give away the secrets. They feel very bad for catching the trick because the magicians are excellent performers. “We would love to take you to Las Vegas, but...”
During one episode, they (Penn, since Teller doesn’t talk) gave a long explanation of how they believed the illusion was done. “We are so sorry; we’d love to see you perform in Las Vegas.” The magician, however, told them they were wrong. “That isn’t how I did it.” The guys were thrilled! “Good! We want you to come to Las Vegas!” Even with their vast knowledge, Penn and Teller can be fooled.
We must be very careful as Christians living in this world. Too many of us are like the audience at a magic show, easily fooled by the manipulation and tricks of the performer. We don’t see the card switch or how the illusionist replaced the watch, and we are amazed. It gets much harder to fool us when we spend time in prayer and God’s Word because we learn the tricks of the devil; we know what is happening in both hands, so we don’t miss the trick.
We have to remember, however, that the devil is sneaky and no matter how much knowledge and experience we have, like Penn and Teller, we can still be fooled. Their show is for fun and to give excellent performers and a wider audience. For us, however, being fooled can be deadly. We can fall into the temptations of the world without even realizing that we are doing so and we can be led down the wrong path. Most of all, we must keep our eyes on Jesus, who is the Savior and defender of our lives. He will protect us from the tricks of the devil and keep us on the right path. He knows they ways of the devil better than the most faithful Christians; He is worthy of our faith and trust.Top
September 19, 2023
“That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we saw, and our hands touched, concerning the Word of life (and the life was revealed, and we have seen, and testify, and declare to you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was revealed to us); that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us. Yes, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ. And we write these things to you, that our joy may be fulfilled.” 1 John 1:1-4, WEB
Today is “International Talk Like a Pirate Day.” While this may seem like a strange reason to celebrate, it is just one among many unique holidays that can be found for every day of the year. At one website, there are more than four dozen month long, more than two dozen weeklong, and more than three dozen day long celebrations and remembrances for just the month of September. These occasions include everything like Fall Hat Month, Hug a Texas Chef Month, Metaphysical Awareness Month, and Update Your Resume Month. Some of the daily events include Be Late for Something Day and Ugly Woman Day.
I don’t know how these special days get started, yet there seems to be something for everyone. Certainly, Mother’s Day covers a large audience, but there are those for whom Mother’s Day can be hard rather than a joyous occasion. Christmas has become a holiday for many who are not even Christian, but there are still many who don’t celebrate. To ensure that they have a day for their own interest, someone somewhere chooses a day and calls it “National Whatever Day.” They might have too much time on their hands, or they want to impact their corner of the world in some way. Many are used to promote some product; National Pickle Month benefits the pickle industry. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month will help with breast cancer research. Some of these remembrances are quite valuable; who could deny the importance of letting people know about breast cancer? Other holidays on the list are ridiculous and bizarre. Yet, we can learn much about people by the things with which they identify. For example, those who celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day have a sense of humor.
It is funny how in our society with hundreds of special holidays for very specific groups and our hyphenated heritages, we refuse to embrace the labels that identify our faith. Many Christians would rather not reveal their Christianity in their workplace or neighborhoods. They fear persecution or are wary of bringing up the subject of faith, they think it is possible to keep God compartmentalized, to worship Him on Sunday but keep Him out of their life out in the world. Yet, we are called to be in fellowship with God at all times, to walk in His light and share His love with all. It is especially important to do so in these days when the world needs to see God’s light, to experience His grace, and receive His forgiveness. It may be hard. It may be dangerous. But it is what God has called us to do.
As Christians, we are called to live in fellowship with those who have also heard God’s message of grace through the witness of the Christians - the saints - that have come before us. Through the Word of God given us by them, from the apostles to our parents and every Christian in between, we receive the blessings of life in Christ, becoming one in fellowship with Him even while we live in this world. Our faith is the foundation of our relationship with God the Father, the Son and the Spirit, it gives us something to truly celebrate. As we join with others in the body of Christ, our days all become holy days of joy.Top
September 20, 2023
Lectionary Scriptures for September 24, 2023: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 27:1-9; Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30; Matthew 20:1-16
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21, WEB
There is a post that circulates on the internet of hidden messages in brand logos. The smiley arrow below the word Amazon points from A to Z because Amazon carries everything from A to Z. The empty space between the E and X on the FedEx local is an arrow that points forward, suggesting that their deliveries move in the right direction. The “t-i-t” in Tostitos is designed to look like two people sharing a chip with a bowl of salsa on a table. Wendy’s collar in the logo for the hamburger chain spells “Mom.” These hidden messages become obvious once you know they are there, it is hard to believe that you didn’t see it in the first place.
I think that happens with spiritual things, too. People have spent lifetimes searching for something, not even knowing what they need. They try every sort of spiritual practice or device, jumping from one religion to another, trying different types of tangible items in the hope of filling the hole in their hearts. The self-help aisle at the bookstore is filled with hundreds of ideas, and the Internet is overflowing with people trying to convince us that they have the answer. They seek God, but in all the wrong places. They refuse to see Him as He is.
The blessed ones are those who seek Him where He might be found. When they find Him, they often wonder how they could have missed seeing Him. They become passionate about faith because they finally see what they have been seeking for a long time.
There is something incredible about a person who has that passion for Jesus. A German man named Count Zinzendorf had the motto, “I have one passion; it is Jesus, Jesus only.” He was passionate for Christ, constantly desiring His presence. He lived during the 18th century, a time when Christians were being exiled from Bohemia and Moravia. He allowed the exiles to establish a community on his estate. They called this place Herrnhut that means “Under the Lord’s Watch.”
He understood the necessity and the power of prayer, and his passion was passed on to the community of Moravians. In 1727, twenty-four men and women covenanted to hold to constant prayer, each member of the group taking one hour a day. This small but committed prayer team grew as others joined and their community was strengthened by unceasing prayer. They met together once a week to share prayer requests and encourage one another. Eventually this constant prayer led to greater outreach when Zinzendorf suggested they send missionaries to other nations.
That prayer meeting lasted a hundred years. Over three hundred missionaries were sent around the world. The Moravian fervor touched the lives of two men in England, John and Charles Wesley, bringing them to Christ. These two men had a significant impact on the Christian church, in music and in preaching. The Moravians’ passion for Christ and for lost souls had an impact on the Church around the world, playing a role in the Great Awakening, a revival that spread through Europe and America. These twenty-four people who began to pray unceasingly touched the lives of millions. The results of their prayers will last for eternity.
Seeking the LORD and calling on Him is spending time in prayer. Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians realized that God is always present with us and that they should be in prayer without ceasing. Not only did they have this group of people interceding constantly, but they also lived within a community of believers that practiced lives that showed the fruit of prayer. They lived like the early Christians in Acts, having everything in common, spending time together in fellowship and worship. They had a heart for spreading the Gospel and did what was necessary to bring Christ to the world. They knew the great gift of salvation and they were willing to follow their Lord Jesus anywhere. They dwelled in God’s Kingdom on earth. Their passion manifested itself in awesome ways. They sought the Lord where He would be found, and their lives revealed Him to the world.
Every so often someone announces that the end of the world will happen on a specific day. One day my husband read a headline about another “prophet” and his prediction that Jesus was coming in just a few days. I said, “That’s ok. I’m ready. Come, Lord Jesus.” The reality is that no one knows the day or the hour, so I still made plans for the next day. I used to joke that as long as people predict the end of the world, God will keep putting it off. He can’t have some human reading His mind, now, can He? I joke, but as I’ve grown older, I know that I’m ready. Jesus’ return would certainly solve a lot of our problems, wouldn’t it?
I may be more than willing to see the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready for this life to be over. There is still so much to do. Our Sunday school class is just beginning a study on the book of Romans. My children have not gotten married nor had children. There are places I want to go, things I want to see. Someone (or a lot of someones) still needs to hear the Gospel and be saved. There are events I want to attend, vacations I want to take. There are paintings I want to paint and books I want to write. I can’t do it all in a few days.
Yet, I’m ready. Anything that will come after Jesus’ return will be greater than all the great things I still look forward to experiencing. Jesus is preparing a place for those who love and believe in Him. The eternal banquet will be filled with an overabundance of the best food and drink, more delicious and satisfying than anything on earth. Jesus’ returns means that we will join together for an eternity of worship and praise of the One who has saved us. Yes, I’m ready. Come, Lord Jesus.
It will be great, but we can’t count on it happening when we hope or expect. God knows the right time. He knows who still needs to hear the Gospel message and Jesus won’t come until the last ear has heard the Good News. We would do well to live as the Moravians, in constant prayer, sending people to share God’s grace in word and deed, and living in a community that is visibly faithful to Jesus. It isn’t always easy, especially in a world that seems to be turning farther and farther from God. It might be hard, but even in our suffering we can be bold and confident that God is making His grace known. The easy way is to hide our faith.
We don’t get it. How can Christian suffering make other Christians confident in the Gospel? As a matter of fact, it seems as though many Christians today have decided that it would be better to be silent than to suffer the ridicule and frustration that we meet when we try to share our faith with the world. A woman lost her job just for saying “God bless you.” Children are suspended from school for wearing “Jesus loves you” t-shirts and teachers are fired for reading their bibles during their free time away from the children. Business owners are fined for making business choices that reflect their understanding of the scriptures.
American Christians have not yet had to deal with the suffering that Paul experienced: prison, beatings, and even death. We know Christians are suffering all over the world, in places like Africa and China, but that is far away and completely removed from our experience. It is much easier to just go along with expectations of the world around us than to stand firm on what we believe. After all, why would we risk our lives and our livelihoods when it is just as easy to say “Have a nice day” or wear a different t-shirt? We can even find ways to remain principled in our business dealings while minimizing risks. We aren’t willing to be one who suffers for the Gospel if we can avoid it.
Paul was writing to us as much as the Philippians when He wrote, “Now I desire to have you know, brothers, that the things which happened to me have turned out rather to the progress of the Good News; so that it became evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest…” The Christians in Philippi saw the impact Paul made, which had an impact on the entire congregation. His imprisonment really did make them more confident in the Lord.
It wasn’t his suffering that made a difference; it was that Paul lived for the glory of God. The Church grew because Paul knew that God could make incredible things happen whether his circumstances were good or bad God. Paul simply trusted God and the people of Philippi learned from his example. It wasn’t his death or his suffering that encouraged them, it was the way he lived his life. Paul lived in the Kingdom of God even as he waited for the Kingdom to come.
The Christians that eventually became the Moravian Church were persecuted, Martin Luther’s forerunner Jon Hus was from that region and was burned at the stake, yet they knew the best way to live faithfully to God was to be visible to the world. The impact of Jon Hus is beyond measure. Christians who suffer know they aren’t alone. Paul and the saints of every age trusted God to impact the world with their lives even if they died for His sake. We live in the hope of the things to come, and I admit that I cry out almost daily, “Come, Lord Jesus,” but there is a reason we are still waiting. In good times and in bad, we are here to glorify God by sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. There is someone God wants to hear the Good News, so it is up to us to continuing speaking the words that they might hear.
Paul wanted Jesus to come again. To put it bluntly, Paul wanted to die. He wasn’t suicidal, but he knew that life would be so much sweeter in eternity. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I feel the same way. However, Paul knew that it was not yet time for him to be with his Lord Jesus. He still had work to do; he still had Christians to encourage. He was, as they say, between a rock and a hard place. He wanted to be with Jesus, but he knew that his life had purpose. “But if I live on in the flesh, this will bring fruit from my work; yet I don’t know what I will choose. But I am in a dilemma between the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Yet, to remain in the flesh is more needful for your sake.” He fought his martyrdom as long as he could so that he could continue preaching the Gospel and teaching the Christians how to live. He shows us that we are not left stranded and abandoned to the chaos and suffering that is in the world today. God is with us now; He will come again, but until that day we can trust in His presence as we live today.
“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 gave me 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 put 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.
I went into the casino when it opened 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 products permeated the air. Add to this 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. I have often wondered how many people died of loneliness during the pandemic, how many believed 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. His Christian congregations had no power or authority to set him free, but they were able to give him aid. The letter to the Philippians was a thank you note to them for gifts they sent to help him. 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 hoped for the people of Philippi. They would face suffering in their own lives. There are those who were against the Gospel of Jesus Christ and some, or many, Christians would be arrested, imprisoned, and even killed for their faith. Paul’s word of encouragement to the community is the hope that they would 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.
Let’s be honest with ourselves and with God: there are just some people we’d rather not share in that joy of eternity. Quite frankly, we don’t want our enemies to know God’s forgiveness or ours. We withhold God’s grace from those we have judged unworthy. We don’t think it is fair that someone can lead of life of willful disobedience to God and His Word and then make a deathbed confession and find their place at the banqueting table in the house of the Lord forever.
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 returned to the corner and discovered more workers throughout the day, each time hiring them to work in 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 incensed by this story because we believe the person who worked more deserved more. What is right in this situation? The first workers agreed to the wage and when they agreed they felt it was right. Yet, they grumbled when they discovered that the last also received a day’s wage for their work. “It’s not fair.” “We have rights.” But what is right in this situation? The landowner decided that the living wage 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 put our human experience into this story and turn the discussion to questions about a living wage and whether it is fair for an employer to pay the same wage to two people who work significantly different hours. In a sense we are reminded that even the human landowners have the right to be as generous as they please, as long as they uphold their promises. That’s what happened in this story. The first to be hired, however, expected that if the landowner was so generous to the ones hired last, then they would be worthy of even more. They thought it was unfair that they all earned the same payment, but there was nothing unfair about the landowner. He fulfilled his contract.
As we look at this story from a spiritual perspective, the wage is an eternity in God’s presence. How could we possibly expect anything greater than the promise? Is there anything greater than an eternity at the feet of our Lord God Almighty, worshipping Him and singing His praise? How can God give anyone any less? Why do we worry so much about what others deserve when our focus should always be on the God who has promised us everything? As the psalmist says, “All I ask is to dwell in God’s house all the days of my life.” The promise that will be fulfilled the day Jesus returns is already ours in the present. We dwell in God’s house in the here and now by faith in Jesus Christ and we have access to God’s grace through Him.
Faith is manifested is in complete and absolute trust in God. Have you ever known anyone who had a certain peace and joy no matter their circumstances? They can praise God even when struggling to get through each day because of health issues, financial difficulties, or other problems. They smile when they should be in tears. They laugh when they should be angry. They love and trust God even when it seems as though He has abandoned them. The prayer of the psalmist has been answered in their lives; they are dwelling in the house of God today.
Paul’s suffering gave the Christians in Philippi a reason to be confident in the Lord because God did a good work in that prison. It is possible many came to be saved because of his joy in the midst of his suffering; at the very least they looked at the Christians with a new understanding. Each one, despite any harm they may have caused to Paul and the other Christians, were given the chance to know the Lord God Almighty, to experience His grace and receive His forgiveness so that they might, too, spent eternity dwelling in the house of the Lord.
It wasn’t easy for the Philippians. They still experienced persecution and even death. The same is true for us. For Paul, the Gospel of Jesus Christ creates an expectation of life for himself and for others who have heard the Good News. He expects that Christ will be glorified whether he lives or dies, is free or imprisoned. Paul also expects that those who have come under the grace of God will live the life worthy of the Gospel, the life that expects Christ to be glorified in good times and bad. The life lived in faith will always glorify God with confidence.
God has granted us the privilege of believing in Jesus and suffering for Him. What does this mean for us today? For some, it means everything that goes wrong in their life is some statement by God about sin or His response to our actions or lack of action. For others, every burden is a cross to bear, the suffering they have been called to do for God. Yet, the suffering Christ calls us to is like that of Paul to go out into the world and share the message of forgiveness and mercy with those who are dying in their sin. It isn’t easy to preach repentance to those who are our enemies. It might mean we will be dealt with unjustly and we might just feel like we would rather die than see their salvation.
God’s generosity may not seem fair to us from our human point of view, but His ways are higher than our ways. He can’t give less than everything to anyone who trusts in Him, whether faithful for a lifetime or a minute. He is generous beyond our imagining and has more than enough for us all. No matter what we face, whether good or bad, we can know by faith that we will dwell in God’s house today, tomorrow, and forever.
How blessed are we that we have received the grace that made us part of God’s kingdom. That grace has given us strength and courage, hope and peace, joy and love that makes our life worth living. We have that grace to get through the bad times and help us do what is good and right in the world. That grace gives us the wisdom to treat our neighbor with respect and to value them as God does. Don’t we want to share that with others so that they don’t have to wait until that last minute to have what we have enjoyed our whole lives? Who knows, we might just discover our enemies make wonderful friends.
Let us trust God because our bold proclamation of the Gospel can impact the world in ways that we would never expect. Jesus could come and the world could end today, but it could happen in a thousand years. We might want Jesus to come today, but He has plans we can’t even imagine and people who still need to hear the Gospel message. Our hope is that the day will come when we will gain the eternal life He has promised, but for today has invited us to live in Him, sharing that same promise with others even those we think do not deserve His grace.
“Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to him be the glory in the assembly and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21, WEB
One of the places we visited while we were in England was the Royal Air Museum at Duxford. This museum was once a bustling air force base that was used extensively during both World Wars. In recent years, it has been filled with tourists viewing the amazing display of military and civilian aircraft as well as other military vehicles. In one hanger, you can walk through one of the original Concords, one that was used for testing in the early days. Another building is filled with tanks and other land vehicles. They have exhibits that show what it would have looked like back in the day. You can take rides on historic airplanes. There was even a building that held bits and pieces of every sort, junk that they used to rebuild the airplanes.
There has been an American military presence in England for over eighty years. Our numbers are dwindling as bases are closed, but there is still a significant number stationed there with work to do. Since the US Air Force has played an important role in many conflicts around the world, the Royal Air Museum felt that there should be a specific place to honor the American service members who have fought not only for America, but also the world.
The American Museum at Duxford is an incredible building. Its unusual half dome shape seems to disappear into the earth. The roof is made of concrete. The strength of the material is necessary to support the many planes that are suspended from the ceiling. This building is a masterpiece of logistical engineering, as there are many planes, each carefully placed or hung for the best possible vantage point.
The centerpiece of this display is a B-52. This is a very large aircraft, one that will not fit through the front door of any building, even unassembled. The planners overcame this difficulty in a very creative way. First, they laid the foundation of the building. Next, they parked the airplane on the foundation. Finally, they built the building around the plane. They had to be cautious with every step, because an accident could destroy the plane. After the building was complete, they moved the other planes into place. It is incredible to see how carefully they are all placed, and you can’t help but wonder how they managed to maneuver the planes into the building with the B-52 in the center.
Our Christian faith has been built since the beginning with the same care from our Creator. He laid the foundation in the Old Testament stories and prophecies. Next, He moved in the centerpiece, our Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, He built the Church around the work of our Lord, carefully placing every detail in His precise design. The American Museum at Duxford is a beautiful new building. Some would say the church would be better described as the old building filled with junk. In some ways it is. But just like the volunteers at Duxford, who lovingly build new craft out of the old parts, God is constantly building new out of the old. God is incredible, and to Him belongs all the glory. One day, the junk from the old building may just be hung in a new museum as the centerpiece. And one day, our imperfect, perishable bodies will dwell in eternity in the presences of God, sharing the glory of Jesus forever.
“Therefore we don’t faint, but though our outward person is decaying, yet our inward person is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for the moment, works for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory, while we don’t look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, WEB
Autumn begins at 1:50 a.m. Central time Saturday morning when the sun crosses the celestial equator. Most of the time there is no noticeable difference between the last day of summer and the first day of fall; there certainly won’t be this year as we continue with record heat and drought. A few years ago during a similar weather year, a cold front moved through in a coincidentally timely manner over the state of Texas. The high temperature on that autumnal equinox came at midnight but by early morning the temperature began to drop dramatically. By 4:18 p.m. when the sun crossed the equator, the temperature was chilly and storm clouds dropped desperately needed rain. That year we went to bed in the summertime and woke up to autumn weather. It was lovely to have cool, rainy weather after a harsh and uncomfortable summer with record heat and a lack of rain. It was a pleasant surprise, but it was an unusual experience; it would be nice if it happened again tonight but isn’t in the forecast.
Life rarely happens instantaneously. Time passes slowly and the weather generally changes gradually as time passes.
There are a few miraculous stories of people coming to faith. Paul’s story is one of those. He was a devout Jew, working to stop the progress of the Church. He was persecuting the early Christians, perhaps even calling for their death. One day, on the way to another town to destroy another church, Paul had an encounter with the Living Christ. It is an amazing story; Paul was changed dramatically by that meeting and he became one of the most successful evangelists of all time. He began church after church in city after city and his letters have helped define the church. Thousands came to know Jesus as they listened to his sermons and teaching. It was a sudden change. There was a turning point in his life; we know the moment he was transformed.
Can we say the same thing about you? There have been times when I have had sudden changes in my faith and life in Christ, but I never had that miraculous turning point moment. I grew up in the church, learned about Jesus at Sunday school and regular worship from a young age. Like the changing of the seasons, I can’t say that one day I was not a believer and the next day I was. There are those who have a sudden and miraculous transformation from hopelessness into hope, faithlessness into faith, unbelief into belief. But most of us simply experience subtle changes from day to day, month to month, year to year. From the first time we heard the Word of God until today, we have been slowly growing in grace and faith toward the day when we will be fully changed into His likeness.
Paul had a miraculous moment, but then he grew in faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ, transformed daily by God’s grace. His life was not always pleasant. He suffered for his faith, and in that suffering, he was changed. Life following Christ is not always sunshine and roses. Sometimes it is dreary and wet and cold. Sometimes we face doubts and anger and pain. We don’t understand why we would have to face suffering. The world wants us to doubt our faith, to reject God’s grace, to turn around and walk another path.
Paul reminds us not to lose heart. Our faith is not something we can create or destroy; it is a gift from God. We live in that faith day by day, as we are slowly transformed into what God has promised we will be. Cold, rainy weather is temporary, and even if the cool damp weather of fall were to begin today, spring will come again. We might have moments when God seems distant, perhaps even missing from our life, but it is in those moments when we learn to look forward to that which isn’t seen, to rely on the One who is always near even when we can’t see Him.
“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore." Psalm 131, WEB
I once taught a bible study with a group of ladies at my church. We were a small group, but we had wonderful conversations together about God, the world, and our lives. Another woman joined our group well after we had established our group dynamics, but we welcomed her with open arms. Every group can use a new voice, especially one that challenges us. And this new woman challenged us.
As a teacher I recognize the difficult balance that I have to create in a group. I need to make sure that we stay on topic and get through the subject matter. I need to respect those who would prefer to listen quietly and give an opportunity to talk to those who want to share. I have to make sure that no one member of the group dominates the conversation, including myself. I'm not always very good at it, especially the part of being quiet so others can talk, but I try. The woman who joined our group was not very good at it, either.
It became a problem in our group for several reasons. First of all, she came from a different Christian upbringing than the rest of us and her understanding of the faith was poles apart from ours. It was good, in the beginning, because she challenged us to think about what we believed and find ways to share it. Unfortunately, she was unwilling to listen to what we had to say. She refused to be challenged and even got angry when we differed from her point of view. She often went off topic pulling the conversation in a direction that suited her agenda, rather than working through the subject of the day with the rest of us. She dominated the conversation, rarely giving any of the other members of the group a chance to talk and then arguing with them if they did.
It did not end well; I lost my patience. We apologized to one another, but it was never right again. She eventually left the group. Though the other members assured me that it wasn’t my fault and that it was probably for the best for all of us including the woman, I still feel a sense of responsibility. Was I haughty? Was I too proud? Did I take on matters that were too great for me? It is humbling to have such a great failure. It forced me to stop and listen for God’s voice, to hear His words of forgiveness and encouragement. It forced me to trust in Him and seek His guidance in a new way.
We all have a lot to say; it doesn’t matter which topic. Put two people in a room who like different kinds of soda and you’ll have an argument. It is even worse when we are talking about politics and religion. Sadly, we rarely listen, thinking about our answer getting ready to put our two cents worth into the conversation before the other even finishes their thoughts. Unfortunately, most of us actually manage to put in ten dollars’ worth because we aren’t willing to listen to others. While it is good to firmly believe the things that matter, we must always remember that we are fallible human beings and that we can be wrong. It is important that we remain humble enough to allow others to challenge us so that God can (and He will) guide us in the way of righteousness and truth.
When we are so caught up in our own haughtiness and pride, when we take on matters that are too great for us, we forget to look to the One who has the answers, the One in whom we must trust. Let us quiet our souls so that we can hear God’s Word and follow Him.
“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, kneeling and asking a certain thing of him. He said to her, 'What do you want?' She said to him, 'Command that these, my two sons, may sit, one on your right hand and one on your left hand, in your Kingdom.' But Jesus answered, 'You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?' They said to him, 'We are able.' He said to them, 'You will indeed drink my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give, but it is for whom it has been prepared by my Father.' When the ten heard it, they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus summoned them, and said, “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be[a] your servant. Whoever desires to be first among you shall be your bondservant, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”’” Matthew 20:20-28, WEB
Harrison Ford played Henry in the movie called “Regarding Henry.” He was a high power, unscrupulous lawyer who did everything necessary to win. His attitudes towards people left him on the verge of divorce with his wife, not speaking to his daughter, and in a secret affair. He seemed to be successful, but his life was falling apart. One night he stopped to buy a paper, but he was shot during a robbery. The gunshot left him disabled. He was determined to get better and worked hard with the doctors, physical therapists, and his loved ones to recover. The damage was physical as well as mental; he did not remember anything from his life before the shooting. As his memory returned, he realized that he did not like the man he had been. He began to find joy in the simpler things of life like his wife, daughter, art, and kindness. When he was well enough to return to work, he found that he was unable to do the things that made him successful. His friends ridiculed him, but his family came to love him again. He made amends for his deceitful practices and quit his job, beginning anew with his family.
How many people in our world are exactly like Henry? There are people in every profession who will do anything to succeed, even if it affects the rest of their lives. They don’t even realize how it damages their credibility as a person, how it harms the lives of others. They do not understand that success is not a blessing if it is experienced at the expense of others. Even within the Christian community, there are those who would rather be at the top than truly serve the Lord Jesus and their brothers and sisters in Christ, such as the council president who will do anything to get their way in the running of the church or the preacher that teaches his own doctrine rather than the truth of Jesus Christ. They don’t seek the good of the body of Christ, but their own success.
James and John did not understand the will and purpose of God in their lives. They wanted Jesus to become an earthly king just like David and to let them be His closest advisors. Their mother even got involved by taking the idea to Jesus. The other disciples were upset that James and John would try to usurp authority in such a way, going behind their backs to get Jesus to give them a higher position. When Jesus asked if they could drink the cup He would drink, they said they could, but they had no idea what they were saying. Neither did their mother know the fate her sons would face taking the kingdom of God into the world. Most of the disciples would die as martyrs for the sake of the Gospel.
Henry’s friends did not understand his new attitude about life; he seemed to have become ridiculous in his humility and kindness. They only knew success to include power, prestige, and wealth. Everything else was just foolishness. The disciples were not going to become rich, powerful, or famous. They were going to serve one another and the lost as humble, loving ministers of the Word of God, giving hope and peace to the world. The same is true for those of us today, called to be servants rather than rulers, brothers rather than authority figures. We need not seek to sit at the right or left hands of Jesus, for He has called each of us to be faithful servants for the sake of Him who was first a servant to us.
Lectionary Scriptures for October 1, 2023: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-10; Philippians 2:1-4 (5-13) 14-18; Matthew 21:23-32
“He will guide the humble in justice. He will teach the humble his way.” Psalm 25:9, WEB
I received a reminder yesterday to make sure that I’m registered to vote. There won’t be much on the ballot; our sample ballot is showing some state and local propositions and a few local offices. While this November is minor in our national politics, the presidential political season is well underway. Candidates are debating and making the rounds on the news shows. It will only get worse when the primaries begin, when political signs and commercials with memorable key words or phrases begin to appear. After a while 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 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 safely or should we 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? The reality is that there are times when both sides of those dueling maxims are true.
The proverb in the passage from Ezekiel 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 determined by the actions and words of their forefathers. They were a people dependent on national identity and relationship to the past. Yet, we also see in the lives of those forefathers that God was 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.
Tony Shalhoub played Adrian Monk who is an obsessive-compulsive detective contracted to help the San Francisco police department on the television show “Monk.” Adrian was once a policeman with the department, but after his wife was murdered, psychological issues made him incapable of continuing in that line of work. He was still brilliant and was able to solve every murder (except his wife’s) by noticing the most obscure details in a case, so the department hired him as a consultant. His quirks cause him to do and say things that are strange and funny, but they are also what made him able to see what others did not see. It was fascinating to watch him walk around a crime scene, noticing the things that everyone else missed. Those things seem insignificant to the others, but to Monk they were the proof that established guilt or innocence for the suspects.
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 establish credibility in their character by following someone who is like the person they are going to play to learn experience life from that point of view. 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. 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.
Paul talks about the mindset 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. The world may not think this is very intelligent, but it is the very nature of wisdom in God’s kingdom.
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 and 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 difficult because there were so many small items on the shelves. This employee was also often called to serve as a cashier during busy times. This was a good excuse for the distraction, but she found many other ways to waste time. She made 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, but it was the other distractions that kept her from finishing her work.
Most of my employees were the third type. They were 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 the tasks they hated. 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 I knew that despite the grumbling and complaining, 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 talks about those who believe in Jesus and the kingdom. The first son 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 the sinners who initially said, “No way, I like what I’m doing too much!” but 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 world 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?
John the Baptist preached a message of repentance and for John that meant more than words. The Pharisees and Sadducees were going to where he was baptizing, but John warned them 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. Jesus was calling them to take on His mind.
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 to build a new building. 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 were greedy. They required higher taxes from the people to pay for their profits. 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 no 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 cannot 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 could truly make a difference. They could not go back to their temples and continue 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 were already 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, they were already doing the “right” things, but they had the wrong mindset. They could not believe in Jesus. They refused to be like those tax collectors and prostitutes, but by doing so lost touch with the very God in whom they thought they believed.
When we read lessons for this week, 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 must 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 build our hope on things as we have always done them because we are like the Pharisees and Sadducees who built their hope on Abraham?
Look at the headlines and you’ll see that we are suffering from so much brokenness in the world, and everyone is trying to point fingers at everyone else. The reality is that we are all sinners, and we are all at fault in some way, but we want to lay the blame on others. Take, for instance, the work of Martin Luther. There are many who point to his writing against the Jewish people and blame him for Adolph Hitler. Luther was not gracious toward the Jews for many reasons, not the least of which was his frustration that they refused to see Jesus as the Messiah. He never called for their murder and despite his harsh words I believe he would have stood with Dietrich Bonhoeffer in opposition to the extermination of an entire nation. Hitler claimed to be Luther’s kind of Christian, but he wasn’t a Christian at all. He misappropriated Luther’s words and used them to do the unthinkable. Luther was not perfect, and he should not have said such harsh language about the Jews of his day, but Hitler was to blame for the things he did, especially misrepresenting what it means to be a Christian.
Is there anything about our own lives that can be misconstrued or mischaracterized, to be used in a negative way? When the world looks at your life, will they see that you are living a life according to God’s Word? Or have you said “Yes” without committing yourself to a true Christian life?
The proverb represented in today’s Old Testament lesson may point back to a verse from Exodus. “I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me.” This is what is known in some circles as the generational curse. It is claimed that the children will experience the punishment for all that has been done wrong by their fathers. We do suffer from the original sin, born into the world as sinners because of the actions of our father Adam and mother Eve.
We are so much like children 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 of 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, but we also 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 busy mother. I wonder if God is ever annoyed by our lack of trust in His faithfulness, like a mother might be annoyed by a pesty child. 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 cannot be.
It is by God’s grace that we live in faith. Thanks to Christ Jesus our relationship with God has been restored and we have been called to trust in Him. In faith we can sing praise to God even in the midst of our troubles. We can turn to the Psalms to seek comfort and peace when the world around us seems to be falling apart. David sang, “To you, Yahweh, do I lift up my soul.” The world is filled with injustices, and we should work to reconcile neighbors to neighbors. We are called to bear one another’s burdens, but not to lay upon others the burdens of sin from the past.
It all begins with faith. God will judge; it doesn’t always seem fair, but we can trust that God is just and good and He will always do what is right. Thank goodness, because if He meted out justice according to the ways of the world, we would all deserve to suffer His wrath. Thankfully, we are made righteous by believing in Jesus and by His grace we are saved. By His obedience we are forgiven. By His life we are given eternal life.
So let us have the mind of Christ, humble and obedient before God working for His justice in the world. Let us hear His messenger and turn to Him, learning and following His Word. Let us trust that God is fair, in His way, and that He will be faithful to His promises for our sake and for the sake of the world. For God does not want any to die. We all belong to Him and He desires that we will all will know and experience His love and mercy into eternity.
“I will give thanks to Yahweh with my whole heart. I will tell of all your marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in you. I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. When my enemies turn back, they stumble and perish in your presence. For you have maintained my just cause. You sit on the throne judging righteously. You have rebuked the nations. You have destroyed the wicked. You have blotted out their name forever and ever. The enemy is overtaken by endless ruin. The very memory of the cities which you have overthrown has perished. But Yahweh reigns forever. He has prepared his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness. He will administer judgment to the peoples in uprightness. Yahweh will also be a high tower for the oppressed; a high tower in times of trouble. Those who know your name will put their trust in you, for you, Yahweh, have not forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:1-10, WEB
We have a few antiques pieces that we were able to purchase while we lived in England. We were never able to afford the Victorian or older pieces I would have liked to have but we did find some from the 1920’s that were in our price range. We enjoyed visiting the antique shows and the shops that lined the main street of every town. The better deals were usually found at the shows because the vendors did not want to have to take anything home after the show. Also, the pieces tended to get a little nicked and scratched in travel. The things we bought were never perfect, but they have served us well.
We couldn’t buy too much because our house in England was wall to wall furniture, and we would have to move it to our next duty station. We loved going to the shows, so we eventually started collecting coins because they were much smaller and easier to deal with. It never ceased to amaze me how much some of the dealers trusted the customers at the sale. Only the most expensive coins were ever locked in cabinets, most of them were just lying on the tables. It would have been very easy to slip coins into a purse or a pocket without anyone noticing. Most of the dealers were unconcerned and rarely kept a close watch of their merchandise.
This was decades ago, but even then, those of us from America would have found this difficult to understand because we lived in a society where we lock every door and take so many security precautions. It is even worse now. This is why it is shocking to us when we hear about art theft. When there is something of value, we expect that it will be well guarded. We enjoy watching crime dramas, but we do not believe that those situations could ever happen in the real world. Who would ever believe that a million-dollar diamond could get stolen in broad daylight?
It happened once at an antique dealer’s show near the Louvre in Paris. A jeweler had several expensive diamonds on display: a white diamond of 47 carats and a blue diamond of 15.74 carats worth millions of dollars. The police reported that the case was forced open, and the diamonds were taken in just seconds. Apparently, no one was watching the merchandise and there were no security systems in place. The jeweler denied that their people were not in the booth at the time, but the thieves apparently took advantage of the arrival of a VIP. Cases like this often go unsolved.
It seems ridiculous that it could have been this easy to steal two multi-million dollar diamonds, yet we often trust our most precious things to even less. We trust our good works to take care of our spiritual welfare. We think we can take hold of our own salvation by our own strength and protect it with our own power. We hold on to our faith as if it is our savior, putting our trust in our weak faith rather than in the true Savior who is our true refuge.
The stories of those unbelievable heists make us wonder what stupid people were put in charge of security, but is there anything in this world that is truly reliable in every situation? I imagine that even if the jeweler had spent a fortune on guards and electronic surveillance, someone could think of a way to beat the system. We can’t live in this world paranoid, but we would do well to remember that nothing of this world is completely trustworthy. We will be sorely disappointed if we think we can control this world and the next.
Our faith is the most precious gift. It is given by God our Father for the sake of Jesus Christ. We cannot by our own power or strength believe in all that God has done for us without that faith which He gives. Yet, we tend to make our belief the foundation of our life. We rest in our own faith, turning our hearts and minds away from the one in whom we are called to have faith. Faith is trust in God, but all too often we trust our faith without really trusting in God as our refuge. Our salvation rests solely on the shoulders of the one in whom we are to put our entire faith and trust: Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
“Behold, a hand touched me, which set me on my knees and on the palms of my hands. He said to me, ‘Daniel, you greatly beloved man, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright; for I have been sent to you, now.’ When he had spoken this word to me, I stood trembling. Then he said to me, ‘Don’t be afraid, Daniel; for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard. I have come for your words’ sake. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but, behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me because I remained there with the kings of Persia. Now I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days; for the vision is yet for many days.’ When he had spoken these words to me, I set my face toward the ground, and was mute.” Daniel 10:10-15, WEB
Martin Luther said, “The tenth chapter [of Daniel] is a prologue to the eleventh. Yet in it Daniel writes something special about the angels, the like of which we find nowhere else in the Scriptures, namely, that the good angels do battle with the evil angels in defense of men. Besides Daniel calls also the evil angels princes, as when he speaks of ‘the prince of Greece’. Hence we may understand why things are so while and dissolute at the courts of kings and princes, and why they hinder the good and bring on war and unhappiness. For there are devils there, hounding and goading, or hindering to such an extent that nothing goes as it should.”
Daniel was a man of incredible faith who was given a gift. His book tells of visions that ultimately point to the sovereignty of God over the kingdoms of men. God wins, and though the language sounds frightening, we are reminded that the words of the prophet are always meant to encourage God’s faithful people to prayer and power in His name. That doesn’t stop us from being afraid, being upset and confused and frustrated, especially when it seems that God is taking too long to fulfill His promises.
Shortly before our passage, we see Daniel exhausted by the experience of his vision. He was face to face with a man who was not a man, but something greater. He was dressed in linen with a gold belt; his body was like gemstone and his face like lightening, his eyes flaming torches and his arms and legs as solid as bronze. His voice was like the sound of many speaking. I would be afraid to be in the presence of such an awesome creature. On top of the vision, he was left alone because those who were with him were afraid. They didn’t even see the vision, but something about the situation terrified them and they ran away.
Daniel was given a great responsibility: knowledge of what was to be. The man said, “Fear not, Daniel; for from the first day that thou didst set thy heart to understand, and to humble thyself before thy God, thy words were heard: and I am come for thy words’ sake.” This visitation was not meant to frighten Daniel, but to encourage him. The fear he felt was the devil trying to turn him from faith. The battle that is waged is not one between flesh and flesh, but in spirit. The devil wants us to be frightened so that we’ll stop praying, but it is our prayers that have the greatest power. Daniel need not be afraid because there are forces, angels, and archangels, who are fighting those powers that seek to turn us from God s kingdom.
Today we celebrate the angels. The day is called Michaelmas, Michael’s Mass, after St. Michael the Archangel. Depending on your background, your church might recognize a number of other angels by name. The Bible tells us about Gabriel, the messenger who told Mary and Joseph about the coming of their Son. Raphael, Uriel, and Jerahmeel are found in the Apocrypha, the Deuterocanonical books that were generally written between the Testaments. While these books are not canonical, Martin Luther wrote, “These books are useful and good to read.”
The names of these archangels mean something. Michael means “the one who resembles God.” Gabriel means “man of God.” Raphael means, “God heals.” Uriel means, “God is my light.” Jerahmeel means “God shall have mercy.” In these names we see God and the work He does among us. The archangels and all the angels are not God; they are created beings that God has called to do His Work in another realm. We thank God for these beings because they help us, speak to us, guide us, and protect us. They are fighting the battle we cannot even see, and guard us as we fight the battle here on earth.
The modern understanding of angels is far different from what it was in the times of the biblical writers. Today we picture angels as pretty little things with fluffy wings and white garments. We rarely think of angels in terms other than our helpers, beings that will take care of us. There are also many who think of the angels as people who have died and been transformed by God into guardian angels, but angels are unique beings created by God for a specific purpose: to serve God as His messengers to the crown of His creation, the human race. Though in this life we are a little lower than the angels, for we do not have access to the throne of Glory as they, we will be the ones who dine at the table to grace at the great heavenly banquet that awaits us. For now, the angels move throughout the dominion of God, passing into our world only in obedience to God s will. Their main purpose, as is ours, is to glorify God in all they do.
As we recall and celebrate the angels today, let us thank God for their presence on earth and in heaven. All too often we forget that there is more to God’s creation than we experience or understand in the flesh. We are not aware of the spiritual world that exists beyond our conscious reality and sometimes we even reject that it is real. As we learn more about all of God s creation, we realize that we are just a small part of everything He has done. As we read scriptures like that in Daniel, we wonder about God’s love and care for us as individuals. How is it that with beings like St. Michael and all the angels, that God has any concern for imperfect man and all our troubles? Yet, through Jesus Christ we are made sons and daughters of God and the day will come when we will stand in the glory of God and join the angels in their constant and joyous praise.