First Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122 (UMH 845)
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

The scripture readings today speak with hope of the second coming of Christ. They say be prepared. Isaiah looks ahead to a time when all nations will turn to the Lord and they will learn war no more. When we will change our weapons that destroy life and turn them into things that will produce and sustain life. They tell us to learn about the Lord and walk in His light. They speak of who Jesus is and tell us to be like Him. 

The people of the time were expecting Jesus to return any minute and when that didn’t happen, they started to lose hope and they got caught up in the day to day living. Even today, for us Christmas can be a joyful time and yet, there can be sadness. We have experienced loss. We are so busy. We sometimes spend money on gifts that we can’t afford and spend the rest of the year paying for them. For some – there is no money for gifts and so Christmas becomes a time of looking in a store window at something that we can never have. Hopeless. We cling to memories of Christmas past. Change is an ever present part of this life. Reading about the second coming of Christ seems odd when our calendar tells us He hasn’t even arrived the first time and yet…We don’t usually go on a trip without having a destination in mind. 

Advent is a time of preparation and expectancy. We are beginning a journey. We know how the journey ends as far as the church calendar is concerned but a lot happens between the manger and the cross and resurrection. For Jesus, and for us. 

Beginning a journey can be exciting but it can also make us a little anxious. Did we pack the right clothing? Do we have good tires? Are our directions correct? 

All along this journey there are angels. Jesus conception was announced by an angel. Angels spoke to Mary, and to Joseph, and to the shepherds in the fields.

When I was little – in fact all of my growing up years, my grandmother had an angel tree topper. Not the beautiful ones you see in the stores now with the brocade robes and all of the gold and silver. Gorgeous and elaborate fancy angels. No, this angel was made out of a kind of cream colored hard plastic. She had a pretty face and this long soft white hair that always looked a little rough after being packed away for a year. She held a wand with a star at the end of it. When she was placed at the top of the tree there was always a blue light at the tree top so that it was inside the body of the angel and she had this soft blue glow. I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Of course she probably looked a little more like Glenda the good witch in the Wizard of Oz than an angel. 

We all have special memories of our past Christmas journeys. I also always knew which gifts were from Grandma because she always wrote “From Santa Clause” on the tag. Claus being spelled c l a u s e…

Years after my grandmother passed, I found an angel exactly like the one from her tree at a garage sale, and I bought her.  For years she sat on top of our Christmas tree until my family let me know they thought she was tired and tacky looking and when I downsized the tree after the kids were grown, she went away.

We see angels depicted in pictures as sweet little chubby cherubs or terrifying warriors, but always with wings. I have often wondered about that. I mean, if you are an angel and God wants you to go somewhere do you really need wings? But that’s not really the point..just one of those questions that distract me. When a family goes on a journey there is always that one annoying kid that is constantly asking questions like “Are we there yet?” That would be me. 

Often when an angel appears to humans in the bible, the first thing they say is don’t be scared. I always thought this meant that angels were probably more the scary warrior type than the cute cherub. I mean, if a cute pudgy little baby with wings appeared to you, they probably wouldn’t need to tell you not to be afraid. 

Have you ever actually stopped being afraid because you were told NOT to be scared?? What a suggestion! I wish I had thought of that! Just stop! It’s kind of like telling me to calm down when I’m upset about something. Not only will it not work but I probably will be MORE upset. 

The world can be such a scary place and with twitter and Facebook and all of the internet – we get the news (especially the bad news) almost instantly. We are bombarded with bad news and we get anxious. We now lock our church doors once the service starts and we are just more aware of our surroundings. 

I know we sometimes tend to think of the Bible as an instruction manual on how to be more righteous and we are told not to fear in the bible – a lot. Not exactly 365 times as some would have you think. That was a thing shared repeatedly on Facebook and because I always wonder about that kind of thing I did some research. nope. Not a thing. But still – the bible says “do not fear” a lot of times. And it made me wonder why. When the bible tells you something repeatedly it usually means it is pretty important, right? 

Journeys can be scary. I think about Paul. Paul said in Acts 20 that everywhere he went people wanted to kill him or hardship awaits. That would kind of change your perspective on travel wouldn’t it? But he didn’t stop. In fact in 2nd Corinthians 12:10 He says that for Christ’s sake, he delights in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

So maybe when the angel said to a person “Do not fear” it was not a command or instruction but instead some kind of angelic power like using the force in the Star Wars movies “These are not the droids you are looking for” (If any of you have not seen the Star Wars movies I apologize.) But when a Jedi used the force – poof – the bad people would walk right past those droids like they weren’t even there. So maybe when the angel said don’t fear – poof, whoever they were speaking to was not afraid. Okay that’s a little weird but you get my point.

John says that perfect love casts out fear. So maybe when God sent an angel to us with a message, they came in the form of this powerful love of God which made the fear disappear.

While we are asking questions, why would fear be the thing angels would tell us not to do. If the angel has the power to change something in us like removing fear, why wouldn’t they say something like don’t be selfish! Or don’t be mean! 

Maybe because God knew that the one thing that would totally close off our mind from hearing the message from Him would be fear.

So today as we set out on our Advent journey I want to talk a little about this fear thing. 

How can fear be the thing that keeps us from hearing and acting on God’s message? An example that might show us what fear can do is the difference between Joseph and Herod.

Herod was a Roman appointed king of Judea. He was good friends with Mark Anthony, the Mark Anthony who was in love with Cleopatra. He built fortresses and palaces and in general made the country more prosperous but he was mentally unstable and as he got older he became more unstable. He ended up murdering his wife, her sons and her brother. All together he had eight wives and 14 children. His physical and mental health had deteriorated by the time of Jesus birth. He had lost favor with Augustus and tried to commit suicide. When the wise men told him a prophecy about a king being born, he was afraid. 

He sent them to find out more and he said he wanted to know where this king was so he could worship him. When the wise men didn’t come back and tell him how to find the baby he arranged to kill all the babies in the land because underneath it all, he was afraid of losing his power. He was terrified of a little baby!

Joseph was a carpenter. A peasant. He had no power. The bible says he is a just man. When he found out Mary was expecting a baby, he didn’t pitch a public fit and he didn’t just dump her. He thought about the situation and he was planning to divorce her quietly. Even though he might have felt hurt and betrayal and according to the law of the time, he could have publicly shamed her, but he had compassion for her. While he was thinking about all this, an angel showed up and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, that the child was from the Holy Spirit. Later an angel would appear to him in a dream and tell him not to be afraid and to take Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod. Both times, Joseph was able to act without fear and listen to what God wanted him to do. We know very little else about Joseph from the bible. 

Herod had power and was fearful. Joseph had no power but was fearless!

Every Christmas of my life, there have been nativity scenes. The town I grew up in was very small. It had one main street and packed dirt paths on the walk to what we called town, not sidewalks. Every year we would bundle up and walk to town to look at the Christmas lights and the last stop would be the nativity that was nearly life size. I have a ceramic one at home that a friend made for me years ago. I have seen beautiful wooden and porcelain nativity scenes and each one  has Joseph in it. Every church nativity program casts a boy to play Joseph, Mary’s husband. Because Joseph was not afraid to do what the angel told him to do, Jesus was born according to prophecy and also kept safe from the consequences of the fear that consumed a powerful old man. 

None of the nativity scenes we set up in our homes at Christmas and none of the Children’s Christmas programs we have watched or helped put on over the years have had Herod in them. Herod is a footnote in history.  Joseph has a permanent part in the story of the culmination of God’s plan for our salvation. 

There is a quote that says Herod’s fear caused death. Joseph’s fearlessness protected life.

Maybe you have some Herod’s in your life. Maybe today because of Jesus, you can look at those things or people or situations that seem to have power over you and your life and point your finger and say “footnote” because the powerful, fearful Herod’s of the world are forgotten, but stepping out in faith and saying yes to God changes the world (and you!) forever.

I believe in angels. They are all around us. Maybe they are sitting next to you in the pew this morning. They certainly are sitting next to you holding your hand and praying with you in the hospital. Maybe they come by to visit you and bring cookies when you are recovering. Maybe they cook a meal or give you a hug. They are messengers of love and they say over and over again – don’t be afraid. They speak louder than any footnote and they change our world every day in quiet little ways. 

As we start our advent journey, let’s pack light but don’t forget the angels that travel with us. Our Jesus family that makes this journey with us and strengthens our faith when the Herods of the world have bruised us.. 

Let’s not forget the inexperienced girl who said yes to what an angel told her and got to rock the one who would die for our sins in her arms. Don’t forget a poor carpenter who made the decision not to be afraid and built a family that would nurture the one who would save us all. 

Most important, remember the baby in the manger, the one who was planned for and promised from the first moment sin came into the world to restore us back to the garden. 

Do not fear. Get ready. There is hope! God has a plan!

Christmas is not the destination. Christmas is the starting place. 

No Fun

Slight interlude from bible study. Dale had surgery to repair two hernias on Wednesday and had a few small complications we are dealing with. We go back to Dallas Tuesday so prayers would be appreciated. The two hour drive is hard on him right now and it is supposed to be very cold Tuesday morning. Prayers also for some improvement between now and then. It’s hard to watch someone hurt and not be able to do anything about it. Still, we have felt God’s presence in friends who have called, prayed, brought food. We will get through this.

Nostalgia

I made a small trip over to tonyandpaige.com and found his post from September. He had started blogging 20 years ago. Tony created this blog for me in 2016 so I have a few years to go to catch up. There are a total of 1265 posts published here so apparently I have had quite a bit to say. There were only a couple of posts here in 2017 and I imagine that was partly due to social media. I am still on Facebook though I have managed for the most part to withdraw from anything political. For a time I would click on Facebook in the morning and immediately became depressed or have my blood pressure go up but I have found that if I stick to posting or sharing things I think are positive and just scroll on by the things that were making me crazy, I am far better off. Mostly I look for pictures of my grandchildren who of course, are the most perfect and beautiful babies in the world!

I’m in the process of cleaning up the blog. As I go through past posts it’s funny how things have evolved as far as my interests. I started out with a lot of technology and education posts and then went through my years of writing poetry and short stories. Hopefully now that I am retired, I can revive some of that.

Since I have retired I have become a lay speaker at two Methodist churches on the first Sunday of the month. Now my posts for the most part, are either my bible study notes or my talk for church.

When I was writing I was in several poetry groups and had a lot of traffic (or at least it seemed like a lot for me) but these days I doubt hardly anyone reads but it serves as a place for me to document my journey with Christ and to hopefully see growth in my walk.

So thank you, Tony. I have never said that enough. I couldn’t leave comments on your blog so this will have to do. It was because of you I became a district tech which certainly affected my um…quality of life in retirement. Things were never the same after you left but I learned so much from you. I missed your kindness and integrity but I am glad you made the move for you and your family.

This has been a place of therapy for me, a creative outlet, a place of learning, and a place where I have made some friends that I have never met but stay in communication with so it shrank the world for me. It was a way for me to let friends know what was happening when Dale was so ill and kept me connected to the world when we were isolated for months in the hospital. I started here when I was 51 and now I am 65 and still writing. I’m kind of okay with that.

Nov 3 2019 Sermon Luke 19:1-10


All Saints Sunday 

Quote: Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone

Luke 19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Maybe how we look at this story depends on how we answer a question. It’s just a detail but it could change our perspective. When Zacchaeus speaks about his financial decisions is it a promise of what he WILL do in response to his encounter with Jesus? Or is he saying what he is doing right now?

Jesus is nearing the end of his journey to Jerusalem. He is passing through the border town of Jericho where Zachaeus lives. His face is “set towards Jerusalem” (Luke 9:53) but he is not so preoccupied with his own fate that He doesn’t take time to notice others. 

The name “Zacchaeus” comes from the Greek “zakchaios,” which means “pure” or “righteous.” Zacchaeus is not just a tax collector, he is a chief tax collector so he is very rich. The meaning of his name seems ironic and maybe some in the crowd notice this. 

So let’s take this well known little story apart. 

One detail is that sight is important. 

We need to take a little side trip to see how this fits together.

Luke 19:1-10 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him,  “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”  Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

Luke pairs two stories that both take place in Jericho. When we look at them together they compliment each other. One is about a disabled man who is poor and blind but though blind, he is able to see things others do not including his own desperate condition and the power of Jesus Christ. He cries out for Jesus to have mercy on him.  Zacchaeus is rich and not disabled, just small, He has heard of this Jesus and climbs a tree to see him over the crowd but he is silent when Jesus approaches.

Another detail is wealth. In the previous chapter in Luke, a rich ruler sadly chooses his wealth over following Jesus. In contrast, Zacchaeus receives Jesus with joy and promises to give half his wealth to the poor and to restore fourfold the money he defrauded people out of and Jesus announces salvation has come to this house.

A third detail is that Zacchaeus is short, physically – but also, as far as his community is concerned he is short on morals. Partly because of his stature and now because of his profession, Zacchaeus has been looked down on all his life. The crowd reaction when Jesus singled him out was to grumble. This is not the first time that bystanders have been angry about Jesus’ behavior. Back in Luke 7:39 when a woman who was known to live a sinful life washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and her hair at a dinner he was having with the pharisees, Jesus responded to the grumbling of the pharisees with the parable of forgiven debt and told the woman she was forgiven. Just last week we heard the story of two men praying – a tax collector and a Pharisee where it was the tax collector who went home justified.

So what does all this mean with the question of whether Zacchaeus has done or is doing something with his money?

The easiest interpretation would be to say that it is describing future behavior. Zacchaeus has this encounter with Jesus which causes him to change his behavior which Jesus acknowledges. It fits with how we understand things to work.. We repent, then we are forgiven. That when Jesus shows up, the impossible happens. That repentance should include everything in our lives including our finances as well as our heart change. AND..All those things are true. 

But sometimes it seems like the bible says one thing on the surface and yet allows for us to slow down and wander and wonder a bit and maybe challenge the assumptions we make when we first read a text.

So let’s look at the text a little closer. Zacchaeus does not make a confession of sin. He does not repent. He does not ask for mercy. We can make the assumption that since he is pledging his money that he repents but unlike the praying tax collector who asked God to have mercy on him, a sinner,  Zacchaeus’ repentance remains an assumption WE make. Jesus merely pronounces a blessing based not on anything Zacchaeus has done, but simply because he is an Israelite just like the people around him who are grumbling. Zacchaeus doesn’t seem to offer to pay everyone back or give his money to the poor because of anything Jesus said. In fact it almost seems like more of a response to the crowd. Maybe it’s a response to the presence of Jesus. Again, it is left to us to make the assumption.

So at first reading this is the perfect conversion story. But what if it is also the story of all the possibilities that exist in the presence of Jesus. So much of the story seems impossible. That a chief tax collector would want to see Jesus. That Jesus would want to stay at his home. That this sinner Zacchaeus would go above and beyond the law with his generosity. That Jesus would say that not just Zacchaeus but his whole household had salvation. 

Maybe Zacchaeus represents the first and most important start for all disciples of Jesus – a persistent desire to see Him and a transformational joy when we are in His presence! Rather than a formula of steps of repentance and forgiveness the story takes the miracle of salvation and shows it as a promise that anyone who truly wants to see Jesus will – even if they have to go to all kinds of lengths to do so. More than just seeing Jesus, they will be seen by Jesus and THAT is joy.

If we read the story of Zacchaeus as a story of the desire to see and be seen by Jesus, then we can then look around us and ask ourselves who both in our church and everywhere else we go as we live out our lives, has been left out, too short to see over the heads of the crowd, too different in the way they live, who might just want to see Jesus and who might surprise us by their generosity and faith… and if we allow ourselves to ask these questions, we might see Jesus and Zacchaeus and ourselves in a completely different way. Maybe like the blind man, we will be able to see things with more than our eyes. 

What would it mean to us if Jesus spoke to us while we were up a tree? 

What would it be like to be looked down on all your life and then have Jesus look up at you and see you for the creation you are, made in God’s image? 

What would it have been like for Zacchaeus to have Jesus look up and speak his name showing that Jesus knows HIM inside and out and he can’t pretend to be anything but who he is and Jesus doesn’t  just see him and speak his name but treats him as a friend! 

A little detail in this text, Jesus says He MUST stay at Zacchaeus’ house. That implies that God planned this encounter – that it wasn’t an accident. 

In the passage about the blind man who received his sight from Jesus. a physical healing took place. In the story of Zacchaeus, since we have to make so many assumptions anyway, what if we make one more. 

Maybe Zacchaeus who has always been looked down on because he is a small man, became hardened and that was part of the reason he chose his profession. Suppose he felt little compassion for all those who had treated him as less because of his height, something he had no control over. Suppose when Jesus looked up at this man who had climbed a tree to see him, he saw someone with a deep wound that was invisible because it was a wound of the spirit but a wound that was disabling none the less.

So if we look at two stories – the story of a blind beggar and the story of Zacchaeus, we see two very different people, two very different healings, and in both cases, the men received salvation but it looked very different outwardly.

In the first, a beggar who’s eyes didn’t work and yet was able to recognize the power of Jesus Christ, was physically healed and now able to join society as a productive member and he and those who witnessed the healing, glorified God. In the second, a spiritual healing took place and a rich man pledged his wealth to the poor and to make amends for everyone he had taken advantage of, and because of that, his entire household received salvation.

If we can take these stories that we have heard all of our lives and look beyond the obvious we can find layers of hope for healing, for salvation, for seeing and being seen by Jesus no matter who we are or where we are in life. 

These stories of all those who have gone before us, facing struggles, disabilities, unfair treatment, who encountered Christ and were forever changed strengthen our own faith that we too can see and be seen by Jesus.

Maybe these stories are all about the impossible possibilities that exist when Jesus shows up. 

Questions Jesus Asked 3 Matthew 6:25-34

Scripture Matthew 6:25-34
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  

Context Matthew 6 is the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. This chapter contains the middle portion of the Sermon on the Mount, including the Lord’s Prayer. Verses 19–34 deal with the necessity of a pure intention in all things, unmixed either with the desire of riches, or worldly care, and fear of want (wikipedia)  

Cross Reference Gospels (and I added from NT) Luke 12:22-34
And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Philippians 4:6-7
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  

Old Testament Reference Proverbs 12:25
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.
Isaiah 41:10
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Jeremiah 17:7-8
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Psalm 37:8
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
Deuteronomy 31:8
It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Quotes, Commentary “If you want string and brown paper, you need not go into a shop to buy them, but if you buy certain articles, you get string and brown paper in the bargain. So, when you go to God, seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness, these other things, which are but the packing, as it were, the string and the brown paper, are given to you in the bargain. He who giveth you the golden treasures of heaven will not allow you to want for the copper treasures of earth.” Spurgeon

When Jesus spoke about grass being “thrown into the fire,” that was reference to a common frugality among ancient Israelites. Unlike today, cut grass was a useful source of fuel for many homes. People would cut the green grass of spring, let it dry, then wrap it into bundles (kind of like little logs). They’d burn those bundles in fire ovens for cooking and heating.


Scot Mcknight quote: “These are words for radicals about a radical lifestyle of trusting God for the ordinaries of life while devoting oneself unreservedly toward the kingdom mission.” and Jesus isn’t encouraging his disciples to be reckless. Instead, he’s calling them to follow him and to see that following him, or (in our text) seeking first the kingdom and righteousness, reshapes what we value most.

Earthly possessions dazzle our eyes and delude us into thinking that they can provide security and freedom from anxiety. Yet all the time they are the very source of anxiety. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.
Corrie ten Boom  

Observations, Misc. This passage contrasts worship of things and worship of God.  

Other There is a rumor on the internet that says Do not fear is said 365 times in the bible but after doing some research, I found this not to be true.
Question: Is worry a sin?  

Prayer Father when the world takes my eyes and my mind and my heart and points them at things I seemingly can do nothing about, I ask that you either provide me with the strength and ability to do something about them, or bring me back to worshipping you. Help me to avoid situations that will cause worry because I know that the focus is then on myself. Point me to service for others to keep my hands and heart busy doing the work you have already provided for me to walk in and let it bring you glory. Amen      

Habukkuk

Sermon October 6 2019

Lectionary readings:

Lamentations 1:1-6

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Luke 17:5-10

Lamentations Chapter 1 describes the unhappiness and gloom of Jerusalem following its destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. It was written by the prophet Jeremiah, who is also known as “the weeping prophet.”

In Lamentations 3 The faithful lament their calamities, and hope for God’s mercies.

In Luke 17, the disciples ask for their faith to be increased and Jesus responds with a parable that tells them they need humility.

In 2nd Timothy, Paul who is nearing the end of his life, doesn’t want to die without giving some last encouragement to Timothy who he loved and mentored. The reading focuses on reminding Timothy to hold fast to sound teaching, to guard and fight for the gospel. 

On todays’ lectionary page there was an alternate reading from Habakkuk and because I had not really studied that book, it caught my interest so I want to talk about this minor prophet with a big lesson today.

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

1:1 The prophecy that the prophet Habakkuk received.

1:2 O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?

1:3 Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.

1:4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous– therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

2:1 I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.

2:2 Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.

2:3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.

2:4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

Habakkuk means to embrace or to wrestle and Habakkuk did both. Usually a bible book of a prophet is about that prophet going out and telling the people what God has told him to say. Habukkuk is a sort of journal of a conversation with God. The book has only three chapters and is divided into three sections. The first is a conversation between Habakkuk and God, the next is a list of woes, and the last is a psalm of praise. 

Things have gone from bad to worse in Judah and for generations God has tried to get His people’s attention and they just turn away. So now, Habakkuk looks around and sincerely asks God, “God what are you doing? Are you going to save your people? And not only does he ask God these questions but he sets himself down to wait for an answer.  He is not budging an inch. This is so important to him.

God answers him! But the answer is not exactly what Habakkuk would have hoped. God tells him to judge Judea’s wickedness, he will hand them over to the Babylonians. Now we know as Habakkuk did, that the Babylonians were a warlike people who liked to plunder other lands. They are to Habakkuk, much more wicked than the Judeans. Habukkuk who has come to God to try to understand now is even more confused. He asks God how can He use such wicked people to punish the Jews. God is way ahead of Habakkuk and tells him to wait, that they too will be destroyed. He gives a list of all the bad things that will happen. 

The Babylonians plundered a lot of nations but the ones that are left will plunder them. The Babylonians disgraced nations but the Lord will disgrace them. The Babylonians made idols and called on them but the earth will be silent before the Lord.

Habakkuk then sings or prays a psalm of praise that ends with these words: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. 

There is comforting news in this text. 

  • God honors our sincere questions. I believe He wants us to bring our questions and worries and pain him along with our joys and praise. We look around at the world today and we wonder about some of the same things! We see violence, and strife and contention. We see justice perverted. Sometimes, there is nothing we can do. So we take it to the Father. 
  • God answers our questions and prayers. Sometimes we have to wait. Don’t give up. God responds to persistence!
  • Sometimes the answers are not what we might like but we see only our little piece of the whole tapestry and not the big picture. 
  • We can have faith that God will make everything right because God has been faithful in the past. We read over and over again, how the people turn away from God and God makes a way for them to be restored until the final answer, Jesus Christ. 
  • Spending time with God allows us to know Him better. Maybe we won’t get a direct answer to a specific question, but remember how you could tell sometimes who your kids were hanging out with by the way they acted or talked? The more time we spend with God, the more we have the chance to understand and trust Him as He changes our fears about this world to praise and a desire to bring about His kingdom here on earth.

Now Habakkuk composes a psalm of praise for the God that he trusts to eventually make all things right and we, having the perspective of reading this text after the New Testament, know that God does make all things right through His Son. who finally, once and for all, restores us to relationship with God, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Habakkuk 2:4 ends with “but the righteous live by their faith.” These 7 words are quoted 3 times in the New Testament. Romans 1:17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith

Galations 3:11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.

Hebrews 10:36-39 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For,“In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” And “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

  • We are to be a people that talks to the Lord and when we have planted our feet on the rampart and are waiting patiently for God to answer, even if it seems no answer is forthcoming, we will continue to walk by faith. 

The reminders in the text’s today are to be humble, to talk to the Lord, to hold on to the gospel, and have faith because God is faithful and will complete the work he has begun in each and every one of us.  

Scot Mcknight when teaching seminary said this: “Sometimes I ask students to read the prophets after they have read Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul articulates theology and the prophets inform us that theology isn’t what it is supposed to be until it is lived. Of course, Paul says this, too, but sometimes it takes time with a prophet to know what the apostle is saying.”

My challenge to all of us is to read any of Paul’s letter to the Romans and then go back and read any of the prophets. See for yourself how the gospel of grace has always been there. The good news that God sees and is at work to restore us to who we were meant to be, made in His image! But simply reading isn’t enough. We have to live it, go back and read some more and then walk it out some more. It is a lifelong and life changing conversation with the one who created us and knows and loves us too much to leave us incomplete and separate from Him and the rest of His creation. 

There is a beautiful comparison in the these texts. The disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith and Jesus spoke to them about humility. 

Habakkuk speaks to God about saving his people and God increases his faith.

Habakkuk got a lesson that is hard for us all to learn – that faith doesn’t mean there won’t be storms. Faith is a way to find meaning in a life where storms are inevitable. Amen.

Questions Jesus Asked Part 2 Matthew 5:46-47

Scripture: Matthew 5:46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

Context: So Jesus in Matthew 4 had just been driven to the desert and had his encounter with the devil, He began to preach, called his disciples, healed the sick, preached the sermon on the mount, made a series of statements that began with “You have heard it said, but I tell you. This question is a part of one of those statements. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Gospel Cross Reference ”luke 6:32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Old Testament Reference :”Proverbs 25:21-22 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you.” (Paul quotes this in Romans 12:20) “The picture of putting coals on a person’s head initially sounds like a picture of causing burning pain, but it really is not. Instead, it seems to be a picture of stirring up the coals of a fire to rouse it back to life again. It is a picture of stirring within a person a response of remorse, when they see your kindness in the face of their meanness. “ https://engediresourcecenter.com/2015/07/08/heaping-burning-coals/

Quotes, Commentary: ”it begins with the beatitudes, not bedoitudes. The Pharisees had been putting all the emphasis upon what they were doing, their physical state. Jesus was redirecting their attention to their inner thought life, their spiritual state.

 “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside you”” Ralph Waldo Emerson”

Observations, Conclusions: When we realize how we are to be as Christians. we know there is no way we can do it. The minute we confess we are unable to do it, we have taken the first step towards depending on Jesus. Being a witness for Jesus is not something we are to do – it is who we are to be. Jesus DID what He said. As he was nailed to the cross He didn’t curse those who tortured and killed Him – He prayed for them: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Miscellaneous: The Jews would have viewed tax collectors as traitors and extortionists and to associate with pagans? Not done. They had been taught all their lives that they were to hold themselves apart. These questions would have elicited strong emotional responses. We are to love others the way God loves us:

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Agape is not love of the emotions but of the will. It may involve emotions but it always involves action. It is manifested by specific actions. 1 Cor 13:4 Gal 3:22, Matt 8:34

Prayer: Father search me and help me to identify those prejudices that I carry in my heart. Teach me your way of loving so that I may be a better witness for Jesus and more fully know you as I see you in others, including or especially those that I harbor hurt or anger towards. Amen

Questions Jesus Asked part 1 Matthew 5:13

I have been reading a lot about the emergent church, deconstructing and reconstructing your faith. It has caused me to question some things and in some ways I am learning to separate “church” from Jesus. I decided the best way to start for me, is to study Jesus. The first study I have decided to do is on the questions Jesus asked. There are some 300 (several people have actually made a list) and I may not tackle every one because some may not lend themselves to anything theological. I started a new notebook and jotted down the categories I wanted to explore. They are as follows: The scripture reference, Context (who, what, where), Cross reference in the gospels, Old Testament reference if any, Quotes and Commentary, Conclusions, and Observations and then anything else – stuff I might want to give a different category for later. It sounds kind of dry but it will help to keep me organized. What follows is the first question I came to.

Scripture: Matthew 5:13 You are the salt the earth, but what good is salt if it has lost it’s flavor? Can you make it salty again?

Context: Sermon on the Mount, right after the beatitudes which lay down the principles and rules of the kingdom of God. Speaking to Jews or Christians familiar with the Jewish faith

Gospel Cross Reference: Luke 14:34 Salt is good, but if it has lost it’s flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land or the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Heading – cost of discipleship)

Old Testament Reference: Salt – Leviticus 2:13 (laws about grain offerings) Numbers 18:19 salt covenant – everlasting, 2 Chronicles 13:5 David and descendants everlasting covenant of salt, Ezekiel 43-23bull and ram sacrifice sprinkled with salt – reminder of everlasting covenant, Genesis 19:23-26 Lot’s wife turned to salt – she lost her preserving qualities and became one with the world? Colossians 4:2-6 conversations should be seasoned with salt.

Quotes, Commentary: Kingdom action: function as salt, The pharisees took the basic laws delivered by God into hundreds. Jesus, through Matthew 5 compares the common standards for right and wrong to the standards He has set. He says we can’t live a righteous life through working harder- only through yielding to Him (From the inside out)

Observations, Conclusions: Following Jesus means to have salt or the flavor of Christ in every part of our lives. Salt preserves and purifies so having Christ in every part of our lives saves and cleanses us as an ongoing act of salvation.

Miscellaneous: Salt in biblical times was used as a flavoring, preservative, and purifier, Treaties were sealed with salt. Sometimes Roman soldiers were paid in salt.

Prayer: Father thank you for salt, for flavor in our lives. Teach me your ways. Let me have enough Christian flavor that I enhance everything around me and cause people to hunger for you. Amen

September 1, 2019

This week all of the scripture readings came together for me which rarely happens. 

I am going to talk a little about Celebrate Recovery today. I have had the luck and joy of being on the worship team at Celebrate Recovery, and I say lucky because I know that I am not a horrible singer but I am not going to be on a big stage with lights and smoke and all kinds of instruments and in fact I would be lost if you put me there – I know my limitations. However because of Celebrate Recovery and Mark and Marion I get to be on a little stage with lights and sometimes smoke!

I am doing a step study at Celebrate Recovery and I have a confession to make to you. I am not addicted to drugs or an alcoholic, but I will admit to you that I agreed to do the step study because over the span of a couple of years I have listened to others do the lesson or give their testimony – we alternate every other week with those two things, and I thought…I could do this and I think I could make it interesting. I would like to do this. 

How egotistical of me…but honestly, that was my thought. I could speak some kind of truth into these people’s lives. Well in order to do that, the way Celebrate Recovery works – and make no mistake – it does work, you need to have gone through the program before you can do those things, and I thought…well, I can do that. How hard can it be? I’m not an addict. I will probably be kind of bored and also kinda boring. 

Well the joke was on me. I am learning some things about myself. Some good, some not necessarily good but in the context of knowing that God wants us all to be free of our garbage that we all carry, so that we can experience grace and a closer relationship with him and a closer relationship with others. So that we can be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy in the next with Him, Amen. ( from the serenity prayer) 

I have been learning a little bit about armor lately. Not the armor of God – that’s a whole other talk. But the armor that we humans wear. The armor that we construct for ourselves as  life happens to us. Armor that is meant to protect us from the hard things that come, whether through circumstance or through how others treat us or even through the bad decisions we make for ourselves.

You know what I mean. It’s not a big difficult concept. Humor? You know how you…well I, make a joke when I am at a loss or in an uncomfortable situation? Armor. Some people project strength and control when inside they are anything but strong or in control. Some use cloaking. You know like the science fiction show where the spaceship goes into cloaking mode so they can slip by the enemy without being seen. They disappear. You can’t be hurt if you aren’t seen. Some even use the church. I am a Christian and I wear this armor so the world can’t touch me because I am wearing my Jesus t-shirt and there is a fish symbol on the back of my car. I would venture to say there are as many kinds of armor as there are people but I’m no psychologist. 

I just know that until we deal with those things that cause us to wear our armor, we cannot fully connect with others. Celebrate Recovery has made me see that not only do we all – including me – wear our armor but we are at least most of us in denial about it which is another big deal in Celebrate Recovery. 

Now this isn’t just a criticism of armor or of denial because I believe that God created us with these tools because sometimes life hands us stuff that we aren’t quite ready to handle so we crawl under that armor or we pull that blanket of denial over our heads until we are ready to deal with reality.

It becomes a problem when we can’t take the armor off or if we never want to come out from under that denial blanket. 

I have an ideal picture of myself that I carry around in my head. The ideal me is thinner, looks much younger than her age, is neat and organized and focused and and unselfish and can sing like Lauren Daigle.

The actual me is well, pretty much the opposite in some cases and miles from the ideal in others. Unfortunately, life sometimes smacks me in the face with a reminder that I am not nor will I ever be that image. Partly because that image is a moving target. The harder I try to become who I wish I was, the farther away the goal gets.

But here is the thing I know. God doesn’t love the ideal me. He loves the actual me. He doesn’t love who I almost am. He loves who I actually am. Jesus didn’t die for some someday perfect me. He waded in to the mess that is the actual me and said “do you want to be healed? Get up and walk.” and then He died for the mess that is me. God didn’t say buy a bunch of self help books and go on a diet and take voice lessons so I can use you. 

He poked me in the back and said I chose you. I knit you together in your mother’s womb. You are mine. Get to work.

There is a word for all that, my friends. That word is grace. Through grace, my less than perfect voice gets to join with a group of fellow messy armor toting humans as voices and sometimes hands are raised in praise of a God who loves us for the actual people we are. 

Through grace I can see how I and someone else in step study who I thought I had absolutely nothing in common with, actually are more alike in our messes that I thought and maybe through that connection we both peal off the armor a little bit and bring the kingdom of God a little closer. 

Through grace I get to see transformation as God works on us and I myself am changed because I see that transformation and I say God, I know it might hurt a bit at times but I want some of that too please, so I submit to you! 

Through grace I see that “these people” whose lives I thought I could speak truth to, are my people. I am them and they are me and we are all just walking each other home as we try to help each other gently remove the armor and replace it with Jesus through grace.

Do you worry that you are too old and too tired ? Here is a quote that spoke to me “The only true rest is grace. Every single other thing in this bankrupt world is about worthiness.” 

Get good grades in school, don’t embarrass your family, dress decent, drive a nice car, keep your house and your yard tidy, Shop at the right stores, go to the right church, live on the right side of town. Be happy, be spiritual, be whatever the next big thing is…it all gets so tiring.

Jesus says to take his yoke because it is light, Jesus will give you rest. Jesus won’t break a bruised reed. 

The book of Hebrews gives a long list of reasons to cling to Jesus. The book of Hebrews compares Jesus to all of the heroes of the Jewish faith. Each one played a part, But the sacrifice of Jesus, His covenant, and His ministry outshine all that the others have to offer. 

We read in Hebrews 1 that Jesus is greater than the angels because He is the divine king .

Hebrews 3 tells us Jesus is greater than Moses because Moses was a servant of God but Jesus is the Son of God.

Hebrews 4 says Jesus is greater than Joshua – Jesus brings greater rest to the people of God (remember what I said about the only true rest?)

Hebrews 7 says Jesus is a greater priest than Aaron because He is sinless and His sacrifice did eternally for all what Aaron had to do repeatedly for himself as well as the people.

Hebrews 7 through 9 talks about Jesus having a better ministry because of the new covenant brought about by the sacrifice of His own blood.

Hebews 11 gives us a long list of people who walked in faith but ends with “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,  since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

Last week Hebrews 12 talked about the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us and tells us “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”

Our reading in Hebrews today is talking about some of the ways we would live if we are truly transformed by following this Jesus who is greater. To show hospitality to strangers, remember those in prison, keep marriage holy, don’t be in love with money. Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Our scripture reading in Luke talks about Jesus speaking a parable knowing the church leaders are watching him closely. He tells them not to take the best seat at the banquet for themselves because they might be humiliated and replaced. He tells them not  to have a banquet and invite only those who can pay them back. But to invite the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

We have tried to make the world, ourselves and our lives, and even our church into what we think they should be. OUR ideal – not the actual and not what God has created them to be. Hebrews says, no. Jesus is greater. Luke says – don’t be all puffed up – take care of the poor, the infirm, and those who can’t see. Jeremiah says our way is full of holes. Didn’t God already give us everything we need to live in a transformational way? So let’s look at what we have from God for our identity.

Genesis 1:26

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Ephesians 4:24

and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Colossians 3:10

and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

and finally: John 14:9

9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

We are not to do this alone. Romans 15 tells us:

15 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”[a] 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews[b] on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

That’s us – we are the gentiles. We are to serve each other that God may be glorified. 

Do you want to know how to be who you were created to be? Study Jesus. Do you want to do the things that please God? Do the things Jesus did. Replace that image in your head of the “ideal you” with Jesus. When you are feeling strong, help someone else – for when you are not feeling so strong, others may believe for you. Be transformed. Jesus is a goal that never moves, never changes, and the rewards are eternal. Amen.

What Is In a Name? Hosea 11:1-11

August 4, 2019

Scripture

Hosea 11:1-11

11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

11:2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.

11:3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them.

11:4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.

11:5 They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.

11:6 The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes.

11:7 My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.

11:8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

11:9 I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

11:10 They shall go after the LORD, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.

11:11 They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.

Intro

The book of Hosea is an interesting book. It is the first of the 12 books of the minor prophets which just means the books are short. In fact, in the Hebrew bible they are lumped together as one book called The Twelve. 

The message in Hosea is a cycle of betrayal and idolatry, judgement, repentance, redemption, and restoration.

Hosea is the story of a prophet who is commanded by God to marry a prostitute. He marries Gomer. She leaves him for another and he goes and brings her back. The story is a picture of God’s relationship with the Israelites. Hosea is a prophet during the reign of Jeraboam who was king of the northern ten tribes of Israel.  If Jeraboam had obeyed God, his family would have been established like King David but he set up a couple of golden calves and led the people into sin and they turned their backs on God.

So God gives Hosea a message for the people but instead of saying the message, Hosea is to LIVE out the message. God tells Hosea to marry an adulterous wife. There will be children and God tells Hosea what to name them.

Names

There will be a son – Jezreel which means scattered, a daughter named Lo-ruhammah which means not loved, and another son named Lo-ammi which means not my people. These names might seem unimportant but we will come back to them.

Hosea married Gomer who was a prostitute before the wedding, and an adulterer after. Gomer represents the Israelites who have turned away from God and worshipped false gods.  God speaks to Israel through Hosea about the coming consequences if they don’t repent. 

How Do We Feel About The Story of Hosea and Gomer?

I come to this story carrying some sympathy for this young pastor, Hosea. Hosea hears God’s call and I wonder if he doesn’t imagine himself preaching some glorious sermon that will cause the people who hear him to turn back to God. Maybe he was a little nervous, maybe he was humbled to receive such a calling. Whatever he was feeling, I doubt he imagined what would come next. This man of God, through obedience, finds himself in a situation that sounds a lot like the headline in one of those magazines by the check-out counter at the grocery store.

I don’t know about you but I didn’t feel the same sympathy for Gomer when I first read this story. I might have felt sympathetic for the prostitute. I mean, it was difficult for a woman in those days. If you were poor and had no male family member to take care of you then you just did what you had to do to survive. But then Hosea loved and married her and she was unfaithful! My judgemental self probably responded in a similar manner to Hosea’s friends. I’m sure they had a lot of advice for him and in human terms it would have made perfect sense. Don’t do it Hosea! She is not good enough for you. Think of your career as a pastor! She will break your heart! Some people may have just been mean and gossipy but others may have spoken out of genuine concern for their friend. They would have seen this as a huge mistake.  Here she was – living what seems a terrible lifestyle and Hosea as we say, “made an honest woman out of her”. Not only did he marry her, he LOVED her. So he not only changed her name from prostitute to wife. He changed it to beloved wife. And Gomer goes right back to her old ways. Hosea not only brings her back – again! -he pays a ransom to do so.

Why would Gomer go back to this life?

Maybe Gomer had named herself a prostitute by her life before Hosea. 

You can change your address and call yourself something else but do you believe it in your heart? Maybe she still felt that the old name applied. Maybe that voice on repeat in her head told her that she was unworthy so many times that she came to believe it and no matter how much Hosea professed his love, she couldn’t shake the name or the shame she had given herself.

Is Jesus in Here Somewhere?

Let’s look at the new testament for some insight into this whole name business.

In Matthew 3, John the Baptist baptizes Jesus and God names and claims His son – “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Then just a few short verses later, we come to the temptation of Jesus. In Matthew 4 what does the devil say? If you are the son of God. Three times the accuser gives reason for doubt about the name that God has just given Jesus. 

Doesn’t it often happen that way? As soon as we have a spiritual experience – a God moment, feel convicted by a sermon, do something selfless for someone else – immediately following one of those experiences it seems like something happens and other things try to tell us that we belong to them. Our spouse does something irritating and our anger says it owns us. Bills come in the mail and the washing machine breaks and the car starts making a funny noise and our money (or lack of it) and our stuff claims us. We buy a burger for the guy near the overpass carrying a sign that says “will work for food” and as we drive away we watch in the rear view mirror as he throws the burger in the trash and our heart for the needy grows cold.  We are owned by an unforgiving and critical spirit. In an instant we went from better to bitter.

The accuser, the father of lies, uses the very things that bring us closer to God against us. 

But only God can truly name us because only God can see who we were created to be IN HIM. God has the final say!

God has named us sons and daughters, so loved that He put on flesh, walked among us healing and teaching, suffered and hung on a cross, died and three days later defeated death…everything else that the world names us is a lie of temptation that only becomes true when we listen to it. 

Maybe that is what happened to Gomer. Maybe she couldn’t accept the grace of forgiveness from Hosea because first she would have to admit once and for all how broken and in need of forgiveness she was and after all, isn’t that precisely why grace is so hard?  And sometimes, harder than admitting how broken she is or …we are, is having hope that we could actually be something other than what the world names us. Hope. Grace. The very things we need the most can be the hardest for us to accept. Maybe it is not true for you, but for me it is always easier to extend grace, to forgive someone else, than it is for me to accept it myself. I think we all sometimes deep down, want so badly to feel safe, to belong, that we run in the opposite direction from hope and grace because our doubt gets in the way and the accuser says we are not worthy and we forget that the good news of the gospel is exactly the answer to that lie. 

Remember the names of the children?

Hosea 1:10-12  “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’  The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel. (which not only means scattered but also means God plants!)

and

Hosea 2:23 I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

God doesn’t wait for his people to “come around”. He meets us right there in the midst of our sin and that is where grace happens. 

Where Are We?

No longer scattered, no longer unloved, people of God. 

The story of Hosea is a picture of sin and brokenness and separation from God but it is also a picture of Jesus, a ransom for sin, for being made whole, and of us being given a new name.

For while we were yet sinners (our old name), Christ died for us. (Redeemed – our new name!)

Galatians 3:26-28  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (emphasis mine)

The accuser can’t name you. The world can’t name you. 

There is a story about Martin Luther, the Catholic priest who was responsible for the beginning of the reformation (the beginning of the protestant church). In his time, you could purchase what were called “indulgences” from the church. In other words, if you had sinned, you could sort of buy your way into heaven. Martin Luther said, no we are justified not by anything we do in ourselves, but by faith in Jesus Christ through grace. One story says that when he felt temptation he would shout these words. “I am baptized!” It was sort of a way of saying “Evil – you think you can tell me who I am? You should meet my dad!”

Last week, in his sermon on prayer, Mark said that the name of God should always be set apart as holy. As he spoke, I was thinking about one of the names of God. I AM.

When we begin a sentence about ourselves, We start out by saying I am (whatever – angry, hungry, a Methodist,) and in a way, we have started our sentence with the name of God. Maybe that is meant to be a reminder of who (and WHOSE) we are. 

God is holy and we are grafted onto the family tree as sons and daughters and so through Jesus Christ, we too are holy, precious and redeemed children of the living God. That is what the power of the transforming love of God is like. That is what God is like. That is what love is like. We are loved. We belong. THAT precious people is our name. Amen.

Let Us Pray

Father, we thank you for your creation, for breath, and for Your Son, Jesus, the Christ. We see ourselves and each other as the world names us. We thank You because You see us as beautiful, beloved.

 Ephesians 2:10 says that we are your handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which you have already prepared in advance for us to do. 

Help us to remember the God moments where we feel close to you so that when we find ourselves wandering in the dark valley we can shout “I am baptized” and know we are just passing through on our way home to you.

Amen

May 6, 2019 John 21:1-19


SCRIPTURE

21:1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.

21:2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.

21:3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

21:4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

21:5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.”

21:6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

21:7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.

21:8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

21:9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.

21:10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”

21:11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.

21:12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.

21:13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

21:14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

21:15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

21:16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

21:17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

21:18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

21:19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

___________________________________________________________

INTRO

From the creation of the entire world, God has been moving. I’m no pastor, but I’ve been going to bible studies for over twenty years. Reading the bible and reading what others say about the bible in between. Nothing I have read leads me to believe that God has stopped moving. I believe that the bible is the ongoing dialogue we are invited to have with God. Through scripture, corporate worship, fellowship, and service, we are invited to walk and talk with God as He moves and if we decide at any point that we have read the bible, been to church, and are done, then the only thing we are going to have a chance at seeing is a glimpse of God’s back as He continues to move.

So when I speak from this pulpit, my words are just a part of my journey with God and that changes as I learn and think about what I am learning. It means I may say something you don’t agree with or that you see differently. I may even feel differently about something I’ve read a year from now because I too, am moving, as are all of you. We are all on a journey and we change and grow. We go to the bible with the same kinds of questions that have been asked by people since the beginning. Why do bad things happen to good people? Will evil and death continue to have the upper hand? Does God see and hear us? Is He good? Is He still working? How are we to live?

CHANGE

Today we are going to look at how Peter handled change and how we might see ourselves sitting next to him.

Imagine what was going through Peter’s mind. He has just seen his friend and teacher crucified. He has seen the Risen Savior and Jesus has breathed on the disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit and given them a commission so they got busy and went to work, right?

No they didn’t. They went fishing. That just didn’t make sense to me. At first…

But then I thought about how I handle being upset. Dale used to say if he wanted the house cleaned all he had to do was invite company over or pick a fight with me.

Now when company was coming I would clean the house but when I was mad? It was super clean time. I would polish the washing machine. I just had to be left alone until I worked it out of my system. I retreated to the familiar and the physical labor helped me get my mad out.

After Dale was sick and in the hospital for several months, we came home and I tackled a stump that was in the backyard by our air conditioner. I dug and I wrapped a chain around it and pulled and fought with the thing until I finally got it out. That stump had nothing to do with Dale being sick, but my response to the stress was to tackle a challenge. Life had been out of control and in both these situations, I needed something to help me feel in control again.

So Peter has had several shocks, one right after the other. And underneath all of it is the deep disappointment he carries in himself for denying Jesus.

We have all done things that we feel guilty for. Maybe we accidentally hurt someone. We can go apologize and hopefully that resolves the situation. We feel better and the relationship is stronger. But sometimes there is no fix. Sometimes we carry that weight around for a long time, and like anything you carry, the longer you tote it around, the heavier it seems. When that happens, sometimes we get stuck.

So maybe Peter retreated to the familiar, tried to tackle a challenge that he could control. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. Peter and the other disciples fished all night and didn’t catch anything! So now on top of everything else they are tired and hungry and have no fish. Now there is some man on the beach telling them to drop their nets on the right side of the boat. I picture Peter scratching his head and then shrugging his shoulders. What could one more try hurt?

They dropped their net and and it filled up with so many fish they couldn’t even haul it into the boat!

WE ARE PETER

Imagine you are standing in that boat with the disciples. What have you poured your heart and sweat into and ended up with nothing but aches and pains and darkness? Watch for dawn. Listen for Jesus voice. Then do what He says.

John 15:5

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

To quote Tom Wright: “Jesus after all, has given his followers a strange and striking commission in chapter 20. They are to work for him. They are to be filled with God’s breath, and be sent into the world as Jesus had been. But if they try it their own way, they will fail. They will toil all night and take nothing. The only way is for them to admit defeat, to listen afresh to Jesus voice, and to do what he says.”

BACKGROUND

Now if we go back to Luke 22:54-62

Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance.  And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them.  A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”

But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.

A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”

“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.

About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”

Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.  The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”  And he went outside and wept bitterly.

So, back at the beach…

The mysterious disciple whom Jesus loved recognized Jesus and when he said so, Peter threw on his clothes and jumped into the water. The other disciples stayed in the boat, dragging their big old net full of fish. When they got to shore, there was a campfire with fish cooking and bread!

Remember when Peter first denied Jesus? It was near a fire. Peter walked out of the ocean to his savior and smelled the cooking fire. Maybe the same smell as another long night, the night he denied Jesus.

What did Jesus do? He fed Peter and the others. He cooked them breakfast! He told the disciples to bring their fish but he already had fish cooking. He didn’t need their fish, did he? So why does John include this information? I think John wanted us to learn a lesson. Sometimes we get caught up in thinking we must do it all. We think it’s our responsibility to organize, to clean, to lead, to tell others the good news of the gospel. God NEEDS us!

Of course when we serve we are to serve in a mighty way. But it isn’t all up to us. The same God who created everything in the world is still on the throne and we are invited to be a part of the kingdom and we are created for a purpose and to fulfil that purpose is built into us. God doesn’t need what we have or what we can do. But we need Him.

STUCK

In my mind, Jesus sees Peter’s heart. He sees how he is stuck in his guilt and his “stuckness” keeps him from moving forward.  After they have eaten breakfast Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. He answered him yes and Jesus gave him instructions. “Feed my lambs.”

Jesus asked him again. Peter once again answered that he loved him. Again Jesus gave him instructions. “Tend my sheep”

I wonder if it all came flooding back to him.

Imagine how Peter’s heart must have been pounding. How he must have been shaking. I wonder if he was thinking, here it comes. Jesus is going to let me have it. I failed Him. I deserve whatever I get.

One more time, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. This time Peter said “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

Jesus is the passover lamb, who takes away the sin of the world including Peter’s sin. How often do we find that the hardest person for us to forgive is ourselves. I’m not making light of what Peter did. And sin always has consequences. In Peter’s case, maybe his sin was keeping him from what Jesus had commissioned him to do. Jesus went right to the hurt and each time the question is asked and answered, Jesus doesn’t pat Peter on the shoulder and tell him it’s okay. He doesn’t even use the words “you are forgiven”. He gives him his commission again. Time to get to work Peter!

John 10:11 says “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

TRUST

Back in John 20:21 Jesus told the disciples “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”

Jesus shares His ministry with Peter. He entrusts Peter with the care of His sheep. Peter was not just forgiven, he was restored. Jesus is not just putting Peter back to work. He is sharing His own work with him.

I have experienced “stuckness” in my life when I felt guilty or worried or hurt and couldn’t move forward in my life until I figured out why I was stuck and dealt with it. That’s a lot of MY and I and when we are stuck, I would venture to say that our focus is pretty much on ourselves (at least that is how it is for me) and sometimes the only way out is to change that focus and do something for someone else. A part of this seems to be Peter being told to put on his big boy pants and move on. Yes Peter, you messed up. It’s done. Now go take care of others.

Peter got refocused.

LOVE

I asked myself why this question? Of everything Jesus could have said in this exchange, why did he ask Peter if he loved Him?

Maybe because real ministry, whether you are a pastor, a lay person, a committee leader, a teacher, whatever you do, deep down, it begins with a love for Jesus. It’s not so much the work – it’s the heart. We aren’t earning grace. We are responding with relief and gratitude to something that is already complete. Even though we have all let Jesus down probably many many times, Jesus wants to help us find that love and to express it and be healed and be restored. He wants us to hear His voice as He gives us new work to do.

Will we fail? Sometimes. Will we let Jesus down? Repeatedly! But along with Peter’s greatest failure Peter holds another memory. He remembers a time when he heard the masters voice and literally stepped out of the boat in faith and even when his own lack of faith would drown him, the Jesus he loved, held him up. So if we will listen for the voice of Jesus, and act on what He tells us we may get wet….but occasionally we may get to walk on water!

I cannot remember the author of this quote but the words – We are not to be just recipients of salvation, but also bearers of salvation. Three times, Jesus tells us how to do that. Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, care for the flock.

Ephesians 2:10

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

We live in a different world than the one we grew up in. Anyone with a phone has access to data and can look up any scripture, any commentary, any article written by anyone in minutes. We are no longer isolated in our church or anywhere else. What is done or said in view of others can be seen and heard by everyone almost instantly and the world is watching. And questioning. Will they see this loving shepherd Jesus in us? Will they get a glimpse of me walking on wave tops and want to climb out of the boat and join me?  Or will they see a judgemental, punishing Jesus who sees their failure and has written them off as unworthy and decide their safe, comfortable boat is just fine, thank you very much!

I just recently discovered an author and yesterday she died. I am surprised at how I am grieving for someone I never met She was 37 and leaves behind a husband and two small children. This quote resonated with me. I ask that you join me in praying for her family and friends.

“This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.” ~ Rachel Held Evans

Prayer

Father help us to hear the voice of our shepherd. We know that we have let you down and we know that only your great love can restore us. Open our hearts to let Christ heal what hurts and keeps us stuck and give us new work that you have prepared for us. We gratefully receive salvation and we want to extend it to others and so we ask that you fill us with your spirit because we know that we can’t do anything good apart from you. Help us to be Jesus loving, water walking, bearers of salvation. As you sent Jesus and Jesus sent the disciples, send us! AMEN.

Luke 9

Scripture
Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)
9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.

9:29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

9:30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.

9:31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

9:32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.

9:33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said.

9:34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.

9:35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

9:36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

9:37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him.

9:38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.

9:39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him.

9:40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”

9:41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”

9:42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.

9:43a And all were astounded at the greatness of God.


Transfiguration Story

1 Corinthians 13:12
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.


My grandmother was from Scotland. She came to Canada by way of the Salvation Army. She signed up to be a cook for three years to pay her way. She met and married my grandfather and raised three kids during the depression.

My mother used to tell me that they didn’t know they were poor because everyone was poor. She told me once that the Communist party grew during this time (at least on paper) because a family would be put out of their home – be standing on the street with all their belongings in bags and the Communist party would have them sign a card saying they were a member and then put them up in an apartment, buy them some groceries, and help the man find a job. It wasn’t about ideology, it was about feeding your family and putting a roof over their heads – survival.

Part of those years my grandfather was overseas in the war. Before he came home, my uncle grew to be old enough to go into the service and they met in London. My uncle asked my grandfather if he still smoked and he said yes. Uncle Tom gave him cigarettes he had brought from home. My grandfather asked my uncle if he had started drinking and he said yes so they went to a pub and got to know each other all over again. In the meantime my mother had to have thyroid surgery. Her family doctor went into surgery with her and sat by her head as she had to remain awake and speak when asked to, to make sure they didn’t nick her vocal cords.

Some time after all of this – once the surgery was over, my grandfather and uncle were both home, my grandmother sat down at the kitchen table and had a small nervous breakdown. They carried her out of the house in the same chair she sat in because she couldn’t move – she was catatonic. She recovered and life went on.


I tell you this story because I love old family stories and we all have them. Our stories remind us of who we are, where we come from, and that others have gone through trials and made it through to the other side so we know that we can too. Just as our family stories remind us of who we are, our faith stories remind us of who we are in relationship with God. We see ourselves in the people of the bible, trying to work out how to live as God’s people

Our text today starts with the words “after these sayings”. I want to back up and talk about those sayings because I think they have a lot of bearing on this text.


In Luke 9, Jesus had called the disciples together and given them power and authority to drive out demons and heal the sick and sent them out. Good stuff! Then we have a weird little paragraph about Herod wanting to see this Jesus. Not so good! Then the apostles returned and told Jesus everything they had done and they all withdrew for a little quiet time but people found them and Jesus taught the crowds and healed people and then we have the miraculous feeding of 5000 people, Again – good stuff! and then:


Luke 9:18 tells us

18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”

21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Not so good?)

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

27 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”


So, we have the disciples seeing the miracle of multiplying loaves and fishes, then we see them getting the bad news that their friend and teacher, their Messiah, must suffer and die. They must have been wondering if they had made a terrible mistake. They had given up everything, their jobs, their families, their homes, all to follow Jesus and now He is saying He will die. They had put all their hopes and dreams in this man and now instead of triumph, they see a future in ashes.


According to today’s text, it is only 8 days after this conversation that Peter and John climb the mountain with Jesus. This mountain was Mount Hermon which is a little over 9000 feet tall. There is a ski resort there. I have been to the top of Mount Evans in Colorado which is 14000 feet tall. I went in July. Started the trip in 90 degree weather and finished with coat, hat and mittens and snow. I got out of the van and started to walk around and realized I had forgotten my camera so I ran back to the van to get it. Running at that altitude is a big mistake. I went down the mountain flat on my back on the floor of the van with a terrible headache. They call it altitude sickness.


So here we have Peter and John climbing this mountain with Jesus, probably still reeling from the news that Jesus is going to suffer and die. I don’t know what was going through their minds but I can put myself in their place and imagine what I would be feeling. The lazy part of me would have been wondering at the necessity of climbing 9000 feet to pray. When I wasn’t huffing and puffing and whining about how the temperature is dropping and these sandals do not offer a lot of protection from snow….my mind would have been mulling things over. Surely Jesus was speaking in metaphors. He isn’t really going to die, and what does he mean he will be raised again? Why would he need to die if he is going to come back to life? How is this going to save us all? How much farther is it? Are we there yet??

Now we find them on the mountaintop. Jesus is praying and as He prays, He is changed. The appearance of Jesus face changed, and His clothes became dazzling white.


We could talk about how sometimes prayer doesn’t change your situation. We could talk about how sometimes prayer changes YOU. It brings you closer to the One who can sustain you through your circumstance.

But I want to move on with the story!


The disciples saw Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus. Two of the most important prophets were there with Jesus and they were talking about the very things Jesus had spoken of with His disciples. The text says the disciples were weighed down with sleep which makes sense as they had just climbed this 9000 foot mountain, but they stayed awake so they got to see something very special! They had a glimpse of glory!

We could talk about the importance of staying awake and paying attention so we don’t miss miracles that happen around us every day, even when we are feeling “world weary”.

But let’s get on with the story!


I love Peter. I identify with him. In my mind he is the person that exasperated Jesus but the very things that are exasperating are also the things Jesus seemed to love about him. He speaks without thinking, but he loves Jesus. He doesn’t always do the right thing but his intention and his heart are good and he shows up! He messes up and falls down but he keeps getting back up and like a child, tries to put his feet in the prints of His savior even though those footprints are far to big for him.

Peter is excited! He says this is awesome! Let’s build some cabins – one each for you, Moses, and Elijah. Now, he was not being selfish and he was being practical. He didn’t say he would build a shelter for himself – Just for Jesus and the prophets. They were exposed at a high elevation. They would need shelter! But as usual with Peter, his words were not the appropriate response.

Suddenly they were covered by a cloud. They are on top of a mountain, in the cold and now it’s dark. They can’t see anything. In my imagination, they are afraid to move. What if you fell on some rocks? Or off a cliff? It’s a long way down and this is before cell phones, before 911, before much of anything in the way of medical care. Jesus has recently told them he has to die and now they are seeing things that are completely out of the ordinary! Personally I think they handled it pretty calmly, all things considered! No wonder they were terrified!

We could talk about how important it is to trust Jesus even when you can’t see your next step… But I want to go on with the story!


Next they hear a voice come out of the cloud saying this is My Son, My Chosen, listen to Him!” The same words God had spoken at Jesus baptism with an addition. “Listen to Him” And then Jesus was alone. The prophets were gone.

We could talk about how these words showed that Peter wanting to build three dwellings was an incorrect response because the prophets are not on the same level as Jesus. They are gone now and God is doing a new thing and the most important thing is to listen to Jesus.

But I want to move on because we are nearly to the end of this particular faith story!


They told no one what they had seen. Who would have believed them if they had? But they have been on the mountain top. They have seen the prophets of old, and they have heard the voice of God. When you think about it, no wonder Peter wanted to stick around. Have you ever had a mountaintop experience? Something happens that gives you such peace and joy and you just wish it would last! But if life was nothing but a mountaintop experience, then we would not need God. We would not appreciate the spiritual high because we would not have the low to compare it to and a faith that is never tested is not a very strong faith.

Now they climbed back down from this mountain and when they got to the bottom there was a crowd waiting.

We could talk about why were they just waiting at the bottom of the mountain? If they really wanted to see Jesus why didn’t they put in a little effort – climb up to find him?

But I want to finish this story so we can all go home!


A man comes out of the crowd asking Jesus to look at his son who has a demon. Now just recently, Jesus had given the disciples power and authority to heal and minister. The man had asked them to help his son but they could not and Jesus has some pretty harsh words! You faithless and perverse generation! How long must I be with you? Then he rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the child and gave him back to his father.

Wow!

I’m tempted to think critical of the disciples but maybe this little weird addition after the mountaintop experience is here to remind us that all of us individuals or corporately as the church, have times when we are so close to heaven that we can almost touch the fingers of God and how often does that happen and then it seems like moments later, someone is complaining about the music or the bulletin or how church is too hot or too cold and did you see what she wore to church last Sunday??

We come down from the mountain and unclean spirits are waiting at the bottom, nipping at our heels or our hearts. Day to day life descends like a cloud on our heads.


And that is why we need these faith stories. These old stories that remind of of who we are and whose we are and that even those who walked on earth with Jesus and heard the very voice of God in the cloud, still had feet of clay and stumbled and backslid and didn’t always understand just like us. So like Peter we keep keeping on anyway, we fall down and get back up, say inappropriate things, don’t love the way we should, repent and keep listening for Jesus.

In the days that followed, there would be troubles. Jesus was arrested, Peter denied knowing Him, Jesus was beaten and suffered. I imagine the disciples in hiding, frightened, worried not knowing if they were to be next and was this the end? And then someone would start talking about being on the mountaintop. And how Jesus was greater than the prophets of old and that God himself spoke and said Jesus was His chosen son. And as they told and retold the story, their faith was made stronger. That is what our faith stories do for us!


When we read through these events we see a kind of pattern. Something good happens, something bad happens, something good, something bad. The good and bad are constantly held in tension and isn’t that the way our lives go? Especially our spiritual lives! The moments we feel strongest in our faith, something happens to test it! But we know how this story ends! Jesus dies, but he is raised again. God keeps His promises and we will experience death just as Jesus did but because Jesus was raised so too will we go on to eternal life. The veil isn’t needed anymore! Jesus ripped it away and as long as we listen to HIM, through the Holy Spirit, we can have understanding, we can hold to our faith, and we can learn to see each other as God sees us!


Quote

I want to leave you with a quote from Robert Benson:
“That in the end, my sin will never outweigh God’s love. That the Prodigal can never outrun the Father. That I am not measured by the good I do but by the grace I accept. That being lost is a prerequisite to being found. That living a life of faith is not lived in the light, it is discovered in the dark. That not being a saint here on earth will not necessarily keep you from being in that number when the march begins. “


Let us pray

Father we want to see your glory. We want to stay with you on the mountaintop often without actually having to climb the mountain. We forget that your glory lives in the ways we show your love to others. We want to be better listeners and to understand so that we can know your will for us and then because we understand, to do your will. We forget that if we want to know what the Father is doing, we have to listen to your Son. We long for the day when the cloud is gone and we not only hear your voice but see your face and know you fully and understand the depth of your love for each and every one of us as we are fully known by you. Amen

John 2:1-11&1 Cor12:1-11

This week both the epistle reading and the gospel reading seemed to fit together for me so I’m going to talk about both and hopefully pull them together for you at the end.

John 2:1-11

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so,  and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside  and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The story of Jesus turning water into wine gives us 3 things to think about and help us remember.

1. New life

2. New Covenant

3. New Revelation

1. New Life – Changing one element into something else can symbolize marriage – it brings new life out of two people who become one. The relationship between God and the Israelites was symbolized by marriage. Israel was repeatedly an unfaithful spouse and was sent into exile. Ezekiel 16 is very graphic in describing Jerusalem as an adulterous wife. Jesus represents new life and restored relationship with God.

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

Colossians 3:10 And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

2. New covenant – The old covenant was broken and time and time again, God’s people did not keep their part of the promise or contract. The stone jars were not for drinking water – they were for ceremonial washing of people and utensils. Jesus turning the water into wine proved that he had more than fulfilled the ceremonial cleansing.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Hebrews 10 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’”

3. New revelation – This miracle demonstrated the nature of God’s glory revealed through Christ. All of the stories and miracles and history of the old testament were wonderful and important and teach us so much about who we are and who God is, but this moment gives us a sneak peek into How God has saved the best for last.

Summing it up – Jesus brings us new life – we are free from the endless cycle of making and breaking promises to God. Jesus cleanses us – we are no longer sinners doomed to death. Jesus reveals God’s surprising and eternal nature and His glory.

And so we tell the stories of Jesus over and over. We read them for ourselves and I don’t know about you, but I find different things in those same stories year after year, maybe because God reaches out to us through His word right where and when we are. Spiritual needs change with the different seasons of our lives and so the same stories we have always heard take on new meanings and new depth.

Let us look at the epistle reading

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Concerning Spiritual Gifts
Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,  to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

It’s a little ironic that I am speaking to you this Sunday. During the Monday morning bible study as we read the lectionary reading for this week, Mark went around the table asking us what our spiritual gifts are. Miss Susie was kind – she said my gift was knowing what to say and how to say it. My interpretation was that I am a chatterbox. I do like to talk. Ask my husband…or maybe you should NOT ask my husband (even if my pastor says he has infinite wisdom!) But aside from talking – I love words! I love stories and poems and art and all of the ways that we as humans try to connect with each other. I love that I can read the same passage in the bible at different times in my life and see something different each time. An example is the reading for this week from the gospel of Mark. I have read that story many times but never until this week did I pick up on the water jars not being for drinking water but water for ceremonial cleaning of people and utensils.

I love the stories of Paul and his care of the churches that he planted, even though Paul sometimes reminds me of shoes that are too tight. Necessary but often uncomfortable!


In the case of the church at Corinth, there were serious problems. They were showing up, but they were what is called in today’s vernacular – a hot mess, and we know that they wrote to Paul about their problems and he wrote several letters back to them addressing those problems. Some of the problems in the early church were similar to the problems in the present day church. Sometimes we forget that the purpose of coming to church is NOT just to come to church!


I used to read this passage about gifts with a little dismay. Partly because I have heard so many sermons that spoke about gifts that seemed to be followed by a hint that I needed to get busy and figure out what my gift is and then do some kind of work in my church related to that gift. I worried too about whether or not I even had a gift! I would observe some of the more mature saints in the church and think, they are so much more capable, loving, spiritual…well you get the picture.

As gifts go, it was to me, a lot like getting clothes for my birthday instead of the pink glitter bike with pastel streamers and pretty basket on the front. I’ve taken spiritual gift surveys and had that same feeling of trepidation because with the answers might come expectations.

But Bible.org defines spiritual gifts as “the supernatural ability to carry out the work of Christ through his church.”

So if we take that definition at face value the question that has to be answered next is “What is the work of Christ” as it pertains to us.

Let’s look at Matthew 28:16-20

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In this passage, Jesus has been crucified, died, and has risen. The tomb is empty. The women have been told by the angel to go to Galilee and on the way there, Jesus appears to them and tells them to go to his brothers and tell them to go to Galilee too. Jesus appears to the disciples who at this point are probably at a loss as to what to do next. In my imagination, they are grieving the loss of their friend and teacher, afraid of what the future holds for them because of their association with Jesus, and in their humanness, wondering if they have not put all their hope on the wrong thing. Now Jesus shows up and wipes all that doubt away and gives them the very things they need – faith and purpose!

The work of Christ that we are to continue is to make disciples, baptizing and teaching them. Jesus appeared to His disciples and gave them this job so it follows that maybe to make disciples we have to BE disciples. We as individuals and as The Church can’t teach others to follow Christ if we are not following Christ ourselves.

Fast forward to Corinth where this little baby church is fighting over who they follow, doing things we don’t even whisper about in church, never mind do, and just basically in disorder and Paul wades in and tries to help them sort themselves out. He reminds them who they used to be and who they are now.

He pretty much says calm down, everyone is important, God works in everyone and that work is for all and the Spirit gives those gifts as HE pleases so no one can say they are better than anyone else or that their gift is better than any other gift.

It is in our nature is to compare ourselves to others. To think we have goodness because we are better in some way than someone else. That is a trap that puts us slap in the middle of the old covenant where rules and sacrifice and work were the cycle that made the ancient Israelites do right in the sight of the Lord and then do evil in the sight of the Lord.

Romans 7:19 says For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.

We are free from that trap because Jesus has made us ceremonially clean, he has given us a new covenant – we are right with God, not because of what we do, but because of what God has done through Christ. God saved the best for last!

When the kids were small we lived in Emberson and there was a field next to our yard with a pecan tree and in the spring the field was covered in daffodils. I looked out one day to check on the kids and saw Jessica sitting in the middle of the flowers picking handfuls.

I know you remember when your own children were small and they brought you a bunch of crushed daffodils or a picture they drew for you and that your heart was full. It was better than any expensive roses or painting because of who gave it to you and because it was given out of love. And just that way, these gifts that Paul wrote about are not just jobs or talents or responsibilities. They are the very manifestation of the Holy Spirit, the comforter and encourager that was given to us when Jesus went back to be with the Father.

They are given as He determines – so we don’t have to DO anything. We don’t have to try to have a gift. We don’t have to try to perfect a gift we think we might have. We just have to follow Christ. The Holy Spirit will take care of the gifts.

Paul tells them to listen for Jesus. It doesn’t matter who is actually doing the speaking. Listen for Christ being spoken into your life. Listen for the Holy Spirit. The actual gift doesn’t matter so much as the giver and the gift also doesn’t matter as much as what it accomplishes which is the work of Jesus Christ – which is following Jesus, through that Holy Spirit that is speaking to you – so closely that when someone looks at you, they see Jesus. When someone hears you speak, they hear God loving them. When someone sees your life, they see the manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Colossians 3:15-17

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

We are water being transformed into wine so that others will see the glory of God in us and believe. That my precious church, is our purpose!

Amen.

East Texas Winter

Texas winter can’t make up it’s mind
trying on weather and discarding
the too tight or out of style
as though it makes a difference
lacy white for a marriage that won’t last
as mud gets tracked in like so many
steps across a brown field
wind cuts through the truth and leaves
me wishing for a spring
that only teases it’s way into summer

Matthew 2:1-12


The Magi Visit the Messiah

2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for out of you will come a ruler

   who will shepherd my people Israel.”

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Merriam Webster defines Epiphany as: January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles

also:

a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something

an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking

an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure

a revealing scene or moment

I think an epiphany happens when your brain stops thinking because suddenly your heart understands!

So who were these guys anyway? These wise men, magi? Matthew’s gospel is vague. They were from the east. If you look back in the old testament, Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon had a bad dream and called his magi and enchanters to interpret it with major threats if they couldn’t. Daniel saved the day with an interpretation and dream from the Lord.

Pharaoh of Egypt also had a bad dream and when his magicians couldn’t interpret it, it was Joseph, a Hebrew exile in prison that gave him God’s interpretation.

So the ancient Jews who heard this story wouldn’t have blinked an eye at the idea of magi.

There is a joke about a little boy who returned from Sunday School with a new perspective on the Christmas story. He had learned all about the Wise Men from the East who brought gifts to the Baby Jesus. He was so excited he just had to tell his parents: “I learned in Sunday School today all about the very first Christmas! There wasn’t a Santa Claus way back then, so these three skinny guys on camels had to deliver all the toys!” And Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with his nose so bright wasn’t there yet, so they had to have this big spotlight in the sky to find their way around.”

The gifts that the wisemen brought to the manger must have been very costly but a bit impractical. It seems to me a crib and diapers and maybe an actual room would have made more sense. They came to the manger, worshipped for a short time and left their gold, frankincense and myrrh and went back home. Doesn’t it seem odd that they left so quickly? If you were truly wise, wouldn’t you have wanted to stick around? I mean, I don’t think you could have pried me away with a crowbar! The most important child ever to be born and you don’t stay to see what happens next? How foolish these wise men seem!

They were sent by Herod and it didn’t occur to them that his motives might be a bit suspicious? Luckily for the baby Jesus, they had a dream and knew to stay away from Herod. Of course Herod was crazy mad when they didn’t return to tell him where to find the child and to quote Frederick Buechner on Herod “For all his enormous power, he knew there was somebody in diapers more powerful still.” He was so mad that he ordered every boy child under the age of two killed. What an illustration of the wisdom of the foolish.

Can we find ourselves in this story? Are we the ones who come to discover Christ only to spend a short time worshipping and then go back to where and who we were? Do we bring our gifts to the manger and leave them thinking they are somehow important – forgetting that what Jesus wants most from us is our heart? Our life? Our everything? Are we wise in our own eyes? We have so much more than the wise men in this story. We have the benefit of the New Testament, preachers and books galore written by those who have spent years of their lives studying the bible and hours writing their thoughts about what they have studied. We have the whole story and yet how many of us would make a long journey on a camel on the chance we might catch a glimpse of a baby in a manger and then risk the wrath of a powerful king so that this baby would live.

But maybe, for all their wisdom. it was in the moment that they came to the manger, that they recognized who this baby was. Maybe they came face to face with the foolishness of their own wisdom and left forever changed by what they saw with their hearts.

I remember walking down a snow covered street at night in Michigan. How snow muffled sound and the sparkle from the moon on that snow. How the sky was so clear and in the silence it seemed like you could actually hear the stars. And how small and insignificant it made me feel.

I remember evenings in summer – that time before sunset but right where the light begins to change as the sun gets lower in the sky and the reflection on the lake that stretched to the horizon. I remember the sense of peace and security, the day winding down, knowing I would sleep and that same sun and lake would be there in the morning.

I remember the sound of my mother’s voice, calling us in from playing and how she looked, standing at the sink washing dishes while I dried and we had some of our most important conversations. A constant presence that anchored my life.

I can describe those things to you but I live somewhere else now and my mother has been gone for years. They are just foolish stories. They are words and facts. But in my heart these are truths. I can close my eyes and see with my heart and be right there.

I think of Thomas in the bible. We all know the story.

John 20:24-29

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

It doesn’t say that Thomas actually touched Jesus’ wounds. I picture him standing there face to face with the resurrected Christ. Hearing the sound of Jesus’ voice, close enough to touch him. And I think, in that moment, Thomas stopped seeing with his eyes and saw his Savior with his heart. Jesus became real and alive for him. Thomas wanted facts. What he got was truth.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 says

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Men who thought they were wise, journeyed to a stable and found wisdom in a story that should be considered foolish. A poor young couple with nowhere to stay bringing a child into a world of poverty, pain, oppression, danger….who’s purpose in living was to go from the manger to the cross for you and I and inbetween, loving, teaching, feeding and healing.

So as we turn from Christmas and move into the new year, we too have left our gifts and walked away from the manger. The Christmas decorations and nativity scenes have been packed away until next year. We no longer hear the bell ringing Salvation army volunteers outside the stores and in fact, the stores were already stocking Valentines cards and candy before the New Year celebration had ended. Family has returned home and the weather is cold and compared to the noise and busyness of Christmas, there is silence. In that silence, may we all be able to close our eyes and with our hearts, return to the manger. May we meet again and again, this tiny new baby and have our hearts so changed that we drop our gifts and run to tell the world about this hope. Camels are optional…May we read the stories about Him in the bible and see ourselves in those stories so they become alive for us. May I rediscover that I am the prodigal son, welcomed back by the Father with open arms after I have gone and made a pigsty of my life; that I am Zacchaeus the thief who climbed up a tree hoping to get a peek through the leaves at this Jesus and found myself with an amazing dinner partner. That I am the disciple who had enough faith to step out of the boat onto the waves, but not enough to keep me from sinking without Jesus. May we, like Thomas, discover our risen savior and recognize the truth of Him with our hearts even when the wisdom of the world would tell us that none of this makes sense. It makes no sense that God would be born into a manger, walk the earth and suffer and die and be resurrected for ME! For YOU! But my heart tells me it’s true. My Lord and my God!

Father may we bring the gifts of our doubts, our foolishness, our homesickness for something we can’t even articulate and lay them at the manger and walk out into the world with the wisdom and truth that is Jesus Christ, your Son who comes to take away the sin of the world, to make us righteous, holy and redeemed. Help us live as a grateful people who love you and through our words and actions, to live every day as your foolish and broken but beloved children in our own walks from Christmas to Easter.  Amen.

Build, Plant, Pray

Jeremiah is the longest book in the bible. I always thought it was Psalms but it turns out that Jeremiah has the largest word count. Much of it is not a happy story so I started out wondering why I was so determined to find Jesus in Jeremiah. Why would I want to talk about such a depressing time at the beginning of Advent?

As I studied Jeremiah this week, I kept remembering something my mother used to say. “There is nothing new under the sun” What she was telling me was that no matter how new and different I might think my generation was, we were the same old thing, just dressed up a little different. Underneath, rebellion has always been with us, people do good, people do bad, seasons change and people remain basically the same. So as we talk about this time in history, we can see (as we often do in the bible) similarities to ourselves.

The Lord had brought his people out of slavery, led them out of the out of Egypt and that story could have ended “and they dwelled in peace and loved the Lord and lived happily ever after.” But the bible doesn’t end after the Israelites are rescued.

We fast forward to the time of Jeremiah, and the temple has stood in Jerusalem for 300 years, but the people had drifted far away from God. They made gods of their own.

Jeremiah 16:20 tells us
…O LORD, my strength and my fortress, my refuge in the day of distress, the nations will come to You from the ends of the earth, and they will say, “Our fathers inherited nothing but lies, worthless idols of no benefit at all.” Can man make gods for himself? Such are not gods! “Therefore behold, I will inform them, and this time I will make them know My power and My might; then they will know that My name is the LORD.”…

God spoke to Jeremiah and told him he was to prophecy and Jeremiah tried to convince God that he was not the man for the job. He was young. He didn’t know what to say. God told him that He himself would give him the words to say. God told him not to marry so Jeremiah just got news that might not have been too exciting. He was going to be alone, and his calling was to tell people things they didn’t want to hear. So Jeremiah begins a not so fun career of telling the Jews, particularly the leaders, that God is going to give them over to their enemies. Jeremiah was the only real prophet at the time and his competition was telling people that God is with them and they will have peace and victory over Babylon so Jeremiah was preaching a message that was pretty unpopular. The people were enjoying their status as God’s people without living up to the reality. Talking the talk without walking the walk. They were not listening. They made gods of their own and there was no justice in the land.

Much of the book is a series of warnings and advice. There are a lot of If/Then statements.

If the people return to God, then God will give them Godly leaders. If there is one honest person among them, God will forgive them. If they reform their ways, then God will allow them to live in the land. If they stop worshipping other gods, then God will not harm them. If they will call on God, then God will listen to them. If they will seek God with all their hearts, then God will be found by them and rescue them from captivity.

Jeremiah’s ministry did not draw crowds unless you count the ones who wanted to kill him. He didn’t inspire people to give up their wealth so he could buy a jet plane (though he did get travel, he got kidnapped). He didn’t preach to a megachurch or have his own TV show or wear a rolex.

Jeremiah questions God throughout his ministry. He wonders why the people plot against him. He asks for vengeance on the wicked who prosper, to heal him, to save him, to put his persecutors to shame.

Jeremiah travels around and speaks to kings, priests, leaders, and anyone else he can find. Over and over you read his warnings, his advice and the peoples’ response and you see that through Jeremiah, God gives the people chance after chance for His people to follow His voice and keep His covenant. But the people didn’t listen. Everything that Jeremiah prophesied came true. Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Jews, the temple was destroyed, the city was burned. The Babylonians set up a new governor and went home. The governor was assassinated and the Jews asked Jeremiah what to do. Their choices were to stay were they were or go to Egypt as refugees. Jeremiah told them that the Lord had promised that if they stayed in their land they would be ok. They will live in peace under Babylonian rule. But they go their own way and so God brings the Babylonians against Egypt and again things do not go well with the Jews.

The people are marched 500 miles though desert to Babylon where they are in exile from their home, no temple, no one speaking their language, surrounded by foreign idols, and there were still false prophets who were telling them exactly what they wanted to here. That they would not be in exile for long. Jeremiah wrote to the exiles and told them they would be in Babylon for 70 years, and that God wanted them to marry and have children and multiply and flourish. They were to pray for the city where they lived (their enemies!) because if that place flourished, so would they.

This seems like odd advice to refugees. Bloom where you’re planted people. Things are not the way you want but don’t have a fit, don’t throw a pity party. Pray for your captors and get on with your life. I have to admit, that part about praying for the people that burned your city, destroyed your temple and marched you off to a foreign land, caught me off guard. But it was practical. They were going to be there for a long time. To wish calamity on the place you are are stuck in doesn’t make sense, does it?

We all have experience types of exile. Sometimes we are in situations of our own creation which is doubly troubling. An encounter with one of your children where you feel like anything but the picture you had of yourself as a parent. Waking up and realizing that you are in debt and you know you got yourself there but how are you going to get out? Times when you are in exile from yourself or at least the self you wanted to be.

Sometimes we are in exile through situations out of our control. The marriage that falls apart, the doctor who sadly tells us the test results are serious. The job, where we walk in only to receive a pink slip. We feel like we are in exile, alone. And maybe we feel the need to drop out of life for awhile.

But Jeremiah drops you a note that says build, plant, marry, pray. God tells us to live our lives, find purpose, be part of a community.

This is great though not always easy to follow advice to us as individuals but what about us as The Church? Does it feel sometimes like the church is experiencing exile? We definitely live in a land of idols and sometimes it seems like the world is speaking a different language. A language that says achieve, gain financial success, protect your own and it’s fine to go to church on Sunday but don’t give me that Jesus stuff at work or on my way to the bank or when I’m shopping at a Walmart on a crowded Saturday. even church has become a social thing – go to the right church, buy the right products, dress the right way, Sing the right songs, sit in the right pew…Don’t be squirming about the pew – it’s ok, we are all creatures of habit. DO things and you will be accepted by who? God? Other people? Do we still gravitate to those who say what we want to hear? Do we still worship our gods of our own making?

Now we come to the part of Jeremiah that speaks to the future. Jeremiah writes to the Jews in exile.
Jeremiah 31:31-34
The New Covenant
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jeremiah writes words of comfort to the exiles. He tells them they will be there for 70 years but there will be an end to exile. Meeting with God will no longer be dependent on a place – the temple, but they would know God directly through His son. Todays scripture.

Jeremiah 33:14-16 New International Version (NIV)
14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
15
“‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
16
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

God had a plan for them AND for us. There would come a time when there will be no more exile. Sin and death has been defeated, and God has written His law on our hearts and and now He will be our God and we will be His people. So we begin this season of preparing for a savior to be born by first realizing how badly we need Him. We have been given chance after chance after chance and still our human nature causes us to try to do good all on our own. We try to fashion our own gods, whether is be our job, our families, or our STUFF. We dismiss or minimize our own sin by pointing at our neighbors and saying but look! At least I’m not as bad as those people! We place ourselves in exile. We strive and grasp and forget what God has already done for us. So as the church, we stay in the Jesus, build community, plant seeds of the love and grace and salvation of Christ Jesus, and pray for those who are at the least, unkind to us. It may feel like we are in exile sometimes but God has promised an end to that and the work is already done.

Ephesians 2:10 tells us “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Luke 22:20
And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (there He is – Jesus! The new covenant Jeremiah spoke of!)

So let’s be quiet. Be at peace, experience true glory, real and unexplainable love, and take refuge in knowing that God has sent a savior, to all of us. To you and you and you, and even to me.

I found this poem by Ann Weems months ago and tucked it aside for the right moment and I want to close by sharing it with you now.

The Christmas spirit
is that hope
Which tenaciously clings
To the hearts of the faithful
And announces 
in the face
Of any Herod the world can produce
And all the inn doors slammed into our faces
And all the dark nights of our souls
That with God
All things are still possible,
That even now

Unto us
A Child is born!

Amen!

Ruth and a Leap of Faith

In the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy has to pass through three booby traps to get to the grail. His father is mortally wounded by bad guy Donovan to force Indy to to risk his life in the traps. In one scene Indy is standing in the opening of the side of a mountain with nothing but sheer cliff face above and below him. He needs to get across a chasm and there is nothing but air. He closes his eyes and quietly says to himself, “it’s a leap of faith”. He then steps out on air and it becomes solid under his feet! A bridge is now visible and he can now see his next step. But until he took the first step there was nothing.

Some of us are planners. Some of us spend a lot of time flying by the seat of our pants. My husband likes order. He will ask me in the morning before I have finished my coffee, what do I want for supper. I don’t know! In fact I don’t know much of anything before I have my coffee! I get tickled at Mark (my pastor) and Marion (I’m probably going to get in trouble now!) But Mark is definitely a planner. He likes order. He amazes me how he will usually even have the timing down. And Marion? Well it is not that she doesn’t plan because I know she does, but her general approach to life is take the next step and then see what comes after that.  In fact, I remember her family saying – the plan unfolds as it happens! What tickles me is watching them together. I have found that Marion and I tend to make Mark a little crazy sometimes.  I KNOW I make my husband a little crazy! But today I am going to see a little validation for just taking the next step.

Maybe one day I will be able to stick with the snippet of scripture we are given in the lectionary readings but so far that has not happened. I get interested in “the rest of the story” Lately I have been studying the old testament through the filter of watching for things that point to Jesus and it has changed the way I see most of the readings.

Today I am going to give the condensed version of  the book of Ruth and I hope you will join me in mining for gold as we walk it out and see if there is anything pointing us to the Jesus who was there at creation, was promised in the old testament, lived and died so that we also could have eternal life, who sent the Holy Spirit to abide with us, and will return for us because our creator has never and will never, ever, ever leave us alone.

Elimelech was married to Naomi and they lived in Bethlehem. They had two sons Mahlon and Chilion. They moved to Moab because of a famine in Bethlehem and Elimelech died there. Their sons married Moabite women – Orpah and Ruth. After ten years both sons died. In that time and culture women alone had no support so Naomi with no husband or sons decides to go back to Bethlehem where she came from and where she had heard that  “The Lord had visited His people by giving the bread.” . Ruth 1:6

**In the future the Lord will visit His people and give them food only then He will not only provide bread, He will BE the bread – Jesus said “I am the bread of life”

Naomi believes the hand of God is against her.  She tells her daughter-in-laws to stay and find themselves new husbands to care for them.

Orpah stays but Ruth refuses to leave Naomi and even though Naomi tries to talk her out of it, knowing she has nothing to offer the young woman, Ruth is determined.

Naomi and Ruth go to Bethlehem at harvest time. In those days, the harvesters would leave a little in the field and the poor could come along and pick it up.

 Ruth asks Naomi to let her go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain. As it turned out she was “gleaning” in the field of Boaz. Boaz was a wealthy relative of Naomi’s husband. Boaz finds out who Ruth is and tells her to stay with the women who work with him – apparently this could be a dangerous undertaking for a woman alone  and Boaz tells the men to not touch Ruth so she will be safe as she picks up the grain. Ruth is grateful but asks why he is being so kind to her. Boaz had heard how Ruth had stayed with and cared for her mother-in-law. He makes sure Ruth has something to eat and drink and plenty of grain to take back to Naomi. In 2:12 Boaz says “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”

**God’s provision often comes through the love and faithfulness of His obedient servants!

When Ruth comes home with all this grain Naomi asks where the field was that Ruth got the grain from and when Ruth tells her where and how Boaz had been kind to her, Naomi blesses him and tells Ruth it is good that she stay in that field because she might be harmed elsewhere. She tells Ruth that Boaz is their relative and their “guardian-redeemer”

The phrase guardian-redeemer is a legal term for someone who has the obligation toredeem a relative facing extreme hardship Leviticus 25:35-37 says  ‘If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you.  You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.

Naomi sees that Boaz likes Ruth and tells Ruth what to to and Ruth obeys. Boaz ends up marrying Ruth and Ruth has a son – Obed who grows up to be the father of Jesse who is the father of David. The son is born in Bethlehem.

**Boaz redemption of Ruth foreshadows Christ’s redemption of His people .

In Chapter 4 verse 15 the women of the town bless Naomi, saying the son of Ruth and Boaz “shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourish of your old age”

**The renewal of Naomi’s life is only a foretaste of the complete restoration of eternal life that would be accomplished through God’s son.

So, while Ruth is a short book – only 5 and a half pages in my large print bible, there are many things that point us forward to the New Testament and Jesus Christ.

We finish with some of the most famous and beautiful words in the book of Ruth – Ruth 1:16-17

“Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people will be my people, and thy God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. The Lord do so to me and more also. if anything but death parts you and me.”

What a beautiful picture of abiding in Jesus. This world brought trials to Naomi and Ruth but Ruth became more than a daughter-in-law to Naomi. She chose to become her daughter – truly her family. The logical, worldly thing to have done would have been to remain in her homeland and find a husband to care for her but she chose to stay with and care for Naomi and to step out in faith, to accept Naomi’s God as her own and her life was completely changed.

**God’s family is built on faith – not nationality. Ruth, a non-Israelite from Moab is an ancestor of Jesus

She was more than Naomi’s daughter in word, she went to work to see that there was food. She acted on her faith and her love for Naomi. She listened to and obeyed her mother-in-law and that obedience lead to her having a husband, a son and a new life that blessed her and Naomi and at a future time – all of us!

Like Naomi’s daughter-in-laws we are free to choose. We can stay where we are comfortable and safe and I am not saying that is completely bad…or we can take that first step on an adventure with our faith and the more I read my bible the more I see how true a description the word adventure is. God will always surprise me.

At the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade they reach the Grail chamber only to find dozens of cups – all different. Only the true grail brings life. The antagonist chooses a princely grail, gold and student with jewels and when bad guy Donovan drinks from it, he ages into dust. Indy chooses the true grail, a plain pewter cup and after being warned by the ancient knight who has been guarding the grail that it cannot be taken beyond the temple entrance, Indy carries it to his father who is instantly healed when he drinks from it. Elsa who had been hanging out with bad guy Donovan tries to leave with the grail and falls to her death. Indy nearly falls into the same trap but his father persuades him to let it go and they escape the temple and ride off into the sunset. Often what looks like the good choice from worldly perspective is the opposite and sometimes we hang on to things to tightly. Our faith wasn’t meant to be something we hoard – it was meant to be shared. Some things are meant to stay in the temple but we aren’t. We are supposed to go out to a world that needs us to be Ruth, to be Naomi, to be Boaz.

How would we be changed if we pursued God with the determination that Ruth had? What if we made the choice to leave the world we are familiar with behind and how would our world change if we were all to choose to make that kind of commitment to abide in Christ – to go wherever Christ would go, for Christ’ people to be our people, to be Jesus for those in need in a broken world.

When Ruth determined to stick with Naomi, she had no idea how things were going to turn out. She didn’t know that she would marry and have a son. She just saw the next step and she took it.

Deuteronomy 33:27 tells us “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms”

Father help us to remember your everlasting arms. John 15:6 reminds us that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches and that we can do nothing without staying connected to and having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

We know that there will be trials, famines, and loss, but your Word assures us that underneath – your everlasting arms are there holding us and all we have to do it trust you and take that first step in obedience. You have already provided the bridge across the chasm.

Never

I never knew
that red anger
clangs like loose tin
in a windstorm
cutting the air as it sings with venom
or that white hot hate would stripe
the backs of humanity wielded
by those who can
or that blue bruises
would darken hearts
and stiffen hands that can’t
gentle a troubled world.