Tuesday, August 31, 2010

judgment and trouble

Good morning friends,
It's another day in New Orleans after a good, hard day of work yesterday and wonderful devotions led by Rock and Jake. This morning's reading is hard. There's not much hope in this reading, so it can be easy to let it be discouraging. We read something like this and think about the devastation we see here in New Orleans and we wonder what God could be up to. I don't believe God sends hurricanes to punish us for our sins. At the same time, the hurricanes here shined light on our sin as a nation: sins of division and selfishness; sins of neglecting the poor and oppressed; sins of forgetting about our brothers and sisters. Israel faced some of the same sins and faced God's judgment for that. God loves all his creatures so when we selfishly treat people badly God weeps and sorrows for our heard hearts. Judgement is real even if it doesn't come through a hurricane; we are all accountable to God for how we use the amazing gift of our life and how we care for others.

And even though we don't see it in this passage, God is with us. God sends messengers like Jeremiah out of love and in Jesus God walks the darkest parts of human life. God is with us to challenge our selfishness and to call us back to true life. God is with us in our ministry and our daily routine. God is with us in other people: people offering us hope, people asking for our help, people showing us God's way. Let us trust God and seek to serve others in love, no matter what trouble we walk through.

God bless,

Jeremiah 16:1-14
The word of the Lord came to me: 2You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. 3For thus says the Lord concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bear them and the fathers who beget them in this land: 4They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried; they shall become like dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall become food for the birds of the air and for the wild animals of the earth. 5For thus says the Lord: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament, or bemoan them; for I have taken away my peace from this people, says the Lord, my steadfast love and mercy.

6Both great and small shall die in this land; they shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them; there shall be no gashing, no shaving of the head for them. 7No one shall break bread for the mourner, to offer comfort for the dead; nor shall anyone give them the cup of consolation to drink for their fathers or their mothers. 8You shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink. 9For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to banish from this place, in your days and before your eyes, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.

10And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, “Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?” 11then you shall say to them: It is because your ancestors have forsaken me, says the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law; 12and because you have behaved worse than your ancestors, for here you are, every one of you, following your stubborn evil will, refusing to listen to me. 13Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your ancestors have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.

Monday, August 30, 2010

the kingdom feast

Good morning friends,
Today is the first of these readings from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance camp at Olive Tree. You can follow our trip at our blog. This morning's reading shows us another piece of dinner-time discussion with Jesus. Jesus has just told the guests that they should give dinners for the poor and crippled instead of for their friends. This morning begins with someone's response to that: the speaker says, "Blessed is anyone who eats bread in the kingdom of God." Jesus responds with a story about God's invitation to the kingdom feast. The irony is that none of the folks who were invited to the feast came to eat. Everyone had something else that was more important than the feast. We want to be with God, but how do our daily choices fit with that bigger choice? The question isn't God's invitation; it's whether we show up.

God bless,

Luke 14:15-24
15One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’

21So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” 23Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”

Sunday, August 29, 2010

repent and invite

Good morning sisters and brothers,
As you go about this coming week, please keep those of us heading to New Orleans in your prayers as well as the Gulf coast as we remember the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Our reading from Jeremiah criticizes Israel for not listening to God's rebuke. Israel's sin would have been a problem on its own, but to that they added the fault of silencing the prophets God sent to warn them. When Jeremiah predicts that Egypt will shame Israel that's a reference to a group of leaders in Israel who sought protection in an alliance with Egypt. Jeremiah warns that this attempt is doomed; protection is found in God, not in Egypt.

Our reading from Luke is an interesting reflection on social custom. In particular the instruction not to invite friends when you give a dinner is challenging. How can we widen our community to include more people and more kinds of people? What blessings will we find when we do?

God bless,

Jeremiah 2:29-37
29Why do you complain against me? You have all rebelled against me, says the Lord. 30In vain I have struck down your children; they accepted no correction. Your own sword devoured your prophets like a ravening lion. 31And you, O generation, behold the word of the Lord! Have I been a wilderness to Israel, or a land of thick darkness? Why then do my people say, “We are free, we will come to you no more”? 32Can a girl forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number. 33How well you direct your course to seek lovers! So that even to wicked women you have taught your ways.

34Also on your skirts is found the lifeblood of the innocent poor, though you did not catch them breaking in. Yet in spite of all these things 35you say, “I am innocent; surely his anger has turned from me.” Now I am bringing you to judgment for saying, “I have not sinned.” 36How lightly you gad about, changing your ways! You shall be put to shame by Egypt as you were put to shame by Assyria. 37From there also you will come away with your hands on your head; for the Lord has rejected those in whom you trust, and you will not prosper through them.

*Sunday Luke 14:1, 7-14
1On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8"When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place', and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

12He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Saturday, August 28, 2010

breaking God's yoke

Good morning brothers and sisters,
I'd like to begin our reading with a reminder about our ecumenical worship service at the Rochester Airport tomorrow morning at 10 am to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and to mark the beginning of our latest rebuilding trip. It should be an exciting service with elements of confession, renewal and comfort. See the website for more details.

Today's reading continues God's sorrow for Israel. Here we see a return to images of infidelity, an important image in several of the prophets for the way Israel has betrayed God's love. Jeremiah portrays Israel as responding to God's accusation with a mixture of guilt and denial. On the surface that seems like a strange combination, at the same time I think in my own life I sometimes feel above accusations like this, denying that I have gone astray. Other times I feel guilty for not following God the way I want to, and that guilt can separate me further from God because I am ashamed of how I have wasted so many opportunities.

A sense of guilt is useful when it reminds us of our failures and leads us back to God, but often it's the guilt itself that makes us feel like we can't be right with God and even makes us turn away further out of a sense of despair. The truth is that no matter what we've done, God loves us and wants us to come back home. God gives us the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit gives us the strength to turn back and choose the right path again. We break God's yoke and choose selfishness over service, but time and again Jesus calls us back saying, "Come to me you who are heavy burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am meek and lowly. My yoke is easy and my burden is light."

God bless,

Jeremiah 2:20-28
20For long ago you broke your yoke and burst your bonds, and you said, “I will not serve!” On every high hill and under every green tree you sprawled and played the whore. 21Yet I planted you as a choice vine, from the purest stock. How then did you turn degenerate and become a wild vine? 22Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, says the Lord God. 23How can you say, “I am not defiled, I have not gone after the Baals”? Look at your way in the valley; know what you have done— a restive young camel interlacing her tracks, 24a wild ass at home in the wilderness, in her heat sniffing the wind! Who can restrain her lust? None who seek her need weary themselves; in her month they will find her.

25Keep your feet from going unshod and your throat from thirst. But you said, “It is hopeless, for I have loved strangers, and after them I will go.” 26As a thief is shamed when caught, so the house of Israel shall be shamed— they, their kings, their officials, their priests, and their prophets, 27who say to a tree, “You are my father,” and to a stone, “You gave me birth.” For they have turned their backs to me, and not their faces. But in the time of their trouble they say, “Come and save us!” 28But where are your gods that you made for yourself? Let them come, if they can save you, in your time of trouble; for you have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah.

Friday, August 27, 2010

living water

Good morning friends,
This passage continues God's lament about Israel's faithlessness. There're are two main images in this passage that are related. One is the image of exchange: Israel has exchanged it's true God for false gods. The other image is futility: the things Israel has taken up are useless; things that don't profit instead of things of true value that God gave them. My favorite example in this passage is the image of the people abandoning God, the fountain of living water and making broken cisterns (water containers) for themselves that don't hold water.

How many of our choices come down to something like this? How often do we chose something new and shiny that turns out to be junk? How often do we try to set up our lives on our own instead of seeking the true life we only find in God? Fortunately, Jesus offers us that living water again. Jesus promises to give us water that will satisfy us entirely. It's never too late to come to the living waters of God. Come be refreshed.

God bless,

Jeremiah 2:9-19
9Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord, and I accuse your children’s children. 10Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. 11Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. 12Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, 13for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.

14Is Israel a slave? Is he a homeborn servant? Why then has he become plunder? 15The lions have roared against him, they have roared loudly. They have made his land a waste; his cities are in ruins, without inhabitant. 16Moreover, the people of Memphis and Tahpanhes have broken the crown of your head. 17Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the Lord your God, while he led you in the way? 18What then do you gain by going to Egypt, to drink the waters of the Nile? Or what do you gain by going to Assyria, to drink the waters of the Euphrates? 19Your wickedness will punish you, and your apostasies will convict you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God; the fear of me is not in you, says the Lord God of hosts.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

marital problems

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's reading tells the story of Israel's youth as a nation, of her first love for God and God's care for her. God wonders where things went wrong, why Israel has abandoned being God's bride to follow other gods. This bridal image is a common metaphor for God and Israel and for God and the church. There's great depth in it because marriage is a rich and complicated relationship, as is our relationship with God. There are all kinds of distractions in the world that tempt us from God. Often the things we want are part of God's plan for us, things God wants us to enjoy. The question is, are we seeking things as part of our relationship with God or are we seeking things instead of our relationship with God? When we stray God always calls us home again.

God bless,

Jeremiah 2:1-8
The word of the Lord came to me, saying: 2Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. 3Israel was holy to the Lord, the first fruits of his harvest. All who ate of it were held guilty; disaster came upon them, says the Lord. 4Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel.

5Thus says the Lord: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? 6They did not say, “Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” 7I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. 8The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

under God's wing

Good morning all,
This morning's reading is an interesting one because we usually think of the Pharisees as enemies of Jesus and here they are warning him to run because Herod is looking for him. When I was getting ready to preach on this passage a few months ago I looked through Luke and noticed that the Pharisees, while they often criticize and question Jesus, are not the leaders mentioned once we get to Jerusalem and start talking about actually killing him. Maybe for them opposition to Jesus didn't get that radical. Jesus response to the warning is also telling. It doesn't matter who is after him because his work isn't done yet (and in fact, his work includes dying.)

Jesus laments over Jerusalem because this special city of God so often turns away from God's calling and rejects the voices God sends to bring her home. How often is it the same story in the church? We have a special sense of God's calling, but sometimes for that reason we are less willing to listen to challenging voices. Maybe those challenging, questioning voices are God trying to gather us under her wings. I pray that we would keep an open ear for that calling, that we would finally come home and nestle under God's comforting wing.

God bless,

Luke 13:31-35
31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Monday, August 23, 2010

coming to the kingdom

Good morning all,
I'm off on vacation a little later this morning, but the readings should continue more or less on schedule. I'll be reachable by email or voice mail if you need me. This morning is a challenging reading. On the one hand Jesus talks about the kingdom of God as a mustard seed or a bit of yeast; images that seem to point to it being sometimes hidden but ultimately wide-ranging in influence. On the other hand he uses images of a narrow door and people being locked out of the master's house. These images seem to say that it's hard to get into the kingdom. At the same time that he talks about the people locked out of the kingdom, he also says that people will come from east and west to eat in the kingdom and that many who are last will be first and the first last.

Maybe the idea is less about how difficult it is to get in and more about the surprising people who come to God's kingdom. People we don't expect will be in the kingdom and others who expect that they will be there will not. Jesus spent a lot of his ministry reaching out to people left out by society. He also spent plenty of time criticizing the religious leaders and those society thought well of. God's kingdom isn't set up like our kingdoms and we don't get to chose who's in or out. Like a mustard seed or bit of yeast, the kingdom's presence today is easy to miss. One day the kingdom will be obvious and it will be clear that it is the place to be. Are our words and actions today preparing us to accept God's kingdom? Are we looking for what God is doing today.


Luke 13:18-30
18He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” 20And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” 22Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.

23Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, 24“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. 25When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ 28There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. 29Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. 30Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

calling and ministry

Good morning friends,
Our first reading presents Jeremiah's calling to be a prophet. Many of the prophets include the story of how they were called to their ministry. In many cases, like here, they were reluctant to take up the mission. Jonah is the extreme case, running in the opposite direction from where God sent him, but we see Jeremiah too protesting that he doesn't have what it takes. The key to Jeremiah's ministry and to ours is that it's not just Jeremiah or us doing the ministry. God is with us in our calling, guiding, pushing, comforting, challenging, strengthening.

Our passage from Luke gives us an example of ministry that challenges the rules because of God's calling. Jesus sees a woman trapped in bondage to illness and sees it as part of the ongoing struggle between God and the evil powers of the world. The religious leader is upset because Jesus is healing on the sabbath. Jesus makes it clear that the law is important, but that it isn't a chain to prevent ministry. Jesus looks at places in the law where it's clear the absolute rest of the sabbath is disturbed: livestock are led to water, animals are untied, if an animal is in danger it is rescued. These pieces of "work" don't break the sabbath, they merely allow sabbath rest for the animal. Jesus argues that this is what he's doing when he heals the woman. He isn't working on the sabbath, he is removing Satan's chains from the woman so that she may have a share of God's rest after 18 years of bondage.

May God always help us to see the truth in every situation and to act with his love. God bless,

Jeremiah 1:1-10
The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, 2to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. 3It came also in the days of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah son of Josiah of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.

4Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 6Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” 9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Luke 13:10-17
10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." 15But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

prayer and grace

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's reading concludes the Letter to the Hebrews with some comforting words and with greetings for the community. The author mentions Timothy, which led to a tradition that this letter comes from Paul. Most scholars don't think this is the case, and even in the second century there were teachers who admitted that they didn't know who had written this letter. That makes it hard to understand the context for it, but the letter reveals enough that we can understand what it said to its first readers and what it has to say to us today.

I love how the author encourages the readers to pray for him so that he will be able to accomplish God's calling for him. The prayers of the community are powerful. Sometimes we think religious leaders are the ones who are supposed to pray, and certainly we are supposed to pray, but the calling to pray is universal. I've heard it said, "If you want a better pastor, pray for the one you have." That's sort of what this leader is saying. Those in leadership need the prayers of the community for their leadership and ministry to be effective. For any ministry to succeed prayer is important. Prayer can do surprising things because we serve a surprising God. The author reminds us that God brought Jesus back from the dead to be our great shepherd and to bring us into the new covenant. God can raise the dead and God can give us power in our ministry today.

God bless,

PS: As we're talking about prayer I would encourage you to keep our Muslim brothers and sisters in prayer as they observe Ramadan this month (started August 11). This is a challenging time of year to fast all day, but that is what many of them are doing. Pray that God would give them strength in and through their fasting and that the time to reflect on the Qur'an would bring each of them closer to God.

Hebrews 13:18-25
18Pray for us; we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you very soon. 20Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 22I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been set free; and if he comes in time, he will be with me when I see you. 24Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy send you greetings. 25Grace be with all of you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

out in the open

Good morning friends,
This morning's reading wraps up the comparison the author has been making throughout the letter between the sacrifices and priesthood of the Law and the sacrifice and priesthood of Christ. Throughout the passage, since the author is referring all the way back to the original priestly laws in Leviticus while Israel was still wandering in the desert, he talks about a tent instead of a temple and a camp instead of the city. The line about the animals being burned outside the camp seems to suggest that even though these sacrifices sanctify the people in some way, in the end they are unclean, which is why they are burned outside the camp.

In contrast to the old sacrifices, Jesus was offered outside the city but truly sanctifies not only the people of Israel, but all who seek that forgiveness. Instead of going to the tent or temple to find cleansing the author calls us out of the city, out of our comfort zones, out of our isolated communities to suffer with Jesus. That, along with the encouragement to serve others by sharing, is a great image for evangelism and sharing. We aren't called to worship in closed tents with others like us; we are called to worship through service and witness outside the tent where those who don't know they are called will see us and find Christ's grace. So blessings to you today in your work outside the city that can give people a glimpse of God's love.

God bless,

Hebrews 13:9-17
9Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them. 10We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. 11For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. 17Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

encouragement and challenge

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Today our author moves towards the end of his letter with various pieces of encouragement for the flock. He encourages values like hospitality, love, fidelity, and contentment, grounding most of these virtues in scripture. The most challenging piece here for me is remembering those in prison. Paul, this author and Jesus all say that Christians should visit people who are in prison, but apart from ambulance calls I never go inside a prison. Here, the author encourages his readers to remember those in prison as if you were in prison with them. That wasn't a stretch for Christians in those times since many people were imprisoned for their faith. Paul is said to have written several of his letters from prison, as have important Christian leaders down to the present including Dietrich Bonhoeffer during Nazi rule and Martin Luther King Jr. in our own country. Prison and persecution are still a reality for many Christians in other parts of the world, but we are generally shielded from such things here. This passage challenges us never to forget those who suffer for their faith or for other reasons.

Our passage ends with the reminder that Jesus is always the same, in other words, we can count on him. It fits right in with the knowledge that God will never leave us and that "The Lord is our keeper. What can anyone do to us?" We are never alone in our calling; God is with us and God calls us forward today.


Hebrews 13:1-8
Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” 7Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

old and new covenants

Good morning everyone,
Today's reading is a challenging one, so we'll unpack it a bit; it might be easiest to read this paragraph by paragraph along with my notes. The opening paragraph talks about blazing fire and a voice the people couldn't bear to hear. This refers to Exodus 19, when the Law was revealed to Moses and the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai. God appeared to the people then like a lightning storm on top of the mountain. The whole mountain was declared holy so none of the people or animals could touch it, and the voice from heaven was powerful and terrifying. This is a reminder of how far above us God is.

The author of Hebrews doesn't bring us back to Mt. Sinai, but instead reminds us that in Jesus we come to the heavenly Jerusalem where we come to God instead of facing the separation our sin has meant in the past. In the Holy City we see the righteous people who went before us made perfect by Christ. Here we find a new covenant, not the Law of Moses, but the love of Jesus and the fellowship with God in his blood. That blood speaks a better word than Abel's because Abel's blood cried out Cain's guilt to God, but Christ's blood makes us innocent in God's eyes.

Even though the new covenant means we can come close to God, this covenant is still a call and a demand. The power of God speaking is still disturbing and we know one day the heavens and the earth will be made new by that word. Our calling is to listen for God's word, to worship faithfully and to live in love with God and with our neighbors. The command to love comes from God directly, so let us hear with grateful ears and follow our calling joyfully.

God bless,

Hebrews 12:18-29
18You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20(For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” 21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 2

2But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” 27This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

strength in hardship

Good morning friends,
Our author has just reminded the readers of Jesus' steadfastness in the face of opposition. Today he moves on to address their situation. It seems the Christians to whom Hebrews was written were discouraged and faced some kind of persecution. Elsewhere in the letter it mentions loss of property and here it says, "You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." The goal is to encourage them in their difficulties now so that even if the time comes later for them to shed blood for their faith they will be ready.

The author also compares the hardship these Christians are facing to a parent's discipline. It's sort of surprising to think of persecution under the heading of God's discipline, since persecution comes usually when we are doing right for God rather than doing something for which we need correction. Maybe the bigger point is that the suffering comes in the process of growing in faith and helps us in that growth process. The author's hope is that with proper encouragement and teaching these difficulties will build up the church rather than discourage them. I pray God would also turn our hardships into learning to deepen and strengthen our faith.

God bless,

Hebrews 12:4-17
4In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children— “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; 6for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.” 7Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? 8If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children.

9Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. 11Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

12Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. 14Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. 16See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears.

Monday, August 16, 2010

luck and repentance

Good morning brothers and sisters,
It's often said that Presbyterians don't believe in luck because we look to Calvin for our theological foundation and Calvin believed strongly in God's control over every aspect of the world. At the same time, this passage seems to me to open the door to luck. Jesus rejects the idea that bad things necessarily happen to bad people. At the same time Jesus says we all need to repent; when bad things happen to anyone it's a reminder that we might not have tomorrow to repent, so we shouldn't wait.

The lesson of the tree shows the same thing. There is some patience to allow us to bear fruit and to encourage us with tending and care. But whether today or next year eventually a day will come when we will be cut down if we don't bear fruit. Laurelton is a congregation with many gifts and many opportunities. God calls each of us to turn back to him and to bear fruit in ministry for others. Don't wait to change your life because we never know when it will be too late and the opportunity will be gone.

God bless,

Luke 13:1-9
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Sunday, August 15, 2010

the race set before us

Good morning sisters and brothers,
This morning gives us plenty to chew on. Our passage from Hebrews wraps up our tour of the heroes of scripture and leads us forward in faith. One of the things I love here is that these saints aren't mentioned as a model to be blindly followed or as a past for us to cling to. Instead they are seen as companions for the journey forward. They are examples, but our faithfulness in our time will look different. In all things we look ahead to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith so that we can run with perseverance the race set before us. This reading fits well with Jesus' words in Luke about interpreting the present age. These words have been especially important in the various movements of liberation theology. We are called to look specifically at our time in applying our faith. What is God up to now? What does God call us to do today? How do we respond to the challenges of our surroundings with justice and love for all people?

Jesus' words in Luke are challenging: "I come not to bring peace but division." I guess Jesus means that he proclaims the coming of God's kingdom in a new way. Some people will hear and respond to the radical faith in God he calls for and others will cling to lesser loyalties. We certainly see that in Jesus life: some follow enthusiastically; others oppose Jesus violently. At the same time I wonder what about those who are somewhere between these extremes. Jesus is always calling us, always demanding a decision to follow. In that sense we are either for or against Christ. At the same time God is at work within all of us to bring us closer, so even those who reject or can't hear Jesus' invitation now can be part of God's love working its way out in the world. God's love and invitation never end; we can always decide to follow.

God bless you in your discipleship today,

Hebrews 11:29-12:3
29By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

32And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

*Sunday Luke 12:49-59
49"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

54He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, 'It is going to rain'; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? 57“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. 59I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

Saturday, August 14, 2010

scary faith

Good morning all,
Our passage this morning continues with more examples of the power of faith. This really is a whirlwind tour of the Old Testament. Abraham continues to be one of the author's favorite example, this time not just for leaving home because of God's calling but for his willingness to offer Isaac in sacrifice to God. I've always felt fascinated and terrified by this story. After years of hoping for the son God promised, after the joy of finally having a son by Sarah and coming to love that son deeply, God called Abraham to take Isaac up to a mountain and offer him as a sacrifice. For those of you who are parents, this probably turns your stomach even more than it turns mine; I truly can't imagine the pain. Abraham is getting ready to sacrifice not only his son, but the fulfillment of the promise God made to him. It's terrifying and shocking, but it is also amazing faith.

We also see Moses as an example of faith: both his parents' faith in keeping him safe in defiance of Pharaoh's orders and his own faith in leaving privilege for the sake of solidarity with the oppressed. With Moses too we see someone hear God's calling and struggle with it. Moses doubts his ability to do what God calls him to do, but when he follows, he finds that God can work through him to do amazing things. That's a big part of what faith means: it means trusting that when God sends us somewhere he has our back. It means we are never alone and we aren't relying on our own strength in ministry. God is always with us; the future is in God's hands. Let us go forward in faith.

God bless,

Hebrews 11:17-28
17By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, 18of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” 19He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

20By faith Isaac invoked blessings for the future on Jacob and Esau. 21By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, “bowing in worship over the top of his staff.” 22By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions about his burial.

23By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

Friday, August 13, 2010

wandering after a promise

Good morning sisters and brothers,
This 11th chapter of Hebrews is a remembrance of some of the heroes of the faith. The author uses them as examples of faith to encourage the congregation to which he/she is writing. The paragraph before this recalls Abel, Enoch and Noah and their faith in God. Today the author moves on to Abraham, who gets more attention, both in scripture and in this narrative. The idea is that faith allows us to trust God's promises and to live by hope, looking forward to God's future even when our situation is hard. Abraham is a great example because he left everything he knew behind when God called him and set off into the unknown with just God's promise to follow.

The second paragraph moves from remembering Abraham to looking at the big picture. The big picture seems to be that people of faith make their home with God and make that relationship their priority. That means there's a sense in which we are all wanderers here on earth. We are home, but still looking for our true homeland, which is with God. This line of thinking makes me somewhat uncomfortable. Many of us have seen faith used to point people to heaven in a way that encourages them to ignore the reality of the present. That's the kind of faith Marx calls an opiate, and not without justification. We know from Jesus and the prophets that our faith calls us to be engaged and active here and now to make the world a better, more just place and to serve our neighbors. At the same time, Hebrews is right to remind us that this present life and home is not all there is. Our ultimate allegiance is to God, so we shouldn't be too comfortable here. Our goal is engagement without loosing sight of the fact that none of the things around us last forever. God is faithful and in the end our home is with him.

God bless,

Hebrews 11:8-16
8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”

13All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

God's vineyard

Good morning friends,
Our passage this morning shows that it wasn't just Jesus who used parables to teach. Isaiah sings what he calls a love song about his beloved's vineyard, but it seems more like a story than a love song. It's not just the story format that reminds us of Jesus; Jesus often encouraged his listeners to bear good fruit too. It's an analogy that makes sense. Israel was an agricultural society, so the concept would be familiar every-day stuff both for Isaiah's listeners and Jesus' listeners. God plants us and gives us good soil and abundant rain. Particularly with both Israel and the church, he specifically tends and cares for us. Our role is to bear fruit, to show in our lives that God's care isn't wasted on us, to return not only to God but to our neighbors as well, a harvest of love and justice.

This passage can serve as a call to repentance, an opportunity to examine our lives and see if we are bearing good fruit for God, and if not, to return to God. It can also be an invitation to think what we might need more of in our life to be more fruitful. Pray for what you need from God and share with me or with other leaders in the church what the church could give you more of. Together we can bear good fruit for God and for a world in need of justice.

In Christ's service,

Isaiah 5:1-10
Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

5And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!

8Ah, you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land! 9The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing: Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant. 10For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath, and a homer of seed shall yield a mere ephah.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

peace and justice

Good morning all,
We've heard Isaiah preaching judgment on Israel; today he preaches God's bright future. Once Israel repents and God restores them to health in their land they will not only be independent, but also a beacon of light for others. One day other nations will come to the city of Jerusalem to learn God's law and peace will fill the earth. Notice that God's correct judgment is at the center of that peace. After all real peace only works when there is true peace. Lord, may we see and be a part of that day when we would not need to study war anymore.

Isaiah 2:1-5
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

refining silver

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Isaiah uses a powerful string of metaphors to call Judah back to God. Earlier in this chapter he used the image of Jerusalem as God's children who rebelled. Today he uses the image of Jerusalem as God's bride (though he doesn't use the word "bride"), an image used several times in the Old Testament and brought to it's conclusion in Revelation. Isaiah claims that Jerusalem was once faithful but has become a whore. That's a pretty shocking image, especially considering that this city was God's chosen and special city, the place where the temple and king were established. If we imagine a Catholic teacher saying that Rome had become a whore we can picture what kind of reaction that would get; I expect Isaiah's words were heard the same way.

Isaiah also uses images of impure silver, which allows him to talk about repentance as burning away those impurities. As we've seen before, Isaiah is mostly talking about injustice in Judah. His criticism is that those in power are using their power to their own advantage instead of looking out for the powerless. Isaiah also seems to accuse Jerusalem of idolatry since trees and gardens were often places to worship other gods. Isaiah holds out hope for repentance, but his images of lye and smelting make it clear that repenting won't be easy. Once people get used to the "benefits" of unjust power and profits, it is costly to repent. In the end Jerusalem will again be righteous; God doesn't abandon his people.

God bless,

Isaiah 1:21-31
21How the faithful city has become a whore! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her— but now murderers! 22Your silver has become dross, your wine is mixed with water. 23Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them.

24Therefore says the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: Ah, I will pour out my wrath on my enemies, and avenge myself on my foes! 25I will turn my hand against you; I will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. 26And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. 27Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. 28But rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed. 29For you shall be ashamed of the oaks in which you delighted; and you shall blush for the gardens that you have chosen. 30For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water. 31The strong shall become like tinder, and their work like a spark; they and their work shall burn together, with no one to quench them.

Monday, August 9, 2010

servants getting ready

Good morning friends,
Our reading from today begins with a question from Peter. He's just heard yesterday's reading about the Son of Man coming at at an unexpected hour. Peter asks if that's a parable for the disciples or for everyone. Jesus responds with a story about wise and foolish head slaves. This seems like an odd answer to Peter's question. I guess his point is that it is for all the servants to be ready for their master's return. This is a responsibility for everyone. For the disciples and other leaders in the church, the responsibility is greater because they also have to warn and teach others to be ready as well as being ready themselves. Let us be ready at any time.

God blees,

Luke 12:41-48
41Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” 42And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? 43Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 44Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 45But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful.

47That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. 48But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

past and future

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Our reading from Luke this morning continues Jesus' discussion of what is important and where our priorities should be. From there Jesus moves on to the need to be ready for the coming of the kingdom. As we've discussed before, the early church expected Christ's return very soon. It's obvious now that that return wasn't right around the corner. At the same time the lesson of this passage still holds true: we don't know when Christ will return, so we always want to be ready. We tend to get complacent about Christ's return: we figure each generation before us has come and gone without the end of the world so we will too. That may be the case and it may not: the Son of Man comes at an unexpected hour. Perhaps more to the point, assuming Christ doesn't return in the next hundred years, each of us will die some day. We don't know when that will happen but we want to be ready for our death by living in accordance with our faith.

Our reading from Hebrews begins a visit to the "heroes of the faith" exhibit. The author of Hebrews (an ancient church leader wrote, "Only God knows" who wrote Hebrews) takes us through several of the famous heroes of the faith to encourage us to live faithfully in our time. May God fill your heart with strength from our past and hope for God's future.


Luke 12:32-40
32"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39"But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

*Sunday Hebrews 11:1-7
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
4By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. 5By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” 6And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

worry and trust

Good morning sisters and brothers,
It's been a little while since we read from Luke's Gospel so let's review for a minute. Jesus was invited to a Pharisee's house for dinner, where he took the Pharisees to task for their strict attention to outward practice, while forgetting that a life of faith shapes everything we do. That begins a series of teachings about discipleship and priorities while the crowds grow bigger and bigger. Meanwhile, Jesus' head on confrontation with the Pharisees and religious lawyers leads them to begin plotting his death. Just before today's passage Jesus warned the crowds to guard against selfishness because our love of possessions can distract us from the truly important things in life like doing justice and following God.

Today Jesus complements that warning with encouragement. He encourages us not to worry because God knows what we need already. Worry is pointless, and yet worry and anxiety are two of the most common emotions in our culture today. We feel out of control and we worry about having enough to maintain our life style. We worry about the environment and the economy and the future. This passage invites us to do two things. The first is to consider how we spend our energy, and what our priorities are. God calls us to pursue connection with him, community, justice and love. If most of our energy is directed somewhere else we might be going in the wrong direction. This passage also invites us to trust in God, who will provide for us. That's a word I know I need to hear often, along with Jesus' invitation to seek first the kingdom of God. May God give us the strength to trust him.

God bless,

Luke 12:22-31
22He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24Consider 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! 25And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?

27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Friday, August 6, 2010

worship and righteousness

Good morning all,
Scholars usually divide Isaiah into two or three parts. So called First Isaiah is basically chapters 1-39 and was probably written or at least composed orally in the 700s BC. The overall theme is calling for justice and warning of God's judgment. Second Isaiah is either the rest of the book or chapters 40-54 along with some earlier material, and dates from the exile after Jerusalem's fall. This section is most concerned with reminding the people that even though they have been punished, God will restore them with a glorious return from exile and a renewal of the world. Many of our Lenten text come from this section. Finally, Third Isaiah is chapters 55-66 as well as some earlier material and dates from the return from exile. The end of exile didn't solve all of Judah's problems, so this section deals with that disappointment and seeks to build up hope in God's future. Like the other prophets we've read, First Isaiah warns of judgement, but there's a hopefulness in Isaiah we don't really see in Amos.

Yesterday Isaiah compared Judah's fate to that of Sodom and Gomorrah, saying that it was different only because the Lord left a few survivors in Judah. I expect that comparison would already be pretty shocking for the chosen people of God, but here Isaiah makes the comparison even stronger. He calls the leaders of Israel, "Rulers of Sodom" and "People of Gomorrah." The specific complaint is that Judah's society is unjust. They may worship in all the ways the tradition teaches. They bring all the offering the Law tells them to bring, but their lives are not touched. Doing the right thing in our lives is more important than worshiping the right way. Or maybe put a different way, living the right way is the foundation of worshiping well. If our lives don't show the faith our worship proclaims both become hollow and hypocritical.

God bless,

Isaiah 1:10-20
10Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. 12When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; 13bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. 14Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. 15When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

16Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. 18Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sodom and Judah

Good morning friends,
First, the sharing blog is up and running, so take a look or post something if you'd like to get in on the conversation. In today's and tomorrow's passages we see Isaiah compare Judah to Sodom and Gomorrah. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is probably somewhat familiar to us; if you'd like to refresh your memory it's in Genesis 19. At the same time when we hear the story now we have a hard time separating out the later meanings from the original story. The basic story is that Sodom and Gomorrah were cities in the Middle East with a reputation for injustice and evil. In Genesis 18 God decided to make a fact finding trip to see if the reputation was deserved, and to destroy the cities if the reports were true. The way God investigated was to send two angels as visitors to the city. When the angels visited Sodom, no one invited them into their home. In those days hospitality was a sacred duty, so this is already a huge indictment against the city. Finally Lot, Abraham's nephew who had settled in Sodom, saw the visitors and took them home. Not long after that the men of the city came knocking on Lot's door wanting to sexually assault the visitors. In a shocking indication of that culture's understanding of women and the importance of protecting guests, Lot offers the angry crowd his daughters instead, but they are intent on the visitors. At that point the angels strike the crowd blind, lead Lot and his family out of the city to escape, and destroy the city.

Many people understand this story as a judgment against homosexuality, but that's not true. The crime that brought judgment on Sodom was injustice, violation of the duty of hospitality and attempted gang rape. There certainly is an assumption behind the story that men sleeping together is a sign of disorder and that has all kinds of cultural reasons behind it we can discuss another time. Suffice it to say that when this was written (probably the 6th century from much older stories) Israel had no concept of the possibility of committed, same-sex relationships between consenting adults. At any rate, after this story Sodom and Gomorrah stand as symbols for civilizations that were totally wiped out by God because of widespread injustice. Isaiah uses this story to compare the devastating judgment facing Judah with the total destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. His point is that even though Judah is God's special children, they have turned away completely and have fallen into self-destructive patterns that will lead to judgment. May God guide us as we consider difficult stories and as we listen for God's warning.


Isaiah 1:1-9
The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
2Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. 3The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. 4Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, who are utterly estranged! 5Why do you seek further beatings? Why do you continue to rebel?

The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. 6From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they have not been drained, or bound up, or softened with oil. 7Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners. 8And daughter Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a shelter in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. 9If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we would have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

courage and closing

Good morning friends,
Today we come to the end of Colossians. Sometimes it's hard to know what to do with these closings with all their names and housekeeping business. At the same time they give an interesting view of what the church was like at that time. The picture that emerges is a large, but fairly intimate network of Christians. Pretty much wherever Paul goes or writes, he knows people. In this particular closing there are a couple of things that play off yesterday's reading nicely. For one thing, we see Paul's greeting to Nympha, a woman who hosted a church in her house. Even though Paul reinforced the traditional teachings about family life and a woman's place in it, he also worked in ministry with many women who held leadership roles in the church. Some scholars suggest that one reason Paul was so careful about maintaining the traditional teachings was that the Christian church was constantly pushing the boundaries of women's roles and Paul wanted to avoid too much outside attention to that fact.

Another name that is especially interesting is Onesimus. Onesimus was a slave who ran away and ended up with Paul, where he came to Christ. The whole letter of Philemon is written to Onesimus's owner asking him to forgive Onesimus and asking him to release his claim on him. So again, while Paul tells slaves to obey their masters, he also is far from seeing slavery as a total claim on the slave. If you're curious, Philemon is a fascinating piece of persuasion and a really short read. One part of Paul's letters that can be confusing is that here and in several other letters he says something about writing the greeting with his own hand. It was common in Paul's day to have a scribe do the physical writing of the letter, and that's probably what Paul did. He often added a personal touch by writing part of the closing himself, though the end of Galatians makes it sound like his handwriting wasn't very good. A final part of this closing that makes me stop short is that Paul reminds his readers that he is writing from prison. We might question the way he saw the world, but we can't doubt his courage and commitment. He clearly put his life on the line and ministered in all kinds of situations most of us would be afraid to go near. I pray God help us follow Paul's example of courage, faith and thought as we seek to be ambassadors of Jesus today.

God bless,

Colossians 4:7-18
7Tychicus will tell you all the news about me; he is a beloved brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant in the Lord. 8I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts; 9he is coming with Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you about everything here. 10Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, as does Mark the cousin of Barnabas, concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him. 11And Jesus who is called Justus greets you. These are the only ones of the circumcision among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.

12Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you. He is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills. 13For I testify for him that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you. 15Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea. 17And say to Archippus, “See that you complete the task that you have received in the Lord.” 18I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

new life in an old society

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's passage starts out with one of Paul's infamous "wives be subject to your husbands" sequences. Our temptation when faced with such obvious sexism and unjust support of slavery is to simply throw out everything else Paul has to say. That's where I was with Paul for quite a while. As usual, a little context helps. This type of instruction on various social roles was common in rhetoric of Paul's time; they even have their own category of instruction: household codes. Paul brings household codes from the wider culture into the church; he's certainly not inventing them on his own. Scholars have suggested different reasons why Paul uses these household codes in his writing. My favorite suggestion is that Paul wanted to make sure the church wasn't scaring away new believers by being seen as upsetting the social order.

Paul seems to have thought that the point of Christian faith was transformation of our lives and communities in the church in preparation for the end of time, which was rapidly approaching. Because the end was coming, the church's focus needed to be on witness, proclamation and evangelism. The justice of society as a whole was less of a concern for him at least in part because he didn't think it would be around very long. Paul is blind to the ways Christian faith challenges the injustice of the status quo, a gap many later Christians have addressed, thank God. At the same time, even here Paul challenges every member of the church; he doesn't just support the powerful. So while he doesn't go far enough in questioning whether wives should obey or whether there should be masters and slaves, he does call each member to a new way of life within the structure of society based on God's rule.

I particularly like the last line here advising us to be gracious and interesting when we talk with others, and to make the most of whatever time we have. We are God's ambassadors, so we're called to let God's love shine through our words and actions.
May God bless you wherever your day takes you,

Colossians 3:18-3:6
18Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. 20Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. 21Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart. 22Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 23Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, 24since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ. 25For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality. Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

2Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. 3At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, 4so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.

5Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. 6Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Christ in community

Good morning all,
I'm sorry for getting behind on the readings while I was camping. Now I'm back after a lovely Laurelton weekend in the woods, and we're back on track. Before we get into the reading for this morning, I'd like to invite you to join in with several of us from our recent Wednesday night group in exploring and growing in another spiritual style. The Three Colors of Spirituality website (3colorsofyourspirituality.org) offers a program called "28 days of discipline." You pick one of the spiritual styles you'd like to grow in and subscribe to get daily emails containing a spiritual discipline to push you in that style. Several of us are starting the 28 days of discipline in the sharing style and should be getting our first email today. We'll also be sharing our experiences through a blog. This should be a great opportunity to try something new and it's easy to sign up. Let me know if you have any questions.

Our reading this morning is often used as a charge to a newly married couple during the Presbyterian wedding ceremony, but that's not what Paul had in mind when he wrote it. Basically, these are guidelines for living in a Christian community. Not surprisingly, Christ is at the center of living together. Christ's love rules in our hearts, Christ word lives within us, empowering us to teach and admonish one another as we work together to grow in faith. With Christ marking all our actions, we overflow with gratitude and sing out with joyful praise. That sounds pretty good to me. May we all be on the lookout for reasons to praise the Lord during this new week.


Colossians 3:12-17

12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.