Thursday, September 30, 2010

the Lord is my shepherd

Good morning sisters and brothers,
This morning's reading features Jeremiah speaking for God and accusing the leaders of Judah of unfaithful leadership. More specifically, God accuses the leaders, the shepherds, of taking advantage of the people for their own gain instead of taking care of them. Notice the word play on "attend," which is used both in the sense of care and in the sense of revenge. You could replace "attend" with "take care of" if that makes it easier to understand: "Because you haven't taken care of my people I will take care of you.

Judah's leaders haven't led and care for the people properly, so God will get rid of those leaders and raise up new leaders to gather and care for God's people. The second paragraph here is a common Advent text that we read as pointing to the ministry of Jesus, the new shepherd not only of Israel and Judah but also of the world. We look forward to the day when Christ will gather all the people together in peace in harmony. Amen; come Lord Jesus.

God bless,

Jeremiah 23:1-8
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

5The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” 7Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” 8but “As the Lord lives who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” Then they shall live in their own land.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

cires of pain

Good morning friends,
This is a shocking reading because Jeremiah laments even his birth because of the hardships of his ministry. This language is echoed almost exactly by Job in the early chapters of that great book. Again, we can take comfort that even our hardest complaint and our ugliest cries are not too much for God. We serve a God who comes close to us when we are most in pain.

God bless,

Jeremiah 20:14-18

14Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! 15Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, saying, “A child is born to you, a son,” making him very glad. 16Let that man be like the cities that the Lord overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, 17because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. 18Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

the lament of faith

Good morning all,
Today's reading from Jeremiah gives us insight into the difficulty of Jeremiah's calling. Jeremiah accuses the Lord of enticing him into this ministry. Shockingly, the terms he use for this accusation can be interpreted as sexual seduction or even assault. Jeremiah feels taken advantage of in the low moments of his ministry. He also feels like his calling is unavoidable: when he tries to hold in the word of God he feels physical pain that he can't bear, so he has to let the word out.

In the midst of these accusations against God, Jeremiah also trusts in God to deliver him from his enemies. Jeremiah's faith is not a simplistic, unexamined faith. He isn't afraid to cry out to God in pain or anger. At the end of the day, Jeremiah's lament is part of his faith, part of his trust in God. Our passage even ends with praise for God's deliverance of the poor. God is with Jeremiah and with us in the darkest times. God isn't afraid of our pain; we can pour out our wounded hearts to God and trust that he will listen and hold us close.

God bless,

Jeremiah 20:7-13
7O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. 8For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.

9If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. 10For I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. “Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.”

11But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. 12O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. 13Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.

Monday, September 27, 2010

persecuted for the truth

Good morning friends,
Today's reading gives us another glimpse of the hardship of Jeremiah's ministry. The priest hits Jeremiah and puts him in the stocks for his prophecy. Jeremiah responds with God's word of judgment for Pashhur, the priest who is persecuting him. It's interesting that Jeremiah renames Pashhur "terror all around" because the same title was used for Jeremiah for his constant prophecy of doom. Imagine how difficult it would be for Jeremiah to continue in his ministry: he seeks to warn the people he cares about of the danger ahead, but they take his words as treasonous and anti-religious. Despite the hardship, Jeremiah keeps on going because he trusts in God. May we have the same courage.

God bless,

Jeremiah 20:1-6
Now the priest Pashhur son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. 2Then Pashhur struck the prophet Jeremiah, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord.

3The next morning when Pashhur released Jeremiah from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, The Lord has named you not Pashhur but “Terror-all-around.” 4For thus says the Lord: I am making you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; and they shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon; he shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall kill them with the sword. 5I will give all the wealth of this city, all its gains, all its prized belongings, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah into the hand of their enemies, who shall plunder them, and seize them, and carry them to Babylon. 6And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house, shall go into captivity, and to Babylon you shall go; there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

contentment and wealth

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today we get two readings that deal with wealth. Paul continues his advice to Timothy. Here he contrasts being content with our material needs and pursuing spiritual maturity with being complacent in our spiritual life and pursuing material wealth. He urges Timothy to work with the wealthy to help them use what they have for good while freeing themselves from the trap of trusting in wealth.

Our Gospel reading is one that often haunts me. Jesus doesn't tell us that the rich man was dishonest or wicked; only that he feasted everyday while a poor man sat hungry at his gate. After death the two men's situations were reversed. When the judgment comes, will our judge tell me that I have already received the good things I deserve? Let us listen to the law and the prophets as well as the teachings of Jesus our Lord. Let us pursue justice for all people today.

God bless,

1 Timothy 6:6-19
6Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

11But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15which he will bring about at the right time-he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

17As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

*Luke 16:19-31
19"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' 25But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.'

27He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house-28for I have five brothers-that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' 29Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' 30He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

Saturday, September 25, 2010

kingdom and society

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Here we see Paul trying to fit Christian faith with the prevailing social order. The thing to remember when reading passages like this is that Paul and most leaders of the early church believed that Christ's return and the end of history would come in their lifetime or very soon afterwards. With that viewpoint they had no interest in changing the social order to be more like God's kingdom because God's kingdom was soon going to replace the existing social order anyway. Their priority was reaching as many people as possible with the gospel in the short time that was left. With that goal in mind Paul felt that the less Christianity was seen as opposed to social values, the more likely people would be to hear the message. If Christian slaves were disobedient it would be easy for people to write off Christianity as simply revolutionary talk.

Our framework is different. While we still should live in expectation of God's kingdom, since we don't know when it will come, we also live with the knowledge that it could still be many years until the kingdom is fulfilled. With this knowledge transforming the society of which we are a part so that it is more just and more godly becomes a reasonable, if challenging, goal. So let us strive to make our lives and our areas of influence a better reflection of God's love.

God bless,

1 Timothy 6:1-5
Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. 2Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these duties.

3Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, 4is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, 5and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

Friday, September 24, 2010

investing in the future

Good morning friends,
First, I'd like to invite us to pray hard for the peace negotiations in the Middle East; let's pray that all parties would be open to truly listen to each other and to work for the stability and peace. Today's passage is a reminder that God's great purposes play out in simple, everyday actions. We've heard Jeremiah prophesying doom for Judah because of idolatry and injustice. Finally fed up with this message, the King of Judah has Jeremiah locked up. Jeremiah's imprisonment comes in the midst of a Babylonian attack on Jerusalem, an attack that will end in Jerusalem's capture.

Jeremiah hears a message from God that his cousin is going to come and ask him to purchase a field from him. In Israel and Judah land is never just land. God told Joshua how to divide the land among the Twelve Tribes of Israel when they first conquered and occupied the land centuries earlier. Inherited land was not only important for a family, it was an inheritance decreed by God. For that reason there were biblical laws about how land could be transferred. If a family got into debt and had to sell their land their close family were supposed to buy the land to keep it in the family. That's what Hanamel means when he tells Jeremiah that the right by purchase and redemption is his. In the middle of a siege, that land would be basically worthless, but Jeremiah buys it. He buys it as a message from God that this defeat is not the end of the road for Judah. God has a future for them, even if it seems unlikely at the moment. God has a future for us too; we can trust and invest in that future with our everyday lives.

God bless,

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

1The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. 2At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, 3awhere King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. 6Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me: 7Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours." 8Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself." Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.

9And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 12and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. 15For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

training in Godliness

Good morning folks,
This is one of my favorite parts of Paul's letter to Timothy because the encouragement is personally meant for Timothy and yet still applicable to all Christians and especially to those in leadership roles. In particular the comparison of physical training with "training in Godliness" challenges me and reminds me that I need my spiritual exercise even more than physical exercise. There were certainly times over the last few months that I have neglected personal Bible reading to go for a run; Paul reminds me what's really important.

Paul puts faith in God front and center. Because we have "our hope set on the living God" we can struggle for justice and for the gospel. This faith strengthens us in hardship and allows us to be faithful in our ministry. Paul also reminds Timothy, "Do not neglect the gift that is in you..." That word is meant for all of us because God has given each of us gifts for ministry. If we develop and use our gifts we will find incredible blessings in service. If we neglect them we waste a wonderful opportunity from God.
Blessings as you use your gifts for ministry today,

1 Timothy 4:7-16

7Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, 8for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. 10For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 11These are the things you must insist on and teach.

12Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. 14Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. 15Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

marriage and food

Good morning friends,
In our passage for today Paul reminds Timothy that controversy in church will test the church and its leaders. He points to false teachings, citing those who "forbid marriage and demand abstinence from certain kinds of foods." The food issue probably refers to people who continued to follow the Law of Moses, keeping kosher as part of their Christian faith. Paul consistently rejects this standpoint, though often he counsels the church not to worry if some people in the church continue to keep those regulations.

Paul's teaching on marriage is interesting. In First Corinthians he lifts up some of the difficulties of making Christ the center of one's life if one is married: "The single woman worries about God, how to please God; but the married woman worries about how to please her husband." Even though he sees the virtue in remaining single he also knows it is not everyone's calling, and he sees that marriage can strengthen faith as well. He speaks out strongly here and elsewhere against leaders who forbid marriage. Paul also encourages Timothy and reminds him (and us) that leaders in the church need to make sure they are well nourished by God's word. We all need that nourishment to stay strong in our faith. So savor the word and give thanks for God's gifts.

God bless,

1 Timothy 4:1-6
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. 3They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; 5for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.
6If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

leadership in the church

Good morning brothers and sisters,
When we read Paul's letters to Timothy we see a glimpse of the early church's structure. Paul is Timothy's mentor and Paul is writing to guide Timothy in his own leadership of the church. Here, Paul outlines the qualities people should have to take on various leadership positions so when Timothy is thinking about other leaders to appoint he will have these things in mind. Bishop means overseer. It may be that the bishop was the leader of a house church or possibly several house churches. Deacons were charged with practical service and care, especially of the poor.

In all these cases notice how good management is important. It's also important that the leaders could conduct themselves in such a way that people outside the church would form a good impression of the church by watching the leaders. Of course there are always more leaders in the church than simply the people who hold formal offices. Church leadership is serious business because we're talking about the health and welfare of Christ's body. One of the strengths of the Presbyterian structure is that we all lead the church together. May God strengthen us to lead well.

God bless,

1 Timothy 3
The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. 2Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— 5for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil.

8Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; 9they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10And let them first be tested; then, if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons. 11Women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12Let deacons be married only once, and let them manage their children and their households well; 13for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

14I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, 15if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. 16Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Paul's limits

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's reading is one I sometimes wish wasn't in scripture. Passages like this one have soured a lot of Christians on Paul because of his limited thinking about women and their role in the church. We believe that God speaks to us through scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit; we also believe that people, with all their flaws and limits wrote the Bible. Paul was a man of his time who inherited a hierarchical way of thinking about relationships between men and women and among other groups.

Some scholars believe that Paul was careful to support these then traditional beliefs about women because women in the church were given greater leadership roles in the church than in society at large, and he wanted to make sure the church wasn't seen as too radical when it came to social relations. We know that Paul wrote to women as leaders in the church. It's even thought that a woman was the initial public reader of the Letter to the Romans, maybe Paul's most important letters. So certainly he is not consistent about "not allowing a woman to teach." Ministry always happens in a real time and place with people who are not perfect. We bring our biases and mistakes into our ministry. Fortunately, God still works through us to minister to the world. Paul's writing and the churches history on gender relations is a mixed record. From Paul's pen we also get perhaps the best statement on equality anywhere: "There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, but all are one in Christ Jesus." We long for the day God's kingdom will erase all divisions between people, saying, "Come, Lord Jesus."


1 Timothy 2:8-15
8I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; 9also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11Let a woman learn in silence with full submission.

12I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

governments and investing in the future

Good morning friends,
This morning's reading from Timothy talks about praying for leaders of government. Christians in the US often complain about the separation of church and state, particularly the ban on teachers leading prayer in schools. That separation was first proposed by evangelical Christians who wanted to protect the church from the state and wanted freedom from the tax used to support the established church. Here we see in contrast what Paul sees as the state's duty toward the church, simply to provide a safe and stable society. Paul is grateful for that, which is really something considering he was sometimes under arrest by that state.

The parable Jesus uses in this reading is surprising because the unjust steward is commended for cheating his master. The point isn't that we should cheat others, but rather that teh things of this world are "false" in that they do not last. We should use them with an eye to the future, God's eternal future, rather than letting them control us here and now. See you in worship.

God bless,

1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6who gave himself a ransom for all-this was attested at the right time. 7For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

*Luke 16:1-13
1Then Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' 3Then the manager said to himself, 'What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.'

5So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' 6He answered, 'A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' 7Then he asked another, 'And how much do you owe?' He replied, 'A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill and make it eighty.' 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

10"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Balm in Gilead

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Jeremiah is sometimes known as the weeping prophet, and this passage gives us a good example of why. Jeremiah and other prophets were often accused of wishing harm on Israel, of disrespecting the king or the temple. We see similar accusations when citizens protest government policies and are accused of being unpatriotic. The truth is, Jeremiah loved his people; he loved the temple. But he also saw the disaster the people were bringing on themselves, so he had to warn them. Here we see how deeply he feels his people's pain. We see that delivering messages of doom is painful for him, even though he knows it is his responsibility.

We also see Jeremiah's famous question: "Is there no balm in Gilead?" During slavery African American Christians who knew that God had not abandoned them answered that question with the song most of us know well. Even in that dark time those Christians knew God would send hope and healing. There is a balm in Gilead; even after disaster God brings new life.

God bless,

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
18My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. 19Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: "Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?" ("Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?") 20"The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." 21For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. 22Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?
1 O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!

Friday, September 17, 2010

peace and repentance

Good morning friends,
I'd like to start by reminding everyone that Sunday will be our last Sunday outside for the fall with a picnic lunch to follow (if the weather cooperates). It a great way to start off the new church year after summer travels; everyone is invited to join the fun.

Today's reading shows us one of the lines I often think of when I think of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was accused by the religious leaders of spreading panic and preaching doom and gloom. Apparently his nickname was "terror all around" because of his constant warnings. Here Jeremiah makes his counter-accusation: the leaders God entrusted with caring for the people have been careless in their responsibility, "Saying, 'Peace' when there is no peace." In other words, the prophets and priests who should be calling Judah back from her wandering ways have preached false comfort, telling people everything is going to be alright instead of warning people of the danger they face if they don't change their ways.

God's call to repentance is an important part of the message. We're told that when Jesus first started preaching he said, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." In the light of God's justice our behavior always comes up short. Fortunately, God's judgment isn't the last word. After the disaster God brings to Israel and Judah there will be restoration; after death comes resurrection. God's love never fails. We are called to repent because God is righteous; we can repent because God is with us and calls us home.

God bless,

Jeremiah 8:10-17
10Therefore I will give their wives to others and their fields to conquerors, because from the least to the greatest everyone is greedy for unjust gain; from prophet to priest everyone deals falsely. 11They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. 12They acted shamefully, they committed abomination; yet they were not at all ashamed, they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the Lord.
13When I wanted to gather them, says the Lord, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.

14Why do we sit still? Gather together, let us go into the fortified cities and perish there; for the Lord our God has doomed us to perish, and has given us poisoned water to drink, because we have sinned against the Lord. 15We look for peace, but find no good, for a time of healing, but there is terror instead. 16The snorting of their horses is heard from Dan; at the sound of the neighing of their stallions the whole land quakes. They come and devour the land and all that fills it, the city and those who live in it. 17See, I am letting snakes loose among you, adders that cannot be charmed, and they shall bite you, says the Lord.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Good morning all,
This morning we get more warning of doom to come. In particular we see a disturbing image of the bones of Judah's leaders spread out along the ground. Reading this I couldn't help but think about the prophet Ezekiel when God showed him a valley full of dry bones. In that case God makes the bones live as a sign of the coming revival for Israel. Here Jeremiah foretells fields of bones as an image of the dead end Judah's idolatry and faithlessness is bringing them to. The good news is that even from hopelessness God can bring new life. Even these bones can live by God's Spirit.

God bless,

Jeremiah 8:1-9

At that time, says the Lord, the bones of the kings of Judah, the bones of its officials, the bones of the priests, the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be brought out of their tombs; 2and they shall be spread before the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven, which they have loved and served, which they have followed, and which they have inquired of and worshiped; and they shall not be gathered or buried; they shall be like dung on the surface of the ground. 3Death shall be preferred to life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family in all the places where I have driven them, says the Lord of hosts.

4You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord: When people fall, do they not get up again? If they go astray, do they not turn back? 5Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding? They have held fast to deceit, they have refused to return. 6I have given heed and listened, but they do not speak honestly; no one repents of wickedness, saying, “What have I done!” All of them turn to their own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle. 7Even the stork in the heavens knows its times; and the turtledove, swallow, and crane observe the time of their coming; but my people do not know the ordinance of the Lord. 8How can you say, “We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us,” when, in fact, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie? 9The wise shall be put to shame, they shall be dismayed and taken; since they have rejected the word of the Lord, what wisdom is in them?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

worship and obedience

Good morning sisters and brothers,
This morning God reviews the beginning of the covenant between God and the nation of Israel. God called Abraham to be the father of a great nation, Israel, who would be God's special people. That covenant took many twists and turns but didn't really take the shape of a covenant with a nation until God brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt. When God brought them out he made a covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. As God says in this passage, that wasn't a covenant about sacrifices and particular kinds of worship; it was a covenant to follow and obey God, to be God's people and only to worship the one God.

That exclusive obedience was hard for Israel from the beginning. We remember that even while Moses was getting the tablets of the Ten Commandments the people got scared that God had left them and asked Aaron to make them a golden god they could see and touch. It's so much easier to follow a smaller, more tangible god than to obey God, who we don't always see or feel. In our lives it's easy to make work or success or family the only highest good in our lives and to forget that our whole life holds together in God. Worship is important, but the most important part of our faith is following God in our lives, seeking God's will when we make decisions, and looking for God's calling in everything we do. God wants to be our God today and always so seek God's true path today.

God bless,

Jeremiah 7:21-28
21Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. 22For in the day that I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23But this command I gave them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.”

24Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward. 25From the day that your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; 26yet they did not listen to me, or pay attention, but they stiffened their necks. They did worse than their ancestors did.

27So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. 28You shall say to them: This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

an example

Good morning friends,
Today's reading continues God's criticism of Judah's worship. God tells Jeremiah, or maybe the people, to take a field trip to learn about worship and faithfulness. God sends them to Shiloh, which at one point was one of the most important worship sites in Israel. If we remember back to the story of Samuel, who anointed Saul and David as Kings of Israel, that story began at the temple in Shiloh. God's point is that once the people who worshipped at Shiloh turned away from God, it didn't matter any more that that had been a house of God. At this point in Judah's history the Northern Kingdom of Israel has already been conquered by Assyria. Judah can see the fate of part of God's people who turned away from God and from justice. There is still time to choose the better way, the path of love and faithfulness. What will Judah choose? What will we choose?

God bless,

Jeremiah 7:12-20
12Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. 13And now, because you have done all these things, says the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently, you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, 14therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh. 15And I will cast you out of my sight, just as I cast out all your kinsfolk, all the offspring of Ephraim.

16As for you, do not pray for this people, do not raise a cry or prayer on their behalf, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. 17Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. 19Is it I whom they provoke? says the Lord. Is it not themselves, to their own hurt? 20Therefore thus says the Lord God: My anger and my wrath shall be poured out on this place, on human beings and animals, on the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

living the faith

Good morning (or evening for you night owls) friends,
Today's reading from Jeremiah shows God telling the people to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Being God's people isn't just a privilege; it's also a responsibility. The temple in Jerusalem is God's special place to be with God's people, but for that to work the people have to invite God into their lives by living justly. Faith isn't just about how we worship; it's about how we live. If they oppress immigrants and take advantage of the vulnerable it's not going to do Israel any good to claim that they are God's people. We also see God wondering if the people will even turn God's temple into a den of thieves. The same accusation is familiar to most of us from Jesus' lips centuries later cleansing the temple of sold out ritual.

The challenge and invitation are ours as well. God wants to live with us, so we're called to show God's love in everything we do. When we do that the church is truly the house of God and our lives will shine like beacons of hope for the world. The promise is ours today and always.

God bless,

Jeremiah 7:1-11
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. 4Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”

5For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, 7then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.

8Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. 9Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, “We are safe!” —only to go on doing all these abominations? 11Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord.

lost and found

Good morning all,
This morning's reading from Timothy shows us Paul reflecting on his past as a persecutor of the church he now serves. In his own life he sees God's amazing love because he has been forgiven so much. He's not only been forgiven; he's also been freed to serve God powerfully as an evangelist. When Paul talks about God's grace, sin and forgiveness it is personal. Sin and forgiveness come into focus in our Gospel passage as well. Luke shows Jesus eating with society's outcasts and earning the whispered rebukes of the "religious people." Jesus, like Paul argues that God has a special love for sinners who repent. God is a shepherd who searches far and wide for one lost sheep, God is a woman who searches the house from wall to wall for one lost coin. God took on flesh in Jesus to seek and save lost sinners. There's nothing that needs to separate us from God. Let us come home and show others the way.

God bless,

1 Timothy 1:12-17
12I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the foremost. 16But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

*Luke 15:1-10
1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

3So he told them this parable: 4"Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

8"Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

love and guidance

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Before we begin our reading I'd invite you to pause a moment to remember the victims of September 11, 2001 and all who have suffered and died since then in related violence. Our passage for this morning is not unrelated to thinking about Christians and violence. Paul reminds Timothy that the point of Christian instruction is love and that's a pretty good test for any question about how Christians behave in the world: if something promotes love there's a good chance it fits with the gospel we proclaim; if it opposes love, it likely does not fit. Needless to say, burning a pile of Qur'an's has nothing to do with love and nothing to do with the good news of Jesus Christ.

This letter is unlike most of our New Testament letters in that it was written not to a church but to a person. Timothy was a young leader in the early church who helped Paul in his ministry. Paul wrote this letter and 2 Timothy to encourage and guide Timothy in leading the church. This will be very familiar to current and recent session members since we read this letter together last year. Here Paul warns Timothy that much of his energy will be spent opposing bad interpretations of Christian faith. We don't know exactly what errors Paul was worried about but there is always a risk of twisting Christianity into something it isn't: a ticket to heaven, a magical power for prosperity, a blessing on selfish accumulation, a set of rules, etc. Many of the churches also struggled with the place of the Law of Moses; Paul makes the important point that the Law itself is good when we remember its purpose, which is to keep our bad inclinations in check. I hope you enjoy this letter and that Paul's encouragement to Timothy encourages you in your ministry and your love as well.

God bless,

1 Timothy 1-11
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, 2To Timothy, my loyal child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3I urge you, as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia, to remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine, 4and not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith.

5But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. 6Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, 7desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions. 8Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. 9This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, 10fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching 11that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

Friday, September 10, 2010

repeating himself

Good morning friends,
If you're feeling a little warn down by Jeremiah's message, you are not alone. It seems we keep hearing the same words of judgment in different ways again and again. There's a joke about a new pastor at a church. Her first Sunday in the pulpit she preached an incredibly powerful sermon that simply riveted the whole congregation. When the sermon ended the search committee congratulated each other and there were ripples of joy throughout the church. The next week, to everyone's surprise, the pastor preached the same sermon. It was still a powerful message and people remarked that they had noticed insights that they hadn't caught the first time. The third week, lo and behold, she preached the exact same sermon again. People were becoming confused and a bit doubtful. One brave member approached the pastor on the way out of the sanctuary and said, "Now pastor, we can tell you're a strong preacher and we're glad to have you here. I'm just a little bit confused about why you've preached the same sermon three weeks running." The pastor answered, "As soon as you start living the first sermon, I'll move on to another one."

Jeremiah must have felt like the pastor in the joke. He was tired of sharing the same message too. At the same time, he couldn't do anything but warn the people again and again, and his warnings fell on deaf ears. Some people did listen; Jeremiah had a few allies among the powerful and also had a faithful assistant in his work. For the most part though, the political and religious leaders went on with business as usual. The oppression of the poor continued; the search for an alliance with Egypt to protect Judah from Assyria and Babylon continued; the ceremonial worship of God continued while there was still widespread idolatry. All Jeremiah could do is share the message God gives him. The question that hangs in the background throughout this book is, "Will the people respond?" What will our answer be today?

God bless,

Jeremiah 4:22-28
21How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? 22“For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” 23I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. 24I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. 25I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled. 26I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

27For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. 28Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

anguish and ministry

Good morning all,
This is a tricky reading because the speaker changes several times. Sometimes it seems the voice is Jeremiah's, other times God's. The words of judgment are not new, but here we see a special glimpse of the pain Jeremiah's ministry caused him. He was often taunted for being the bearer of so much bad news. Here we see that bringing this news was a torment for him even more than for his hearers. We also see that he not only heard the word of the Lord to proclaim but could imagine or even see the disaster to come and had to cope with the fear and pain of conquest even before the time. I certainly don't envy Jeremiah's ministry, but I admire his faithfulness. I pray that we would be able to discern God's word and share it as well.

God bless,

Jeremiah 4:11-21
11At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse— 12a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them. 13Look! He comes up like clouds, his chariots like the whirlwind; his horses are swifter than eagles— woe to us, for we are ruined! 14O Jerusalem, wash your heart clean of wickedness so that you may be saved. How long shall your evil schemes lodge within you?

15For a voice declares from Dan and proclaims disaster from Mount Ephraim. 16Tell the nations, “Here they are!” Proclaim against Jerusalem, “Besiegers come from a distant land; they shout against the cities of Judah. 17They have closed in around her like watchers of a field, because she has rebelled against me, says the Lord. 18Your ways and your doings have brought this upon you. This is your doom; how bitter it is! It has reached your very heart.”

19My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. 20Disaster overtakes disaster, the whole land is laid waste. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

hope and judgment

Good morning friends,
Today's reading begins with hope and ends with warning. This progression raises the question Jeremiah voices as an accusation against God at the end of the passage: is there any hope for Israel or is God just offering an impossible promise while the sword of judgment is at Israel's throat? I think God is offering Israel true hope, but a hope they will not take advantage of. God calls his people to turn back to him, but the nation does not.

The good news is that even after judgment and exile there is hope because God's love never ends. Judah is conquered and forced into exile during Jeremiah's ministry. Even in exile, God is there. The exilic period ends up being a critical part of Israel's reformation and the time during which much of the Old Testament took the shape we know today. That time of hardship strengthened Israel's identity in God and prepared Israel for the diaspora that has continued to be the situation of many Jews today. Israel did return to their land as God promised. The temple was rebuilt and worship restored. God's promise and God's story continue through all our twists and turns. God is always faithful, even when we are not.

God bless,

Jeremiah 4:1-10
If you return, O Israel, says the Lord, if you return to me, if you remove your abominations from my presence, and do not waver, 2and if you swear, “As the Lord lives!” in truth, in justice, and in uprightness, then nations shall be blessed by him, and by him they shall boast.

3For thus says the Lord to the people of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. 4Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, remove the foreskin of your hearts, O people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else my wrath will go forth like fire, and burn with no one to quench it, because of the evil of your doings.

5Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say: Blow the trumpet through the land; shout aloud and say, “Gather together, and let us go into the fortified cities!” 6Raise a standard toward Zion, flee for safety, do not delay, for I am bringing evil from the north, and a great destruction. 7A lion has gone up from its thicket, a destroyer of nations has set out; he has gone out from his place to make your land a waste; your cities will be ruins without inhabitant. 8Because of this put on sackcloth, lament and wail: “The fierce anger of the Lord has not turned away from us.” 9On that day, says the Lord, courage shall fail the king and the officials; the priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded. 10Then I said, “Ah, Lord God, how utterly you have deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you,’ even while the sword is at the throat!”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

warning and rejection

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Today's reading finds Jeremiah again facing opposition from the leaders in Jerusalem. Jeremiah calls out to God, pointing out that his ministry has been to protect the people of Judah but they have ignored his message and persecuted him. Jeremiah shouldn't be surprised that his message hasn't been well received; people rarely want to hear that they are living the wrong way and that their actions will bring disaster on them. We often need to hear what we don't want to hear. We need to know when we're on the wrong path so we can change direction. Most of the religious leaders weren't ready to hear that, so instead they opposed Jeremiah. I pray we would be open to hear the truth even when it hurts but that we would not give way to Jeremiah's bitterness when our words are ignored.

God bless,

Jeremiah 18:18-23
18Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah—for instruction shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us bring charges against him, and let us not heed any of his words.” 19Give heed to me, O Lord, and listen to what my adversaries say! 20Is evil a recompense for good? Yet they have dug a pit for my life. Remember how I stood before you to speak good for them, to turn away your wrath from them.

21Therefore give their children over to famine; hurl them out to the power of the sword, let their wives become childless and widowed. May their men meet death by pestilence, their youths be slain by the sword in battle. 22May a cry be heard from their houses, when you bring the marauder suddenly upon them! For they have dug a pit to catch me, and laid snares for my feet. 23Yet you, O Lord, know all their plotting to kill me. Do not forgive their iniquity, do not blot out their sin from your sight. Let them be tripped up before you; deal with them while you are angry.

Monday, September 6, 2010

shaped by God's hand

Good morning friends,
Our reading for today is one of the best-known stories in Jeremiah. God uses a potter as a lesson for Jeremiah. In case some of Jeremiah's audience haven't gotten the message that God is calling them to repent and threatening them with judgment, God gives them an image as well. Teachers know that different students learn differently; God knows the same thing, so he presents his lesson in different formats throughout the book.

The image of the clay in God's hand is also appealing at the personal level. We are raw material and we can allow God to shape us into the people God wants us to be. Seen this way this isn't just a call to repentance; it's also an invitation to follow God and be transformed. I pray we would hear these words and rejoice as the master potter shapes us into an image of love and justice.

God bless,

Jeremiah 18:1-11

1The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2"Come, go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words." 3So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

5Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.

11Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

persuasion and commitment

Good morning friends,
Before we begin I'd like to remind you of a fun giving opportunity. One week from today Chris Braggins and I will run the Rochester Marathon (God willing). We're both interested in helping Laurelton through our run, so if you'd like to support us and the church we invite you to make a donation to Laurelton. You can write a check to Laurelton and mail it to me or to the church (335 Helendale Rd. Rochester, NY 14609) with "marathon" in the memo line. Contribution go to the general budget to help the church with its "running" expenses. Thanks for considering it.

Today's reading from Philemon is fun rhetorically. Notice how Paul says he could command Philemon to send Onesimus back to Paul as a free helper but would rather "suggest" it so that Philemon can do a good deed. Paul really turns up the pressure by mentioning again that he is a prisoner for Jesus. He also offers to repay Philemon for anything he might be owed. He even pulls the old trick of saying he'll "Say nothing about you owing me even you own self." This really is a master work of persuasion.

Our reading from Luke stops me in my tracks every time. Jesus looks at the large crowd gathering around him and seems to worry they don't understand what kind of commitment is involved in following him. He warns them to count the cost, to think seriously about what discipleship demands before they start following. He says a disciple must take up her cross and give up all his possessions. Christian discipleship is not a game; it can change our life, rearrange all our priorities and even lead us to the cross with Jesus. I pray we would take our discipleship seriously and that we would find joy and new life as we follow.

God bless,


Philemon 8-21

8For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love-and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me.

12I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother-especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

*Luke 14:25-35

25Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. 34“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? 35It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Saturday, September 4, 2010

sharing and refreshment

Good morning sisters and brothers,
We're back safe and sound in Rochester with a great trip behind us, thanks be to God! This morning we begin the short but fascinating letter to Philemon. Paul wrote this letter to a leader in the church named Philemon because it seems Philemon's slave Onesimus had escaped and run to Paul. Paul appeals to Philemon to forgive and release Onesimus. The letter is interesting on several different levels. Paul gets a lot of flack for his support of oppressive institutions like slavery and male power. Here we see a different side of his thinking about slavery. Still, there isn't the clear condemnation of slavery we wish there was, but there is a subtle challenge to it. The letter is also interesting because of how Paul makes his argument, as we'll see tomorrow.

Paul begins with a greeting to a leader who helped the church grow and apparently hosted a church in his home. We hear how Paul rejoices for the ministry Philemon has already done and hopes his faith will keep growing. Notice too how he mentions his imprisonment right away. Since we've been thinking a lot lately about sharing, I also noticed Paul's prayer about Philemon's faith sharing. I hope these words will begin your day with encouragement as you look ahead to your sharing and ministry for the weekend.

God bless,

Philemon 1:1-7
1Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God 5because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. 7I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

Friday, September 3, 2010

warning and prayer

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today we basically hear Jeremiah in prayer. We see both his trust in God and a glimpse of the hardship he faced. Jeremiah struggled with his identity as a prophet, called to speak the word of God. That was often not a word that was welcome and sometimes Jeremiah didn't want to do it, but he couldn't escape his calling. He also dealt with persecution from friends and from the authorities, both religious and political. His calling was a difficult one, which explains the harshness of his words in this passage.

We hear Jeremiah relaying an accusation of not preaching the word of the Lord and Jeremiah defends himself. He says he has been a shepherd in God's service but he hasn't "desired the fatal day." That's kind of a weird phrase, but I think it means that he hasn't wished harm on his people, even though he's often warned them of danger ahead. People accused Jeremiah of preaching fear: Jeremiah's response is that he doesn't want harm to come to people, but he does need to give fair warning. I pray we would not turn away from our calling either, even when that takes us where we'd rather not go.

God bless,

Jeremiah 17:12-18

12O glorious throne, exalted from the beginning, shrine of our sanctuary! 13O hope of Israel! O Lord! All who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be recorded in the underworld, for they have forsaken the fountain of living water, the Lord.

14Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for you are my praise. 15See how they say to me, “Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come!” 16But I have not run away from being a shepherd in your service, nor have I desired the fatal day. You know what came from my lips; it was before your face. 17Do not become a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster; 18Let my persecutors be shamed, but do not let me be shamed; let them be dismayed, but do not let me be dismayed; bring on them the day of disaster; destroy them with double destruction!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Getting our heart right

Good morning friends,
Today's reading from Jeremiah could come right out of the Psalms. Through Jeremiah, God compares trusting God to trusting in human things. The foolish trust in themselves, in wealth, or in other material things. The wise put their trust in God, and because of that they thrive even when things get rough or go wrong. Jeremiah's words are beautiful, with striking images that almost show the lesson he is trying to communicate. I particularly like the image of the heart being perverse and devious. Sometimes our desires fool us or make us see the world in twisted ways. No matter how we fool ourselves, God is not fooled. God sees what is really in our hearts and through God we too can unwind the lies that make us do what our better part doesn't want to do. May we seek God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and may we come to be like a deeply rooted tree beside the living waters.

God bless,

Jeremiah 17:5-11

5Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. 6They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.

7Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.

9The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse— who can understand it? 10I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings. 11Like the partridge hatching what it did not lay, so are all who amass wealth unjustly; in mid-life it will leave them, and at their end they will prove to be fools.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today we continue with Jeremiah's rebuke to the people of Israel for their idolatry. The immediate future for Israel looks bleak because of God's judgment. At the same time in this passage we begin to see a ray of hope for the longer-term future. Our passage says, "The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” but “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north...” In other words, the event people will see as the defining moment in God's relationship with Israel won't be the Exodus anymore, but the coming salvation from exile. The rescue from this exile will be just as clear a proof of God's love and power as the dramatic rescue from Egypt that has been remembered joyfully for thousands of years.

We're wise to remember the ways God has saved us in the past because those moments remind us of God's love and faithfulness. God's salvation is also continuing so we can look forward to new ways God will renew our relationship with him. We think about the God who raised Jesus from the dead, the God who led the early church, the God who gets us through the hard days, the God who strengthens us for ministry in New Orleans. Truly the Lord lives and he can save us powerfully today from everything that holds us back. Each of these rescues gives us a view of God's character and love.

Blessings on your day,

Jeremiah 16:15-21

14Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” 15but “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors.

16I am now sending for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall catch them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. 17For my eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from my presence, nor is their iniquity concealed from my sight. 18And I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.

19O Lord, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble, to you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and say: Our ancestors have inherited nothing but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit. 20Can mortals make for themselves gods? Such are no gods! 21“Therefore I am surely going to teach them, this time I am going to teach them my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the Lord.”