Wednesday, November 30, 2011

dramatic conclusion

Good morning friends,
Jesus concludes his description of his return in our reading for today. It's hard to imagine the scene when Christ comes back, but one thing seems for sure: we won't miss it. As subtle and easy to overlook as his original birth in Bethlehem was, his return at the conclusion of history will be dramatic and obvious. We don't know when it will happen, but we know how to prepare. We prepare with lives of faith, love and service. Advent is a great time to practice and to get our hearts ready for Christ's return.

God bless,

Mark 13:24-37
24“But in those days, after that suffering,
   the sun will be darkened,
     and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
     and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

warning and encouragement

Good afternoon sisters and brothers,
Jesus continues his description of the troubles to come that will mark the end of the world. There's always the temptation to predict when this might happen, but Jesus tells us even he doesn't know when the end will come. Instead we should hear his warning that things will be rough before the end and that there will be many who try to deceive us. We know what we need to know to face the trouble that will come. We know Christ loves us and will bring us safely home in the end. In the meantime, we know our calling: to love God and love our neighbor. Anything that tries to pull us away from that calling is not from God. We have the Holy Spirit and the community to strengthen and guide us, so let us keep the faith.

God bless,

Mark 13:14-23
14“But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 15the one on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; 16the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 17Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 18Pray that it may not be in winter. 19For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be. 20And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days.

And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’ —do not believe it. 22False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23But be alert; I have already told you everything.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mark's apocalypse

Good morning friends,
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. As we begin the season of Advent we prepare our hearts to receive Christ as a baby in Bethlehem and as our king at the end of time. Today's reading is from Mark chapter 13, which scholars call the "Markan apocalypse" because it is a fairly long section in Mark on the end of time. Apocalypse means revelation and it refers to a whole genre of literature and thinking focused on how God will act decisively to bring history to the right conclusion. This was an important kind of literature in Judaism at this time as the Roman Empire's control made it hard to imagine anything but a radical act of God bringing freedom to Israel. We see this kind of literature in the Old Testament book of Daniel and the book of Revelation. Jesus predicts trouble for the faithful before God's final victory. We too can expect hardship in our walk of faith, but God is always faithful, and in the end his love will triumph.

God bless,

Mark 13:9-13
9“As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 13and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's reading is also about being grateful for our gifts. In Jesus' time Samaritans were strongly looked down on, so it's shocking when Luke makes the Samaritan the hero of this story. Saying "Thank you" is a powerful action. May gratitude guide and strengthen you today.

God bless,

 Luke 17:11-19
11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving in Corinth

Good morning and Happy Thanksgiving!
I'm grateful for the privilege of ministering with you at Laurelton. This is a special community and I treasure your gifts and our time together. Paul reminds the Corinthian church that God gives them possessions not for themselves but so they can share them with others. He encourages them to give thanks for what they have by giving generously. He also encourages them to give thanks for God's grace by sharing the gospel with others. Even the hardships the community faces provide an opportunity to glorify God through obedience and persistence.
May we use our gifts well to serve others and build up God's kingdom,

2 Corinthians 9:6-15
6The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9As it is written,
     “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
          his righteousness endures forever.”

10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Psalm

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Last night's ecumenical service was lots of fun. There were people from at least six different churches and lovely music. One of the pieces we sang that was particularly fun was a responsive setting of the Psalm we're reading today. We sang a congregational response: "The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest," while a cantor sung verses between the refrains. It was a nice way to hear the psalm and to celebrate God's amazing gift of harvest.

Today we are not having supper and scripture because of Thanksgiving tomorrow. There will be a Thanksgiving feast at Laurelton on Thursday at 4pm hosted by Gary and Susan Dennis along with the Outreach ministry team. Wherever you are for the holiday I pray it will be a time of joy and gratitude for you.

Psalm 65
1   Praise is due to you,
          O God, in Zion;
     and to you shall vows be performed,
2        O you who answer prayer!
     To you all flesh shall come.
3   When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
          you forgive our transgressions.
4   Happy are those whom you choose and bring near
          to live in your courts.
     We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
          your holy temple.
5   By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
          O God of our salvation;
     you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
          and of the farthest seas.
6   By your strength you established the mountains;
          you are girded with might.
7   You silence the roaring of the seas,
          the roaring of their waves,
          the tumult of the peoples.
8   Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
     you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
9   You visit the earth and water it,
          you greatly enrich it;
     the river of God is full of water;
          you provide the people with grain,
          for so you have prepared it.
10  You water its furrows abundantly,
          settling its ridges,
     softening it with showers,
          and blessing its growth.
11  You crown the year with your bounty;
          your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
12  The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
          the hills gird themselves with joy,
13  the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
          the valleys deck themselves with grain,
          they shout and sing together for joy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Good morning brothers and sisters,
Today's reading is a Thanksgiving reading from Deuteronomy. As we start the day with this reading I'd like to remind you of our ecumenical Thanksgiving service at Laurelton tonight at 7pm with our neighbor churches. The point of Deuteronomy is to remind Israel of their past and prepare them for their future in the land God is giving them.

One of our leaders put it well last night in a discussion about prayer. She said it's sometimes hard to pray when things are going well. That's one of Moses' main concerns for the people of Israel after he dies and they settle into the land. He worries Israel will forget that all the good things they have come from God. They'll give themselves too much of the credit for what they have and become arrogant and complacent in their faith. Keeping this book with them would help Israel remember that God gave them everything they have.Thanksgiving does the same for us. Thanksgiving reminds us of all our blessings and reminds us that those blessings are a gift from God.

Blessings on your Thanksgiving week and on living a grateful life each day,

Deuteronomy 8:7-18
7For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. 10You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.

11Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. 12When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions.

He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Good morning brothers and sisters,
Paul rejoices in the faith of the Ephesian Christians and prays that their faith will keep growing. He tells them he hopes God will give them wisdom to see the power and glory Christ will have when he returns. Being confident of God's love and power helps us to stand firm in our faith when life and ministry are difficult. So I join my prayer with Paul's that we would all be full of God's wisdom and confident in God's power.
Blessings on your week,

Ephesians 1:15-23
15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

an exciting twist

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Here's the defining moment in this story from Judges. Israel is fighting the army of King Jabin of Canaan and his general Sisera. Israel is winning with God's help, but Sisera makes an escape. Will he manage a comeback? Judges does feel a little like a comic book at times. Enjoy the reading and see you in worship tomorrow.

Joshua 4:17-24
17Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. 18Jael came out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink; for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20He said to her, “Stand at the entrance of the tent, and if anybody comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’”

21But Jael wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground—he was lying fast asleep from weariness—and he died. 22Then, as Barak came in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to meet him, and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went into her tent; and there was Sisera lying dead, with the tent peg in his temple. 23So on that day God subdued King Jabin of Canaan before the Israelites. 24Then the hand of the Israelites bore harder and harder on King Jabin of Canaan, until they destroyed King Jabin of Canaan.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Deborah and Barak

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Deborah, the judge of Israel, encouraged Barak to lead the army of Israel against the the Canaanite King Jabin and his general, Sisera. Today we see that Barak agrees to go, but only if Deborah goes with him. Deborah seems disappointed in this response, maybe because Barak doesn't show enough trust in God. As we'll see, God does fight for Israel to save them. There are lots of place names here that can throw us off; some Bibles have maps in them, but in this case you can also just ignore them without missing too much. My suspicion is that some of these places won't even be on most maps of the Bible. Just enjoy the story as it unfolds. For those of us who are used to a more peaceful ethic, these violent passages can be challenging. I'm grateful that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but also grateful that God can save the weak from more powerful enemies.

God bless,

Joshua 4:8-16
8Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh.

10Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and ten thousand warriors went up behind him; and Deborah went up with him. 11Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the other Kenites, that is, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had encamped as far away as Elon-bezaanannim, which is near Kedesh. 12When Sisera was told that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13Sisera called out all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the troops who were with him, from Harosheth-ha-goiim to the Wadi Kishon.

14Then Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day on which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. The Lord is indeed going out before you.” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand warriors following him. 15And the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and all his army into a panic before Barak; Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot, 16while Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-ha-goiim. All the army of Sisera fell by the sword; no one was left.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Deborah the judge

Good morning sisters and brothers,
We're not going to read a lot of Judges, but I thought I would include this story because it shows us a woman in leadership, an image that is too rare in scripture to pass up. The judges were generally military and all-purpose leaders. Deborah is the only one who is explicitly associated with "judging" as we usually think of it. She is the second judge we read about, the first being Ehud. As we see in the readings, this story follows the general pattern our introduction laid out: judge dies; Israel turns away from God; God allows enemies to oppress them; Israel cries out; God sends a judge to rescue Israel and the people turn back to God. Let's see how Deborah's leadership will save Israel.

God bless,

Judges 4:1-7
1The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, after Ehud died. 2So the LORD sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. 3Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years.

4At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. 5She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. 6She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. 7I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

introduction to Judges, part 2

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Today's reading gives us a quick summary of the Book of Judges. Israel turns away from God to worship idols. Then God is angry and allows their enemies to oppress Israel. Before long God can't stand to hear Israel's groaning and sends a judge to save them. The people turn back to God under the judge and are victorious over their enemies. The cycle repeats several times during the book, and by the end it is clear that Israel needs a king chosen by God to lead it. Even this is challenging, it will turn out, because kings inevitably become corrupted by the power God gives them for ministry. May we follow the Lord and be faithful to our calling today.
God bless,

Judges 2:14-19
14So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them, and he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them to bring misfortune, as the Lord had warned them and sworn to them; and they were in great distress.

16Then the Lord raised up judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them. 17Yet they did not listen even to their judges; for they lusted after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their ancestors had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord; they did not follow their example. 18Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them. 19But whenever the judge died, they would relapse and behave worse than their ancestors, following other gods, worshiping them and bowing down to them. They would not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

introduction to Judges, part 1

Good morning friends,
We've followed the outlines of Joshua's life as he led Israel into the Promised Land. Now Joshua is dead and things get challenging for Israel's faithfulness. The next few days introduce the Book of the Judges and a particularly disturbing part of Israel's story. With what follows the temptation is to look at Israel's failing and (as David Brooks wrote this morning in the NY Times) "feel superior." The more helpful spiritual practice with readings like these is to reflect on how we turn away in our discipleship and how we can learn to be more faithful. After all, we follow a savior who was faithful unto death.
God bless,

Judges 2:7-13
7The people worshiped the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. 8Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred ten years. 9So they buried him within the bounds of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 10Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

11Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped the Baals; 12and they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. 13They abandoned the Lord, and worshipped Baal and the Astartes.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

closing words

Good evening/morning friends,
Today's reading is Paul's closing encouragement to the church at Thessalonica. He encourages them to keep the faith and to treat others well. He also reminds them that it is God who will keep them safe and faithful. The advice that was good for the Thessalonians is good for us today as well, and the one who calls us is faithful.

Blessings on the new week,

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
12But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.

16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise the words of prophets, 21but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22abstain from every form of evil. 23May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. 25Beloved, pray for us. 26Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. 27I solemnly command you by the Lord that this letter be read to all of them. 28The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

talents in action

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Our readings for today are the same ones we'll talk about in worship. In the first reading Paul encourages the Thessalonian Christians to act like Christians and walk in the light of Christ's love. In Jesus' parable we hear about three servants their master entrusts with money while he is away on a trip. Two of them put their talent (a unit of money, but a great metaphor too) to good use and accomplish a lot. The third servant is scared of messing up so he hides his talent. How are you doing with using the gifts God has given you? Do you sense God calling you to something new?

God bless,

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
1Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!

4But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Matthew 25:14-30
14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Joshua's death

Good morning friends,
After warning the people of Israel that God takes commitment seriously the people still want to make a commitment to God. So today Joshua reaffirms that commitment with laws for the life of faith. Then everyone goes to their assigned land that they have conquered and Joshua's time is over. With Joshua's death the passage makes us wonder what will happen next. Will Israel keep their promises? We face the same question everyday. God calls us to be faithful to our baptismal promises of faith, love and service. Will we follow through on our commitments? By the Holy Spirit's power God gives us the strength to follow, and there is joy in the journey.

God bless,

Joshua 24: 25-33
25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. 26Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. 27Joshua said to all the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” 28So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.

29After these things Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred ten years old. 30They buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 31Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel. 32The bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem, in the portion of ground that Jacob had bought from the children of Hamor, the father of Shechem, for one hundred pieces of money; it became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. 33Eleazar son of Aaron died; and they buried him at Gibeah, the town of his son Phinehas, which had been given him in the hill country of Ephraim.

Friday, November 11, 2011

veterans and our service

Good morning sisters and brothers,
As you begin your day today, I'd invite you to spend a little time reflecting on the service of our veterans including those currently serving. We dedicated today to thanking our veterans, active duty and reserve military personnel for their courage and dedication to protect our country. The Town of Irondequoit hosts a service of recognition for Veterans' Day this morning at 10:45 on the lawn of town hall. I'll be there to offer prayer, and if you're free you might want to join me. Whether you're at the service or not, please remember our veterans and those who serve now in your prayers.

In our reading for today Joshua moves from remembering the past to giving Israel a choice for their future. He invites them to choose to serve God or to serve other gods. God gives us the same choice each day: will we serve the Lord who gives us life and who comes to us in Jesus Christ, or will we serve other gods? Will we serve the gods of money and power who claim our attention in the headlines? Will we serve the gods of the rat race that call us to endless striving to validate our existence with material possessions? Whom will we serve today?

God bless,

Joshua 24: 14-24
14“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.
15Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

16Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

19But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” 21And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” 22Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

gifts of God

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Joshua continues his review of how God has led and blessed Israel. He focuses this section on how God led the way. Israel only needed to follow; they didn't need to earn God's blessings. This way of telling the story, especially the last sentence, fits very well with Deuteronomy, which comes before this book. God's grace is a free gift that comes to us before we do anything to deserve it. We can't earn grace and we don't need to, but we are called to respond by following God faithfully and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

blessings as you follow today,

Joshua 24:8-13
8Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. 9Then King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, 10but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand.  

11When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. 12I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive yards that you did not plant.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

reviewing our history

Good morning friends,
This morning I would ask your prayers for the Western New York NEXT conference. The conference will be held at Third Presbyterian today and will focus on empowering the church for effective and faithful ministry today.

In our reading for this morning Joshua gathers Israel together to give a farewell speech. He reminds them of where they have been and how God has led them. His goal is to prepare them for life without him, since he is coming to the end of his life. He also wants to encourage them to be faithful to God. It's a good review for us of the Old Testament story. The context is always changing, but our calling is still to follow where God leads us.

God bless,

Joshua 24:1-7
Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; 4and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt.

5Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. 6When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

wise and foolish

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Jesus tells a parable to show the importance of being prepared for his return and the coming of God's kingdom. A wedding feast is the setting, which is appropriate because God's kingdom will be full of celebration for everyone. Like yesterday's stories the challenge for us is that God calls us to be ready for God's kingdom, but we don't know when it will come. It also feels like it's taking longer than it should. Jesus reminds us that even if it feels like we're waiting for a long time, when the kingdom comes it will come suddenly.

God bless,

Matthew 25:1-13
1“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Monday, November 7, 2011

like a thief

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Jesus gives two examples of the suddenness with which he will return. One is a thief in the night, who surprises a homeowner. The other example is more extended. Jesus describes a master leaving on a journey and leaving one of his servants in charge while he's away. God is the master and we are the servants in charge. The question for Jesus' disciples (us) is how we will behave while he's away. Will we be faithful to our calling even as the wait for his return gets longer? Or will we take advantage of others, forgetting that we will have to give an account for how we've acted?

Blessings on your day,

Matthew 24:43-51
43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

45“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? 46Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 47Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 48But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. 51He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

questions about the end

Good morning brothers and sisters,
In our reading from Matthew Jesus again emphasizes that he will return suddenly and dramatically. He also tells the disciples that even he doesn't know when the end will come; only God the Father knows that. Our reading from Thessalonians emphasizes that we don't need to worry about those who die before we die or before Christ returns. Regardless of whether we are alive or dead when Jesus comes back, we will be raised up to be with him forever. We can trust God's love for us, no matter what.

blessings this Lord's day,

Matthew 24:32-42
32“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.

16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

an obvious return

Good afternoon friends,
Jesus continues his preview of the judgment day in this morning's reading. The last two days his comments have focused on how the son of man (Jesus) will return suddenly. Today he shifts focus to warn that before his return many people will make false claims about the Messiah. People will claim to be the Messiah or to see him before Jesus really returns. The other thing Jesus talks about today is that his coming will be obvious. He uses the analogy of lightning, you can miss it no matter where you are. He also talks about obvious signs like the sun not shining. Jesus was somewhat subtle in his first appearance; he lets us know that when he returns everyone will know it.

Blessings as you enjoy this beautiful day,

Matthew 24:23-31
23Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’ —do not believe it. 24For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25Take note, I have told you beforehand. 26So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

29“Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. 30Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. 31And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Friday, November 4, 2011

more end thoughts

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Jesus continues his discussion of the "end of the age" in our passage for today. The big take away point to me is that the end will be scary and sudden, but God also takes our needs into account. It will also be a blessing because with the end, God's kingdom comes in power and everything will be made right. We can't predict the end, and Jesus himself felt it would come sooner than it has. We know God doesn't see time the same way we do.

The important thing when we think about judgment and the conclusion of history is that God will bring it at the right time. The appropriate attitude for us is trust because the end of time is in God's hands and God is more loving than we can imagine. There's also an appropriate level of urgency for our ministry because regardless of when the end comes, each day might be our last, so there's no point in waiting to do what we know we are called to do. Also, every day people we know face the day without the hope and joy that comes from knowing Christ. Today God might put an opportunity in your path to share a glimpse of that hope and love with someone.

God bless,

Matthew 24:12-22
12And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.13But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.

15“So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), 16then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 17the one on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; 18the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 19Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 20Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. 21For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

are we there yet?

Good morning sisters and brothers,
My mom sent me an article recently about Harold Camping, the Christian broadcaster who predicted rapture/judgment day dates this past year on May and October 21. Predictions about the end of the world are nothing new. The world feels crazy, (maybe it always has) and people want to know what comes next and when it will happen. In the case of our scripture passage for this morning Jesus begins the conversation by saying that the amazing buildings the disciples are gawking at will be thrown down by God's judgment. The disciples ask him about how to know when that moment will come. Jesus gives some signs, but we'll notice that he never predicts a date or even a year. The fact that God will judge the earth should remind us that we are responsible for how we use the time we've been given. At the same time we don't know when the end is coming and we are called to wait for God's timing in hope.

God bless,

Matthew 24:1-11
As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
4Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8all this is but the beginning of the birthpangs. 9“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

lamenting for Jerusalem

Good morning friends,
Yesterday's reading was a continuation of the "Woes" against the Pharisees and scribes. The passage ended with Jesus asking the religious leader provocatively, "How can you avoid being condemned to hell?" Today's reading picks up with God's attempt to do just that, "Therefore I sent you prophets..." God continually sends us prophets to warn us when we're on the wrong path. The trouble is that the leaders along the wrong path are often committed to that path so they don't want to hear God's correction. That makes being a prophet a dangerous calling.

Jesus gives examples of prophets God has sent but the leaders have rejected and killed. Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom Jesus mentioned is probably really the son of Jehoida, who was killed in the temple for speaking against King Jehoash's idolatry. Jesus also must have John the Baptist in mind, who was also killed for criticizing a leader's sin. And, of course, Jesus is getting closer to the same fate each day.
May God give us ears to hear and hearts to respond,

Matthew 23:34-39
34Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, 35so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.

37“Jerusalem, 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! 38See, your house is left to you, desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

big picture and small details

Blessed All Saints Day,
Today we remember those who have gone before us into God's heavenly kingdom. We consider their lives as examples for our own. We also look at Jesus' criticism of the religious leaders. As usual, he's not pulling any punches. I particularly like the image of straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel. I guess some of the Pharisees drank through a cloth to avoid accidentally swallowing a gnat, since they were religiously unclean animals. Jesus accuses them of taking lots of caution against small kinds of impurity but forgetting the big picture, which is that God wants justice and love first of all.
Blessings on your discipleship today,

Matthew 23:23-33
23“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

25“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. 27“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, 30and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. 33You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?