Wednesday, October 31, 2012

lemons to lemonade

Good afternoon sisters and brothers,
Tonight, we're celebrating Halloween with the neighborhood from 5:30-7. The church is hustling and bustling to get ready, and it's going to be a good time. If you haven't done it yet, make sure to put the time change in your calendar for Sunday. I know I'm looking forward to the extra hour; I'll bet you are too. 

Today's reading comes from Paul in prison. As he starts this wonderful letter to the church at Philippi, he wants to reassure them that he is OK. He assure them that even his time in jail will be fruitful for the gospel and for him. The truth is that God can take anything in our life, good or bad, and use it for our growth. Sometimes our worst moments end up bringing us closer to God. For Paul and the early church, conflict and persecution spread the message of God's love. How can we use our opportunities to share God's love today?


Philippians 1:12-21
12I want you to know, beloved that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear. 15Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; 17the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. 

18What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. 20It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.

Monday, October 29, 2012

know your rights

Good morning friends,
I felt so blessed to be at the UPT choir concert yesterday at Third. Our choir sounded amazing, especially their performance of "Wake up, Church," which captures the moment at Laurelton well. It was especially powerful for me because I know our UPT pastors and musicians were praying for us through our transitions in musical leadership. Being there with people who have been on this journey with us, and having Alan leading our great choir felt like an answer to prayer and an important piece falling into place. It was awesome to see the combined choirs of our UPT churches singing "The Glory of the Lord" from Handel's Messiah. We are stronger together, and it was great to see that.

Today's reading takes place shortly after Paul's arrival in Jerusalem. He told the crowd about his encounter with Jesus and his ministry to the gentiles. At this point the crowd tried to kill him, but the disturbance caught the attention of the Roman authorities, who rescue Paul and then try to figure out what the fuss is about. For the early church, sometimes the government was a threat, but it could also be a protective force. Paul uses everything in his power to spread the gospel, including standing up for his legal rights. When that leads him to prison, he also uses that for evangelism.

God bless,

Acts 21:37-40, 22:3-4, 20-29
37Just as Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” The tribune replied, “Do you know Greek? 38Then you are not the Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?” 39Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city; I beg you, let me speak to the people.” 40When he had given him permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the people for silence; and when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:

3”I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today. 4I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison… 20And while the blood of your witness Stephen was shed, I myself was standing by, approving and keeping the coats of those who killed him.’ 21Then he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

22Up to this point they listened to him, but then they shouted, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23And while they were shouting, throwing off their cloaks, and tossing dust into the air, 24the tribune directed that he was to be brought into the barracks, and ordered him to be examined by flogging, to find out the reason for this outcry against him. 25But when they had tied him up with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who is uncondemned?” 26When the centurion heard that, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? This man is a Roman citizen.” 27The tribune came and asked Paul, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28The tribune answered, “It cost me a large sum of money to get my citizenship.” Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.” 29Immediately those who were about to examine him drew back from him; and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

the business of religion

Good morning sisters and brothers,
There were many different reasons people opposed the message about Jesus. In our passage for today, we hear about one we don't think of often. In this passage the silver-smith lobby encourages a demonstration against Christian teachers because they worry the spread of the Christian faith will take away from those who use statues to worship other gods. They think about this danger both from a religious and financial standpoint, since their livelihood came from building images of the goddess who was popular in Ephesus. 

The other side that is interesting is seeing how the government reacts. The town clerk addresses the crowd and basically argues that the government's job is to promote peace. Christians are not a threat as long as they aren't disrespectful to other faiths. This is a fun story and a good exploration into one role of government.

God bless,


Acts 19:23-40
23About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way. 24A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. 25These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, “Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. 26You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.” 

28When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29The city was filled with the confusion; and people rushed together to the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travel companions. 30Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; 31even some officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theater.

32Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33Some of the crowd gave instructions to Alexander, whom the Jews had pushed forward. And Alexander motioned for silence and tried to make a defense before the people. 34But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours all of them shouted in unison, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 

35But when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Citizens of Ephesus, who is there that does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple keeper of the great Artemis and of the statue that fell from heaven? 36Since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. 37You have brought these men here who are neither temple robbers nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38If therefore Demetrius and the artisans with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges there against one another. 39If there is anything further you want to know, it must be settled in the regular assembly. 40For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41When he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

disobeying kings to follow God

Good afternoon brothers and sisters,
Today's reading is a helpful counterpoint to yesterday's reading emphasizing obedience to government. In this case, the King of Egypt was worried about the high population growth of the Israelite population. Not only did Egypt enslave the Israelites; they also tried to kill the boy babies at birth. The midwifes, heard Pharoah's command, but knew that was against God's will. Instead of following an unjust order, they used creativity, craftiness and deception to bring God's justice. Following God and following government is sometimes more complicated than we can expect, but usually we can do both.

God bless,

Exodus 1:15-22
15The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16“When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” 17But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 

So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

God's servant

Good evening friends,
Today's reading is an uncompromising argument from Paul about obeying government. It's interesting to read that from Paul, who at every turn was respectful to all leaders, in keeping with his words. At the same time, he never obeyed leaders who told him to act against God's calling to preach the gospel. Paul wrote these words about government being ordained by God even while he knew the government might persecute him for his faith. Christians have a challenging balance. On the one hand comes this command, to obey the government and respect it because it keeps the peace and provides stability for us. On the other hand, we know that no matter what, God's calling comes first. 

Paul's words were also written with a totally different concept of government. While Rome had elected officials, the idea that all men and women would be able to vote for a president would blow Paul away. So now Christians not only have to think about how to obey God and government, we also have to think about how to choose our leaders with our faith in mind. At the same time, Paul's words ring true: everything in our faith and life comes back to love. If we think about how to love everyone, including our political opponents, we'll be following God. We may differ in our beliefs about who will be the best president or congresswoman or senator, but as long as we love each other, those differences will not tear us apart. Who knows? we may even learn from each other.

God bless,

Romans 13:1-10
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 

7Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. 8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

judgment and office

Good evening friends,
I want to remind you of a great event next Sunday. The choirs of all our UPT churches will share their gifts at a joint event at 3:30 pm on Sunday at Third Presbyterian. It would be wonderful to have a big turnout to support all the choirs. If you'd like to bring cheese or fruit or cookies, that would be very welcome as well.

This passage is familiar to many of us. It's one of the first passages I think about when I think about faith and politics, which is what we'll be reading, praying and talking about between now and the election. Obviously, I'm not going to try to tell you who to vote for. Both candidates have strengths and weaknesses. As Christians, our job is to seek God's will in our lives, and that includes the life of our nation. We probably have different ideas about what that means, so I'll be interested to hear from you too. This passage gives us a great sense for what's most important to God, by showing us how God will judge us at the end of time. If it's important to God, it's good to keep these things in mind as we choose candidates for office.


Matthew 25:31-45
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Monday, October 22, 2012

My father's house

Good morning friends,
I'd like to start by mentioning that Laurelton will be hosting a Halloween party on Wednesday, October 31 from 5:30-7:00 pm. We'll have refreshments like donuts and cider, along with candy. We're hoping people will stop by to tricker treat with kids or just to visit. All are welcome, so I hope you can stop by. If you'd like to donate cider, candy, decorations or something else for the festivities you can email me or just drop things by on Wednesday during supper and scripture or Saturday or Sunday at church.

Today's reading is a charming story about Jesus as a boy. I always think how anxious Mary and Joseph must have been. I would love for our church, and every church, to be a place where kids feel at home and able to ask questions. That's what I want for everyone in the community, in fact. May we always be welcoming and always learning.

God bless,

Luke 2:41-52
41Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

let the children come

Good night/good morning brothers and sisters,
This passage may be familiar to many of us, but it's a great fit for this week as we consider children and the church's responsibility to support kids, healthy families and communities. The disciples try to protect Jesus' time or dignity or something in the face of parents bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing. I'm not sure what their concern was. In some way, they seemed to feel that children were not worthy of their great teacher's attention. As we see, Jesus felt differently. In fact, a child's curiosity, engagement and openness provides a model for how all of us should approach the kingdom of God. How can we do better? I hope many of you will join UPT for prayer in front of the school board offices (131 W. Broad) on Sunday morning at 8. I'd also like to invite all children/youth and the young at heart to join in a youth led worship service at Brockport Presbyterian Church. We continue Jesus' legacy by honoring, protecting, and ministering with children today.
God bless,

Mark 10:13-16
13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

out of the lips of babes...

Hi friends,
Sorry I didn't get a reading out yesterday; fortunately our reading for tomorrow and Sunday provide a different version of the one we missed. Remember our UPT prayer vigil at the school district at 8 on Sunday morning. Also, there is a youth worship service at the Brockport Presbyterian Church on Sunday from 3-6, that should be a great time for youth and others. Today's reading shows us Jesus getting into trouble with the religious leaders. Even when the powerful and the smart folks don't understand, sometimes the young and outcast do. What might that have to teach us today?

God bless,

Matthew 21:12-17
12Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” 14The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?” 17He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Children's Sabbath

Good afternoon brothers and sisters,
Sunday we finished a long series of preaching and daily readings taking us on a tour through the Bible. This week we shift our focus to thinking about children. We know that children are our future. We also know that today's kids face all kinds of challenges and pressures. This coming Sunday we will observe the Children's Sabbath, led by a group called the Children's Agenda. Children's Agenda works to raise awareness of the difficulties facing kids in Rochester. As a major concern in our society, that's a major concern for the church too. The first part of our children's Sabbath will be a prayer vigil in front of the city school district building (131 West Broad Street, downtown between Plymouth and Washington) at 8 am on Sunday morning with other urban Presbyterian churches.

Today's reading shows Jesus healing two women, a girl with a powerful father and a woman who would have been an outcast with nothing. Jesus loves all of us, no matter what.

God bless,

Matthew 9:18-26
18While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. 20Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” 22Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26And the report of this spread throughout that district.

Monday, October 15, 2012

happy ending

Good morning friends,
Today's reading takes us to the end of Revelation and the end of the Bible. Notice how God's love wins at the end, triumphing over the curse in Genesis and the arrogance of humankind. The promise of a loving restoration of creation is good news for us today. We know how the world's story ends, so we can work fearlessly for a more loving and just world.

God bless,

Revelation 22:1-7, 20-21
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

6And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” 7“See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
20The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

Friday, October 12, 2012

judgment and war

Good afternoon friends,
We know Jesus as the baby in a manger, as teacher, friend and even as sacrifice. In this passage we also see Jesus as he will be at the end: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He will be the righteous judge of all of us. We also see that he is God's word (like in the beginning of John's Gospel). THe image of Jesus on a horse with a sword coming from his mouth is certainly strange, but God's word is often described as a sword because it judges and slices through all the lies we tell ourselves.

As we saw before, Jesus is stronger than all the powers of the earth. The kings and other powerful people might try to fight against Jesus, but they will never win. The good news is that even though Jesus judges, he judges like he lived: with righteousness and love.

God bless,

Revelation 19:11-21
11Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. 13He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. 14And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.

15From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” 17Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly in midheaven, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the mighty, the flesh of horses and their riders—flesh of all, both free and slave, both small and great.” 

19Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against the rider on the horse and against his army. 20And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed in its presence the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21And the rest were killed by the sword of the rider on the horse, the sword that came from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

Babylon and Rome

Good evening friends,
Today’s reading is a challenging one. The writer uses images of prostitution and promiscuity to talk about the way in which earthly power challenges our faithfulness to God. As with some earlier passages, the symbolism here points to Rome, but also applies to more modern powers. The constant is that wealth, power, fame and so on all compete for our attention. God calls us to stay faithful to God, while the lure of power tempts us to compromise our values.

God bless,

Revelation 17:1-14, 18
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great whore who is seated on many waters, 2with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the inhabitants of the earth have become drunk.” 3So he carried me away in the spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; 5and on her forehead was written a name, a mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of whores and of earth’s abominations.” 6And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly amazed.

7But the angel said to me, “Why are you so amazed? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. 8The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the inhabitants of the earth, whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will be amazed when they see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. 9“This calls for a mind that has wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; also, they are seven kings, 10of whom five have fallen, one is living, and the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain only a little while.

11As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 12And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13These are united in yielding their power and authority to the beast; 14they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”… 18The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

another beast

Good evening friends,
Maggie and I spent last night camping in the Alaska mountains next to a glacier. It was an amazing reminder of the glory of God's creation and how small we are. What a blessing. Today's reading takes us back to John's vision. We talked yesterday about the beast that represented Rome. Today we learn about a second beast that supports Roman power. We also learn that the power of Rome forced everyone to show a sign of allegiance to participate in the economic life of the nation. There are many places in the world where the church is persecuted. And even when the church isn't persecuted, there are always other powers that want our allegiance. Anything that tries to take God's place at the center of our lives is dangerous. We are called to be faithful to God, no matter what.

God bless,

Revelation 13:11-18
11Then I saw another beast that rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound had been healed. 13It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of all; 14and by the signs that it is allowed to perform on behalf of the beast, it deceives the inhabitants of earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived; 15and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 

16Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

a dragon and a beast

Good morning brothers and sisters,
We read about the great serpent/dragon/Satan yesterday. Today we see that the dragon is working with another evil beast who rises up from the water. This beast symbolizes Rome, the power that threatened the church at that point. The passage talks about a head that had received a mortal wound but been healed. The Emperor Nero was an especially wicked ruler who killed himself. One of his successors shared many of Nero's qualities and was sometimes seen as Nero reborn. We see in this passage that the beast, Rome, is given power to oppress the church, but that power won't last always. Since then the church has faced other times of oppression, and we can expect that we will again. But God is faithful and one day God will conquer every evil power and all injustice.

God bless,

Revelation 12:18-13:9
(12:18) Then the dragon took his stand on the sand of the seashore. (13:1) And I saw a beast rising out of the sea having ten horns and seven heads; and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names. 2And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority. 3One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement the whole earth followed the beast. 4They worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

5The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. It was given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.

Monday, October 8, 2012

another view of Christmas

Good evening friends,
Today's reading is the Christmas story from a cosmic perspective. We see portents (signs) of Mary giving birth to Jesus and we see how much of a threat to Satan that is. Satan tries to kill Jesus at birth and tries to take over heaven. But Michael, the archangel defeats Satan in heaven, and God protects Mary and Jesus on earth. That leaves Satan with no target but the church on earth. The lesson to take away from this story is that the power of evil is going to persecute the church, but in the end, God's victory is sure. Notice again that the church conquers Satan by testifying to Christ, even when it means risking our life.

God bless,

Revelation 12:1-12, 17
A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2She was pregnant and was crying out in birthpangs, in the agony of giving birth. 3Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 6and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days.

7And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.

12Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”…  17Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

the souls of the martyrs

Good afternoon friends,
Friday we read about Jesus, the lamb of God who was slaughter, being worthy to open the seal on a scroll God was holding. As it turns out, there are seven seals (seven is a number that for Biblical writers represented completion, so several things happen in sevens). When each seal is opened something dramatic happens. In today's reading one of the seals reveals the souls of Christian martyrs waiting for Christ's return and victory over evil. Throughout Revelation we are reminded over and over again about the importance of giving testimony to Christ's lordship and love.

Revelation was written to a persecuted church, a church that didn't have any power in the typical sense of the word. The main point of the Revelation is to remind the church that they are on God's side. Even though it seems like other powers (Rome, evil, pagan rulers, etc) appear stronger, God is actually in charge and God will be victorious one day. The way God conquers is through Jesus' death (the lamb that was slaughtered), and the way Christians play their part is by testifying. This is a different way of thinking about power, but it is how God calls us to think. That's a good reminder for the church today that is worried about loosing financial, social or political power. Like our Lord, we are strong when we are weak, and faithful when we testify.

God bless,

Revelation 6:9-11, 7:9-17
9When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; 10they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” 11They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed.

9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Friday, October 5, 2012

the Lion has conquered

Good evening friends,
Yesterday we started the Book of Revelation with Jesus appearing to John to tell him about what will happen soon. After a short message to each of seven churches in modern day Turkey, John is taken in the Spirit to heaven where he sees God sitting on a throne. Surrounding the throne are four "living creatures" who have several heads, wings and eyes all over. God is also surrounded by 24 elders (think 12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles) sitting on thrones worshiping God around a sea like glass (remind you of a hymn?) The vision continues with today's reading where God ("the one seated on the throne") has a scroll that John knows must be important. Pay attention to how Revelation talks about conquering and what that might say to Christians about how we think about power.

God bless,


Revelation 5:1-10
Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; 2and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. 4And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

6Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9They sing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; 10you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

a revelation from God

Good afternoon sisters and brothers,
Today's reading introduces us to the Book of Revelation, also known as the Revelation of John, because it is a revelation from Jesus to John. The purpose of the revelation is to strengthen John and the church. They faced persecution, and things would likely get worse before they got better. In that situation it was important for God to remind the church that God was in charge. That's the big picture message of Revelation: God's love wins in the end.

Revelation is hard to read because it is a vision. Like dreams, things happen in Revelation that don't make sense. The language is very symbolic and fantastical. Our passage today features Jesus with a sword coming from his mouth. I think the key to reading Revelation is to take it in stride. Don't try to figure out exactly what it "means" but look for the bigger message. While it is at times violent, over all Revelation is a message of hope for the church. We always need that hope, so listen to what the Spirit says to the church.

God bless,

Revelation 1:1-2, 9-18
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

9I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”

12Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. 17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

healing and teaching

Good afternoon friends,
I want to let you know about a worship opportunity that I forgot to announce on Sunday. This evening at 6:30 at St. Ambrose (in the gym) the Northeast Church Cluster will host a worship service for blessing pets. This has become an annual tradition near the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, who was famous for caring for creation. It's a lot of fun, so bring your furry (or feathery, or even scaly) friend for a blessing tonight.

Our reading today will be familiar to many of us from Sunday. Peter and John healed a man who had never been able to walk. When people saw the man leaping for joy and praising God, they gathered around Peter and John to see what was going on. The apostles used this opportunity to tell the story about Jesus and invite people to discipleship. The religious leaders aren't so thrilled. A good reminder of how we can use opportunities to share our faith as well.

God bless,

Acts 4:1-21
While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, 2much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. 3So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.

5The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ 12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

13Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. 14When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. 16They said, “What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. 17But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.”

18So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

glad and generous hearts

Good morning sisters and brothers,
We read yesterday about how Peter preached about Jesus to the crowd that had gathered after hearing the disciples speaking in other languages. Peter's message about how Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead touched the crowd and led them to repentance. Peter invites them into discipleship as well and from there the church grows. Notice what Luke thinks is important about the church: rejoicing, fellowship, prayer, taking care of those in need and eating together. Not a bad starting point.

God bless,

Acts 2:37-47

37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pentecostal preaching

Good morning brothers and sisters,
After Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples followed his instruction and waited in Jerusalem. They prayed and worshiped together and in the temple. One day when they were praying together in an upper room God's Holy Spirit came down on them like fire and led them to speak in other languages to proclaim God's love. This grabbed lots of attention and a crowd gathered. Peter addressed the crowd to explain what was going on. This was the beginning of the church, and in the Spirit's power the message continued to spread. What are you going to do with the message today?

God bless,

Acts 2:14-17, 22-24, 32-36
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…

22“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power…

32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”