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BLOG – June 3, 2020
We are walking through the Fruit of the Spirit this week. Galatians 5:22,23 – The fruit if the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity (Goodness), Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. Against such things there is no law. On Day 2 we come to joy.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Rejoice in the Lord. The presence and action of the Triune God of grace is essential to joy. In fact, all joy rests in Jesus Christ. Joy does not deny there are difficult things in life, things that cause us worry. (Why would Paul say “do not worry” unless he knew there are things that would cause us to worry? He includes this instruction because he wants followers of Jesus to live by a different pattern than the way other people live.) Instead joy looks at things that might cause worry and turns them over to God – “let your requests be made known to God.” And the promise is simple – God will guard our hearts and minds, will give us a peace and calm in the midst of the storm. Guarding our hearts and minds from the waves of anxiety that can sweep us away into hopelessness.
Which takes us back to joy. Vs. 8 suggests one of the tools for building joy. We are invited to turn our minds to the true and honourable, the pleasing and commendable – to the beautiful. Protestant Christians have a certain allergy to the arts (other than music) – there is a long history around this which we do not have time to explore here. The allergy has meant that we are not quick to point to the beauty and joy the arts bring – a beautiful painting, a good joke, a drama that moved us, a novel that opened our eyes to seeing the world differently, a good meal served with artistic flare, and the list goes on. For others the beauty is found in nature – a quiet moment on a lake with the loons’ call, navigating a canoe down some white water, the exhilaration of making it to the top of the mountain. And then there are the joys of camaraderie which are hard in this COVID-19 moment – the band working together to produce a piece, a sports team pulling it out in the last minute to win, the out-of-body experience of being in a big canoe with everyone giving their all.
These moments of joy, these we are to dwell on, reflect on, remember. They are not merely fleeting moments; they are signs of the Spirit at work. There are so many more examples of things that are worthy of praise that we could add. All of which lead to joy.
God of the true and the honorable, the just and the pure, the pleasing and the commendable, we give you thanks for the beauty you bring to our lives. We rejoice with joyful hearts and minds at the beauty you bring into our lives. You have brought into our lives so much that is excellent and worthy of praise. We give you thanks and praise. Above all we rejoice in your Son Jesus Christ and the good he brings to our lives. In his name we pray. Amen.
BLOG – June 2, 2020
We will be walking through the Fruit of the Spirit over the next week and half. Galatians 5:22,23 – The fruit if the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity (Goodness), Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. Against such things there is no law. We begin with love.
I Corinthians 13:4-8a
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends.
It is worth remembering that this chapter, which has become attached to weddings in our thinking, was written to a church (the church in Corinth) where divisions and the anger between people ran deep. Paul is telling Christians who didn’t like each very much that they should act with love towards one another.
In that context the words from I Cor. 13 take on a new depth. To say that the fruit of the Spirit of love lives in me requires me to ask a number of questions of myself: How often do I end up as the main topic, even the center of attention, of conversations I have with others? How often do I speak in a way that if someone else spoke that way I would find arrogant? How often do I insist on my own way? Am I resentful of other people when they do well, when their lives seem easier than mine? Am I somewhat gleeful when an opponent gets a comeuppance? Yes, I feel very convicted by that list of questions.
Vs. 7 is interesting – the first and last (4th) statements are very close – “bears all things” – “endures all things” – in other words love is willing to persevere against all odds. A love that keeps loving even though it is rejected and reviled. The middle two – “believes all things” – “hope all things” – also connect. Love believes the best about the one loved, hopes for the best for the one loved – is willing to hope with belief on behalf of the one loved. To hope and to believe blur into almost the same thing here – the belief that there can be a better – best future – and that feeds the perseverance of the 1st and 4th. A friend of mine frequently comments, “You know who goes to the prisons to see the inmates?” and after a sufficient pause he says “Their mothers.” Mothers who while knowing the truth about their children, believe that there can be a different future for their adult children.
That kind of love does not end.
That kind of love is evident in Jesus’ love for us. And we are invited to love others – our opponents, those we are at odds with, those who irritate us – in the same way.
No surprise then that this is one of the fruit of the Spirit, only by the Holy Spirit can this love grow in us, flow from us. This is not natural, does not happen naturally in human beings, this is a gift from the Holy Spirit. A gift that we need the Spirit to constantly nurture in our lives.
O Holy Spirit, come and grow love in us. A love that bears and endures, that believes and hopes all things. Grow this love in us that we may show it to friend and foe alike, a love that you, O Holy Spirit, alone can cause to live in us. Come, O Holy Spirit, and fire our hearts with the warmth of your love. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG – June 1, 2020
41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day 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, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
On Pentecost Sunday the church grew from 120 people to over 3,000 people. The early church focussed on 4 things: the teaching of the apostles (preaching and study groups); fellowship (caring and compassion); breaking of bread (both communion and sharing meals together – in the early church communion always involved a real meal); and the prayers (worship, which focussed on prayer in the early church).
Vs. 43 says, “many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” As William Willimon suggests, having heard that line we are ready for a story of a great healing. But what we get is “All who believed were together and had all things in common.” This is the wonder and sign Luke thinks is worthy of mention, why? Because it is so shockingly counter-intuitive, so shockingly against the normal state of affairs. To share, deeply share to the point of selling possessions so that there would be money to give to people who were in need. Now, maybe someone would sell off a few things to help a family member. But this is not to help a family member – the people in the early church were helping people they had not met until they connected in church. The church had become their family, a place of profound and genuine caring. A place where people offered their resources so that people had enough to eat and place to stay. They addressed the needs people had, holding their resources in common.
This is truly a wonder. It stands in stark contrast to a world that says, “What I own is mine, and I will use it.” How did this happen? It happened as a result of the Holy Spirit opening the eyes of the church to live by a different pattern than the world around. To live by a pattern that says, “In humility I will consider others as better than myself.” (Phil. 2:3) To put the needs of others ahead of my own wants.
What are we be being called to do? – that is for a conversation to have with God. However, each of us has things we can share with others – it may be financial resources, it may be a listening ear, it may be a card sent in the mail, it may be dropping by and saying “Hi” at social distance. All those things take an effort on our part to show care to another person, putting their needs ahead of our wants.
God of signs and wonders, your Holy Spirit transformed the people of the church, turning them into a family of care and compassion, sharing with those who were in need. Show us how we can respond to the needs of others – with care and compassion, with recognition and resources. Show us how to put the needs of others ahead of our wants, and thus live out the example of your Son Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
A Prayer for Pentecost 2020
God of mercy, we come to you today with broken hearts.
Our hearts are broken by the events of this past week, the violence against George Floyd, the heartache and pain of so many, the anger of protestors, the destruction of property, and the fear that pulsates from our screens in the images and the interviews. Our hearts are broken. Takes us deep into the pain of our Black sisters and brothers.
On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and people of every language heard the good news of your Son, Jesus Christ, in their own language. As the Holy Spirit did its work, people of every tribe and nation, of every ethnicity and race, heard and experienced the good news of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit showed all people that Jesus had come for them, and that Jesus loved them.
As the Sunday School song sings:
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world
Red and Yellow, Black and White, all are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
We confess that we have not lived up to that pattern. We have failed to understand what it means to love people of every tribe and language and race and people group. We have created walls of division that have been enforced by violence. We have acted with arrogance and pride, acting in ways that demeaned and disrespected people of other races than our own, other cultures than our own.
Too often we have shaped congregations to reflect our language and culture rather than being congregations for all people of all languages and cultures shaped and formed around Jesus Christ alone.
Come, Holy Spirit! Rain upon our dry and dusty lives. Wash away our sin and heal our wounded spirits. Kindle within us the fire of your love to burn away our apathy. With your warmth bend our rigidity and guide our wandering feet. Amen.
BLOG – May 31, 2020 (Pentecost)
The Waiting Report – The Holy Spirit has come!!
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
Today is Pentecost. On the first Pentecost people asked, “What does this mean?” The coming of the Holy Spirit changes everything.
We live in a world divided by language. Even those who claim to speak English don’t speak it the same way. When my friend from Jamaica gets going, I quickly get lost. And he is speaking English. That says nothing about the other languages of the world through which human beings communicate, languages which we do not understand. Language divides us.
On the day of Pentecost people of all the language groups mentioned in vs. 9-11 heard in their own language about “God’s deeds of power” revealed in Jesus Christ, who died and was raised to life again. For the death and resurrection of Jesus is the one thing that tears down the barriers of language and culture. The work of God in Jesus crosses every nation and tribe and people group and language – and draws human beings together. It is in our own language that we hear the good news of Jesus, we don’t need another language to hear the news of Jesus. To do the high-flying theological thing – the Holy Spirit brings the incarnation (God with us in Jesus) to reality in every language – in every nation – in every culture of the world. Through the Holy Spirit the message of Jesus speaks to every language group in the world.
In a world that is divided, the only way human beings can imagine unity being achieved is by making everyone the same – same language, same culture. The Holy Spirit’s coming on the day of Pentecost says to all the languages and cultures of the world – there is One who has come and is present in your culture and in your language – that is Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ humanity can find its true unity while remaining the multi-lingual, multi-cultural collective that it is.
The multi-lingual, multi-cultural church is the hope of the world, a church brought into being by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Come, Holy Spirit! Rain upon our dry and dusty lives. Wash away our sin and heal our wounded spirits. Kindle within us the fire of your love to burn away our apathy. With your warmth bend our rigidity and guide our wandering feet. Amen.
BLOG - May 30, 2020
Waiting Report: That makes 9 days – 9 days – really?? How much longer are we going to wait for what will never come.
2 Peter 3:8-15a
8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
O how we want justice! O how we want the doers of wrong to be punished! O how we want the world set right! And God seems so slow in bringing the hoped-for justice. Peter challenges the view that says God is slow. Peter argues that God is patient – with us. (See vs. 9 – “is patient with you.”) Two things in this surprise twist.
First, that we are among those might not be on God’s “good” list. I am not suggesting that we are saved by works – instead, I am saying this passage invites us to seriously consider that God’s slowness in bringing justice is an act of mercy towards us – yes, towards all human beings, which includes us. Vs. 15a puts it clearly – “regard the patience of God as salvation.”
The second twist, is that God’s slowness is part of God’s mercy. For God does not want any to perish (be eternally lost). God wants everyone to repent and turn to him. God’s slowness in bringing justice is an opportunity for us to pray that all people, including those we are at odds with, those upon whom we would want God to enact justice, would find mercy in the patience of God.
In anticipation of the end that is coming and the justice we know is on its way – Peter reminds us that that return of Christ is not just a warning to those we think need to straighten out their lives – it is also a warning to us, to be among those who live lives of “holiness and godliness.” (vs. 11) That is, live lives that point to us being followers of Jesus – lives of patience lived in the hope that others, even our opponents, would find the salvation of God.
God of patience, we rejoice that you have been patient with us. We rejoice that in your patience we have found salvation. Show us how to live holy and godly lives that point others to you so that they too might find salvation in your patience. As we see pain and violence across the US on our TV and computer screens, we pray that our Christian sisters and brothers and we ourselves would be signs of hope, signs of the promised coming of your Son Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
BLOG - May 29, 2020
Waiting Report: 8 days – that is more than a week. More than a week. This Holy Spirit, wonder if it will ever show up. All this waiting. How many times do we need to ask each other – “Did you see anything?”
7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
James lifts up farmers as an example of people who are patient. Farmers can’t make the crops grow, farmers can’t make it rain, farmers have to be patient and wait. Farmers in Palestine depend on two rainfalls – one in Oct. and Nov. which allowed for the planting of crops like winter wheat. But for the wheat to be a productive crop there needed to be the late rains – in March and April. If there was no rain in March and April, then the rainfall of Oct/Nov was wasted. The farmer had to wait for both rains to have a viable crop. James point is a farmer could not harvest after one rain – there had to be two rains. The challenge is to be patient until both rains have fallen. Farmers who are not patient fail to make good farmers. (Jesus is not saying so much about who makes good farmers, as he is inviting us to think about situations where patience is necessary to success.)
I understand patience is necessary in winning a horse’s confidence so that the rider can get on. My father, a math professor, said of first year calculus students, they and their instructors needed enough patience to let them struggle with equations until they finally made the breakthrough.
Patience is about perseverance and endurance. The farmer does not quit when the first rains happen and harvest then. The horse trainer does not give up with the first rejection by the horse. The student who succeeds keeps on trying, even suffering at times.
We have a God who is compassionate and merciful, a God who will provide us with the strength we need to persevere and endure. A God who will give us the resources to be patient. And surprisingly discover ourselves among those who are called “blessed.” (vs. 11)
God of compassion and mercy, teach us the hard road of perseverance and endurance, so that we might be among those who find our patience deepened. Show us the blessing of being patient so that we might find ourselves among the blessed. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Today is International Day of UN Peacekeepers. Peacekeepers need to be patient. In fact, it is one of their primary qualities, trusting that the ceasefire of today will continue tomorrow to become even more secure and growing into something long lasting. Today we pray for peacekeepers around the world who stand between parties in conflict to move warring parties towards peace.
BLOG - May 28, 2020
Waiting Report: Okay, that is a week. No way this is “not many days” – this is 7 days now. And what is it we are waiting for. Did we miss it, has it already happened? Maybe we missed the Holy Spirit arriving?
Romans 8:18-27 (NRSV)
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
This is one of the great texts of the Bible. I feel inadequate to say anything about it.
The opening verses feel like a description of the present, “the sufferings of this present time.” The signs of the creation’s “eager longing” to no longer be subject “to futility” are evident everywhere. So is creation’s “decay” everywhere we look. COVID-19 has pointed points out the futility with which so much of life is lived. COVID-19 has made evident the decay that seeps into our bones and into the life of the world. We and the creation groan regarding the situation we are in. We and the creation desire a freedom to be what we were created to be – but our plans for ourselves and our hopes for the creation fail to be realized. And so, we wait.
We wait for the redemption that has been promised. A redemption that will free us to live as the children of God (waiting for the adoption to become complete). We know who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to be living like – but right now all we have is hope. We live in hope of that which we cannot see but which we know is true. Because we know that it is true, because we know that it will be realized some day, we can be patient.
Weak and limited as we are, we do not know what to pray, all we have is sighs because we don’t know the words to use – yet even in these moments we hope. For we know that what we are and what we are to be will be revealed, and hope will become sight. For that day we wait with patience.
Spirit of God, search our hearts, take our groans and sighs which are too deep for words – take the unspoken prayers of our hearts that we do not know how to say –take those longings, those desires, and bring them to the throne of God the Father. We wait for you to act, for that is all we can do. We wait with patience for we know that you will act. We wait with hope, for you will bring to completion that which you have begun in us and in the world. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG – May 27, 2020
The Waiting Report: Six days now, that is almost a week. How can this fit with Jesus words “not many days from now”? We are definitely beyond a short wait.
Acts 17:16-21 (NRSV)
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19 So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
What to do when you have nothing to do? If you are Paul, you argue with the philosophers in town. But before we are too quick to write off this approach, it is worth backing up to vs. 16.
Paul had had to leave Berea after things got too hot for him there. Christians from Berea had brought him to Athens and safety, and leaving him there they returned home. Paul’s team was not with him. Paul was in Athens alone. Alone and waiting for his team, he started to explore the city. And discovered it was full of idols. He was deeply distressed by what he saw. Out of his distress he did what he did best: he started to talk about Jesus and the resurrection to anyone who would listen. Athens was full of people who loved new ideas to argue about. And here were two new ideas – Jesus and the resurrection. Somehow people missed that they belonged together. Eventually Paul got to preach at the Areopagus – the most influential TED Talk of the ancient world.
Okay, so we are going preaching to a crowd anywhere in the middle of this shut-down. But in the middle of waiting for whatever is next – this question is worth asking – “What distresses you about the community in which you are living?” Are there people in need? Are there people who are worried? Are you burdened by the weight leaders carry? (The danger of making a list like that is people’s ideas get shaped by that list.) What burdens you about the community you are part of – town, neighbourhood, residential complex…? And what gifts has God given you to respond to that burden in this time?
As the great spiritual sang – I have paraphrased slightly.
If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul,
For our world needs to know this truth, from the same spiritual:
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.
While we wait, we can live lives that declare this truth, for there is a balm in Gilead – in Fergus – in Center Wellington – in (fill in the name of your community/neighbourhood) and it is Jesus Christ.
O Lord, to you we turn when our lives are full and when we have nothing to do. Give us eyes to see that our hearts may be broken by the things that break your heart. Show us the tools you have given us that we might respond to the things that break our hearts. We thank you that there is a balm to respond to the wounded of our community, of our neighbourhood, of the world. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG - May 26, 2020
The Waiting Report: Five days now. The well-loved children’s book (fiction), Watership Down, tells us rabbits can only count to four – any number more than four is five, regardless of how many it actually is. It has been five days, it has been forever, when will this waiting end?
The magistrates had them [Paul and Silas] stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
Let’s remember that Paul and Silas had done nothing wrong, they were falsely accused and locked up because of a miscarriage of justice and popular pressure. You can see the whole story earlier in Acts 16. Anyways Paul and Silas are in prison.
Simple lesson here: when you are in prison the best thing to do is sing and pray. That is good advice. Paul and Silas in prison, their feet in the stocks (a board of wood into which their legs were locked at the ankle), and they are singing.
Sometimes this being in social isolation feels like being in prison – fortunately we not locked in the stocks – maybe the best thing we can do is sing and pray.
The earthquake had made freedom for the prisoners, including Paul and Silas, possible, but they did not escape. If the prisoners had escaped the jailor would have been punished and killed for allowing the prisoners to escape. Paul and Silas are more interested the jailor’s health – both physical and spiritual health – than they are in being free. As we desire to be free from this shut-down, as we wait to be freed, Paul and Silas are helpful examples of how to live as followers of Jesus in the midst of a lock-down. Singing and prayer and telling others about Jesus.
God of grace, when we are locked down, social distancing, feeling like we are prisoners, teach us the joy of singing and the power of prayer. Move our hearts and minds to be people of prayer and song as we bear witness to the good news that your Son Jesus Christ has brought. Teach us to be concerned for others, placing their needs above our own. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG - May 25, 2020
The Waiting Report: Four days now – that was Thursday that he said “not many days from now” and it is now Monday. This waiting thing is getting a little irritating.
6 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8 so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
The first three verses of the passage go by us without much meaning because we don’t know the geography. Phrygia and Galatia were the names of provinces of the Roman Empire in the middle of modern-day Turkey. Asia was a province in the south-west corner of Turkey (where Ephesus was) – Bithynia was the province north of Asia.
Paul and the team travelled through central Turkey where they had been before and wanted to go to the province of Asia – which would have meant going to Ephesus. Ephesus was the second largest city in the Roman Empire (250,000 people). But the Holy Spirit said, “No, you are not going there.” Then Paul and the team tried to go into Bithynia – which would have led them to the important city of Byzantium (later known as Constantinople, now Istanbul). Again, the answer was “No.” They had covered more than 500 miles (800 kms) on foot and doors were being closed. They would have been very frustrated as they arrived in Troas (ancient Troy). At Troas they ran out of land. They had nowhere to go, having come to the coast of Turkey. Paul had a vision at night in which a man dressed in distinctively Macedonian clothing said, “Come and help us.”
Let’s stop for a moment. Five hundred miles of walking, two attempts to do mission work in important communities being blocked, to go to Macedonia. Macedonia, once had been important, but not anymore. Ephesus was more important than Macedonia. What was God up to? And if the Holy Spirit was planning for Paul and the team to go to Macedonia, why not make that clear when the team was back in Galatia? If God had laid out the plan earlier then the frustrations would have been less. Instead, God was giving Paul and the team the information they needed when they needed it – it seems almost one day at a time.
Paul and the team were not in social distancing mode – but not knowing what was coming next – not sure what the next move would be – that sounds like what is happening right now. We are invited to join with Paul and his team trusting that God has a road map that will take us one day at a time towards the place he has for us. Towards the plan he has for us.
God of all knowing, teach us the joy of not knowing. God who sees the end from the beginning, teach us the simplicity patience of seeing only the now. God who guides our steps, give us a willingness to rest in your guidance even when we can only see a few steps in front of us. When we do not know you do, may that be enough for us, we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG -- May 24, 2020
23 So Peter invited them [the delegation from Cornelius] in and gave them lodging.
The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. 26 But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; 28 and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”
30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. 31 He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”
The Waiting Report: Still waiting. Ascension Day was Thursday – it is now Sunday – three days of waiting. Jesus said “not many days from now” – three days may not be many, but three days is not nothing.
We have jumped into the middle of the story of Cornelius and friends receiving the Holy Spirit – and I want to look particularly at the timing here. Cornelius (vs. 30) had had a vision of an angel about 3 pm on Day 1 of the story – as a result he sent a group to find Peter who was in Joppa – 63 kms south of Caesarea (where Cornelius was). About noon on Day 2 of the story, the group arrived in Joppa and told Peter their story. After spending the night in Joppa, the messengers along with Peter and his group head for Caesarea (Day 3). Peter and the others arrive about 3 pm on Day 4.
No telephone, no internet, no way of knowing if Peter is coming. All Cornelius has is expectant hope, and on the basis of that Cornelius drew together family and close friends to hear Peter. They are waiting in expectation of Peter’s arrival. And Peter arrives.
Not only does Cornelius have to wait – so does Peter. Peter has a two-day walk to think about what he is walking into. He knows the Spirit has said go – that was what Peter’s vision was all about. But still he is not sure what he is walking into and he has to wait as he walks.
Both Peter and Cornelius take action following God’s lead, actions which lead them into waiting for what God will do. What might God be inviting us to do that will take us deeper into waiting for what God will do?
God of surprise, you call us ever deeper into waiting on you. Even when you called Cornelius and Peter to action, it was to action that led to waiting on you. Show us the paths we are to follow that will lead us to wait on you, trusting that in the waiting you are preparing us to live in hope. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG - May 23, 2020
35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
The disciples are waiting – Jesus told them “not many days from now” the Holy Spirit would come. The arrival of the Holy Spirit sounded like something worth waiting for – that had been Thursday and it was Saturday already – two days. How much longer would it be?
Jesus, in today’s passage, had told the disciples about waiting for the arrival of the kingdom – of the master – of the king. The waiting meant being alert, lights on, ready at the door to open it to let him in.
For the disciples in the days after the Ascension they were not sure what they were waiting for. So, they had to be alert for signs of the Holy Spirit’s coming. It is easy for us to say, “There was no way they could have missed it given what happened on Pentecost Sunday.” But we say that from this side of Pentecost. They were living before that Pentecost Sunday – they had no idea what to expect. They had to stay alert for anything that might be a sign.
We are waiting, not for the first coming of the Holy Spirit, but we certainly are waiting. Waiting for signs it is possible to meet face-to-face with people. Waiting for signs that some of the things we have become used to as being part of summer will be possible. Signs of how to be faithful followers of Jesus in this new time.
We don’t know what we are looking for, don’t know what the signs will look like. Like the servants Jesus talked about – we are alert to any sign of what God might be teaching us in this moment, alert to any sign of where God might be leading in this time.
Not every sign is to be followed, not every sign marks the way ahead. Some signs are distractions – “red herrings”. Some signs look like they are nothing, but their smallness should not cause us to discount them (remember the mustard seed). We need to stay alert, constantly on watch for signs of where God is working, and finding opportunities to open the door to what God is doing.
When God makes God’s move may we be ready to join him, ready because we have been watching and alert in our waiting.
Lord God, you hold the timing of all things in your hands. We wait on you. You are the one who will bring things into being in your perfect timing. We wait on you. Help us to see the signs of you making your move, that we might be ready with the door open to your action in our world and in our lives. Teach us the discipline of being alert as we wait. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG - May 22, 2020
42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.
During the 40 days between the Resurrection (Easter) and Ascension (Ascension Day) Jesus “ordered” the disciples “not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.” Jesus said: “This is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” After the Ascension the disciples were waiting for the Holy Spirit – waiting for a non-specified period of time “not many days.” Until Pentecost we are looking at New Testament texts about “waiting.”
Joseph was “waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.” There is waiting – and there is waiting.
Joseph is waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. He is not inactive in his waiting – in fact, his waiting makes him bold. He is waiting in hope, hope that the way things seem is not the real way things are. That maybe God is up to something in the cross. I am not saying that Joseph expected the Resurrection, no one did. But Joseph did think that God was still worth being loyal to even in the face of the cross – and so Joseph was bold and declared his loyalty to Jesus, even when declaring such loyalty was dangerous. (If they killed Jesus, maybe they would kill his followers.)
We too are waiting. We are not sure what is going on, what is coming next. But maybe God is going to use COVID-19 in ways we don’t see, in ways we can’t even imagine. Can we wait expectantly? Waiting actively living as loyal followers of Jesus Christ? Can we show we follow Jesus by boldly caring for others, showing compassion in a world where anger flares so quickly?
God of the unknown tomorrow, teach us to wait expectantly for continuing unveiling of your kingdom. Teach us to wait in hope, even though we do not know what the future will bring. Give us courage to act boldly in our loyalty to your Son Jesus Christ, that we might be recognized as citizens of your Kingdom. Displaying the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG - May 21, 2020 -- Ascension Day
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Luke 9:51 reads, “When the days drew near for him [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” When we hear about going Jerusalem we think immediately about Jesus’ death on the cross. But the words “taken up” are not the way the cross is usually referenced – usually it is “lifted up” to the cross. I think “taken up” refers to the ascension. For the ascension is the completion of the Jesus’ story on earth.
Jesus came from heaven to earth in the Incarnation – and while the Crucifixion and Resurrection are of central importance to the story of Jesus and Christianity – it is the Ascension that takes Jesus back to heaven from earth.
The Ascension returns Jesus to the right hand of God the Father. The Ascension confirms that the crucified one is in fact the King. We at St. Andrew’s have been making our way through the parables of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13) on Sundays – on Ascension Day we are reminded that Jesus is the King of this kingdom he has been talking about. That kingdom as we have seen again and again includes the entire world – all of creation is included – “the whole field” (Parable of Sower, Parable of Weeds), “the whole lake” (Parable of Net).
Jesus as king of all of creation is bringing redemption to all of creation – people, animals, plants and trees, rocks and water – all of it will be reconciled in the kingdom that Jesus is bringing into being. The king is the king of all things.
As the king all things – all the powers (political, economic, social, military, judicial) of this world will bow before him in lowliness and humility – before the lowly, humble, crucified king.
On this Ascension Day in the middle of COVID-19 – we are invited to hold these truths:
We must not be discouraged by what our eyes see – for we live in hope, trusting in what we cannot see with our eyes – but see with the eye of faith, that Jesus the king is secure on the throne.
God of majesty and glory, you have taken your Son, Jesus Christ, into heaven with you, where he is seated at your right hand. We rejoice that the Ascended Jesus Christ is the King and that He will reconcile all things, redeeming everything in creation. We rejoice that He is King over every power and authority. We celebrate and worship the Ascended Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
BLOG - May 20
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
I lived in Shiraz, Iran in the mid-1970’s, before the Islamic Revolution. Houses were built with almost no foundation – a trench the depth of two bricks would be dug as the foundation of a two-storey house. Friends of my parents had one wall of their house fall down because two layers of brick as a foundation would not support the wall.
Foundations matter. They don’t look important. No one comes up to a home owner and says, “Your house has a beautiful foundation.” Foundations are unassuming, even hidden. Building foundations is not exciting work – does not draw praise from onlookers. But foundations provide security against the storms of life.
And certainly, the storms of life will come, in fact we are living through one such storm right. If we take a narrow read on Jesus words when he says “hears these words of mine and acts on them” as referring to The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) I have been appreciating how just applicable The Sermon is to the present context.
Two additional things to notice:
First, Jesus says that foundation building is a two-part process – hearing Jesus words AND acting on them. These practices not something we pay lip service to; they are also things that we do the unseen work of living out.
Second, they are not flashy, they are not things that draw attention, they are often hidden like foundations are.
Living into those ways of being would send us deep into our spiritual roots and deep into God. By our own strength we can not do this. That is why it would send us deep into God. Deep into foundation that will allow us to stand the storm.
As the great hymn says, “O Jesus is a rock in a weary land, A shelter in the tine of storm.” We live a weary land. We are wearied by the storm that is raging. We live in a weary land, and the strain of being in this land are starting to show in people’s words and actions. The only shelter – the only foundation at will carry us through is Jesus.
God of the unseen and the hidden, teach us to build foundation in you, the solid rock which gives us security in times of storm. Teach us the contentment of having good foundations, even if they don’t seem flashy or attention grabbing. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG – May 19, 2020
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.
On May 17, we looked at the opening verses of Matt. 7, “Do not judge, lest you be judged.” This passage would give some nuance to those words – for today’s passage makes clear discernment is essential. Without discernment how will we able to recognize if good or bad fruit is being produced – in other people’s lives or our own lives.
The start of vs. 16 is repeated as vs. 20 – bookends around this conversation about bearing good and bad fruit. All of which Jesus links to knowing who are wolves dressed up like sheep. That is, persons who are doing harm although they look like they are seeking to do good.
This is an invitation to look at the fruit we see in the lives of leaders (Jesus is talking about “false prophets” that is leaders), the impact leaders have with their lives, the way they live their lives. (I also think it is worth asking what kind of fruit we are growing in our lives.) This quickly becomes a conversation morality – do we live lives that live up to the 10 commandments? But I am not sure that that is all Jesus means.
I think the question may also include: what impact do our lives/leaders’ lives have on other people? For example: Do they show care and compassion – that would certainly be part of this. Bearing good fruit, living out good deeds.
Or what about: Do leaders’ words and attitudes create division and a critical spirit? In our/leaders’ desire for making sure that people are bearing good fruit do we/leaders make people anger and upset? These might in fact be like the wolves in sheep’s clothing. We/They want people to live God’s way and in helping people live God’s way we/they turn people off and anger people.
A line I heard a long time ago rings for me, “When does doing the work of God, start getting in the way of God doing God’s work.” The bad fruit may appear in the lives of people who are really trying to help God, honestly believing we/they are helping God, but in the process, doing damage to the kingdom of God and to people in the church.
In the middle of COVID-19 we have opportunities to bear good fruit showing care and compassion, reaching out. But as well in the stressful times like these, it is easy to hurt people’s feelings, to damage relationships by the ways we speak and act. Paul invites us to speak “the truth in love.” It is very easy to speak in ways that fall short of being loving in the midst of stress and fatigue. May God help us to bear good fruit with our actions and with our words.
O God, you want us to grow good fruit in our lives. Help us to do that, so that our words and our actions would exhibit signs of your kingdom. May we act in ways that advance your kingdom, rather than hindering it. As we become fatigued by the stress of social distancing and the challenges of physical distancing teach us the patience and the wisdom of being quick to listen and slow to speak. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
BLOG – May 18, 2020
7 “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
A story from Africa. The missionary and some church elders were on their way to the central mission station for one of the missionary’s twice a year trips out of the village where she was doing Bible translation. The journey to the mission station was 3 days up-river in a dug-out canoe with a small outboard motor to drive it up-river against the current. On the morning of third day the motor stopped. There had been a miscalculation in how much gas would be needed and the fuel was gone. The missionary was upset, the river’s current was too strong to paddle against, the only option she saw was to drift back down river to the home village get more gas and head out again. The elders had another plan, they prayed, “Lord of the universe who gives the sun and the stars their power, put a little of that power in this gas tank so we can get the missionary to the mission station today.” And with that they pulled the cord on the motor and it started and they got to the mission station that afternoon.
The passage is breath-taking in its directness. The invitation is what do you want, ask – what are you seeking, ask for it – what door you want opened, knock on it. Jesus puts no conditions – no rules – no pattern – no magic words – just ask – seek – knock. The Lord’s Prayer is entirely petitions – asking, seeking, knocking.
We want to say, “But if we tell people to just ask, they might ask for the wrong thing.” Jesus does not put any restrictions on here, he says, “Pray.” We want to say, “But people need to know that not every prayer gets the answer we want.” Still Jesus says, “Pray.”
Jesus invites us to be less worried about figuring out the mystery of prayer, or the secret of prayer, and just get into the business of praying.
Jesus also wants people to know that God is a good and loving Father who wants to give good things to his children, to those who come to him and ask. The bread and stone thing, the fish and snake thing sound weird. But in Greek the word for bread and the word for stone used here rhyme – sort of like saying in English no one whose child asks for lunch will give them a punch instead. The same with fish and snake – although the rhyme is not quite as close. The point is: God is not going to give us bad gifts if we ask him, he is not going to harm us if we seek something, he is not going to slam the door in our face if we come knocking. So, trust God and pray.
God our Father, you are a good and loving parent to all your children and to us. Your Son, Jesus, taught us how to pray, but we confess that we frequently forget to pray. Cause us to be people who pray, people who ask, seek, knock. Cause us to trust you to bless. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
BLOG – May 17, 2020
Matthew 7:1-6 (ESV)
7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
6 “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that people’s “Hypocrisy Detectors” are working overtime these days. By that I mean public figures who insist on a particular pattern of action and then themselves do something different are quickly exposed and ridiculed. These verses warn about the dangers of hypocrisy – not in the lives of others, but in our own lives.
I like this particular translation for the strong word “with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged.” And that is the heart of the matter, we publicly judge others, publicly vilify others, publicly ridicule others – and then we do the same thing. Jesus says, those who develop a set of criteria for judging others, will find that same set of criteria will be used on them. In other words, the value system we impose on others, will be imposed on us. Here is where I so admire the Mennonite tradition, whose commitment to non-violence is so deep they will not use force (violence) to impose non-violence. Screaming at someone that they should be loving, does not seem like a loving act. Demanding ethical action from another, while failing to live an ethical life one’s self is hypocrisy.
The speck and the log in the eye is an exaggeration on Jesus part, no one literally has a log of wood in their eye. But the play between speak and log should not be missed. The Greek word translated “speck” could also be translated “splinter” as in a tiny piece of wood. The word translated “log” is also about wood. My point is this – the thing I notice in the other person and judge – is often the thing in me that is a problem. To be very personal here – I am very critical when people speak with intellectual arrogance, and I know that I can exhibit even more intellectual arrogance than the arrogance I react against.
Does that mean there is to be no evaluation, no discernment, no saying “that person is dangerous to be with”? All of those sound like making a judgement. Jesus does not say “don’t judge” – he says “Whatever set of criteria you use to judge will be used on you.” In vs. 6, Jesus clearly says we are to exercise discernment regarding who we speak of “the holy” to. There is not space to unpack this further – but to note that in this context it is clearly saying we are to exercise discernment in a way that is not hypocritical.
God who sees the hearts of every person, and still loves all people. Teach us to examine ourselves with honesty and rigour, that we might know the logs in our eyes. And give us the courage to deal with those logs. Teach us humility when addressing the specks in other people’s eyes. Show us the path of merciful discernment. These things we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
BLOG – May 16, 2020
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
The logic of the argument is so compelling, how can anything be added to it? Worry about material things is pointless – first, because it does not accomplish anything – we can’t live an hour longer by worrying (in fact, worrying may shorten our lives); second, if God provides food for the birds of the air and “clothing” for the “grass of the field”, surely God will provide our needs.
Even though the argument is compelling, we still worry. Especially we worry in the middle of COVID-19. The list of things to worry about is long – our health, the health of loved ones, our finances, other people’s finances, the grandkids – will they have work, and on and on it goes.
In vs. 32 and vs. 33 – the same Greek verb is used – translated “strive” in the NRSV – could also be “seek”, “pursue”. Human beings are built to strive for something, to seek after something, to pursue a goal – we are not built to drift aimlessly. Jesus, who understands this truth about humans, gives us something to pursue – strive for – “the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness”. The energy we put into worry now has a place to go – has a focus – “the kingdom of God”.
The worry runs high right now, Jesus knows that, he would invite us to ask ourselves where can I put that nervous, anxious energy that serves the kingdom of God. Calling those who are alone, planting a garden, writing notes to people, make something as a thank you and drop it off at someone’s door, make a list of people to pray for – include people who don’t usually show up on your list – and pray for them. Reach out in a way that takes the attention off of what you are likely to worry about and put that energy into what God is about.
Lord God, your Son Jesus told us not to worry, you know how easily we do exactly that. Show us how to take our nervous energy and our anxiety and use it towards your kingdom. Show us today one thing that we can do to strive for your kingdom, and then push us by your Spirit to do that. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG – May 15, 2020
Matthew 6:19-21, 24
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also….
24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
COVID-19 has stripped away many of the things that people sought after: cruises – who wants to go on a cruise these days?; attending a packed out concert or sports event – who wants to sit beside someone you don’t know for 3 hours?; shopping – does anyone really enjoy shopping in the new normal?; financial security – whose investment portfolio has not taken a hit? The fast life, the travelling life, the socializing life – all of those are gone. All of that taken not by moth or rust – but by a virus too small to see.
Jesus would have us ask, what is the treasure that we are seeking? He warns that all material treasure is in some way subject to decay or simple theft. As any faithful watcher of “Ocean” movie franchise knows not even the most sophisticated system of locks and safes can keep a motivated collection of thieves out. So Jesus has tipped his hand – only treasure stored in heaven is safe from decay and theft – and tiny little viruses. But that raises the question, “What does treasure in heaven look like?” I am not so sure that the question is what does that treasure look like? – I think the question is which treasure draws us – pulls on our heart strings.
That is certainly where Jesus goes in vs. 24. There is only one boss in our lives – only one captain of the ship – only one master – God or money. Money functions as two realities in our lives.
First, it draws comparison between ourselves and others. It tells us how important we are, how good we are at our job, what our value is. The more money we have the more important we are – the more valuable we are – is the way the story goes. It is easy to let money’s way of measuring say who matters.
Second, money lets us feel self-sufficient. Financial institutions promise to calculate how much money we need to be comfortable, how much we need to be secure.
In both of these cases money does us a dis-service. It is not the best way to measure people’s value. It cannot provide security as the present moment reminds us. Money cannot provide the two things we want from it – if money cannot deliver those two things then it is not worthy of being followed.
God gives us our value – that we are people made in the image of God, loved by Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit – that is the only value that matters. Our only true security is in God – everything else will fail as we have already seen. The choice is simple – putting God first is the only answer not only for the life to come – but also for the present life.
God of grace and love, you have stripped away many of the things we so easily pursue. Show us the path that will draw us to the treasure you have for us in heaven. Break us free from the way money measures and its false promises, that we might live as true servants of you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG – May 14, 2020
16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
We jumped over what Jesus said about Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer, because I preached on those earlier in our time in Matthew. We come to fasting. What follows is a jumble – I apologize in advance.
Fasting is a spiritual practice that most North American Christians don’t engage in that much. Among the purposes that fasting serves are these three:
Jesus continues his comments about doing spiritual practices in secret, where no one can see. He says, “If you are fasting don’t go around holding your stomach and having a haggard face that makes it obvious that you are in pain.” No, Jesus says, “Look normal, wash your face, put on make-up like you normally do. To the best of your ability, no one should guess that you are fasting.”
The heart of the matter is this, we do not do spiritual practices so that other people can see that we are being spiritual and say, “Oh wow, aren’t they such spiritual people.” Spiritual practices shape us and form us – they are worth doing because they are worth doing, even if only God knows we are doing them. They are good in themselves, even if no one else knows what we are doing. We continue our spiritual practices in a way that does not draw attention to the spiritual practices.
Might we consider the present moment a kind of imposed fast – a fast not from food – but a fast from in-person relationship with others. We are becoming aware of just how much that is important to being a human being – to have in-person relationships with other people. A number of people have commented that when social distancing is eased and we are able to be together in groups, they will never again laugh at people’s awkward antics when they are in groups, because we are so “hungry” to be with other people. Might this fast shape us to value in-person contact with others, rather than see it as a burden which is part of life. Might all of this raise the importance of the spiritual practice of hospitality and welcome. Will we learn to practice hospitality and welcome not as show, but as spiritual practices which are good in and of themselves.
Lord God, You invite us to do spiritual practices in secret so that they might shape us and form us, not being done as performance for others. In the “fast” from in-person contact give us a growing hunger to connect with others, so that we will value the gift of being together – to meet and see and be with the neighbour, the friend, the colleague. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG – May 13, 2020
Matthew 6:1-4 (NRSV)
6 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Vs. 1 is a driver for what Jesus will say about three practices which are regarded by many people as central to their spiritual lives – Giving, Prayer, and Fasting. These three practices appear in many world religions. For example, it is presently Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. The unique twist Jesus gives these three practices is his invitation to his followers to do these spiritual practices privately – even secretly. The spiritual practices are not to be done so others see us being spiritual – spiritual practices are between God and ourselves.
The first practice Jesus addresses is giving alms – financial giving. Jesus may be exaggerating somewhat about trumpets announcing contributions to the temple. Yet we live in a world where donors are offered the opportunity to have their names placed on a wall of donors, to have their names appear in annual reports, to be mentioned in public as being generous in their support of the charitable cause. If the donation is large enough a press conference or reception will extol the virtues of the magnanimous donors.
Jesus is very critical of this approach – “Those named in this way have received their reward. They will not be recognized by God.” Giving is secret, private – between God and ourselves. Without fanfare – without attention – quiet giving. So quiet that your left hand does not know what your right hand is doing.
I admit I have struggled with what to say beyond that which seems so obvious. I offer to the two following reflections half-formed as they are.
First, in making a big show of giving I draw attention to what I have earned which allows me to now give. Public attention for my donations feeds my sense of self, highlighting my power and importance. I am put at the center, my ego is fed. If anything, the Sermon on the Mount invites humility. Being honoured for giving draws the attention to me – and not to God who is The Giver of all things, including my ability to give.
Second, spiritual practices are goods in and of themselves. We practice them because of their inherent value. We are generous, because being generous is a good thing in itself. It is good independent of whether other people benefit from our giving. It is good to give because giving is a good. If giving is a good, then being honoured for giving diminishes the good of giving – which is Jesus’ point.
In a COVID-19 world where acts of generosity draw the media’s attention, we are invited to be content with the joy of giving. The joy of knowing that giving is a good that God has invited us to practice. Rejoicing in the simplicity and humility of giving without attention or fanfare.
God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and the wealth of every mine, we rejoice in your generosity to us. Teach us to be generous with the bounty your have given us. In our generosity may we bring you pleasure as we imitate your giving spirit. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG – May 12, 2020
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,[a] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
God is love, this is the definition of God we find in I John. That love is not only for the nice people, not only for those who do good things – no, God’s love is for all people, even those who have turned their backs on God. God sends rain and sunshine to both the good and the bad. God provides the necessities of life to those who follow him and those who do not.
Those who would be known as children of God are to look like their parent, living God’s pattern in their lives. (It is worth remembering the peacemaking beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.”) God’s children love their enemies. God’s children pray for those who persecute them that God would bless the persecutors. (The prayer for our persecutors is not that God would punish them, rather it is that God would be gracious to our persecutors. Jesus prayed for those who were crucified him, “Father, forgive them.”)
Jesus understood that he was asking his followers to be different, to be exceptional. The blessing of enemies marks Jesus’ followers as different.
Vs. 48 presents a bit of a challenge – does it conclude the whole section which started in Matt 5:17 about Jesus coming to fulfill and extend the law OR does it conclude just this short piece about loving enemies? Today as I write I think it is just about this short piece (tomorrow I might change my mind). Jesus understands how hard what he is asking for is, and people who live this way have become like their Father in heaven – truly living as God’s children.
As we wait in this COVID-19 world it is so easy to identify enemies. Regardless of what we think the way ahead is, there are opponents who are prepared to lambast us and worse. The invitation here is to pray for those who we think are wrong – praying not that God would change their minds, but that God would bless them. The invitation here is to pray for those who have said harsh things about us or about what we are doing or not doing – praying not that God would defend us, but that God would send sunshine and rain to them just as God sends sunshine and rain to us. May we learn the challenging road of wishing our opponents well, of praying blessing on those who we think are wrong, and of learning to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us.
God, You are perfect in all Your ways, loving enemies and showing mercy to those who despise and deride You. Teach us how to walk Your path that we might be called Your children. Teach us how to love our enemies. Show us how to pray blessing upon those who revile and deride us. Give us thankful hearts so that we might rejoice in the blessings that you give to the righteous and to the unrighteous. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG - May 11, 2020
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
With these words it feels like we have entered a completely different world than the one we are living in. The demand for justice runs high – we hear it when people want closure from a person who has harmed them, we hear it in the demand that the person who has harmed me be held accountable for their actions, we hear it in the demand that the wrong-doer compensate the ones they have harmed. Jesus has a completely different way.
He uses three stark examples. Someone slaps me (that is, physical and emotional) I am to let them slap the other side of my face. I am not to resist the person who insults me. What kind of action is this? What kind of way of living is this?
Someone sues me to take my coat (for peasants living in Judea, their coat was also their blanket at night), I am to give up my sweater as well. I am not to resist the person who is seeking to destroy me financially and materially. What kind of action is this? What kind of way of living is this?
Someone is bullying me and takes my lunch money I should give them my supper money as well. Roman soldiers had the right to make anyone in Judea carry the soldiers pack 1 mile – the law allowed them to bully people this way. Jesus says, “if your oppressor makes you carry it one mile, carry it a second mile.” (“Going the second mile” comes from this teaching, of doing more than the oppressor asks for.) I am not to resist the bully. What kind of action is this? What kind of way of living is this?
Our culture says, “Stand up for yourself. Defend your rights. Don’t give into bullies.” Jesus says the opposite. Following Jesus’ teaching on this is a lesson in self-control, a lesson in calming the impulse in us that wants to stand up and hit back, that wants to retaliate. What lies at the core of such teaching?
The methods we use to respond to the evildoer are so often the very methods the evildoer is using. As the saying goes, “Fight fire with fire.” Fight the insulter by insulting back; fight the unjust lawsuit with an equally unjust one in return; fight the bully by being a bigger, tougher bully. In following that path, we have become doers of evil ourselves. We are not to take up the weapons of evil to fight evil. (I realize that the state/government has been given powers the individual does not have. We are focused here on individual actions.)
In the midst of COVID-19 there are times when it feels like we are being insulted, put upon, even bullied. We are invited to be people who exercise self-control, who follow the Jesus way of not fighting back. We are invited to take up the stance of gentleness and goodness in the face of provocation and bullying. This road is not easy, only with the help of the Holy Spirit will we be able walk this road.
God of gentleness, your Son, Jesus Christ, taught that we should not resist the evil-doer. We confess our desire to defend ourselves, our desire to hit back when we have been hit, our desire to crush the bully. By the work of your Holy Spirit come to us and shape us into people who live lives of gentleness and goodness, of self-control and trust in Your justice. These things we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, the coming Judge. Amen.
BLOG – May 10, 2020
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
This passage invites a variety of reflections – so I invite you to a disjointed collection of thoughts. I may be speaking more to myself than to anyone else, since I make my living by words.
1. Words matter. We live at a time when words are being devalued. On the one hand, words are used to raise emotions and so word inflation happens. Think of all those times when the word “crisis” was used in the past – do any of those “crisis” moments feel like this “crisis” moment? When we use inflated words, we devalue words. Jesus would have us use simple speech.
Jesus invites us to keep our word – when we make a promise, we mean it and we intend to keep that promise. Psalm 15 carries the provocative line: “Keep your word even when it costs you.” Sometimes keeping our promises is costly, Jesus invites us to keep our word even if costs us.
I look at that list and feel, “Well there is no room for great soaring oratory with these as guidelines.” But then I think, “Maybe honest, simple, clear speech is needed more than great oratory. Or might it be that honest, simple, clear speech is great oratory.”
God of words, you spoke and the world came into being. Your Son Jesus Christ, the Word, came and lived among us speaking your truth. The tools you have given the church to carry out your mission are the words of the gospel message. Shape our speech to be honest, simple and clear – strip us of exaggeration, façade and obfuscation. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG – May 9, 2020
Isaiah 26:8 in The Message translation reads: “We’re in no hurry, God. We’re content to linger in the path sign-posted with your decisions.” The verse got me thinking – what are we do as we wait for God to act? Human beings are built to be doing something, we are not designed to sit around doing nothing. In fact, the last two months have proven just how much human beings are not built to do nothing. From now until Ascension Day (May 21) we are going to look at portions of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) as “the path sign-posted” by God for our pattern of living in this time of waiting.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
Brendan Leipsic, an NHL hockey player with the Washington Capitals, lost his job this week because things he said and wrote in a “private” social media conversation were leaked. Leipsic said insulting and degrading things about women and team-mates. On social media the language used to describe other people ramps up so fast. People who disagree with each other call each other “idiot”, “stupid”, “jerk”, and worse.
Insults come flying out of our mouths so easily. We quickly become angry, especially when we are under stress. Jesus says that people walking the path he has sign-posted will be different. Jesus issues this stern warning – “The good book says if you murder someone you will be judged – but I say to you if you insult your human sister or brother you will be judged.”
Fortunately, Jesus does not leave it there, with us being judged and found guilty. Jesus knows we will say things “in the heat of the moment” that are derogatory and insulting. He invites us to deal with that by going to the person we have harmed and to be reconciled to our brother or sister. That reconciliation is to take precedence over everything even the worship of God.
In this time of waiting, as some things open up and other things don’t, the opportunities for anger and frustration will increase. We are invited to be people who follow the path sign-posted by Jesus – to not speak in insulting ways about others, and when we do insult others to seek reconciliation as a top priority.
God of wisdom, you have sign-posted the paths that lead to life and human flourishing. Teach us in this time of waiting to walk those paths with humility and in obedience. Teach us to hold our tongues. Reshape our hearts and minds so that we do not insult others. And give us the courage to seek reconciliation with those we have hurt with our words. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG - May 8, 2020
16 I hear, and I tremble within;
my lips quiver at the sound.
17 Though the fig tree does not blossom,
The Biblical book of Habakkuk ends with a poem/prayer and this is the end of that prayer. The words are extraordinary.
Habakkuk has had it out with God, Habakkuk has spoken his mind and God has said, “I will let you see what I am going to do.” When Habakkuk complained about the plan, God said, “Justice will come. It will come on my timing and in my way. But it will come and the arrogant and the proud will be overthrown. Those who live trusting and following me will find life.” (That is a summary of yesterday’s reading.)
Habakkuk (vs. 16) has heard what God has said. Habakkuk believes that God will act. At some point God will act. But that may be a long time from now. Habakkuk does the only thing he can do, “wait quietly” for God to act.
And then come the extraordinary words of vs. 17 – which if I can try this paraphrase:
Though the stock market goes to zero,
And RRSPs are worthless;
Though the factories are closed,
And the fields have no crops;
Though the food is gone from store shelves,
And the only soup in the soup kitchen is water;
And the shock of vs. 18 hits
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
The Heidelberg Catechism’s first question is, “What is our only hope in life and death?” The answer comes ringing through: “That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.” The life we live, we live for the Triune God of grace – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is why Habakkuk can confidently rejoice in the Lord and declare that God the Lord is his strength. It is not about Habakkuk – it is about God.
Whatever COVID-19 does to us – no matter how great its impact – it cannot take our hope – for we belong body and soul, in life and in death to God and to our Saviour Jesus Christ.
God of all hope, we belong body and soul, in life and in death, to you and to your Son and our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Even if the food is gone and the bank accounts are empty – we will rejoice in you. For in you is our hope, in you is our life, in you is our confidence. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG – May 7, 2020
Habakkuk 1:12 - 2:4
[This is Habakkuk speaking]
12 Are you not from of old, O Lord my God, my Holy One?
15 The enemy brings all of them up with a hook;
2 I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart;
[Then God answers]
2 Then the Lord answered me and said:
Habakkuk and God are in conversation together. The portion above is round 2 of that conversation. Habakkuk has a complaint against God. It started with the fact that there were those in Israel who were disobeying God, and Habakkuk wanted them punished. God’s response was, “I am going to punish them. I am sending the Chaldeans [Babylonians] and they will wipe out those in Israel who do evil.”
This is the point at which the passage above picks up. Habakkuk says to God, “Wait. How could you think having the Chaldeans invade is a good idea? They are terrible people, who humiliate others and worship false gods. They are arrogant in their destruction of people and nations and cultures.” One has to give Habakkuk credit: he is bold enough to speak his mind to God. (We are invited to be bold and tell God what we think.) Having thrown down his challenge, Habakkuk says, “I am going up the watch tower to see what answer God will give.”
Working backwards through God’s answer. Vs. 4, the proud (those who depend on themselves, who believe they are self-sufficient) are not right in their spirit, their pride will catch them and destroy them. On the other hand, the righteous (those who trust in God alone) they will find life and will make it through. Backing up to vs. 3, it may not seem like the proud will be overthrown or that the righteous will be lifted up. Because the arrogant and powerful seem to be in charge, but even if it seems like their end will never come, God promises the day is coming when he will set all things right.
Even as we are impatient, we are to be confident that God will act. God invites us to write it on billboards (vs. 2) to remind ourselves to find life in the faith that God’s kingdom will fully be revealed.
God of mercy, we recognize that we prayed for the world to change – but we did not want it this way. We recognize we prayed that we would be changed – but we did not expect the change to come this way. We thank you that with Habakkuk we can be bold and raise our questions, concerns and complaints with you. Teach us a confident patience that knows you will bring your kingdom to fulfillment. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG – May 6, 2020
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
O how much we want God to show up right now and do God’s thing. That all of creation would quake before him as he arrives as the conquering hero. That he would make our adversary, COVID-19, know who is boss. And while he is at it maybe he could do a few more things than just fix the COVID-19 problem. So that all would tremble before him as he set all things right.
We want God to come and act. When we wish for God to act in that way, we need to remember that God has a habit of acting in ways “we did not expect” (vs. 3).
God sent his Son to die and then be raised to life again. No one saw that one coming. First, that the God of the universe would come and die is unimaginable, who builds a plan that looks like that. And second, resurrection? Who comes back from the dead, who would have thought that was possible?
God sent the church on a mission with no tools but the story of Jesus and him crucified. What kind of tool belt is that? How can a message of the cross transform the world?
In the Old Testament God shows up with the weak and the humble again and again – Gideon’s 300 men against thousands, David’s slingshot against a giant, the outsider Ruth who in lowliness cares for her mother-in-law and becomes an ancestor of Jesus, and on and on it goes. Humility and lowliness, out of which God acts.
Vs. 4 is clear there is no God like God – nothing in human history tells stories like the ones of God’s intervention, nothing in revelation points to one who acts like this, no one has seen anything like one who acts as God does. (If I can be allowed a generalization: nothing in history, philosophy, or science points to one who is and acts the way God is and acts.)
We are on our feet cheering – which is the appropriate response. But let us not miss the final line of the passage “who acts for those who wait for him.” Wait is best translated – “to exercise a patient, confident and expectant faith.”
And we are back to where we started – how great is our desire for God to come and act RIGHT NOW. But God does not appear to be acting in the dramatic way we would like to see. That does not mean God is not acting, God might even now be acting in ways “we did not expect” and because we did not expect the actions God is doing, we don’t see them. Second, just because we find it hard to identify God at work does not mean we should give up and stop waiting. We are to keep on living in “patient, confident and expectant faith.” The verb tense in vs. 4 is an imperfect – meaning we have waited, we are waiting, we will wait.
In patient confidence and expectant hope [that seems to me to be a good definition of faith] we look to God’s action in our world. Action that may take place in ways that we do not expect.
God who acts in unexpected ways, open our eyes to see your hand at work in ways we could not imagine. Give to us, even when we not see, to live by faith and not by sight, so that we might be among those who have waited for you with patient confidence and expectant hope. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG – May 5, 2020
27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles
they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Again and again the Bible tells us that God hears and God sees and God remembers. Yes, at times it feels like God does not see or hear, it feels like God does not know what is happening. At those times we easily echo the words of the people of Israel – “Our way is hidden from the Lord. He does not see us and our circumstances.”
Vs. 28 responds to that accusation. In a world of constant change, human leaders “strut and fret their hour upon the stage and then are heard no more.” God, however, is different, He is from everlasting to everlasting. COVID-19 does not change the fact that God is. God has always been and God will always be. No corner of the world exists where God is not present, for He made it.
From the end of vs. 28 through to the end of vs. 31 Isaiah plays with the ideas of being faint (weak) and growing weary (being exhausted).
The young will become weak and will be weary, they will fall down exhausted (vs. 30). The time we are in is exhausting, the energy required to adjust to this new time is significant. Exhaustion is evident everywhere. Human resources run out; our strength fails us. Even the young who supposedly have boundless energy, even their energy fails.
But God “does not faint (grow weak)”; God does not weary. God offers his power, his strength, his energy to those who know they are weak, to those who know they have no power. Those who have come to the end of their rope and have no where to turn – those who know they cannot save themselves – they are the ones God will strengthen.
Those who turn to God – turn recognizing that in themselves they are tired, weak and worn discover that the everlasting God will strengthen them. As we turn to God, admitting that we have nothing left, that we are done emotionally, physically, psychologically – we discover that we are given a second wind. The power of God steps into our lives and He renews our strength. And then the soaring words which end the reading come true: “they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
In the midst of the exhaustion that the COVID-19 crisis brings, we turn to God for in Him alone is there strength for today and tomorrow and the day after that. God has not forgotten us, he will strengthen us so that we can walk through this day without fainting, so that we can go through this time without being wearied.
Lord God, you never tire, you never grow weary. Blow into us your power, for we are powerless. Blow into us your energy, for we are weary and worn. Give to us the second wind that comes from your Holy Spirit alone, that we might live this moment and not be weary, that we might walk the path of COVID-19 and not become faint with exhaustion. Give us the strength for the long haul. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG - May 4, 2020
Isaiah 30:15-18 (NIV)
15 This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance [return] and rest is your salvation,
18 Yet [Therefore] the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
The people of Israel were facing a crisis as a nation. They were under attack. Two options were presented to them as to how they could respond.
1. They could return to God and in that return, in placing their trust in God, find a place of rest and quietness. (Notice the structure of vs. 15 repentance/return and trust are the brackets around rest and quietness. The point being returning/trusting God is the source of rest/quietness.)
2. But the people of Israel rejected that proposal for one that involved hasty decisions and frenetic action. Finding fast horses, they rushed off madly in all directions. The consequence of that action was being left alone in abandoned communities. All that remained was a flagpole to say there once was something there.
Just because Israel had rejected God’s way did not mean that God was finished with Israel. God’s grace is God’s “sovereign determination to bless the undeserving.” Even though Israel had chosen the path that trusted in human strength and ingenuity over the path of rest in God, God remained faithful to Israel.
Things appear in doubles in this passage. The double “therefore”s in vs. 16 are answered by the double “therefore”s of vs. 18. Most translations start vs. 18 with “Yet” – but the Hebrew word is the word for “therefore” as in the other 3 places “therefore” appears. The “therefore” of desolation is answered by God’s “therefore” of grace.
God longs, has desired for a long time, “to be gracious”, God will act to show compassion, even to a people who ignored his advice and got themselves into a big mess.
Another double appears at the very start of the passage – God is double named in vs. 15: “Sovereign Lord” and “Holy One of Israel”. And God is double named at the end of vs. 18: “the Lord” and “the God of justice.” The God who offers rest and quietness in the midst of the crisis, is again holding out hope and promise – this time grace and compassion. God whose way was not chosen, is not sitting back with arms folded saying “I told you so.” No, God in grace is offering gracious compassion and healing for a broken nation.
Will we choose the path of frenetic action – or will we rest in the God of grace who offers quietness as we trust in Him?
God of grace and mercy, you long to be gracious to your people – the people who you have made, made in your image. Even though we have wandered from you. Even though we have ignored your advice. Even though we have run at a frenetic pace rather than resting in you. Still, you desire to show us grace and love. Teach us the path of returning and trust so that we may live in rest and quietness with you. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG - May 3, 2020
Isaiah 26:1-8 (NIV)
26 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city; God makes salvation its walls and ramparts.
5 He humbles those who dwell on high, he lays the lofty city low;
7 The path of the righteous is level;
you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth.
The passage opens with a contrast between two kinds of leaders – between two patterns of community life.
The strength and hope of the city (by the word “city” is meant the people of the city and the communal system they use to govern themselves) is not its political leaders or the wisdom of bureaucrats – rather God’s salvation is the defence system and the nation’s faithfulness is the community’s security. Those whose minds are steadfastly fixed on God will find that they are given “perfect peace” – “the peace that passes understanding.” Those who stay centered on God will find they have hope and peace to continue through uncertain times. Such a community is led by leaders who are humble.
The community that arrogantly believes it can find its way through difficulty and challenge – “the lofty city” with leaders who “dwell on high” – such a city (nation would apply here as well) will be humbled and brought low. Among the signs of its arrogance is the way it treats the poor, who in the end will be lifted up.
Vs. 7 and 8 move us beyond the political realm to think about how ordinary people are to live in challenging times. What are the patterns of life we are called to live in the midst of uncertainty and waiting?
The answer Isaiah gives is simple: walking in the way of God’s laws, we wait for God. And we are back to the humility required to be focussed on God. To be willing to have our ideas, our solutions, shaped by God’s laws, by the pattern of behaviour God has laid out for human beings to live. As we wait for God to act, we live the pattern God has laid out – the pathway he has established as the pattern for our lives. In our waiting, we live the Jesus’ way. In our waiting, we demonstrate our trust in God by giving ourselves for others, by keeping promises even when that costs, by treating others as people made in the image of God. We do this even though around us the pressure to seek our personal benefit, to act as though we were the most important people is very high.
We live, as verse 8 reminds, with God’s name and God’s renown as the things that are the desires of our hearts. God’s glory is our purpose, that God’s name be lifted high is our desire.
God of glory, show us the humble path of following your laws, that as we wait our lives might draw attention to you. May our lives bring honour to your name, may our actions cause people to praise you. We desire to be lesser so that your name and your renown may be everywhere exalted. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG – May 2, 2020
Isaiah 25:6-10a (NRSV)
6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
This passage is one of the great hope texts in the Bible. A great banquet is being served – in fact, it is THE Great Banquet. The best of food – the best of drink. No half measures, nothing held back, this is a great feast. Well-aged wines and rich foods – take time to prepare. This is not fast food; this is a carefully prepared banquet. But why the great feast? To celebrate that God has destroyed death. The thing that overshadows every life, that darkens the lives of those who grieve, that shrouds the lives of all people – death is gone. Death has been swallowed up in God. Now that is something to party about.
God will not only end death, God will also heal the pain death causes. The loss and the grief will be ended. God will wipe every tear from all faces. Death’s sting will be gone. That is something to party about.
“The disgrace” (vs. 8) – the inability of God’s people to live the lives God intended for them. The removal of “the disgrace” then is that human flourishing lived by God’s pattern of holiness becomes a possibility. The desire human beings have to live a life of service to God will be an actual possibility. Paul’s cry – “The good I want to do, I do not do; and the wrong I do not want to do, that I do” – will find its answer. We will be able to follow God with our whole being. That as well is something to party about.
On God’s holy mountain there is much to rejoice in, much to party about, and all peoples are welcome to join the party. All are invited.
Vs. 9 reminds us that this banquet is all about God. Without God’s action this banquet would never happen. It has happened because “we have waited for him.”
The party is not in celebration of what human beings have done, they have not brought the salvation. Only God has brought the salvation. Human beings have been brought to a point of recognizing their talents, their ingenuity, their effort would not bring about the salvation that humanity desires or needs. All of that is the work of God. To wait for God is to trust that God alone is capable of bringing the banquet into being.
Waiting for God is not just about it taking a long time. To wait is letting go – letting go of being in control; letting go of managing the process; letting go. To wait is to be humble enough to trust someone else – being humble enough to trust God. That is what it takes to get to the party God is throwing.
Thanks be to God for the party God is throwing.
God of grace and glory, we look forward with anticipation to the banquet you are preparing. With joy we anticipate the day when death is swallowed up forever. The day when the sting of death is gone, and grief and sorrow are no more. We pray: “Come, Lord Jesus, so we might live fully as those who follow you.” We wait for you, for you alone can bring your kingdom’s great banquet. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
BLOG – May 1, 2020
Psalm 130:1-8 (NRSV)
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. 2 Lord, hear my voice!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
“My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.”
I was the first one into the library that morning and I had taken up my favourite spot in the second-floor reading room where I could look across the lawn to the ravine on the edge of which the school was built. I was busily writing an essay, when I noticed that a young woman was walking across the lawn towards the ravine. I thought she was going for a morning walk, maybe down into the ravine. I thought nothing more of it. I was essay writing. I happened to look up as I thought about how to frame the next sentence, and she was now walking back and forth near the edge of the ravine, close to where the path up from the ravine joined the lawn of the college campus. I was now intrigued. What was she doing?
About 3 minutes later she stopped and looking intently into the ravine, she waved her hand. Less than a minute later a young man came up the path out of the ravine. The couple hugged and hand-in-hand walked towards the building I was in until I could no longer see them.
She was eager to meet her beau, pacing in anticipation, joyous when she saw him. She had eagerly waited for this moment. I think of that story every time I read this psalm.
I ask myself: do I wait as eagerly for the complete arrival of the kingdom of God as do young people in love wait for the beloved to arrive? Do I live with the same excited anticipation and impatient certainty that the kingdom is coming that young couples live with when waiting for the beloved to arrive?
The kingdom is on its way, it will someday be fully revealed. In joyous anticipation we look forward to that day. We wait and watch for it as eagerly as young couples wait to see each other.
I recognize that having waited for more than 40 days is getting draining. I know we are starting to feel completely wrung out emotionally and mentally. But I am intrigued by the idea of waiting as joyful anticipation. That the waiting itself becomes a pleasurable thing. That the waiting in itself brings joy.
Yes, I know there is groaning as we wait. But I am reminded of Romans 8:23 – “as we wait eagerly”. We wait eagerly for this to be “over”. We wait eagerly for “what we do not yet have” (Romans 8:25). In our waiting may there be joyful anticipation mixed in with the groaning. May we know at least some joyful expectation, knowing that in the Lord “there is steadfast love” and “great power to redeem.” How could we not be excited as we anticipate such an arrival?
Lord God, our hope is in you. For in you alone is there steadfast love and great power to redeem. For you alone do we watch and wait in joyful anticipation of your kingdom’s arrival. Fill us with joyful anticipation of your coming salvation. That with hopeful expectation may we be ready for the redemption you are bringing. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
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