As I was working on the text for this week, I was stuck with how Professor Juliana Classes talked about our text for today. She said this "For people today who all too often find themselves in a state of chaos and despair, this powerful depiction of the (suffering) servant in Isaiah 42 may speak in the following ways: First, in the midst of those times when chaos is rampant, when we are weighed down by the forces that seek to destroy life as we know it, we need to accept the fact that we often are no more than “bruised reeds” and “dimly burning wicks.” As the songwriter and theologian Leonard Cohen says so beautifully in his song, “Anthem”: “Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, but that is where the light gets in.” That is where the light comes in. God’s grace and power works exactly there where we are broken, where we are most fragile --"
What struck me from her statement was this image of a cracked clay pot and how the crack wasn't an imperfection but was where God's grace and power are at work. I know for myself, I can get caught up in doing things "perfectly" that I forgot what the purpose behind what I am doing is. Or I don't feel that if something is not done "perfectly" that God can't use what I am doing. However, it is in the imperfect that God's love and power are at work? Where is that for you today in your life? Where are those cracks showing through in your life? What does it look like knowing that God is in the cracks, using God's power and grace to be with you in this brokenness?
These last two weeks, you may have noticed that we haven't had your typical Advent texts. In Advent we are getting ready for Jesus' birth, so I think it is easy to fall into the trap of only looking at Gospel lessons. As we have been exploring the whole Bible using the Narrative Lectionary, we see that there has been a pattern developing since Genesis about the character of God. God is about using every day/normal people and placing them into extraordinary circumstances to make a difference in people's lives.
This is what is happening in our text for today. If you haven't had a chance to read the book of Esther yet, I would recommend it to you. It is a short book and it is quite an interesting story. At the time of this writing, the people of Israel had been exiled into Babylon. They are no longer rulers of their own land but in fact have been captured and forced to live their lives outside of their homeland and to embrace customs that were not of their own. Esther before she becomes apart of the King's haram, is an orphan. It was just prior to this happening that her cousin Mordecai, found her and was helping her out. Nobody in the Haram outside of Esther's inner circle even knows she is Jewish. If they did, this would effect her negatively in the Persian Royal Court.
At this point in the story, Esther is forced to act so that she can make a difference. The king had just drafted a law which could condemn all of the Jews to death. In order to talk to the king about what he was doing Esther, would have to take a life or death chance, because a person could only talk to the King if he wished it. Otherwise the person would be executed for trying to talk to the king.
Spoiler Alert, her chance pays off. She helps the King draft a law where the Jews can defend themselves from their enemies and her people are saved. Esther made a difference. Advent is about Christ coming into the world to make a difference in our lives and to show us how we can make a difference in other people's lives. So what about you? Where is God asking you to make a difference in somebody else's lives. How can you this Advent season, help somebody see the hope that we get from our Savior? Maybe it is volunteering at the food shelf. Maybe it is donating to the sock it campaign here at church for the kids at Greenfield. Advent reminds us that God made a difference for us and our lives and that we are called to do the same.
I don't know about you, but waiting is hard. Several months, back I challenged us as a congregation to make ourselves wait. Not too long ago, I remember being at Nilssen's and actually waving people in front of me. After about 5 minutes, I could begin noticing physically that I was loosing my patience to wait. My hands started to sweat; I could feel the irritability starting to rise out of my stomach and go into my head; and I started glancing at my phone a little to much. Wow, and this was only five minutes. I can see I have a long ways to go in extending out how patient I am in living my daily life.
In today's text, we talk again about patience but in a difference context. We are talking about being patient when injustice or evil is rearing its ugly head. I don't know about you, but I think I have less patience when it comes for this type of stuff. When injustice happens or evil happens I want God to step in and make amends now. I don't want to see people suffer. I believe also that God doesn't want people to suffer. However, living in a world that is coated in sin, suffering happens. Evil and injustice happen and happen too frequently.
Our text from Habakkuk reminds us, that even though evil happens, this is not the end. God does not tolerate evil, and that it will be eradicated. The one thing God doesn't say though, that this process is quick and painless. It took many years and decades for the Nazi regime to be tossed from power. However it was. I think this is what Habakkuk is trying to tell us today, that evil is not going to win and that God's justice and mercy will reign supreme. Habakkuk also reminds us that this process can be long and heart breaking. So how do we then deal with situations that are heart breaking to us; that shines forth injustice; or shows off the evil in this world?
We need to trust in God, by praying and by working to support God's mission in the world. The Habakkuk text doesn't invite us to inaction, on the opposite, it reminds us to act as God wants us to with justice and hope. What this text really does for us is remind us that God's justice might take a awhile but don't lose hope because in the end God's will and justice prevail. So what is God calling you to do with an injustice or an evil that you see around you?
I apologize for the lateness of this post but the head cold I got over this past weekend has been a doozy. The last two night have been hard to get some good sleep but I am just happy I have been able to get some rest. As I look at the text for this coming week, my groggy eyes are drawn to chapter 7 verses 8-11.
Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, "We are safe!"—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord.
As we have been marching through the Bible thanks to the help of the narrative lectionary, we have seen time and time again that the people of Israel forgot what it means to live under God's covenant. They turn to ways of hurting themselves and each other. They take the easy way out. This past Sunday, we talked about the hard road of peace. It is a lot easier to discount people and to simply ignore them than to actually treat other people with the same dignity we give our trusted family and friends.
This Thursday, is Thanksgiving, which is a time of family get togethers. For a lot of people this is a very fun time of the year, but for a lot of people it is a time of various bad family dynamics. There is a family member who makes your skin crawl or who always seems to push all your buttons. It can make the holidays very hard to enjoy let alone tolerate. However, God asks us to walk the walk of our faith especially around circumstances like this. How would it look like if you engaged this relative or friend in the language of peace? What if you took some time to listen to what they are saying? Note I am not saying you have to agree with what they are talking about. What if you gave yourself permission not to fall into those arguments that drives you nuts? The language of peace is for both us and the people we have a relationship with by setting boundaries, about what we can and will not do.
The Jeremiah text today is reminding us that following God's path for us isn't easy and that it takes work. However when we do this, when we practice what we preach, amazing things happen. Peace can come to us and to our Thanksgiving's gathering. I hope you all have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!
You did read that right in the description. We are suppose to read chapter 2 of Isaiah after chapter 36 and 37. That seems a little weird until, we consider what happens in chapter 2. In this chapter of Isaiah, we hear what happens when God is present. God comes down and helps settles disputes. No longer are there swords but instead plow shares. Nation will not rise against nation in war but instead talk to each other. It seems like a pipe dream doesn't it? No more war. No more violence. People working together to feed other people. People working together for the benefit of all, instead of just themselves or there little neck of the woods. Can you even imagine what a world like this would even look like? Let us take a couple of minutes to dream about it....
I can see people getting along. I can see people listening to one another. I can feel hope, instead of fear. I see people getting enough to eat. I see people helping other people so that can have a hand up. I see people not being lonely. I see people understand that they are loved and cared for. I see people have a place to live. I feel that people are respected and have dignity because they are treated as a brother or sister and not an enemy.
So is this just a pipe dream that Isaiah is having? What if I told you that this can happen and even better that this going to happen. What if I told you that we can be a part of the transformation of our world? How would that make you feel? Now here is even the harder question what is God calling you to do? Is it listening to your neighbor? Is it helping to make sure nobody in our community goes hunger? Is it mentoring a child? Is it giving a stranger hope instead of reacting to them out of fear? What is it?
In our fractured world, we as Christians need to be God's hands and feet on the ground to help people realize that God's message of peace, of love, and of grace is not some fairy tale but the truth. A truth that will help free this world of its violence and usher in understanding; mercy; and peace.
Micah is one of the minor prophets in the Old Testament. Prophets in general were always about getting the people of Israel to see their actions and words in the light of God's message of love, peace, and mercy. Israel, very much like us, needs to be reminded of this message fairly frequently because it is easy to forget that life isn't just about us. As I read the text this week, my eyes were draw to Chapter 6 verse 8
God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (NRSV)
I don't know about you but it reminds me of a hymn, We Are Called. So I went onto Youtube and started looking at different versions, and I found one that was pretty powerful to me. I think it was powerful because of the strength and the conviction of the people singing it.
As I was singing along with the singers, I started to ask myself what each part of this verse means. What does it mean to do justice? What does it mean to love kindness? And how in the world do I walk humbly with God? How would you answer these questions?
As we look at the world we are today, I think many of these things are in short supply. You don't have to look any further than the news you get across your newsfeed. We see violence; we see hunger, we see despair and we often feel powerless to do anything. We are called as Christians to do something about this though. God wants us to do justice in our local communities. Jesus wants us to love kindness and give it to all the people we know, even the people who make us mad. Finally God wants us to take the time and talk to God. God wants us to take the time to pray. God wants us to take the time to listen. God wants us to take the time and be with other people of faith. When we do these things we begin to change. Our world begins to change, and the world begins to be the place it was meant to be. So this week, ask yourself how you can begin to answer the call we have been given by God because we have been called!
This week's text is about Naaman, who is the army commander of the king of Aram. He is a great warrior and has won many battles for the king. One other thing we learn about Naaman is that he has leprosy. Interesting isn't that somebody who needs to be strong physically is dealing with a disease that affects him physically and probably affects his ability to fight. Leprosy also had a stigma in the ancient world that lead to people being shunned as well. So in some sense Naaman has a ticking clock around his neck. As soon as he isn't able to fight, he will be replaced and probably thrown out to the edges of society. It is probably no wonder that he wants to explore any treatment option possible. So when he hears about this prophet in Israel that can cure him, I bet he made sure to move heaven and earth until he could get there. We see this in the text because he offers the king of Israel a treasure trove for this potential. Elisha answers the call and tells Naaman to simply wash himself in the river Jordan. Naaman explodes, at this simple request. He had expected some great trial that would be worthy of his fighting prowess and his physical skill. He had to do something to earn this cure, right? Wrong, the cure wasn't about him earning it. The cure wasn't about what he could do, instead the cure was God's doing and on God's terms.
Isn't this the way though we think about God in our lives? We feel we need to earn stuff so that God will come through in the clutch. However what if God worked another way? What if it wasn't about our efforts and skills but instead it was based on God and God's plan. Scary isn't it, because it shows us that we are not in control. What if we took the time every day, in prayer to ask God what God wants us to do? What if we took the time each day and sought God's will by reading the Bible? Would our stress levels go down, because we didn't worry so much about how we needed to earn God's favor? Would our lives have more meaning because we actually had to talk to God and listen for what God was speaking into our lives? Take some time right now, in prayer and tell God what is on your heart and then take about five minutes and listen. Breath slowly and listen. What is God saying to you?
sIn this week's text we are with King Solomon, one of King David's sons, who is now the king of Israel. King Solomon has a dream where God asks Solomon what he wishes for. What would you pick? Money? Power? Fame? To be ruler of all the Earth? Solomon asks for something, that I think for many of us would be on the low part of our lists, wisdom. Wisdom at first glance may not seem like a great choice at first because it is not an instant gratification choice. Being wise doesn't suddenly get you loads of cash to pay off your debs or allow you to buy awesome new toys or go on vacations. Being wise though, has a lot of non monetary benefits. It allows you to make choices that are more life giving. Wisdom allows you to have better relationships because wisdom forces us to listen more than speak. Wisdom allows us to know how to better spend our limited resources so that we can feel their abundance. I wonder if this is why God said to Solomon that God would make him rich because using God's wisdom allows us better utilize what we have. So do you think asking for wisdom was a wise choice (pun intended!)? What would you ask for? Why? Have you ever thought about praying to God about your wish? Now I am not saying God is a Genie, who is about granting wishes. What I am saying is have you had a conversation with God about things that are important to you? By having these conversations, we can begin to see where God might be working in our lives and how God might be wanting us to go in the world. So what do you wish for from God? Pray and talk to God about it.
This week, we are talking about something that is really hard, admitting our sin. The text for this week, tells of the time that King David had an affair with Bathsheba. Besides the affair, King David, takes it a step further and has Bathsheba's husband killed, so that he can become her husband. The prophet Nathan, comes to King David and tells him story about two people in his kingdom, a rich man and a poor man. The poor man has a lamb who he loves and takes precious care of. One day, the rich man has a guest come and visit him. Not wanting to use any of his own flock, he takes the poor man's lamb by force and serves it to his guest. King David is enraged that somebody would do this in his kingdom. He demands that Nathan tells him who has done this vile act. The prophet Nathan tells King David that he is the rich man in this story. He took Bathsheba from her husband and killed him. David is stunned at this news as he realized the gravity of what he had truly done. It was this event, that lead King David to write Psalm 51. In it he asked for forgiveness. Some of you might have actually sung this part as part of a Sunday Morning Liturgy.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right[b] spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing[c] spirit.
We all sin. That is an unfortunate part of life. As Christians we need to go to God and ask for forgiveness but even more we need to go to that party we wronged and admit what we have done. This is hard stuff isn't it. Our society doesn't want us to admit our faults or errors. However what happens when we don't this? Relationships that are already broken are most often never able to be healed again. One person is wracked with guilt for what they have done and the other person has to pick up the pieces from what happened to them. Nobody wins.
When I worked in the medical field, I had an instance where I made a pretty big mistake. I gave the patient the wrong imaging agent, so instead of seeing their bones, I was left with looking at their heart. There was no harm done to the patience physically, the hard part for them was that they needed to come back on a different day to repeat the test. Instead of taking responsibility for my mistake, I blamed my coworker. I still remember her face as I put the blame for my mistake on her shoulders. She bursted into tears and started sobbing. I had never felt so low in my life as I felt at that moment. I had really hurt her, I had betrayed her trust and our friendship because I didn't want to lose face. Like King David when my eyes were open to the pain that I caused somebody else, I asked for her forgiveness. I apologized to her and made sure that the patient, as well as my boss, knew it was my fault. If I had never apologized and asked for forgiveness from my coworker, our relationship would have been permanently broken. Thankfully, our relationship healed and we are still good friends.
So is there somebody in your life, that you have sinned against? Have you done something that God wants you to repent and to account for? This is uncomfortable to do. It is not easy. However, when we do this, when we ask for forgiveness, then the healing that needs to happen can begin.
"As for me and my household we will serve the Lord". You might have seen this phrase on a plague, a quilt or a Dollie. It is a phrase, that is very powerful, but what is even more powerful is the response by the people that Joshua is speaking to. You see, Joshua was near the end of his life and he saw the people of Israel, God's people, not following the advice and ways that God has set before them. He knew he didn't have much time left, so he laid out for them the reasons that he and his household followed God. These reasons, included God honoring God's promise and by making Joshua and his household blest to be a blessing. When the people of Israel were reminded of what God has done for them and was still doing for them, they saw why Joshua was so impassioned in his speech. They saw why it was important that they need to figure out how they were going to walk or not walk with God on the journey ahead. This is why they said as a community "Therefore we also serve the Lord, for he is our God." Joshua asked them again, if they wanted to go through with this and they again repeated "We will serve the Lord!" Saying and doing the things that God wants us to do is hard. There are times, where we feel it is easier to just ignore what God asks for us to do. So how do we do what is right versus what is easy? How do we be the peace keepers; the people of integrity; and the people of grace and mercy? We listen to God and say to ourselves and others We will serve the Lord!
So what is God calling you to do this week? Where do you feel like in life to take the easy way out instead of God's way? Have you and your family talked about how God is working in your own lives and what God is calling you as a family to do?