Friday, October 29, 2010

R-Rated Scripture For an R-Rated World

Nahum 2:13-3:7
Revelation 13:1-10
Luke 12:13-31
When our daughter and son were small they had Bible storybooks written especially for children. I can assure you that neither our reading from Nahum with its bloodshed and carnage, nor from Revelation with its horrific monsters were to be found in those storybooks. I doubt that our passage from Luke was there either. These are examples of what we might call R-rated scripture: stacks of corpses in the streets, scary creatures running amok, a man who dies in his sleep. What are we to say about such things?

Yet, there in the midst of these very stories is a note of hope and of encouragement. “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” we read in Revelation (Revelation 13:10). “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,” says Jesus, what you will eat or wear. “Instead strive for (God’s) kingdom and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:22, 31). Against a backdrop of violence and woe God is calling people of faith to stand firm, to hold fast to God’s word and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Every day’s news brings word of another crisis, another atrocity, another horrific turn of events. How meaningful would scripture be if only contained material suitable for storybooks, easily grasped morals and lessons about shepherds and rainbows? How relevant would that be in the face of war, genocide, terrorism, torture, starvation, greed, despotism, bigotry, and hatred? But scripture DOES have a word from such circumstances because God’s people have faced such times before and were able to rely on God’s presence then. Even when Jesus Christ died a cruel death it did not defeat God’s will for humanity. God’s word to us today is to hold fast to the faith, especially in times of darkness and despair, the “R-rated” times of life. Stand firm, God tells us, and trust in what God will do. It’s a difficult lesson to be sure, but we can not deny that God has been this way before. Our God is a “real-life” God and not one stuck in a storybook for children. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, help us to stand firm in times of crisis and to trust in you always. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Very Meaning of 'Martyr"

Revelation 12:7-17
Luke 11:53-12:12
Our reading from Revelation today continues the apocalyptic struggle between good and evil, one which God’s people will ultimately win. “But they have conquered (the accuser) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death” (Revelation 12:11). This tying together of one’s testimony and the willingness to die is the very essence of martyrdom. The Greek word for martyr is the same as the English word for witness, one who is willing to offer testimony as to what they believe, even when threatened with death. According to the author of Revelation, those who trust in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and in the good news of the gospel are the ones who will not fear death.

In his ministry Jesus offered a similar word of encouragement. “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more” (Luke 12:4). In his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” Martin Luther writes,

Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.

Something to consider today, as you go about your normal activities, is the value with which you hold the gospel. Are you willing to die for your faith? Do you trust in God’s salvation and have confidence enough in God’s word to “not cling to life even in the face of death?” For some of us this is question is merely a mental exercise. But for many this is a real and pressing issue, one that hits close to home, for there are men and women who this very day may find themselves persecuted for their faith and who, by the grace of God will stand firm in their convictions. Perhaps those of us who will face no such struggle should honor our brothers and sisters who do by taking our faith more seriously this day and every day. Perhaps we can be more attentive to the claims of discipleship and to living a life in Christ in those places where it is taken for granted, so that those who must risk everything for the gospel will not stand alone.

Prayer: Lord, give us the strength and courage we need to stand as your people, to risk everything for the truth of the gospel, and to offer our testimony to your Son Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

God's Concern Is Always About Justice

Nahum 1:1-14
Luke 11:37-52
The oracle of the prophet Nahum against Nineveh makes two distinct claims about God. One is that “the Lord is good, a stronghold in a day of trouble; he protects those who take refuge in him, even in a rushing flood” (Nahum 1:7-8a). But Nahum also asks, “Why do you plot against the Lord? He will make an end; no adversary will rise up twice” (v. 9). Can there really be such a divergence in God? Can God really be a source of such comfort and of yet of such judgment?

Luke’s account confirms that in Jesus Christ God is quite willing to make such a distinction. “Woe to you Pharisees!” Jesus says (Luke 11:42, 43, 44). And “Woe also to you lawyers!” he adds (vv. 46, 47, 52). Why does Jesus condemn these prominent members of his society? Because they do not “give for alms those things that are within” (v.41), “and (they) neglect justice and the love of God” (v.42), and “do not lift a finger to ease” the burden of the people (v.46) and have “taken away the key of knowledge…” and “hindered those who were entering” (v.52). God’s concern is always about justice. Divine judgment upholds it and God’s grace provides for it.

The temptation is to decide who in Luke’s account best represents us, and, frankly, few of us would ever willingly identify with the Pharisees or lawyers. But just as God offers judgment and grace, we as individuals and communities stand in need of both. As sinners we need God’s corrective judgment, and unworthy as we are, God remains faithful in the covenant relationship between God and God’s people. When we read scripture, when we pray and seek God’s guidance, when we participate in the life of the community of faith, we should expect and respond to God’s judgment and grace alike. It should inform our politics, our economic choices, our family relationships, our view of others, our understanding of patriotism, and every other facet of our lives. Indeed, as Americans enter the voting booth this coming Tuesday, it would behoove us to pause a moment to ponder where our nation stands in God’s judgment and how we can best reflect God’s grace in our policies.

God’s concern is always about justice. Our concern should always be about justice, too.

Prayer: O Lord, help us to receive and respond to your judgment while rejoicing in and reflecting your grace at all times. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Last Words

Jonah 3:1-4:11
Revelation 11:14-19
Luke 11:27-36
The connection between our readings from Luke and Johan is obvious. In Luke Jesus compares and contrasts his ministry to that of the prophet and points to the impact Jonah had on Nineveh as opposed to the response Jesus receives from his own people. But I find a very compelling point of reference between the reading in Jonah and that in Revelation, because in each case God’s word is final.

In fact, the final verses of Jonah come to an abrupt end with God making an emphatic point and leaving the prophet no opportunity to reply (Jonah 4:10-11). That’s the way it is, Jonah, says God, and that’s that. The finality of God’s word in our reading from Revelation is less implied than that in Jonah. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever,” we read (Revelation 11:15). Not only has God put an end to the discussion, God has brought the kingdom to consummation. There are still plenty of visions for John to relate to us, but already we know how the story will end. God will reign “forever and ever” over the “kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah.” From now on this is how it will be. And that’s that.

There is a joke about how American Civil War movies always end the same way. The North wins every time. Of course that’s history, a look back. Revelation is a look ahead, but the effect is the same. No matter how many times we read the Bible it always ends the same way, even if that end is sometime in the future. As with John of Patmos, there are still plenty of visions for us to see, a lot of situations for us to experience, ample opportunities for us to choose between the kingdoms of the world or the kingdom of God. But already we know how the story will end. When creation reaches its “final verse” God will make the last emphatic point and that will be that. It will all be over except for the joy and the peace of God’s endless reign.

Prayer: Almighty God, may our prayers of praise and adoration rise before you as we await the final coming of your kingdom. Guide our feet that we may walk in the paths of righteousness until that day dawns with the light of your glory. Amen.

Monday, October 25, 2010

God: Up Close and Personal

Jonah 1:17-2:10
Luke 11:14-26
“Then God spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land” (Jonah 2:10). The image of God speaking to a fish is wonderful, primarily because it is presented so matter-of-factly (Jonah 2:10). Of course the Creator of the universe, of the earth with all of its living creatures, has the time and inclination to speak to one particular fish, who obediently spits Jonah out onto the shore. Clearly, God is involved in the story right down to one fish and one reluctant prophet. (Incidentally, while the human prophet has tried his best to run from God, the fish seems all too happy to cooperate.) Another image of an up-close God comes from the gospel of Luke. There Jesus refutes those who claim his healing power comes from the devil. No, if that were true, Jesus tells them, evil would be divided against itself. “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons,” he continues, “then the kingdom of God has come to you” (Luke 2:21).

Whether whispering in the ear of a fish or reaching out to the ill and infirm with a healing touch, God is busy. But far more important than that, God is nearby, within earshot, within reach. God works, then, not just in grand, universal principles, but also within the day to day details, getting close enough to you and me to make a real difference in our lives. Each story, by the way, carries forward images from the creation accounts of Genesis. There God speaks the earth and universe into being. “And God said…” is the familiar refrain (for example Genesis 1:6, 9, 14, and 20). “…(T)hen the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground…” (2:7) we read later, which seems to indicate that God’s hands became muddy in the creation process as well. God’s voice and God’s hands have been with us from the very beginning. God has always been “in the mix”, a fact which continues today.

Obviously we do not always recognize God’s work, and sometimes we may even doubt that God remains with us. But scripture is clear on the point, so clear that when we refer to Jesus Christ as Emmanuel (God with us) it is essentially redundant.

Prayer: Lord, you have been our shelter and our help from the very beginning. Help us to trust in your continued presence and to open our hearts to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Micah, Martha, and Mary

Micah 6:1-8
Luke 10:38-42
I have to admit that most of the time I am like Martha. That’s not to say that I am particularly industrious, but I am “worried and distracted by many things” (Luke 10: 41). Maybe you understand what I’m talking about: job, family, social obligations, bills, shopping, the jerk in the car in front of me with the “wrong” political stickers! And just when I start to move one way, I find that something is pulling me in a different direction altogether. Sometimes the results are not pretty. I get frustrated. I frustrate the people around me––especially the ones I love. I just want to give up and go back to bed.

The song, “Times Like These,” by Foo Fighters offers a glimmer of hope in such circumstances:

It's times like these you learn to live again
It's times like these you give and give again
It's times like these you learn to love again
It's times like these time and time again

I wish it were that easy just to “learn to live again.” But then, to hear Jesus and Micah talk, maybe it really is. “What does the Lord require of you,” says the prophet, “but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)? “Mary has chosen the better part,” Jesus tells Martha, “which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). Maybe easy isn’t the right word, but at least there are steps to be taken, a proper approach to living that offers us the chance to “learn to live (or love) again.” It involves deciding what the most important things are in life and sticking to them. Attention to the word of the Lord was Mary’s choice. Micah called for justice, loving kindness, and humility before God. Do these things and you will begin to meet God’s expectations. Do these things and you will gain that which can not be taken from you. Do these things and—I’m willing to bet—the other things will begin to take care of themselves. Or not. And if they don’t, then they probably weren’t worth the worry in the first place. So, if you are a “Martha” like me, pull up a chair and let the dishes wait for a while. Micah, Mary (and Jesus) have something to share with us.

Prayer: Lord, help us to let go of the unimportant aspects of life and to hold firmly to those things which you offer. But most of all, O God, help us to know the difference. Amen.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

And the Walls Came a Tumblin' Down

Micah 5:1-4, 10-15
Luke 10:25-37
I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to view the wall that Micah describes in 5:1 as one that we have built ourselves through our sinfulness and our selfishness. In the same way the siege “laid against us” (v. 1), the one that keeps us boxed in, trapped, divided from one another, can be seen as anything that we allow to come between us and God or one another. If you accept this interpretation, then consider the Good Samaritan of Luke 10 to be a “siege buster,” for his actions serve to break down walls of enmity and sinfulness and to set us free to live in faithful obedience to God.

“Which of these…was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers,” Jesus asked a lawyer (Luke 10:36). “He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise’” (v.37). Frankly we can always find reasons to distance ourselves from one another, to divide ourselves into groups or cliques. The question should be who is willing to build up community instead of tearing it down? Who is willing to be the “siege buster,” in day to day life? Who is willing to go and do as the Samaritan did? I think about the stereotypical junior high school dance, with the boys lined up on one side of the gym and the girls on the other. The music is playing, but until one boy or girl has the courage to cross the room and invite another to dance there will be only division and separation. Once someone has started the process others may feel free to join in until a community takes shape in the middle of the gym, boys and girls having a good time together.

Politics, social standing, economics, nationality, and sadly, even religion, often act as cleavers in our world, cutting God’s creation into ever smaller pieces. What we need is hearts of compassion and mercy that will allow us to grow together, into a trusting, loving, nurturing whole. Then the walls will come tumblin’ down and life—the way God intends it—can take root in our midst. In his death and resurrection Jesus “crossed the room” and has invited us to dance to the joyous music of the coming reign of God. Will we?

Prayer: Lord, help us to come together in love, mutual respect, and community, and to cast off the sins and idolatries that keep us so deeply divided. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Strange Days Indeed"

Micah 3:9-4:4
Revelation 8:1-13
Luke 10:17-24
In his song “Nobody Told Me,” John Lennon speaks in quirky images about life and all it’s perplexities, referring at one point to “Strange days indeed…most peculiar, Mama.” It’s typical stuff from the former Beatle. Lennon’s words are apt today in light of our three readings. For example, Micah warns his readers that “…Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height” (Micah 3:12). Revelation lists a number of calamities that will strike the earth affecting about one-third of all creation (Revelation 8:7ff). In Luke, Jesus discusses the authority he will give his disciples, “to tread on snakes and scorpions; and over all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10: 19).

But by far the most wondrous vision comes again from Micah where a new day of peace and prosperity will dawn for God’s people, so great that it will attract the nations and lead them to accept Jesus authority. It lies sometime in the future—“In days to come,” says Micah (Micah 4:1). But it will happen, “for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken “ (4:4). Why the tension between the dire warnings of Revelation, Luke, and the earlier portions of Micah and the promise of peace later in the Micah passage? Probably because both carry a great deal of truth. God’s grace begins with God’s judgment. It always has. Early in the book of Genesis God warns Adam and Eve that to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is to die (Genesis 2:17). When they eat it there are severe consequences, but they do not die. Later in Genesis God repents of creating humanity because of the evil that men and women do. God uses the waters of a mighty flood to “blot out” all people. “But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord” (6:5-8). And on it goes. In sovereignty God holds us accountable for our sins, but in mercy God continues to love and care for us. “In days to come…they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees…” (Micah 4:1, 4). It is by this tension that we know we matter to God, that what we do has meaning to God, that God is keenly interested in what we are about. Calamities may rise and fall, God’s people may struggle against nature and evil, but throughout—and especially in the end––God’s will is done and the earth becomes what it was intended to be.

Prayer: Lord, we live in strange times full of mystery and uncertainty. By your grace us to find our way through all the while praising your holy name. Amen.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Work To Be Done and Work To Be Undone

Micah 3:1-8
Luke 10:1-16
In our reading today, Micah takes particular offense at those prophets who “say ‘peace’ when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths” (Micah 3:5). As a result God will withhold all visions and revelations from them (v. 6). Without these there is no way a prophet can function, so their work will come to a halt. Our reading from Luke offers a different set of circumstances. As Jesus tells his followers, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest” (Luke 10:2).

For Micah the issue is false prophecy. For Jesus the issue is lethargy or apathy. What is common to each is that there is always a place for the truth of God’s word and always work to be done for the coming reign of God. But if we insist on seeing things only in human terms we will often find ourselves in opposition to what God is doing. We simply cannot take God’s word and try to pass it off as something it is not. Nor can we ignore the people around us who need so desperately to hear God’s word in the first place. Jesus says that the laborers are few. What he might have said is that the honest, trustworthy laborers are few, just as Micah points out that there is no shortage of false prophets who would rather look after their own needs and not those of the people.

So which kind of work are we doing? Are we shaping a message that makes us feel better and calling it God’s word? Or are we honestly addressing those issues that confound our world according to God’s will, regardless of how unpopular it makes us or how insignificant we may feel? It’s a crucial question, because if we are going to be the body of Christ as we’ve been called to be, we need to “talk the talk” as well as “walk the walk.”

Prayer: Lord, bless us in our living today, that we may serve you faithfully and obediently and may not find ourselves ignoring your word for our own sake. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Listening In On the Conversation

Micah 2:1-13
Luke 9:51-62
There is a conversation going on between these two passages, reaching back and forth across the centuries. If we listen in we can learn more about what it means to be the people of God. Micah speaks words of condemnation to his audience in an effort to lead these people to righteousness. Their response is to try and silence him. “’Do not preach’—thus they preach—‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us'" (Micah 2:6). "If someone were to go about uttering empty falsehoods, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’” Micah laments, “such a one would be the preacher for this people” (v.11). Jesus, speaking to the people of his own day, seems to address the prophet. “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60).

“But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Whatever else we may find important, or compelling, or desirable; no matter how resistant we are to the idea; no matter what people say about us, or think of us, or do to us; no matter how distracted we are, even by good things like work or family, Jesus tells us to “go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” It really is that simple. But in order to proclaim the word, we must first hear it and remain open to it. We must let it judge and correct our wrongs. We must let it affirm and celebrate our joys. We must let it form us into a community of faith and sustain us as individuals. Only then can we live in faithful obedience to God and share the message with others. The ministries of Micah and Jesus were separated by hundreds of years, but when we hear them “conversing,” sharing their common understanding, we find purpose and direction for our lives. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, open our hearts and minds to your word and lead us in your paths, that we may serve you faithfully all our days. Amen.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Different…But the Same

Hosea 13:9-16
Acts 28:1-16
Luke 9:28-36
Our readings for today would seem to be about as dissimilar as they could be. The passage from Hosea is an oracle of judgment against Israel strongly condemning the people. Acts continues the story of Paul’s journey to Rome as a narrative. Luke, also in narrative form, tells the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. While God’s words are spoken in Hosea and Luke, God is not directly quoted in Acts. Each reading has a different thrust, with Hosea calling for repentance, Acts demonstrating the healing power of those who followed Jesus and the will of God that Paul arrive in Rome, and Luke foreshadowing the resurrection. And the differences go on from there.

But there are similarities as well. Each account is grounded in human history within a particular time frame. In each, God is working toward the restoration of the relationship between Creator and creature. Behind each reading there is a person of faith who is willing to record words and events for our consideration. And of course, we trust that the Holy Spirit is at work through each passage shedding light on the words and bringing them to life for us.

While there is only one God, the manner by which God interacts with us is not “one size fits all.” Different times and places require a diversity of responses or actions. What God might do in one setting is not what God does in another. If scripture could be condensed to five or six verses I fully believe it would lose it’s elasticity and it’s deft ability to touch us on so many different levels and in so many different circumstances. So thank God for all the variety we encounter in the Bible, but thank God, too, for the similarities that bind it all together and make it such a living (and life-affirming) document.

Prayer: Lord, we thank you for the word through which you speak to us and offer guidance. May we ever be attentive to you and your will for our lives. Amen.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Give Us This Day Our Daily Crosses

Acts 27:27-44
Luke 9:18-27
The words of Jesus in Luke 9:23 are familiar to us. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” I imagine that normally we think of taking up our crosses as a difficult thing, a burden that we undertake for Jesus’ sake. But in Acts I believe that Paul demonstrates taking up his cross in a different way. Even at the height of a terrible storm, after 14 days with no food and no real certainty as to what will happen next (at least on the part of his shipmates; Paul knows they will not die), the apostle celebrates what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. “After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves” (Acts 27:36). In this simple act of thanking God and breaking bread Paul takes up his cross, his identity as a Christian.

The language of Acts echoes that of the last supper where Jesus, too, took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to others. Communion has become for the church a source of encouragement and hope, just as it was on board the storm-tossed boat. But there are other ways to take up our crosses daily and follow Jesus. Understanding our resources to be gifts to us from God is a profound way of identifying with Jesus. Hospitality, care for those in need, and sharing the good news of the gospel are other ways we may take up our crosses daily. Worship on the Lord’s Day, service to the wider community, and prayers for the world are as well. These are not necessarily difficult tasks, but they do demand discipline and they do require us to be open about our faith.

Paul was willing to take up his cross, even in the midst of a raging sea. Are we willing to do so in the midst of our day to day lives? When we do so we make ourselves known as disciples of Jesus Christ. And in our storm-tossed world that can be a powerful message of hope.

Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to live as your people each and every day and to make our faith known to the world, that others may be encouraged and led to know you better. Amen.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Good Question

According to Luke’s account Herod the tetrarch had heard about the things that Jesus was doing and he was perplexed by it. “…(I)t was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen” (Luke 9:7-8). “…(W)ho is this about whom I hear such things?” Herod asked (v. 9).

Good question. Who is Jesus, this one about whom we “hear such things?” A few answers can be found elsewhere in the same account from Luke. In commissioning “the twelve” to go and “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (vv. 1-2), Jesus embodied God’s act of calling and sending prophets like Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah who were given powers to speak and to act on God’s behalf. And later, when he fed the 5,000 near Bethsaida, Jesus repeated a similar event in the prophetic career of Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44). Jesus was also at work welcoming, teaching, and healing the crowds who had followed him (Luke 9:11). In this very busy passage from the gospel Jesus tells us much about himself and reveals much about his work and his identity. Who is this about whom we hear such things? He is the one who transcends the ancient prophetic witness, rises above the teachings of John, and lays claim to the power and authority that belong to God. Yet this is just a glimpse of Jesus that Luke gives us in this passage.

The resurrected Jesus may be more difficult for us to define, but today he remains in our midst, Immanuel, God with us calling, teaching, healing, and proclaiming the kingdom of heaven so that we, may discern God's will and live accofdingly.

Prayer: Lord, help us to discern your work and your will in our world, and give us the strength to follow you in faithfulness. Amen.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Holding and Waiting

Hosea 12:2-14
Acts 26:24-27:8
The words found in Hosea 12:6 are quite similar to more familiar words from the prophet Micah. Hosea charges the people to “…hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God” (Hosea 12:6). Micah, of course, calls on God’s people “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). It is waiting "continually for God" (what I would consider an act of humility as it puts one totally at God’s behest) that Paul demonstrates so clearly in the account from Acts 26 and 27. Paul might have been freed from imprisonment, according to king Festus, had he not already appealed to the emperor (Acts 26:32). But Paul’s mission is not to go free, it is to go where God’s intends him to go, waiting continually for God, and walking in humility. This is how Paul finds himself en route to Rome as a prisoner, prepared to address the highest authorities in the known world concerning Jesus Christ as Messiah.

Waiting is not something I do well, nor is humility for that matter. Learning to accept where God has sent me as an opportunity instead of a burden requires my will and my aspirations to be subsumed into God’s purpose. It requires me to trust God instead of my own instincts. It forces me to live in open reliance upon God’s presence in my life. How did Paul, of all people, manage this? How did he allow himself to go from active persecutor of the church, to global apostle, to one in shackles? He did it by holding fast to what God expected of him and by “waiting continually for God” in faithfulness.

At some point today you or I may find ourselves in a difficult situation. We may feel that the best way to handle things is to figure it out for ourselves, to use our own wisdom and skill to deal with things. What Hosea reminds us, and what Paul knew, is that God is calling us to trust in the divine will and to live accordingly, with love, justice, and patient humility. It isn’t easy. But it is God’s will. And really, that should be enough for you and me.

Prayer: Lord, help us to live with justice and love and patience, even in the most trying of times. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Return to Sender

Acts 26:1-23
Luke 8:26-39
In our reading from Luke this morning Jesus heals a Gerasene man possessed by a number of demons. Near the end of the account Luke tells us, “the man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you’” (Luke 8:38-39). In Acts, Paul tells King Agrippa the story of his Damascus-Road conversion. There the risen Lord said to Paul, “I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light…” (Acts 26:17-18).

Sometimes we concentrate so much on what it means to be “called” by God that we forget that we are also “sent” by God, often in the very same moment. Yes, the disciples were summoned to walk with Jesus during his ministry, and yes, Paul was drawn into the early church as a convert. Likewise, we are called to enter into the community of Christian fellowship. But the disciples were frequently sent throughout the countryside to perform tasks, on Pentecost Sunday they were practically propelled into the streets to proclaim the good news, and Paul found himself traveling the known world sharing the new of Jesus Christ. In the same way we, too, are sent as disciples and followers of Jesus into the world to “declare how much God has done” for us. This is where the doctrine of election can be seen as a two-way street of sorts. God chooses a people and sets them aside. But election is not solely a matter of salvation; it has every bit as much to do with service. To be one of God’s people, to follow Jesus Christ, is to embrace opportunities to share the good news, to bring light to those who face darkness, to live as though the faith has really made a difference in who we are.

The Gerasene demoniac was so utterly changed that others became frightened. Some who heard Paul speak remained angry and unmoved by his words. We can expect similar circumstances. But every so often we will find ourselves ministering to someone who is touched by the Holy Spirit through our words or actions. At moments like this we will have made the transition from those who are called to those who are sent. Each is vitally important. Each is the will of God.

Prayer: God, help us to live faithfully as your people, praising you and seeking your forgiveness, but also reaching out to others that they may know the good news of the gospel. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, October 8, 2010

You Are What You Love

Hosea 9:10-17
Luke 8:1-15
It is difficult to imagine harsher language than that contained in our reading from Hosea today. For their idolatry and disobedience to God the people will suffer greatly, says the prophet, and in profoundly disturbing ways. But there is one phrase in particular that intersects with the gospel reading from Luke. The people, says Hosea, “became detestable like the thing they loved” (Hosea 9:10). The “thing” is this case is the fertility god Baal, which is “shameful” in the eyes of God (v. 10).

Our reading from Luke is the familiar parable of the sower and the seeds, which compares different types of faith with the ways in which seeds either grow or die. “As for what fell among the thorns,” says Jesus, “these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14). Jesus does not make the connection explicit, but he might as well have added, “they became detestable like the thing they loved.” God’s desire for God’s people, in the words of Jesus, is to “hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance” (v. 15). But all too often God’s people show no patience, no endurance, and therefore produce no good fruit. Instead they are attracted by “shameful things”, or by “the cares and riches and pleasures of life.”

We are familiar with the expression “you are what you eat.” Both Hosea and Jesus remind us that, likewise, we are (or we are like) what we love. So where is our attention? What are we attracted to? And what motivates our actions in the world? Are we drawn to the things of God and God’s will to bear good fruit with patient endurance? Or do we prefer the cares and riches and pleasures of life? This really is a serious concern because it demonstrates who we are as well as whose we are. If “we are (or are like) what we love” then certainly our focus should be on God.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we are distracted by the things of this world and fail to respond to your word and your will. Amen.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Accusations All Around

Hosea 9:1-9
Acts 24:1-23
Luke 7:36-50
In each of our readings today someone is being accused of something by someone else. In Hosea, Israel is accused by the prophet of “playing the whore, departing from (their) God” (Hosea 9:1), and of being deeply corrupted (v. 9). In response, the people find fault with God’s messenger. “The prophet is a fool,” they say, “the man of the spirit is mad” (v. 7). In Acts, Paul stands accused of being “a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). Paul, of course, denies any of this to be true (vv. 18-21). And finally in Luke, Simon the Pharisee is convinced that Jesus must not be a prophet or else he would have known the nature of the woman who was anointing his feet with ointment and tears (Luke 7:39). Jesus, for his part, points out Simon’s inhospitality and relative lack of faith (v. 41ff).

What are we to make of all these charges and countercharges? Is the Christian faith really all about arguments, litigation, and controversy? As often as it may seem so, the Christian faith is not about such divisive activities. Indeed, the call of Christ is to become a part of the community, his body at work in the world. The fact is that human sin makes this call far more challenging than it ought to be. As a result contentiousness arises, accusations are made, tempers flare. But notice that in each case God’s word is active, providing an alternative to human wrangling. In Hosea, God judges the people but continues to offer direction and hope. Paul is able to make a defense because, as we’ve seen earlier in Acts, he has the courage of conviction (Acts 23:11; see the previous entry, “Courage!”). Jesus offers forgiveness of sins to those who accept him and his message of salvation.

This does not mean that it is easy to follow the path of discipleship, nor will this eliminate all conflict from our lives. But if we are willing to listen for God’s word, to pray for guidance, to open our hearts to God and to each other, we will find—in time—that God offers us a new way to think and to understand our circumstances. Then we, like the woman with the ointment, may go in peace, (Luke 7:50) for our sins and our inhospitality will be forgiven and we will have another opportunity to live to God’s glory.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see past our conflicts and our controversies to the peace that you alone offer in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Whirlwind and Wisdom

Hosea 8:1-14
Luke 7:18-35
Yesterday’s readings from Hosea and Luke offered a contrast. Today’s readings present a similarity. “For they sow the wind,” writes Hosea, “and they shall reap the whirlwind…. Though I write for (Israel) the multitude of my instructions, they are regarded as a strange thing” (Hosea 8:7, 12). In Luke, Jesus teaches his followers that “wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:35).

In life there are consequences to our actions. Like it or not, certain steps will often lead to predicable results. As children, for example, we learn that eating too much birthday cake can leave us with a tummy ache, and that if we scribble on the wall with markers we are likely to get into trouble. As we grow older the stakes can become higher. Driving under the influence of alcohol can lead to an accident in which another driver is injured or killed. An abuse of trust can lead to alienation or the loss of friendships. When we “sow the wind” we may very well expect to “reap the whirlwind.” And at the same time the “children of wisdom” reveal or “vindicate” their source. Doing the right thing can often lead to positive results, for us and for others.

Christianity is not just a transcendent religion. It has a great deal to say about everyday matters, practical wisdom that can, and does provide us with renewed relationships, better health, fuller lives. Most importantly faith can lead us to a better sense of justice, righteousness, and humility before God; the chance for community to develop and for lives to be nurtured and focused outward. We won’t always get it right, but by God’s grace we can work toward the goals of faithful discipleship and obedience while offering our gifts and talents to the work of God’s reign. “And,” as the song attests, “they’ll know we are Christians by our love…”

Prayer: O God, help us to walk in right paths and to seek your guidance so that we may serve you and others all our lives. Amen.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What a Contrast (You Hockey Puck!)

Hosea 7:8-16
Luke 7:1-17
I’ll have to admit, the first person I thought about when I read the passage from Hosea for today was Don Rickles. Rickles, best known now perhaps as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the “Toy Story” movies, first came to prominence as a comedian whose practice was to spew insults at his audience. Listen to what God says to the people of Israel through the prophet. “Ephraim is a cake not turned (half baked)” (Hosea 7:8), “Ephraim has become like a dove, silly and without sense” (v. 11), “a defective bow…. So much for their babbling in the land of Egypt” (v. 16). And those are the “funny insults.” God also accuses the people of self-mutilation for gain (v. 14) and for turning to other gods and other nations for their support (vv. 8, 16). As a result God will bring punishment upon them. “I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me,” says the Lord (vv. 12-13). I can almost hear Rickles’s voice exclaiming, “who do you think you are, you bunch of hockey pucks!”

But then in Luke we find an entirely different “routine.” As Jesus approaches the city of Nain he encounters the funeral procession for the only son of a widow. Having compassion for her Jesus restores the man to life. The crowd’s response is telling. “A great prophet has risen among us!” they say, and “God has looked favorably on his people!” (Luke 7:16). The judgment of God through the prophet has been replaced by the people’s praise of God. Yes, God’s people are still prone to sinful waywardness, and God has rendered judgment against them for it. But God has never given up, either. In Jesus Christ God is calling the people back into right relationship, with God and with one another. There is hope for us because there is grace in God. Ultimately Christ’s sacrifice transcends our weakness and provides us with a path to salvation.

The prophet Hosea was not “playing for laughs” in his day. Nor was Jesus. But what joy we find when we realize that, despite our failings, God loves and cares for us—and always has.

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, help us to see your grace poured out for us, and to share your love with others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Acts 22:30-23:11
Luke 6:39-49
Sometimes what God wills from us is the very thing we feel that we lack. In my case it is patience. I never have enough of it, but God seems to expect it from me every day. Our reading from Acts this morning mentions another attribute that God calls for: courage! And on those occasions when God calls for courage, we may become jealous of the apostle Paul who seemed to have no lack of it. He was able to withstand all sorts of persecution and frequent confrontations with confidence. How did he do that? Acts says that at one particularly difficult time in his life “…the Lord stood near (Paul) and said, ‘Keep up your courage!’” (Acts 23:11). The Lord gave Paul courage to do what needed to be done. But what about you and me?

In Luke, Jesus offers us some insight into the matter. Jesus said, “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built” (Luke 6:47-48). One way to make sure that the Lord is standing near to us is to make sure that, to the best of our ability, we are standing near the Lord. And it is not enough to be aware of God in Jesus. We also are called to draw near to Jesus, hear the words that he speaks to us, and then act on those words as his followers. The relationship between Jesus and disciples is one of encouragement, that is a granting or giving of courage—as the Lord did for Paul. When we hear the word of God and are led by it, then we are empowered to live in faithful obedience no matter what we encounter. Few of us may ever be called before a council as Paul was, to be examined about our faith. But all of us are called to live our lives, day in and day out, as the people of God. Frankly, even that can take a great deal of courage. By God’s grace the encouragement is there to be claimed if we will hear Jesus’ words and act on them. Our knees may still wobble, but we are now more aware of God’s presence in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, when we falter, when we shy away from the challenge, lift us up and encourage us to live as your faithful disciples.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Hosea 4:11-19
Acts 21:37-22:16
Luke 6:12-26
I had finished writing my thoughts on today’s readings—a rather longer than usual entry—when my computer died. While I did not lose all of what I had written, I lost enough of it to take the time to reconsider it. Here is what I have learned this morning.

Thank goodness the word of God does not depend on people like me remembering to save their work on their computers. The prophet Hosea, the apostle Paul, and Jesus himself remain conversant with us today in part because, by God’s grace, their words have been preserved. That’s a profound reality. Over the centuries writers have come and gone, words have risen in importance and then fallen into obscurity, what some consider to be true has been surpassed by new understanding. But through it all, the word of God has remained available to us.

In my family Psalm 121 is of special importance. Generations of Freemans have read or recited it’s words before undertaking a journey. Many find comfort from Psalm 23, John 3:16, Micah 6:6-8, 1 Peter 2:10, and so forth. And while of our readings today only Luke’s may be particularly memorable, each represents God’s active participation in human life whatever the circumstances. If God was at work in Hosea, Micah, the psalmist, Jesus, Paul, and John, and if we have those words available to us today, then God remains at work now as well, the Holy Spirit reaching out to us from the pages of scripture.

My computer may have run out of battery power and I may have forgotten to save my document, but God transcends the feebleness of human language and human activity with everlasting love and truth. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Almighty God, help us to trust in your word for guidance this day and always. Amen.