Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Does It Mean To Be The People of God?

Isaiah 49:1-12
What does it mean to be the people of God? For one thing, it means bearing the news of God’s salvation to the world. As the prophet Isaiah tells us, “Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves’” (Isaiah 49:8-9a). As an aspect of their own salvation, God has given God’s people as a covenant, a sign of God’s abiding presence to all the nations, but more specifically to those who suffer or are oppressed. What an amazing message we carry when we speak of God’s grace. To those who have been disenfranchised we grant a share of the kingdom and restore fairness to the means of self-fulfillment. To those in prison we offer a way out. We encourage those who have remained hidden, who cower under cover of night, to step forward without fear. We do not clutch at God’s blessings as though they were ours alone, we do not turn inward at the exclusion of others. We recognize that the circle of God’s grace moves ever outward encircling all whom God includes.

God has long used God’s people as a blessing to others. Noah and his family were set aside by God as a means of grace for generations to come, reestablishing God’s relationship with humanity. Abraham and Sarah were likewise called to be a source of goodness to the nations. Like our reading from Isaiah today, the message of the prophets can often be summed up as an exhortation to care for the alien and the outcast in our midst. And with the words of the great commission Jesus Christ, too, sends all who would be disciples into the world to meet needs and lift spirits.

There is a poignancy to Isaiah’s words. As a parent I can think of a number of times when I’ve encouraged my children to set aside their fears and to step forward, to trust me to love them and to take care of them. God wants that message conveyed to all people. God wants all nations, all races, all cultures to trust in the divine will, to accept the good news of salvation, and then to care for one another with open hearts and open hands. To be God’s people, then, is not to end a journey, it is to be reoriented along a new path that carries us well beyond ourselves, to a world that God loves and to people for whom God cares deeply.

Prayer: Lord God, in love and grace you have called your people to care for one another and to reach far into the world with your good news. May we find the strength and courage to serve you in all we do, for it is in Jesus’ name that we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Listen to the Silence

Psalm 28
One of the evening psalms for today offers what I might call an auditory conundrum. “To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, do not refuse to hear me, for if you are silent to me, I shall be like those who go down to the Pit” (Psalm 28:1). What exactly does the silence of God sound like? Is it like the sound of one hand clapping, or a tree falling in the forest when there is no one there? Is it like the quiet of a library, or the hush of a school building when the day is over and the children have gone home? The homecoming parades I marched in during high school used to pass by a hospital at which point the instruments quit playing and the drums simply marked a soft tap, tap, tap so we could keep cadence. Surely the silence of God is not like that.

The psalmist knew, or at least thought he knew, what the silence of God would be like. It was the experience of separation, of descending to a place where the love of God was only a memory. It meant being cast off, as the wicked are sent away and left to their own fate. How deeply the psalmist felt the need for what one writer calls, “a living mutual relationship with God.” And so the psalmist prayed, with arms outstretched toward the temple, and beseeched God to listen and to respond and to not be silent.

Silence can be a good thing, of course. When young children have been a little wound up the soft sounds of their sleeping comes as a blessing. But silence can also be a draining experience, can leave us feeling lost or lonely, can remind us of our need for others. And with arms outstretched we lift our prayers to a God who does indeed listen, and who indeed responds, and who is capable of breaking the silence of our very souls with the knowledge of the divine presence. “Blessed is the Lord, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings. The Lord is my strength and my shield…” (vs. 6-7a).

What does the silence of God sound like? At the end of the day we have to answer that question for ourselves. But whatever the answer may be, it cannot mask the fact that God cares for God’s people like a shepherd for a flock, that God hears our pleadings, hears our prayers, and in ways that we cannot fully understand responds to us. God’s silence then is only an illusion, for the sound of God is really the sound of our being.

Prayer: Lord, hear us when we call to you, and bless us with the knowledge of your presence, for it is in Jesus’ name that we pray. Amen.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Not So Different

Galatians 1:1-17
Our reading from Galatians today includes Paul’s reference to himself as one called, not by any human institution, by God to minister: “Paul an apostle — sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead….” Paul’s point is that he received his authority as an apostle directly from Jesus Christ in an encounter on the road to Damascus and not from any human source. Paul had reason to make such a strong statement. His confrontation with the risen Christ had wrenched him free from his previous life, one spent persecuting the church and imprisoning its members. And while Paul’s experience differentiated him from some like Stephen who had been ordained as a deacon by the early church, it also served to heighten the responsibility or sense of purpose that Paul must have felt. God had called him through the presence of Jesus Christ, and had led him to a new and challenging way of life.

On the other hand, when we look at the nature of the Christian faith, at the meaning of discipleship, we may find that Paul was not really all that different from any other believer. There is a traditional Cuban hymn text that underscores the importance of responding to God’s will in our lives, regardless of what that may be.

Sent by the Lord am I;

my hands are ready now
to make the earth
 the place
in which the kingdom comes.

The angels cannot change a world of hurt and pain

into a world of love, of justice and of peace.

The task is mine to do, to set it truly free.

Oh, help me to obey; help me to do your will.

We all have been called, set aside, commissioned to serve God by sharing the good news of the gospel with the world. Throughout history, God has chosen men and women to minister in the world, to share the love of the gospel with those who are suffering or alone. We may not experience call in the dramatic fashion that Paul did, but God has continually set aide folks like you and me to live lives of faithful obedience, to do the work that angels can not, work that is ours and ours alone.

Paul had reason to point to his conversion to Christianity and his work as an apostle. But we, too, have work to do and we, too, are called to “make the earth the place in which the kingdom comes.” In this way we are not so different from Paul.

Prayer: God of grace, help us to serve you faithfully in all we do, that your will may be done and the entire world be filled with your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

God Does It

Isaiah 45:5-17
In his poem entitled “Grass,” Carl Sandburg offers this view of human history and especially the futility of war:

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
                    I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
                    What place is this?
                    Where are we now?

                    I am the grass.
                    Let me work.

While Sandburg uses grass as a symbol of human frailty and a reminder of our transitory nature, the prophet Isaiah points to God, not as a symbol, but as the lone and enduring source of all there is. “…(T)here is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:6b-7).

We may rightly take pride in our accomplishments. We may point to what our hands have helped to shape and to form. We may marvel at bridges, at skyscrapers, at stadiums, at highways. We may congratulate those who achieve greatness, who take bold steps, who lead armies or workers or of soldiers, who write poetry or sing songs that touch the heart and soul, who run faster or climb higher than anyone else. We may pledge our allegiance to flags or countries or leaders. But the day will come, says Sandburg, when passersby will not even recognize our great battlefields, when nature will swallow us whole and cover over the scars we have left upon the earth. Perhaps then we will remember what Isaiah has already told us: our hope, our true hope, comes from the God who does all things and by whose hand life itself was formed. Perhaps when we recognize the fleeting nature of our own works we will be drawn to the firm and abiding truth of God’s eternal being. The grass may cover over our efforts, but it is God who created the grass. This is why we must turn our attention to God and follow in God’s ways. All else fades, but God alone endures. And this is our one hope.

Prayer: Gracious God, help us to trust in you and you alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Careful What You Believe

Isaiah 44:24-45:7
God has strong words by way of the prophet Isaiah for those who would claim to speak from insight they don’t actually have. Even those who are perceived as wise will be thwarted in their views. “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,” we read, “who formed you in the womb: I am the Lord… who frustrates the omens of liars, and makes fools of diviners; who turns back the wise, and makes their knowledge foolish…” (Isaiah 44:24a, 25).

In the modern world, the internet provides a steady stream of dubious claims and questionable statements. (I say this knowing full well that what I write and post online may, to some, seem like “dubious” and “questionable” material!) But even before the dawn of email and text messaging, rumors and half-truths found their way into everyday discourse. Indeed, this is a part of the problem that Isaiah was addressing because many people who were content to put their faith, their confidence in what the world said was factual. God’s response is to go right to the source, to “frustrate” those who offer lies and foolishness, and to “turn back” even that which seems intelligent to our ears. There is only one source of truth, the God from whom alone wisdom arises and in whom alone we must put our trust.

To live a life of faithful obedience we must set aside the falsehoods of the world and instead prayerfully seek for guidance in the word of God, all the while being attentive to what the Holy Spirit shows us to be correct.

Prayer: Lord, may we come to know your truth and to cast aside the falsehoods and lies of those who would deceive. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Oh, Grow Up!

Ephesians 4:1-16
Our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians for today includes these words: “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). For the author of Ephesians, a life in Christ begins and ends in love. There is a time and place for righteous anger, sorrow is an appropriate response to many events in our lives, joy and happiness are blessings, but all of our emotions and feelings must be bound up in love if we are to become the people God has called us to be. As John Lennon sang, “Love is the answer, and you know that for sure.”

Consider the inability of many in our world to regard others with even a modicum of respect. TV commentators, editorial writers, politicians, entertainers, heads of organizations and lobbying groups, neighbors, even some who claim to be serving the church seem completely incapable of loving those with whom they disagree. Tom Lehrer, the satirical singer/songwriter, has quipped, “…I know there are people in the world that do not love their fellow human beings and I hate people like that.” Point taken. How are we to respond to the anger and animosity of others? Is it not typical to get angry ourselves? Yes, but it shouldn’t be, and this is where the message of Ephesians might be boiled down to the simple call to “grow up!” For growing up in Christ means doing our very best to love one another as Christ first loved us. As we seek to love one another we will find ourselves less and less capable of causing each other pain. The challenge is to see and affirm what it is that makes a person—even someone with whom we differ greatly––lovable, and in doing so, to set aside our anger, our insults, our hatred and speak in terms that express our convictions but at the same time seek to build a community of dialogue.

Why would a member of the National Rifle Association ever say a kind word to a member of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence? Why would a liberal Democrat ever waste a compliment on a conservative Republican? Why? Because that is what God calls us to do. God challenges us to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…”and that means to be “built up in love,” because “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son… Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16a, 17).

Prayer: Lord, help us to love one another just as you have loved and cared for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Band of Believers

Mark 2:1-12
One of the more poignant aspects of the healing of the paralytic is the obvious compassion for this man on the part of his friends who were willing to do whatever was necessary to get him into Jesus’ presence. “Then some people came, bringing to [Jesus] a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’” (Mark 2:3-5). Mark says that when Jesus “saw their faith,” he first forgave the paralyzed man and then healed him. The plural pronoun their tells us a lot. It was not simply the faith of the man in need that moved Jesus. In fact the paralyzed man’s faith may not be indicated at all. Their may refer only to the people who believed that Jesus could heal their friend.

There are times when I find myself facing fears or concerns, issues or questions that leave me, in effect, spiritually paralyzed. When that happens, when I am facing doubts or struggling with my faith, it is the love and support of the wider community that so often pulls me through. Over the years, friends, family members, congregants, even relative strangers willing to express their confidence in God, have “carried” me to Jesus and helped me learn to stand again in the faith. So often it is their actions that remind me of the forgiveness that I have received and of the healing that I need. And at other times I have been blessed to help do the “carrying,” lending my support to those in need of forgiveness and healing. This is one way that the community of faith expresses its concern for one another in times of need.

Ours is a complicated and trying world, full of darkness, rocked by injustice. But when we as God’s people are willing, not only to carry those in need, but also to dig through the obstacles they encounter, then our faith can become a source of light and life for all.

Prayer: Lord, help us to care for one another and especially for those in need of encouragement and hope, so that together we may share the love of the gospel with a hurting world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Salvation THEN Works

Ephesians 2:1-10
How is one actually saved by God through Jesus Christ? According to the writer of Ephesians, “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2:8-10). This may seem like a fine distinction but the fact is that the good things that Christians are called to do—justice, righteousness, compassion, hospitality, worship, and praise to name just a few––are not how we earn God’s love, they are how we respond to it. A life lived in faithful obedience is the thank-you note we write to God for the gift of grace that we receive.

But we are to have faith in Jesus Christ, right? That must mean we have to make some sort of decision or commitment to God’s will in order to be in relationship with God. Well, yes and no. As we have just read, faith “is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…,” so yes, we must believe in God through Jesus Christ, but the only way that happens is when God makes it possible.

Does that mean that God is actively keeping some folks from believing? If that is true, it would not be as alien to scripture as one might think. The gospels of John (12:39-40) and Matthew (13:14-15) and the book of Acts (28:25-28) all quote the book of Isaiah which says, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend, keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed” (6:9-10). Ultimately, though, salvation is God’s decision and God’s alone, and not something we can readily determine about others. Those who do believe, who have received faith as a gift, must assume that a part of the Christian calling is to live and share the good news of Jesus Christ with the hope that others may come to recognize God’s activity in their own lives. But we are not entitled to make assumptions about who God is willing or unwilling to call to faith.

The writer of Ephesians looked at the world, the people who accepted the good news of Jesus Christ and those who did not, looked at Gentiles who believed Jesus to be the Son of God and at Jews who did not, and came to the Spirit-let realization that faith is a far more complex issue that some would suggest. Yet it is never something that can be won or earned or secured through our own works; it is, first and foremost, a grace-filled gift from God, one by which we may be amazed, but one for which we are led to say thank you by doing the will of God.

Prayer: Lord, in you alone rests our hope and salvation and from you alone comes the gift of grace. May all people come to know your love and to respond to your gracious work in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Do We Feel the Need to Defend God?

Note: This post concerns a passage from the daily readings for January 15, 2013. Due to technical difficulties I was unable to post it until today.

Isaiah 40:25-31
I find myself wondering sometimes about the need to take up for God, to defend God, whether that’s a task that I as a minister or even as a person of faith should undertake. Does God need me to somehow defend or protect the divine name? On the one hand, I believe I have been called through Jesus Christ into a relationship with God and that I bear the responsibility to live in faithful obedience to God’s will. But on the other hand, does God really need my protection against even the most cynical and sinful aspects of our culture? Is that what faithfulness is all about? Is God really that vulnerable?

The prophet Isaiah has a word for us on the subject. “Have you not known?” he asks. “Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31). For Isaiah there is no question as to the roles God plays: as Creator, bringing the world into being; as Sustainer, strengthening the powerless and empowering the weak; and as Redeemer, answering “those who wait for the Lord” with what they need in order to rise above their challenges. In other words, God does not need me—or anyone—to offer protection or to somehow safeguard the presence of God. Indeed, it is God who is at work in the world, who creates us, sustains us, redeems us.

The reason I bring this up is that from time to time I have become aware of Christians who act as though God is being beaten or overwhelmed in the public sphere. Their concerns often center around particular social views that they believe are in opposition of God’s will. They may very well be correct. Much of what happens in our world is ungodly. The danger is that when we build a wall around God and what we perceive to be God’s intentions we are really setting limits on our own spiritual growth, our own willingness to be led by God to a new understanding of what it means to be God’s people. That’s when we must seriously wrestle with the difference between where we think God may be leading us and where we feel certain God would never go.

This is not an easy problem to solve, but I believe it is made somewhat easier when we stop defining God’s limits, stop trying to defend God and what we feel God is all about, and instead allow God to defend us, and to lead us, and change us, and transform us. As Isaiah might say, once we decide to “wait on the Lord,” we will find God lifting us to new heights and new perspectives according to God’s will.

Prayer: Almighty God, lead us in your path according to your will and give us the strength to answer your call in our lives, wherever it may lead us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Lend Me Your Ears

Revelation 3:1-6
I’m guessing that many people my age, especially those who live in the English-speaking world, have encountered at some point or other the following lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act 3 Scene 2:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.

This speech by Mark Antony is a masterpiece of manipulation, used to perfection to turn the Roman mob against Brutus and his fellow conspirators in the assassination of Julius Caesar. But the speech begins with the familiar request to “lend me your ears,” to listen up, to pay attention to what is being said. John, the writer of Revelation, shares a similar request in our New Testament reading for today. “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches,” he writes (Revelation 3:6). He has just shared words of warning for the church at Sardis, calling the members to wake up before Christ comes “like a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come to you” (v. 3). But the appeal for attention is addressed to a wider audience than the Christians of a particular city or region. “Anyone who has an ear” is enjoined to “listen to what the Spirit is saying.” In other words, you and I have a responsibility to pay attention as well and to listen, not to those who would guide the church according to human standards or worldly goals, but to the Holy Spirit alone. What does God want us to do? Where is God calling us to be active? How may we serve God so that our objective is not success but faithful obedience? Seen in this light, the words of Revelation are far from manipulative, they are straightforward and direct. And while the meaning of much of Revelation is difficult to grasp fully, the demand for attention is precisely on point. “Let anyone who has an ear listen…”

Mark Antony had a carefully crafted message for the crowds of Rome by which he wanted them to be roused to action. But while the words of Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2 are worthy of study, they do not speak to current events with any real significance. John, the writer of Revelation, has a message for us all, one that remains vital and alive, one that is Spirit-filled and bourn of urgency right up to the present hour. Will we hear? Will we even listen? And if we do, will we be guided in the direction we need to go? Perhaps that is the question with which we need to wrestle.

Prayer: Gracious God, may we indeed have ears to hear your message to all people and may we be filled with the Holy Spirit as we seek to do your will at all times. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Great Place For the Good Shepherd

John 5:1-15
In describing the setting of the story, our gospel reading today offers an interesting bit of information. “Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate,” it says, “there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids — blind, lame, and paralyzed” (John 5:2-3). Personally, I assume that if scripture sees fit to include even the smallest bit of information then we should give it some consideration, and that’s the case with John’s reference to the Sheep Gate as being near the location of one of Jesus’ healings. There is a reason that John shared this fact with us, and I don’t think that it is entirely a matter of location. With just a few words John has also reminded us of Jesus’ role in tending to the people of God –– most especially those in need –– as a shepherd tends to his flock.

References to Jesus as the Good Shepherd are common of course, both in scripture itself and in the worship and devotional life of the church. A familiar motif for stained glass windows in Christian sanctuaries is the figure of Jesus holding a lamb with other sheep gathered around him. This is the Lord we Christians worship, and it is extremely important that we hold this image of flock-tending as close to our hearts as any other when it comes to our understanding of Christ. Shepherding is not glamorous work; nor is tending to the needs of people who have been cast off by their culture. So the Lordship of Jesus reflects the power and authority of God’s Son; but the work Jesus so willingly did placed him in positions of vulnerability and weakness according when viewed in human terms.

As a minister I find myself faced with an almost daily challenge based on Jesus’ role as the Good Shepherd. On the one hand there is the temptation to embrace the prestige that comes with serving a mainline Protestant congregation, perhaps especially in the southern United States. Even in an era when the decline of some denominations has lessened their real or perceived social standing, it is easy to get caught up in the life of the institution. On the other hand, I am called to worship and serve a Lord who walked among the “blind, lame, and paralyzed” of Jerusalem, who offered healing to the least and the lost, who gave of himself in order to save others. I am also called to do this work.

Jesus is Lord of all. But Jesus is also the Shepherd of the flock. As his people we are called to follow his example, serving where we are needed. And sometimes that just happens to be among the sheep.

Prayer: O God, may we faithfully serve where we are needed, trusting in the guidance and grace of your Son our Savior, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Word to the Wise

Isaiah 59:15b-21
Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “You took the words right out of my mouth.” It means that someone has said what you were thinking but had not had time to express for yourself. Our reading from Isaiah today offers the opposite perspective, literally along the lines of, “You put the words right into my mouth,” and God is the one doing the putting. “And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord: my spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouths of your children, or out of the mouths of your children's children, says the Lord, from now on and forever” (Isaiah 59:21). What does it mean for God to put words in our mouths? And what does it mean that these words will not depart the mouths of three or more generations of God’s people? Good questions.

I think of it this way, that there are many positions we might take in life on a variety of issues, a number of perspectives we might embrace and then share with others. Like quasi celebrity endorsers, we might pass along all types of information to our friends and our neighbors, and all manner of rumors or pieces of gossip sometimes stated as fact. According to the prophet, however, God’s word is to become our word, God’s glory the subject of our speaking, God’s actions the topic of our conversations. The days are coming when we, our children, and our children’s children, will speak the truth of God’s love and be known by that speaking and no other.

The charge to speak God’s word, of course, removes from us the opportunity to share the half-truths and hurtful innuendos that pass for communication in much of our world. I suspect were this to come to pass in a literal sense that Twitter and Facebook would become vastly different places and that reality TV would die a quick and ignoble death. What replaced them would not be the stodginess of what too often passes for religious talk, but the grace-filled and life-giving words of hope and peace that God has always used to create and to restore. Here’s hoping.

Prayer: Lord, may we learn to speak your truth in all we do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Mighty Fortress

Psalm 46
Years ago a young woman asked to have the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” sung at her wedding, explaining that it had been a favorite of her deceased father’s. It then fell to me as the minister to make sense of the matter for folks who attended the wedding. Why would a young woman be thinking about fortresses and bulwarks on her wedding day? Why would she request a hymn with the words, “Our helper, He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing”? What meaning on this particular day might she find in the words, “Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also…”? Yet the more I thought about it the more sense it actually made to me. Here was a young couple bringing their lives together, facing a lot of uncertainties in themselves and in each other, wondering what the future would bring. What better time to lay claim to God’s work for humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, even if it did come in a rather foreboding musical style?

Martin Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress” — a classic of the Reformation –– based in part on Psalm 46 and the words, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Luther himself faced many difficult challenges in his life and obviously took great comfort from the psalmist’s assurances that God protects and defends God’s people. This was good news indeed for a man who was willing to challenge the Roman church in all of its power and glory. As the psalm reminds us, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea” (v. 2). As Luther knew, it is Jesus Christ in whom we encounter God-with-us. It is Jesus Christ who lived in such a way as to demonstrate that God is in control, that God is a mighty fortress, “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” It is Jesus Christ who reaches out to us in the pages of scripture, who is willing to die for us, and who invites us to trust and believe in him.

Our God is a mighty fortress, when “the mountains shake at the heart of the sea,” when our lives teeter on the brink of uncertainty; or when we enter into new relationships, even if we have a pretty good idea of where we are headed. Whether we seem threatened by the forces of this world, or we find ourselves living in relative safety and peace, God remains a mighty fortress for us, come what may.

Prayer: Lord, give us your guidance and protection, all the days of our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sight Unseen

Hebrews 11:1-12
As we begin a new year we may naturally find ourselves looking back at where we have been and what we have done in recent months. We may find ourselves assessing various events, taking stock of our accomplishments, weighing our successes against our failures. Hopefully, however, we will also take time to look ahead into the new year and beyond, considering all that is possible, all that lies before us, the places we may go and the things we may do. And as we look forward perhaps we might reflect on a verse from our epistle lesson for today: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Each of us may hope for a number of things: good health, improved financial wellbeing, success for our children, a new job, a nice vacation. But when it comes to matters of faith there is more to it than being hopeful. The writer of Hebrews says faith is not simply something desired but an “assurance” and a “conviction” that the thing hoped for will come to pass. We may hope for a raise in pay¬¬––and even feel fairly confident we will get it––but there can be no certainty as long the raise depends on human action. What the writer of Hebrews is talking about are hopes based on the word of God, on promises that take their shape in divine action, in matters that transcend life itself. These are factors that really cannot be seen, but because of who God is we have faith—absolute certainty—in their veracity.

What do we hope for in the coming year, and how much of it is based on what we know God to be doing in the world and in our lives? It is worth some reflection because what we believe will go a long way in determining how we live, and how we live is of great importance.

Prayer: God of truth, in whom we believe, help us to live are people of faith so that we may do the work of your coming reign. In Jesus’ name. Amen.