Reflections Upon the Sunday School Lessons Uniform Sunday School Lessons Teacher: Esther Kletsch
June 6, 2019 Theme: Jesus Seals the New Covenant Scripture: Mark 14:6-15, 25, 26, 33-39
The Cross of Christ: Cause and Cure
During their long sojourn in the wilderness, the people of the Exodus became dissatisfied with their plight and lifted up a cry of protest to Moses and to God. The Lord sent a plague of poisonous serpents to bite them and it inflicted some with death and others with sickness. Moses appealed to God on their behalf and was instructed to make a serpent of bronze and put it on a pole. Everyone who had been bitten by the serpent then might look upon it and live. The cure of this illness resembled its cause. (Later in Israel's history this bronze serpent became idolatrously associated with various religious cults and its use was condemned.)
The lesson today in Mark is the account of the crucifixion of Christ. The association of the bronze serpent and the cross is made by Jesus in the well-known third chapter of John's gospel. Like those of Israel's history, those who are sin stricken may behold the cross and live. This terrible image of human affliction would become the means of human healing. Again, the cause and cure are brought together. The cause looks like the cure. That is the eternal paradox of the cross.
This is how it works. When we look at the cross and the man upon that cross, we see so much that is known to us. The cross unmasks the nature of our mortality. When we behold the cross, we see the physical, spiritual and emotional pain, all which is certainly not unknown to us. We see in the cross what it means to be truly alone. The cross reveals in stark relief the inhumanity violence, bigotry, and fear that too often is hidden in state sanction. The cross is powerful because it represents and mirrors our own lives back to us. The cross is immediately and intuitively grasped by the human heart because it shows us so much that is intensely familiar to us. When we survey the cross, we see deeply into the truth of what our sin sickness looks like and what it feels like.
There is a book written in the 1970's by the Dominican Monk, Sebastian Moore. It is titled, The Crucifixion of Christ is no Stranger. The book develops this important theme.
The cross is known not just to reveal the nature of our plight but to bring about the cure. The healing is in the identification of God with us in our dire situation. God uses that moment of recognition to come into our hearts with forgiveness, healing, and wholeness. When we look upon the cross, we have this felt assurance of God's boundless compassion and limitless power to restore broken hearts and guilty souls. God stand with us as no one ever has or could ever have before. Pastor Joel
June 2, 2019 Theme: Jesus Institutes the New Covenant Scripture: Mark 14:17-25, Hebrews 8:6,7,10-12
Living Through Loss
Here we have two New Testament Passages strongly affirming the power of God's covenant relationship. As people of faith, we live by and through these promises.
We gain a greater appreciation of these promises if we bring into focus the historical circumstances in regard to each passage. In doing so we realize that both passages are bound up in a situation of imminent loss. The passages can thus be regarded as providing essential support and encouragement to those who are confronted with the loss of something possessing fundamental value.
The passage in Hebrews is written to an exodus community. They were separating them- Selves from the worship of the synagogue, the faith traditions of familiar social groups and the disruptions of patterns of relationships that had existed in their lives. The move into Christian faith required a courageous break from old patterns of worship, community and established patterns of social and private life. This radical change involved loss. No one should dismiss the significance of what they were leaving behind.
The passage in Mark provides an account of the Last Supper. In this gospel, the Last Supper is preceded by the anointing of Jesus and the announcement of his death. To the extent the disciples were aware of what was happening, this also was an occasion for the anticipation of loss. Additionally, in this chapter we are informed of a murderous plot that was unfolding among those in positions of power. Mortal peril was in the air.
Together, these passages give us powerful encouragement in our own moments of loss. The key to this encouragement is the covenant God enacts with us. This covenant is the promise and conviction of God's unfailing, deathless fidelity and love held out for us.
When we are faced with loss we have, live by, and in this promise. The realization of the promise may take some time. Often we must wait for it. Faith is our friend in the waiting. But by the terms of this covenant, God will come to support us. God has a million ways to reach out to us-directly through the lift of spirits in the power of the Holy Spirit, the help and fellowship of others, the kindness of strangers, the consolation of prayer, the memory of grace and the still small voice of calm which fills the human soul with peace.
The overall effect is that God will be there for us. God will pick us back up. We may have to wait for it, but God will be faithful to us. We enact that promise every time we taste of the bread or drink of the cup. God will be there and in God's hands we will be held.
I have lived in proximity to various expressions of grief. I have seen the wild unrestrained rage of grief. I have seen as well the silent and tearless grief that stares into the abyss of absence. I have felt the anxiety of someone who has lost a fundamental support. I have seen in many the corrosive self-blame we carry for years after loss. I have witnessed the emotional and mental confusion which takes over when lives are touched by loss. I have felt the weight of loss when it pulls the human spirit into depression. I have watched as grieving souls attempt to replace the loss with mindless distraction and self-destructive behavior. I have known the emotional vacancy of those who are exhausted by the weight and burden of just getting through another day.
Given what we know about ourselves and our experience of loss, we can latch onto the eternal hope of the Bible. The hope is covenant-shaped. When we are down, God will lift us up. God will be there. We have that promise. Bank on it. Pastor Joel
May 26, 2019 Theme: Called to Be Transformed Scripture: Romans 12
Christian Nonconformity "Be Not Conformed to this World..." 12.2
Paul issues a bracing call for Christian nonconformity. This nonconformity exists in a contrast and rebuke of prevailing cultural attitudes, fashion and values.
I recently saw an advertisement that declared that we define who we are, and represent who we are through what we buy. This terribly shallow understanding of the depth of human beings, and the diminishment of human aspiration implied here is a cultural and social influence which must be resisted and rejected. This pressure for us to frantically consume to somehow define, or worse, justify ourselves is an example of a cultural value which must be resisted.
There is a tendency to reduce our higher commitments to commonly held Christian values by collapsing them into prevailing social norms. We have a higher calling. Standards of behavior embraced by the culture are not our own. What is good enough for the crowd is not good enough for us. Our loyalty lodges in a greater summons.
To live a vital faith requires Christians to be forever out of step with the world. We are not upheld by the standards of the crowd but by the radical summons of our faith in Christ. Christian vocation cannot be separated from the necessity of nonconformity.
Paul declares in this same chapter that in the community of faith God gives various persons diverse gifts. This affirmation is consistent with the call of nonconformity. In a Christian fellowship, we serve God best by being different from each other.
Acknowledging the call to nonconformity we need to also embrace the ultimate unity of our diverse fellowship of Christ. Pastor Joel
May 19, 2019
Theme: Called to Mutual Acceptance Scripture: Romans 11
Together in a Place Called "Humility"
Today's reading from Romans is a part of a larger block of material that begins in Chapter 9. In this section, Paul considers the Jewish-Christian question in light of salvation. Paul maintains his core belief in the saving grace he has found as a follower of Christ. He defines that core belief in contrast to aspects of Jewish beliefs and practices. But Paul expresses his continuing desire that God will bring those who have been separated back together.
Nowhere is that desire expressed as clearly as the image he develops in Chapter 11 of this book. He uses the figure of a tree, accessing a familiar image developed in places throughout the Bible, like the first Psalm.
The tree represents Biblical faith viewed within its historical context. The tree's roots and trunk represent the historical foundations of our faith. Remarkably, Paul uses the image of a wild olive shoot to signify and represent Christians. Christians are merely a branch drafted onto the trunk. He cautions Christians against considering themselves as the whole tree. He says to them, "You do not support the root, the root supports you." It is a comic absurdity that a branch gets so full of itself that it thinks, "Hey, I am making this whole tree happen." Or, to convey Paul's message more simply: "Christians, don't forget you are a branch."
This is a call for humility. Humility is the way forward in our dialogue with other faith traditions. We need to listen and try to understand one another, particularly those with whom we respectfully differ. We don't need to be afraid in doing so. We stand to gain insight and wisdom in this dialogue We have our beliefs and we do not need to surrender or submerge any aspect of what we believe in our dialogue with others. But if we take it down a notch or two on the self-important scale, we will greatly profit in this dialogue.
This principle of humility applies across the board to encompasss all our issues within the comtempoary clamor of competing viewpoints, perspectives, beliefs and convictions. I might rephrase Paul's admonition this way, "Chill out and remember you are a branch." Perhaps there is hope in this divided world that we can come together in that places called "humility." Pastor Joel
May 12, 2019 Theme: Called to Life in the Spirit Scripture: Romans 8
Misreading Paul Romans 8 is Paul's elaboration of the work of the Spirit over against the work of the Law. The new day of Christ has brought about an elevation of the Spirit of God's grace as a means of salvation in the contrast to the Law.
This is a wonderful, life-giving insight. However, this chapter, and others like it have produced a history of destructive misreadings. We need to be very clear about what this chapter says and what it doesn't say.
First, the contrast Paul draws between the spirit and the flesh is not meant to imply that the human body is bad. The theological use of the word "flesh" is not to be equated with the human body. In Paul's usage, flesh is the principle of the sin that arises from human rebellion against God. Flesh is not the body.
Conflating flesh with the body has dire consequences for theology. It has helped to generate a culture of shame regarding our attitude towards ourselves. The principle of sin under in Paul's use of the word, "flesh" is bad. The human body, created in the image of God, is good. The human body is a wonderful gift. It is how we live, understand, think, feel love, see, create, worship, pray, breathe and everything else. Show me some area of life where the culture of shame has not taken some terrible toll on human well-being. I don't think you can.
The second misreading arises from the contrast Paul draws between God's Spirit of grace and the Law. Paul proclaims that we are saved by grace and not the law. This is a true, wonderful and liberating affirmation.
A terrible misreading of this passage concludes that the law, no longer efficacious for salvation, can be or should be set aside or devalued. At its worst, this misreading leads to antinomianism In Christianity, an antinomian is one who takes the principle of salvation by God's grace to the point of asserting that the saved are not bound to follow the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments.
Paul is right, We are not saved by the law, but by grace. But that is not to say that the law has lost any of its value to us and to human society. The law is the wonderful, wonderful gift of God. The law encodes values, supports efforts to establish an ordered society, promotes human flourishing, and protects and defends the powerless. I believe the Christian church has two great missions. One is to proclaim and practice the grace of God. The other is to teach the law of God. There is no tension here between law and grace. We don't have to tie ourselves up in knots trying to think our way through the question of primacy of either. There is a seamless, organic, vital connection between them. It is certainly not that we have to pick one or the other.
This confusion is particularly dangerous to maintain in our contemporary situation. Social norms are increasingly contested. The individual has been made the ultimate authority about what is right and what is wrong, We live in a particular moment of normlessness. It is a situation which may be compared to the description provided in the Book of Judges, Chapter 16:6: In those days, there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes. The French sociologist Emile Durkheim has defined this situation as "anomie".
On this matter, read and appreciate Psalm 119. It is long, It contains 176 verses. It extols the wonderful gift of God's law. Christians should extol this gift as well. Here is the bottom line: Christians should endeavor to learn and follow the Ten Commandments. God's grace empowers us to honor and practice fidelity to this law. It I were calling the shots I would hand a copy of the Ten Commandments to every new member delivered into the arms of God at baptism. Pastor Joel
May 5, 5019 Theme: Called to Righteousness Scripture: Romans 3
You Can't Hold Back God's Grace
The Apostle Paul is excited about the new day that is ushered in through the death and resurrection of Christ. God's grace is moving out into the wide world beyond its beginnings with the original chosen people. There is nothing to hold back God's grace. The old thinking that one must be first a Jew to become a Christian is set aside. God's grace is available to everyone. Beautifully and powerfully grace is on the move.
All the old boundary lines have been erased. Those boundary lines were drawn so that we could establish meaningful differences between people and groups, and we could say who is in and who is out. God's grace violates those boundaries That is unsettling to those who are on the inside looking out. But it is good news, in fact wonderful news, for those that are on the outside looking in.
God's grace is good news for successful people and for failures, for smart people and less smart, for rich and poor, for those who are included, and those who have been excluded, for those who are righteous and those who aren't. When God's grace happens, it always brings pleasant surprises. It lifts people up who are defeated, it wins over those who have been fighting against it all their lives, it releases those imprisoned in shame and heals the broken hearted. It is peace for those who are anxious. Finally, at long last, there is peace.
We live our lives with a conviction that we pretty much know the score concerning who is worthy of grace and who is not. God upsets and rebukes all those self-absorbed assumptions that we have in our head. Grace is gold for those who never felt worthy and have been the object of the scorn of others.
Grace demands that we relax all our preconceived notions of how God is supposed to deal with others, particularly those we have some kind of problem with. We are not driving that car. God is. So, grace is a good thing. We should welcome it and marvel when we see it change lives. When grace has its moment with us, then we should just relax and let it do its work. There is this experience of just letting go when grace moves into your heart. Just let go of your attachment to shame, negativity, hatred, and fear. Let grace lift you up, forgive you, encourage you, direct you, and fill you with joy. After all, you can't hold it back anyway. Pastor Joel
April 28, 2019 Theme: Called to Make Disciples Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 1:1-16-20
God's Power Among Us
These readings from Matthew and the first chapter of Acts convey the giving of God's power to the followers of Christ. In Matthew, Jesus claims all power in heaven and earth. There is a further sense that the Risen Lord is passing along aspects of this power to his followers, particularly in their global mission to spread the gospel. In Acts, the power and authority of God is being invoked and imparted as the followers of Christ begin their journey of witness to the four corners of the world.
Returning to Matthew, the concluding instructions of the Risen Lord to his disciples are for them to go to all nations, baptizing new believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is a fitting tool to help us understand the nature of the power we receive from God. I was reading through some old Christian Carols from the 15th Century written by the Franciscan Friar James Ryman. A theme running through these carols is the glory of the Trinity. God is the author of creation. Jesus is the source of wisdom. The Holy Spirit is honored as a source of grace.
I believe is it helpful for us to think of the power we receive from God more expansively. This power is revealed as the power of wisdom, of relating what we have learned from the past to the struggles of the present and future. This power also has the ability to understand those who are different from us, and communicate God's love in ways that are respectful of these differences. This power is the courage to stand fast in a conviction in the face of opposition. It is the ability to pull yourself back after you have stumbled. It is the healing of relationships through honest listening and speaking. It is the life-giving power of forgive- ness, both ourselves and others. It is the power to be faithful in our friendships, loyal to our family, useful in our community and persevering in our daily tasks, commitments and goals.
That kind of power God gives us through Christ. We invite others to the fullness of this promise. Pastor Joel ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
April 21, 2019 Theme: Called to Believe in the Resurrection Matthew 28:1-15
Gift of a Future
We live in a backward-looking age. There is this sense in people that there was a better time somewhere in the past, but the world has changed and whatever was good back then has slipped away. We remember better days, but we no longer anticipate better days. As individuals we may look forward to many things which we hope will come to be. But largely as a culture we feel the power of a sentimental longing for the past. We want things to be like they were, and are afraid that whatever it was we feel we lost, we will not get it back.
This is why Matthew's account of the resurrection is such a powerful witness of hope to our contemporary nostalgia In the sorrow and despair of the cross, surely the disciples were sunk down in this longing for better days of their past, when Jesus lived among them.
In Matthew's account of the resurrection, Mary is directed by an angel first to look inside the tomb where they body of Jesus had been but is no longer. Mary next is instructed to go to Galilee where she will see Jesus who has gone before her.
The message to her is clear. Faith in the resurrected Christ is forward-facing. It embraces the future as the place where we will meet Christ. The advice is clear: Keep your head up. Keep yourself alert to God's presence in our world today and every day. We have this promise that Christ has gone before us. God has done great things. Yes, God will do great things. Yes. Authentic Christian faith keeps the balance intact.
This hope rests in the assurance that the God of history is active in our world today, working and moving toward greater things. We don't want to miss the excitement and opportunity to meet Jesus on the road ahead. Pastor Joel
April 14, 2019 Theme: Called to Remember Scripture: Matthew 26:1-13
Comfort Given and Recieved
Two days before the Passover, Jesus was staying in the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany. It was an ominous time as there was an active plot to arrest and kill Jesus taking place at the highest level of authority in the religious leadership.
A woman brings a jar of expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus as an act of love and respect. The disciples immediatley object to this extravagant act of devotion, condemming it as wasteful.
It is striking here that this nameless woman was the only person who reached out to comfort Jesus in the midst of this dreadful week. She is a solitary figure in this regard. No doubt Jesus appreciated her kindness. He says later that what she has done will be "preached throughout the world."
I don't know why the disciples were unable to extend a single word or deed communicating comfort to Jesus. Perhaps they were in denial about the reality of the dire situation. Maybe they were caught up in their own worries. The Bible reveals the uncomfortalbe truth that the disciples were disappointingly unable or unwilling to reach out to Jesus with comfort, support and compassionate understanding. Therefore, Jesus made his way to the cross alone.
The disciples had seen Jesus bring healing and hope to so many people. But now, in this moment of danger, the disciples are somehow incapable of at least trying to comfort their friend. Sadly, on the night before his betrayal and arrest, Jesus is in the garden lifting up an anguished prayer. It is obvious that he needs someone just to be with him. He walks over to his disciples who are all sleeping. Jesus says to Peter, "So, could you stay awake with me one hour?" (Matthew 26:40) In his hour of trial, there is no one there for him. But yet this unnamed woman at Bethany knew what to do. For the comfort and care she provided, she is honored in our memory. The support and devotion she extends to Jesus contrasts sadly with the absence of the same from the disciples.
The theme in all of this involves the mutuality of our relasioniship with Jesus. We know he gives us comfort. The Bibles tells us he wants ours. He needs us not to turn away from him. He needs us not to call on him only when we have a need for him to address. He needs us not to hide from him in our distracted and defended lives. He needs our authentic regard and honest devotion. We need to consider his pain, the pain we know he still carries in his heart because of his loving concern for this troubled world. We need to take that pain seriously and know that he needs us as we need him.
It is a shallow understanding of Jesus to see him as existing only in relation to our need, questions and desires. The Bible stubbornly insists that God wants relationship, friendship and the substanital commitment of a life. Try showing up at friend's house only when you need to borrow a drill or spot you twenty bucks. Discover how long that friendship lasts.
Remember the story of the Prodigal's Son? The father of the wayward son is in pain until that son returns. That story is really about God and the pain in the heart of God for his creation. That is what the cross shows us. The cross of Jesus is much more than just a historical reality, it is a revelation of God's suffering and searching love.
Can Jesus give us comfort and life-affirming support? Yes, Jesus can and will provide comfort. Jesus yearns also for our support, our sincere prayers, our understanding, our fidelity to a community and history, our study and out turning to him. He longs for us to come to him, speak to him, and share in his love by comforting others. Jesus needs and desires the comfort of our devotion. Pastor Joel
April 7, 2019 Theme: Called to Mission Scripture: Matthew 10
Three Moments in Matthew Chapter Ten I would like to focus on three moments in chapter 10 that should be appreciated. These moments arise in the three verses quoted below (using the NRSV translation). 1. 10:5ff These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: 'Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' Contained in these verses is a resounding affirmation of the faithfulness of God. God had chosen a people and stood by and with them through thousands of years of history. The mission to the Gentiles would come later. But in this moment, God is not giving up on anyone. God stands with us though thick and thin. At a particularly trying moment in their history, Israel wondered if God had forgotten her. Isaiah proclaims the divine response: Isaiah 49:15 Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. In the season of Lent we affirm the faithfulness of God. God in Jesus is showing us the depth of that faithfulness in the outstretched arms and wounded hands of the one dying on the cross. Those hands and these arms are reaching out to us.
2 10.9ff 9) Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10) no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. This is an important moment in the passage as well; for two reasons. First, the verse could be used as a critique of the materialism of our day. It confronts the futility of trying to fill the void in our souls with things rather than God's grace and love. Having and acquiring a bunch of stuff clutters our lives and displaces human aspiration away from pursuits that truly matter. The second reason this passage is important is because it shows us what it takes to share the gospel. We share the gospel not with anything that we can carry along with us. We share the gospel with what we have in our own hearts. Our hearts have known the presence of Christ. We have the stories in our hearts of how Christ came to us. This is our authority. This direct authority is the direct experience of the divine made manifest in the particular matters of our lives. We live in a day when traditional authorities dwell under a cloud of suspicion. People today want to know about our stories of hope, salvation and those moments when we were spoken to by the still small voice of God. We can mention the peace we came to know when that voice of calm settled into our hearts. People don't need to know how smart we are or how many answers we have to this or that problem or issue. They don't need to know how perfect we became when we accepted Christ. They want to know what is in our hearts.
3. 10:14ff 14) If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15) Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town. O my gosh, there is so much here. We live in a day when people are increasingly seeking their meaning and spirituality outside traditional Christian religion and practice. These words of Jesus therefore have particular meaning for us today. These words encourage us not to be bent out of shape when the world turns away from the message we bring. Shaking the dust from the feet merely encourages us not to get down when the world turns away from the Christian message. It is not rejection and it is not failure. So, like the dust on your feet, don't take it with you. God is in this with us and God will do what God will do. Our calling is to do what we are called to do and not let rejection control us. The underlying message here is: Trust God. Trust that God is using you in the right way. Trust that God will take what you offer and make use of it in powerful ways. Trust that God will correct and guide you as you seek to be a faithful disciple. But don't give away all your power and confidence when your presentation of the gospel message is met with indifference or worse. Don't pay ransom to failure or rejection.
Honestly, verse 15 seems a little harsh. Those who reject the gospel message will be judged in a manner worse than the sulphur and fire that rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah. Let us leave the consequences that befall those who reject the gospel up to God. We can't let ourselves get hung up on any of that. This passage urges us to keep moving forward. Everyone is ultimately responsible for the decisions they make. We can't make their decisions for them. But we have to continue to move forward in our lives and in our faith. There is a wonderful homecoming in our future and a glorious day of joyful celebration. We can't keep forever anxiously circling around those moments that did not turn out the way we had hoped. We are a pilgrim people.
From time to time there can arise in the hearts of the most faithful Christian a sense of futility. We have seen attendance at church drop. We see someone who has been in church act in ways that disappointed us. Conflicts arise in church that painfully threaten friend-ships. Ultimately, we are not here to memorialize defeat. We are here to keep our heads and hearts up. However much we may feel we deserve any of it, God calls us, uses us and loves us. So keep moving. Keep trying. Pastor Joel
March 31, 2019 Theme: Called to Follow Scripture: Matthew 4:12-22
When God's Light Shines On Us
The fourth chapter of Matthew forecasts trouble. Jesus has just gone three rounds with the devil. We know the devil will be back because he is a sore loser. Ominously, John the Baptist has been imprisoned.
Then, the scene shifts to Jesus walking by the sea when he notices four fishermen caring for their nets and fishing. He summons them with a single, stirring command: Follow me and I will make you fish for people. And they follow.
Jesus understands that he is entering a dangerous moment in his ministry. The devil is out to get him. The Baptist's imprisonment bodes ill for him, and anyone associated with him. We are not told why Jesus reached out to these first four disciples. There is no explanation of character traits that any of them possessed. They seem like ordinary people living ordinary lives. Further, we might reason that Jesus needed people with courage and integrity to share in his daring adventure. Courage to stand up against opposition that surely will gather around them. Integrity so that in times of pressure, they will remember who they are and what they are about. Jesus needed extraordinary people. Why then did he choose these guys?
The answer is telling. Jesus recognized the essential good in them and in us. Jesus acknowledges the goodness in all people even when it lies hidden or dormant. The most consistent report I hear from people who have faced moments of unusual trial is: You know, until this happened, I never knew the strength I had inside. (Of course, Christians know that this strength is by God's hand.)
You can talk to the most ordinary people in the world, but when you hear their stories and what they have had to overcome and the battles they have fought, we realize that somewhere in all of us there is this dignity and courage, God-given we believe. But Jesus unfailingly takes note of it and teases it out in the high calling he places before us.
In this passage in Matthew, in between the announcement that Jesus is beginning his ministry and the call of the first disciples, is this beautiful description of the moment God's light begins to shine in a world that was in darkness. It is taken from a prophecy in Isaiah. God's light in this passage is revealed in the way Jesus looks at us and what Jesus sees when Jesus looks at us. He sees in us more good then we ever would imagine was there. So, deal with that. Jesus sees good in you. Maybe just knowing that summons you to greater things. That just might be the case. Maybe it is a little scary, all that good that Jesus sees in you (and me). The goodness Jesus see in us is a summons to reveal it and make use of it. That is not easy. Deal with it. But balance that challenge with gracious understanding and patience God shows to us. Maybe we have, for whatever reason, either for escape or avoidance, been walking away from our own goodness. Then remember Jesus walks with us and encourages us along the way.
But don't walk away from the goodness that is in you and in us all. Be like Jesus, and get good at seeing the good in yourselves and others, you will begin to see it more and more. That's God's light shinning in the world.
It is like this: Imagine you are somewhere in the southern hemisphere, up on some height, away from the light of any city, up where the air is thin and cool on a cloudless night. The sun sinks slowly below the horizon and the sky displays darkening colors of orange and red. Then you look up and begin to see tiny points of light emerging in the dimming sky. Then another and another. Then, in an instant you notice that the sky is radiantly filled with beauty and wonder. Countless stars, galaxies and nebulas are shinning up there. There are not enough words to express the miracles we behold.
That's God's light shinning down on us. Noticing the good in all people, starting with yourself but also in others, is God's light too.
And when I say ALL people, I mean ALL people. Pastor Joel
March 24, 2019 Theme: Called to Repent Scripture: Luke 19:1-10
The passage today in Luke's gospel is the familiar story of Zacchaeus. He is the rich tax collector who climbs a tree to see Jesus in the crowd. Jesus looks up, sees him and invites himself into Zacchaeus' home as a guest. This scandalizes everyone because Zacchaeus collects taxes for an occupying foreign power and has become rich doing so. Nobody likes him. For Jesus to stay in his house would violate all sorts of social and religious norms. Jesus goes there anyway because he is gathering all sorts and kinds of people into the kingdom of God.
There are two categories of people that Jesus transforms. In the first category are all those stricken with tragic need and they cry out to Jesus for help. They are the poor, the sick, the wounded and the guilty.
Zacchaeus does not fit into that group. Sure nobody likes him, but I don't think that bothers him. At least he doesn't mention that it does. He does not ask Jesus for anything. He admits no wrong doing. He does say, "If I have cheated anybody of anything, I will repay it fourfold." That statement is not an unambiguous admission of wrong. His encounter with Jesus is just as transformative as any stricken sinner, healed of some terrible torment, but it does not arise from any clear articulation of need.
Here is what I make of this. Jesus comes to heal and save those who are stricken. But Jesus also comes to transform us in normal times, when life is humming along without any major needs plaguing us. Jesus is so much more to us than one whose value is known only in desperate times of need. He comes to bring transforming vitality and fulness to our ordinary days and times. We don't have to have aching need to catch his attention. This is a Jesus for the rest of us, for most of our lives.
Jesus comes to us beyond our asking. He seeks us out even when an issue of serious need is not drawing us toward him.
He comes to us with grace and wholeness for all the moments of our lives.
Jesus comes to us in "normal" times as well as desperate times. Let us not forget that normal, whatever that is, contains all our normal anxieties, fears, doubts, uncertainties, guilty secrets and all the rest. Jesus can help with all of this too. He is asking all of us, normal as we are or pretend to be, to allow him into our homes and hearts to dwell with us. Pastor Joel
March 17, 2019 Theme: Called to Return Scripture: Luke 15:11-24
The Sadness and Wonder of the Prodigal Son
Consider in the context of the surrounding material in Luke's gospel, there is a sadness to the story of the Prodigal Son which should be appreciated. The context of this parable is the widening conflict between Jesus and the religious elite. The religious elite were becoming organized in their resentment to the manner in which God's grace shown in Jesus was operating beyond their own rigid ideologies. ( Read the previous chapters) The salvation of Jesus was being extended to marginalized people traditionally excluded and threatened the power of the elite.
In this story, the Elder brother is all bent out of shape that his dad would embrace his "ne'er-do-well" brother with such extravagant celebration upon his return home. Grace offended him. It would offend us as well, if we were honest about it. That grace offended the older brother just like Jesus offended the religious elite. The elder brother felt that his status was threatened by his brother's return. That is probably a reasonable perception. But God's grace does not always fit in with our reasonable perceptions.
So, this story is sad. It tells us that in the world of Jesus as in our own, the grace of God is resisted. We want to get to say who is in and who is out, who is deserving and who is not. God's grace moves across those boundaries. It lifts up the defeated and the undeserving. The centers of power in this world were never and are never comfortable with God's grace. To the extent that we are comfortable admitting it, neither are we. And so it is sad. It is sad that God's grace to the truly needy is opposed in this world. For Jesus, his grace caused resentment. That is why they pinned him to the cross.
That is the sadness of the Prodigal Son. The world, ours and Jesus', would never be comfortable with his grace. Hence the cross.
But here is the wonder of the story of the Prodigal Son: God's grace had its victory. The world and all its terrible resistance could not put an end to it. And so, when we feel down and out, excluded, rejected and an exile in our own best hope, then we can know, beyond any shadow of any doubt, that God's grace is given to us. It is ours, given to us by the one courageous enough to stand up to the hypocrisy of all those power centers in our world that want to push aside or obscure the wonder of that grace. Pastor Joel
March 10, 2019 Theme: Called to Sacrifice Scripture: Mark 1:16-20, Luke 14:25-33
Hang Tough, Church The scripture passages proclaim the uncompromising call of Christ to his disciples and to us. It is a call that puts all lesser loyalties in perspective, including even the bonds of family. The call places before us the standard of the cross as a measure of the weighty significance of this summons.
The call of Christ places human courage in sharp focus. Christ lived his life with unrelenting courage and to follow him therefore takes courage.
Where does courage from from? Does it come from how we are raised, what we are taught, inspiring examples of roll models, or what we believe and hold most dear in our hearts and minds? The answer is probably all of these and more.
When we think of courage we may consider the great deeds of those who put their lives on the line for a greater purpose. That is courage no doubt.
There also is a courage that is seen bit by bit in a life. When you stand up for good, befriend the friendless, stand alongside the sick and troubled, take the side of the powerless, speak truth to power, listen and speak to others we are not inclined to hear, or a host of related opportunities in your daily life, then you are demonstrating courage.
So again, we ask, where does courage come from?
To this question I give my answer: Courage comes from the church. Yes, the church. You heard me right. I can anticipate the disagreement my answer will inspire: The church teaches courage? Yeah, sure. This extremely compromised and compromising, timid, shallow group of people does not seem like the place to begin looking for a source of courage. Add to that all of its historical failures and scandals and the church does not come out looking real good.
The church is subject to all of this kind of rebuke and critique. In the contemporary hunger for spirituality, the church and what it offers people just seems clunky. Why mess with all the weighty tradition, rituals, rules, disciplines and all that is associated with the life of a church? Today, the church, like many sources of traditional authority, resides under a massive weight of suspicion.
Yes, there is truth in all of these contemporary critiques of the church. But hold on. The content of what the church has been, done, teaches, learns and practices is a primary source of courage for our day and time. The church maintains the age-tested wisdom of Christ and passes it on. It teaches people. It has at least the potential to learn and absorb the truth of history, the elevation of human character, the grace of forgiveness and the power of faith. Yeah, I know, the church is not perfect. Say what you want. But the church is a source of courage. That is what we teach and it is what we believe. In this world where everything seems like it is falling apart at the seams, that kind of courage is really important. And let us not forget this final thing: The church is the body of Christ in the world, so we have to be courageous. Pastor Joel
March 3, 2019 Theme: Called to Serve Scripture: Like 14:7-14
Reading the Bible in Church Here we have the parable of the Great Banquet. It participates in a theme expressed throughout the Bible concerning God's desire to gather all people together in celebration of an abundant, joyous feast which has been graciously provided. Jesus teaches that we should mirror God's gracious invitation by inviting all people to our gatherings who often are excluded in traditional lists of party guests, including those with various disabilities, illnesses and the poor. Invite those who are less likely to be in a position to pay you back for your hospitality. Jesus insists. Those excluded are often slammed by the label of "sinners."
Jesus got into trouble reaching across conventional social distinctions to include those who had been placed in categories traditionally excluded. Maybe in reading this parable we feel admonished to try harder to be more kind and considerate to those who are socially marginalized. When we read the Bible, more often than not, this is our usual response: " We need to try harder. We need to be better. We need to be more thoughtful toward the "less deserving."
But there is a different way to read this passage and so may other passages. Read this passage as one who is truly forgiven, whose sin has been lifted, whose shame and guilt is wiped away and who now rests in the eternal assurance of God's gracious care. Now the passage is completely different. It now reads as a joyous celebration of God's grace for all people. Is is not so much anymore about worrying that, "We need to try harder. We need to be better." Now, the forgiven reader acknowledges the pure grace that has brought all of us to God's banquet table. God's forgiveness burns away the dark cloud holds that us in this everlasting doubt that we just didn't try hard enough.
The poor, the ill or the disabled are ushered into the banquet hall just like we were. No difference. We were not on one side of the fence, looking over at the poor, wounded, undeserving mob needing just to catch a break to somehow get invited to this wonderful banquet. We came out of that mob. All of us.
We need to read the Bible and interpret it as forgiven people, without this anxiousness about wondering all the time if we are doing right, or if other people unlike us are doing right. The invitation God extends to all people and to us is founded on an entirely different basis. God's grace. For us. For them. For winners. For losers.
There is so much beauty to behold in the wonder of God's saving grace in Christ. The church swings and misses when it is burdened by this chronic issue of wondering if and when we will ever be worthy or ever do enough or be enough to take our seat at the banquet. If we read this passage in the burden of our guilt, it makes us guilty. If we read this passage in the grace of forgiveness, it feels like joy.
The real hard part in all this is the hardness of the human heart. We are not inclined to accept this grace, We want to earn it, We want to deserve it, We want to sneer at others. But is doesn't work that way. Accept God's grace. And if you can't, then ask the Holy Spirit to help you accept God's grace. That is the only impediment. Our own stubborn resistance. Pastor Joel
Feb 24, 2019 Theme: Our Rescuing God Scripture: Psalm 91
First and Second Causes
This psalm resounds with a clear affirmation of the God who watches out for us and keeps us safe. This is apparent in the first two verses.
You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord
'My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.' For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
The theme of God's sheltering governance of our lives continues throughout this very hopeful psalm.
But there are questions. There are always questions. With this psalm and its message we may ask, "Well if God watches out for us, why then do tragic and unfair events arise from our own mistakes, the mischief of others or the unlucky moments of fortune?
In our Presbyterian and Reformed tradition, specifically the Westminster Confession of Faith there is a distinction drawn between First Causes and Second Causes. First Causes result from God's action. God plans, forces rules, loves, directs and disposes all creatures and things. God makes a plan and executes the plan. Second Causes are all those things that God does not do. There is in this an admission that not everything that happens to us or others results from God.
Here is this second from the fifth chapter: Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, he orders them to fall out, according, to the nature of the second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.
We may resist God, tempt fate, follow our worst impulse and get ourselves in a mess. This is our doing, along with the negative result these actions bring about to ourselves and others. When a tornado sweeps through a city, that does not mean that God brought that about.
So, do these Second Causes cancel out the wonderful affirmation regarding the protective providence of God conveyed in Psalm 91? Absolutely not. No way. God is still in charge of the master plan for our lives. We still seek God's peace and protection. If the bad occurs, and it did not come of God, you can be sure God can use even that to some greater, gracious purpose.
We have to believe and have confidence in this God, known to us in Christ, whose sovereign will is not thwarted either by the contingencies of fate or our own terrible mischief.
You might then ask, why then does God allow these Second Causes with their often destructive results? Well, if there were no events, thoughts. actions, deeds except those that come to us directly from God, then the whole world and out lives would be rigged. There would be no human courage, faith , love or decision, and I dare say, there would be no relationship with God. Second Causes, which are decreed by God, are part of the sovereign love and purpose of God. Pastor Joel
Feb 17, 2019 Theme: Our Mighty God Scripture: Psalm 66
Fire and Water
The lesson for last Sunday was Psalm 66. Upon first reading this psalm seems to express the self-contentment of one who is convinced of their own self-righteousness. They are eager to inform everyone that they have played by the rules and done what would be expected of a faithful and pious soul. Read from that perspective, the psalm offends rather than inspires Nobody enjoys listening to someone brag about how good they have been.
There is so much more in this psalm. Right in the middle of the psalm the author suggests that they have been tested severely in their lives. The psalmist knows that life has not been easy. Just the opposite of this is true. They have paid their dues. Their life has been very difficult. They have experienced trials of every kind. This is affirmed in the middle of this psalm. Listen to how the psalmist puts it:
10) For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. 11) You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our back; 12)you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.
Fire and water symbolize the extremes of human endurance. Nothing tests us, finally, like the destructive force of fire and water. Using these symbols, the author is not talking literally about fire or water. The authors is referring to the entire range of difficult tests and challenges that we must go through and answer to in our lives. As fire and water could be thought of as opposites, they serve here as symbols of extreme situations that test us. It is like saying, " I have known hardships of every kind, from one end to the other, and everything in between."
The high sounding pious affirmations in this psalm are not the self-satisfied declarations of one who feels like he or she is better than us. Rather they are the deep conviction of one who understands that they have come through the hard tests of life, of everything from fire to water, only because God was there, all along; to help, to guide, to rescue and to save. Pastor Joel
Feb 10, 2019 Theme: Our Loving God Scripture: Psalm 48:1-3, 9-14
Measuring the Holy City and the Temple
An important principle of biblical study is to regard with heightened appreciation those things which are repeated. Some important themes and ideas recur repeatedly. These we should give extra thought and consideration.
One theme which is repeated is the act of measuring the temple or Holy City. In Psalm 48, the psalmist is directed to walk around the Holy City, considering the walls , defenses and counting the towers. This activity of measuring will renew faith in God's providential care both in the present and the future. We are reassured by what we can see, touch and measure.
The act of measuring is a favored theme in the Bible, It occurs in Ezekiel, where in a vision, an angel measures the temple. It occurs in Zechariah. We find it in two places in Revelation where it is ordered that the temple be measured and then the City of Heaven is measured as the culmination of God's ultimate plan for humanity.
In difficult times of change or peril, you can tell someone not to be afraid. That usually doesn't work. If someone has to tell you not to be afraid, you probably need to be afraid.
A better approach is to invite someone who is afraid to come out of their fear and see the reality and dimensions of those concrete things in our lives that we can depend on, take stock of those solid, knowable and dependable resources we have in our lives. We have the example of those who have lived before us, of challenges mastered in the past, of our present friendships, of what we know to be true, the force of our convictions, the power of prayer and of faith. Regard those things. Measure them. Don't dismiss the obvious things around you.
Today, it you need help, there are many ways to turn, You can go to church for understanding, insight and prayer. You will find people who will listen and forgive. If you are in need, there are a myriad of resources, including mental health professionals who will give aid. We give away too much of our power to our fears and not enough credit to all the concrete steps we can take, and the resources available which render aid.
Guess what? If you seek out aid you will find people who have gone through the very thing you are facing. Get help. You are not alone. The computer and internet machine are excellent places to connect with the right resources. Get busy.
Take stock of what you have going for you. God will help us in this. The thing we need to do, like Psalmist, is to go out and measure and count what we have going for us in the environment in which we live. That and our faith are our ultimate security. Pastor Joel P.S. If you are in need, you may contact us on our Contact Page, call us or visit the Community Resource page within this website for more help ideas. You don't need to be alone. Better yet, come visit us on Sunday. Editor
Theme: Press on in Christ Scripture: Philippians 3:1-16
Addition through Subtraction
Paul includes in chapter 3 of this beautiful letter to the Church with a paradox. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (v. 7,8) Paul uses the contrasting notions of gain and loss as a way to discuss his growth in faith. Of course he understands the working of gain and loss in his life. His life before his conversion became a loss gladly accepted in view of the exceeding gain he knew after his conversion. A wonderful trade-off. The fortuitous grand bargain. Yes, he must have thought, I will gladly give up whatever I had become for everything in Christ I now am.
The call for growth in our spiritual lives could well follow this principle of gain and loss. We instinctively think of what we might gain or add to our lives to make things better. We add activities, pursuits, busyness, material gain and whatever else the heart desires in order to add to our life. But that addition might end up subtracting from a sense of those basic, simple, non complicated moments of quiet or peace or connection with others that are passing us by. Our lives are lost in variousness, distraction and divided passions.
One eventually finds, as I think Paul finally did, that there is a fullness of grace ready to pour into our hears when we slow down, calm down, and just receive it. Paul writes this letter, it is believed, while in prison. Gone were all his freedom, material benefit, the reputation he had fought so hard to maintain. But in this situation of loss, he finds his greatest gain. It was right there, so close, so accessible all the time.
I think we all just need to take a chill pill. We need to look around and see all the good God has put so near us and just simply lose ourselves in wonder. Pastor Joel
Jan 20, 2019 Scripture: Philippians 2:1-11 Theme: God Uses the Humble
Humility is something prized among the virtues associated with our faith. Monks who follow the Rule of St. Benedict take humility as one of the chief virtues. Chapter 7 of the Rule is entirely devoted to humility. That is what Christian life is all about, a striving after perfection, a following and imitation of Christ, who, meek and humble of heart, loved us with an unfailing and redeeming love.
Humility is the "foundation of prayer." If we who are called by God to a life of prayer do not cultivate humility, then we fail in the work God has given to us. Saint Augustine, has stated, "Man is a beggar before God."
The Lord chose a special person to be king of Israel at a very important time. At the time the search was taking place, we read the following: But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7
God chose a very special person to be the mother of the savior of the world. And of this woman it has been spoken. "He has regarded the humility of his handmaid; and behold all generations will call me blessed."
Humility is a great gift. The scriptures time and time again relate how God loves the humble. From Zephaniah, "Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who have observed his law; seek justice, seek humility;" and "I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord: the remnant of Israel."
And from Psalm 146, "The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down." The virtue of humility is the foundation of a strong, Christian faith and witness. Pastor Joel
January 20, 2019 Theme: Rejoice in All Circumstances Scripture: Philippians 1:12-21
Strength and Courage from one Another Paul is writing his beloved friends in Philipppi. The Christian community established there was the first church in Europe. Paul refers to these beloved friends affectionately as brothers and sisters. There is a warmth and a connection between Paul and this church conveyed in this letter.
It is important to note that Paul is writing this, it is believed by at least some scholars, from Rome near the end of his life. Paul exhorts this church to maintain joy and courage throughout whatever trials they may know.
It may seem unlikely to maintain jot throughout all the trials and challenges of life, but one important secret in doing so is expressed in this book. It is evident that Paul considers this church like family. And that is the secret to courage and joy. We do not need to go it alone in our Christian journey. In every community, small and large, there are Christians gathered to worship and serve. We know that when we are a part of this larger group, we actually can have joy and courage in the face of hardship. In a church there are people who pray for us and with us. There are Christians who provide wonderful support and comfort when we are needing that. There are friends there whose lives inspire us with the power and possibilities of Christian faith. We do not go it alone. We have strength in one another.
January 13, 2019 Theme: Submit to God Scripture: James 4:1-10
James is a letter written to early Jewish Christians living outside Palestine in various regions of the Roman world, particularly in Asia Minor. The culture in those regions would be decidedly hellenistic in language and belief. Living in those regions would impose challenges and hardships upon those with varying cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. I am sure many of these challenges would involve economic hardship and increased difficulty in social advancement.
Therefore, I believe this letter is sent as an encouragement to those who are poor. James advances the theme of envy as a threat to the spiritual well-being of these early Christians. They might look around them at others, of different beliefs, having a much easier time of advancing their social and economic interests, and being therefore tempted to relinquish aspects of their own faith to fit in and advance. The epistle acknowledges the power of envy to knock us off our fundamental commitments in following Christ in advancing spirituality amidst the struggles of life.
Envy is a pervasive issue in the Bible. Envy is there as the root of human violence and destruction. Cain and Able, or Jacob and Esau are early examples. Envy is a sin that must be acknowledged and repented of in our lives as well. Envy leads us to surrender to superficial, worldly values, forgetting who we are, abandoning our gifts, talents and beliefs, and living a life vulnerable to external forces rather than inner spiritual resolve. Envy cuts like a knife into family, marriage, business, and church relationships. Envy is a denial of each of us being made into the image of God. Envy propels us into materialistic competition and futile division. In other words, envy is bad, Trust in God is good.
We are reassured that if we reach out for God's help in restoring our humanity from the disfiguring effects of envy, God all lift us up.
Jan 6, 2019 Theme: Walk in Love Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5, 2 John 4-11
Loving One Another We are summoned to Paul's admonition in both of these letters to walk in love. As stated in 2 John 6: And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning--you must walk in it.
But what is love and what does it require? For myself, guidance has been provided in Eric Fromm's book, The Art of Loving. (1956) The title of the book is a deliberate comment on the ancient Roman writer, Ovid, who wrote The Art of Love. Fromm wanted to draw a contrast between Ovid's manual regarding how we make ourselves more attractive to others in order to be loved, and Fromm's own view of what love involves.
Fromm believed that love was not some magical, mysterious power that comes over us. Neither was love something we could entice from others by making ourselves attractive or desirable. Love was the work, skill, discipline, insight, courage, faith and humility needed to love others. Loving was a skill. It was something to be learned and nurtured. Love is not easy or magical. It does not arise from wishful thinking. It requires the full resources of the human personality. Love is not about making yourself desirable to others. It is about the employment of sophisticated human resources that are needed to love others.
Fromm's book is absolutely essential to read, understand and appreciate.
Our culture, particularly our industries of advertising and entertainment, persuade that to find love we must possess those qualities that makes us lovable. In contrast to this we have the example of Jesus. We see how he loved. We see him loving those who were not at all lovable. He desired not so much to be loved, but to love others. That was the important matter of his last talk with Peter.
Isaiah prophesied that Messiah would not draw us by means of external qualities of attraction. In fact it was quite the opposite as found here is Isaiah 53 (NRSV)
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.
When we look up and see the man on the cross, we don't see a person desperate to be loved, but a man who was desperate to love us. Pastor Joel
December 30, 2018 Theme: Love God and Serve Others Scripture: Matthew 25
Matthew's gospel moves towards its conclusion here in this chapter. Jesus is offering up a final teaching to his disciples as he moves to the cross. The teaching involves the Last Judgement, when Jesus shall return in glory to separate the sheep and the goats.
This judgement, will be founded upon how each individual has responded to those in particular need. We have here the special needs of those in distress, including those in prison, those who are without clothing, the thirsty, the sick and the stranger.
The principle Jesus illustrates in this teaching is a solid, ancient prophetic message. It is similar to many such statements such as that found in Micah 6:6-8
'With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first born for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?' He 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?
You can go to church four times per week, sing out on the hymns and serve on five committees, but if you fail to respond in some way to desperate human need in the world around you, then your faith is not real. I guess that is the message here.
But I would caution anyone who gets upset wondering if they have really ever done enough good in this troubled world to merit the favor of God. No amount of good works or righteous conduct can ever merit the favor of God or purchase the ticket to heaven, We are saved by grace. Period. End of sentence.
Now quite naturally, when grace is in your heart, it will show in how you live in this world of need. Salvation is not predicated on doing good or being good, We can't earn it or deserve it anymore than anyone can.
The famous passage in the 25th chapter of Matthew is useful not so much in showing us what we have to do to be saved. It's more relevant value is in showing us what and whom God cares about. And, if God's grace is alive in us, then this grace will guide us toward living out some kind of compassion for those in need.
Besides, we may think we are better off than those who are sick, in prison, or whatever. But when it comes down to it, we are all in the same boat as those who are in distress, because, equally, we are all in need of God's grace. No one more than another. Those who are sick, or troubled, or treated like strangers are all just pictures of our own absolute dependence on God's grace and help. There is no difference in that need, We are all in the same boat. Pastor Joel.
December 23, 2018 Theme: Quirinius, Governor of Syria Scripture: Luke 2
A Small Detail in Luke's History of the Birth of Christ
Lukes's account of the birth of Christ begins with a short history lesson. We find it in the first verses of Luke's second chapter: 1) In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2) This was the fist registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
There is legitimate exegetical debate about when this census took place. Regardless of the historical circumstances, I believe Luke had a theological purpose in his rendering of events.
Quirinius, Governor of Syria, was a Roman aristocrat and political operator. He is known to the ages not for any of his power or influence, but because he happened to be associated with the birth of a peasant child in Bethlehem. I guess we should allow God to figure out who is really important in this world, and why.
Anyway, Quinirius was born in a wealthy family near the city of Rome. He lived a long life. He married twice. His second wife tried to poison him. He was politically ambitious. He tutored a grandchild of Emperor Augustus. He lead military campaigns.
As governor of Syria, he had authority over Judea. As such he ordered a census, a necessary first step to imposing effective taxation. With this action, Quirinius becomes an actor not in the advance of Roman rule but in God's story of salvation.
The administration of taxation was, not surprisingly, very unpopular and led to the organization of opposition groups including the Zealots. Opposition led then to revolt and then to disastrous warfare.
Jesus was born in the real world. Luke's historical prelude to the birth of Jesus declares that the world he lived in would be very much like the one we live in. Political turmoil is an unmistakable, recurring consequence of human pride, conflict and lust for power.
The consequences of our destructive folly are not the only factors in our lives and fate. God is putting God's hand on our lives and our history. That is the glory and everlasting hope of the narrative of the brith of Christ in Luke. Pastor Joel