pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Only with God

Reading: Psalm 70

Verse 5: “I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and deliverer”.

David begins Psalm 70 with a cry for help. Enemies are pressing in on him. They seek to put him to shame, to ruin his life. At times we have probably experienced these situations. If we are living out our faith, it will happen from time to time. Being the light sometimes draws a reaction from the darkness. David turns to God and asks for God’s help. He does not strike back physically or with harsh words. David does not engage them in battle but asks God to take up his cause. It is hard to walk this path. It is difficult to hold the tongue, to stay the anger and hurt. It is also the way of Christ. As we walk with Jesus through these next two holy days, we will see Christ model full trust in God.

In verse four David chooses to seek and to praise God. Instead of hiding his faith, instead of withdrawing from it to avoid those who insult and abuse him, David stands, lifts his arms, and praises the God of his salvation. He sings aloud, “Let God be exalted”! Knowing God’s love and salvation should lead us to praise God as well. In those moments of difficulty, singing a few verses of “How Great Thou Art” or “10,000 Reasons” or your favorite hymn or praise song draws us into God’s presence and reassures us of his great love.

The Psalm closes in honest humility. Turning to God in prayer, David says, “I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and deliverer”. Only with God can David get through this time of trial. Again, as we will see with Jesus, only with God can he face the betrayal, the arrest, the trial, the insults, the denial, the flogging, the shame, and the cross. Only with God. As we too face times of criticism or abuse or accusation or affliction may we too turn only to God. Only with God will we be able to walk the hard and narrow roads of faith and love.

Prayer: Loving God, I rejoice and praise your holy name! Your love for me is so great. You have walked with me, carrying me at times, through every trial. All praise and glory are yours, O God! When the hard days come again, may I trust fully in you. Only with you can I walk the valleys. Amen.


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Redemption

Reading: Luke 2: 36-40

Verse 38: “She spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”.

Today as we read this short section from Luke 2 we focus in on Anna and her words concerning Jesus. Anna is an old woman, a prophet with a deep devotion to God. She has been a widow for a long time and the focus of her life is praying and fasting in the temple. After thanking God – for the encounter, for seeing the Messiah, for what Jesus means to her people – Anna “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”. At this point in their history, all Jews are looking forward to Jerusalem’s redemption.

The act of redeeming has always been a part of the Jewish faith. Mary and Joseph have just redeemed Jesus, Boaz was the kinsman redeemer, and the Jews celebrated the Year of Jubilee every 50 years. In each of these acts, one is released or freed – from their debts, from their slavery, from a burden that forced them to sell family land. This idea of being freed from that which binds us is very much a part of Jesus’ ministry and healing. Jesus healed both relationships and physical ailments. Often these were tied together. Physical healing often led to relational healing. By revealing the depth of God’s love, mercy, and grace, Jesus drew many back into relationship with God and with one another. He brought a wholeness to life that invited people to live with joy, peace, and hope. Jesus also healed people physically – lepers, the blind, lame, mute, deaf, the possessed – also inviting people back to God and back into society, family, and community. Jesus brought a completeness and unity to life that was freeing and welcoming, that was unconditional and full.

When I think about this side of redemption that Jesus offered, I am drawn to my community and to my neighborhood. Nearby, there are folks who are bound up in or with addiction and abuse, folks who feel enslaved to financial debt, folks who feel isolated and alone, folks who are grieving because of loss. Jesus offers the same redemption, the same healing, the same freeing today. He offers it through you and through me. May we be a part of building other’s faith, seizing the opportunities that God gives us to share our faith with others, inviting them into the love, hope, peace, and joy of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, you seek to redeem, to free all people. You are a God of love and justice and community. Use me this day to draw others in, to add to the family of faith, to bring your healing and freeing love to those who need to know you. Amen.


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Life Springing Up

Reading: Isaiah 61: 8-11

Verse 10: “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God”.

As our passage for today opens Isaiah reminds God’s people that God loves justice. As would be expected, God hates robbery and iniquity. Living in a foreign land under much oppression and injustice, these words resounded with hope for the people living in exile. The same is true today for people living in unjust systems of oppression and injustice and inequality. To know that systems that support prejudice and abuse and unequal pay and unfair labor practices and… are not God’s way and are not part of God’s plan brings hope for the future. To the exiles in Babylon and to those today living in unjust systems that deny them true freedom, the promise of an “everlasting covenant” brings hope not only for themselves but also for their children and grandchildren.

As followers of Jesus Christ, as believers in his light and love, we can join the prophet in saying, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God”. God is our rock and our refuge, our hope and our strength. God clothes you and me in “garments of salvation” and in a “robe of righteousness”. We are adorned in ways that cause the world to notice that through our faith we are blessed by the Lord. We live with hope and peace, with joy and love. Trusting in the Lord, resting and standing upon God’s promises, we look to the future with assurance and confidence. Are you thankful for all that God has done, is doing, and will do for you? Lift up a little prayer of thanksgiving right now!

And then lift up a little prayer for an end to racism and prejudice, for an end to injustice and oppression, for an end to abuse and iniquity. Then consider how you can be a seed planter, a hope waterer, a justice fertilizer. As the people of God delighting in our God, rejoicing in the Lord, may we be a part of God’s plan for justice and equity. May we be part of the kingdom work of our day and age, of our time and place, so that in all nations and communities “the sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up”. May it be so in all the world!

Prayer: Lord God, where will you send me today? Where will you use me today to be a bringer of justice, an energy of robbery and iniquity? Strengthen me to stand with the oppressed, the unjustly treated, the abused, the imprisoned. Use me each day to make your kingdom more and more of a reality in my community and in my world. Amen.


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Audience of 1

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 5: “Everything they do is done for me to see”.

Yesterday we looked at the warning to do as the scribes and Pharisees teach, not as they do. There is a disconnect between what they preach to the people and how they themselves are living their lives. The middle section in our reading today begins with verse five. Here we read, “Everything they do is done for me to see”. This can be a trap we too fall into. Being human, we like recognition. When we do something “good” and no one notices, we feel hurt or let down or we can even question why we did it. Some of the time, we can also be like these religious leaders, waiting for an audience before we do our good deed, insuring publicity or recognition for our actions.

The scribes and Pharisees loved to be seen and recognized. It reinforced both their authority and their ego. They wore large phylacteries and long tassels – two symbols of their deep connection to God. Today, one may give a large donation, thinking the size of the gift will reflect the depth of their faith for others. Some will want it announced in church or published in the bulletin or will want a plaque placed on the item so that all will know of their good and generous gift. The scribes and Pharisees wanted the best seats or places at events or in worship. This prime real estate is where others will notice they are there. In a similar way, they loved to be called ‘rabbi’ – a title that was revered, respected, honored. It pumped up the ego to see all bow a bit as the people acknowledged the religious leaders. The title separated them from the rest of society. It also insulated them from those outside of their religious circles.

Today, some still like to have a title connected to their name – doctor, professor, reverend, pastor, officer… Titles convey power and authority. These titles can be used to gain admittance and to avoid consequences. It is a good thing, for example, when the pastor title gains entry to pray with a dying person during these pandemic restrictions. Yet it would be a bad thing, for example, to pull out my pastor ID card first, instead of my driver’s license, if pulled over for speeding. Titles can be abused, they can separate, they can be used to manipulate, they can be used for personal gain. Jesus is warning us against such things, to check our egos, and to be aware of our motives and intentions.

When we practice our faith, when we offer acts of kindness, may it always be for an audience of one – for the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord, when I am tempted to shine the light on me, remind me of the call to humble service. When I want others to notice or see what I’m doing, check my pride and remind me of humble service. When I’m drawn to playing the pastor card, remind me of the call to humble service. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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The Harvest

Reading: Matthew 21: 33-41

Verse 38: “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance”.

Today’s reading comes as part of a quick succession of stories. Chapter 21 begins with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem followed by Jesus clearing the temple, which had been turned into a marketplace, a “den of robbers”. This is a challenge to the religious leaders’ authority. After Jesus curses the fig tree for not producing fruit, the chief priests and elders question Jesus’ authority. He does not answer their question directly. Instead he tells two parables. In the first one son agrees to work in the field but does not. The other son says “no” but ends up working in the field. The religious leaders identify the one who does the will of the father as the son who obeyed. Jesus then points out that the tax collectors and prostitutes, those who originally said no to God, are entering the kingdom of God ahead of the chief priests and elders because they listened and repented. To further illustrate God’s displeasure with their hard hearts Jesus tells the parable we read today.

In the parable of the tenants, the tenants harvest a vineyard they did not plant. At harvest, a share is due to the owner of the vineyard. Twice the tenants abuse, kill, and stone those sent to collect the owner’s share. Then the owner sends his son. As the tenants see him approaching they say, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance”. Indeed they do kill him. Jesus then asks the religious leaders how the owner will respond. They say that the owner will bring those wicked “wretches to a wretched end”. In our reading for tomorrow, Jesus quotes from Psalm 118. These verses would have triggered a connection for the religious leaders. Verses 19-21 speak of a triumphal entry and the Lord bringing salvation to those who believe. The religious leaders would not have missed what Jesus, the capstone being rejected, was implying. We will explore this further tomorrow.

The religious leaders and Jews often rejected the ones sent by the one who establisheded them in the Promised Land – a place they did not plant or build. Some of the prophets were rejected, beaten, even killed by leaders who did not want to hear God’s truths. These leaders would continue the pattern, this time crucifying the one who had come to save. Our question to consider is this: what do we do when the Lord gives us opportunity to produce a harvest? Do we hold tightly to all we have, refusing to let some go to build up the kingdom of God?

When the owner comes looking for us to contribute to the harvest, may we be a part of a fruitful harvest. May we be faithful tenants, giving unto the Lord, as we are led, to build the kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Lord of all, as you give me opportunity to plant seeds or to nourish growth, lead me to be faithful and obedient. Guide me to step forward into those opportunities as I seek to be a part of building your kingdom in this time and place. Amen.


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Building the Kingdom

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse 3: “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, and even life forevermore”.

Over the course of Israel’s history the reading or singing of this Psalm would evoke many reactions and thoughts. At times it was sung whole heartedly, rejoicing in God’s presence and blessings. At other times it was sung with sadness, a memory of better times. Today many of us reading the Psalm identify with the rejoicing times. We are happy and comfortable and well cared for. Our jobs and families are rewarding. Yet some, even here in the land of opportunity and of plenty, read this Psalm and wonder, “When?” And others look in from outside; their question is “How?”

In is easy for us to live in unity and in Christian community within our churches and neighborhoods. It is comfortable to stay there, where all is familiar and safe. Yet if we are to be a part of realizing true unity and community with all of God’s children, we must step outside of our little world and engage the people who live in places where food, shelter, education, and other necessities are lacking or are non-existent. Yes, this is the immigration centers and the food deserts in many cities. Yes, this is many of our reservations. But it is also our neighborhoods and our communities. In every single community there are families struggling to provide the basics. In all communities there are people with emotional and spiritual needs – the abused, the grieving, the lonely, the sick.

The last line of today’s Psalm reads, “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, and even life forevermore”. In places where Christ’s love is known, yes, there are blessings and the hope of life everlasting. It is in your home, it is in my home. But it is not universal. It is not even in every house in our neighborhoods. May we each be a part of the building of God’s kingdom here on earth, venturing to where the hurt and need of the world must meet God’s love and care and provision… and blessing. May we go forth in love.

Prayer: Loving God, as I get to know my community, slowly in this time of pandemic, lead me to the places that really need to know your love. Guide me to be love and compassion in these places, sharing all that I am and all that I have. Amen.


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Do Not Be Afraid

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Verse 28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”.

In our passage for today and tomorrow, Jesus is about to send out the twelve disciples. He reminds them in our section for today that a servant and master should be more alike one another than different. Yes, one might be in charge, but both should treat the other with respect, honor, … There should also be a similarity in their character. In the context of this passage, Jesus is saying that the disciples will go forth and do what Jesus did – teach and heal. These practices remain the core habits of disciples.

Jesus sends them out with eyes wide open. He tells the disciples not to be afraid but to “proclaim from the roofs” the things he has taught and the things “whispered in your ear” by the Holy Spirit. Both of these will lead and guide them. They do not go alone. Nor do we. In verse 28 he reminds them of the higher purpose of the mission and of the ultimate outcome for the faithful. Here Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”. This life is only a mist in comparison to eternity. That is what matters most for the lost. In his words, Jesus assures and empowers, strengthens and builds up the disciples as they prepare to go out to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world in need. Not all will hear the good news; some will reject and even heap abuse on the twelve. This too can be our experience. When this happens we too must remember our call and we must be assured that they cannot kill the soul. That belongs to the Lord. Forever. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, in times of trial and testing, you stood firm. Teach me to do the same, trusting in the Holy Spirit and in your word. This day and every day, may I serve you well. Amen.


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Authority

Reading: Matthew 28: 16-20

Verse 18: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”.

Jesus begins his final words reminding the disciples that he has authority over all things – both in heaven and on earth. He has demonstrated this authority. In walking on the water and with the calming of the storm he demonstrated authority over nature. By raising Lazarus and others and by walking out of the tomb Jesus demonstrated authority over life and death. Through many healings he showed power over disease and illness. In many encounters Jesus revealed the authority to restore brokenness and to redeem sinners. Jesus has authority over all things.

Authority is a powerful thing. As we have talked and read about this week, humanity can struggle with properly exercising our authority over the created world. As we have seen once again, authority can be abused. Using one’s title and position of authority to kneel upon a man’s neck until life has ebbed out of his body is clearly a case of extreme abuse of authority. In the MeToo movement we also witnessed what unchecked abuses of authority can lead to. There is no place for any of these types of abuse of authority.

How did Jesus use and define his authority? As one considers Jesus’ ministry, his authority was used to bring healing, restoration, wholeness, and true life to people. Jesus always sought to connect people to God and to one another in the community of faith. That is the task he sets the disciples to in our passage today. Jesus defined his authority as being total – over all things. In his ministry he clearly demonstrated the scope of his claim. His authority applied to all things and to all people. There was never anyone Jesus turned away from, never anyone he refused to minister to.

In the call to make disciples of all nations, may we claim and employ the authority that Jesus gives us. Jesus holds out the authority to love as he loved, to serve as he served, to minister as he ministered – without conditions, without barriers, without strings attached. Jesus’ authority allows us to walk as his disciples, following his example. May we faithfully love God and neighbor just as Jesus did this day and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, may I fully claim the authority you give me to love and serve as Jesus did. May all I do and say and think reflect you within my heart and to all I meet each day. Amen.


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Speaking and Hearing

Reading: Acts 2: 1-11

Verse 11: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”.

Today and for the next two days we will focus on Pentecost – the day largely accepted as the birthday of the church. A small group of Jesus’ followers were gathered together for worship. A loud and powerful wind announced the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Represented by what appeared to be “tongues of fire” that lit on each one, the followers were filled by the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, Jews from all around the city were drawn by the sound of the wind. These Jews were from all over the known world – come to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the three yearly Jewish festivals. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus’ followers begin to each speak in languages native to these Jews. The Jews from around the world are bewildered because “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”. How could these simple Galileans be speaking in so many different languages? Clearly something amazing is going on here!

The followers speaking in tongues is only part of the miracle though. The Holy Spirit was not just at work among the followers of Jesus. Just because words are spoken, it does not mean they are heard. Many of the Jews there that day had open ears and receptive hearts. It will still take a little Holy Spirit fueled preaching by Peter to really help bring them to Christ, but with the Spirit’s continued work the church will grow that day.

Each of us is a follower who could do what was done in today’s passage. Our gifted language may not be Egyptian or Arabic or any other foreign language. But it is addiction or divorce or grief or abuse or justice or single parenthood… Each of us has stories about the “wonders of God” in our own lives. If we are sensitive to and pay attention to the Holy Spirit living inside each of us, we will have opportunities to speak new life into someone else’s ear. Will your words be the miracle of healing or recovery or restoration or belonging that someone needs to hear? Are you ready to speak?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, my journey to this point has been long and filled with many Holy Spirit experiences. Help me to see each as a step in my journey, as a possible step in another’s journey of faith. May the Holy Spirit be at work in me, leading and guiding me to tell the story of faith as I have opportunity. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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You Are gods

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 6: “I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High'”.

Our Psalm opens with the God of the universe questioning the ‘gods’. God asks them how long will they defend the unjust and show favor to the wicked? This idea ran through yesterday’s reading. It is why God sent Amos to speak against the actions of the king. In our lives, do we ever defend the unjust? In our lives, do we ever favor the wicked?

The psalmist goes on to define God’s preferred behavior for the ‘gods’. First, they must “defend the case of the weak and fatherless”. Speak against injustice and poor treatment. Second, “maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed”. Stand beside those who cannot stand up for themselves. Third, “rescue the weak and needy”. When the unfortunate have fallen victim or are suffering, step in to rescue and redeem them. And lastly, “deliver them from the hand of the wicked”. Place yourself between the unjust and wicked and deliver the marginalized out from their abuse and I’ll treatment. Place yourself in the line of fire.

These behaviors or actions that we hear the psalmist calling for in verses 3 and 4 sound a lot like Jesus to me. He was certainly on the side of the marginalized and the poor. Jesus definitely spoke out against the people and institutions that created or allowed for the lesser treatment of people. Much of Jesus’ ministry focused on loving and caring for and restoring the other. It should be no surprise that in speaking God’s word the psalmist directs the ‘gods’ to do the same things that Jesus did.

In verse 6 the psalmist writes, “I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High'”. We Christians, we who have claimed our eternal inheritance as sons and daughters of the Most High, we who have claimed our birthright as brothers and sisters with Christ, we are the ‘gods’ that the psalmist addresses today. Accordingly, may we choose to side with the poor and needy. May we speak up for the abused and oppressed. May we stand against people and institutions that take advantage of the weak. In short, may we walk as Jesus Christ walked.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the needs in my community. Fill me heart with compassion and with courage to walk with the marginalized and the weak. Help me to live as Jesus lived each day. Amen.