Tag Archives: Christians

Prayerful thoughts on closing 2018-19 school year, summer

Certainly I have not kept it secret that I am a retired educator, and also there is no secret that I served in the pulpit for 10 years in a bi-vocational role.  Therefore surely there are no surprises that my thoughts for this week are closely connected to the ending of the school year.

The postings on Facebook are flooded with graduation notes, and I cannot help reflect, especially on the ones that are students of my former students graduating.  

I have been watching one whose sons are graduating one from college and entering into the world of professional football, and his brother graduating from high school moving into college football. Oddly their dad was a basketball player, not football; but the pride he shows and the quality of athletes he and his wife have raised is evident.  And I admit a sense of pride seeing the postings.

Another graduation I watched via postings was a former student from an entirely different program who walked across the stage getting her masters degree.  I feel so privileged to be part of her academic journey.

I could continue listing graduations for all levels:  from pre-school to kindergarten, from kindergarten to elementary, from elementary to middle school and middle school to high school and the list goes on.

Each graduation marks the end of one set of struggle,s but also notes the beginning of the next challenges.  The resilience of our young people can be amazing, but there are those who may never experience the emotional high of moving from one transition to another for any number of reasons.  

Consider all the children who live in settings where there is no Christian foundation.  The values outlined in the Bible are unknown to these young ones and there may be no sense of being valued as an individual.  They may not even experience positive child-parent relationships.

The children who escape from negative home environments rely on school for a sense of safety, for being valued as an individual, to receive unconditional love, not to mention the physical needs of clothing, food and shelter that are provided during through school systsems.

And then comes the end of the school year and the students begin acting out when for months they have been doing so well. Educators know; and dread what is ahead for these students.  They must find ways to let go of their students with prayers for their continued well-being.

Today, I encourage all Christians, all people of faith, to join in concentrated prayers for the young people who are closing another school year.  

  • Pray that they may be safe in their homes.
  • Pray that they will have food.
  • Pray that they have an adult who mentors them.
  • Pray that there are programs that can provide positive experiences.
  • Pray that they are safe.

The list could be continued, but prayers are also needed for educators.  They too, have reached the end of a school year and the demands on them have worn them out.  

Even though they are adults, they too may struggle with the shift to their routine.  They may be highly gifted with interpersonal skills in the classroom, but the demands of the students—academically and emotionally—drain them and they need prayers too.

  • Pray that educators find mental rest.
  • Pray that educators have time to enjoy their own families.
  • Pray that educators can find ways to expand their professional growth.
  • Pray that educators can prepare for the upcoming year with enthusiasm.

Finally, there are others, too, who are critical to the education of our students.  These are the supporting teams who work along side the educators making sure that the entire system works smoothly.  

The secretaries, the maintenance crews, the technology teams, the kitchen staffs, and even the groundkeepers have so much to do when the students and educators are not in the buildings.  These individuals are essential and need prayers, too.

  • Pray that they have the energy needed to work long days to repair, to improve, and to prepare for the coming school year.
  • Pray that they are trained to do all that they can for the success of the students.
  • Pray that they are valued for all the extra effort that provide for the well-being of the students.

Undoubtedly the calendar is guiding my thoughts today, but how easy it is to forget the needs of our students, the educators, and the support teams working diligently through the school year.  How easy it is to forget they need our prayers now as well as during the school year.

And I know, summer vacation brings summer schools, advanced degree work, and vacations.  Maybe those of us who are not educators tied to the school calendars, should remember John Wesley’s principle:  Do all that you can in any way that you can for all students and educators that you can when ever you can–prayers and even more if you can.

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Advent fills hearts with hope; Open your heart to be filled

Today the window above my desk is filled with beautiful snowflakes drifting down with a cedar tree in the background.  The visuals match the traditional images on so many Christmas cards.  

Yes, Advent is here and Christians begin the journey to the manger—all sounds familiar to those who have been raised in the church and celebrate the holiday focusing on the story shared in the gospels and prophesied for thousands of years.  

But what about Advent season for those who are unfamiliar with the Christian tradition of Advent and Christmas?  Are they excited about a season or just about what the secular world has decided is a holiday tradition?  Are their hearts filled with hope?

Admittedly this is a simple line of thought from one who has lived a lifetime wrapped in the Christian tradition; yet, I am wondering why I have discovered how much more exciting Christmas is for me this year versus all the other years.  I think it may be from discovering the true secret to Christmas: hope, love, joy, and peace.

This is the first Advent in over a decade that I have not focused on creating a series of worship services that lead a congregation to Christmas day.  I thought I would really miss the process and the excitement that the work has entailed over the past 10 years.

But as I sit here watching the snowflakes swirling ever so gently around the house, I must admit that I am not missing the work that Advent has meant for these past years. Instead, I am experiencing Advent a bit differently.  I am sensing hope.  

Let’s consider what hope really is:

NOUN mass noun

A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.

  • 1.1count noun A person or thing that may help or save someone.
  • 1.2 Grounds for believing that something good may happen.

2  archaic A feeling of trust.

VERB

Want something to happen or be the case.

  • 1.1with infinitive Intend if possible to do something.

This definition comes from the Oxford dictionary on-line that is my go to dictionary because it also offers the origin of the word, too:

Late Old English hopa (noun), hopian (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hoop (noun), hopen (verb), and German hoffen (verb).

Looking closely at the various entries for hope, I see the value of opening Advent with the emphasis on hope.  For four weeks, we create an atmosphere of expecting something huge to happen.  

For Christians, that big thing is the birth of Jesus Christ.  At least that is the design of the traditional Christian season.  Sadly, the secular world has invaded the spiritual world and the hope appears to be more for a day of gift giving.

If one can lessen the emphasis on gift giving as the “big thing” of Christmas, the desire or hope shifts from fancy packages under a Christmas tree to the givingof love from one person to another.

I was saddened to notice the second definition of hopeis listed as archaic:  a feeling of trust.  Advent should still focus on that definition.  

For thousands of years, the Israelites had waited, trusted, that God would provide a messiah to “fix” the mess they were in.  They had hope.  

Do we, in the 21stcentury still have hope?  

Advent is a time to re-evaluate that idea.  At times we all experience feeling lost, depressed, alone, guilty, stranded, and the list continues.  At those times, we lose hope.  Turn hope into the verb, not the noun.

The verb places each one of us in an active state:  we want something to happen or something to be.  The Israelites continued to hope.  As bad as things got, they trusted God to provide an answer to their demise. 

Do we, in the 21stcentury hope—actively hope?

Maybe I am not in a pulpit right now, but I am discovering hope again in a new light.  I am making subtle changes in how I celebrate the entire season and finding hopealive in surprising ways.

For instance, I was reading the lectionary reading for this week and discovered an emphasis on trust.  Psalms 25 opens

O Lord, I give my life to you.

     I trust in you, my God!  . . .

No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,

     But disgrace comes to those who try to deceive              others.

Living in a society filled with all kinds of distressing concerns—personal, health, financial, governmental, global—we need to trust in God.  We need hope that God is with us, that he hears us, that he wants what is best for us.  

The traditions that have developed around our secular celebrations during Advent and on Christmas Day may be well-intentioned, but is in God?

Evaluating the secular traditions through the filter of my Christian faith forces me to redefine the traditions.  My hopeis that the “reason for the season” is more important in my life than the hope that I find packages under the tree just for me.

This Advent, I want to emphasize how trusting in God provides me a hope that extends beyond the worldly scope of my life.  

My hope is the traditions that demonstrate love for one another creates a joy that expands beyond a package wrapped under a tree.

Read the scriptures for Advent’s first week and see if your heart opens, too, finding how those who trust in God have hope that leads to joy:

Lectionary readings for the week of December 2:

  • Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • Psalm 25:1-10
  • I Thessalonians 3:9-13
  • Luke 21:25-36

Dear God,

Give me the strength

     to trust in the ancient words of scripture.

Give me the determination 

     to keep Advent a time of expectation.

Open my heart to be filled with hope.

Guide me in celebrating the birth of your son

     with traditions to reflect your love.

Guide me in sharing the story of Jesus’ birth

     with words and actions to share your love.

Open my heart to be filled with trust.

Thank you for the words of the ancient faithful

     that help us open our hearts to trust.

Thank you for the work of the faithful

     who open our hearts in hope of Jesus’ birth.

In the name of you, the Father, 

In the name of your son, Jesus Christ,

In the name of the Holy Spirit, amen.

P.S. Friends, the snow is still falling outside my window.  What a joy it is as I experience the excitement of the season!  I hope your days are full of the joy we feel as Christmas Day nears.

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Cloud of Witnesses lead by faith

Sermon for Memorial Day Weekend Sunday, May 27, 2018.  Another connection to Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window.

 

As we enjoy the Memorial Day Weekend as a holiday, the purpose of the holiday can easily be ignored—at least in today’s social environment. Memorial Day, the last Monday of May, began in 1868, and its origin may surprise you:

[show CBS video on Memorial Day from You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7ozdFkwHP8].

Memorial Day became familiar to me as a time to decorate the graves of family and friends more than just a time to honor veterans. I remember picking peonies, iris and roses, putting them in aluminum wrapped coffee cans filled with water and driving to at least three different cemeteries, leaving the flowers and sharing some of the people’s stories of the graves we visited.

Maybe the emphasis, or maybe I should say the de-emphasis, on veterans was due to the fact that we did not have any family veterans. My relatives were farmers and very few actually served in the military until my dad and his cousin enlisted at the end of World War II and the beginning of the Korean Conflict.  And none were killed during their service. Instead, Memorial Day honored those who defined our family.

Each of you has your own family history and your own traditions on holidays like this.  I am sure some of you do have family who died while serving in the armed services.  I am sure some of you spend time this weekend visiting graves and decorating them with flowers.  And while you do this, you remember all those who have contributed to who you are in one way or another.

These same family members and friends modeled their faith and helped define your own.  Their lives witnessed their faith in their own ways, much like the Cloud of Witnesses depicted in the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window.

The list of witnesses includes Old Testament and New Testament figures.  The window cannot possibly include all the characters in the Bible, but there are 23 images faintly imprinted through the stained glass cloud.  The images visible are:

Old Testament:

  • Hagar–Sarah’s handmaiden given to Abraham to have a child, Ishmael
  • Jachebed—Moses’ birth mother who hid him in the bulrushes
  • Joshua—successor of Moses
  • Rahab—the harlot who sheltered Joshua’s men in Jerico
  • Caleb—founding father of Cabbites and spy with Joshua
  • Samuel—son of Elkahan and Hannah; tutored by Eli, prophet and king of Israel
  • Deborah—Rebekah’s nurse; Israelite judge and prophet
  • King Solomon—son of David & Bathsheba, succeeded David
  • Isaiah—prophet
  • Jeremiah—son of Hilkiah; prophet

New Testament:

  • Zechariah—(four listed) father of John the Baptist, one of the Old Testament minor prophets
  • Elizabeth—wife of Zechariah; mother of John the Baptist; cousin to Mary the mother of Jesus Christ
  • Joseph—(also a common name) faither of Jesus
  • James—son of Zebedee, brother to John and both apostles
  • Lazarus—brother of Mary & Martha; Jesus raised him from the dead
  • Martha—Jesus’ close friend & follower
  • Mary—(seven different ones listed); mother of Jesus is one; another was a close friend & follower who was sister to Martha and Lazarus
  • Joseph of Arimathea—took the body of Jesus from the cross to the tomb
  • Matthew, Mark, Luke & John—the gospel writers.

 

These witnesses carried God’s story forward through history.  They have served as models of faithful living.  They also created The Church, at least the ones in the New Testament who continued Jesus work after his resurrection.  The Church today exists by the faith of a cloud of witnesses.

Scripture:  Hebrews 11:1-3

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

    By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

 

Reading through Hebrews 11, the list of Old Testament witnesses continues.  The author includes many more witnesses, but each one is introduced by the key phrase “by faith”(a sampling Hebrews 11:7, 8, 32):

  1. It was by faith that Noahbuilt a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.
  2. It was by faith that Abrahamobeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going.And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. 10 Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.
  3. 32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.

 

The Church depends on the cloud of witnesses.  The stories filling the pages of the Bible, whether in the Old Testament or in the New Testament, are available to us yet today, in the 21stcentury, because their story is the same as our story.  We face challenges to our faith daily, and the battle of good versus evil can wear one down.  For this reason we turn to scripture to strengthen our resolve, our faith.

Reading on in Hebrews 11:35-40, the author continues the illustration of the Old Testament witnesses:

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half,[d] and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

     39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.

Over the last several weeks, we have reviewed so many stories of Biblical characters and other historical figures who have kept The Church growing.  These individuals share the common advice in Hebrews:  live by faith.  God’s story and the work of the witnesses have continued Jesus’ message.  The Church has grown and continues to exist by faith.

Hebrew’s author, and experts cannot agree on who that is with only the clue that it could be Paul, Luke, Barnabas, Apollos, Silas, Phillip or Priscilla due to the reference that the letter includes to Timothy as “brother,” does not list witnesses from the New Testament.  Those we might consider New Testament witnesses would have been contemporaries or peers.  The stained glass window’s references are based on the same criteria, though, they are the ones whose written record show that they lived by faith.

The letter to the Hebrews continues (12:1-13):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.[e] Because of the joy[f]awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people;[g] then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.

     And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children?[h] He said,

“My child,[i] don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”[j]

     As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?[k]

     10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.

     12 So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. 13 Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.

 

The words provide guidance for us yet today.  The scripture is timeless.  The message remains steadfast.  The crowd of witnesses knew God’s story and their lives were as typical as our own.  We are fortunate that we do have the stories.  We study scripture independently and in community in order for us to remain faithful when life challenges us.

Today is an ideal opportunity to add names to the cloud of witnesses that are personal.  I know that you have examples of faith that fills your memory.  They might be family members who lived by faithor maybe a best friend survived a challengeby faith.  I invite you to share the names of those who you would add to the cloud of witnesses (have members share the name and the story that nominates someone to be added to the cloud of witnesses: for example):

  • Betty:pastor’s wife, cancer patient, teacher
  • Kern:assistant superintendent, fellow Methodist, my dyslexia tutor
  • Beth:dairy farmer’s wife, Polio survivor, mother, friend
  • Bill:UMC pastor, son of a manic depressed mother

 

The names we share inspire each of us to live by faith.  The promise of life eternal may be realized by so many of those we consider to be witnesses, and we have so much work left to do in our earthly life.

We are blessed to know the stories of the cloud of witnesses.  We are blessed to know witnesses personally who have provided us guidance in living our own lives by faith.  This weekend we honor those who have served to protect us, who have served as our teachers, who have guided us in our own faith journeys.  May we, too, live our faith out loud so others may know us as part of the cloud of witnesses when we leave our earthly lives.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father Almighty,

 

Daily we are challenged to live by faith.

The news darkens our world

And we need your light.

The chores we work through in our homes

Tire us and we grow weary.

The relationships in our lives become strained

Yet we continue to love one another.

Evil seems to creep up on us in quiet

And we need strength to defend ourselves.

 

Thank you for the cloud of witnesses

That has walked this earth before us.

Thank you for the Biblical stories guiding us

On how to live by faith

Thank you for those Christians whose stories

Preserve and grow The Church by faith.

Thank you for the Christians witnesses

Who have walked by faithbeside us.

 

Guide us through these examples of faith.

Guide us in reading the scriptures.

Guide us in fellowship growing in faith.

Guide us as we share our own stories

So others may see us living by faith.

 

Amen, Lord, amen.

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Jew or Gentile?

sermon given on Sunday, July 9, 2017

Scripture connections:

Opening: Romans 9:21-24, NLT

21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. 24 And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles.

 

Sermon: Romans 9:25, 31-32, NLT

25 Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea,

“Those who were not my people,
I will now call my people.
And I will love those
whom I did not love before.”

 

31 But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. 32 Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law[a] instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path.

 

Closing: Romans 10:9-13, 16-18a, NLT

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”[a] 12 Jew and Gentile[b] are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” . . .

 

. . . 16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?”[a] 17 So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. 18 But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? . . .

 

Reflection: Jew or Gentile?

Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in a different time? Over the holiday weekend Ancestry.com offered free access to certain records and I started looking at them. Of course I could not remember my sign in but I did discover a World War I draft notice for my grandfather was listed. I was surprised and really should have gotten up to investigate more closely, but did not because I know he never served in the military. But now I want to know more.

Then another question came to mind: If I were living in Jesus’ time, would I have been a Jew or a Gentile? I suppose I could even ask if I would have been a pagan, but that seems a bit too unlikely. This question started my mind spinning and I started putting my thoughts together:

  • Was I born into a religious family?
  • Did I grow up following the religious law or the civil law?
  • Was my dad or my mom the driving force?
  • Was my church strictly structured around The Law?
  • Did church come first or did civil matters?
  • Was my community centered around the church or on business?

 

As you can tell, deciding whether I would have been a Jew or a Gentile lead to many other considerations other than just my personal faith.

Reading Romans, one can get a different perspective of the cultural shift that must have occurred for Paul, but also for other new Christians.   Paul certainly was Jewish before his conversion. Raised in the Jewish faith, having served in the Jewish leadership, his life was immersed in The Law. He knew it so well, he was actively involved in administering justice—or at least that was the Saul of Tarsus as he was first introduced in Biblical literature.

Paul prosecuted the earliest disciples of Christ. Paul was a Jew and the first Christians who were Jewish must have felt confused as they believed Jesus Christ was simply the fulfillment of their own religious foundation. How difficult it must have been to be firmly rooted in a faith and then be prosecuted by your own religious leaders for believing the prophecies had indeed been fulfilled!

With that thought, I wonder again whether I would have been a Jew or a Gentile during those ancient times. I think it is possible to compare my own upbringing and belief system to the Jewish culture. As I look over my history I can see the similarities:

  • I was born into a faith-centered home environment.
  • We attended Sunday school and worship every Sunday.
  • We actively participated in all the age-appropriate activities—choir being the most obvious other than Sunday school.
  • We offered a table grace at all three meals in our home.
  • Dad appeared to be the faith leader because he said the grace.
  • Mom was in charge of the household including the education both after school and for Sunday school.
  • Dad served on the various Administrative Board committees and even as a lay leader.
  • Mom was a soloist and even evolved into the closest thing in our community to an activist for social justice.
  • We attended the carry-in dinners and social functions at church but seldom social events outside of the church.

 

Certainly, in my 20th century life, I was following the social profile that would have been a Jew during Christ’s lifetime.

Now, though, for comparison purposes consider the ancient Gentile. Here was an individual whose life hinged around the daily grind of life. Making a living, providing for the family, and managing to live in the ruling culture of the time. Reading Romans, the first century after Jesus was born, the Roman Empire dominated the Euro-Asian region. No state religion, but the Greek and Latin gods were worshiped. The pagan laws were not as severe as the Law of Moses was in the Jewish culture. For Roman citizens, the law was the ruling emperor’s law.

Today’s Gentiles may be more difficult to identify. Or maybe not because I suspect that today’s Gentiles profile might be like so many of our friends and neighbors, even family members. I believe the Gentiles are all those who have been raised with much of the same expectations as those in church-attending, church-centered families. The difference is they may not see a connection to living one’s faith in relation to their role in today’s world.

Consider how many in our community, maybe even in our church, who live a “good” life, not breaking any laws, working hard to make a living, and doing all the things our society deems appropriate—raising kids, going to sporting events, taking vacations, staying in style, and the list just keeps growing. There may be some curiosity about God and faith, but their lives are ok, maybe even extremely successful by all outward signs. Maybe they go to church occasionally, at least on Christmas and Easter, because they say they believe.

In today’s culture, I believe it is more difficult to see a distinction between the Jews and the Gentile labels that were evident during ancient days of Christ. Yet I believe it is also evident that there is a defined line between those who are living a faith-filled, Christ-centered life and those who are simply living in a spiritual void with all the outward appearances but no conviction of their faith in God.

Paul’s letter to the Romans was a logical argument for Christianity, written to an audience with whom he was not personally connected. Today we can read the letters Paul wrote and evaluate them against the experiences of Christians for over 2,000 years. We can even check ourselves to determine whether we are living the very principles Jesus demonstrated and Paul reinforced in his letters.

Romans is an introduction to Christian living whether one was raised a Jew or a Gentile; whether one was raised in a religious setting or not; or even if one has never had any simply unchurched. Paul assures us that salvation is available to any one who accepts that Jesus Christ lived, died and arose so that we are saved by the grace of God.

Paul’s letter goes on to explain that God genuinely loves us and that we are all equipped with spiritual gifts. We are to use those gifts living as good citizens in our communities. We are to accept all those who believe in Christ regardless of their previous beliefs—another words whether they were Jew, Gentile or pagan. We are to live in Christian unity with one another because God’s mercy is available to everyone.

Again, though, I find myself wondering whether I would have been living as a Jew or a Gentile or as a Christian? As much as my faith is the faith that I was born and raised in—a cradle Methodist as we say, I wonder if I could have been the Jew openly accepted the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in those ancient days?

Today I am fortunate to have the 2,000 years of Christian history to support the arguments for Christ. I am fortunate to live in a society that allows freedom of religion. Yet, in truth I wonder whether I am a Jew or a Gentile in behavior. Am I too caught up in the legalistic structure of our faith to open my heart, my mind and my doors to others regardless of their personal history? Am I afraid I cannot preserve the church in which I am so comfortable that I fight any change? Am I able to live in unity with others regardless of where they are in their faith journey?

If I did not have my faith in God, I would not see the value in this life I do have. If I did not follow the one commandment to love others as I want to be loved, I would be hiding within my own home fearing the unknowns. If I did not believe that God has given me gifts to use in this world, I would not be able to do what all I try to do.

My challenge to each of us here is to consider just what role do you have personally or we as a full church have in reaching out to the other Jews, Gentiles, pagans or unchurched. Do we honestly open our hearts, minds and doors to all in hopes that they too can discover God’s grace and salvation through his son Jesus Christ? Do we live the very example of a Christian right here in our own community?

Our responsibility is to find ways to demonstrate the motto that the United Methodist Church adopted in 2004: Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. Let us truly be remarkable with our efforts to make sure that our church is being Christ-centered in this community.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Open our hearts so they may be filled

With love for one another as Jesus taught.

 

Open our hearts so we may see

those in our community in need of your love.

 

Open our minds so they may be filled

With the methods and means to share your love.

 

Open our minds so we may grow

our spiritual gifts to serve and love others.

 

Open our doors so we may see

The lost, the lonely, the sick, and the hungry.

 

Open our doors so we may serve

To welcome those needing your love.

 

Only with you can we be

the Christians you call us to be.

 

In your name, dear God,

And in the name of Jesus Christ,

And the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

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Who is this?

given on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017–6th Sunday in Lent 2017:  A season of mindfulness

 

Scripture connection:

Zechariah 9:9-10, NLT

Rejoice, O people of Zion!

Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!

Look, your king is coming to you.

He is righteous and victorious,

yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—

riding on a donkey’s colt.

I will remove the battle chariots from Israel

and the warhorses from Jerusalem.

I will destroy all the weapons used in battle,

and your king will bring peace to the nations.

His realm will stretch from sea to sea

and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.

 

Matthew 21:1-11, NLT

As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me.

If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

   This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,

“Tell the people of Jerusalem,

‘Look, your King is coming to you.

He is humble, riding on a donkey—

riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.

     Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Praise God in highest heaven!”

The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.

     And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

 

Mark 11:1-11, NLT

     As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘What are you doing?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it and will return it soon.’”

     The two disciples left and found the colt standing in the street, tied outside the front door.  As they were untying it, some bystanders demanded, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”  They said what Jesus had told them to say, and they were permitted to take it.  Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it, and he sat on it.

     Many in the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David!

Praise God in highest heaven!”

     So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples.

 

Luke 19:28-40, NLT

     After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

     So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”

     And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.

     As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

“Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

     But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

     He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

 

John 12:12-19, NLT

     The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hail to the King of Israel!”

     Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

“Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.

Look, your King is coming,

riding on a donkey’s colt.”

     His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.

     Many in the crowd had seen Jesus call Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, and they were telling others about it.

     That was the reason so many went out to meet him—because they had heard about this miraculous sign. Then the Pharisees said to each other, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!”

 

Weekly memory verse: Who is this? (Matthew 21:10, NLT)

 

Weekly challenge: Step outside and study a flower. Look at the buds and see the promise of the bloom. Look back at your life. See the promise and know how much God loves you.

 

Reflection: Who is this? How do you know?

 

Has not the rain and the sunshine transformed our world these past couple of weeks? Looking out the windows this morning is very different than just a week ago as the trees are leafing out, the lilacs are budding, and the spring flowers are opening up. The earth is celebrating new life.

Today is Palm Sunday, the last Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. The celebration starting today darkens as the week relives the final days of Jesus. Thursday is the day for Jesus’ final supper with his disciples. Friday is the darkest day as Jesus is nailed on the cross and dies. Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath, so the day is simply empty as no work could be done after sunset on Friday through sunset on Saturday.

The Passion Story unfolds as Christians review the Christ story from the joyful entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey through the events of his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial. The week connects the generations of Christians throughout time and the world. The Passion Story connects us to our own belief and we should know the answer to the question: Who is this?

Can you answer that question with confidence? Can you walk into the sanctuary this morning and quickly identify the purpose of the palms and the procession of the kids around the room? Can you share the story with others who may not even know what Palm Sunday, Passion Week, or Easter is? Learning this one small verse, Matthew 21:10, becomes the key to mystery of faith which we share during communion: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. (198914)

The answer for the question “Who is this?” begins with the scripture from Zechariah. The prophet had said that the Messiah or the King of the Jews would arrive on a donkey. And that is what Jesus did by riding into Jerusalem for Passover on the back of the donkey. The procession was a message to all the people, including the Pharisees, that Jesus was indeed who people were saying he was. The public display was out of character for Jesus, but the method was a way to affirm the answer to the Jews that he was indeed the promised Messiah, the Savior, the king they had long anticipated.

Each of the gospels includes a version of the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem. Each one includes the palms and the donkey, but only Matthew includes the question, “Who is this?” Why?

The key is remembering to whom the different gospels are written. Matthew with the question, was written specifically for the Jewish people. The question is asked to make a point that the readers would know how Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in Zachariah. Mark was written for Roman Christians, Luke was written to Theophilus and the Gentiles, while John was written to new Christians and those seeking to know more.

All the gospels describe the procession in basically the same manner. Palms were waved to show respect for high-ranking officials even throwing the palms and coats on the ground on which to walk. Even the donkey was chosen because of its significance. The donkey represents one coming in peace. If a horse had been chosen, that would have symbolized war or a military leader.

The gospel of Matthew included the description of the palm procession to make sure that the Jewish people could identify who Jesus was and that he fulfilled the prophecy that was almost 500 years old. The non-Jewish people in the Greco-Roman culture, though, also recognized the same symbolism. Mark, Luke and John all include a description of the procession with palms and the donkey. Everybody in the crowd would know the meaning, and the ensuing generations would also know that the man riding the donkey was Jesus, the man who was dramatically changing the belief system of so many in the area whether Jew or Gentile.

Why is this important today? Why are we waving palms here in our community 2,000 years later? Why do we need to answer the question “Who is this?”

God wants a personal relationship with us; and if we cannot answer who Jesus was, then we risk having no relationship with God. We can attend church every Sunday. We can read all we want about Jesus. Yet, to experience God in our life, we must be able to answer that we know Jesus. We must wave our palms and honor him, respect him, revere him, and yes, fear him. Experiencing God on a personal level comes by listening to God and obeying Him, said O.S. Hawkins (Hawkins 2015, 441).

Palm Sunday gives us the opportunity to openly express our knowledge of who Jesus is. We have the palm branches, we can sing out our praises, and we can answer the question that Jesus is the son of Man and the son of God.

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Jesus’ final Passover (remember he was Jewish) as the human incarnation of God. Jesus announced to the ancient world that he was the Son of God by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey with all his followers/disciples waving palms and shouts of acclamation. Palm Sunday is much like a flower popping up in the garden getting ready to bloom.

We anticipate the joy of Easter this morning, but first we must relive the full experience of Passover with the final days of Jesus and his disciples. We may be excited to extol (Hawkins word) or proclaim Jesus today, but we know the story continues through the horrors of a betrayal, a trial, and a crucifixion.

As we wait for the full bloom of the flower, we wait for Easter morning when Christ was resurrected. We know that God’s desire to be in a relationship with us was so important that he could no longer wait for us to figure it out on our own. Instead, he was born as a man in order to bring us into a real life experience with him.

We can answer the question “Who is this?” because we have the relationship with God. We see our lives unfold into a thing of beauty just like the spring flowers bursting forth around us. We have learned that God’s way of living in a loving relationship with one another is the very purpose God sent Jesus to walk with us in this life.

As Holy Week moves forward, keep the image of the flower opening from the bud to a full bloom present in your mind. You are a flower in God’s garden, and because you know God’s love and you have chosen to live according to his commandments, you will continue to bloom.

[Share the video of tulip opening.]

Closing prayer

Dear Gracious Father,

 

We lift up our palms to you

Showing that we know you personally,

Because we experience your love

And believe in your promise.

 

We lift up our palms to you

Thanking you for sending Jesus

To teach us,

To heal us,

To forgive us

And to grant us eternal life.

 

We lift up our voices

Answering others who ask,

“Who is this?”

So we can share the story

Of our relationship with you,

God, the father,

the Son,

and the Holy Spirit. –Amen

 

 

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Time to reflect: Are we really Christian?

given on Sunday, January 1, 2017.  The service includes communion and the reaffirmation of faith as presented in the United Methodist Hymnal.

Scripture connections:

Opening scripture: Psalm 8:1-2 (NLT)

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens.
You have taught children and infants
to tell of your strength,[b]
silencing your enemies
and all who oppose you.

Scripture connection: Matthew 25:31-46 (NLT)

     31 “But when the Son of Man[a] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations[b] will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

     34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.

     37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

     40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[c] you were doing it to me!’

     41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.[d] 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

     44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

     45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

     46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

Reflection:

2017 is here!   Granted this is an annual event, welcoming a new year, but today we greet the year on Sunday and we are here to worship together in that space after Christmas Day when one year winds down and a new year begins. This morning, we gather to begin another new year together.

Tradition says this is a time to make new resolutions on how to improve one’s life. Maybe the change is in one’s personal life choices, or maybe the change is how we choose to live our lives outside of our homes whether on the job or in our interactions within the community. Today, stop and reflect on what your life is and ask yourself: Am I really a Christian?

Our tradition is to participate in communion on the first Sunday of the month. It is an ideal time to reconfirm our conviction that the wonder of Christmas brings us into a relationship with God; a relationship that lasts throughout our human lifetimes that continues on into eternity.

As 2017 opens, let us stop for a moment and reflect over the lessons of Advent. The wise men identified a star that drew them to Bethlehem in search of the Messiah. An internal force drew them to join together and find the baby Jesus.

When they reached Bethlehem and saw the baby, they knew the identity of God and chose not to return to King Herod. Instead, they resolved to go home with the knowledge that the baby was the Messiah, that he was named Immanuel, God with us.

Angels gave the name Immanuel both to Mary and to Joseph in separate locations. The name unlocks the identity that this baby was God choosing to be with us in order to demonstrate how to live as Christians.   God chose to live the human experience so to establish a covenant with us.    The wonder of the manger signifies the reality of God living in the most difficult circumstances just as any human might live. There was no special treatment, no royal residence, nor any slaves to attend to God. God lived the most difficult, unforgiving lifestyle showing us how to live in relationship with others. God lived for everybody so that we can be forgiven of our sins and granted eternal life.

God fulfilled a promise to us. Do we fulfill our promise to God? Communion reminds us of God’s sacrifice for our salvation. The words we hear and repeat connect us to the generations of faithful Christians who have carried the story throughout the millennia and continue to tell the story. We use the bread and the cup as tangible or real reminders of God’s promise to us.

[Sharing the bread and the cup                UMH p. 15]

Continuing the reflection:

         Certainly taking communion is a visible sign of being a Christian, but 2016 has been filled with visible signs of people saying one thing but doing something else. Being Christian is a demanding job, but when one maintains the lifestyle, the demand turns into a joy. The highs and the lows of daily life do not separate one from God but rather tightens that bond.

A couple of weeks ago I was introduced to a hymn, Let Us Build a House, that reminds us of how important it is to live a Christ-like life if we are to maintain a tight relationship with God. Listen to this hymn and ask yourself: Am I really a Christian? Are we, as one of God’s church families, living the Christian principles?

[Play the hymn Let Us Build a House also known as All Are Welcome.]

Are we really Christian? Are we welcoming all into God’s house? Are we doing what God asks us to do? Are we helping others to discover the joy of living with the promise of God to be forgiven and to receive eternal life? Or are we failing?

Accepting God’s promise of salvation is done through our sacrament of baptism. This first day of a new year is a good time to reaffirm our commitment to be in relationship with God. Today, we close with an opportunity to remember our baptism, to reaffirm our relationship with God.

Listen carefully to the words of the rituals and ask yourself: Am I really a Christian? Do I demonstrate the very same values that Jesus did? Do I forgive others when they hurt me? Do I do whatever I can for others as much as I can? Do I let other things or other people to separate me from God?

Let us keep the wonder of Christmas throughout the year. Let us do all that we can to share the love and grace of God with others in any way that we can. Let us make sure that we maintain a healthy relationship with God. In doing that, we will do all that we can for all we can in all the ways we can.

[Reaffirmation of Faith                                    UMH p.45]

Closing prayer built on the study The Wonder of Christmas:

Lord,

You are with us now and forever.

As we close one year and open another,

We are filled with the wonder of Christmas.

 

Today we remember the wonder of the star

Guiding the wise men from afar.

May we look to the sky and know your presence.

 

Today we share in the bread and the cup

And know the wonder of the name Immanuel.

Be present with us through the struggles ahead.

 

Today we look upon the manager

And know how much you endured for us

Assuring us you understand our challenges, too.

 

Today we renew our commitment as Christians

And thank you for the promise you made

To forgive us and grant us eternal life.

 

Guide us to keep the wonder of Christmas alive

In our hearts and minds and actions,

To be truly Christian in our world today. –Amen

Closing scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 (NLT)

What do people really get for all their hard work? 10 I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. 12 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. 13 And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.

 

 

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Mission Rebounds: The Old Testament scorebook

given on Sunday, February 28, 2016

Scripture connection: Isaiah 55, NLT

Invitation to the Lord’s Salvation

55 “Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
    I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.
See how I used him to display my power among the peoples.
    I made him a leader among the nations.
You also will command nations you do not know,
    and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey,
because I, the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious.”

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

10 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens
    and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
    producing seed for the farmer
    and bread for the hungry.
11 It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
12 You will live in joy and peace.
    The mountains and hills will burst into song,
    and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
13 Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
    Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
    they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”

 

Basketball season is wrapping up and it is almost time for the big college playoffs commonly referred to as The Final Four. Locally the game keeps everybody on pins and needles, too. What is it that makes competition so entertaining! Adrenalin surges when there is a foul or the opponents score. The heart beats hard and the crowd comes alive when the home team rebounds adding points to the team’s score.

Lent is a season of reflection much like when a season ends and it is time to review the team’s performance. The Christian team uses Lent to carefully analyze how well we carry out the mission God has given us: to love one another. If we follow God’s game plan, the result will be the transformation of not only our lives, but the world’s. God’s mission will rebound returning to the Garden of Eden He created.

In order for God’s mission to rebound, Christians must reflect on our individual performance as well as evaluate the team’s performance. This can be rewarding but it also is painful. Lent is the time for such analysis.

Every team does this. Each player must review his or hers own performance, the coach must review the overall function of the team plus his or hers own coaching skills. Then the team comes together for reflection and creates an improved game plan. The mission, God’s mission must rebound.

Right now the video of the world seen daily in the news broadcasts might seem like God’s scorebook filled with losses. Lent is God’s annual video replay. The game plan began with God choosing the team, the ancient tribes of Israel. The playbook opens with the Law now preserved in the first five books of the Old Testament.

Today we know that the Old Testament story is filled with mistakes of the people. The leaders of Israel made mistakes much like coaches who fail to develop a winning team. There is no doubt that the Law of Moses was simple: just 10 rules to follow and none of them complicated. Unfortunately, God’s opponent Satan was uncannily good at convincing humans to make mistakes.

Still, the dismal record of failure also includes opportunities God provided to repent, to make right some wrongs, and to be forgiven. Even when leaders made terrible mistakes breaking the God’s law, God did not give up on his team. Wrongs were righted. God forgave them. They were redeemed.

But look at what else is included in the Old Testament. Not only is the Law provided, illustrated with stories, but also the prayer book. The book of Psalms includes the prayers, hymns and liturgy that we use even today. The prayers reflect the full spectrum of human emotions. Some psalms praise and some cry out, but one thread ties all of them together—God’s love wins; the mission rebounds.

The psalms are the cheers and rants of the crowds. In sports, cheerleaders lead fans to spur the team to put out that extra energy to rebound and make a change in the team’s performance.

Certainly there are times when the cheers fail, but the cheerleaders, the coach, and the team work together to rebound. The psalms are tools that help the faithful continue the mission. God sees; God hears; and God loves. He responds, too, when he hears the cheer “Two. Four. Six. Eight. Who do we appreciate!” The psalms respond, “GOD!”

The Old Testament helps teach men and women how to live a God-centered life. God-centered living affects every facet of life, and reading Proverbs, we find how the wise sayings can guide the faithful to continue God’s work. The scriptures are God’s instruction manuals   including the library of videos to review.

Sadly, as we know in our own lives, humanity has repeated mistakes. It is a pattern we try to stop, but the world throws so many temptations at us that we become distracted from God and we make mistakes again. In reading through the verses of Isaiah, we are told:

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

 

Every time we err, God knows and he is always ready to forgive. The reflective time of Lent gives us that opportunity to honestly evaluate how well we are following God’s mission. The words of Isaiah assure us that God knows and listens for our awareness and confession so that he can forgive us.

The Old Testament records how the faithful succeeded and how they failed to maintain God’s mission. The different stories march God’s story through time. The story does not change even though the culture changes, education changes, political leaders change, commerce changes, and even the climate changes.

Prophets tried to warn the generations that failure to keep God’s mission would lead to destruction. Some prophets, of whom Isaiah is one, spoke openly about how God loves us and forgives us. But forgiveness comes only when one is honestly aware of what they have done wrong. Isaiah’s verses in chapter 55 speak to us yet today:

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.

 

Are you reading the scriptures? Are you reviewing the video of your life right now? Are you doing your best to stay God-centered?

In the lectionary’s commentary, the only way God’s mission rebounds is if. . .

. . . [we] name our sins and repent of them so that we might have life. . . . Pay attention to the way sin has us in its grip. To truly repent, we need an awareness of what we’ve done—and not done—that’s led us into this waterless land. Repentance reorients us toward God’s love and mercy, where we find sustenance and rest.

 

This is the same thinking a coach has as he reviews the game’s video and enters the next practice. He then offers guidance or advice as to how the player improves. And with each rebound, the mission to win the game becomes one play closer to reality.

Certainly honest reflection and corrective action is necessary and often painful, but the outcome is winning eternal life with God. The commentary shared Augustine’s thoughts about our restless desire to win:

. . . [God] understands our restlessness to be a result of our sin; we are restless because of our repeated attempts to take refuge in something other than God.   When we mistake any other good thing—whether it be love of another person, food, money, material possessions, sex, you name it—for the Ultimate God, Augustine argued, our hearts remain restless, unsettled.

 

God is our coach and he has assistants that are recorded in the Old Testament as prophets. In the New Testament, the story continues with the Apostles teaching God’s commandment to love one another.

God’s mission depends on our rebounding from our sin to follow his commandments. The coaches in our lives are God’s co-workers who can review the video and guide us to improve. Read the scripture from Genesis through Revelation to know the story and to learn how God’s mission is our mission, too. We are responsible for God’s mission to rebound.

Closing Prayer

Dear God,

Each day I read your word,

See your world,

And meet your children.

I am reminded of your love.

 

As we reflect on our lives,

Help us see our actions honestly.

Help us listen to our coaches,

And help us name our errors.

Then accept our pleas for repentance.

 

As we rebound and recommit to your mission

To transform the world by loving one another,

Coach us to improve living a God-centered life

So we can score redemption leading to life eternal

Beside you and your son Jesus Christ. –Amen

 

 

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