Tag Archives: God’s mission

A metaphor of change: Growing the Faith Tree

given on 5th Sunday of Easter, April 24, 2016

Opening scripture: Genesis 2:8-9, NLT

Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Kids’ scripture: Ezekiel 17:22-24, NLT

22 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take a branch from the top of a tall cedar, and I will plant it on the top of Israel’s highest mountain. 23 It will become a majestic cedar, sending forth its branches and producing seed. Birds of every sort will nest in it, finding shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 And all the trees will know that it is I, the Lord, who cuts the tall tree down and makes the short tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither and gives the dead tree new life. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I said!”

Scripture: Romans 11:11-24, NLT

11 Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. 12 Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it.

 

13 I am saying all this especially for you Gentiles. God has appointed me as the apostle to the Gentiles. I stress this, 14 for I want somehow to make the people of Israel jealous of what you Gentiles have, so I might save some of them. 15 For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead!

 

16 And since Abraham and the other patriarchs were holy, their descendants will also be holy—just as the entire batch of dough is holy because the portion given as an offering is holy. For if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be, too.

 

17 But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree. 18 But you must not brag about being grafted in to replace the branches that were broken off. You are just a branch, not the root.

 

19 “Well,” you may say, “those branches were broken off to make room for me.” 20 Yes, but remember—those branches were broken off because they didn’t believe in Christ, and you are there because you do believe. So don’t think highly of yourself, but fear what could happen. 21 For if God did not spare the original branches, he won’t[a] spare you either.

 

22 Notice how God is both kind and severe. He is severe toward those who disobeyed, but kind to you if you continue to trust in his kindness. But if you stop trusting, you also will be cut off. 23 And if the people of Israel turn from their unbelief, they will be grafted in again, for God has the power to graft them back into the tree. 24 You, by nature, were a branch cut from a wild olive tree. So if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into his cultivated tree, he will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong.

Reflection

I had to give up on a tree this week. For three years I kept holding on to the hope the tree would survive, but the tree I planted died. Even though it attracted the attention of numerous tree trimmers, I could not give up.

The tree was something so unique and it grew so beautifully, but then it began to wither. I stumbled onto the tree one spring among the trees offered at Westlake’s, and since it was June, it was on sale. I had never seen one before, but it caught my attention. So, the tree went home with me, I planted it, watered it, and watched in awe as it grew.

The corkscrew willow grew upwards into a beautiful conical shape. The slim little leaves danced in the wind, and it quickly shaded the dogs’ favorite spot to watch the world pass by. I was proud of my tree.

Then one year, I realized the leaves were withering and falling off. Yes, it was a dry year and willows do like water, so I watered it. It did not improve. The tree was not dead, the seasons passed, and I thought it would revive come spring.

Faith is much like the trees. Trees begin as a seed that just happens to fall into a space on this earth that nurtures us. Our faith is not always formally planted; sometimes a seed of faith is just dropped into our hearts and takes root.

How we develop faith is as complex as the types of soil and climates that nurture the expansive number of tree species. Trees have common traits, but they differ in form, uses, strengths and weaknesses. Some grow wild, independent of any special care; some are carefully sculpted into the small bonsai trees for decoration.

Paul’s letter to the Romans uses the process of grafting a tree to share how Christianity was grafted onto the Jewish faith. Paul’s mission grafted Gentiles onto the holy Jewish foundation: For if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be, too. (Romans 11:16)

Chopping down the corkscrew willow felt wrong because some branches were still green. Yet the main trunk was dead, so dry that it sounded hollow. Upon close inspection, I discovered that the green was coming from new trunks growing from the roots, right up along the dead trunk. They were grafted onto the trunk and I could not see any way to cut out the dead and let the green continue.

What do I do? Mom always said to trim trees in September or April—sap drains down or sap rises. The weather already showed that the sap was back up the branches, but only about a fourth of the branches seemed to be green. What should I do?

A little research on line provided me new ideas and inspiration. The corkscrew willow was easy to start. In fact one website indicated that one inch of a willow twig had the growth hormone equal to the powder growth home sold in a bottle. One inch of that willow in a pot of soil could make anything grow.

The same site explained that just a sprout of the willow could be put into water and it would sprout roots within a week although it recommended letting it stay in water at least two weeks before trying to plant in dirt. What could I do?

I pruned some of the healthiest green branches and went to work. I cut some pieces that had a leaf joint and planted them in the dirt. I took some small pieces and placed them in water. I even took longer branches and stuck them directly into potting soil, watched and waited.

It worked! The roots in water were visible within a week. In fact it has been three weeks and now I am wondering where I should put them.

The branches stuck into the potting soil are not looking very good. The temperature since I did cut them dropped a couple of nights and the green leaves look as though they froze. The twigs have some green, but I am not sure I followed directions successfully and they may not survive.

But the biggest surprises are the one to two inch pieces of twigs, stripped of the leaves. The pots into which I pushed them are showing brand new growth on all the twigs. What I did, worked!

The effort to try something new is paying off. The original corkscrew willow is now a pile of brush on the curb waiting to be picked up. I had to make a tough decision, but each little branch I worked to save is a promise of a new corkscrew willow to grow tall once again.

Faith is a tree in our lives. We must do whatever we can to see that it grows. Sometimes we have to prune out the dead in our lives or even restart from just a glimmer of faith and build it up again. Sometimes the faith seed we plant, takes much longer to root than the one-inch piece of the willow, but the promise of new faith is there.

The metaphor of the corkscrew willow is an example of how faith grows, dies, and regrows in our lives and the lives of others. As a gardener, I must do whatever I can to nurture faith grows strong and hearty even if that means having to prune, root or cut down the tree.

Paul’s mission took Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection grafting God’s message of love into new cultures. His work sharing the story and continuing God’s mission established a church that is now the global church. The Christian faith tree did not grow trouble free, and it continues to survive despite human plagues trying to cut it down.

Each one of us must grow our own faith tree, but we are also gardeners who have a responsibility to nurture faith trees around us. The corkscrew branches may grow straight up the trunk reaching for the sun, or they may reach outward to the east, the west, the north or the south.

If you study the patterns of the twigs, you can also see that it twists and turns much like our lives do. Faith in God, when carefully tended, makes it possible for those twists and turns to turn into strong, beautiful twigs, branches, trees, and groves. Whatever we do, we must learn to grow faith trees as beautiful as the corkscrew willow. It takes faith, it takes knowledge, and it takes a faith community to keep the faith tree growing.

To summarize:

  • Analyze the health of one’s faith
  • Determine what is needed for healthy growth
  • Prune the deadwood and/or cut it down
  • Re-root or graft as necessary
  • Turn it over to God with prayer
  • Nurture the new growth
  • Be prepared to do it again

 

Closing prayer

Dear Father,

You are the gardener who planted seeds of faith.

You asked Abraham and all his descendants

To be gardeners, too, keeping evil away.

 

We, too, whether Jew or Gentile,

Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran or not,

Our faith brings us together in your garden.

 

Teach us the story and equip us

So we may tend your garden

In a world filled with evil weeds.

 

Open our hearts and minds

So we identify the challenges

To healthy faith and Christian lives.

 

Prune out the dead and the disease

In our faith tree

So we might be renewed.

 

Thank you, Lord,

For the trees and promises

Of life eternally. –Amen

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God’s Mission Never Ends

given on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Story: John 20:1-9, NLT

Early on Sunday morning,[a] while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.

 

The Story continues:     John 20: 11-16, NLT

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

 

Reflection on the story:            God’s Mission Never Ends . . .

Reading through the gospel story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, so many thoughts erupt in the mind. First, how? How in the world, especially today as we scientifically study the physical changes in our bodies from birth through death, how can a resurrection happen?

Thousands of years of questions cannot be answered, but the story hinges on the resurrection. Read the scriptures, not only in John, but also in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The stories are eerily identical. The most historical data collected apparently cannot void The Story as recorded in scripture. The Story continues, just as God’s mission continues.

If science and non-religious documents cannot refute God’s story, then the story continues along with the mission. Remember, God created the world but he gave his human creations free will. Sadly, free will lead to evil.

As Satan’s influence seemed to attract more and more human attention, evil became overwhelming. God made a decision that evil had to be eradicated. God now needed a team. As we read in the Old Testament that team was lead by Abraham, chosen for his faithful obedience.

The story continued through thousands of years with the descendants of Abraham and even the prophets. The evil continued and God made the decision to intervene personally with the birth of Jesus Christ.

And Christ, after three short years of ministry made a difference in God’s mission. Just three years, and God confidently decided the faithful were strong enough to carry on the mission independent of Jesus.

During Passover, the most holy of Jewish festivals, the Story shifts from the Jewish traditions to what are now the Christian traditions. Christ knew, he did all he could to prepare the Apostles, but he had to demonstrate his humanness being charged, tried, and crucified.

The details were horrific, the Apostles were confused and frightened, and the reality of Jesus’ death made no sense. Huddled together for a very long Sabbath, one can only wonder what these faithful disciples were saying or what would happen next.

Sunday morning arrived, and the Story continues. Numbly those closest to Jesus took up the typical tasks of the day. Quietly. Slowly. The women made their way to the tomb. . . .

The Story goes on: John 20:19-23

That Sunday evening[b] the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 

Further reflection . . .

            . . . Shock! Fear! Confusion and chaos filled the lives of the Apostles and the earliest disciples. Rumors raced around the neighborhoods. The day’s routine had to be maintained, but at the same time so much was happening so quickly. What was going to happen next.

The women now knew the truth of the resurrection; and the men too had gone to witness the empty tomb. Yet, what were they going to do? What did this mean? How were they going to continue spreading the Word? How?

The questions had to be outnumbering the statements of belief. The chaos of loss turns into chaos of excitement with no clear plan of how to use the new reality. There would be those who believed, but what to do about those who did not. . . .

 

The Story resumes          John 20:26-29, NLT

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

 

Concluding reflection . . .

            God’s mission remains. The Story carries God’s message forward. The Apostles and the earliest disciples were given the mission—do all that you can to love God and to love one another in all the ways that you can for as long as you can.

The Story shares all the different ways evil can attack us. Evil has many faces as close as our own family and even our neighbors. Evil can look so inviting, but the intention turns so revolting. Decisions we make must be based on our Christian beliefs.

And what reality of the Easter story makes God’s mission easy? Christ lived. Christ died. Christ arose from the dead and lives. We, made in God’s image, must believe in the power of the cross. God sacrificed himself for us. By accepting this truth, we are forgiven. God’s mission succeeds when we accept Christ’s sacrifice, we are given life eternal and evil is destroyed.

 

The Story for today        John 20:30-31, NLT

30 The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe[d] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

 

Reflective benediction . . .

            The subtitle on the last two verses of John 20 is “The purpose.” God’s mission is our purpose and each time we share the Story with others, each time we serve one another in love, and each time we remember Jesus’ resurrection, we are blessed.

Your purpose is God’s mission. This Easter Sunday, as you leave this holy place, may you find the joy in knowing that you are forgiven and you are redeemed by your faith in God.

Closing prayer

Dear Heavenly, Loving Father,

Thank you for loving us day after day.

Thank you for forgiving us our sins.

Thank you for promising us life ever lasting.

We may not understand the Story.

We may not show our faith openly.

We may not shout out the love we feel .

Yet we love You and one another.

Yet we quietly serve one another in love.

Yet we believe in Your love and the promises.

May we live our days filled with love.

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Mission Control: Jesus & Us

Scripture connections: (from the Common Lectionary for Year C)

  • Joshua 5:9-12
  • Psalm 32 (UMH )
  • 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
  • Luke 15:1-3,11b-32

Reflection:

Years ago, a movie about a mission’s failure came out—Apollo 13—that provided a breath-taking account of how a mission doomed to failure was salvaged by two teams working together yet separate. The spacecraft circling the moon was doomed to failure if a solution was not found. NASA’s Mission Control frantically working to find a solution on earth with the Apollo 13 crew working within the confines of their own craft circling the moon kept in communication while searching for redemption.

The mission came so close to utter failure with the loss of an American astronaut crew looming. There was no giving up. There had to be a solution. At that time, there was no shuttle between earth and space; only oral communication linked the two physical settings. NASA may have been the creator of the mission, but it took all the teams in the control center and in the spacecraft to assure the mission succeeded.

During the past few Sundays, the mission God established for his chosen people arose out of the need to shut down the evil that existed. His creation was an entire world, but only one people successfully practiced faithfulness—the ancient Israelites. God needed a solution so he turned to Abraham and his descendants to serve as God’s messengers to spread the good news and transform the world.

The centuries recorded in the Old Testament includes the good versus evil conflicts that demonstrate God’s efforts to keep evil from spreading. The mission remained constant, but the efforts were inconsistent. Even the warnings from the prophets did not provide the lasting change God was seeking. The Old Testament concludes and God’s mission is in crisis.

In the Apollo 13 mission, failure was not an option nor is God’s mission. For thousands of years, by human standards, the mission was failing, repeatedly. God could no longer wait for humans to complete the mission. Time had arrived to fulfill the prophets’ warnings—a savior was needed.

The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are four different records of God’s personal solution to prevent his mission’s failure. God intervened by joining his chosen people on the earth he created. He was born as Jesus of Nazareth.

Why? Why would God decide he personally had to intervene and to teach his people what the mission was and how to accomplish it? Why?

In the Christopher Wright’s study, the problem is the world was evil, as evil as Sodom and Gomorrah; and the temptation to sin continued to grow. Scripture readings this week focus on God’s forgiveness, and the commentary develops the arguments for Jesus to intervene:

  • Joshua 5:9-12 emphasizes that God keeps His promises: the Israelites leave Egypt, are fed manna until they can produce their own food crops in the new, promised land.
  • Psalms 32 tells us that nothing is better than forgiveness.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 explains that forgiveness transforms one’s life and that by accepting forgiveness there is an inherent responsibility to share that experience with others—another words to accept God’s mission to share the good news.
  • Luke 15:1-3, 111b-32 is the recognizable story of the Prodigal Son; a parable that illustrates the importance of reconciliation with God; even the most broken relationship with God can be forgiven.[*]

 

Today’s world continues to be evil filled. The faithful seem forlorn with how to carry the mission further. American society no longer seems to reflect the faith-based principles upon which it was founded; instead society has shifted to a more-secular, legalistic base that complicates the simplicity of God’s one commandment—love one another. The free will of man places self-centered life before a God-centered life. This shift makes it so much easier for Satan (evil) to take control. Humans are again living in a Sodom-and-Gomorrah-like world.

How does one resume a God-centered world? Begin with confession. One must acknowledge that God is not the center of his or her life. When life seems comfortable and no major problems are interrupting daily life, losing sight of God and his law is easy. When life around us gets busy and Sunday morning arrives, going to worship loses out to a few more hours of rest and relaxation.   When finances become tight and the only solution seems to be work more, the practices of one’s faith lose priority.

In the lectionary’s commentary, sin is defined

“in biblical terms, [as] a condition from which none of us is free (Rom. 3:23); it is also a self-chosen act, like knowing the good and not doing it (James 4:17).[†]

 

Sin breaks the relationship with God, and identifying our sin must happen before God forgives you. Wright separates sin from forgiveness:

. . . “the ache deep in our hearts that comes from recognizing the hurts inflicted on ourselves or others that litter the landscape of our lives.[‡]

 

An ache—in other words we find ourselves hurting because of sin. Additionally, what we did has hurt our own self and/or others in the process. The action may have been only once, but maybe it is ongoing. Once we identify the cause of the ache, confession begins the return to a God-centered life.

Confessing one’s sin is not a quick, one-time fix. Once we confess our sin, then God expects us to return to the faithful practices that John Wesley referred to as the acts of piety and the acts of mercy. Confessing is simply step one in re-establishing a relationship with God, one that returns us to his mission to reclaim his creation from evil.

Is returning from sin possible? Absolutely. With God, it is possible. God forgives us as long as “[we deliberately release] the claim we have on another [focus]. “[§] God and his mission must be the focus. We must deliberately return to God by following the very teachings provided by Jesus as preserved in the four books of the gospel.

God did not give up on his mission. During the thousands of years that passed since he identified Abraham and his descendants to take control of God’s mission, God did not reach its ultimate goal. God’s concern that the mission would fail led him to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament by the birth of Jesus.

The four books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell the story of Jesus’ birth, ministry, and resurrection. God’s mission is retold and the team is identified to spread the gospel of the good news forward—in time and in new locations.

The movie Apollo 13, illustrates how teamwork between Mission Control and the crew can successfully solve a problem. God needed an earthly team to fight evil, so he selected Abraham and his descendants. In the end, he stepped onto the earth to work with the earthly team as Jesus.

Today, we are Abraham’s descendants because we accept Jesus, also a descendant, as our redeemer. He lived on this earth, teaching and modeling how to be God’s co-worker on this earth.

To be part of the earthly team, we can find success as long as we deliberately confess our sins, return to the teachings of Jesus, know the story that we are to share, and then do all we can to see that God’s mission continues.

[Let us now join in the Responsive Reading, UMH 766, Psalm 32, as our confession of sin as we share in the Service of the Word and Table, UMH p. 12.]

 

Closing prayer:

Dear God of All,

As we open our hearts to you,

help us to deliberately name our human errors.

As we listen to words of scripture,

help us to find the guidance we need to live God-centered lives.

As we work hand in hand as a team,

help us to share your story in words and ways others hear.

As we continue through the season of reflection,

help us recommit ourselves to your mission. –Amen.

 

 

[*] (Wilson 2012) p. 86.

[†] Ibid, p. 87.

[‡] Ibid, p. 89.

[§] Ibid

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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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