Tag Archives: Lent

I know. Ash Wednesday over, Lent begins. I’m not ready.

The long, cold winter has so consumed my psyche that I was unprepared to accept the arrival of March.  We seem so far away from the typical spring images that usually accompany March. 

And accompanying that, I was surprised when I realized that Tuesday was Mardi Gras, which meant that Wednesday was Ash Wednesday and today is the first day of Lent!  Oh my goodness, how the time flies.

This has caused me to struggle wondering why Lent has snuck up on me.  I suppose one reason is the weather, but a second is that I have not had to prepare for the season as I have the past 10 years.  This is a season as a parishioner, not as a pastor.

I admit to feeling a bit guilty because I have no plans, no identified fasting plan or any 40-day practice.  The 40-day period of giving up something or doing something as a spiritual practice has always been a challenge for me.  This places me in an awkward position:  Is it too late?

Committing to the year-long Bible reading plan, I have already implemented a very structured practice.  This is not just sitting down and reading a novel, this is study.  My 40-day challenge is realistically a 365-day challenge.

Therefore I should not feel so guilty, should I?

Add to this study, though, is an additional reading I have just completed.  Based on a friend’s recommendation I have read through Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms(2006).  

The nine chapters take one through a process to establish the spiritual practices that develop–or maybe a better word is enriches—one’s spirituality.

Barton offers a personal viewpoint on the practices while providing the rationale, the scriptural basis, and the encouragement needed to reorganize one’s life to be more mindful of one’s own spirituality.  

The chapters outline the various practices as solitude, scripture, prayer, honoring the body, self-examination, discernment, and Sabbath.  

John Wesley also identified the individual acts of piety as means to strengthen one’s spirituality, also.  The United Methodist Church’s website lists these as “. . . reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others” [Accessed on March 7, 2019 at umc.org].

There are differences, I realize, but Barton confronts the problems that our culture faces in this 21stcentury that Wesley could not have imagined.  Wesley’s acts of piety do still apply, but having Barton explain how today’s technological world and demanding family life do not have to interfere with these practices.

Therefore, as I continue working through the year-long Bible reading plan, I am going to reread Barton’s book with a pencil in my hand to make additional notes.  My Lent will be to review, release today’s world, and to work on developing a 21stcentury plan, or as she calls it, rule of life for myself.  

I may still be unprepared for Lent in the traditional sense, but I must forgive myself and acknowledge that whenever and however I work to improve my personal spiritual practices is the ultimate goal. Isn’t that what Lent is?

Please join in prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

You are my teacher.  

You are my healer.

You are my redeemer.

Forgive me for letting the world step in the way.

Forgive me for worrying that I am not perfect.

Forgive me that I procrastinate in growing spiritually.

Thank you for the words of others who teach.

Thank you for the words of those who help me heal.

Thank you for the words of scripture that are timeless.

Guide me in my understanding.

Guide me in making better time for scripture.

Guide me in adding scriptural practices

     that work for life eternal.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit,

With Jesus Christ your son,

And you, our Lord, I Am.  –Amen

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The Family of Jacob

Sermon given for the 4th Sunday of Lent–a mini-series.

Scripture connections: (using the New Living Translation)

Genesis 25:19-26

     This is the account of the family of Isaac, the son of Abraham. 20 When Isaac was forty years old, he married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan-aram and the sister of Laban the Aramean.

     21 Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was unable to have children. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins. 22 But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked.

     23 And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.”

     24 And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins!25 The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau.[a] 26 Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob.[b] Isaac was sixty years old when the twins were born.

Genesis 28:10-17

     10 Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

     13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

Genesis 28:20-22

“. . . If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. 22 And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”

Genesis 32:24-29

     24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

     27 “What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

     28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel,[a] because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”

     29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.

“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.

 

Reflection: The Family of Jacob

Working through the stories of the Old Testament Bible is showing some interesting life patterns. Obviously the stories of Adam’s and Noah’s family are related because they offer new beginnings—the first a creation story and the second a re-creation story.

Abraham’s story has an interesting comparison to Jacob’s story, too. Obviously, giving birth to sons was an ancient cultural expectation (and really some cultures today still have similar values). The first-born son carried on the family lineage. Therefore, if a woman was barren, the lineage was jeopardized.

Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren and so was Jacob’s wife Rachel. The pressure to have sons lead both wives to encourage their husbands to have a child through their hand-maiden, through a surrogate in today’s terms.

This similarity is interesting, but really is not a major focus of the lessons Jacob’s family can teach us today. The lesson Jacob’s family has for us is not wrapped up in the genealogical similarities and differences, but rather a lesson on forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a common theme in all the stories of the Old Testament families. As humans, we make mistakes. As faithful followers of God, we must learn to accept our human mistakes and ask for forgiveness.

Jacob was a twin, but he was the second one born. His twin was Esau and, by the ancient culture’s standards, would take over as head of the family upon his father’s death. But, Esua focused on hunting and on immediate needs rather than using farsighted planning; so when he was hungry, Jacob easily traded his birthright with him for a hearty stew.

The family dynamics changed at that moment. God’s story does not follow the human culture; it follows human decisions.   Humans make mistakes, use poor judgment, manipulate situations, and cheat each other. Jacob was human and he made mistakes; so why is his story preserved?

A profile of Jacob includes this analysis:

  1. Strengths & accomplishments—father of the 12 tribes of Israel; 3rd in the Abrahamic line of God’s plan; determined & willing to work long and hard for what he wanted; and a good businessman.
  2. Weaknesses and mistakes—when faced with conflict relied on his own resources rather than going to God for help; and tended to accumulate wealth for its own sake.

This analysis compares to many humans, male and female. All of us have strengths and weaknesses. We all are susceptible to temptation; we all make the wrong decisions; yet we also are given certain gifts that we can choose to use or to ignore. Jacob used his gifts to get what he wanted.

Not only did he trick his own twin to get his birthright, but he also tricked Esua later to get his father’s final blessing.   Jacob’s role as the father of the 12 tribes of Israel was the result of trickery. How easy to miss the lesson of God’s forgiveness when the story appears to be based on human weakness.

God knows we are weak. He knows we are gong to make mistakes, but he also accepts us for our weaknesses. And amazingly, when we maintain a faithful life, we have the potential to take a negative and make it into a positive—with God’s help.

Jacob tricked Esua, and then his mother Rebecca urged him to go and stay with her brother Laban. The story is complicated as Rebecca wanted Jacob to marry one of her people; and even when he finds Rachel, his uncle continues the trickery and he ends up with Leah.

One trick seems to lead to another. Yet, one of Jacob’s strengths—hardworking—drives him to reach his ultimate goal of marrying Rachel as well as Leah. At the same time, Jacob was a successful businessman and became wealthy.

And beneath Jacob’s human story lies faithfulness in God woven into the story through Jacob’s dream:

     10 Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

     13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

 

The dream moved Jacob into action, building a memorial pillar where he had the dream and names it Bethel. And he made a vow:

“. . . If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. 22 And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”

 

The dream establishes the faithful relationship Jacob has with God. The complicated story of Jacob’s life as he goes on to his uncle’s land and earning his wives, Leah and Rachel, teaches that God is with us always.

Not one of you can look back at your lives and say it was simple because you believed in God. Each one of you can look at your life and recognize that you made mistakes, but God never left your side. Jacob was not a model of perfection, but God used his weaknesses and his strengths to carry the story forward.

The Story: God loves us. God forgives us.

Jacob’s story is complicated and begins with his birth in Genesis 25 and ends with his death in Genesis 49. The twists and turns in Jacob’s life are really no different than those you and I experience in our own lives.

When Jacob decided to seek out Esua and make amends, he was so worried that Esua would be angry that he sent gifts and even sent others before him with messages before he risked crossing into Esua’s land.

And that night, while alone, Jacob wrestled with God:

     24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

     27 “What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

     28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”

     29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.

“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.

Jacob’s story shows us how God used him to continue developing the nation of faithful followers. The story is filled with human faults as human stories continue to be filled with faults. Yet, the Old Testament story continues through the Jacob’s lineage as we learn of his youngest son Joseph.

The families of Adam, Noah, Abraham and Jacob share common themes: God’s unconditional love, the value of faithfulness, and the forgiveness of sins. The stories are preserved by the generations so you can learn the truth of living a God-centered life. You may wrestle with God, but remaining faithful will maintain the relationship throughout eternity.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father of all the generations,

You are with us always,

Waiting on us to accept your love.

You are with us when we do wrong,

Waiting for us to admit our mistakes.

You offer us forgiveness

When we turn back to you.

 

Thank you for the work of the faithful

Shared in the stories of your servants.

Thank you for sending us Jesus Christ

Who showed us how to live faithfully.

Thank you for speaking to us personally

Through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

May we be your disciples

Working to transform others

Through unconditional love, too. –Amen

 

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The Family of Noah

Sermon given for the 2nd Sunday of Lent; a mini-series on the Old Testament families.

Scripture connections (using the New Living Translation):

Genesis 5:32

After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Genesis 6: 5-10

     The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” But Noah found favor with the Lord.

     This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God. 10 Noah was the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Genesis 6:14-22

     14 “Build a large boat[c] from cypress wood[d] and waterproof it with tar, inside and out. Then construct decks and stalls throughout its interior. 15 Make the boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high.[e] 16 Leave an 18-inch opening[f] below the roof all the way around the boat. Put the door on the side, and build three decks inside the boat—lower, middle, and upper.

     17 “Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die. 18 But I will confirm my covenant with you. So enter the boat—you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 19 Bring a pair of every kind of animal—a male and a female—into the boat with you to keep them alive during the flood. 20 Pairs of every kind of bird, and every kind of animal, and every kind of small animal that scurries along the ground, will come to you to be kept alive. 21 And be sure to take on board enough food for your family and for all the animals.”

     22 So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.

Genesis 10: 2 & 5, 6 & 20, 21 & 31-32

     The descendants of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. . . . Their descendants became the seafaring peoples that spread out to various lands, each identified by its own language, clan, and national identity. . . .

     The descendants of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. . . . 20 These were the descendants of Ham, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity. . . .

     21 Sons were also born to Shem, the older brother of Japheth.[g] Shem was the ancestor of all the descendants of Eber. . . . 31 These were the descendants of Shem, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity.

     32 These are the clans that descended from Noah’s sons, arranged by nation according to their lines of descent. All the nations of the earth descended from these clans after the great flood.

Genesis 11:10 & 26

10 This is the account of Shem’s family. . . . 26 After Terah was 70 years old, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

 

Reflection: And Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham & Japheth

Yes, we have certainly seen Mother Nature’s rain and ice this week, but I know it cannot compare to the flood that Noah and his family experienced. In fact, the closest experience I can personally remember is the flood of 1993. That was to be the 500-year flood, and since then there have been more floods and natural disasters that might tempt one to say God was trying to destroy the world again.

But then there is the rainbow that inevitably appears and we are reminded of God’s covenant with Noah. God promised never to completely destroy the world and all that lives.

Why, then do we still read Noah’s story and look for the lessons that apply to our 21st world? The Bible is our textbook, our inspiration to manage the world that swirls around us. The timeless lessons of Noah still apply to our lives today even with all the technological advances, the instant communication, and the global community.

First, consider the Bible’s description of the world through God’s eyes as described in Genesis 6:5-6:

     The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart.

I can understand the heartache God experiences as he looks at how evil seems to overwhelm his creation because I see the evil that surrounds us each and every day. John Wesley explained:

“The stream of sin was full and strong, and constant; and God saw it.” What did God see? God saw that every imaginative and cognitive impulse of the human heart is persistently evil.” (200911-12)

Wesley’s explanation of the sin God saw in Noah’s time still describes the evil that continues to persist in our world today.

The ancient scripture is just as applicable today as it was then. Noah’s life example is a lesson for us today. We must not ignore it as we live our own lives. One of Wesley’s core terms as annotated in the Wesley Study Bible develops the affect of sin: “Sin distorts our whole being, our relationships with God and other people, our ideas of success, and even our relation to wealth.” (200911)

Noah, though, was an exception. He was an example of faithfulness to God. And in Genesis 6:8, this is recorded: But Noah found favor with the Lord.” Noah is the only model of faithfulness that caused God to save humanity . . .

“[Noah’s faithfulness became] . . . the relief for humanity. This description focuses on his moral innocence (“righteousness”), his acceptance before God (“blameless’), and the consistent intimacy of his relationship with God (“walked with God).” (200912)

Today this forces us to stop and reflect on our own relationship with God. Can we honestly say we live a life faithful to God? Or do we fail?

The Biblical story of Noah is a reminder of how God does know the honesty of our faithfulness. We are responsible to model our Christian beliefs in order to defend ourselves from evil as well as make a difference in the world when we demonstrate the unconditional love God has for us by loving one another unconditionally, too.

Fortunately, Noah’s story does not simply conclude with the waters of the flood receding. No. Noah’s story continues through his family. Sadly, Noah’s wife is not listed, but the three sons are: Japheth, Ham and Shem. The story continues as God assigns Noah the responsibility to save all the animals and to repopulate the earth.

Once the floodwaters receded, Noah continued to follow God’s instructions. Today, we continue to follow some of those changes:

  1. Humans began eating meat
  2. Humans were not to eat blood, only flesh drained of blood
  3. Noah began farming as he cultivated grapes for wine production (an entire sermon can be developed around what happened when Noah got drunk, but the key to Noah and his family is their faithfulness and how the world was repopulated as a result)

These are changes we might not consider particularly newsworthy, but these changes shifted human culture. The sons and their wives repopulated the world and that leads to so many discussions, but remember the stories in the Old Testament are carefully selected to maintain the history and the genealogical connection to Jesus Christ.

For this reason, the sons are named in scripture. The verses in Genesis 10 carefully list the sons and their descendants.   This record identifies the way the world was repopulated and even outlines their purpose, so to speak:

     The descendants of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. . . . Their descendants became the seafaring peoples that spread out to various lands, each identified by its own language, clan, and national identity. . . .

     The descendants of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. . . . 20 These were the descendants of Ham, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity. . . .

     21 Sons were also born to Shem, the older brother of Japheth. Shem was the ancestor of all the descendants of Eber. . . . 31 These were the descendants of Shem, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity.

     32 These are the clans that descended from Noah’s sons, arranged by nation according to their lines of descent. All the nations of the earth descended from these clans after the great flood.

As noted in the Wesley Study Bible:

The names in the list are sometimes individuals, sometimes locations, and at other times people groups, illustrating the use of genealogies to create a kind of ethnic map of the world. (200916)

This understanding may help us understand why the Bible includes Noah’s story, but the lesson on faithfulness is no less important for us today. We must remain faithful to God and to live a life that demonstrates our understanding of God’s unconditional love. Are we living as an image—or reflection—of God?

The image of God is also a core term for Wesleyan theology:

As love is the very image of God for Wesley, love should be the sole principle of every feeling, thought, word, and deed: human character should reflect what God is—Love. (200914)

Today we must live our lives as the image of God, as LOVE. We are human and we will make mistakes. But we must do the very best that we can to live faithful lives as Noah did.

God promised Noah that he would never destroy all the earth again and set a rainbow as evidence of that promise. We may take confidence in that promise, but it does not mean we can ignore our responsibility to live a righteous, God-center, love-filled life.

Neither do we have to worry that we are called to repopulate the earth, Noah’s family did that. And through that lineage, we continue the story of the faithful. Noah was ten generations removed from Adam, and Noah’s son Shem is the direct connection to Abraham as identified in Genesis 11:

10 This is the account of Shem’s family [Shem was a multiple great grandfather of Terah]. . . . 26 After Terah was 70 years old, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

The span between Noah and Abraham was also ten generations. (Family Tree of the Bible 2018)

Noah and his family show us that despite all the evil that exists around us, we can be and are to be faithful. We are to carry God’s love forward into the world. We are the hope God has for this world we have been given. Do not take that responsibility lightly. Love one another.

Closing prayer

Dear patient and loving Father,

We see the evil in this world, and cry out.

We see the pain caused by anger, and hurt, too.

Talk to us through the ancient words of scripture.

Show us the way through the example of Noah.

Grant us courage as we struggle each day

To remain faithful followers

Striving to love unconditionally. –Amen.

Works Cited

Family Tree of the Bible. February 21, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_tree_of_the_Bible.

The Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2009.

 

 

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Icy morning thoughts on the Tree of Life

IMG_2086Since we had to cancel church due to the thin, but dangerous ice coating, I am thinking about my message concerning the Tree of Life.  The more I read and study scripture, the more I realize the significance of the symbolism.

Today, we are confined due to the ice, but that does not confine our hearts and minds.  The Tree of Life symbolizes two concepts:  The Church that continues to carry Jesus’ teachings on through time and eternal life.

The Church is not the denomination, The Church is the work of the faithful who see all the ways to love one another.  We were watching the news and caught an add from Massachuettes Mutual Insurance.  The entire ad clearly documented all the good that is done all around this country when one loves one another.  It was so impressive.

Sadly, the message had to be funded by a corporation, but the message is worth every penny spent in making and airing it.  Thank you to Mass Mutual for doing so.  We need a reminder of all the good that does exist in our world.

In the stained glass window now installed at Leawood, KS’s Church of the Resurrection, the Tree of Life is surrounded by all the saints that continued carrying Jesus’ message of loving one another throughout history.  The Church is alive and it is something that we are quick to forget or to overlook.

The Tree of Life also has a second symbolic message–eternal life.  This is a sticky subject for many, but as I step outside into the natural world of the ice covered yard, the birds singing, the sun trying to peak out, and the breeze (even when it is only 16 degrees), I am renewed with the knowledge that even in the depth of winter, new life does exist.

Eternal life is no mystery for me.  Eternal life is a life cycle.  There is birth, earthly existence, death and then eternity.  I cannot look up to the night sky and see all the possibility of life beyond my human understanding.  I cannot accept that when this human form dies, the spirit dies.  I believe.

The Tree of Life stands firm in my life.  I look at the Celtic images and see the unending knot woven into their designs and I feel a sense of peace.  I study the Celtic Tree of Life and understand how complex and promising the life cycle that it represents.  And I thank God for getting to live this life and for the promise that remains.

Lent begins this week and I find it difficult to see these next few weeks filled with depressive thoughts and sorrow.  I anticipate the renewal of life as winter ends and spring begins.  Still, I suppose, we all need time to reevaluate our lives and consciously reflect on how we have lived and how we can improve.  Therefore, I will work to prepare sermons based the Old Testament families who struggled to remain faithful and whose life experiences provide us today with lessons on remaining faithful to God and following Jesus’ teaching to love one another.

Winter has its grip on us today with the coating of ice, but the mind never has to be frozen.  Use today to add to your own understanding of God’s messages.  Look closely at the Tree of Life in all its visual representations shared on the web, and find hope.

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Lent 2017: Who do you say I am?

 

given on Sunday, April 2, 2017 as the 5th in a series for Lent 2017:  A season of mindfulness. . . 

Lent, a season of mindfulness: Each Sunday of Lent a memory verse and a challenge will be given as an exercise in mindfulness. The memory verses are selected from O. S. Hawkins’s book, The Joshua Code and the Jesus Code. This book has 52 verses from the Joshua Codes and 52 verses from the Jesus Code recommended to commit to memory. In Hawkins’s introduction, he states, “Scripture memorization enables us to take God’s Word with us anywhere and everywhere without carrying our Bibles. It enables us to receive the Word into our hearts, retain it in our minds, and recite it with our mouths that we might speak it with power.” (p.11)

Review of the memory verses for Lent 2017

  • Week 1: Did God really say that? (Genesis 3:1)
  • Week 2: Who am I? (Exodus 3:11)
  • Week 3: If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened?   (Judges 6:13)
  • Week 4: Who among you fears/reveres the Lord? (Isaiah 50:10)
  • Week 5: Who do you say I am? (Matthew 16:15)

Scripture connection:

John 1:35-39, NLT

35 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. 36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.

38 Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them.

They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day.

John 1:40-50, NLT

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. 41 Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).

42 Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”).

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.

45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.

47 As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”

48 “How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”

49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.”

Matthew 16:13-18, NLT

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.

Matthew 16:19, NLT

And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

Reflection: Who do you say I am?

Week’s memory verse:  Who do you say I am? (Matthew 16:15, NLT)

Week’s challenge: Check you license to see when it needs renewing. Then check to see if you need to renew your relationship with God either through communion or a renewal of baptism. (Baptism review/class begins Tuesday, 4-5 pm)

 

Just in case you might wonder, I do have a drivers’ license. You have to believe me that it is valid, even though I have to renew it this month. The drivers’ license is one document that explains who I am. There are a variety of ways to identify who I am, but sometimes I do not carry them and others must depend on my word or the word of someone who can vouch for me.

In ancient times, identification may not have been as simple as producing a drivers’ license to verify who you were. Word of mouth or the personal knowledge of someone else might help identify you.

Today’s memory verse is included in the story of Jesus’ calling of the disciples. These men were the first chosen by Jesus to learn the new covenant, how to live under the new law, and how to spread the good news. Jesus had to know whether or not they honestly could state that he was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God or, as Peter states, the Son of the Living God. Answering the question correctly served as the final test to become a member of the inner circle of disciples, the chosen apostles.

The scripture in Matthew includes two references to the question: (1) Who do they/the people say I am? (2) Who do you say I am? The first question refers to what the Pharisees and other people are saying while the second question is directed to the disciple himself. The second question calls for a personal response. Jesus is checking that Peter has realized that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, not John the Baptist, not Elijah, or some other prophet.

Imagine Peter’s nervousness as Jesus asks him to identify who he was? Jesus did not tell Peter that he was being tested, nor did Peter anticipate the challenge.   The conversation among those around Jesus probably started when someone said something they had overheard in town or along the roadside. Jesus was part of this conversation and was asking about others when he turned to Peter and focused just on him.

Do you remember how nervous you were when you got your drivers’ license? Growing up on the farm, I knew how to drive. I had driven tractors, the pickups, the cars, and even the stock truck. I was not worried that I could actually drive a car, and I even took drivers ed; so when I walked up to take the written test, I was confident I knew what I was doing. And I did pass the written test. Then I immediately asked to take the road test. Again, I was confident that I could do it. But when the driver instructor got out of the car, he had a surprise for me: Come back in two weeks and then take the road test again.

Final test questions are scary even if you know what the right answer is. I expect Simon Peter was surprised when Jesus turned to him and asked that final question, “Who do you say I am?” I suspect there was a bit of shock on his face wondering just why Jesus was asking him because he was one of those hand picked to follow him. Wasn’t he sitting right there and going with him wherever Jesus went?

The scuttlebutt was running rapid and now Jesus is asking what he personally believed. The pressure was on him to answer quickly and correctly. And Peter did answer, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Whew! Jesus approved the answer and even renamed Simon as Peter, the Rock. Jesus not only approved, he identified Peter as the foundation of the entire movement—the church. Peter was given a license to drive the movement forward.

“Who do you say I am?” is a question each Christian must answer. Regardless of how we were introduced to Jesus, the question is how personally convinced we are that Jesus is the Son of God, our Messiah, our Savior. Answering that question honestly can be difficult. Living in our culture, we are taught not to trust our gut instincts or word of mouth or hear say. We are taught that reality or truth is something that can be scientifically, concretely proven. Personally knowing God just because we “think” he is real probably is not going to win many arguments.

Hal Knight, a Wesleyan theologian, has focused on discipleship in his monthly column in The Missouri Methodist. He first explains that (1) discipleship is not simply attending church, and (2) discipleship is not just learning information. Being a disciple means knowing and following Jesus and that comes through establishing “. . . a relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. . . . not just know about him (Knight 2017).” (emphasis added.)

In Matthew, Jesus responds to Peter’s answer as a truth revealed to Peter by God. In John, even though Peter’s brother is attributed as the one who tells Peter and Nathanial who Jesus is, Jesus does not ask if they know who he is; instead, he tells them what they were thinking even before they came to find him. The disciples knew who Jesus was through the Holy Spirit.

Today we join together at the table to partake of the bread and the cup, a tradition established by the early church as a means to renew the relationship we have with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, we also can answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”

As disciples of Jesus, we are commissioned just like the first disciples were. We are to do more than just attend church on Sunday morning. We are to do more than just learn. Like getting a drivers’ license, one cannot pass the driving test until one does drive. When I walked into the testing site two weeks later, the examiner looked up as I started out the door with a different examiner he said, “She is ready for her license today. She just needed two weeks of experience.”

Each time we walk to the table for the bread and the cup, we are reminded that we are equipped to be disciples. We know that Jesus was born as the son of man and woman. We know that Jesus grew up being trained in the Jewish faith. We know that his ministry lasted about three years before he was arrested, tried, and crucified on a wooden cross, died and buried in a stone tomb, and then three days later arose from the dead.

When Jesus asked Simon Peter “Who do you say I am?” we are tested, too. Through the sacrament of word and table, we answer by affirming our understanding of the mystery of faith:

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

Today, you are answering the question personally. You are coming to the table stepping forward in faith that you are equipped by the Holy Spirit to be a disciple sharing the good news by word and deed. You may be sitting in the drivers seat, but God is doing the driving through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

 

Closing prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

 

As the disciples gathered around Jesus,

They were asked, “Who do you say that I am?”

Today, we gather at the table,

And are asked, “Who do you say that I am?”

 

         May you reveal the answer

So we may answer with confidence,

“You are Jesus Christ,

our Redeemer,

our Savior,

the Messiah.”

 

As we share the bread and the cup,

Fill us with the Holy Spirit

Renewing our relationship with you

The Father,

The Son, and

The Holy Spirit. –Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lent 2017: f God is for us, who can be against us?

given on Sunday, March 19, 2017:  Week 3 of Lent 2017:  A Season of Mindfulness

Scripture Connections:

Judges 6:6-16, NLT

So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.

When they cried out to the Lord because of Midian, the Lord sent a prophet to the Israelites. He said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of slavery in Egypt. I rescued you from the Egyptians and from all who oppressed you. I drove out your enemies and gave you their land. 10 I told you, ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you now live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”

13 “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”

15 “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”

16 The Lord said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”

 

2 Corinthians 1:3-11. NLT

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters,[b] about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 11 And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.

 

Romans 5:6-11, NLT

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

 

Week’s memory verse:  . . . “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?

Week’s challenge: Remember. Record. Reorder. Spend time writing down the tough times in your life that you felt discouraged. Then write down what God did in your life as a result of the tough times.

 

Reflection: If God is for us, who can be against us?

Glory be! Two days ago we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day and now we are just two days away from the first day of Spring—so much green, and it truly is green. A few days ago a deep freeze attacked the spring flowers, the Bradford pear blossoms and the tender green wheat, but that cold snap was just a momentary lapse in an extraordinarily mild winter.

A cold snap like that easily discourages gardeners and farmers watching the young plants they so carefully planted and nourish. Once the wheat or any seed/seedling is planted, human control is relinquished and God, through the forces of nature, assumes control. Trusting God is tough.

In Judges 6, Gideon is doing his best to harvest the wheat. Even the harvest has to be done as secretively as possible, but the Midianites along with other tribes keep attacking and taking all the harvest. The Israelites become discouraged and turn away from God returning to idol worship. For seven years, the Israelites battle to survive under these difficult conditions, and God’s angel shows up and talks to Gideon:

11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”

 

Imagine the surprise Gideon experienced. Here is inside a winepress, a hole in the earth, trying to clean his wheat in hiding. The conditions were not good and the task extremely difficult in that setting. He hardly felt like a hero much less that the Lord was with him at that moment. He had to be discouraged, frustrated, and exhausted after seven years of failure.

Undoubtedly we can all think of similar experiences. I know that Dad used to say that a drought year would occur about every seven years. Living on a small farm during the 1960s and 1970s, the challenges left my parents discouraged over and over. But farming was their life. The land, the cattle, and the crops provided the structure of life itself. Those years of drought were tough, but I never saw their faith in God fail, either.

The stories in the Old Testament and the New Testament are filled with examples of how the faithful are tested over and over with challenges. The problems cover the very basic needs of humans—food, clothing and shelter, first; but also the next level of human needs as identified by Maslow Hierarchy of Human Needs, that includes security and safety. (McLeod 2016) Gideon and the Israelites were struggling with all these human needs when the angel showed up. Certainly, Gideon doubted what the angel was saying so he replied:

 

13 . . . “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

 

Three weeks ago the first memory verse was introduced from Genesis 3:1—“Did God really say that?” The challenge then was to consider the 5 Ds that the Devil can use to tempt us into following him rather than God: doubt, discouragement, divisiveness, defeat, and delay. Gideon and the Israelites were being tempted by the Devil just as we are tempted when life challenges bombard us over and over again.

How many times in your own lives have you become discouraged because life kept knocking you down over and over again? No where in the Bible does God promise an easy life, rather he gives us the laws or commandments and the people to guide us in our life so we can manage the Devil’s temptations along with the simple challenges of managing to meet the basic needs in our life of food, clothing, shelter, security and safety. And still we become discouraged.

Meeting with a few friends recently, I heard testimony that reminded me how difficult seeing God at work in our lives really becomes. I cannot imagine any single person hearing this today not having a life filled with challenges, but my friend spoke through tears as she testified how God had worked in her life. This woman lost a son during his elementary years. Then her husband was diagnosed with cancer and died while she still had twin sons living at home. All the time she was a teacher, working full time.

As she spoke, she reminded us that at the time she was angry and scared; but as she continued getting up each morning and going to work, she could see God working in her life in unexpected ways. She added in pieces about professional decisions and her sense of discouragement. Yet, she remained faithful and today she can see how God worked even in her most painful days.

  1. S. Hawkins shares in The Jesus Code an interesting explanation of how God reaches out using a comparison to professional lifeguards:

When [professional lifeguards] spotted someone in trouble in the ocean, the guards swam out to them but did not immediately lay hold of them. Instead the guards would tread water just beyond arm’s length. Why? The drowning swimmer’s kicking and thrashing and struggling could well take them both down and under. But when the struggling swimmers neared the end of their strength—when, in essence, they said, “I give out. . .I give in . . . I give up;” when they realized they were unable to save themselves—then the rescue began, and they were pulled safely to shore. (Hawkins 2015, 307)

 

The logic of the lifesaving technique seems to go against everything we might think, but only when the fight is gone can the lifeguards succeed.

God is our lifeguard. We must not ever forget that he is always just an arm’s length away waiting for us. He waits for us to “give out, to give in, and to give up” as Hawkins explains. Only when we have given up and turned our lives over to God, can God move in and save us.

My friend learned this. My mom learned this. And from knowing you, you have learned this. Today’s memory verse may be from the Old Testament, but it is a theme carried throughout the Bible. Jesus himself had to experience life challenges throughout his ministry, even dying on the cross in order to save us today. Paul, too, had to go through blindness in order to see God working to save him.

In Gideon’s question to God, “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” sounds familiar, then so should God’s answer: “I will be with you.” God never abandons us. God reached out to us through the arms of Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ saves us because he died on the cross for us.

How do we demonstrate our faith so we can serve as God’s arms? The answer is provided in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

 

Look back over the words in today’s reading and notice how many times Paul repeats that idea: He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. By my count, I see it listed five times in the verses 4-7.

My friend said almost the same thing. She did not know that losing a husband would push her to work with other widows trying to deal with their grief. She did not know that losing a son would open doors to comfort others who lost their child as an instructor taught her in her grief. In her reflection on God’s work in her life, she realizes that when life shuts a door one way, God opens the door in great and wonderful new ways.

Living in today’s culture, the temptation (or the Devil) can cloud our vision. When we are handed one more life challenge that seems overwhelming and we feel like we are drowning, God is only an arm’s length away. That arm may be a friend who understands the struggle from a personal experience. The arm may be a stranger waiting in line behind you offering you a simple smile or more. The arm may be a song’s lyrics that you hear on the radio. The arm may be a lifeguard waiting for you to give out, to give in or to give up so they can safely bring you to shore.

Life is one challenge after another, and no one is exempt from the challenges. Stop, listen to the life stories of others, and examine the quality of their lives. The life challenges come in so many forms—death, disability, health issues, financial problems, abuse, divorce, fire, natural disasters, job crisis, and so much more.

This week memorize Gideon’s question and remember God’s answer: “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? . . .I will be with you.” Then I challenge you to review your own list of life’s challenges, even record them in a journal (and continue on with the practice), and then reorder your thinking to know that God is with you always. Life wears us out, but only when you give out, give in, and give up to God are you saved.

Paul explained it to the Romans:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Take courage, do not be discouraged, but rely on God to be there for you at even the most trying of times. Once you discover you are not drowning, you will then become God’s arms in the lives of others seeking to find answers.

Closing prayer:

Dear God, our heavenly lifeguard,

 

Day after day, I feel the weight of the world

Pushing down on my shoulders.

I struggle to look up for the Son’s light

And find your arms waiting for me.

 

Day after day, I battle temptations

Making my life seem so discouraging.

Keep my eyes looking up to you

And find your arms holding me up.

 

Day after day, I feel like I am giving out

Or giving in or giving up.

Speak to me the life-saving words of grace

Through the mouths of your faithful.

 

Then, Lord, open my heart to others

Feeling discouraged and drowning

So I can share your grace and your love

To comfort and encourage them.

 

In the your name,

the Father,

the Son,

and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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A Season of Mindfulness: Who am I?

 

given on Sunday, March 21, 2017–2nd Sunday in Lent

Scripture connections:

Opening scripture: Exodus 3:1-4, NLT

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro,[a] the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai,[b] the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

Scripture connection:

  • Exodus 3:9-14, NLT

Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them. 10 Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”

12 God answered, “I will be with you. And this is your sign that I am the one who has sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God at this very mountain.”

13 But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

14 God replied to Moses, “I am who I am.[d] Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.”

  • I Thessalonians 5:14-22, NLT

14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

15 See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.

16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

19 Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil.

Closing scripture: I Thessalonians 5:23-24, NLT

23 Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 24 God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.

 

Week’s memory verse: Exodus 3:11 (NLT)

But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people.

Week’s challenge: Create a plan for a ministry you feel called to lead.

Check yourself: Why are you afraid? What will it cost? What abilities do you have to use?

 

Reflection: Who am I?

I was on my knees scrubbing the kitchen floor this week. Now I have to be honest, this is not typical for me, but I gave up and got down and close to the floor this time; and I found myself reflecting on something Bertha, who had cleaned my floors for years, told me.

As much as I tried to make sure she did not have to be on her knees, getting mops, cleaning fluids, or whatever cleaning tools I could, she refused to use them. She preferred to be on her knees, despite the physical problems she had with her spine due to a car wreck when she was 12 years old and the osteoporosis that developed in her later years.

Bertha and I met at church where I learned how she lived her life despite all the human hardships she had endured. Bertha was a Christian disciple. She never said, “Why me, Lord?” She lived her faith in service, even on her knees. From my perspective, she lived her life as though her answer was really, “Why not me, Lord?”

Bertha was a modern-day Moses in my perspective. Reading a biography on Moses reveals some interesting twists and turns. Born under the Egyptian Pharaoh’s decree that all male Hebrew babies were to be killed, Moses was saved when his mother placed him in a basket along the Nile River, was found by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as an Egyptian prince.

Moses’s story took a twist when he intervened in an Egyptian slave master beating a Hebrew slave. To summarize the story, when confronted by other Hebrews who knew that he had killed the Egyptian slave master, Moses fled to Midian fearing that the Pharaoh would learn what he did.

Even though Moses had been raised as an Egyptian prince, returning to the Hebrew enslaved community had to have been challenging. The Moses we meet in today’s scripture certainly does not sound like an Egyptian prince accustomed to all the best food, education, even jobs. Instead, the Moses in today’s scripture is a shepherd with little evidence of his former life. Moses rejoined the Hebrew community living as God’s faithful servant.

Can we relate to Moses? Absolutely. We understand the challenges life hands us as we raise our families, manage our monthly budgets, and daily go to work to do whatever we must to make our lives as comfortable as possible. We make decisions that put others as a priority rather than pleasing our personal wishes. We turn to help our family and/or friends manage the ups and downs in their lives. We are just like Moses.

The question “Who am I?” that Moses asked God is also familiar to us. In our life experiences we may not witness a burning bush, yet there are times when we are asked to do something that we feel totally unprepared or unworthy to do. The request might be from a thought that pops up in our mind or it might be a request to take an active role in a committee or to accept a job offer that you had no idea you could do. We ask the same question, “Who am I that can do that?”

Moses argued with God. He said he could not possibly go back into Egypt and lead his people out from under the Pharaoh’s control. He used the fact that he had poor speech (supposedly he stuttered) and could not eloquently make an appeal to the Pharaoh to free the Hebrews.

How many times do we do the same thing? How many times do we turn away from a thought, an idea, or a request to do something because we do not think there is any possible way to do it? Way too many times we say no. Why?

Three different answers come to mind: fear, money, and ability.

These are the same three concerns that Moses had. Imagine the fear of going back to the Pharaoh and saying let me take the Hebrews away from your control—slaves, a work force, an economic factor. Moses probably even feared that he would be imprisoned or worse for killing the slave master years ago.

Money was a concern, too, and going further into the scripture we learn that God tells how to manage that, too. He tells Moses to simply ask the Egyptian women for gold and silver as they leave. And they do it. This funded the new life and the building of temples.

Finally, God answers Moses’ concern about the ability to lead. Speech was a concern, so God tells him not to worry, his brother Aaron can speak for him. Moses was afraid that the Israelites would not follow him, either:

13 But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

14 God replied to Moses, “I am who I am.[d] Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.”

With Moses’ fears and the two major issues answered by God, Moses did lead the Israelites out of Egypt. The job was not easy and Moses certainly had his reasons for asking “Who am I?”

The ancient story is no different than so many stories of God’s servants accepting his call to action. This week we witnessed local communities handle disaster with grace. The videos of the Oak Grove homes destroyed by the tornado reminds us of how vulnerable each of us really is in this world, but the videos of the families, the friends, and the strangers pitching in to clean up the mess is awe-inspiring. The Oak Grove students heard the call to serve with gloves and a garbage sack and they joined in, too.

I can look around me, right here, and see those who God has called and they answered. Certainly when they heard God’s call, they probably said, “Who am I?” Yet, they answered. Look around you and think about how many times something in the community called for an action and someone right here stepped up and did all that they could to meet that challenge.

God is with you, with us. He does not ask us to do something without knowing that we have the ability to do it:

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? (Romans 8:31, NLT)

 

We must learn that when God asks us to do something, he already knows we can.   Our responsibility is to work together to fulfill God’s call. We can do it.

In Paul’s final words to the Thessalonians we can find the ways we can serve:

14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

15 See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.

16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

19 Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil.

 

The list grows. God will never give us an idea or call us to do something unless he knows we can do it. We are equipped with the Holy Spirit to do all that we can for all we can in any way that we can.

Bertha served, even on her knees ,when scrubbing her clients floors. I found myself on my knees with her guiding me by her example this week. She had absolutely no reason to be on her knees, but that was the way she prayed. She told me that the time she spent on her knees was her time to pray. I am humbled by her presence as I cleaned my own floor on my knees, and I prayed.

God reaches out to others through our actions. Last week we looked at the question from Genesis: Did God really say that? We can test the ideas that come up in our minds and in our work with the same five Ds: doubt, discouragement, division, defeat, and delay.

Any idea that develops in our ministry can be tested through these five Ds, and today’s verse, “Who am I?”, also can be tested:

  1. Why am I afraid?
  2. What is the cost?
  3. What abilities do I have?

 

The answers will confirm the call to action when God is leading. God is present within each of us. We accepted our call when we were baptized.   God will make sure that each of us will be equipped to serve.

During the coming week, test yourself. Think about a time when you felt called to lead or to participate in a ministry of the church or in a civic effort that you did not think you could do. Why were you afraid? What would it have cost? Why did you think you could not do it?

The challenge, now, is to identify some task or idea or ministry that you would like to see done, then ask the same questions knowing that God will give you what you need to do it.   Make a plan, figure out who will help you, identify the costs, and then share the plan—with your small group or with the Church Council. What you may think is impossible may be exactly the ministry God is calling you to lead.

Closing prayer:

Dear Lord,

Open our ears to hear your call.

Open our hearts to the ministries around us.

Open our minds to the work we must do.

 

Keep us from being afraid to lead.

Help us know the cost of serving versus not.

Give us confidence to use the gifts you give us.

 

May we become the servants your ask us to be.

May we trust the Holy Spirit will guide us.

May we be all that we can be in your name. –Amen

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