Archive for November, 2009

Monday, November 30 Malachi 3:1-2

November 30, 2009

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” Malachi 3:1-2

I was a “late arriver” to the Lutheran tribe of the Christian church. Although I had been baptized as an infant, I didn’t join a Lutheran church until the last Saturday of the summer before my junior year in college. When I went off to the seminary, I arrived after having only worshipped that one time in my “home congregation.” I had a lot of learning to do.

One of the discoveries I made was the liturgical church calendar. I had never heard of that before – and I think there are probably lots of people on this list who haven’t heard of that before as well. So this week I’ll take a quick trip through the highlights of the way that many Christians organize time through the year. Today we look at the first two seasons of the year, Advent and Christmas.

Each of the seasons has a theme, a color and, sometimes, key traditions. Advent is the first season of the year. It runs for the four Sundays preceding Christmas. The color is blue which you will see on the cloth on the altar table and pulpit, the pastors’ stoles, etc. The word itself comes from a Latin word meaning “the coming.” It is the root word of “adventure” which captures some of the excitement of the Advent theme of waiting for what is coming.

Many congregations will use an advent wreath this December. The four candles of the wreath represent the themes of each Sunday (there are lots of different traditions for what those weeks represent) and one candle is lit each week. Sometimes children use Advent calendars with little doors that lead to Christmas.

During Advent, we listen to the Bible as it sets the stage for Christmas. We’ll hear from John the Baptist and the Old Testament prophecies of the birth of the Messiah. We wait to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas but we also wait for the final appearance of Jesus and the “end of the story.”

Hope, anticipation and preparedness leads to the Christmas season. The Christmas season lasts for 12 days. (Yes, just like the song says.) The color is white and the theme is the incarnation, the birth of Jesus.

Over the course of these two seasons, we will all feel the interior pull of Christmas, the stress and the anticipation and the fear and the heightened expectations. We will feel torn between the spirituality of the season and the materialism of our culture. We will welcome Christmas carols and we will tire of them. We will experience our lives being “stirred up” as the prayer of the day said this past Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent: “Stir up your power, O Lord, and come….”

Advent and Christmas are living reminders to us – liturgically and experientially – that God is actively at work in our lives and our world, whether or not we attend worship. God is always up to something…so we wait. And then God shows up in the most common of ways…and we wonder at the mystery of it all.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, as we come into this week, returning to life after Thanksgiving and now preparing for the holidays, the holy days, we pray that you might stir up your power and come into us in new and refreshing ways this season. Fill us with hope and anticipation and watch over us as we get ready for the surprises that you will bring our way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Friday, November 20th Luke 15:20-32

November 20, 2009

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'” Luke 15:20-32

Now for the rest of the story…

While the wayward son is making his heavy footed way home, his father keeps hoping, expecting, waiting, to see him walk down the road. When the moment finally arrives, the father greets his long lost son with compassion rather than a belt. He forgives him even before the young man can deliver his carefully crafted speech. The father throws a big party…and the elder brother refuses to come in.

Perhaps the elder brother knows his little brother even better than his father. He has no imagination problems around “dissolute living” – he knows that the money was wasted away. And he’s angry. He’s angry because he has been the hard working dutiful son and yet his father has never thrown a welcome home party for him. Maybe he has also felt the temptation to go wild every now and again but he always fought that temptation back. For whatever reason, every one understandable, he is resentful.

So the father goes out to the porch for a little chat and a reminder that the elder brother is also loved by the father. A reminder and an explanation of the need to celebrate the dead coming back to life.

Every time we read this story, if we slow down long enough, we will see ourselves reflected in it. We will find one or more characters becoming “us” at that particular moment in life. There are times when we are the wayward son or we can remember those times. Times when we have been the parent of a child up to no good while we stand helplessly by. Or we give help that isn’t helpful. And there are times when we are the elder brother, resentful that we have kept all the rules and it feels like it hasn’t gotten us anywhere.

Why did Jesus tell this story?

To explain to those who were troubled by the company he kept why Jesus chose to welcome and eat with sinners and tax collectors…because they were lost but are now found. The text ends without telling us whether or not the Pharisees saw themselves in the role of the elder brother. But it doesn’t have to tell us. We already know that whether they got the point of the story or not, they eventually got Jesus. But they couldn’t kill the story. They never will.

Whoever you are, let this story become the first day of the rest of your life.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, your amazing grace comes to us anew every day. Especially at those moments when we are mindful of the brokenness and sin in our lives. Forgive us for those times when we have been the elder brother, resentful at the vastness of your mercy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, November 19th Luke 15:1-3, 11-19

November 19, 2009

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘ Luke 15:1-3, 11-19

Sometimes stories become too well known. They become so familiar that, when we hear them again, our ears are waiting for the next move in the plot or the next familiar phrase, and we miss the scandal. The shock value is lost. The story remains beloved but we remain largely unmoved.

The Christmas story is like that. We might love Ricky Bobby’s little baby infant Jesus but we hardly notice the scandal of the unmarried parents, the outsiders who find no room at home, or the smell of the shepherds.

The story of the prodigal son is like that. We know it so well that it doesn’t shock us anymore. It doesn’t surprise us anymore. We can read it and hardly notice that this younger son is basically telling his father that he wishes he was dead so he could get his share of his inheritance.

Even people with deep resentments toward a little brother or sister or some other relative that is milking gullible parents or grandparents of their money and possessions to feed a drug habit could read this story again and not notice the connection.

The story doesn’t tell us any details around “dissolute” living – and we read through it so quickly that we seldom slow down enough to let our imaginations go to work. But whatever “dissolute” living means, we can rest assured that it had nothing to do with anything that might be approved by respectable people.

Even feeding the pigs misses the point for us. There is a part of us that doesn’t think that is so bad at all…”at least he found a job”…”Why don’t you just go down to Walmart or McDonald’s, they’re always hiring”… We miss the scandal of a privileged Jewish boy working for a skinflint Gentile pig farmer who sticks him straight in the sty and leaves him there.

BUT…if we DO slow down…

And we look back at our lives. And we look at every dark deed that still haunts us, every foolish choice that we made, all the wasteful excesses that we have accumulated and lost along the way. When we look at anything in our lives that causes us shame and guilt and makes us want to hide, THEN the story takes us where it intends us to go.

To that rock bottom point where the pain of going home finally becomes less painful than the pain of running away. To the place of repentance.

Tomorrow we’ll hear the rest of the story.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, when we realize the depth of our sin, we want to hide. When we fear getting caught we want to run. And when we finally realize what we have done and realize that there is no where else to go but home, we pray that you stir up our hearts so that we can turn our feet in the direction they need to go. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, November 18th 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

November 18, 2009

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Back in my Bible camp counselor days, the director had a saying that he would pull out just before the weekend as we made our plans to go “out on the town” (understand: we’re talking about rural North Dakota here). He would remind us, “Remember who you are and what you represent.”

Those are good words for us. “Remember who you are and what you represent.”

The question then is, “How far back is our memory supposed to stretch if we are to ‘remember who we are’?” Based on this text, we are to remember as far back as God chooses to remember – to that moment when we became a new creation in Christ, when the old passed away. We are to remember every fresh start God has given us and continues to give us.

There’s a wonderful section in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that comes to mind as I allow myself to get caught up in this wonderful vision of our life in Christ that Paul paints for the Corinthians. Beginning on page 83, it says:

“If we are painstaking about this stage of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”

The vision in that passage is the life transformation of a recovering addict. Paul paints the same vision of a redeemed sinner for the Corinthians. In Christ, they (we) ARE new creations. This identity is a gift to be lived, not a credential to be earned.

Why?

To be useful to others. To be ambassadors for Christ. To be living signs, living embodiments of God’s grace which has the power to transform human lives and bring the world into line with God’s will for all. To make the world a better place to live. This is big stuff and it is who we are, Whose we are, and what we are called to be about. New creations in Christ.

Remember who you are and what you represent.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, in our lives we often do battle between who we are called to be and who we end up being. Between what we are called to do and what we find ourselves doing. We sense the power of your love in us and the power of sin which holds us back. Fill us today with your truth – that we ARE your ambassadors, we ARE new creations, and we ARE useful tools in your hands as you touch the world with your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, November 17th Joshua 5:9-12

November 17, 2009

“The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, uneavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.” Joshua 5:9-12

Every day is an opportunity for us to take stock of where we are in life and where we hope to go. Like noticing a spectacular sunset, we might do that every single day but only seem to get there once in awhile. Most days, the sun sets unnoticed. And most weeks, we get so caught up in life that we hardly pay attention to where we are.

Today actually IS the first day of the rest of your life!

Live long enough and you will experience many such “first days” along the way. The first day of high school or college. The first day after graduation. The first day after a relationship begins or ends. The first day and the last day of a job. The first day in your first apartment. The first day in your new house. The first day after a child is born. The first day after a spouse has died.

Live long enough and God will take you to places that you have never been before, places where you feel ill prepared to face the new challenges – or you feel completely confident only to have your confidence shaken by surprises.

Today’s lesson represents a new first day for Joshua and the people of Israel. Their wilderness wanderings have now brought them into the Promised Land, the land of Canaan. But life isn’t going to suddenly turn into another Eden. As a matter of fact, there is plenty of bad news that stands in their way. The first piece of bad news comes as they celebrate Passover in their new territory – God shuts off the daily provision of manna. Now they will have to go back to finding food on their own, making it on their own, creating a new life in the land their Creator has prepared for them.

Of course to say they are “on their own” doesn’t mean that God suddenly becomes absent or uninvolved. Young people might live “on her own” in college but still get plenty of help and support from their parents. And yet, such support doesn’t reomove the daily challenges they face as they balance school, work and play. They are the ones having to make the most of the opportunity that has been given to them. The people of Israel are the ones now facing that same reality.

Today’s lesson reminds me of the first week when I was “on the job” as a pastor. Fresh from the seminary, terrified that I was clueless about what to do, carrying a nagging sense that I had spent four years “learning” but couldn’t remember a single piece of practical information. But then, as that first year passed, I surprised myself again and again as I realized that I HAD learned a thing or two and, most important of all, I learned that my learning would never end. That every experience I had would teach me something else. AND that God was far more interested in the people I was serving than I was. And therefore God would not abandon me but would work through me if I was willing to show up and do my part.

So it is today, the first day of the rest of our lives. Ill-prepared or confidently ready, God never leaves us alone when God sends us off on our own.

Let us pray: Dear God, we look back through history and see signs of your presence in the lives of your people. We look back at our own lives and see those places and times when you did for us what we could no do for ourselves. Today, as we face the challenges of our lives, keep us mindful of your presence and the gifts you have given us that allow us to make our way in the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, November 13th Luke 13:1-9

November 13, 2009

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'” Luke 13:1-9

The first part of this text is easy – why do we keep asking why bad things happen to good people? Because bad things keep happening to good people! And each and every time we ask the same question…

Why, with thousands of acres of trees and open fields, does a tornado hit a high school? Insurance companies call such events “acts of God.” Is that why? God fingers innocent high school students? Really??!

Why does a charter bus drive off an overpass while bringing a college baseball team to the first games of their new season? Ah now, this we can seek to explain so it is less troubling. We can blame the driver or the road conditions. As long as we have someone to blame, we can leave God out of the picture. Can we?

Why do Sunni’s and Shiite’s continue blowing each other up, reenacting history instead of learning from it? Why doesn’t God stop them? Would they quit fighting if everybody became Christian? Hundreds of thousands of people in Northern Ireland would argue that doesn’t seem to help much. The people in the Middle East will have to learn the same lesson every other family feud teaches – we will either end up living together as friends or dying together as enemies! But where is God in that?

Jesus was confronted by those who asked him the “why” question. In his answer, he seems to be speaking from both sides of his mouth. First, he rejects the idea that God was punishing the Galileans who suffered under Pilate. But then he suggests that their lack of repentance had something to do with it….or does he? Read it again, read it slowly, and watch closely and you’ll see something else.

Jesus isn’t making a judgment on those who died under Pilate or those who died under the tower of Siloam, instead, he is turning the question back on top of the questioners. He doesn’t ask them about someone else’s past (which would be making a judgment call) but he redirects their attention to their own future. Rather than worrying about what happened to someone else, Jesus asks them to consider what they are going to be doing with and in their own lives.

His answer doesn’t answer the “why” question. The “why” question can’t be answered. It isn’t really a question anyway but an emotional grab for something to hold onto. But his answer does redirect them to focus on what to do next.

If you step back a little farther from these verses and look what happens right before and after them, see how they are “framed”, you will see that just before this story, Jesus comes down hard on our tendency to judge others. And then he heals a woman.

I think it might be as simple as that. In a world where bad things continue to happen to good people, in THIS world where we are called to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we would do well to refrain from judging others and focus instead on bringing healing and making the world a better place, a little at a time, one day at a time, one person at a time. Rather than being captured by fear, we can released by faith. Isn’t that in fact what repentance is all about?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, our hearts go out to those who find themselves victims of the tragedies of life, those who die too young, those caught up in forces of evil which swirl around them. Set us free from worrying about “why” so we can focus instead on what people can do to make life better, on providing help, hope and healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, November 12th 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

November 12, 2009

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

One of the universal ailments which plague humankind is the sense we have of “terminal uniqueness.” This is the often unspoken idea we have that no one else is just like us, no one else has had to deal with what we have had to deal with, no one else has been burdened (or has been a burden) like we have. We are terminally unique.

There is a sense in which this is true. Every one of God’s children is unique, uniquely made, one of a kind and wonderful. No doubt about it. And yet as we move into the world which we share with everybody else, the odds are very good that while there might not be anyone else who has gone through everything we have, at least at the same time, there is probably nothing that ever happens to us that hasn’t happened before to someone else. In that sense, we aren’t unique at all. We’re just another rat in the race, another soul standing under the cross.

This is what Paul is trying to communicate to the Corinthians. Yes, they are a sometimes beleaguered little community within a diverse and cosmopolitan city. Yes, they suffer from the constant pressure to conform themselves to an idolatrous, lustful, dangerous culture. Yes, they fight amongst themselves far more than is healthy or helpful. But they are not the first. They are not alone. And neither are we.

As we will see in tomorrow’s gospel reading, there is always a bit of danger in how we interpret, and how we spiritually experience, the difficult times in our lives. We walk down a road with two ditches. We fall into one ditch when we decide we know exactly what God is doing and we fall into the other when we leave God out of the picture altogether. Between those ditches, with humility, we do well to ask a simple question, “What is God up to in this?”

We ask that question and, like Paul, we can look back at the past for insight or peer into the future for possibilities, either way, when we wonder what God is up to, when we leave the door open to God’s participation in our lives, then we can sense God’s presence and power. We are not alone. We are not the first. We won’t be the last.

But with God’s help, we can learn from, endure and survive the difficult moments of our lives. We can find open windows when doors slam shut. We can find a way out even though we have no idea how we got in. We can trust that, with God’s help, we can find a way.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, when the trials of our lives become overwhelming and we feel life closing in, we often feel alone, abandoned and powerless. In some ways, we are. That is the place where we need your gifts of surrender, acceptance and courage. Teach us to trust you in all things. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, November 11th Psalm 63:1-8

November 11, 2009

“O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63:1-8

Many people would read these verses and come away completely cold. Many people, faithful people, religious people, church-going people, have little or no experience of a relationship with God that is so desperate, so vibrant, so essential, that they could honestly say these verses out loud without at least a little embarrassment.

“My soul thirsts for you.”

“My flesh faints for you.”

“For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy…”

“Normal” people don’t talk about God like that much. People from North Dakota don’t talk like that about anything… It seems strange in our ears to be so desperate for God.

Middle class, working people, caught up in the rhythms of life, plenty of food to eat, enough money for the mortgage, the war happening a long way away, driving the kids around, going to church on Sunday and making sure you’re home in time to watch “Grey’s Anatomy” or “American Idol” (by the way, probably the most aptly named show on television today)…God kind of finds a comfortable place in the mix of everything else going on in life. Heck, God is actually optional! We think of the church as a “volunteer organization.”

But show me one person in the first few days or weeks of recovery from an addictive illness…one person who wants what they see that the other sober people in the world have…and I’ll show you someone who is desperately hungry and thirsty for the kind of God who shows up in their torment and relieves their pain in wonderful, miraculous and healing ways!

Show me one person who has been diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease and suddenly realizes that they might not be there for their kids as they grow up, they might lose a beloved spouse, or their lives might be altered forever, and I’ll show you a person who is praying with a depth they have never known before!

Show me a person who has been taken to the edge of life, who has tasted their own powerlessness, who has taken a bath in their own shame, and who is then brought to new life by the amazing grace of God, communicated through words of acceptance and forgiveness, embodied by real human people who actually care, and I will show you a person who stretches as far as they can reach to praise the God who gave them a new life!!!

Do we HAVE to go there to get there? Do we HAVE to get to the limits of life before we are finally open to seeking a God who is truly there for us? Maybe we do. Or maybe we don’t. Maybe the witness of another is enough for us. The witness of a friend. Even the witness of a Psalmist who has tasted of the deepest shame and humiliation of life and, by the grace of God, has come out whole.

Let us pray: God, in the dry and dirty places of our lives, when we have no where else to go, we turn to you and you are right there beside us. Fill us today with the joy of your salvation, the strength of your Spirit, and the delight of your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, November 10th Isaiah 55:6-11

November 10, 2009

Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:6-11

The oldest sin in the book is the desire to be God. To be the Ruler rather than the ruled, the Creator rather than the creature, the Boss rather than the bossed. To make our own way. To be Masters of the Universe.

We want what we want when we want it. We want the people, places and things around us to work the way we think they ought to work. The AA Big Book says we want to be the Director who runs the show. The Bible says that when they saw that the tree was good for food and a delight to the eyes, they took of its fruit and ate – although they knew full well that God had said not to.

What fuels this desire to be like God? That’s a big question that I’m not sure I can answer. “Sin” doesn’t answer it, “sin” only describes it.

Perhaps it is fear. Fear that we won’t get what we need. Fear that we will fall apart, be forgotten, left out or abandoned. Fear that we will get hurt. So we seek to climb on top of everything that gets in our way and threatens us. If we can control the world we can live without fear that the world can hurt us.

Perhaps it is greed. No matter how much we have, we always have room for more. We can always build another barn!

Perhaps it is pride, that age-old combination of fear and greed. The unwillingness to accept ourselves as we are which drives us to put ourselves on top of everyone and everything else.

I try and picture in my mind what it would have been like to grow up as a little Israelite boy born while my family lived in a refugee camp in Babylon. My parents would have told me stories of Israel’s former prominence and the special place we held in God’s eyes. They would have told stories of God rescuing God’s people from bondage in Egypt and they would have assured and reassured me that God would act again to restore Israel and let us return to Jerusalem to rebuild a life. For fifty years, an entire generation, those promises would have been repeated.

And I, like many little boys, would have wondered – Does God really exist? If God really exists, then why are we suffering like this? If God really loves us, then why did God allow our lives to fall apart? And I would think, “If I were God, I would certainly do things differently than this!”

And God says in response, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways… so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

God says, “Trust me. Don’t run from me. Don’t try to be me. Trust me.”

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, life is full of mystery. We can’t see the end, we sometimes can hardly see far enough in front of us to take the next step on the journey. We want to trust you and your Words. We realize that it is enough to do our part let alone trying to do yours. So, for today, we will let go and let you be God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, November 9th Isaiah 55:1-5

November 9, 2009

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. Isaiah 55:1-5

Whenever you read a text from Isaiah it is important to realize which part of the book you are reading. Isaiah, written over a long period of time, is divided into at least two, probably three, major sections that correspond to different moments in the history of Israel – we can just call them the “bad times” and the “good times” (and if you accept that there is a distinctive 3rd Isaiah, the “how to live well in the good times” section.)

The bad times of the first part of Isaiah were written as the northern kingdom, Israel, was falling to the invaders from Assyria. It would disappear forever. The good times of the second part were written as King Cyrus of Persia defeated the Babylonians and the people anticipated the possible return of the Israelite refugees from Babylon back to Jerusalem. The verses for today are at the end of this second part of Isaiah. They are the promise of good times pulling the people out of bad times.

Here is what I know about bad times and good times – bad times and good times are present all the time. When it is night somewhere, it is day somewhere else. The same snow that cancels a ballgame in the winter waters the crops in the spring.

Here is what else I know – you can look back at your life and see many times that were much better, and many other times that were much worse, than what you are going through right now. The future will get better and the future will get worse. Whoever said it was right – “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

But between now and then….

The bad times and the good times are part of all the time, and God is present in all of them. The bad times do not nullify the promises of God and the good times do not define them.

The lesson for today is to trust God through all the times of our lives. His promises will endure and his Word will not return empty.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, so often we feel abandoned by you when life gets difficult but then we ignore you when life is good. This is our weakness and our foolishness. Help us by your Spirit to trust in your presence and promises during all the times of our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.