Archive for December, 2015

Acts 2:1, 36-42

December 17, 2015

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:1, 36-42

It isn’t unusual for Kelley to ask me, when I get home from worship on Sundays, if anyone had anything to say about my sermon. I seldom have anything to report. It isn’t that people don’t make comments on the way out the door, or down the hallway, or even in the parking lot sometimes, but I’m just not able to hear them well. It is too fresh. I’m still too tender. I feel too vulnerable.

Preaching isn’t easy. When you add the fact that public speaking is one of the most terrifying things to do for most people…to the reality that you are speaking week after week to mostly the same crowd of people…who have heard all of your best stuff before…yeah, preaching isn’t easy.

Yet I still pray for that wonderful home run of a sermon every time I have the privilege to give it my best. It is too much to expect the Holy Spirit to bring about the kind of reaction that Peter saw, 3000 new believers in a day, but that isn’t what I need in order to be encouraged as a preacher. I just want to know that God used my words in at least one person’s ears to do the gospel to them. Just one person – to know that forgiveness is not just a word game. To know that they aren’t alone, that God hasn’t abandoned them in these dark days.

I read these words from Acts and I realize that, no matter what else happens in the humble gatherings we know as Sunday morning worship, the miracle still continues. For wherever we gather, we devote our selves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, knowing and trusting that God isn’t through with us yet.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you know us. You know how impressed we are by numbers, by the spectacular. And how prone we are to get discouraged, to forget how your Spirit does all the heavy lifting. Encourage us today to keep on keeping on, to make room in our lives for you to have a word with us. And do bless those called to bring that Word each time your people gather for worship. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Luke 13:1-9

December 15, 2015

At that very time there were some present who told Jesus 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 Jesus 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

Back in the day when my knees worked and I could still look down and see my feet, I was a basketball player. One of the first fundamentals we were taught was the “ready position”. Knees shoulder width apart, slightly bent, eyes looking straight out, one arm up, and one arm down. We did drills to drill that position into our muscle memory.

The benefits of the ready position came especially on defense. We could quickly move in any direction, anticipating the next step, and beating our opponent to the spot they wanted to go.

I’m thinking about the “ready position” today as I read Jesus’ call to repentance. To be a person of faith is to be ready for anything and everything that life might toss our way. As we have all heard before, it isn’t what happens to us that matters as much as what we do with what happens to us.

Repentance can be explained and understood in many ways but the fundamental sense of repentance is simple. How does this definition work for you? I admitted that I couldn’t and didn’t. I came to see that God could and would. I decided to let God do God’s part as I take responsibility for mine.

And in the meantime, as I live in and out of repentance on a daily basis, I can trust that God is not only patient with me but also provides me all I need to do all I can and need to do.

So maybe the next time we find ourselves knee deep in the crap of life we can take comfort from seeing it as the fertilizer intended to help us grow.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, make us ready for anything. Feed us, strengthen us, be patient with us, as we do the best we can for you and our neighbor each day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

1 Peter 1:13-16

December 11, 2015

Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16

Oh you have no idea how much I wish this passage was good news in my ears! It is Friday, the weekend lies ahead, much good stuff is right around the corner. I always hope to end the week on a good, high, hopeful note…but….this is the passage assigned to today and it doesn’t feel much like good news to me.

Here is where the difficult lies – in the words “discipline”, “obedient”, and “desires”, all coupled with the injunction to “be holy in yourselves in all your conduct.” Honestly, that is too much for me. I can’t pull any of it off with any consistency.

I know what it means to be self-disciplined. I’ve tried it. I can keep it up for certain things for a little while but I can’t sustain it. My selfishness and self-centeredness overwhelm my intentions and willingness to be obedient. I desire too much of the wrong stuff and too little of the right stuff. And I’m very suspicious of the concept that I am supposed to be “holy in all my conduct.”

I know that I probably shouldn’t have typed that last sentence. It isn’t the sort of thing that pastors are supposed to say. At least out loud. But quite honestly many of the people I have known along the way who live on a quest to achieve personal holiness turn out to be people that I am eager to get away from. Quickly. Their personal holiness sounds like judgmental elitism in my ears and I want nothing to do with that.

Besides, the writer is quoting from Leviticus 20:26 with the words “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” If you like those words, I invite you to go back and actually read that 20th chapter, then write to me and tell me how much you appreciated it.

Be sure to notice especially how the writer of 1 Peter skipped the next words “and I have separated you from the other peoples to be mine.” Which is, I’m afraid, the problem today, not the solution. Jesus sends us into the lives of others, he doesn’t set us aside as a privileged club. Make to also notice all of the things that get the death penalty if applied literally. No thank you, Leviticus 20.

No, I’m not big on the personal holiness quest. Even if I could pull it off, which I can’t, no sooner would I get there then I would take all the credit for it myself. “Just look at me! Holy Pastor Kerry! Ain’t I grand and special!” I KNOW myself, that is exactly what I would do. The quest for personal holiness is my problem, not my solution.

No, there is only one thing in this passage that I can hear as good news, only one thing worth applying the words “discipline”, “obedience”, and “desire” to and that is this: set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.

Now THAT I strive to do. THAT I surrender my life too. THAT is my only hope.

Let us pray: Loving God, convince us that your grace is enough, that your grace is sufficient, that you are able where we am not. Forgive us our lack of discipline, our disobedience, our wrong-headed and selfish desires. If we are to be holy at all, you alone can make us so for our holiness is a pale reflection of yours. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Zechariah 2:10-13

December 10, 2015

Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion! For lo, I will come and dwell in your midst, says the Lord. Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be my people; and I will dwell in your midst. And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem. Be silent, all people, before the Lord; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling. Zechariah 2:10-13

Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion…be silent, all people, before the Lord.

There is a time to sing and rejoice…and a time to be silent. The problem is that the world seems to conspire against both.

As much as we long to sing along with the songs of the season we are constantly being pulled back by the craziness around us. Where will the guns be blazing today? What vile statements will make today’s headlines? What nagging worries, sneaky anxieties, and faceless fears will try to overwhelm us today? We want to sing but fall into silence.

Yet there is no silence. There is always background noise, white noise, street noise, internal noise. Schedules to keep, deadlines to make, obligations, duties, chores, errands, responsibilities. Where is the silence? Where is the peace? Where is the quiet?

I have always loved to sing. I have never been very good at it but I’m entirely capable of doing my best. As I type these words my computer is open to Pandora, to the Traditional Gospel channel. It isn’t the kind of music we hear in church on Sunday but it is the kind that never ceases to raise my spirits. Sometimes, when I can’t find the words to pray, I’ll go here or to YouTube to look up certain favorites. As I listen to the words, as the music touches me more deeply than words, I consider it all prayer. It works.

I never walk through a week with a phrase from last Sunday’s sermon dancing in my mind…but the music always does that for me. There is a time to sing and rejoice.

Silence. No, I can’t count on the world to give me silence any more than I can expect the world to give me peace. There is no money to be made in peace and quiet. But I don’t need the world to give me silence.

Right now, one click and the music stopped. It is far easier not to type than to type. I can rest my fingers. I can close my eyes. I can be silent right here at my desk just as easily as you can be silent right there at yours. We can be silent. We can be still. And in that silence, in that stillness, we can know that the Lord is near, here, now.

There is a time to sing and rejoice…and a time to be silent. Each and every day, let’s make time for both.

Let us pray: In the stillness, the silence, may we rest in you, O God. In the demands of our day, the brokenness of our world, may we know that you are active and present, a very present help in time of every trouble and every need. Hear the song now playing in our souls, the song of our praise and thanksgiving. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Isaiah 62:1-5

December 9, 2015

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. Isaiah 62:1-5

Imagine that you are a 1st century Jew living in Israel at the time of Jesus. Some in your family thought him a dangerous revolutionary, a charlatan. Just the latest in a long line of pretenders who came on strong but were ultimately crushed. Some in your family thought he was the promised Messiah. You were on the fence.

Then came the news that Jesus had been arrested in Jerusalem during the Passover. He was paraded through the streets like many other victims of Roman cruelty and oppression, crucified on one of the many crosses that lined the main entrance road into the city. Some in your family rejoiced at the news. Others were devastated. You were intrigued.

Then you began to hear whispers, rumors, gossip at the local well. Some were saying that Jesus was alive; he had been raised from the dead. Others were skeptical. Still others furious at the notion. You wanted to know for sure. So you looked for an obvious Jesus follower and you began to ask questions. Who was Jesus? Was he the One or are we to look for another?

You are both Jews. You have been told stories from scripture since you were a child. So you began to look back through those very stories, wondering if you would see Jesus in them. Wondering if they held the answers to your questions.

The Jesus follower reminded you of various passages from Isaiah. The hopeful passages. The servant songs. The memories of how God came to rescue his people. You were reminded of passages like this one: For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. And then you heard of the stories that Jesus told – stories about weddings, and wedding feasts, and being prepared.

Like your skeptical family and friends, you were well aware of the difficulties of your life. The heavy hand of the fearsome Romans. The haunting questions about why God would let God’s people suffer. Yet hearing the stories of Jesus touched you. They offered comfort and a strange kind of hope. You found yourself coming to believe.

Old words took on new meanings.

You found new life. You came to believe; you became a believer.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, may we never lose the wonder of how your grace plants seeds of faith in our rebellious, discontent souls. May we never cease trusting in the promises of your Word – that we are your Bride and you love us with undying passion. Now and forever. And may we not keep such news to ourselves. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Isaiah 40:1-8

December 8, 2015

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:1-8

When I was a kid the culture around me, literally the North Dakota wind and water, warned me against getting a “big head.” I was never to act “too big for my britches.” “Pride goeth before a fall” rang much more loudly in my ears than “Jesus loves you.”

The only place where these expectations of self-deprecation were relaxed was in sports. They still APPLIED for us as individuals but we were free to yell “We’re from Wahpeton, couldn’t be prouder, can’t hear us now we’ll yell a little louder” at the top of our lungs….as long as we were referring to the team.

Thus I hear a strong note of “or else you’re going to get your comeuppance” in Isaiah 40, at least in these verses. Jerusalem has been humbled. They are down but not forgotten. God brings comfort…and a not so gentle application of North Dakotan humility.

All people are grass.”

I believe it. Not so much when I was 28 and bullet proof or even 38 and blind to the passage of time. But today, my aching knees preach the law to me every time I try to get out of a chair. My parents are gone. A voice whispers in the back of my mind “You’re next” and that day will come, whether I eat my vegetables or not. The same applies to you.

What lasts is God. God’s Word. God’s promises. God’s will.

Now there’s a big dose of humility for you!

But we don’t want to hear that. So we distract ourselves. We cheer on our teams and click our phones and clean our guns and rant on Facebook. We worry and we’re anxious and we wonder who to vote for – who will save the day this time?

I used to love when the spring would come and the grass would come out from hiding beneath the snow. A little rain, a lot of wind, a couple of weeks of sun, and the grass would be back. I’d lay in it. I’d smell it. I’d carefully pluck a stem and chew on the little white part on the end. There’s nothing quite like a lush patch of grass in the spring.

Winter is coming, this time of year. Back in North Dakota we held no illusions that there was anything we could do to stop that or fend it off. We could only endure it, make the most of it, prepare for it, and pray for storm days. We knew the spring would eventually come.

The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Let’s pray: Dear Lord, forgive us for taking ourselves so seriously and forgetting you along the way. Forgive us for our inconstancy and arrogance. Teach us to number our days, even as we trust that spring will always come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 3:1-6

December 7, 2015

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” Luke 3:1-6

John the Baptizer, the Kingdom’s advance man, doing his thing out in the desert. Christmas must be around the corner.

As I’ve written before, if I get to be the casting agent for the story of the Bible, Whoopi Goldberg plays Mary Magdalene, Danny DeVito is Zacchaeus, and John the Baptist is the grungiest biker at the bar.

All the more reason to be surprised at the crowd that John draws. Why were they there? Why travel out to the middle of nowhere to hear what John had to say? Why would self respecting Jews climb down into the river to join John in his ritual cleansing?

Because life was brutally difficult. Because life under the Romans was demeaning, degrading, and terrifying. Because people living under the conditions inherent in “occupied territory” get desperate for something better. We see that now, in the most war torn places on earth. How else could groups like ISIS recruit without the promise of something better – however they might define it – than they currently have?

But John wasn’t calling for revolution. He wasn’t raising an army of warriors. His was the voice of God’s law. Shining light into the dark corners of people’s lives, of our lives. He wasn’t calling for a change in external conditions but an inward change, that people might be freed to live in love and justice, to know salvation, wholeness, and peace.

The world around us isn’t going to settle down any time soon. It won’t be a safer, saner place by next Thursday. But we can live in this world as people of hope, motivated by love, forgiven of our self-centeredness, and freed from our fear.

In our baptism we have already met John down by the river. Let’s live today as children of light.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, free us to hear John calling us by name, inviting us into the water, to let go of anything that would separate us from you and your calling in our lives. Continue to make smooth the rough places in our lives. Shape us, use us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 17:22-37

December 4, 2015

Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them.

Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them —it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.

On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back.

Remember Lot’s wife. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it. I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.” Then they asked him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Luke 17:22-37

I have written about this before and probably will again. The memory is seared into my mind. It was Wednesday night at the Bible camp I attended during the summer between 6th and 7th grade. They gathered all of us campers in the cafeteria and showed us a movie called “A Thief in the Night.” The title song of that movie was a sweet little piece of haunting soft rock and roll that we sang around the campfire at night.

When the movie was over and the lights came up, the director of the camp invited all the kids who KNEW they were Christians and therefore KNEW that they wouldn’t be left behind at the rapture to leave the room. The heathens and Christian pretenders were to stay behind.

I, an obvious heathen and Christian pretender, (or you could just say a traumatized 12 year old, alone at that camp without any friends from home, who cared more about what the other kids thought of me than I did what God thought of me), left with the faithful ones. But I guarantee you that I accepted Jesus into my heart repeatedly for the rest of the week. I guess it just didn’t take.

I look back on that experience through adult eyes and I see many facets in the story. I see well meaning Christians in charge of the events at the camp who really believed that they were doing their part to fill up heaven by following the Great Commission.

I see those same people as seriously misguided brutes who emotionally and spiritually wounded kids like me for life through the abuse of their power as they manipulated and traumatized us.

I think back to the kids who left the room. My new friends and I who waited outside while the heathens got a chance to accept Jesus. We pretty much just waited out there. We did as we were told. The other kids seemed used to stuff like that in a way that I certainly was not.

But that week did more than freak me out. It planted seeds that later became a decision to become a pastor. Maybe, to become an un-pastor. Because if that little branch of Christianity that takes a few verses out of the New Testament to construct a theory of the rapture that sells millions of books is right, then I would rather be left behind. My sense is that following Jesus would demand it of me.

Let us pray: Come, Lord Jesus. We pray again and again: come, Lord Jesus. Come to us, wherever we are, whatever we are going through, come to us. Come to love us, to comfort us, to guide us. Come to use us for your loving purposes in the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Micah 4:1-7

December 3, 2015

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.

In that day, says the Lord, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away, and those whom I have afflicted. The lame I will make the remnant, and those who were cast off, a strong nation; and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion now and forevermore. Micah 4:1-7

Today we hear from Micah. Micah and Joel clearly disagree in their visions – yesterday Joel called out the warriors to beat their plowshares into swords and their pruning hooks into spears and today Micah says exactly the opposite. What are we to make of this?

I am often reminded in doing Bible study with people that we each come pre-equipped with a set of lenses that we apply to reading the Bible. Often those lenses are unconscious or at least pre-conscious. We “believe” things about the Bible but have no idea where those beliefs came from or why we settled on thinking one way rather than another.

For example, when I started at the seminary my “lens” told me that I would be learning from Bible experts who had mastered their understanding of the correct way to read and interpret the Bible. My goal was mastery of the text.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my professors disagreed, often profoundly disagreed, with each other! At first I was absolutely convinced that the professors I personally liked were RIGHT and the professors that I disliked were WRONG! I once even went to the professor I liked to complain about his colleague. I was surprised again when my professor actually defended him as a person and as a teacher, even though they came to different conclusions about the issue I was raising.

My point here is that Joel and Micah really do represent two different poles of prophetic tradition. They really do disagree. Any attempt we might make to harmonize them (eg. First Jesus kicks tail and only then does the good stuff come) is more about us and our theories about the Bible than about Jesus and God’s plans for the future.

Today my goal isn’t mastery of the Bible but friendship with the Bible. My sense is that God calls us to talk together about the Bible (Isa. 1:8) and how we are hearing it rather than beating each other over the head with our pet theories.

By the way, my primary Bible lens is Jesus. So when it comes to Joel and Micah, my question would be, “Which looks more like Jesus?”

Let us pray: Dear Lord, there is great wisdom in coming to see that, while we often turn to your Word seeking answers to our questions, what you often give us instead are questions to our answers. You invite us to reason together, to listen to one another, even when we disagree. Shower the grace upon us that sets us free to do just that. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Joel 3:14-18

December 2, 2015

Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shake. But the Lord is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. So you shall know that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it.

In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the Wadi Shittim. Joel 3:14-18

The Bible readings for this week come from the “Taking Faith Home” bulletin insert that we use every week. (Available from Milestones Ministry.) Clearly, they are making hay on the two sides of Advent – anticipating Jesus coming again as we remember Jesus’ birth. I get that.

So today’s reading from Joel was clearly chosen because it refers to the “day of the Lord” and it says “But the Lord is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” And we, of course, include ourselves among those people.

Here’s the problem I have with that. Notice that these are vss. 14-18. Listen now to the verses that come right before them, vss. 9-13, “Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare war, stir up the warriors. Let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weakling say, “I am a warrior.” Come quickly, all you nations all around, gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O Lord. Let the nations rouse themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the neighboring nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the wine press is full. The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great.”

Really? Is that what we are still about? Visions of putting together our own personal army of holy warriors ready to stamp out the grapes of wrath and purify the world around us because of “their” wickedness? I’m thinking that such holy warriors are the problem today, not the solution.

To me, the value of this vision is to remember our own darkness, our own tendency to recreate God in our own image, where we always end up the “winners” over against the “losers” who are everybody else not like us. The darkest moments in the history of the church look like the church acting that way. The temptation is always there for us. A temptation well worth resisting.

God is in charge of the end. God will take care of that. Our task is to live out of love in the meantime.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, your children are all over the place in how we see our lives today and how we anticipate the future. Give us wisdom and discernment, give us the capacity for honest self reflection. May the hope of your future give us hope in the journey we now walk. In Jesus’ name. Amen.