Archive for August, 2016

John 9:13-22

August 16, 2016

“They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided.

So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”

His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” John 9:13-22

The Pharisees were divided. We can relate to that. We understand division. But do we understand how valuable it can potentially be? Only, I believe, if we take note of the obvious and then look for the issue behind the issue. The issues we are often blind to ourselves.

Some of the Pharisees were skeptical that Jesus was an instrument of God in making a blind man see. From their point of view, given that the miracle happened on the Sabbath day, Jesus could not possibly be God’s agent. They thought of God as perfect and the law as a perfect reflection of God. They were certain that Jesus could not be of God. Common sense would tell them that Jesus could only be an agent of the devil, the anti-god. Thus, they were blinded by their prior assumptions.

Other Pharisees were not so sure. They shared the same assumptions but were drawn to a different conclusion. They were…unsure. They were, after all, Pharisees. And as Pharisees, they were already considered heretics or at least “moderns” by the Sadducees, the most powerful branch of Judaism. Rather than limiting God’s revelation to strict observance of the Torah (as the Sadducees did,) the Pharisees also drew inspiration from the wisdom literature and the writings of the prophets. But they too couldn’t see clearly as they missed the Messiah standing in their midst.

In the absence of easy answers, the divided Pharisees sought more information. That was a wonderful step on their part. They talked again to the man and then to his parents. The only problem was that the man could only witness to his limited understanding and the parents were afraid to speak freely because of what that might cost them. Even fact checking can be wrong.

Meanwhile, Jesus is already off doing his Jesus thing and a man is still looking with wonder at the world that has suddenly opened up before him.

What can this story teach us in this divided age of ours? It can teach us the divisions can teach us something. There just might be a kernel of truth in another perspective that is only available to us if we quit protecting our prior assumptions and remain open to new information. It can teach us to look more closely at ourselves when our knee jerk reaction is to oppose another point of view. And it can teach us that sometimes we are dead wrong about things we are steadfastly convinced does not fit with our prior understanding of God.

This story can also teach us that when Jesus shows up, good things happen in real ways in the real lives of real people. We do well to listen to their witness.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, often we are blind to our own blindness. We don’t know what we don’t know and we forget that what we think we know just might be wrong. Open eyes and open ears bring new information to open minds that can then open hearts. Keep us open today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

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Hebrews 11:29-12:2

August 15, 2016

“By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was throne of God. set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Have you ever considered how privileged you are to have the life that you have? It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, employed or unemployed, sick or healthy. Every day that God wakes you up on the top side of the grass is a day when you will have the privilege of being a blessing in the life of someone else. Do you realize that?

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we are not alone. We are not alone today and we weren’t alone yesterday. We are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” There is nothing we will go through that many of our teammates have not already been through. There is nothing we will do that no one else has done before. But in THAT moment, when YOU take action – reaching out in compassion, greeting a stranger, letting a car merge in front of you, going the extra mile at work – you are creating history.

The world today is full of terrible news. Floods in Louisiana, riots in Milwaukee, Olympic swimmers robbed at gunpoint, captive girls on video, men shot on the way home from prayer, yet another death by drug overdose. The constant kaleidoscope of news reports and twenty second sound bites seldom capture the rest of the story – the compassionate response of those standing by to render aid, to listen with empathy, to stand with the victimized, and to cry out for justice.

Read the above passage again from Hebrews. This time notice again how those who went through so much were not able to see the fruits of their sacrifices, the harvest of their hopes. That is what it means to live by faith. It is also why our own recognition of the giants upon whose shoulders we stand is so important. We now carry the baton of life that has been handed down by those who have gone before us. WE are now the answer to prayers long past.

Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…

Let us pray: Dear Lord, two of the most grievous temptations in our lives is to fall prey to a sense of meaninglessness or to self-define our lives behind a wall of loneliness. Both of these deny your promises and ignore your presence. Give us opportunities today to be a blessing in someone else’s life and the courage to do the right thing. And in those moments, make us mindful of the golden thread of your love which weaves all people together. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hebrews 11:1-3,6-8

August 12, 2016

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible…

And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. Hebrews 11:1-3,6-8

Like many seminarians, I had a favorite professor. I took every class he taught. Semester after semester, there I would be, sitting in the back row, waiting for him to teach the same stuff that he taught in every class, no matter the name of the class. Call it intuition or the work of the Holy Spirit guiding my education, all I knew was that I wanted to master what he had to teach. I never had a personal or friendly relationship with him; mostly I felt like an irritant. Maybe because he could sense that I was on to his habit of teaching the same things over and over again.

There were times when I asked questions that he took seriously. But there was one time that I challenged him and he completely blew off my question. I said something along the lines of, “Everything you teach is predicated on the prior assumption that there really is a God. How can we engage people who are steadfastly convinced that God is a figment of our imaginations? A childish myth that has long ago lost its usefulness?” He wouldn’t even take up the question. I came away feeling silly for having asked it.

A few years ago I was with him again at a continuing education event. This time I caught him after hours over a beer. I took a shot and asked him the question again. This time he responded with something along the lines of “The longer I live, the more it seems to me that the only rational explanation of what happens in the world is the providence and presence of a loving God in, with, and under, it all.” I’m still chewing on that one.

I have never had an appreciation for the words “blind faith.” You will never hear me use those words in a sermon or a devotion. In my reading, Jesus healed blind people. Blind faith, to me at least, is a euphemism for wishful thinking. God doesn’t invite us into wishful thinking. God invites us into a relationship grounded in faith.

Hebrews says that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Cutting out the qualifying words means faith is about assurance and conviction. Faith is about confidence, loyalty, fidelity. Grounded in what? Grounded in the story that captured the reality of God revealed in Jesus and trusted, never perfectly, by millions of faithful people upon whose shoulders we stand.

This faith, says Hebrews, is what pleases God. And the rewards it provides are built into the behaviors such faith leads us into. Faith is action. Not blind action but real action, in real life, by real people, for real people. There is nothing blind about that. And there is little room for playing it safe.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, may our lives be a pleasing sacrifice to you today. In our words, in our thoughts, in our decisions, even when doing the right thing might be judged by the world as crazy, we want to follow as you lead the way. Let our confidence in you carry us as surely as the ground we walk on holds us up. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 12:41-48

August 11, 2016

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”

And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.”

”But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating.”

“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Luke 12:41-48

Peter was listening closely as Jesus taught about being prepared, being ready for action, and warning against greed. He just had one question. It was the same question that Travis Bickle asked the mirror, “You talkin’ to me?”

“Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” To whom do these challenging words apply?

Jesus talks first about a faithful and prudent manager. Those aren’t complicated words. They describe a person who does what he or she is supposed to do. They repeatedly do the right thing in their own actions and in their leadership of others. They don’t take advantage of their positions of power or influence. They always recognize that they are accountable to the owner. They are careful in that they take great care of the responsibilities that have been entrusted to them. In every sphere of life.

Then Jesus talks about another kind of manager who seems to do just the opposite. They get away with whatever they think they can get away with. They take advantage of their positions. They are cruel and heartless toward others. They ignore the rules of the game, rewriting them to serve only themselves.

The day of reckoning will come. Peter has heard that, loudly and clearly.

“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” That line isn’t very complicated either. But still, like Peter, we can look for loopholes.

We can play the game of pass the buck. “Yeah, I admit I’ve been blessed…but not nearly as much as others. THEY are the ones not pulling their weight.”

We can play the game of just getting by. The beginning of a new school year is just around the corner. Every student, every day, will be given a choice. Will they do the best they can to learn the material, turn in assignments, and participate in class? Or will they do just enough to get by?

We can play the blame game. Immigrants have taken all of our jobs. Terrorists are ruining the world. Politicians are bankrupting our futures. The other party is intent on destroying our country.

Or we can play the same game – under the rules which God has written into the DNA of the universe. Everyone doing the best they can with what they have toward the common good of all. Honesty, integrity, generosity, thrift, prudence, and justice for all. Those are the aspirational values that sound like Jesus and they are not out of reach for any of us.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, forgive us for caving in to the temptation to avoid and evade the responsibilities you have entrusted to us. For taking advantage of our positions. For putting heavy loads on others, for looking for the splinters in the eyes of our neighbors while ignoring the log in our own. Help us do the best we can with what we have. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 12:35-40

August 10, 2016

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.”

“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Luke 12:35-40

Have you seen any good Ten Commandments cartoons lately? I can only think of two. Neither is very good. The second is probably in bad taste for a morning devotion but I can’t help myself.

In one of them, you see Moses talking to the people of Israel. “I’ve got good news and bad news. I couldn’t talk God out of the first ten but God did agree to add an 11th commandment. ‘Thou shalt not sweat it.’”

In the second, you see Moses talking to the people of Israel. “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that I whittled God down to ten. The bad news is that adultery is still in there.”

I was with a member of our congregation yesterday whose mother passed away in the night. As we sat together in the living room, the woman brought out a picture of her mother’s confirmation class. They were beautiful. All the girls were in the front row wearing identical white dresses. All the boys were in the back in suits and ties.

I looked at that picture and immediately had two thoughts. First, wow, that was a different day. I can’t imagine how different it was to teach a confirmation class back then compared to way we do it today. And I can’t imagine all of our kids dressed like that. I wish I could say that it is just that our sense of fashionable style has changed but that would be trivial. The whole tenor of congregational life, of the expectations of confirmation as a rite of passage, and the meaningfulness of the experience has made a definite shift. It is a lot more challenging today.

And my second thought was that all of those kids are now around 79 years old. We lost one of their class members last night. I wonder how many are left?

In these verses Jesus invites us into a sense of urgency in our Christian lives. We don’t have forever on this earth to make an earthly difference – to see that God’s will is done and that God’s kingdom comes, on earth as it will in heaven.

That doesn’t have to be a morbid thought but it does need to challenge us just as it challenged those first disciples who heard Jesus speak. We DO need to sweat it because the qualitative difference that faithful Christians make in the world DOES matter! And YES, there are very real, very negative consequences to rest content that the Ten Commandments are posted on a wall somewhere rather than seeing them burned into the hearts and imaginations of the people of God so that they actually function as intended – as boundaries around our behaviors and as mirrors to our sin.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, keep us steadfast in our faith. Plant burning seeds of faithfulness, willingness, eagerness, and courage in our hearts. May our prayers be fervent, our song be full-throated, and our actions match the depth of your love. Help us live today out of gratitude, grace, and expectancy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 6:19-24

August 9, 2016

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Matthew 6:19-24

Sometimes word order doesn’t matter. I read a great quote yesterday in a news article about what is going on in Venezuela these days. It said “Capitalism means man exploits man. Socialism means just the opposite.” It turns a phrase into a word like “radar.” Forward or backwards, it says the same thing.

That doesn’t always work. The Bible says that “God is love” but that doesn’t mean that “love is God.” God is love but God cannot be reduced to love. And God certainly can’t be reduced to our casual wishy washy emotional definition of such a beautiful word like “love.”

In today’s text, word order matters greatly. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” My sense is that we can read that both as descriptive and as an invitation. Where you put your treasure, your heart will follow. If you want to know what you really love, what you really value, what you really believe in, what you are really passionate about, what really matters to you…then look where you put your money.

Politicians covet those little $5 donations. Once you have given someone your treasure, they become your horse in the race and they know it.

This is also the reason why it is so troublesome to church leaders to realize that 40% or more of the congregational members don’t give any money. It isn’t the money that is the problem – God always provides for what is truly needed – it is the sad realization that the peoples’ hearts are just not in the mission of the church.

As for healthy and unhealthy eyes…that has to do with how we look at things. We can look at life from a purely worldly point of view. There is might make perfect sense to invest our treasure in whatever looks good to us or whatever looks good to whoever else might be looking at us.

But when we look at life from God’s point of view, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, the whole landscape changes.

Kelley and I went to the eye doctor a couple of weeks ago. We left some treasure behind but being able to see clearly is worth it.

What is today’s Bible reading saying to you?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, again today you are reminding me of stuff I don’t need and things in life that I don’t see. Help us be good stewards of all of the gifts that you give us. That we might be generous rather than greedy, that we might invest our treasures wherever it is that is worthy of our hearts which follow. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Genesis 15:1-6

August 8, 2016

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”

He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:1-6

No question about it, some people are just born visionaries. They see the future in their mind’s eye and go for it. The most effective visionaries bring other people along for the ride, knowing that nothing worth accomplishing can be accomplished alone.

Elon Musk gets many of today’s visionary headlines. His stated purpose is to change the world, to alter the course of humanity, by leveraging advances in electric power, space travel, and self-driving cars. He is the latest in a long line of people with great ideas and the capacity to bring them to life.

But that is not the story of Abraham and Sarah. They are not portrayed in the Bible as visionaries. Just the opposite in fact. There is nothing in the story of Abraham that suggests that he was one step ahead of everyone else. At best, he just took one step at a time. And Sarah laughed at the idea that God would use her to bless the world with the birth of a child.

The only visionary in the story of Abraham and Sarah is God. God implants God’s vision into the life story of Abraham. And what does Abraham do? Abraham believes God. Abraham is remembered then, not for the greatness of his vision, but for the willingness not only to believe but to follow. And that, says Genesis, is “righteousness.”

Such righteousness is not a word game. It isn’t as simple as verbal commitment, as saying the right words in the right way, as signing on the dotted line of a doctrinal statement. There is no separation between Abraham’s willingness to take God’s at God’s word and take step after step into God’s preferred future.

I admire visionaries. We all do. They might irritate us or impress us or challenge our assumptions. We might be jealous or even covetous of them. The world needs visionaries. But that needs to be qualified – for there will always be visionaries with dark, self-serving, selfish visions that are dangerous.

Few of us are anything like Elon Musk. Few of us will even be able to afford one of his fancy cars, fewer still will get to ride to space in one of his rockets. But all of us, any of us, at any time, can live in the faith of Abraham. We can trust that God holds our future in God’s hands and that trusting that is as simple as actually doing the next right thing, every time, to the best of our ability.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, lead on. Light a path before us in the humblest tasks of our day. Guide us as we do our daily work, as we touch the lives of others and in turn are blessed as well by others. As faith becomes action, may your will be done. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

1 Timothy 6:1-12,17-19

August 5, 2016

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses….

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. 1 Timothy 6:1-12,17-19

Don’t you love that closing line, “so that they may take hold of the life that really is life”?

It reminds me of an old story we have all heard before. Or maybe we haven’t. So here it goes again.

So there was a wealthy guy who decided to go on vacation down on the coast of Mexico. While sitting on the beach in the morning, he saw the same guy in very tattered clothing come down each day to cast a line into the water. And each day the guy caught a few fish and left. Day after day, the same thing.

So one day the wealthy guy decided to take a risk and strike up a conversation. “So I notice you come down here each day to fish. You must love fishing.”

“Yes,” said the fisherman, “I come down here each day to fish. I do love fishing but I come here each day because this is the only way that I can feed my family. I have no job and we are very poor.”

“Well,” said the wealthy guy, “Have you ever considered fishing with a net? You could catch more fish that way, enough to eat and enough to sell. That way you could catch even more fish and then you could buy a boat. Then you could catch enough fish to maybe afford two boats and maybe even be able to employ others to fish alongside you. And then maybe you could afford even more boats and then you could have others fish FOR you.”

“But sir,” asked the fisherman, “If I had others to do the work for me, what would I do?”

“Well,” said the wealthy man, “You could do anything you wanted to do then!”

To which the fisherman replied, “I really do love fishing. That is what I am doing now.”

Since I was born in 1960 I don’t remember the days before washing machines and all of the other time saving devices that we take for granted today. But I have read that there was a time when people wore their clothes many times before washing them….but now it seems we run at least a load a day. And I do remember when we only got three channels on a black and white TV….and we didn’t spend as much time sitting around watching it as we do today. And I remember the days before cell phones and answering machines…when it was actually possible to go home from work and be done with it.

Why do we always assume it is better to be richer than we already are? Why are we always so hungry for more? Why, once we get what we long for, is there already something else just around the corner that we then long for?

When the writer cautions us against the temptation to fall in love with money (and the stuff and places it promises to give and take us), or warns us against the temptation to do anything to get it, he is trying to open our eyes to what really matters in life. In a life that is truly life. The life we actually want…and the life that God wants us to have.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, today we come to the end of another week. Thank you for the opportunities you gave us this week to serve others. Thank you for the many many ways that we were served by others. Thank you for what we have, for the people with whom we share our lives, and those we hold most dear. Fill our hearts today with a sense of enoughness, of contentment, of peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 12:22-31

August 4, 2016

He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!

And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!

And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Luke 12:22-31

I usually spend time on the first Thursday morning of every month with a wonderful group of interesting, smart, and faithful women. We use that time to catch up with each other, I try to teach something interesting, and then everyone has lunch. The hostess of the day always brings a sandwich for me. I always look forward to these mornings. But sometimes I struggle with what would be helpful to teach. So I often reach out for help.

Often that means asking one of the participants ahead of time what would be interesting or helpful to them. This week the suggestion that came my way was to go around the room, asking each person to describe the most frightening experience of their lives, reflecting on how the church helped them to feel better in the midst of it. Anticipating today, I’ve been thinking about that question. Since we are having air conditioning issues at church, our meeting has been postponed until next week. So, when I read the Bible verses assigned for today, I’m thinking about that question now.

I’m wondering both “What IS fear?” and “Where do we get the idea – that most of us share – that the purpose of the church, or even of the Christian faith, is to help us feel better, more comfortable, less fearful?”

What lies beneath and beyond the rush of body chemicals that create the sensations we experience as fear? Isn’t it always tied to some type of loss, some type of pain, eventually drilling down to the ultimate loss of death?

Didn’t Jesus repeatedly tell his disciples “Fear not!” and “Peace be with you” and “I will never leave you” and “I will be with you always”? Isn’t the heart of the matter the good news that Jesus cares not only for the daily challenges of our lives, that human suffering be alleviated and hungry people be fed, and in that birthed a movement dedicated to helping, to comforting, to reassuring people? And this all the way to the cross and the resurrection and the promise of eternal life – all of which recognize the real pain and loss of death but ultimately swallow that up with the promise of something more and beyond?

Yesterday I spent some time with a person who is struggling with what other people might explain away as irrational fears. But, to her, they are very real fears. We talked. We prayed together. And before I left I wrote a note to leave behind for her to read. It was a reminder that God would protect her through her fears, that God was stronger than her fears.

I’m thinking that is behind today’s Bible verses. Not only Jesus’ comforting words which alleviate our worries, but also the invitation to hear those words in the company of others.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, worry, like guilt, often feels like an overwhelming emotion. The world and our own lives constantly stir the pot of worry and guilt. Especially today when information comes to us from so many sources, we can lose ourselves in the worries of the world. Fear has become a weapon of manipulation. So this morning, if even for just a moment, thank you for the vision of ravens and flowers and the reassurance that you know what we need and that you will walk with us. May we seek you first, in all things, that worry and fear might be swallowed up in your love and promises. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Deuteronomy 8:10-20

August 3, 2016

You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you. Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today.

When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.

 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

 If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord is destroying before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.  Deuteronomy 8:10-20.

When I first moved to Houston the church I served had an excellent Mother’s Day Out program. One of our parents, Ezra Idlet, had partnered with Keith Grimwood to form a two man band they named “Trout Fishing in America.” (They are still making music together today.) I quickly became a fan.

One of their songs that comes to mind to me most often is entitled “No Matter What Goes Right.” The repeated line is “I’ll still be loving you, no matter what goes right.” The idea behind that lyric is the same idea behind today’s text from Deuteronomy.

It is easy, it is natural, to turn to God when times are tough. “There are no atheists in foxholes” is a cliché born out of that desperate tendency to turn to God in hard times. To turn to the God of the last resort. Which then gives rise to the common but widely discredited idea of the “God of the Gaps.” We turn God into a fire station – out of sight and mind until the house is on fire – instead of seeing God in, with, and under all of the moments and places of our lives.

God wants more from us, and with us, than that. God invites us into a trusting relationship in all times, good and bad.

That desire is emphasized in the harsh words of warning in this text – you can’t get any stronger than “If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.” Are those words intended more as a powerful deterrent than a quid pro quo for gratitude and obeisance?

The good news is that Jesus helps us see that God is more lover than landlord. God doesn’t keep score. God doesn’t foreclose on our mortgage or ask “what have you done for me lately?” in hearing our prayers. The bad news is that just as we might eagerly turn toward God in hard times, we just as quickly turn away from God when times are good. We might think that makes God all the more vulnerable to our fickleness but the deeper truth is that we are far more vulnerable than we realize to our self centeredness.

Another famous oldie but goodie song asked the question, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” This is Deuteronomy’s question as well. Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, all that we have, all that we are, our gifts, our abilities, our passions, and our possessions are gifts from your loving hand. Our lives are sacred trusts, signs of your love and instruments of our capacity to be a blessing to others. In good times and in bad times, may we never lose sight of you, even as you never lose sight of us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.