His Eye is on the Sparrow

 

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Meditation on Matthew 10:24-39

June 25, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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24 ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

26 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.  28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing.  30And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

32 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
     37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

 

***

I was preparing for my children’s message when Jim interrupted to tell me that he didn’t want to upset me. But he had just seen a snake.

“It was only a little black snake,” he said quickly, seeing fear on my face.

“Where?” I asked in horror.

It was curled up under a faucet on the outside of our house, he said. “It took one look at me and said, ‘You’re not a mouse!’ And took off.”

“Which way did he go?” I asked. What I wanted to know was, “Where is he now?!” For what is worse than seeing a snake in your yard is knowing the snake is still there, without knowing where.

“Out by the wall,” he said, gesturing vaguely, meaning he really didn’t know.

The coincidence was that I had been studying animals of the Bible, including snakes, for my children’s message. When the Bible mentions wildlife, it offers us a glimpse into the natural world in which the people of God lived thousands of years ago. We are brought closer to the ancient people, when we consider the many species of wildlife in the Bible that still dwell in the world today.

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We read about bats in Leviticus (11:19) and Deuteronomy (14:18); 14 species of which still exist in Israel! We read about bees. For the land of the promise is described in Exodus 3:8 as a land “flowing with milk and honey.” Bears are abundant and dreaded for their ferocity. To dare a bear was a mark of uncommon courage in 1 Samuel 17:34-36. And yes, we find 10 different varieties of snakes in the Bible, such as the one Jim discovered yesterday.

Snakes have always had a bad reputation, beginning with the incident in the Garden.

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Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees snakes and “You brood of vipers,” in Matthew 23:33. John uses the same expression in Matthew 3:7 for the hypocritical Pharisees and Sadducees coming to the Jordan to be baptized.

A viper’s bite is deadly and would often come unexpectedly–for the snake hides and strikes quickly its unsuspecting victims. This is what happens to the apostle Paul, when he is shipwrecked and is making a fire in Acts 28:3-6. A viper comes out of the pile of sticks and fastens itself on Paul’s hand.

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The natives see the creature hanging from Paul’s hand, and think he must be a “murderer” for this to have happened after he was saved from the sea. But he shakes the creature off into the fire and suffers no harm. “They were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.”

 

***

While snakes are a symbol of evil, birds are usually a symbol of good. In Isaiah 40:31, those who “hope in the Lord” will be renewed in strength. They will “soar on wings like eagles.”

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In Genesis 8:8, a bird is again a symbol of hope when Noah sends out a dove to see if the land is dry enough to leave the ark. The Holy Spirit, when Jesus is baptized, “descends like a dove.”

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Jesus points to the birds in Matthew 6:26 when he teaches the disciples not to worry about food or clothing for God knows what they need. The Lord will provide. Trust in God’s steadfast love and care.  “ 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?”

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In today’s reading in Matthew 10:34-38, Jesus uses birds to teach his disciples, again, about God’s love. He is preparing them for the difficulties of ministry, warning them that he is sending them out “like sheep in the midst of wolves,” and saying that they should be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

 

Then he tells him that the persecution will come from the ones closest to them. Jesus has come, he declares in vs. 34-36, “not to bring peace but a sword,” to “set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; one’s enemies will be members of one’s own households.”

This speech is disturbing, especially if we take it out of context. Jesus is not advocating violence and broken homes. He is trying to prepare his beloved for the suffering to come when they are apostles–the ones sent out to bring his message of hope to the world. When Jesus says that he has not come to bring peace, he is speaking of the pain and harsh reality of discipleship. Not everyone will embrace the Good News; many will oppose them and be ashamed of them, including members of their own families. The sword is a metaphor, as the writer of Hebrews says in 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

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The apostle Paul also uses military language in Ephesians 6, beginning at v. 10 to describe the spiritual battle that is discipleship.

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10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, …. authorities, … the cosmic powers of this present darkness, … the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm…” Then, in vs. 15-16, he says 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

At the end of today’s passage–verses 37-39–Christ sums up his main points. Discipleship means loving Him more than anyone, including your own family, which would have been shocking to the culture into which Christ was born that valued the bonds of family above all else. The other is that discipleship means sacrifice, being ready to give up anything and everything to follow as Christ leads you. Give up your worldly ambitions. Give your life to Him, and he will give you new, abundant life in Him. The cross that was the worst sort of death for the worst sort of criminals would become, with Christ’s resurrection, a symbol of God’s love and power and the hope of our resurrection with Him.

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“Take up your cross,” Jesus beckons us, meaning trust in God’s power and love and the hope of everlasting life. Then, “Follow me.”

Embedded in this passage about persecution and pain for Christ’s followers is the assurance that we need not be afraid of those who “kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Don’t be afraid of people who might wish you harm–people who might be closest to you. But do trust the one who is your Savior, Redeemer and Lord.

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Jesus tells us to consider the sparrows. The Hebrew word for sparrow, tzíppôr, appears more than 40 times in the Bible and is a name for a category of small birds, of which 150 species live in the Holy Land today. They are so plentiful and little that they are sold 2 for a “penny”–a Roman copper coin, worth about 1/16 of a silver denarius and less than a quarter in U.S. money today. In Luke 12:4-7, we learn that if we bought 4 of them, the seller might throw in another for free. The poor who could not afford to buy a sheep or a goat for the priest to sacrifice in the temple could buy a couple of sparrows, instead. They also ate them roasted and skinned; each one was only a mouthful.

And yet God knows when a single sparrow falls from the sky. Just as he knows us and values us even more, though we might think we are not valuable. I think that’s why we have such a hard time sometimes in our walk with God. We are afraid that He doesn’t care about us because we are not worth caring about. But we are mistaken! God our creator knows us so intimately that he knows what is impossible for human beings to know– the number of hairs on our head!

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Jesus stirs us to think on the tiny sparrow not just because it is small and prolific but because they are social creatures that like to build nests where people work and live. They inhabit much of the world today! So we don’t have to look very far to find the reminder of God’s loving care- his assurance that we need not be afraid of the persecution that will surely come to all Christ’s followers, though we won’t know from whom or when our persecution will come. His Spirit will strengthen us through the most difficult times, such as when persecution comes from those closest and dearest to us–our families and friends–the ones we love.

As Civilla Martin wrote in a song, after visiting a bedridden friend, who said, when Civilla asked if she ever felt discouraged, “Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come, why should my heart be lonely and long for Heaven and home, when Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He: His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

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Let us pray.

 

Lord God, thank you for your powerful Word that created all life on this earth–all creatures–creeping and swimming things, birds that fly in the air. Thank you, God, for creating all of us and calling your Creation, including us, “Good.” Thank you for sending your Son to us to reveal your love and to teach us to love and then to equip us for compassionate ministry –and send us out! Help us, Lord, to not be afraid of the persecution we experience in this world–sometimes from strangers, but often from people who are close to us. Take our lives, Lord, and let us walk with you this journey of faith. And whenever we see the animals of your creation, especially the tiny, seemingly insignificant sparrows, take away all our fear. Open our eyes to see our value in your eyes and appreciate your redeeming love. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Celebration of Life: Remembering Gail Buchanan

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Meditation on Romans 5:1-5

June 20, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

 

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

 

***

When I accepted the call to minister here at MIPC, I was anxious to communicate with my new congregation on Facebook. And that is how I met Gail, before I met most of the church. She was the creator and administrator of our congregation’s FB page, and she and her daughter had designed the original MIPC website. Communication via social media was just one of her many talents and skills, I would soon find out. In a flurry of emails, back and forth, she welcomed me to Florida and the church and answered many questions. I felt an immediate connection with her, though she was in Maryland and would be for a while. She regretted not being at the church to welcome me in person, she said, or to attend my installation. She told me she was undergoing treatments for cancer. But when I expressed concern and sadness at her news, she assured me that she was “feeling well most of the time.”

She was as wonderful as I expected when I met her in person some months later–an intelligent, strong woman of faith who loved the Lord and loved this church, so much that she suggested we walk around the building and pray for the Spirit to cover this place, to be poured out on God’s people so that we may be changed and the ministry built up and protected from evil.

At our first meeting, Gail seemed to be glowing. People who hugged her in the Narthex after worship exclaimed, “Gail, you look great!” If she hadn’t told me she had cancer, I would never have known it. Her face shone with joy as she greeted longtime friends, fellow laborers for the Lord. She had the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding!

God had a plan and a purpose for her life. She had endured not only physical illness but the pain of intense grief and loss. I didn’t know until a few weeks ago that she had lost her husband to cancer when he was only 39. Gail, a longtime, active member of our congregation, trusted in God’s love and His promise, as Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, to complete the good work in us that He has begun. She took seriously Christ’s call to follow him, sending out into the world those he equipped to do compassionate ministry. In Matthew 5:16, Christ tells his disciples, “Let you light shine before others so that they may see your good deeds and glorify God in heaven.”

Gail raised her 3 children to know God’s love and encouraged their participation in Kids Klub, Praise Band, Sunday school, and other activities with our congregation. She served as a deacon, on fellowship and outreach committees, and taught children’s church, parenting classes and Life Study Classes. She went on numerous mission trips, including one in 2013 to an orphanage in Haiti. She was an active volunteer in the community, serving on the Board of the Sharing Center, as a member of the Junior League of Central and North Brevard, and as President of the Friends of the Library. She earned the rank of captain in the U.S. Navy and served her country as a coordinator of medical services during Desert Storm. Then, she used her skills and experiences for medical mission work in Haiti and Nicaragua.

Her greatest passion was for helping needy children and families. She earned a bachelor’s in Occupational Therapy and a doctorate in Psychology. She served as a counselor/therapist at Merritt Island Christian School and was instrumental in the founding of an early intervention program, the “Lab School” at Brevard Community College, now Eastern Florida State. She taught parents and their children the great joy of being God’s special creation and fostered self-esteem.

Her one, uncompleted goal was to write a book on Conscious Discipline for the people of Haiti. But in the sharing of her passion with others, another Christian educator/therapist is committed to finishing the work, so that Gail’s dream will come true–and many children will be blessed.

Gail was a rock and inspiration to many. She continued to encourage and serve others while she was very ill, traveling to North Carolina to care for her mother last year. But even as she was a rock and inspiration, she was also supported and sustained by a circle of friends at her special Monday night Prayer Group for more than 3 decades. She believed in the power of prayer and the importance of staying connected to the community of faith.

When I asked Gail how she was feeling that day I met her–when she was glowing in the Narthex, she turned the conversation to the future. She thanked us for our prayers. She was making plans. She anticipated God’s healing. For, as the prophet Jeremiah assures God’s people living in exile, Gail had a future filled with hope.

***

Friends, Romans 5 speaks to those of us who mourn the loss of loved ones and for those who are enduring suffering and struggling to keep the faith. As I studied Paul’s letter, I realized that the apostle is teaching about suffering because he, too, has struggled and is worried for others who will suffer and be persecuted–because of their faith.

Paul in 2 Cor. 11 describes some of what he has endured, beginning at v. 24:  “Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.”

But Paul concludes in 2 Cor. 12 that he will “boast” of his weakness and sufferings because they have a purpose. In his “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ” is where Paul finds his strength!

In Romans 5, Paul tells us, again, to boast of our sufferings for they have a purpose; suffering shapes our character and produces, of all things, hope!! HOPE is what gives wings to our faith and carries us through the most difficult and painful times. Hope is what keeps us walking each day, clinging to our faith, loving God and neighbor, as the Lord calls us to do, whatever our situation, in times of health and illness; in times of joy and sorrow.

Remember, hope isn’t something we conjure up with our own willpower. It is a gift from the Lord that we receive by grace in the community of faith. We don’t earn hope, just as we can’t earn our salvation. We can only open our hearts and pray the Lord will fill us up. “For hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

 

***

The Spirit poured a variety of gifts into Gail that she sought to develop and share with the world, just as God has given all of us gifts He wants us to use for him. She took advantage of many opportunities to serve and help others, sharing from all that God had made her and all that he had given to her. She listened to her Savior, who tells his beloved in Matthew 10:8, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

When we hear the stories of what Gail did for others–the countless lives she touched –we can easily imagine the Lord’s greeting of, “Well done, faithful one,” in the early morning hours of June 5, the dawning of a new day. That’s when she experienced the answer to all our prayers for her–complete healing, wholeness in Him.

All the faithful have this hope, not because we believe in ourselves and trust in our good deeds, intellect or accomplishments, but because we believe in the one who gave himself for us, who died so that the world may obtain access to God’s grace. We endure suffering and loss, as Gail did, trusting in our loving God and listening for His Word, knowing that suffering will shape us into the people God wants us to be. And that it will produce hope, which gives wings to our faith and “does not disappoint us. For God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

 

Old Father Abraham

Genesis 18:1-15 and 21:1-7

June 18, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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     18The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3He said, ‘My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.  4Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.  5Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ 6And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ 7Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.8Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

9 They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ 10Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 11Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ 13The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?”  14Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ 15But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’

21The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. 2Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.  3Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. 4And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6Now Sarah said, ‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’ 7And she said, ‘Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’

***

Ministers are notoriously bad drivers. Jim told me this on one of our first dates. He said this as he was driving his car with one hand, cleaning his glasses, and looking through a pile of CDs, asking me what music I wanted to hear. I was staring straight ahead, praying we wouldn’t crash or roll into a ditch. I married him, anyway, scary driver that he was. Then, 6 years later, I became a minister and a scary driver, too.

I was thinking about this Wednesday, as I drove to Heavenly Handmade, our needlecraft group. I was running late, so I took a short cut, went North Tropical Trail and discovered the road was closed.

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I followed the detour through a housing development that was like a maze; it led me southeast to a congested part of Courtenay Parkway. No light. No left turn.

 

I turned right and went to the first light that permitted U turns. I waited an eternity. Then the light turned green and I was headed north, again. At the barge canal I encountered road construction. More delays!

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Finally, I crossed the bridge and drove what felt like a long way. I forget sometimes how far north Pat lives! Just when I thought the Georgia border must be near,

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I turned into the grassy path that is Pat and Gary’s driveway. I pulled up in front of the house. Got out and rang the bell.

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No one was home! I was in the wrong place! Peggy was hosting Heavenly Handmade at her house, south of the church. I was already 30 minutes late, and it would take me another 25 minutes to get there. The group would probably be preparing to leave as I pulled up in her drive!

I started to laugh. What else could I do?

My drive to Peggy’s was very different from my drive to Pat’s. It seemed to take no time at all. I relaxed and enjoyed some precious quiet, taking in my surroundings, thanking God for my blessings. I sensed the presence of Christ that is always with us and the joy that is ours when we know Him and seek to share our hope in Him.

On my way to Peggy’s, my phone went “Ding!” I picked it up and read the text, thinking, once again, how ministers are terrible drivers. Someone should take my keys away!

The message was from Peggy, wondering where I was.

Your HH awaits you!”

Soon, I reached Peggy’s house.

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I looked forward to seeing my friends, whatever time was left with them. We might call ourselves a “needlecraft group,” but that isn’t all. We come together for the fellowship.

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We tell stories. We laugh, and we never judge! What happens in HH, well you know the rest… My close friends in the Lord are, at times, like angels in disguise, speaking hope and encouragement into my life.

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***

Abram is 75 years old when the Lord says, “Go forth from your native land! Leave your father’s house and go to a land that I will show you.” God promises to be with him always and to bless him with a new homeland. God will give him offspring as numerous as the stars that will be a blessing to all the families of the earth.

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But Abram doesn’t have any children. Not one. He longs for a son, a desire that God placed inside him but would take many, many years to fulfill. Hearing the Lord’s voice for the first time, Abram believes in God’s promises. He and his wife, Sarai, and nephew, Lot, begin their journey into the unknown, leaving their old life behind, relying on the Lord for their life ahead.

Ten years pass, and Sarai is still childless. Impatient, she persuades Abram to have a child with her Egyptian slave, Hagar. But this isn’t what God meant when he promised Abram numerous offspring. Thirteen more years pass. Abram is 99! The Lord makes a covenant of circumcision with him, and gives him a new name– Abraham. “I will make nations of you,” the Lord says in Gen. 17, “and kings shall come from you.” God gives Sarai a new name, as well–Sarah–and says, “ she shall give rise to nations; kings of people shall come from her.” Abraham falls on his face and laughs, “Can a child be born to a man who is 100 years old? Can Sarah, who is 90 years old, bear a child?” God assures him, “Your wife, Sarah, shall bear you a son and you shall name him Isaac,” or Yitzchaq in Hebrew, meaning “He will laugh; he will rejoice.”

Then we come to today’s reading, beginning in Gen. 18. Abraham is still waiting for the promised child. “The Lord” appears to Abraham by the “oaks” or “terebinths of Mamre”–at “Hebron,” where Abraham pitches his tent and builds an altar to the Lord in Gen. 13:18. Terebinths are a source of turpentine, and Terebinth resin is used as a wine preservative in ancient Israel and the Near East.

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Hebron, Hebrew for “friend,” is named for Abraham. He is called a “friend of God” in Isaiah, 2 Chronicles, and James ch. 2.

Abraham, though he is waiting on the Lord, doesn’t know in Gen. 18 that the Lord has come. He sees only “three men.” But the humble hospitality he shows to the strangers is remarkable. He runs to meet them, bows and calls them, “my lords,” (small l) a title of respect. He brings them water to bathe their feet, invites them to recline in the shade. He tells Sarah to knead and make fresh bread out of choice flour and chooses a tender calf for a servant to prepare. Abraham isn’t wealthy. And calf is a “rare delicacy and a sign of princely hospitality among pastoralists.” (Sarna) He serves curds (yogurt) and milk, which is “highly esteemed in the ancient Near East and offered to the gods.” (Sarna) It is believed to be a “source of vitality” and to possess “curative powers.” (Sarna) Abraham doesn’t eat with his guests. He generously gives his best, then stands, ready to serve and satisfy their requests.

After they are welcomed, one of the strangers–sometimes called “the Lord,” and sometimes “an angel” or “a man”–tells Abraham that he will return in a year and, “Sarah shall have a son!” Sarah, listening in, laughs to herself. Is it amazement? Unbelief? The “Lord,” reading her mind, asks Abraham why Sarah laughs. Fearfully, she denies it.

To make sure the hearer understands the miracle that will take place, the word “old” is used 3 times in this passage–first by the narrator in vs. 11 to describe Abraham and Sarah, who are also “advanced in years.” Sarah calls herself “withered” and her husband “old” in verse 12. Then the “Lord,” in v. 13, asks Abraham why Sarah thinks she is too old to bear a child. The Lord leaves out the part about her saying Abraham is too old, too.

The divine being asks, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

***

We can learn many things from Abraham. Here are some of them. His life of service to the Lord didn’t start until he turned 75. So those of you who might be feeling old, well, don’t! Keep on serving—doing the things God wants you to do! Don’t be afraid to try new things!

Abraham’s life of service comes from a heart of love. He is known in Scripture–Old Testament and New–to be a “friend of God.”

We can learn from Abraham’s faith–holding on to the hope of the promised child, though both he and his wife were long past childbearing years. Old Father Abraham is 100 when Sarah gives birth to Isaac, named for the joy he will bring!

We can learn from his remarkable hospitality to strangers–giving generously of what is his best, though he is not wealthy–his choice flour, his most tender calf and milk–a feast fit for princes. As the writer of Hebrews 13:2 reminds us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Another important thing that occurred to me when I read this passage is that God can use each one of us to be “angels” in disguise –speaking hope and encouragement to one another.

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And if we begin to doubt that God can make something lovely out of what seems to us to be chaotic, confusing, hectic lives, remember how the Lord answered Sarah’s doubts about the miracles of God:

“Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”

 

Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you that nothing is too wonderful for you. We thank you that, as the angel tells the Virgin Mary at the annunciation, that nothing is impossible with you! Give us the faith of Abraham, Lord, so that we serve you with our lives, giving generously from our best. Stir in us the heart of Abraham, whom you called “Friend,” that clings to hope and believes in your promises, despite the long time we may have to wait to see their fulfillment. We thank you for always being with us in Spirit and leading us each day. Thank you for sending angels to dwell among us and bring us words of encouragement. We look forward, Lord, to your Son’s return in glory–and to the fulfillment of the promise of your everlasting Kingdom–a new heaven, a new earth. When we see our loving Savior, face to face! In His name we pray. Amen.

 

“Planet Fitness”

 

Meditation on Matthew 28:8-20

Trinity Sunday: June 11, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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     8So they (the women) left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 

10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” 14If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’  15So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among people in Judea to this day.

   16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

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***

My personal trainer persuaded me to go with him to work out at the gym on Monday. Usually, I come up with excuses why I can’t go with my husband to work out– I don’t have time.” I’m busy.” I’m tired.” But I also know how good it is for my physical and mental health, my energy, strength, and state of mind. So Jim and I went to Planet Fitness together.Slide24

Now Planet Fitness will tell you that there IS something different about their program; they proclaim a different message than other fitness clubs.

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Their logo is, “Planet Fitness, home of the Judgment Free Zone.”

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At the entrance to the Rockledge club, a sign commands us to “leave egos here”–meaning outside the building.

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The message of welcome, belonging, and acceptance of all people no matter where you are on your physical fitness journey–or how much money you have–is proclaimed in all their advertising and on the inside and outside of their facilities.

You can’t go to a Planet Fitness without getting the message–no matter if your workout is 20 minutes on a treadmill going turtle speed or 2 hours lifting, running and laboring at weight machines.

The Planet Fitness target customer, a Business Insider article says, is someone just getting used to working out–or people who “really, really hate exercising.” Hence, no frills. No classes. No yoga, Pilates or Tai chi. No free weights above 80 pounds. There’s actually a “lunk alarm” when people exert themselves with too much machismo. A “lunk” is defined as one who “grunts, drops weights or judges.”

Planet Fitness understands that even though people want to get healthy and lose weight, they also like eating. And I think they understand that when people eat together, relationships are built. They serve free pizza on the first Monday of every month and bagels on the second Tuesday.

I haven’t made it for the free pizza, yet, or the bagels. But I have visited the Tootsie roll bucket a few times.

I always leave with a smile on my face from this welcoming, accepting, informal and diverse environment. I think to myself, “I want to go back again,” though it is hard to find the time and energy to go very often.

I leave Planet Fitness marveling at the number and diversity of people who will get up early to drive to a fitness club and work out, sometimes before they go to a job or school. And I wonder how we can better communicate the joy, welcome, love and acceptance of Christ so that more people would want to get up early and come to our church for worship and fellowship on Sunday mornings. And our church would GROW!

I know the answer. We need to GO!

We need to go and make disciples!

Slide40

 

We return to the empty tomb in our gospel reading today and the risen Christ commissioning first Mary and Mary Magdalene and then all of his disciples, when he appears to them on the mountain or “in the hills,” as some translations say, of Galilee. Jesus is back to his home territory, where his own ministry was launched.

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This isn’t the first time he has sent his disciples out to minister in his name. He sends them out in Matthew 10:5, with these instructions, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”

But before the women reach the other disciples to pass on Christ’s message, we read about a priestly conspiracy that only appears in this gospel. The guards posted at Christ’s tomb return to Jerusalem to report “all that had happened” to the chief priests and scribes. The religious leaders respond to the news by attempting to conceal the truth of Christ’s resurrection from the people –for fear they will lose their powerful positions. They offer the soldiers a “large sum of money” as a bribe and tell them to lie! “Say, His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep,’” they say. They tell the soldiers not to worry if the governor finds out, for they will “satisfy him.” What does that mean? They will pay him off–another bribe! The confidence they have that the governor won’t be upset by their lies, bribes, and deception, as long as he receives his payment, paints a picture of rampant corruption among political and religious leaders.

What do the guards do? What would you do? Probably, they would be killed if they did not obey their orders. Verse 15 tells us, “So they took the money and did as they had been taught.” Matthew adds, “And this story has been spread among people in Judea to this very day.”

So you get an idea of what the disciples are up against–the lies and bribes of political and religious leaders–and certain persecution if they try to share the truth of Christ’s resurrection.

Then, we are in the hills of Galilee with the disciples, waiting for the risen Christ. Some worship him, when they see him. But others are hesitant to believe. Does it surprise you that even amongst Jesus’ faithful disciples, there are seeds of doubt?

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Jesus doesn’t call attention to those who doubt; he seems to expect them to react that way. He proclaims all authority “in heaven and on earth” that has been given to him, presumably by the Father. He commissions all of them–even those who may have doubts– with, “Go!” For their mission will require leaving Galilee and what is familiar and comfortable. The mission extends beyond but also includes “the lost sheep of Israel. ” Jesus says now, “Make disciples of all nations.”

Jesus defines making disciples with 2 participles. “Baptizing” is the first. This is not John’s baptism of repentance, a symbol of new beginning for Israel. This is a baptism of power from above! Baptism will now have a Trinitarian formula. Father, Son and Spirit are one “name,” as we say when we baptize, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Curiously, this is the only place we see a Trinitarian formula for baptism. In Acts, the apostles say, “in the name of Jesus.”

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“Teaching” is the second part of “making disciples.” This is also new; Jesus has been their teacher up to now. They will share “all” that Jesus has taught them about living as God’s people, loving God, loving neighbor and one another, challenging the arrogant and powerful, speaking up for the oppressed, caring for the sick and needy, feeding the hungry, and bringing “good news to the poor.” Teaching requires a commitment of time and heart, as Jesus loved his disciples and called them his children.

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Then, we come to the end of Matthew and Jesus promises his presence, just as God in the OT promises the patriarchs and prophets who feared what God was calling them to do.

“Remember, I am with you always,” Jesus says, “to the end of the age.”

***

 

Friends, Christ’s commission to his first disciples is our commission, too! Let us go and reach out to our neighbors, near and far, as the Lord commands us to do. Don’t wait for people to come to church. Go and find them! Be courageous! Go beyond what is comfortable and familiar. And remember, discipleship takes a commitment of time and heart!

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Look for ways you can get more involved in your communities so that you may form new relationships. Share your faith. Tell people what you like about your church and what activities you are involved in. Invite them to come with you and maybe enjoy a meal together afterward. Most people who are members now will say that they came to MIPC because a friend, neighbor or colleague invited them or that when they visited the first time, someone reached out and befriended them. They felt welcomed, loved, and accepted, no matter where they were on their spiritual journey.

We should always feel comfortable being ourselves here, too, and not be afraid to be vulnerable. Transformed and empowered by the Spirit, we are a “lunk-free,” “judgment-free zone.”

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We are all sinners, in need of God’s mercy and grace. There’s no place for egos at the foot of the cross as we worship the Lord, grateful for all that He has done.

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Go! Make disciples! Don’t be afraid!

For Christ is with you, to the end of the age.

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy One, thank you for sending Jesus to show us the way back to you when we were lost in our sins. Thank you for your sacrifice of your Son for our sakes and your gift of faith that has brought us into right relationship with you. Thank you for Christ’s promise to be with us always and his assurance that we need not fear for the future. Forgive us for our excuses why we don’t need to cultivate new relationships to share our hope with those who don’t know you. Draw us nearer to you and stir our hearts to compassion for people who haven’t yet heard your voice. Lead us to go beyond what is comfortable and familiar. Empower us by your Spirit to go, as you urge us to do, and share all that you have taught us. And keep on teaching us your ways. Grant us wisdom to discern your will for our congregation and courage to obey. Help us to grow in faith, Spirit, and number. In Christ we pray. Amen.

You are filled!

Meditation on Acts 2:1-21

June 4, 2017

Pentecost at Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

Slide02     2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

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5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

   14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17  “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,

Slide10
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.  

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18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy. 

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19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

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20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood, 
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21  Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

***

Dan Bowman, the son of American missionaries, was raised in Japan. I met him while he pastored two small, country churches in southwestern Minnesota. He was a local legend, admired as the man who “played the saw.” How he could make beautiful hymns come out of an ordinary handsaw held between his knees and touched with a violin bow was a mystery to us all.

At one of our ministerium meetings, the Spirit spoke through Dan as he shared with us the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi, repairing broken pottery with a resin or glue mixed with silver or gold, thus highlighting and celebrating the broken places and at the very least, treating them as part of the history of the object, rather than something to disguise. The repaired pottery would then be more valuable than the original, before it was broken and mended with silver or gold.

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This is so unlike modern Western or ancient Greek thinking that views perfection as the ideal for human bodies, art objects and material possessions. Our Western ideal, based on ancient, pagan Greek beliefs (not Christian!), sees imperfection–flaws or weaknesses– as taking away from the value of a person or object. Brokenness, therefore, is something that renders the item worthless and if the object were repaired, it would have much less value than the original. Here are more examples of kintsugi.

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You know where I am going with this, right?

I was feeling broken and thinking that brokenness was a bad thing until I listened to Dan’s devotion about kintsugi. The Presbyterian church I was serving was going through a seemingly endless conflict over the placement of the communion table. I knew Jesus would be grieved over a church fighting about the table that is a reminder of His shed blood and broken body for our sakes and a symbol of our oneness in Him. I later learned that it was a fight they had been having for years before I arrived; it wasn’t really about the table–but over which family had the power and authority to make decisions in the church. Looking back, I think the brokenness I felt was a good thing. It humbled me and made me realize, more and more, my own reliance on the Savior and need for God’s grace and mercy, God’s forgiveness and unconditional love.

The words of Psalm 51 come to mind, when the repentant writer asks the Lord to “create in him a clean heart.” “For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

   The church is not ours to make in our image or to keep as it has always been; it belongs to the Lord, and as Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Sometimes Christians lose their way; they forget to whom they belong and the reason for their existence. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Pastor Dan understood my feeling of brokenness, for he had weathered conflict in one of his small, rural congregations, Rock Valle in Echo, in 2010.

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The church voted 34 to 31 to leave the ELCA when the denomination began permitting gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships to serve its congregations. While the vote did not reach the required 2/3 majority, those who voted to leave the denomination left the church. Dan remained to pastor the 31 who stayed and comfort the grieving– preaching hope and rebirth. But it was difficult. It led him to pray for the church every day, he said, and rely on his faith to see the way through it. Then, last July 23, Dan encountered another trial in ministry, when the larger church he pastors–Hawk Creek in Sacred Heart–was struck by lightning; the 140-year old building burned to the ground.

But Dan saw God’s providence at work, even as the fire burned. His mother prayed that the altar area would be spared as a witness to the world that God is still in charge. The altar was untouched.

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The congregation of 203 voted unanimously in January to rebuild. “How often do you get a unanimous vote with that many people?” he asks, in a Star Tribune article Jan. 29. “What this tells me is that this had to be led by the Holy Spirit.” They have been worshiping with, you guessed it, the little congregation at Rock Valle in Echo since the fire.

 

***

 

On the Day of Pentecost, a Jewish pilgrimage festival 50 days after Passover, Christ’s followers gather for prayer in a house in Jerusalem. Hoping in Christ’s promises, they seek the one who said in John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you!” They obey his instructions in Luke 24:49, to gather, wait and pray in the city, until they are “clothed with power from on high.” These 120 followers have seen “convincing proofs” of the risen Christ over a period of 40 days, learned about the kingdom of God and heard that they will “receive power when the Holy Spirit” comes upon them for a divine purpose. “You will be my witnesses,” he says in Acts 1:8, “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The same Spirit that hovers over the dark waters of Creation in Gen. 1:1

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and breathes life into human beings in Gen. 2:7

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fills Christ’s followers on Pentecost and stirs them to proclaim the gospel. The Spirit grants them the ability to speak in the native languages of the “devout Jews from every nation” living in Jerusalem, thus beginning the fulfillment of the promise that they would be Christ’s witnesses–“to the ends of the earth.” But all who hear the gospel in their language are not convinced. 7Amazed and astonished, they ask,Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? And, “What does this mean?” Some sneer, “They are filled with new wine!”

Peter responds to the accusation of drunkenness by preaching his first sermon, beginning, as many modern preachers do, with a joke. “Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose,” he says, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” In other words, come back later. THEN you’ll see us drunk.

Much like Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth, when he reads Isaiah and declares the scripture fulfilled, Peter quotes Joel, and declares prophecy fulfilled with the coming Spirit. He assures everyone that if they call upon the name of the Lord–cry out to him in prayer–they will be saved.

As I read through Peter’s sermon that continues beyond our lectionary reading, I am struck by how confident and eloquent this uneducated fisherman has become. Is this the same Peter who sank into the sea for lack of faith when Christ beckoned him to walk on water with him?

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Is this Peter who denied Christ 3 times before the cock crowed, though he promised to lay down his life for him?

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This is he! But also the Peter to whom Jesus tells in Matthew 16:18, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church,” confirming to us, yet again, that God uses broken vessels to accomplish His will. He uses flawed, imperfect people, but with hearts to love and serve him.

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As the people hear Peter preach, they are “cut to the heart.” They ask Peter and the other apostles what they should do. Peter answers in 2:38, “Repent and be baptized everyone 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.”

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I imagine Peter often experienced brokenness as he struggled to follow Christ, even after Pentecost, when he was empowered by the Spirit to proclaim the gospel–and 3,000 accepted Christ that day. I have come to believe that when we experience feelings of brokenness, it may actually be that the Spirit is at work in us, healing us, making us whole and complete in Him.

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     Friends, we all have wounds of the heart and mind that God alone can repair. You are God’s work of art, His kintsugi!

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Embrace and celebrate your broken places! For they are filled with something more precious than gold or silver! For you are filled with the Spirit! In your testimony of what the Lord has done for you, God’s healing love will come shining through!

 

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Let us pray. Holy One, thank you for your Spirit, which filled 120 followers on Pentecost and fills each one of us now. We ask that your Spirit would refresh and renew us, heal us and make us whole. Grant us peace, confidence and courage to proclaim your gospel right where we live, work and go to school. Empower us to take the Good News of your Son to the ends of the earth to which each of us has been sent. Change our hearts, Lord, so that we humbly obey your commands, repent from our sins of fear and doubt and take risks, giving generously from all the resources you have given us. Lead us to do things we might never have done before to reveal your love to one another and the world. We pray that you would add to the church in this place, Lord, as you did on the day of Pentecost! Use us broken vessels for your glory and to the praise of your holy name! In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

You are witnesses!

Meditation on Luke 24:36-53

May 28, 2017

Ascension of the Lord

Merritt Island Presbyterian ChurchSlide05

     36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish,  43and he took it and ate in their presence.

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   44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you— that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled. 45Then he opened their ’  minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,  47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.  51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

***

Private Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who enlisted in the army because he felt morally obligated to his country, served in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II–without a rifle.

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He had only his faith and his Bible to protect and strengthen him. It was April 1945. Okinawa. Desmond and his battalion had to climb to the top of a sheer 400-foot cliff, fortified with a network of Japanese machine gun nests and deadly booby traps. The treacherously steep cliff and the battle at the plateau on top were key to the Allies winning the battle of Okinawa. The cliff was nicknamed Hacksaw Ridge, the title of a recent movie that tells Desmond’s heroic story.

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Desmond, born Feb. 7, 1919, was from Lynchburg, VA. He was raised in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which emphasized Sabbath keeping, nonviolence and a vegetarian lifestyle. His father was a WWI veteran who suffered from alcoholism and depression. Desmond attended a Seventh Day Adventist school until the 8th grade, then got a job at a lumberyard to help support his family. On April 1, 1942, he enlisted in the military, in spite of his work at a shipyard in Newport News that qualified him for a deferment. He hoped to be a medic.

At basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., Desmond encountered hostility from fellow recruits when he refused to carry a rifle. His small size and shy temperament added to his vulnerability to insults and physical abuse. The other soldiers believed he would not just be useless in battle; he would be a major liability. His superiors attempted to have him discharged from the military. He persevered with his convictions. Finally, he was permitted to serve as a medic and was not forced to carry a rifle.

Desmond earned a Bronze Star for aiding wounded soldiers under fire when he served in Guam and the Philippines in 1944. Then in 1945, when his battalion’s mission was thought to be impossible and was ordered to retreat, Desmond refused to leave his wounded comrades behind. He ran alone into the battlefield, facing heavy machine gun and artillery fire, finding and carrying the wounded to the edge of the cliff.

He singlehandedly lowered them down Hacksaw Ridge on a rope to safety. Every time he saved one man’s life, he prayed, “Lord, please help me get one more.” In one night, he rescued an estimated 75 men, including his captain, Jack Glover, who had tried to have him transferred.

“He was one of the bravest persons alive,” Glover says in Hacksaw Ridge. “And then to have him end up saving my life was the irony of the whole thing.”

For his actions above and beyond the call of duty that night, Desmond was awarded the Medal of Honor.

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Those in his battalion who witnessed Desmond’s actions that night, including those whose lives he saved, had new respect and appreciation for the man they had ridiculed for praying, reading his Bible, observing the Sabbath and refusing to carry a rifle. Their hearts were opened to see the witness of Desmond’s strong faith that compelled him to put others’ needs and very lives before his own.

 

***

 

Desmond answered the call of the risen and ascending Christ, who charges his followers in Luke 24 to proclaim repentance and forgiveness to all the nations, telling them, “You are witnesses of these things.”

The “things” of which Jesus speaks are the resurrection appearances that the disciples are discussing at the beginning of today’s reading (in 24:36). The 11 are gathered in Jerusalem, along with other followers, including the two who saw the risen Christ as they were leaving Jerusalem and going home to Emmaus. Jesus greets his disciples with, “Peace to you!” This is “Shalom” in Hebrew; “Eirene” in Greek. This is the same way he greets them in two of John’s resurrection appearances (John 20:19). And this is how he teaches them to greet the households they visit in Luke 10:5-6: Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’  And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”

The disciples are terrified, despite his greeting and the other resurrection appearances they have witnessed. Jesus knows they are thinking they are seeing a ghost or spirit (pneuma) and he asks them, (literally) “Why do thoughts arise in your hearts?” The word that means “thoughts” and is translated “doubts” has a negative connotation here. But the same word is translated more neutrally in Luke 1:29–when Mary responds to the angel’s announcements: “ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”

So Jesus offers more proof that he is not just a vision or apparition.

“See that I am myself,” is what Jesus literally says in v. 39. “Touch me and see,” he continues and mentions his “flesh and bones.” Then he shows them his hands and feet. Does this touching and seeing convince them? Not completely. In verse 41, we read of their “joy” and yet how they are “disbelieving and still wondering.”

Here’s my favorite part. “You got anything to eat?” Jesus asks. THIS is the Jesus they know and love. Jesus in Luke 7:34 imitates the Pharisees complaining about him: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” When Jesus eats the fish “in their presence,” we hear echoes of Emmaus and Jesus’ revealing himself in the breaking of bread. And then, also like Emmaus, Jesus opens his disciples’ minds to understand the Scriptures–and see how he is the fulfillment of them.

Luke’s book draws near to a close with just a few sentences about the ascension, which might lead some to believe that it isn’t that important. But it is. The ascension is the culmination of the gospel. It is the beginning of the fulfillment of our destiny! This is why we were created –to be the image of God–and we are, when united with Christ, who is, as we read in Col. 1:15 “the image of the invisible God,” and in Hebrews 1:3-4, the “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.”

Reformer John Calvin writes in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “From this (the ascension) our faith receives many benefits. First it understands that the Lord by his ascent opened the way into the Heavenly Kingdom, which had been closed through Adam. Since he entered heaven in our flesh, as if in our name, if follows, as the apostle says, that in a sense we already “sit with God in the heavenly places in him,” so that we do not await heaven with a bare hope, but in our Head already possess it.”

As Luke ends, Jesus ascends while blessing the disciples, like Moses when the Israelites had completed the tabernacle, just as God had commanded, in Exodus 39:42-43. The disciples worship Jesus as he is carried up into heaven from Bethany, hometown of Mary and Martha and younger brother, Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.

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The ascension is the bridge to the rest of the story–Acts. Luke closes with the joy of believers and their obedience to Jesus–returning to praise and bless the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem–awaiting the Spirit that will enable them to become the community of God the Lord intends them to be. When they will be empowered to be Christ’s witnesses.

 

***

The movie, Hacksaw Ridge, doesn’t go much beyond Desmond Doss’ heroic 12- hour-rescue of 75 men. But the man who was the first conscientious objector to ever earn a Medal of Honor would spend the rest of his life, like many other war veterans, trying to put the past behind him. He didn’t think he was a hero. Wounded 4 times on Okinawa, he had extensive damage to his left arm that prevented him from pursuing a career in carpentry after the war, as he had hoped. And he had contracted tuberculosis while serving in the Philippines. After 5 and a half years of treatment–and losing a lung and 5 ribs–he was discharged from the hospital with 90% disability. An overdose of antibiotics later left him deaf in one ear.

The part of his life that the movie left out is, to me, also heroic–the more than 60 years that he overcame the challenges of his disability to care for his family on a small farm in Rising Fawn, Georgia.

Though his injuries prevented him from working full time, he continued to serve the Lord and his church until he died in 2006 at age 87.

When I think about the people I admire most, I think of courageous, unselfish people of faith like Desmond who put the needs and very lives of others before his own. I am grateful to all our veterans, particularly on Memorial Day, when we remember those who died for our country.

I also admire those who simply, quietly, faithfully serve the Lord every day. I see this–all the time–at our church!! I saw it this week in so many ways and especially on Wednesday–as we prepared for our preschool’s VPK graduation.

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People who don’t do what they do for money. People who lovingly, patiently labor for the peace of knowing that the things they do to help, encourage and bring joy to others–the little acts of kindness in Jesus’ name–is what being Christ’s witnesses is all about.

 

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, to be our Savior, to suffer and die for our sins, but then to be raised and ascended to live with you. Thank you for our hope of being raised with Him and everlasting life with you in a place without tears, suffering, sadness, anger, violence, or war. Thank you for the soldiers who served and those who are serving our country today. Bless them with peace and help them, if they struggle to find their way back into life and work at home in the States, once again. Comfort the families of those who worry about their sons and daughters who serve in dangerous, war-torn places. Empower us by your Spirit to be your faithful, humble witnesses, serving you with loving words and acts of kindness to encourage and help others every day. In Christ we pray. Amen.

He Lives in You!

 

Meditation on John 14:15-26

May 21, 2017

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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15 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

     18 ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’

22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ 23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.

***

I came home from church on Thursday and found that my husband had bought me a present. I was so happy! He bought a Black and Decker 20 volt Hedge Trimmer. He had been hearing me talk about how overgrown our hedges had become, and how we don’t have the right tools.

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I couldn’t wait to use my new power tool! I had never used a power hedge trimmer before. On Friday morning, I dressed in my grubby clothes, put on a hat, glasses and yard gloves and slathered on sunscreen. I was ready to conquer the rainforest!

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Ok, it wasn’t really as bad as that.

But Jim said, “Wait.” He told me to read the instruction manual. So I did.

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I read about the safety switch that you have to push before you can squeeze the trigger and start the blade movement. I read the “Trimming Instructions” that described the “working position,” telling me to “maintain proper footing and balance” and to not “overreach. Hold the unit firmly in both hands and turn the unit ON. Always hold the trimmer, as shown in the illustrations, with one hand on the switch handle and one hand on the bail handle (see figure 4). Never hold the unit by the blade guard!” Well, that seemed straightforward enough.

I read how to trim new growth with “wide, sweeping motions, feeding the blade teeth through the twigs” being the most effective way. “A slight downward tilt of the blade, in the direction of motion gives the best cutting.” I read the cautions against cutting stems greater than ¾ inch and how the blade may coast after turning off.

Then I read, “Danger: Keep hands away from blades.” That sounded like a great idea. I was ready!

But, not yet. Jim walked me out to the hedge with the trimmer and went through all the instructions, again, before turning it on and demonstrating its use.

I was growing impatient. “I can do it!” I said.

He just smiled and told me he wasn’t going to leave the house until I was finished using the new hedge trimmer. The reasons for his staying close by were obvious:

  1. I could have a question and need his help OR
  2. Something could happen and he might have to make a tourniquet and call 911 (not necessarily in that order) AND
  3. He loves me and only wants what is good for me.

***

As I worked outside, I thought about Jesus’ character–His love for us—and how he prayed God’s will would be done, knowing that God’s will is best for all of us. This is what leads him to tell the disciples to keep his commandments in John 14:15 –to do what he tells them to do–that is, if they love him. Love’s proof, Christ is saying, is obedience. The disciples find it much easier to talk about their love and loyalty than to always live it–just as we struggle at times to walk in Christ’s ways.

Jesus will repeat the same instruction to obey his commandments several times in this chapter and the idea will come up again and be expanded upon in the next. After saying, “keep my commandments” in 14:15, he says in 14:21, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.” He substitutes “word” for “commandments” in 14:23, “Those who love me will keep my word.” And the converse is true in v. 24, when he says, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” He goes on to say that the authority for the “commandments” or “words” comes from God. “The word you hear is not mine,” he says, “but is from the Father who sent me.”

OK, I think we get it. We need to live in obedience to Christ. But what are these commandments–or words–that he is talking about? His language evokes the covenantal language of the Hebrew Bible, in which the people of Israel are characterized as those who “love God” and “keep his commands.” When we hear Jesus tell us to “keep his commandments,” we may also think of the Ten Commandments.

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But since he says, “my commandments,” we might remember the Greatest Commandment he talks about in the other 3 gospels: (Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:29-31 and Luke 10:26-27) ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’

The best way, perhaps, to understand what Jesus means by “my commandments” in this context is to read what comes directly before and after this passage. You are probably not surprised to discover that in both before and after this passage, Jesus commands his disciples to love, in his example.

In John 13:33-35, after Jesus washes the disciples’ feet and Judas Iscariot leaves to set in motion the act of betrayal, Jesus gives the remaining disciples his “new commandment”–to bear witness of him to the world through the way they treat each other: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In chapter 15, beginning at verse 9, Jesus commands his followers to love, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” Then at verse 12, he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” He adds, foreshadowing the cross, “No one has greater love than this –to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And then we are back to love’s proof–obedience. “You are my friends,” Jesus says in 15:14, “if you do what I command you.” And finally, we learn the purpose for Christ’s commands in 15:11: JOY! For Christ wants what is GOOD for us! “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Now, there is only one thing left–the most important point of this passage–the gift of the Spirit. Why do you think that would come up immediately after Jesus tells them that if they love him, they will keep his commandments?

Because of God’s grace and mercy for us! God knows we can’t keep His commandments, no matter how hard we try. We can’t love as Christ loves and abide in His love– without His help.

“I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus assures his followers in 14:18, “I am coming to you.”

This is not the Second Coming, of which He has already spoken in 14:2, with his “preparing a place” for them in His Father’s “house of many dwelling places.” And how he will “come again” and take them to himself in 14:3, “so that where I am, there you may also be.”

He is talking about a living presence that God will send at his request–“another Advocate” or “helper,” the “Spirit of Truth” to guide and empower us to do His will. And to be with us “forever.” For like my husband, who for love was loathe to leave me alone with a dangerous power tool, Jesus, our Friend and Lover of our Souls, will not leave us alone to fend for ourselves in this dark world. While we listen for God’s voice for us today as we read the Bible, we also rely on the Holy Spirit every day to guide and empower us to do the works God has planned for us. Jesus says in 14:25-26, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

***

On Friday morning, after Jim taught me how to use the new power tool and insisted on staying close by, I pushed the safety button, squeezed the handle. The engine roared to life. The blades did the work as I held the power tool, following Jim’s example, and made downward, sweeping motions, as the instruction manual told me to do.

While I trimmed back the overgrown hedge, I thought about the Savior’s love and how he commands us to abide in his love, if we love him. And how His Spirit, a gift from God, enables us to do this.

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How he lives in me!

How He lives in you!

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy One, we are so happy that you have not abandoned us to try to follow your Son on our own. Thank you for the gift of your joy and the promise that our joy will be complete when we are obedient to you. Thank you for your gift of the Spirit of Truth that guides and enables us to do the works you have planned for us to do. Forgive us, Lord, when we try to resist the Spirit’s leading in our lives, when we choose not to abide in your love, but simply to do whatever we feel like doing. Transform us, by your Spirit, to be more like Your Son, who was perfectly obedient to you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.