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January 31, 2016

Mark 6:1-29

1 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. 14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him." 15 But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised." 17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." 23 And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." 24 She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

 

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

                As I was growing up, especially in elementary school, my mom was the school nurse at my school and was very active in our Catholic parish.  So every time I had a new teacher, they knew me first as Nancy’s daughter, then as Heather.  Whenever I became involved in something at church, they knew me first and foremost as Nancy’s daughter, secondarily as Heather.  Some of them still remembered the stories that my mom told about me when I was a preschooler or toddler and when they met me, even as a teenager who had grown up and changed and had a different personality than my mother, I was still known as Nancy’s daughter and people saw me through the stories they had heard about me even as a young child.

          Anyone who has grown up in a small town knows how true this is as well.  When you are introduced to someone, they immediately try to figure out what family you belong to, who your grandparents are, where your family farm might be, what church or sport or other group you might belong to, etc. etc.  You are known in a small community by who you belong to and where you belong, people feel they know you because they know your roots.

          The very same thing is happening in our Gospel reading this morning for Jesus. He came back to his hometown of Nazareth with his disciples after having traveled around the region of Galilee.  He has already been busy telling parables and healing people. He has disciples who are already following him and they come with him home to Nazareth. Nazareth today has a population greater than 60,000 people, but in Jesus’ day Nazareth was thought to have about 200 people who lived there.  It was one of those small towns where everyone knew everyone and knew everything about everyone. 
          What we hear in today’s Gospel is that Jesus returns from Capernaum to his hometown and he preaches in the synagogue there.

Mark’s Gospel says:  “and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.”  The people who heard Jesus speak went from astounded to offended as soon as they realized who he was and who he was connected to.  You can almost hear the crowd wonder:  Who does this Jesus think he is?  His mother is Mary, his brothers and sisters still live here.  He goes away to Capernaum and comes back preaching to us? And they refuse to hear his message.  In fact in the Gospel of Luke, the people in Nazareth are so offended by Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue that they try to throw him off of a cliff!

          Jesus knows that the people have closed their hearts and minds to his message, to his power.  Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.”  He could do no deed of power there.  He was amazed at their unbelief.  JESUS, the Messiah, the Son of God, could do no deeds of power there because of their unbelief.

          This story for me is helpful in my life of faith and in my ministry.  Because at times, we all come up against moments like Jesus did in our Gospel today.  We offer to pray for a friend and the person responds with an irritated:  I don’t need your prayers.  Meaning well, we offer help for someone who is suffering and they say:  I can do it on my own.  We reach out to share our faith with a child or grandchild and they question:  How can you believe in this stuff?  How do we react when we feel like our faith is being looked down on?  How do we react when it feels like our faith or our acts of service are being ridiculed?

This Gospel reading reminds us all that even Jesus faced skepticism and doubt and offense from those closest to him.  Even Jesus had moments when his hands were tied, when his ministry was not accepted, when there was just no more he could do in Nazareth.  This Gospel shows us a time when the disbelief of those around him made it so that he moved on to other places where his preaching and ministry could flourish and could bear fruit in the lives of those who did believe. 

A few verses later in our Gospel, we hear that Jesus sends out the 12 disciples to do ministry in his name and he gives them their instructions for doing ministry.  Even then, Jesus still knows that some places, some people, some hearts will not accept his ministry or his message.  Gracefully, Jesus tells the disciples to shake the dirt from their sandals to go preach and heal where their work and message can bear fruit.

The Good News that we hear today is that though there are places where Jesus’ message is not accepted or believed, there are still many places that he does go to where people are eager to hear, eager to be healed, eager to encounter the living God.  The same is true in our world.  Though some may scoff at faith, though some may turn away an offer of prayer or help, though we may wonder if our faith matters much in our world anymore, we also know that there are many people who are hungry to hear about grace and forgiveness.  There are many people who long for healing and for our prayers.  There are countless people who are thirsting to hear a message about a Kingdom of God so great that it surpasses our understanding.  We are called to do as Jesus did, spread the message, not give up, and continue to plant seeds of hope and faith wherever our lives may take us.  Amen.

 

 

January 24, 2016

Mark 5:21-43

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." 24 So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" 31 And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, "Who touched me?' " 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." 35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

 

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Most of us do not handle interruptions well.  If we are about to eat dinner and the phone rings, it is probably a fair guess to say that we either groan as  we answer it or we let it go to an answer machine because we don’t want our dinner to be interrupted.  One of the skills that we try to teach our children at school and at home is how to wait for their turn to talk, instead of interrupting other people.  We talk about interruptions as being disruptive and unproductive and distracting.  We don’t normally relish or look forward to interruptions, unless we are doing something we don’t enjoy.

Mark’s Gospel depicts Jesus as a man with a mission, but a man who is often interrupted frequently in the midst of his mission.  Jesus’ mission of revealing God’s Kingdom drives him steadily towards Jerusalem and ultimately towards the cross.  This is his purpose.  This is his mission.  He has his eyes and his life focused on the coming kingdom of God.

But in between, so many interruptions happen.  These so called interruptions are actually miraculous moments ripe for healing and teaching and feeding God’s people.  Think for a moment about the stories of Jesus’ ministry and the many times he is interrupted.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus has gone to a wedding, to celebrate with the guests.  He is there to enjoy the wedding, to celebrate, but his mother interrupts him to tell him that the wedding has run out of wine.  Jesus is a bit irritated by her interruption and tells her that it is not his time yet.  But still, he performs his first miracle there in Cana, turning water into wine.  There are so many other interruptions too in Jesus’ ministry.  He goes out into the wilderness to speak to the crowds, to teach them, and his teaching is interrupted by hungry disciples who point out to Jesus that they and the crowds have no food to eat.  In that interruption, Jesus performs another miracle, feeding the crowd, with much left over. Or consider the moment when Jesus blesses the children.  The disciples are busy trying to shoo the children away, after all they have more important things to do, they are just noisy, busy interruptions to the real work Jesus has to do, or so the disciples think.  But Jesus gathers the children to himself and blesses them.  This is how Jesus handles interruptions. 

Today’s Gospel reading from Mark’s Gospel shows us Jesus as he faces what could be seen as two interruptions. First, he is traveling by boat and by foot when crowds surround him and a leader of the synagogue comes to Jesus to ask him to heal his daughter who is ill.  Jesus goes with him to heal this daughter and the crowds follow him. In the midst of going with Jairus to Jairus’ home, another interruption happens.  Jesus feels someone touch him and the power goes out from him.  It is a woman who has been bleeding for years and year and no doctor has been able to help her.  She comes to him and touches his cloak, desperate for any kind of healing.  She does not even ask for a moment of his time.  When Jesus knows what has happened, he says: "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."  

Notice that in these interruptions, Jesus does not scold the people for interrupting him.  He doesn’t tell Jairus that he is busy teaching and traveling and that he’ll heal Jairus’ daughter when he is finished with his other important work.  Nor does he tell the woman who seeks healing that he is hurrying to heal another man’s child and that she should come back when the girl is well.  Jesus takes the interruptions in stride, hearing the need, greeting the people with compassion, and providing healing.

Jesus’ example teaches us that it is important for us to pay attention to those things that we may think at first are interruptions.  What if the interruptions are really holy moments?  What if in those moments, God is present and God’s grace is ready to bring life and hope and healing?

Think about the many interruptions that happen in our days:

~A child who interrupts important adult things like paying bills or making dinner wanting us to hear a story from their day

~A friend who calls in the middle of the night interrupting our sleep, who needs someone to talk to

~A brilliant sunset that takes our breath away in the midst of doing errands, reminding us of God’s glory

These interruptions are holy moments, moments when God’s kingdom breaks into our world, into our daily lives.  These moments are when God knocks us off kilter just a little bit to capture our attention and focus us back on what is important.

As I think about holy interruptions, I think about an unexpected New Year’s Eve wedding that happened when I was a pastor in Sinking Valley, Pennsylvania.  It was New Year’s Eve of 2004.  It was the third New Year’s Eve that Chris and I had been in Pennsylvania.  We had amazingly exciting New Year’s Eve plans, which consisted of staying home and getting into our pajamas early and playing Scrabble and hoping for no emergencies.  Well, in the midst of our very competitive Scrabble game, the phone rang and it was for me.  My council president, really the matriarch of the congregation, was out for dinner with a big group from our parish, like they did every year and she asked me what I was doing for the evening.  Fairly skeptical, I asked:  Why?  She went on to tell me that in this group that had gathered for dinner, there was a couple that had been together for about 20 years who had their marriage license and was thinking about going to the courthouse to get married soon.  When she had heard that, she said:  Let’s call the Pastor and you can get married tonight!  After doing some work to make sure they really did have the marriage license and that they weren’t feeling pushed into a wedding that night, I threw on a clergy collar and quick wrote a sermon and grabbed my worship book.  As Chris drove through our curvy mountain valley, saying:  Are you sure this is a good idea? I finished up the plans for the wedding.  We got to church about 30 minutes later and the bride and the groom arrived.  On the way, they had called their parents and the bride’s daughter and surrounded by a small group of their closest friends and family, they became husband and wife.  In the quiet, dark church, it was a holy moment.  In that unexpected moment that interrupted our very exciting New Year’s Eve plans, God was present.  The church was present.  It could have been seen as an interruption, but in that holy interruption God’s love was doing something important in our midst!

In this week ahead, consider how God is interrupting you in holy ways.  Look for God’s presence.  Listen for God’s voice.  Try and respond to the many interruptions in our lives with grace and compassion as Jesus did.

January 3, 2016

Mark 1:21-45

 

21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, "What is this? A new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. 29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." 38 He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. 40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." 41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44 saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

 

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

When we have good news, normally, we can’t wait to share it.  I remember the night that Chris and I became engaged on February 1, 2000, at St. John’s up in Collegeville, after going to dinner for Thai food, which Chris was too nervous to eat.  Then we went to our favorite coffee shop with a fireplace by it.  And then Chris proposed.  When we got back to our dorm, since this was well before we had cell phones, we called both of our families to share the good news!  We didn’t wait long to share it with our friends either!

I also remember when we told our parents that we were expecting Sophia’s birth.  We had known for just a little while ourselves and we devised a special plan to tell both sets of future grandparents at about the same time.  We mailed packages to them from Pennsylvania a little before Christmas with grandma and grandpa gifts in them.  Then we told them that they could open the gifts early when we called.  Now I always get my gifts out in the mail early, so that part was no surprise.  But the fact that we said they could open them early was a bit on the odd side for us.  So my mom had decided it must be a Peter Paul and Mary Christmas music CD.  How she thought that, I’ll never know.  When my parents opened the gifts, my dad finally asked:  Are these gifts supposed to tell us something?  When Chris’ dad opened the package, he pulled out his grandpa sweater and oohed and aahed about how warm it was and how great it would be to wear it in the winter….  But he never read the front that said #1 Grandpa.  After a few minutes of chuckling in the background, Chris finally asked:  Dad, did you read the front of the sweatshirt?  Then, he figured out the good news!

Good news is meant to be shared.  Good news like babies being born or being accepted into your favorite college or getting a new job or finally getting over a long term illness or getting married is meant to be shared.  Good news, like the life of Jesus Christ, is also meant to be shared.

Good News is the entire focus of Mark’s Gospel that we begin reading today.  Over the time from now until Easter, we will be reading passages entirely from Mark’s Gospel, so it would help us understand what we are hearing if we focus on what makes Mark’s gospel unique from the others.  Biblical historians have long believed that Mark’s Gospel was most likely the first Gospel to be written down by the early Christian community.  Mark’s Gospel is symbolized by the winged lion.  The lion is a symbol of the power of the evangelist’s word and the wings are for spiritual elevation. If you compare the Gospel of Mark to the other 2 Gospels, it is by far the shortest of all the Gospels, focused more on the actions of Jesus than on lengthy teaching moments.  You can feel a sense of  urgency in Mark’s writing as you read it; frequently over the next months as we read through Mark’s Gospel, you will hear the word immediately used over and over.

The Gospel of Mark focuses its attention closely on the last week of Jesus' life and his death in Jerusalem.  Everything else that Jesus does is seen through that lens. Frequent appearances of the adverb “immediately” in this Gospel express the urgency of Jesus' journey to the cross.  Everything that happens in the Gospel of Mark, from Jesus’ miracles to his parables to every moment of his ministry is meant to draw us into the unfolding salvation drama of Jesus' death and resurrection.

The purpose of the Gospel of Mark is seen in its first lines, really the very first words:  “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God”.  Mark calls us in to this story of Jesus that is a story of Good News. He tells his readers his intentions in his opening sentence. Mark’s purpose in writing the Gospel is for us to hear the good news of Christ, the good news of Jesus.  Mark’s Gospel shows us how the Good News of Jesus breaks into our lives through every parable, miracle, teaching, or event in the life of Jesus.

Today’s passage from his Gospel takes us directly into Jesus’ ministry, how Jesus lives out the good news that is breaking into our world.  We hear about Jesus teaching in the synagogue, as one with authority.  That is good news.  We hear about Jesus casting out unclean spirits.  That is good news.  We hear about Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever and when she recovers, she begins to serve him.  That is also good news.  Jesus heals a leper of his disease.  That is also good news.  Through each and every action, each and every word, Jesus shows us how God’s love and grace, God’s kingdom is coming into our world.  That is good news indeed worthy of being shared.

Mark wanted to share this good news of Jesus through his Gospel, so that others could rejoice in the good news too.  He wanted those who read his gospel to hear about the good news of Jesus so that they could also believe in him for themselves.  Now it is our turn to share this good news with the world around us.

How do we share the good news of Jesus with our world?  How do we continue to do what Mark and the Gospel writers have done? How do we continue to do what Christians throughout the ages have done, but in our own time and place? 

One of the ways we share the Good News of Jesus is through the ways that we communicate.  Mark used his hand written Gospel to proclaim the Good News.  Martin Luther used the printing press that had just been invented to help spread the Good News of God’s grace.  We can use the ways we communicate, personal conversations, emails, texts, Facebook to proclaim the Good News of Christ to others.

Another way that Christians have proclaimed the Good News of Christ to the world is through acts of service.  By feeding the hungry, by caring for the lonely, by protecting the vulnerable, by comforting the hurting, Christians proclaim the Good News of Christ.

Yet another way Christians proclaim the Good News of Christ is by using their talents to the glory of God.  By taking the talents God has given us and using them for God’s glory, we proclaim his grace to the world.  This is what Lutherans called the theology of vocation or calling, taking the unique talents God has given each of us to serve the world and our neighbor, we proclaim the Good News of Christ.

As we begin this New Year, we have so many people around us who need to hear the Good News of Christ.  We have people who are hurting and people who are feeling lost and people who are grieving and people who are afraid all around us.  We have neighbors whose hearts are breaking and family members who are struggling.  We have people whose houses were destroyed by tornadoes over Christmas time and others who face devastating illnesses.  Into all these moments, into each of these questions and struggles, we have the privilege of proclaiming the Good News of Christ.  Good News is meant to be shared.  Let us share the Good News this week, this month, this year, in our own unique and powerful way.  Amen.

December 13, 2015
 

Top of Form

Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-4, 10-13

1:1 In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared: 2 "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Any of those among you who are of his people—may their God be with them!—are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem; 4 and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem."

3:1 When the seventh month came, and the Israelites were in the towns, the people gathered together in Jerusalem. 2 Then Jeshua son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his kin set out to build the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as prescribed in the law of Moses the man of God. 3 They set up the altar on its foundation, because they were in dread of the neighboring peoples, and they offered burnt offerings upon it to the Lord, morning and evening. 4 And they kept the festival of booths, as prescribed, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the ordinance, as required for each day.

10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; 11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel." And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.

 

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Imagine for a moment what it would have felt like here at Dale in 1947 when this church building that we are worshipping was built.  It must have been a joyous time, a time of joyful celebration.  A large project had been completed, a goal had been reached, the congregation could yet again celebration Christmas and Easter and every Sunday in their own sanctuary.  Yet, it was probably a bitter sweet moment too, because the church that was being built in 1947 was being built because the older building at been destroyed by fire.  The building that was full of holy moments and memories, baptisms and weddings and funerals, had been consumed by fire, a loss, a time of grief for the people who worshipped there.  This new building was built from those ashes, was built in the midst of that sadness, to reach into the future, to continue to celebrate God’s faithfulness in this place.  I can imagine the first worship service here, the joy of being back worshipping in together, the celebration, but also perhaps some nostalgic tears remembering what had been lost.

Our reading this morning, from the book of Exra, is filled with these same kinds of emotions and experiences.  Our reading this morning comes from the period of time when the people of Israel can return home after the exile.  After years of being away from the promised land, in a land where the food and customs are strange, where they speak another language and have foreign religious customs, the Persian King has said that the people of God can return home.  There is joy, there is celebration, there is a fulfillment of great longing.  To make this news even better for God’s people, King Cyrus also encourages the people of Israel to rebuild the Temple, which had been destroyed.

Though many of the prophets talk about the time of the exile, this is one of the only historical accounts of the people of Israel in this time of homecoming and restoration after the exile.  It is one of the few stories we have of this time that is between the exile of God’s people and the birth of Jesus.  This passage from Ezra tells us about the temple being rebuilt, how the festival life of the people is restored, and God’s word is read again to the people.  This passage gives us a pattern to follow:  When God restores things, what do you do?  When God acts, what do you do?  You celebrate! And that celebration involves a traditional festival, music, and God’s word

Why is it so important for the people to rebuild the temple?  The temple for the Jewish people is that place where heaven and earth meet, where God promises to be present for his people.  God is present everywhere but the Temple is where God promises to be present in an intense way.  This is a physical place where people can meet God.

In this passage from Ezra, we are also given a glimpse into how the people gathered at the Temple respond to being brought home again and the rebuilding of the Temple.  After years of longing and dreaming, finally the people have returned home.  But home has changed.  Jerusalem is different.  The people who have been away for so long are also different; their time in exile changed them.  When the Temple is restored, some people are carried away by the joy and festivity of the celebration and yet there are others for whom it is just not the same and they weep.  Coming to worship in this Advent season is the same for our congregations as well.  For some of us this festive time of year raises our spirits and we are filled with joy.  For others of us, this holiday season is a difficult one, the first Christmas since a divorce in the family or the first Christmas without a loved one and the festivities of the season feel misplaced.  For others of us, the traditions and songs remind us of loved ones who have long been in heaven and though the grief is not so raw, we still feel the longing.  Yet in the midst of this, we know God is present.  We come to worship him and hear his words, as did the Israelites in Ezra’s time.

The people of Israel rebuilt their Temple to remind themselves that God was faithful to his people.  They also built it to celebrate.  They built it so future generations could worship God in the Temple.  This Temple is where Jesus himself would come to worship.  When Dale was rebuilt, the men and women who rebuilt it did so as a reminder that even in fire and destruction, God was faithful.  They rebuilt Dale to come to worship and to praise God.  They rebuilt Dale so that future generations, you and I and Sunday School children and our youth and Hugh Ralph being baptized here today can worship here.

God’s people of every generation, from Ezra’s time to Jesus’ time to our time, come to worship where we feel God’s holy presence.  We hold on to those precious traditions that make us who we are but we also rebuild step by step so our faith can speak to each new time and place.  God is faithful to us still.  God is in the midst of our worship.  We are called like the Israelites to celebrate and to pass our faith on to future generations who will worship here for years to come.  Amen.

December 6, 2015
 

Isaiah 40:1-11

1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." 6 A voice says, "Cry out!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" 10 See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

 

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time at my grandma and grandpa’s house that was just 5 minutes from our house.  I made lots of memories there as a child, baking Christmas cookies with my grandma, listening to my grandpa sing old barbershop quartet songs, jumping into leaf piles that my grandpa would rake up for me,  coloring Easter eggs with my grandma.  One of my earliest memories happened there as well.  For some reason as a 2 year old, I was sad and tearful.  I don’t remember why, if my mom had just left or if I had gotten hurt, but I was inconsolable in the way that only 2 year olds can be.  I remember hot crocodile tears spilling down my cheeks as I sat on the floor in the middle of my grandma’s kitchen.  And then I remember her 3 dogs, Tromp, Zsar, and Cuddles, coming to sit by me and one of them, Cuddles, licking the tears from my face, comforting me.

This morning’s passage from Isaiah to his people is all about comfort. Our passage this morning from Isaiah 40:1-11 can be described in one word: “Comfort”.  The Hebrew word that is used:  “Nacham” can mean to comfort or to console or to be sorry for something. The words Isaiah speaks in this passage are words of tenderness after a very long and dark night of judgment.  The God that Isaiah announces is both powerful and gentle, able to comfort as well as defend his people. Isaiah in his prophetic ministry was forced to preach to a people that had experienced trauma and whose relationship to God had been deeply wounded as a result. For Isaiah’s people, God’s hiddenness was far more real than God’s presence.  Forced to live in exile, the people mourned the loss of their homeland and their customs, their loved ones who might have been taken far from them, even their language.  In their deep longing and mourning, God seemed far away and hidden.  Yet, it is into that suffering that Isaiah speaks of a God who wants comfort to be given to his people, a God who cares for his sheep.  To a people who cannot see God or feel his presence anymore, Isaiah says:  “Here is your God”. 

With all the fear and worry and sorrow in our world at times, our world needs us to be like the prophet Isaiah, to proclaim where we see God and God’s comfort.  In the midst of terrorist attacks or health care worries, as we watch awful news stories that seem to come one after another, in the midst of family stresses, we need to hear that God does not abandon us.  We need voices to remind us that God is here with us, that God has come to comfort his people, that the word of the Lord stands forever.

Today, the church celebrates the life of one of our Advent saints, St. Nicholas.  St.  Nicholas was a bishop of the early church who lived in Turkey.  In addition to his churchly duties, St. Nicholas was known for his generosity that brought great comfort to people in need.  One legend about St. Nicholas tells of a poor family who had several daughters who had dreams of getting married, but they did not have the money to be able to afford the cost of the expected dowries.  St. Nicholas had heard of their suffering and poverty so secretly at night he tossed bags of coins into their home and they landed in their stockings that were hanging to dry by the fireplace.  St. Nicholas’ generosity was a way to bring comfort in his time to a family that was suffering and in despair.  His actions pointed to God’s faithfulness, reminding the family that God had not abandoned them.

There is a story told about Queen Victoria of England comforting a woman in her country.  Once during Queen Victoria's reign, she heard that the wife of a common laborer had lost her baby. Having experienced deep sorrow herself, she felt moved to express her sympathy.  So she called on the bereaved woman one day and spent some time with her. After she left, the neighbors asked what the queen had said. "Nothing," replied the grieving mother. "She simply put her hands on mine, and we silently wept together."  Queen Victoria’s actions to the woman show God’s comfort and compassion, that God is present even in grief.

This morning, I ask you to think about a time that you needed comfort from God and from others.  Perhaps it was a time that you were grieving the loss of a loved one, broken hearted, finding it hard to go on.  Maybe you were in the midst of a family conflict that caused worry and stress.  Perhaps you had just heard a medical diagnosis that turned your world on its head.  Maybe the overwhelming sadness of depression had taken over your heart and soul.  Whatever time that comes to mind, now think about the comfort that others gave you during that time.  What was it that mattered most?  What comforted you most deeply?  You may have been comforted by a phone call from a friend who made you laugh in a time of grief.  You may have been comforted by a hymn you heard sung that reminded you of God’s presence.  You may have been comforted by a hug from a child.  You may have been comforted by a quiet nap under a warm, handmade quilt.  You may have been comforted by sharing a batch of brownies with a loved one as you ate together in silence.  You may have been comforted by a smile you received from a passerby that touched your heart at just the right moment.  Those moments of comfort remind us that God is here with us, that God is present with us, that God gives comfort to you and to me and to all his people. 

This is what God is promising for his people in this passage today from the prophet Isaiah, comfort when we need it most, a promise when we are most disheartened, light in our darkness.  Isaiah speaks with a voice that says to his people and us:  God is here, God is still with you, God is bringing you comfort.  His words are as needed in our world today as they were thousands of years ago when he first spoke them.

During this season of Advent, into a world and lives and hearts that are hurting, God speaks this same word. He comforts us and brings us peace, but he sends us out to bring his comfort into the world. He sends us out to be like St. Nicholas in our own unique ways.  He sends us out to say to our friends and our neighbors:  God is here.  God is with you.  God will bring you comfort and peace.

Take a minute now to think of one person you know who is in need of God’s comfort.  How can you make the prophet Isaiah’s words real for them this week?  Take time out of you week this week to bring God’s comfort to the person you just thought about.  Send a letter filled with prayers and words of hope.  Stop by to visit with them a while.  Bring a plate of Christmas cookies. Call them on the phone.  Let’s fill our communities and families with God’s comfort during this holiday season so that we can live the promise of Isaiah, Comfort, Comfort O My people.  Let’s proclaim by our words and our lives:  Our God is here.

November 29, 2015
 

2 Kings 22:1-10, [14-20]; 23:1-3

22:1 Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. 2 He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left. 3 In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the Lord, saying, 4 "Go up to the high priest Hilkiah, and have him count the entire sum of the money that has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people; 5 let it be given into the hand of the workers who have the oversight of the house of the Lord; let them give it to the workers who are at the house of the Lord, repairing the house, 6 that is, to the carpenters, to the builders, to the masons; and let them use it to buy timber and quarried stone to repair the house. 7 But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly." 8 The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, "I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord." When Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, he read it. 9 Then Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, "Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workers who have oversight of the house of the Lord." 10 Shaphan the secretary informed the king, "The priest Hilkiah has given me a book." Shaphan then read it aloud to the king.


23:1 Then the king directed that all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem should be gathered to him. 2 The king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. 3 The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant.

 

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This week as I was driving around the countryside, I heard an ad on the radio for the chance to see the Treasures of Napoleon.  The announcer talked about our once in a lifetime chance here in MN to see the priceless paintings, rare jewelry, precious metals, and hundreds of other legendary artifacts owned by Napoléon Bonaparte that are making their way to the Centennial Showboat on Harriet Island.  Treasures appeal to us and our curiosity, whether they be the treasures of Napoleon or the treasures found in Egyptian pyramids or the family treasures we cherish because of the memories they carry with them.

As children, many of us heard stories of buried treasure.  Buried by pirates or Vikings or Indians or the early pioneers in our communities, the stories captivate our imaginations.  The idea of valuable, surprising, hidden things, kept secret for years and maybe generations draws us in.  The potential of discovery and surprise, the excitement of unearthing something of value so long forgotten is tremendous for us.  This is perhaps what makes shows like Antiques Road Show so popular.

When we moved my grandma from the home she had lived in for 40 or more years, we didn’t find buried treasure, but we did find many treasured family memories and heirlooms long forgotten as we sorted through and packed up her house.  It was like going on a treasure hunt, because some of those precious memories and heirlooms were hidden in the back of closets or in tiny nooks and crannies or wrapped carefully in layers of towels meant to protect them.  Some of the things that we found, my grandma had even completely forgotten that she had ever had!

This idea of finding an heirloom, a treasure, long forgotten, is at the heart of our Scripture passage today.   Our reading this morning comes from the book of Kings, which is one of the historical books of the Bible.  Today, we heard about the legacy of King Josiah, who was only 8 years old when he became King of Israel after his father was assassinated.  Josiah was known as a reformer for the people of Israel, working to renovate and rebuild the temple that had fallen into dis-repair. His legacy was that of the strong and faithful kings, like David and Solomon.  He reigned for 31 years, a long life and reign in the ancient world, but he ultimately was killed in a battle with Egypt.  Josiah’s reign as king was at about the same time as the prophet Jeremiah was preaching to the people.

It was during Josiah’s renovations of the  temple that a treasure was found in the treasure room of the temple.  The treasure that captured Josiah’s attention was not piles of gold coins or silver. The treasure was not a heavily jeweled and bedazzled crown.  It was simply a book,  a book of God’s word.  It was a book that scholars and historians believe was the book of Deuteronomy.  Scholars believe that this book of God’s word might have been hidden to protect it from some of the kings before Josiah who had turned away from God’s word, so that they would not have destroyed it.  When the book is found, Josiah reads it and knows that he needs to call his people back to following God’s way.

As we begin the Season of Advent today, this passage about the legacy of King Josiah makes me reflect on the treasures that we search for and find as Christmas approaches.  We spend so much time during this season searching for the perfect presents or the perfect holiday outfit or the perfect recipe for our favorite cookies and all of those are good things.  But do we also search for the treasures that God gives to us, like his word in the Bible or the gift of hope or the treasure of light shining in the darkness?  As we near Christmas and the birth of Jesus, are we drawn to look for God’s presence with the excitement and expectation of a treasure hunt?

Josiah’s legacy with his people is the legacy that God’s word is a treasure, though sometimes one that has been hidden and forgotten through the years.  Scripture is one of the greatest gifts we have been given Josiah helps his people recover the importance of God’s word for their lives, reaffirming their faith.  Does the recovery of Scripture have a role to play in our preparation for Christmas? King Josiah knew that there was power in God’s word to bring transformation to both individuals and communities.  Do we trust scripture to have the same transformative impact today? 

This morning, I have an Advent Challenge for you.  Through these next days until Christmas, search for the treasure of God’s presence.  Take the first Chapter of Luke’s Gospel, just the first chapter and read through it 3 or 4 verses every day as it tells the story leading up to Jesus’ birth.  Read it like you are on a treasure hunt, underline words that speak to you, surprises that are in the story.  During this Advent, let us follow in Josiah’s legacy for his people.  Let us rediscover the treasure of our holy Book the Bible, as it prepares us for Christ’s birth.  May it’s words shape us and transform us and transform our world.  Amen.


 

Advent Challenge:  Luke Chapter 1

Read a few verses each day until Christmas.  What words speak to you?  Where do you find hope?  Underline, draw, ask questions, as you read these verses to prepare for Christ’s coming!

November 30:  1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

December 1:  In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

December 2:  Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

December 3:  11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

December 4:  18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

December 5:  21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

December 6:  23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

December 7:  26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

December 8:  29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

December 9:  35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

December 10:  38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

December 11:  39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

December 12:  42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

December 13:  46 And Mary said:“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.

December 14:  51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.

December 15:  54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

December 16:  57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.

December 17:  59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

December 18:  62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.

December 19:   65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

December 20:  67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has come to his people and redeemed them.

December 21:  69 He has raised up a horn[c] of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
    and to remember his holy covenant,
73     the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
    and to enable us to serve him without fear
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

December 22:  76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

December 23:  80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit[d]; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.


 

November 15, 2015
 

Hosea 11:1-9

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. 3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. 5 They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6 The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes. 7 My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all. 8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

 

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

A little boy went up to his mother and he handed her a piece of paper that he had been writing on. This is what it said:

For Cutting the grass                                                                           $5

For cleaning my room this week                                                        $1

For going to the store for you                                                            0.50

Baby-sitting my kid brother while you went shopping                    .25

Taking out the garbage                                                                       $1

For getting a good report card                                                           $5

For cleaning up & raking the yard                                                      $2

Total Owed: $14.75                                                                   $14.75

Well, his mother looked at him standing there expectantly, and you could see the memories flashing through her mind. So she picked up the pen, turned over the paper he'd written on and this is what she wrote:
- For the nine months I carried you while you were growing inside me, no charge.
- For all the nights that I’ve sat up with you, doctored and prayed for you, no charge.
 -For all the trying times, and all the tears that you’ve caused through the years, there’s no charge.
 -When you add it all up, the cost of my love is no charge.
 -For all the nights that were filled with dread, and for the worries I knew were ahead, no charge.
 -For the toys, food, clothes, and even wiping your nose, there’s no charge, son.
 -And when you add it all up, the full cost of real love is no charge.
When he finished reading what his mother had written, there were great big tears in his eyes, and he looked straight up at his mother and said, “Mom, I sure do love you.” And then he took the pen and in great big letters he wrote: “ALREADY PAID.”

As this story shows, parenting can be an immense joy and an immense challenge.  Some of the best moments of our lives come in the experiences of being parents and grandparents.  Families often remember and talk about what it is like to hold a newborn baby for the first time.  I remember the cozy contentment of cuddling up with a toddler watching a favorite movie for the 800th time.  We know the joy of hearing preschool giggles that began over completely mysterious silliness.  Parent and grandparents and teachers and babysitters know what it is like to encourage a child to learn something new and stand by proudly as they master it step by step.  First smiles, first steps, funny dances, exuberant hugs, the first day of school, the sports successes, the band and choir concerts, graduations…..  These are the moments that we write down in baby books and capture with pictures and videos and scrapbooks.

Yet, some of our hardest moments come as a parent.  These are the moments that we probably don’t have pictures of, but are burned into our hearts and minds for years.  Maybe you’ve experienced standing in the line at the grocery store with a child in the middle of a full-fledged tantrum.   Perhaps you have stayed up at night with a child in pain and with a fever and worrying if you are doing the right thing.  Many parents know the stress of seeing a middle school child struggle with the pain of changing friendships.  Parents and grandparents know the heartache of watching a dearly loved child make destructive and unhealthy choices that we are powerless to stop.

What are your favorite moments of parenting?  What are the tender memories that you carry with you?  Do you have any moments that you wish you could forget?

Parenting is the central image for God in this passage from Hosea this morning. This passage from Hosea is proclaimed to God’s people around 750 years before Jesus was born.  Hosea is considered to be one of the “minor” prophets, not because his message is insignificant, but because his book is shorter than those like the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.  The book of Hosea is about God's loving relationship with the chosen people--a love that leads God to judge the people when they love other gods and oppress each other, but also a relationship to which God is faithful on the other side of judgment.   Hosea was a prophet from the northern kingdom to his own northern kingdom.  He lived in a time that was very unstable for his people with much transition and brief kingly dynasties.  The book of Hosea is a book that accuses his own people of being unfaithful to God.  He accuses his own country of infidelity in their relationship with God.  But then we encounter the words we heard today, this good news passage of Hosea.

In the midst of judgement, Hosea issues this promise of God.

The God who is described in this passage is tender and loving.  He has loved his people, taught them to walk, bent down to them and fed them.  He has done all of this because he loves his people, for no charge. This is a personal, close, caring God.  Yet this passage also shows God’s grief and frustration over a people who are rebellious, a people who reject his love.  From the opening of our reading, we hear God say:   “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.  The more I called them, the more they went from me.”  This passage from Hosea is filled with powerful, touching, moving images that show us God’s grief and joy and anger and God’s tenderness.  “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”  For all of this love that God poured out on his people, there was no charge.

Still, God knows his people’s sinfulness, he knows our sinfulness.  Over generations as the people he loved wandered from him, he sent prophets like Hosea to call his people back, to remind them of his love.

Then, when the time was right, God sent his own Son to give his life for ours.  His love was poured out on the cross for us, for no charge, because God loved us so much.  This is the love that God shows in the prophet Hosea for his people, in living form in Jesus.  This is the love that God has for each of us still, seen on the cross, in Jesus.  This is the immense and personal love of God which gives us life and breath and for which we are grateful.  Amen.

 

 
November 8, 2015
 

Every day we are surrounded by choices.  Some of those choices are simple choices with a plethora of options.  Choosing which ice cream to take home from the grocery store from the myriad of choices or choosing which television show to watch in the evening, are fairly simple, daily choices we make.   Do we like our coffee black or with cream and sugar and if with cream, what flavor of creamer do we prefer?  How many paint color choices do we encounter when we are ready to change the color of our living room? There are also bigger choices we all face in our lives that have long lasting consequences, like what career to pursue or who to date or where to live.  Choices are a part of our life, no matter who we are or what age we are.

Guideposts magazine recounts a story told by Luciano Pavarotti about choices in his life: "When I was a boy, my father, a baker, introduced me to the wonders of song," tenor Luciano Pavarotti relates. "He urged me to work very hard to develop my voice. Arrigo Pola, a professional tenor in my hometown of Modena, Italy, took me as a pupil. I also enrolled in a teachers college. On graduating, I asked my father, 'Shall I be a teacher or a singer?' 

"'Luciano,' my father replied, 'if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair.' 

"I chose one. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera. And now I think whether it's laying bricks, writing a book--whatever we choose--we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that's the key. Choose one chair." 

          The prophet Elijah, in our reading from Kings this morning, is exhorting his people that they too have to make a choice.  They do not have an easy, simple, small choice in front of them like whether to have sausage or pepperoni pizza.  Their choice is not between two healthy and solid options, like whether to have a banana or an apple for snack.  Their choice is not one that has no consequences.  Instead, Elijah is asking his people to choose which God they will serve. 

          This is a tough choice for his people, because their worship of Israel’s one true God has become shaky.  Parts of God’s holy people have begun to worship foreign Gods.  Their loyalty to those other Gods has grown over time so that it feels natural and normal to them.  They have been lured into this worship of other Gods so that it hasn’t even really felt like they were leaving behind their true God.  But they have.  They have turned to worship other Gods and now Elijah is calling his people to make a choice.  Right at the beginning of our reading for today, we see Elijah say:  "How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." But the people did not answer him a word.  Like Pavarotti’s father, Elijah is saying to his people:  CHOOSE ONE.  Choose which God you will follow.  Choose which God you will worship.

          But Israel has had to make this choice before as well.  Remember when the Israelites were standing on the edge of the Promised Land, about to enter it, when Joshua urges them to make a choice about what God they will serve.  “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  Joshua says to the people:  Choose which God you will follow. Choose which God you will worship.  Choose one.

          And now years later, a many years after Joshua has led the people, after many kings and prophets, the people again seem to be wavering away from their God.  Do they choose the God of Israel or do they choose the foreign God’s that their king has begun to worship?  Elijah issues them a challenge:  "How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him." Then, we see the showdown between the false God Baal and Israel’s one true God.  At the end of the showdown, when the people saw God’s act of power, they are finally able to respond to Elijah’s challenge.  We hear the people say:  "The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God."

          This seems to be a repeating pattern for the people of Israel.  Over and over again, God uses his prophets to call his people back to himself.  Over and over again, the people of God are asked to make a choice to serve God rather than other gods, rather than things that distract them from their God.  Over and over again, the people wander away from God and he calls them back and they are faithful again for a while and then they wander away from God again inevitably.

          It might be easy for us to point our finger at the people of Israel in this passage and say “Of course, it is simple which God you should choose!”  We could look at the Israelites and think that we would never get in a situation where we would seriously have to choose between something else and God.  But honestly, we find ourselves in this situation like the Israelites each and every day.  We too have choices that we make that either honor God or lead us away from him.  We can get caught in the trap of putting other things before God in our lives.  Sometimes it happens subtly, where small things between to take over our lives and we only realize far down the path that these things have become like God to us.   It can become easy to believe that we don’t have to choose, we can have it all, we can do it all, we can balance it all….  but then does our worship of God just have a small place, rather than primary place in our lives?  If we have so many choices in our lives, does serving God become just one of many options rather than the priority above all other options?  Do we have such a plethora of options about how we spend our time, how we spend our money, and what priorities we have, that maybe we have even more difficulty in choosing which God we will serve?  When I read this passage, I know it is a struggle that is not only the Israelites struggle but ours as well.

          There are times when we need voices like Elijah’s in our midst asking us the question he asked the people of Israel:  “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?”  There are days when we need voices like Joshua’s saying to us:  “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  We need people in our lives like Pavarotti’s father who say:  “CHOOSE ONE.”  Those voices may challenge us.  Those voices may cause us to take a hard look at our priorities and the daily choices we make.  Those voices may make us uncomfortable or even angry for a time.  Those voices may cut close to the heart.  Those voices may make us feel like our toes have been stepped on.   Yet, those voices are speaking to call us back to God.  Those are the voices of the prophets.  Those are the voices of repentence.  Those voices are speaking to remind us of God’s faithfulness and our need to serve God faithfully. When we listen to those voices, when we take seriously their words, when we look at our choices and priorities closely, then we can say what the Israelites say at the end of our reading today:  "The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God."

November 1, 2015
 

What do you do when you are washing dishes and a bowl falls out of your hand and smashes to pieces in the sink?  What do many people do when the toaster they have had for 20 years or since the day they got married stops toasting the toast as evenly as it should? 

When things are broken, many of us have a natural inclination to throw them away. Our culture even has a term for that: “Planned obsolescence” so that it is easier and cheaper to throw away your broken appliance or computer or TV rather than put in the time and money to fix it.  Or if we do fix something, we often think to ourselves:  It’s good as new, thinking about newness as the value, rather than appreciating the broken spot that has been repaired. 

In Japan, though, there is another unusual way of repairing broken items that is actually considered to be an art form.  It is called, ‘Kintsugi’   in Japanese which literally means ‘golden repair’.  It is the practice of restoring broken items (most often ceramics) with distinctively colored glue, usually containing gold or silver.   This traditional Japanese art form considers brokenness to be a part of the story of an object, and something to be celebrated rather than hidden.  The broken part is considered part of the history of the object rather than something to be disguised.  The use of the distinctively colored glue purposefully calls attention to the faults and cracks, and an object is seen as more beautiful than when it was ‘unblemished’.  It was so popular at one point, that people would intentionally break things, just so they could undergo ‘golden repair’.

This is the message of All Saints Day and our Biblical text this morning.  The saints are those whom God has worked his work of salvation upon, the ultimate Golden Repair.  The saints are those who in the midst of our broken world can show God’s glory and shine God’s light through their lives.  When we say in the Apostle’s Creed each Sunday that we believe in the communion of saints, we are not talking about a communion of perfect people, but a communion of redeemed people, claimed and restored by God.

The message of our All Saints Day reading this morning is about God being able to work his salvation through a broken and sinful people.  God’s people, the people of Israel, the people he led out of slavery in Egypt, the people he gave the Promised Land to, the people he provided a King for, this very people is now divided and making unfaithful decisions.  This is the people God has worked miracles for and rescued and redeemed and here they are broken apart by squabbles and unfaithfulness.  Yet from this broken kingdom, this kingdom that has been split in two, this kingdom that is so prone to wandering away from God, from this broken kingdom comes Jesus, the redeemer, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Savior of his people.

But really, this is the message of our Biblical faith.  Everyone who God calls in the Bible has a flaw or some brokenness as part of their lives.   Moses had a stutter, biblical scholars believe, but yet God called him to lead the Israelites out of slavery.  Jesus’ apostle Peter was a bit on the impulsive and impetuous side, but also could speak his faith powerfully.  The Apostle Paul had persecuted Christians with a violent rage until God called him to proclaim Christ. God works through broken, flawed, imperfect people to shine his light, to show his salvation, to reveal his glory! 

          When we think of God’s saints, that is who we are remembering.  We are remembering the people of all times and places that God’s love could shine through, even in the midst of difficulties, even in the midst of brokenness.  We remember the saints of history whose brokenness became part of their story of redemption, whose sins were redeemed and repaired by God’s grace.  We remember saints like St. Patrick who was once a slave and then taught Ireland about God and Christ.  We remember saints like Saint Brigid who were known for their generosity. We remember saints like St. Olaf, the Christian King of Norway.  We remember people in our families and communities whose faith grew and flourished and nurtured our own faith, even in the midst of personal struggles and brokenness.  We remember the saints who sat by us when we were sick as children, the saints who taught Sunday School, the saints who helped their neighbors in a time of need, the saints who knew that cookies and hot dish could help bring a moment of comfort to a broken heart.  We think about the saints of the future, who may be baptized here in ten or twenty years, who may find a cure for Cancer or Alzheimers or who may sit in these pews 100 years from now.  All of these people we call to mind are God’s saints!

There is a contemporary Chistian song by Jason Gray that I shared with our Confirmation youth about a week ago that speaks to how God works through his saints and works through our lives too.  The song says:

Don’t be ashamed of your past
If you’re shattered like a piece of glass
The more broke you are the more the light gets through
Show your wounds and your flaws
Show them why you still need the cross
Let them see the work He’s doing in you

That even in the darkest place
His love can make you radiate.

 

On All Saints Day, we give thanks to God for the saints, who though broken, God did not abandon, but instead he claimed them and redeemed them and restored them so that his light could shine through them.  We look too at our own lives, our own sins, the places where our lives feel broken apart and we hear the promise of redemption, we hear the promise of salvation, we hear the hope that God can restore and redeem us and let his light shine through us for the world to see.  We thank God for taking our brokenness and being the artist who paints our lives with his golden brush, restoring us to wholeness again in his beautiful way, so that we can show his light to the world.

 

October 25, 2015

2 Samuel 5:1-5; 6:1-5; Psalm 150

2 Sam 5:1 Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, "Look, we are your bone and flesh. 2 For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel." 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5 At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2 David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. 3 They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart 4 with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. 5 David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

Ps 150:1 Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament! 2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness! 3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! 4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 5 Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

 

This morning, we gather to celebrate Reformation Sunday.  It is a Sunday that calls us to reflect on our Reformation History but also to ponder what it means for us to be people of the Reformation in our own time and place.  We come as people who live in a church founded on Jesus Christ and shaped by the teachings of Martin Luther to remember and celebrate the gifts that have been passed on to us in faith through the years.  We also gather to search for how our Lutheran Christian faith can impact our very lives and world today.

One of the rallying cries of those who reformed the church through its history is that the church is reformed and is always reforming.  God’s church is not static or motionless.  It is dynamic and transforming in every place and age.  God is always working and moving through the life of the church so that all people may know God’s grace.  God’s church grows and changes so that the faith of God’s holy people is nourished and nurtured through the years.

The Reformation of the church beginning with Martin Luther and continuing with many others, clung to five central principles that they expressed in Latin:  Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Dei Gloria. 

The first, Sola Scriptura, meant Scripture alone.  The Reformers longed to bring the church back to its center.  They wanted a church that focused on God’s word as it was made known through the words of the Bible.   In some ways, the Reformers were doing what David did in our reading today.  David brought the ark of the covenant back into Jerusalem, back into the midst of God’s people.  The ark was understood to be where God dwelled and so David returned his people to a focus on God’s presence among them. 

The second focus was on faith alone.

The third was to know God’s grace alone.  In the midst of our human brokenness, in the midst of our mistakes, in the midst of our imperfections, God’s grace covers us and surrounds us.

The fourth was to cling to Christ alone.  In the midst of complicated human rules and layers upon layers of traditions, the Reformation calls us to cling to Christ alone.  It is not the rules we follow well, or if we eat lutefisk or not, or if we sing traditional hymns or contemporary music that saves us.  It is Christ alone who saves us.

The fifth was to live for God’s glory alone, so that all that we do points to him.  Psalm 150, which we heard at the end of our reading today, shows us exactly what that means.  Living for God’s glory, we point to God by our lives.  We praise God with each breath and action we take.  When we live for God’s glory alone, we live a life of praise and prayer and gratitude, pointing to God’s glory rather than our own.

Today as we consider the legacy of the Reformation in our church and our lives, I’d like to leave you with a contemporary Christian song that helps us consider how we focus on the things that really matter, grace, faith, the Bible, God’s glory, and Christ alone.


 

In Christ Alone

 

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
'Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand

© KOCH, DONALD A. / CRAIG, ANDREW SHAWN
For non-commercial use only.

© Universal Music Publishing Group
For non-commercial use only.

October 18, 2015

Ruth 1:1-17

1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. 6 Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back each of you to your mother's house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband." Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10 They said to her, "No, we will return with you to your people." 11 But Naomi said, "Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me." 14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 So she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." 16 But Ruth said, "Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!"

Many of you may have listened to Paul Harvey on the radio with his unique blend of news and storytelling.  Paul Harvey was known for telling the unknown story behind some of history’s strangest and most interesting moments.  Paul Harvey, in his broadcasts from the 1950s to the 1990s, was most known for his “The rest of the story segments.”  This morning, as we heard the opening chapter of the book of Ruth, we have a story from the Bible that we cannot just stop here with the small piece of the story we have heard, but it is important for us to hear the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say.

The book of Ruth is one of the shorter books of the Bible, with only 4 chapters.  It is also one of only 2 books in the Bible named for women, the Book of Ruth and the book of Esther.  It is written about a time in Israel’s history after the Israelites were freed from slavery and were living in the Promised Land, but before the nation of Israel was ruled by kings.  The Book of Ruth tells us that it was the time when Judges ruled the nation.  So far in our Biblical journey, our texts have been big and wide in scope. We have heard about creation, we have heard about God saving his chosen people from slavery, we have heard about the giving of the 10 commandments to God’s people.  But now with Ruth’s story, we see the focus zoom in to tell us about one particular family and how God’s faithfulness is seen in their lives. 

Today’s reading starts at the beginning of the Book of Ruth and tells us about one family from the land of Bethlehem that goes to the foreign country of Moab because of a famine in the Promised Land.  Naomi and her husband and her sons go to the foreign land in search of food and a secure future.  While they are in Moab, there is joy for the family.  The 2 sons marry and the family rejoices.  But there is also great sorrow while the family is in Moab, because Noami loses both her husband and her sons to death.  Now, she and her daughters-in-law are alone, vulnerable, poverty stricken with no men in the family to protect them or provide for them.  We see in this account from Ruth for today, that Naomi urges her daughters-in-law to return to their homes, to their own families, which would have been quite common for women to do.  At first, both daughters-in-law say that they will stay with Naomi.  But as the story develops, Orpah returns to her family and Ruth pledges to remain with Naomi as they journey back to Naomi’s homeland and people.  In the midst of loss and tragedy, Ruth promises companionship and faithfulness to Naomi.  The words that we heard at the end of our reading today:  Wherever you go, I will go…..  are words that are frequently read at a wedding seen as a promise between a husband and a wife.  Yet here, in their Biblical context, these words are spoken by a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law.

If the book of Ruth ended there, it would be quite the sad and hopeless story.  But as Paul Harvey used to remind his listeners, we have to hear the rest of the story, because God does not leave these two women vulnerable and sorrowful for the rest of their lives.  As Ruth and Naomi journey back to Naomi’s homeland, Naomi encounters women that she has known before and she tells them that her name is no longer Naomi, but Mara, for she says:  God has dealt bitterly with me.  Then Ruth and Naomi’s journey continues and it takes them to the land of a distant relative, who provides for them and protects the women by letting them glean grain from the edge of his fields.  Through all this, Ruth is faithful to her promise to Naomi.  Through all this, God is also present. 

As you read the story of Ruth and Naomi more, eventually Ruth marries Boaz, the distant relative who has protected and provided for the women.  Ruth and Boaz have a son, named Obed, who brings joy to Ruth and especially Naomi.  The women who are gathered around Naomi rejoice saying:  “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

Ultimately, Ruth’s story unfolds even farther as she becomes the great-grandmother to King David and is one of 4 women named in Jesus’ genealogy in the book of Matthew.

As I read the book of Ruth, it is filled with many interesting themes and question to ponder.

First the book raises deep questions of identity:  What makes us who we are?  When we seem to be adrift, when we are separated from our home, when our families have changed:  who I am and where I belong?  The story of Ruth helps us see that regardless of where we go, no matter what our life has in store for us, God does have a place for us.  We belong to God, we are his children, he cares for us deeply.  One of our roles as the church is to remind each other that we do have a place where we belong in God’s family.  We always have a place where we can be at home in God’s church.  We never lose our identity as God’s precious children. 

Ruth’s story is also an account, a testimony of God’s radical covenant love.  The Hebrew word for faithful love is:  Hesed.  The book of Ruth is all about this faithful, Hesed, love.  We see God’s faithfulness being worked out in the human relationships and faithfulness of the story.  Though in the book of Ruth, God is not seen intervening in active and powerful ways, instead his faithfulness and providence is present in Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi and in Boaz’s faithful protection and care for the 2 women.  God’s faithfulness can be see and felt, the Book of Ruth reminds us, in the people who journey with us each day. 

One of my favorite parts of the book of Ruth, comes at the end of the book when the other women of the community speak to Naomi about her blessings.  They help her see how God is working in her life.  They open her eyes to the ways God has blessed her, especially now in Ruth’s son.  They have heard her story.  They have known about her loss.  And now they help her see the new life that is there for her, the promises of God that he is faithfully fulfilling.   “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”   This is one of the things that we as Christians continue to do for each other.  We as a community of faith help each other interpret God’s presence in our lives.  We speak hope to one another in times of sadness and loss.  We help one another see what God is doing in our lives, just like the women did for Naomi. Naomi and Ruth’s story does not end with loss;  it is important for us to hear the rest of the story!

          Ultimately, the book of Ruth is about faithfulness and hope and redemption.  This is why she is included in the genealogy of our Savior Jesus.  Her story reminds us that God is faithful to his promises to us, even when times seem bleak and sorrowful.  Her story reminds us that God can bring new life where we see death and loss, ultimately in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Ruth’s story shows us how God can redeem even the darkest times, the darkest stories, and that in the end God is with us and does not abandon us.

October 4, 2015
 

And God said to Moses:  “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 

This morning, we hear the account from Exodus about God calling Moses to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt.  Here was Moses, born as a slave to a Hebrew mother, but raised in the Pharaoh’s royal household.  Here was Moses, whose Hebrew mother protected his tiny life by placing him in a waterproof basket and sending him down the river so that his life might be preserved.  Here stands Moses, who grew up in the seat of Egyptian power, only to find out that he was a Hebrew, one of the slave people.  Here stands Moses, living as a shepherd in the wilderness, because he killed one of the Egyptians for harming a slave.  There at the burning bush is Moses, a man whose life is full of contradictions, about to be called by God to lead his people out of slavery.  God calls his name and his life was never the same. 

As I read this passage, I wonder how many times had Moses walked by this place, walked by this very bush, as he was shepherding his flocks and nothing spectacular had happened there, until this moment?  Were there other shepherds who had walked by the burning bush that day, but didn’t take the time to notice what was happening there?  One thing is clear in this passage from Exodus:  On this day, in this moment, the holy was breaking into the ordinary in a way Moses could not ignore.  In the burning bush, Moses heard the voice of God speak.  Moses was standing on holy ground. 

This biblical text makes me wonder when do we stand on Holy Ground?  Do you have a place where you hear God speaking to you?  Is there a moment when you have heard God speaking to you in the midst of your everyday life?

For my 4 years of College, I worked as a sacristan for the Campus ministry at my college.  Being a sacristan, meant spending a lot of time in the chapel on campus, a big Greystone chapel with a lingering smell of incense and often music being played or practiced at any time of the day.  As a sacristan, I set up and cleaned up from worship, I organized the readers and the communion servers and the priests as well.   I changed the oil in the candles and ran the sound system and picked out the vestments the priests wore for worship.  The holy sense I had in the chapel was one of the reasons I felt at home on the campus and chose to go to school there.  I loved being there in the chapel as the music echoed through the building in worship, but when the chapel was empty and quiet, I reveled in the moments of solitary reflection I found there, where I could listen for God’s voice.  I struggled with questions in that space, questions about relationships, questions about purpose, and questions about faith.  The Chapel at Loyola was holy ground for me, so much so that when I graduated, before I left for Minnesota again, I stopped for a moment of prayer and to say goodbye to that important, holy place.

When do we stand on Holy Ground?  Do you have a place where you hear God speaking to you?  Is there a time when you have felt God’s presence with you?

Another place that I recognize as holy ground in my life has been along the shores of Lake Sagatagan at St. John’s University.  The dorm building that we lived in was just a short walk away from the shores of the lake.  It was always a private, peaceful spot to read theology books or have a quiet conversation or ponder where God was calling me.  Watching the waves out on the lake, looking out at the old chapel across the lake, spotting the resident loon as it swam through the water, I knew God was present there.  It was holy ground.

Have you stood on Holy Ground?  Do you have a place where you hear God’s voice speaking to you?  Have you ever been surprised by God’s presence in a particular moment?

As I think about our lives as congregations and as people of faith, I can recall moments where I could recognize God present among us, where I knew that the moment we were in was holy.  We are standing on holy ground when we witness a couple saying their vows to one another, promising to honor and be faithful to one another through the years to come, with God’s help.  We are standing on holy ground when we see a grandparent pray with their grandchild.  Our young people who went to Detroit were standing on holy ground as they ripped up weeds and made a difference in the poverty stricken neighborhoods of Detroit.  We are standing on holy ground when we sit by the bedside of someone who is at the end of their life and bring them comfort and companionship and peace.  We are standing on holy ground when we lie awake at night pondering God’s nudges in our hearts about how best to be supportive of a friend who is struggling in their life.  We are standing on holy ground when we are surrounded by the fields of corn and soybean seeing the marvels of God’s creation, as through these fields he is providing for the needs of the world.  We are standing on holy ground as sit at a church council meeting, pondering God’s mission for us in the future.  We are standing on holy ground as we sip a cup of coffee and read the paper, hearts and minds touched by the suffering around us, feeling ready to make a difference if we can.  We are standing on holy ground when a child comes forward to receive communion with a look of sheer joy and awe on their face, knowing they are part of God’s family. 

Being God’s people, in the church, means that we stand together on holy ground.  We help one another notice God’s holy presence around us.  We help one another hear God’s voice calling to us.  That is what it means to be the church for one another and for our world.

Listen this week for God’s voice calling your name, like he called to Moses.  God may not call to you from a burning bush, but from the voice of a child or a restlessness in your heart.  God may call to you in a call from a friend or a peaceful moment in nature.  God may catch your attention with a hymn here at worship or a devotion you read in the morning at home.  Be listening for him to call to you.  Spend time this week reflecting on the places that have been holy places for you.  And hear God saying to you in the midst of your everyday life:  “The place on which you are standing is holy ground.”  Amen.